Rumsfeld & Cheney's
Dirty Little Spy Secret

By Fintan Dunne
18th August 2002

While aides to Gerald Ford, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney helped cover up the background to the death of CIA scientist, Frank Olson who fell from a 10th floor window in 1953, not long after he had been classified as a potential security risk.

Olson's son Eric says his father's conscience was troubled by awareness of Nazi-style CIA experiments on human subjects.

Kathryn Olmsted, University of California-Davis history professor, recently discovered files at the Gerald Ford library that showed White House officials deliberately withheld details of Olson's death from his family.

They included a memo from Dick Cheney, who was a White House assistant at the time, to Donald Rumsfeld, the chief of staff, on July 11, 1975. That memo warned that a lawsuit by Olson's family might make it necessary "to disclose highly classified national-security information.''

Another memo routed through Cheney and written by White House counsel Roderick Hills to the president cautioned that in any court action "it may become apparent that we are concealing evidence for national-security reasons.''

There must have been a lot to conceal, because the administration rolled out the red carpet for the Olson family. They were granted a meeting with the president Gerald Ford, who apologized for the death and promised full disclosure. Then they met with CIA Director William Colby, who gave them a file of documents comprising the CIA investigation into Olson's death.

Those documents confirmed other details disclosed in a 1975 commission of inquiry into CIA abuses --which had initially alerted the family. Befriended for years by Olson's boss, they had been led to believe that either accident or suicide for personal reasons explained the death. Now the CIA told the family that Frank Olson was a civilian Army scientist working on LSD, who had himself been given the drug without his knowledge. CIA reports were disclosed showing how this had led directly to his suicide some days later.

The family received $750,000 in return for waiving their right to further proceedings against the government. Rumsfeld and Cheney had helped resolve the case to the administration's satisfaction. It was an embarrassing episode that involved having to reveal the recklessness of the CIA's actions.

But those "admissions" were a well constructed pack of lies. The truth behind Frank Olson's death was far, far worse.


On 8th August 2002, relatives of Frank Olson took turns reading a long statement that contends that the scientist was murdered. "We have satisfied ourselves that Frank Olson was murdered because of security concerns regarding his work,'' said Olson's son Eric, who has spent years investigating his father's death.

Frank Olson was not, after all a civilian employee of the Army. He was a CIA employee working at Fort Detrick on precursor programs to MK-ULTRA, specializing in anthrax aerosols, possibly for for use in covert assassination.

Olson's passport, indicates that in the summer of 1953 --only months before his death-- he had visited secret joint American-British testing and research installations near Frankfurt, Germany where he had likely witnessed terminal experiments on expendable prisoners. His misgivings were such that a British intelligence agent who became aware of them recommended that Olson be denied further access to Porton Down, the British chemical-weapons research establishment.

A few days before his death Olson told his superior Lt. Col. Vincent Ruwet that he wanted to resign. Ruwet demurred. The following morning, he returned to insist that his resignation be accepted. Ruwet took Olson to New York where he saw a doctor who was experimenting with LSD for the CIA. Olson was also taken to see a New York hypnotherapist on the CIA payroll. He was pleading to be allowed resign, asking those around him to "just let me disappear."

On November 27th 1953, he checked into the Statler Hotel in Midtown New York, with a colleague, Robert Lashbrook. He called his wife Alice saying he felt "much better" and "looked forward to seeing her the next day."

Around 2 a.m. the following morning, Olson was found lying on the sidewalk in his undershirt and shorts, flat on his back with his legs smashed and bent at an acute angle. High above, a blind could be seen pushed through an empty window frame on the 10th floor. The hotel telephone operator overheard a call from room 1018A, in which a voice had said, "He's gone." The voice on the other end had replied, "That's too bad." Lashbrook admitted making calls but denied any such comment.


In 1994, Eric had his father's body exhumed. A forensic team, led by James Starrs of George Washington University, found a blow to Olson's temple which was not severe enough to have been caused by the high velocity fall. Starrs concluded that someone had knocked Olson out, and then thrown him out the window.

Following the autopsy, Eric Olson uncovered information from ex-intelligence agents that contract killers associated with the Trafficante mob family were hired by the CIA to murder his father. In 1997, he saw an inadvertently declassified assassination manual dating from late 1953, which advised "The most efficient accident... is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface..." The manual went on to recommend a blow to the temple to stun the subject.

Back in 1975, when the family met Seymour Hersh of The New York Times, he had said: "I can't believe you fell for that story for 22 years." In July 1975, the family held a news conference in their backyard saying they felt "violated by the CIA.'' In August 2002, they were back in the same yard again.

To have been so grievously misled by the agencies of government --not once-- but twice, must cause an anguish hard for any outsider to truly comprehend.

For their part in that second lie, Rumsfeld and Cheney have much to regret. Cheney was but an aide, but Rumsfeld was Chief of Staff at the time. The affair shows nothing of the nobility of purpose often portrayed in the White House drama TV series "West Wing." Rather it reeks of the sordid business of hiding murder by the State to cover up intelligence programs full of yet more murder.

Photos by Eric Olsen Original Cartoon from Moscow Times

Reading & References
What Did the C.I.A. Do to Eric Olson's Father? by Michael Ignatieff --1 April 2001
Scientist Was Murdered, Sons Say by By Fredric N. Tulsky --9th Aug 2002
Scientist's Death Haunts Family by By Fredric N. Tulsky --8th Aug 2002
The Past Is Prologue by Chris Floyd --16 Aug 2002
The Search for the Manchurian Candidate (Chap 5) by John Marks --1979 
Eric Olson's Web Site on His Father's Death

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