- A major diplomatic and political scandal is erupting
that could have significant import for French-American relations. It involves
new research into the mysterious outbreak of "mass insanity"
in a village in southern France that affected some 500 people and resulted
in five deaths.
- According to reliable US sources, the US State Department
Bureau of Intelligence and Research has been given a confidential inquiry
from the office of Erard Corbin de Mangoux, head of the French intelligence
agency DSGE (Directorate General for External Security). According to
the report the inquiry regards a recently-published account of U.S. government
complicity in a mysterious 1951 incident of mass insanity in France in
the village of Pont-Saint-Esprit in southern France.
- The strange outbreak severely affected nearly five hundred
people, causing the deaths of at least five, two by suicide. For nearly
60 years the Pont-St.-Esprit incident has been attributed either to ergot
poisoning, meaning that villagers consumed bread infected with a psychedelic
mold or to organic mercury poisoning.
- Scientists with the highly respected British Medical
Journal were quickly drawn in September 1951 to what it dubbed the "outbreak
of poisoning." After initial thoughts that the cause was bread infection,
they concluded that mold could not explain the event or the afflictions
that struck hundreds of people in the village.
- Scientists dispatched to the scene from the Sandoz Chemical
company in nearby Basle, Switzerland also stated that the mold was the
cause, but many other experts disagreed with them.
- Over time the mystery of the outbreak only deepened and
no answers were found to be satisfactory. A 2008 book about the history
of bread published in France by Professor Steven Kaplan emphasizes that
the "mystery remains unsolved" and at the time, still continued
to perplex scientists.
- New revelations
- A book just released in the United States, detailing
exhaustive interviews with now-retired US intelligence personnel who had
direct knowledge of the 1951 French events, charges that the until-now
unexplained "mass insanity" in the remote village were, rather,
a top-secret CIA experiment conducted under the code-name Operation Span.
Operation Span was a part of Project MK/NAOMI, itself an adjunct project
to the more notorious Project MK/ULTRA, as in "ultra-top secret."
- The book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank
Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments, by investigative journalist
H.P. Albarelli Jr. documents that the Pont-St.-Esprit outbreak in 1951
was the result of a covert LSD aerosol experiment directed by the US Army's
top-secret Special Operations Division at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
- Albarelli notes that the scientists who produced the
bogus cover-up explanations of contaminated bread and or mercury poisoning
to deflect from the real source of the events worked for the Sandoz Pharmaceutical
Company, which was then secretly supplying both the US Army and CIA with
LSD for research.
- A French newspaper at the time of the bizarre events
wrote, "It is neither Shakespeare nor Edgar Poe. It is, alas, the
sad reality all around Pont-St.-Esprit and its environs, where terrifying
scenes of hallucinations are taking place. They are scenes straight out
of the Middle Ages, scenes of horror and pathos, full of sinister shadows."
The US Time magazine, whose publisher, Henry Luce was closely tied to CIA
propaganda activities in the 1950's wrote, "Among the stricken, delirium
rose: patients thrashed wildly on their beds, screaming that red flowers
were blossoming from their bodies, that their heads had turned to molten
lead. Pont-Saint-Esprit's hospital reported four attempts at suicide."
- As Albarelli notes, a Department of Justice website on
the dangers of LSD states that in the early 1950s, "the Sandoz Chemical
Company went as far as promoting LSD as a potential secret chemical warfare
weapon to the US Government. Their main selling point in this was that
a small amount in a main water supply or sprayed in the air could disorient
and turn psychotic an entire company of soldiers leaving them harmless
and unable to fight."
- He claims that the CIA entertained a number of proposals
from American scientists concerning placing a large amount of LSD into
the reservoir of a medium-to-large city, but, according to former agency
officials, "the experiment was never approved due to the unexpected
number of deaths during the operation in France."
- Indeed, Albarelli has discovered once secret FBI documents
that reveal that the Fort Detrick's Special Operations Division, a year
prior to the Pont St. Esprit experiment, had targeted New York City's subway
system for a similar experiment. States an August 1950 bureau memo, "[The]
BW [biological warfare] experiments to be conducted by representatives
of the Department of the Army in the New York Subway System in September,
1950, have been indefinitely postponed." The memo goes on to cite
FBI concerns about "poisoning of food plants" and the "poisoning
of the water supply" of large cities in the U.S.
- In an interview with this author, Albarelli described
how he developed the shocking details of the CIA secret drug programs:
"My first tip-off was a 1954 CIA document that detailed an encounter
between an official of the Sandoz chemical company (the producers of LSD)
and a CIA official in which 'the secret of Pont St. Esprit' was referenced.
The Sandoz official went on to say, 'It was not the ergot at all.'"
- Albarelli says he then obtained through the Freedom of
Information Act a partially redacted 1955 CIA report entitled, A CIA Study
of LSD-25. "That seemingly comprehensive report contained detailed
information on the manufacture, supply, and use of LSD and LSD-type products
worldwide. However, nearly its entire section on France and Pont St. Esprit
were blacked out." Albarelli requested an un-redacted copy but CIA
officials refused to provide one.
- He continued, "Then I came across a letter written
by a Federal Bureau of Narcotics agent who was working secretly for the
CIA; this was George Hunter White, who ran the CIA's New York City safe
house in 1951-1954. White's letter referenced the Pont St. Esprit experiment.
At that point, 5 years into my investigation, I began interviewing former
Army biochemists who became very evasive and refused to talk about their
work in France. Finally two former intelligence employees confirmed the
experiment took place under the auspices of the Army's Special Operations
Division and with CIA funding."
- Lastly, Albarelli explained, "I was given an undated
White House document that was part of a larger file that had been sent
to members of the Rockefeller Commission formed in 1975 to investigate
CIA abuses. The document contained the names of a number of French nationals
who had been secretly employed by the CIA and made direct reference to
the 'Pont St. Esprit incident,' linking the former OSS head of secret research
projects and the chief of Fort Detrick's Special Operations Division,"
Said Albarelli. "This, along with one other document, comprised the
- In its quest to research LSD as an offensive weapon,
Albarelli claims, the Army drugged over 5,700 unwitting American servicemen
between the years 1953 and 1965, and, with the CIA, experimented widely
with LSD and other drugs through secret contracts with over 325 colleges,
universities and research institutions in the U.S., Canada and Europe,
involving about 2,500 additional subjects, many of them hospital patients
and college students.
- In 2005, Scott Shane, a reporter with the Baltimore Sun
newspaper, wrote, "The Army has no records on MKNAOMI or on the Special
Operations Division." Asked formally for such records, the Army replied
they "could find none." In 1973 the CIA destroyed all of its
records on MKNAOMI and its work with Fort Detrick's Special Operations
Division. When Shane asked a former top ranking Special Operations officer
to speak about the division's projects in general, Andrew M. Cowan, Jr.
said, "I just don't give interviews on that subject. It should still
be classified-if nothing else, to keep information the division developed
out of the hands of some nut."
- Other CIA drug projects
- In 1959, American writer, Ken Kesey, while a student
at Stanford University volunteered to take part in the CIA-financed Project
MK/ULTRA at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital. The project studied the effects
of psychoactive drugs, particularly LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, cocaine,
AMT, and DMT on people. Kesey wrote detailed accounts of his experiences
with these drugs during the Project MK/ULTRA study. Kesey's role as a medical
guinea pig reportedly inspired him to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo's
Nest in 1962.
- From his days as a psychology graduate student, Harvard's
infamous LSD guru, Dr. Timothy Leary, whose motto to the 1968 "Flower
Power" generation was "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out!," was
associated with the CIA's Cord Meyer. Leary devised a special personality
test, The Leary, used by the CIA to test potential employees and worked
with Frank Barron, a CIA employee and former psychology classmate of Leary's,
at the Berkeley Institute for Personality Assessment and Research, and
later with Barron's Psychedelic Drug Research Center at Harvard. These
are but two of the more known and detailed instances linking the CIA with
LSD projects after the alleged French experiments.
- According to an official with the DGSE, who declined
to be identified, "If the details of this book's revelations prove
to be true, it will be very upsetting for the people of Pont-St.-Esprit,
as well as all French citizens. That agencies of the United States government
would deliberately target innocent foreign citizens for such an experiment
is a violation of a number of international laws and treaties."
- Erard Corbin de Mangoux, conseiller de Sarkozy, remplacera
Brochand à la DGSE,. Le Monde. October 6, 2008, accessed in http://www.lemonde.fr/web/depeches/0,14-0,39-37199541@7-40,0.html.
- British Medical Journal, Ergot Poisoning at Pont St.
Esprit, September 15, 1951, p. 650.
- Steven L. Kaplan, Le pain maudit: Retour sur la France
des annees oubliees 1945-1958 (Paris: Fayard 2008), p. 1124.
- H.P. Albarelli, Jr., A Terrible Mistake: The Murder
of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments, (Walterville
Oregon: Trine Day Inc., 2009).
- FBI Memorandum, August 25, 1950, Subject: Biological
Warfare and NY Subway System, A.H. Belmont to C.E. Hennrich.
- H.P. Albarelli, Jr., interview with F. William Engdahl
via email, February 6, 2010.
- Scott Shane, Buried Secrets of Biowarfare, Baltimore
Sun, August 1, 2004, p.1.
- Rob Elder, Down on the Peacock Farm, Salon magazine,
November 16, 2001.
- Mark Riebling, Was Timothy Leary a CIA Agent?, 1994,
Osprey Productions/Grand Royal, accessed in HYPERLINK "<http://home.dti.net/lawserv/leary.html>http://home.dti.net/lawserv/leary.html"