CIA Cover-Up Suit Over Scientist’s Fatal Fall Dismissed

A lawsuit accusing Central Intelligence Agency employees of murdering military scientist Frank Olson in 1953 after he raised concerns about testing chemical and biological weapons on people without their consent was dismissed.

The suit, brought by Olson’s family in federal court in Washington, was filed too late and is barred under an earlier settlement, a judge ruled today. Eric and Nils Olson alleged their father, who the CIA admitted was given LSD a few days before his death, didn’t jump from a 13th floor window of the Statler Hotel in New York, but rather was pushed.

“While the court must limit its analysis to the four corners of the complaint, the skeptical reader may wish to know that the public record supports many of the allegations that follow, farfetched as they may sound,” U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said in the ruling.

Olson’s family has tried to piece together the circumstances surrounding Frank Olson’s death ever since a 1975 government report on CIA activities in the U.S. said he committed suicide after being given LSD without his knowledge. They claim the agency has covered up the cause of their father’s death for almost six decades.

In 1976, the Olsons threatened to sue the government unless they received answers and a financial settlement, according to the complaint.

Negligent Supervision

Their lawsuit, filed Nov. 28, included one claim of negligent supervision by the agency. Each member of Olson’s family was paid $187,500 as part of a settlement, according the complaint.

“We are disappointed at the court’s decision, particularly in view of the Judge Boasberg’s recognition of the legitimacy of our clients’ underlying claims,” Scott Gilbert, a lawyer for the Olson family at Gilbert LLP in Washington, said in an e-mail.

Gilbert said the family is reviewing its options including an appeal.

Frank Olson was a bioweapons expert with a special operations division of the Army’s biological laboratory who specialized in aerobiology. Since 1950, Olson’s division worked closely with the CIA, according to the lawsuit.

In 1953 Olson traveled to Europe visiting biological research facilities in London, Paris, Norway and West Germany.

‘Extreme Interrogations’

During the trip he witnessed “extreme interrogations in which the CIA committed murder using biological agents that Dr. Olson had developed,” according to the lawsuit, which cites statements from Williams Sargent, a psychiatrist who consulted for the British intelligence agency MI6 and worked with Olson in Europe.

In November 1953, Olson allegedly attended a meeting in Deep Creek, Maryland, involving men from his division and the CIA. At dinner, Olson was one of several men who unwittingly drank from a bottle of Cointreau that had been laced with LSD.

Two CIA scientists in attendance -- Sidney Gottlieb and Robert Lashbrook -- were responsible for the drugging and did it as an experiment, according to the complaint. Five days later, Olson told a colleague, Vincent Ruwet, that he was considering resigning.

That same day, Ruwet along with Lashbrook took Olson to New York, explaining to Olson’s wife that it was for psychiatric treatment because Olson might be dangerous to his family, the sons alleged.

Psychiatric Treatment

In New York, Olson was examined by an “allergist,” Harold Abramson, who gave him sedatives and recommended Olson be hospitalized for psychiatric treatment, according to the complaint.

Olson and Lashbrook checked into the Statler Hotel. The men had two martinis each before going to bed in the same room. At about 2:30 a.m., Olson fell from the window.

Lashbrook didn’t call police. Instead, the CIA scientist called his supervisor Gottlieb and then Abramson, Olson’s sons claim.

A closed casket funeral concealed that Olson had been hit in the head prior to his fall, the sons alleged.

The CIA determined that Olson died in the course of his official duties and that his family would receive death benefits.

In 1994, the sons had their father’s body exhumed. An autopsy revealed a hematoma on Olson’s temple, according to the complaint.

Based in part on the autopsy, the New York District Attorney’s Office sent a letter to the CIA in 1996 stating it planned to reopen the investigation into Olson’s death. The investigation was closed a year later with the official cause of death changed from “suicide” to “unknown,” according to the complaint.

The case is Olson v. U.S., 12-cv-01924, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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