The CIA 

    Page III





The Coldest Warrior By Ted Gup

Government-linked 'suicide' probed 1954 incident bears similarities to death of CIA biochemist

Journalism and the CIA: The Mighty Wurlitzer

TV film on death of Frank Olson

German documentary charges US used biological weapons in Korean War 

The Washington Post Washington, D.C. 

The Coldest Warrior

By Ted Gup Sunday, December 16, 2001; Page W09

We cannot afford methods less ruthless than those of our opposition.- John Le Carre, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

On a sunny afternoon in 1984, a 66-year-old retired CIA chemist named Sidney Gottlieb prepared for a most unusual visitor. Three decades earlier he had promised a widow named Alice Olson that if ever she wished to see him she need only pick up the phone.

Now, out of the blue, she had called to redeem the pledge, asking if she and her two sons could come to his remote retreat in Rappahannock County, Va. What she wanted was answers-answers to what really happened to her husband.

The fate of Frank Olson, long stamped 'Top Secret,' was a dark and cautionary tale of the Cold War. On November 19, 1953, Olson, a 43-year-old scientist at Fort Detrick, had joined other government researchers at Deep Creek Lodge in Western Maryland. There, an unseen hand had slipped 70 micrograms of LSD into his glass of Cointreau and the glasses of others. The meeting soon degenerated into hours of drug-induced hilarity. But days after, Olson was said to be sullen and withdrawn. A government official had escorted him to New York to 'take care of him'-words his son Eric would later use with grim irony. Shortly after 2:30 on the morning of November 28, 1953, Olson's body was discovered, bloodied and broken, on the pavement of Manhattan's Seventh Avenue, clothed only in underpants and a T-shirt.The government asked the family to believe that he had hurled himself through a closed window on the 10th floor of the Statler Hotel, while a government scientist assigned to keep an eye on him had slept in the next bed.

Soon after Olson's death, Gottlieb, posing as a Pentagon employee, paid his respects to Alice Olson at her home in Frederick. He said if ever there was anything he could do, just give him a call.

That visit unnerved her. Her coffee cup rattled in her hand. Twenty-two years later, on June 11, 1975, she inadvertently discovered from a Washington Post article describing her husband's death-without naming him-that Frank Olson had been an unwitting guinea pig in an experiment in mind control conducted by the CIA. Olson's sons, Eric and Nils, would reach an even darker conclusion-that what happened to their father was no accident. Only the man who headed the CIA's LSD program knew the whole story. That was Sidney Gottlieb.

That sunny Virginia day in 1984, Gottlieb was anxious about the impending visit. So were the Olsons. From the headlines, Gottlieb had emerged as a kind of Dr. Strangelove. He had overseen a vast network of psychological and medical experiments conducted in hospitals, universities, research labs, prisons and safe houses, many of them carried out on unsuspecting subjects-mental patients, prostitutes and their johns, drug addicts, and anyone else who stumbled into the CIA's web. Some had been subjected to electroshock therapy in an effort to alter their behavior. Some endured prolonged sensory deprivation. Some were doped and made to sleep for weeks in an attempt to induce an amnesia-like state. Others suffered a relentless loop of audiotape playing the same message hundreds of thousands of times.

As the CIA's sorcerer, Gottlieb had also attempted to raise assassination to an art form. Out of his labs had come a poisoned handkerchief designed to do in a Libyan colonel, a bacteriological agent for a Congolese leader and debilitating potions intended for Cuba's Fidel Castro. (None of these toxins are known to have found their mark.) Hounded by reporters, congressional investigators and his victims, Gottlieb had virtually vanished from Washington in the mid-1970s. And now, there was a knock at his door.

'Oh my God,' Gottlieb muttered, greeting the Olsons. 'I'm so relieved to see you all don't have a gun.'

The night before, he explained, he dreamed that the family had arrived carrying weapons and shot him dead. The Olsons assured him that was not their intent. Only later did it occur to Eric Olson, who has a PhD in psychology from Harvard, that in relating his dream, Gottlieb had deftly turned the tables on the family, disarming them and putting them in a position in which they were reassuring the very man they held responsible for Frank Olson's death. Says Eric Olson, 'He was not the master of mind control for nothing.'

Seventeen years later, I too found myself on the twisting roads of Rappahannock County, searching for answers of my own. It was less the mystery of Frank Olson's death that drew me here than the enigma of Sidney Gottlieb's life. In the course of researching a book about the CIA, I had become intrigued with him. I wondered what had possessed him to do what he had done, and what had become of him in the quarter-century since he had left Washington.

The name Sidney Gottlieb is but an obscure footnote in the nation's history. Yet for a generation of Americans who came of age in the Cold War, his experiments came to define the CIA as a rogue agency. His nefarious programs remain a reference point for government gone awry and, to this day, shape public perceptions of the CIA both here and abroad. They have been encrypted into the cultural memory of those who have never even heard his name. And, now, as America once again mobilizes to fight a formidable foe, they stand as a grim reminder that in the desire to protect the homeland, zeal can mutate into evil.

Gottlieb himself was condemned to serve as a kind of poster child of Cold War excesses and demonized in the press as a clubfooted scientist who stuttered and thirsted after fresh goat's milk. Some, like Eric Olson, liken him to Nazi researchers whose experiments perverted science and defied conscience. His notoriety earned him a place in Norman Mailer's novel Harlot's Ghost and Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible.

I arrived in Rappahannock County two years too late to speak with Gottlieb. He died on March 6, 1999, at the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville after a long bout with a bad heart. Still, the answers I sought were not ones that Gottlieb would likely have offered even in life. In some ways my task was eased by the passage of time. What was left to me was the detritus of any life-dusty documents, memories of friends and foes, a scattering of photos and letters, the odd inscription found in a book. His family, battered by adverse press, declined to meet with me.

'You never get it right,' said his widow, Margaret. 'You never can know what he was. I would just as soon it was never talked about again.' Who could blame her? Their four children-two sons and two daughters-grew up with a father stalked by his own past.

I began my quest in Washington, Va., population 192. 'Little Washington,' it's affectionately called to set it apart from the more querulous Washington an hour east. It is an idyllic landscape of hills and meadows and clear brooks. People here dote on history, but not one another's past. For Gottlieb, it was less Elba than Brigadoon. I stayed in an inn a pasture away from the modest brick bungalow on Mount Salem Avenue where Gottlieb passed his final year. I walked across the damp field to his back yard, the air heavy with honeysuckle. A sundial lay on the ground beside an herb garden. A tiny Oriental warrior stood watch. A wooden ramp was put in to make Gottlieb's final comings and goings easier. This was archaeology, sifting through the artifacts of another man's life.

Who was Sid Gottlieb? Early on I discovered that someone else had already spent a lifetime asking that very question. That was Gottlieb himself.

He was born August 3, 1918, in New York City, to Louis and Fanny Gottlieb, Hungarian immigrants and Orthodox Jews. Gottlieb was born with two clubfeet. A cousin, Sylvia Gowell, recalls that when the blanket covering his feet was first removed, his mother screamed. For years he was unable to walk and was carried everywhere by his mother. Three times he underwent surgery. Like his father, Louis, and brother David, Sidney stuttered. Gottlieb studied Hebrew, was bar mitzvahed, and distinguished himself as a student. His father ran a sweatshop, and later worked as a tailor. His father's struggles doubtless helped mold his son's socialist vision of the world.

At the University of Wisconsin, Gottlieb and roommate Stanley Mehr were active in the Young People's Socialist League. In 1940, he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in agriculture. His senior thesis: 'Studies on Ascorbic Acid in Cowpeas, Vigna Sinensis.' Three years later, Gottlieb earned a doctoral degree in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. There he met his wife, Margaret Moore, the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary.

The couple moved to Washington, where Gottlieb went to work for the Department of Agriculture. In the summer of 1944, while Mehr was in Europe in the Army, he received a letter from Gottlieb boasting that his wife had produced eight ounces of milk for their baby. Mehr wondered how Gottlieb had measured the output of milk. He put the question to him in a letter. Replied Gottlieb, he simply weighed the infant before and after nursing. Vintage Gottlieb, ever the scientist.

In 1951, after jobs with the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the University of Maryland, Gottlieb joined the CIA. John Gittinger conducted the agency's initial assessment of Gottlieb and recalls, 'He always had a certain amount of 'guilt'-if you want to use that word-about not being able to be in the service during World War II like all his contemporaries because of his clubfoot, so he gave an unusual amount of patriotic service to make up for that.'

Mehr remembers the day Gottlieb told him he had joined the CIA. 'I was shocked,' recalls Mehr. 'How in the hell would they accept someone who was a socialist?' he asked Gottlieb. 'Do they know you are a member of the Young People's Socialist League?'

That, said Gottlieb, was the first thing he told the agency. CIA Director Allen Dulles 'was astute enough to know that no one hated Communists more than socialists,' observes Mehr.

At the time Gottlieb joined the agency, he and his wife owned 14 acres on Beulah Road near Vienna, Va. They lived in a log cabin that had neither running water nor an indoor toilet. Gottlieb rigged up an outdoor shower, using a 50-gallon metal drum filled with icy cold water from a well. Over time, Gottlieb modernized the house. The family sold Christmas trees and goat's milk.

Given his background, Gottlieb was assigned to the CIA's chemical group. He secretly worked out of a brick building catty-corner to the Department of Agriculture on 14th Street. It was years before Mehr, an Agriculture employee, discovered that his friend worked across the street.

Gottlieb was held in high esteem at the agency. 'Sid kept us from doing crazy things when some of our case officers had crazy ideas,' recalls Sam Halpern, former executive assistant to the head of clandestine operations. One scheme Gottlieb is said to have helped nix was a 1960 plan to expose Castro to an aerosol spray of LSD. Gottlieb argued that LSD was too unpredictable, that Castro might take some action inimical to the United States. 'Very resourceful, very intelligent and completely loyal to the activity we were in,' says James Drum, Gottlieb's former boss.

The origins of Gottlieb's research into drugs and mind control date back to the Korean War. American POWs appeared inexplicably compliant in the hands of the enemy. Amid Cold War hysteria, reports circulated of POWs being doped and 'brainwashed.' Intelligence reports suggested the Communists were sinister puppet-masters holding sway over innocent Americans-the 'Manchurian Candidate' syndrome.

'The impetus for going into the LSD project,' Gottlieb would later acknowledge, 'specifically rested in a report, never verified, I must say, but it was there, that the Russians had bought the world supply' of LSD. What kind of threat was this?'Somebody had to bell the cat and find out,' says Halpern. 'That's how we all looked at it. We were all stumbling in the dark.' So the CIA launched its own research. The most notorious project was MK-ULTRA, created in 1953. It was, in Gottlieb's words, intended to explore 'various techniques of behavior control in intelligence operations.' It funded an array of research, including electric-shock treatments, hypnosis and experiments designed to program or deprogram a subject's memory. Sometimes research bordered on the ludicrous. A top magician was retained to help the agency practice sleight of hand, in part so that researchers could slip LSD to the unsuspecting. Another trick: swizzle sticks impregnated with the hallucinogen.

Gottlieb had primary say over the direction and funding of the program. It was Gottlieb who decided to give doses to the unwitting. He even approached agency colleagues asking for permission to dose them without notice. Many, including Halpern, declined. In most instances it was not Gottlieb, but rather a network of researchers on contract to the CIA who actually administered the drugs. Gottlieb would later claim that he could not personally be held accountable for any abuses, that he trusted in the professionalism of the researchers.

By distancing himself from the specifics, he had hoped to immunize himself and the agency. Gottlieb justified giving psychedelics to the unwitting on the grounds that to do otherwise would skew the results. If the subject did not know what was happening, he might well imagine that he was losing his mind and unravel. That might undermine his capacity to resist interrogation.

Gottlieb himself told friends that he personally took LSD more than 200 times. He would lock himself in his office and record his every sensation. It was not always clear where he drew the line between research and recreational drug use. He once described how LSD affected him: 'I happened to experience an out-of-bodyness, a feeling as though I am in a kind of transparent sausage skin that covers my whole body and it is shimmering, and I have a sense of well-being and euphoria for most of the next hour or two hours, and then it gradually subsides.'

Gottlieb was present that night at Deep Creek Lodge when Olson, unsuspecting, sipped his LSD-laced Cointreau-but nobody has ever proved that Gottlieb's own hand mixed the drug with the drink.

Yet there is little doubt that he had approved the experiment.

'He was a wild man,' remembers covert operative Eloise Randolph Page, once chief of the CIA's scientific operations branch. Page remembers John Schwab, the scientific director at Fort Detrick and Olson's superior, telling her he blamed Gottlieb for Olson's death. Shortly afterward, Schwab told her, 'As long as I am head of Fort Detrick, Sid Gottlieb will never be allowed inside the gates.'But despite a formal reprimand, Gottlieb's career continued to evolve. Early in 1957 Gottlieb temporarily moved from technical support to espionage. 'I propositioned him,' recalls William Hood, a veteran operative. 'I said, 'You don't understand much of what goes on in the boonies where the work is being done. If I get a job overseas, why don't you come along and look at it from the inside out?' 'Gottlieb liked the idea. For months he studied the tradecraft of spying. In September 1957, he and his family moved to Munich. For two years, he worked under cover, running foreign agents. One CIA officer recalls his help in the case of a chemist who had escaped from East Germany. For months the CIA had debriefed the chemist in a safe house. He claimed that he had provided technical support to Communist intelligence services, but CIA headquarters was not convinced that he was who he said he was. So Gottlieb was asked to interrogate him. Within a single session, the officer recalls, Gottlieb established that the chemist was telling the truth, and, in so doing, exposed a system of 'secret writing' then in use by 'the other side.'

As chief of base in Munich, Hood was both Gottlieb's superior and his friend. But Hood and Gottlieb had differences when it came to the subject of drugs. 'Sid and I had a long debate about the use of drugs in interrogations,' recalls Hood. 'He thought that-I hope I'm not slandering the poor bastard-that it would be possible with the right drug . . . I don't know what part of the brain screens indiscretions, but that it could be suspended somehow, and that under some euphoria a person might be responsive to whatever questions were asked.'

At the time, Hood's objections were more technical than moral: 'My view was that 'seeing was believing.' He wasn't going to move me unless he came up with a wonder drug of some kind, and I wasn't going to stop him from continuing his research.'When the full extent of Gottlieb's drug research came to light decades later, Hood was stunned. 'I do think he was entirely out of line with some of the stuff they were doing,' says Hood. Still, he defends his friend. 'It's the kind of thing I don't think anyone could understand unless they had been involved in it,' he says. 'Intelligence services should not be confused with the Boy Scouts.'

Ultimately, however, even Gottlieb gave up on LSD. In 1961 or 1962, in what came to be known as the 'Gottlieb Report,' he concluded that as 'an intelligence tool-it was inherently not effective.' Beyond that, he noted, 'there was a large disinclination on the part of the American intelligence officers to use it-they found it distasteful and strange. They had moral objections.'

In the fall of 1960, Gottlieb was secretly dispatched to Leopoldville, the Congo. On September 19, 1960, a message went out from CIA headquarters classified 'Eyes Only.' It was to Lawrence Devlin, the CIA's station chief, advising him that he would be receiving a visitor-'Joe from Paris.' Days later, Gottlieb intercepted Devlin near the U.S. Embassy. Devlin recognized him at once. Gottlieb was familiar to Devlin and other operatives who had come to rely upon him for the exotica of spycraft-recording devices, hidden cameras, bugs, invisible ink, whatever was needed for a 'tech op.' Gottlieb was to Devlin what 'Q' was to James Bond.

The two got into Devlin's Peugeot 403 and drove to a safe house. Devlin turned up the volume on a radio while Gottlieb delivered his instructions. What Gottlieb said left Devlin dumbfounded: Devlin was to assassinate Patrice Lumumba, a charismatic leftist leader. 'Jesus Christ!' Devlin thought. He had long worried about Soviet efforts to gain a foothold in the Congo and had lobbied to get rid of Lumumba. But this was not what he had in mind.

Gottlieb carefully withdrew a small kit containing a deadly toxin-whether it was anthrax, tuberculosis or tularemia, Gottlieb could not later recall. It was con-cealed within a tube of toothpaste. Gottlieb also set out a hypodermic syringe-in case the toothpaste scheme failed-as well as rubber gloves and a gauze mask. 'And just who authorized such a mission?' Devlin asked. 'The president,' said Gottlieb. 'And how do you know that?' pressed Devlin. 'Richard Bissell,' answered Gottlieb, naming the head of covert operations.

Devlin now says Gottlieb showed no reluctance. But Devlin says he had no intention of carrying out the assignment. Late one night, soon after Gottlieb returned to Washington, Devlin tossed the bacteriological agent into the Congo River, where it was carried over the cataracts and disappeared. Four months later, Lumumba was killed, apparently by a rival faction.

Devlin never blamed Gottlieb for the unsavory assignment. 'I thought he [Gottlieb] got a bum rap for things his seniors knew were done,' he says. 'He was acting under instructions from his superiors.' Then he pauses. 'But, as we both know, as indicated by the boys who got hung at Nuremberg, that is no excuse.'Gottlieb would later be held answerable before public tribunals, but the private trials were most painful. His daughter Rachel married Joel Samoff, a noted scholar of African affairs. Samoff feared that Gottlieb's notoriety in Africa would impede his own scholarship and make him a pariah on that continent. That animosity, say Mehr and other Gottlieb friends, strained Gottlieb's relationship with Rachel.'I am not interested in talking about my dad,' says Rachel. 'I don't want to be connected with that history.'

In 1966 Gottlieb was named CIA chief of the technical services division. His oversight was far-ranging. He supervised some of those who secretly opened Americans' mail. He saw to it that a psychological profile of the skipper of the Pueblo, the intelligence vessel captured by North Korea in 1968, was prepared for the president. His staff briefed the president's medical personnel, prior to overseas trips, on the perils of an LSD attack.

In 1973, after two decades in the CIA, 55-year-old Gottlieb retired from the agency. Prior to retirement he had been awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, one of the CIA's highest honors. He and his wife sold their house in Vienna and most of their possessions. In May 1974, with two suitcases, they commenced a two-year worldwide trip across Asia and Africa. For months, Gottlieb volunteered in an Indian hospital. In July 1975 he and his wife began an overland bus tour of the Mideast. A month later, Gottlieb received a letter in Istanbul informing him of impending congressional investigations of CIA covert operations.

That was the beginning of a series of front-page exposes revealing a long list of CIA abuses. Americans were horrified. The war in Vietnam had just ended. It was the era of post-Watergate revelations, a time of revulsion and reform. It was also a time when the Olson family was offered some measure of relief. On July 21, 1975, President Gerald Ford personally apologized to the Olson family. Three days later, CIA Director William Colby handed the family previously classified documents. A year later Congress provided the Olsons a financial settlement of $750,000.Sid Gottlieb had not been forgotten. He would be needed to testify, the Istanbul letter informed him. Two days later Gottlieb returned to the United States. He soon accepted a grant of immunity to testify before a Senate committee. Unlike other witnesses, Gottlieb was allowed to testify in private sessions. He had a weak heart, it was argued, and could not stand the stress of public hearings.

Gottlieb did not allow himself any show of emotion, but inside he seethed. He bristled at the long-ago reprimand he had received from Dulles in the aftermath of the Olson episode. 'You exercised poor judgment in this case,' Dulles had scolded. Gottlieb had reluctantly conceded that LSD may have triggered what he called 'the suicide' but argued that 'it is practically impossible for this drug to have any harmful effects.' Later he asserted, 'Lots of people get depressed.'

But it was not the criticism that had stung most. In a 1983 deposition in a civil suit, Gottlieb would note: 'I remember feeling: 'Why don't these people talk to me?' ' In testimony before a Senate committee, he admitted that 'the specter of the suicide had haunted me many, many times since November 1953.' He had considered quitting the CIA and taking up the study of psychiatry 'to better understand the meaning of this tragic incident.'

But Olson's death didn't end CIA-funded experiments with LSD. Indeed, according to records made public in the mid-'70s, the funding and scope of that research expanded. Many of the details will likely never be known. Gottlieb had destroyed the MK-ULTRA files just before retiring. The records might be 'misunderstood,' he had said.

Among family and friends, Gottlieb blamed the CIA for failing to protect him. In depositions, he revealed that he had urged the agency not to release his name. 'I became aware after a while that the names of essentially everybody but myself were deleted, but mine was left in, and I asked my lawyer to object to that practice,' said Gottlieb. It did no good. Gottlieb felt he had been made a scapegoat.

Margaret Gottlieb viewed the press and Congress with a measure of contempt: Her husband, patriotic to a fault, had been treated no better than a war criminal. As the hearings pressed on, Gottlieb might well have reflected on the very different path taken by his brother David. Both were brilliant researchers with PhDs. Both investigated plants for their medicinal properties. Both were severe stutterers. But while Sidney had turned his talents to searching for deadly toxins and potent hallucinogens with which to do the CIA's bidding, David had become co-discoverer of lifesaving antibiotics. Today, on the campus of the University of Illinois, where David Gottlieb was a professor, a bronze plaque celebrates his achievements.

Outwardly, Sidney Gottlieb appeared unfazed by events. 'He certainly didn't express it, but we don't know what went on inside this guy,' recalls David Gottlieb's widow, Amy Zahl Gottlieb. 'Don't forget he was used to keeping his feelings to himself, away from his family.' But there is little to suggest that Gottlieb was racked by guilt. He had done what the nation had asked of him. He wrote off the criticism as demagoguery and hypocrisy. Some of the schemes for which he and the agency were blasted-for example, assassination scenarios against Castro euphemistically called 'executive action' capabilities-originated in the Oval Office of President John F. Kennedy. A little more than a decade later, brother Ted, the senator, was grilling Gottlieb for those very actions.

'Sid was being crucified,' says Ken Fienup, a close friend. 'He was doing things that at the time were considered necessary and proper by our government.' Fienup draws an analogy to his own career as an engineer who worked on dams, once widely viewed as of great social benefit and now seen by many as an affront to nature. It was as if history were a game of musical chairs, and Gottlieb had been caught standing when the music stopped.

Other friends share that view. 'I don't think Sid was particularly apologetic about things,' says Mehr. 'I don't see why he should have been. I mean this was the Cold War-W-A-R.'

But a congressional committee headed by Sen. Frank Church rejected such arguments. In the epilogue to its report, the committee concluded, 'The United States must not adopt the tactics of the enemy. Means are as important as ends. Crises make it tempting to ignore the wise restraints that make men free. But each time we do so, each time the means we use are wrong, our inner strength, the strength which makes us free, is lessened.'

After the congressional hearings, Gottlieb and his wife moved to California to reassemble their lives. Gottlieb enrolled at San Jose State University and earned a master's degree in education with a focus on speech pathology. In 1980, he moved back east, to Rappahannock County. No longer cast as the malevolent CIA scientist, Gottlieb was free to reinvent himself, to indulge his passions for farming and his socialist's interest in communal living.

He shared that vision with his cousin Sylvia Gowell and her husband, Robert. Together they created a communal home, in which they might help one another through their final years. The Gottliebs and Gowells purchased 50 acres that they christened Blackwater Estate after the stream that snakes through the property. Gottlieb sought a life of simplicity and conservation. The home he designed was passive solar. There were chickens and goats to be tended, vegetables and fruits to be canned. The commune was nearly self-sufficient. The doors were made three feet wide for the day when one or more of the residents would be in wheelchairs. 'My husband called it either a geriatric commune or a kibbutz,' recalls Gowell.

Actually, Blackwater Estate became a kind of spiritual retreat and the focal point of a growing community who found in Gottlieb a charismatic soul mate. In his home, Gottlieb set aside a corner of the living room for morning meditation. He knelt on pillows and lit candles and incense. Nowhere was there reference to the CIA. After meditation, he bicycled two miles down a bumpy country road to fetch the newspaper and mail. He bought a used car, insisting on cloth interior and manual transmission. He rarely shed his Birkenstock sandals. 'He was like an old hippie,' says Butch Zindel, a friend who marveled at Gottlieb's modest needs.

In 1980, Virginia granted Gottlieb a license to practice speech pathology. He set up a clinic and volunteered in a local preschool helping small children with speech impediments. He also helped the elderly. In 1995, a neighbor, William Young, had a disabling stroke that left him unable to speak. It was Sidney Gottlieb, then 77, who taught him to talk again. For many years, Gottlieb volunteered at the Hospice of the Rapidan, spending long hours with the dying, reading to them or just holding hands and listening. Sometimes Gottlieb would pay a patient's overdue electric bill or confer with a lawyer to make sure that a will was in order. In one instance, a terminally ill man, long emotionally isolated from his wife and friends, finally opened up to Gottlieb, unburdening himself of traumas suffered as a soldier in World War II. The man's wife listened at the door, hearing for the first time the demons that had haunted her husband. Kathy Clements, the director of the hospice, remembers Gottlieb as 'calming, quiet, peaceful and humble.'Gottlieb threw himself into community activities, serving on the zoning board and arts council. He took part in local theater. Each year he was the angel in the Christmas play. The first to appear on stage, he wore white robes and carried a wand with a star at the end.

The transformation was complete. It was as if Gottlieb had lost his former self, walking backward, sweeping his trail clean with a branch. In his first life, he had explored how to control the minds of others. In his second, he had gained sway over his own recollections, granting himself immunity and a fresh start.

In the 1983 deposition, he said he could not even remember whether he attended Frank Olson's funeral. (His signature appears neatly penned on the scroll of mourners collected that day.) Most people in Rappahannock County had no idea Gottlieb had ever worked for the CIA. His virtue was unquestioned, his counsel sought after, his company prized.

But in adopting a life of selfless virtue and transparency he had traded one cover story for another. Just when it seemed he had entirely distanced himself from his past it showed up again on his doorstep.

For 31 years the Olson family had sought answers to Frank Olson's death. Now, on that sunny day in 1984, Sid Gottlieb stood before them. 'There was a tautness to him,' recalls Eric Olson. 'He was kind of hyper-alert and extremely intelligent. You could feel that right away. I was dealing with a world-class intelligence-and a world-class shrewdness. You felt like you were playing cat-and-mouse and he was way ahead of you. He had a way of decentering you . . . He had a charm that was extraordinary. You could almost fall in love with the guy.'

Gottlieb gave the Olsons his standard justification: that giving unwitting subjects LSD had been essential to understand what would happen if 'the enemy' should dose captured American scientists. But why Olson? Because, said Gottlieb, the agency enjoyed a liaison relationship with the scientists at Fort Detrick that made them particularly convenient subjects.

To specific questions-the when's and what's-Gottlieb drew a blank. At times he suggested that he and the Olsons shared much in common. Eric Olson remembers, 'He tried to create an identification between himself and my father, saying they were similar guys, both being children of first-generation immigrants.' Gottlieb's wife, Margaret, spoke of her father being a missionary in India. Olson's widow was the daughter of a missionary in China. 'There was a sense that we were meeting a colleague on the one hand and an enemy on the other,' says Eric Olson.

'I felt kind of brainwashed by the guy,' remembers Nils Olson. 'I ended up having paternalistic feelings toward him. That's how flipped upside down we were . . . you end up feeling violated.'

Gottlieb offered up a mix of candor and indignation. 'If you don't believe me,' he told the Olsons, 'you might as well leave.' When Eric hinted that his father's death was no accident, Gottlieb suggested he seek mental counseling. Later Eric reached his own bitter conclusion. 'He was lying the whole time. Virtually everything he said was a lie.'

What was most unsettling to the Olsons was the way Gottlieb distanced himself from his own actions. 'The thrust of what he did in the whole session,' says Eric Olson, 'was to say that 'that guy Gottlieb back there did some things that I'm ashamed of, but I am not him. I moved on. I left the agency, I went to India, and I am teaching children with learning disabilities, and I am consciousness-raising. I am not that guy.''

Ten years later, in 1994, Gottlieb received yet another nettlesome visitor-James Starrs, a law professor and forensic scientist from George Washington University, who was working with Eric Olson to unravel the mystery of Frank Olson's death. Starrs found Gottlieb charming but 'on the brink of explosion' each time he was challenged. Starrs asked why, after Frank Olson became depressed, Gottlieb had taken him to Harold Abramson, an allergist and self-proclaimed expert on LSD who had been a beneficiary of CIA funding (he once studied the effect of LSD on goldfish). With Frank Olson in turmoil, Abramson had given him a bottle of bourbon and Nembutal for insomnia.

The conclusion many drew based on this odd choice of therapists was that Gottlieb was more concerned with CIA secrecy than Olson's health. It was a point Gottlieb always hotly disputed. 'I was very upset that a human being had been killed,' he had once testified. 'I didn't mean for that to happen. It was a total accident.'

But James Starrs was not so sure. At the request of Eric Olson, Starrs had exhumed Frank Olson's body. What he says he found was evidence of a hematoma on the temple, an injury Starrs believed was too small to have been caused by the impact with the pavement. His conclusion was that the injury could only have occurred before Olson's fatal plunge. His findings supported the Olsons' suspicion that Frank Olson had likely been murdered.

Too far-fetched? Eric Olson cites a 1953 CIA manual. It notes, 'The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface.'

But why would the CIA murder one of its own? Eric Olson argues that his father had deep moral misgivings about the research into biological warfare, including work with airborne pathogens that he had been doing for the agency. In fact, he had decided to quit his job. Eric is convinced that the CIA viewed his father as a security risk, one who had to be silenced.

The CIA has never responded to Starrs's findings.

By 1998 Sid Gottlieb's commune was unraveling. Gottlieb, then 80, was too frail to work the land. He had designed a second dream home, with a tower for meditation, but it was never to be built. Reluctantly, he and Margaret purchased the home in Washington, Va. He sensed he did not have long.

Gottlieb had become more withdrawn. In college he had ribbed Stanley Mehr for quoting the Matthew Arnold poem 'Dover Beach,' dismissing it as pessimistic. But in his last years, Gottlieb recited it to Mehr, having committed the spectacularly dark final lines to memory:

. . . for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help from pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Even as his health deteriorated, he faced additional lawsuits from the ghosts of his past. In 1952 Stanley Milton Glickman was an artist living in Paris. Years later, Glickman would remember an American with a clubfoot who had slipped LSD into his drink at a cafe, leaving him with recurrent hallucinations-in essence, driving him mad. In the early '80s, Glickman sued Gottlieb. When Glickman died in 1992, his sister continued the suit.

There was no evidence placing Gottlieb in Paris at the time, nor any other evidence linking him to Glickman. When Gottlieb died, the suit was brought against his estate. In time, even the judge passed away. Finally, in 1999-two months after Gottlieb's death-the suit was dismissed. Gottlieb's estate prevailed.

'I just feel badly with what he had to put up with in the latter part of his life,' recalls Mehr. 'He gradually became depressed, and it's hard to say how much was due to his heart ailment and how much was due to the endless lawsuits. He was not the same man the last few years of his life.'

When he died on March 6, 1999, secrecy descended once more. The Clore English Funeral Home in Culpeper declined to disclose details of final arrangements, not even the disposition of his ashes. The local paper, the Rappahannock News, observed his passing with one terse paragraph. The last line read, 'Services will be private.'

'It was the shortest obituary in history,' remembers editor Barbara Wayland. The family had feared refueling old controversies. Nonetheless, old recriminations resurfaced almost immediately. Major newspapers through the United States and abroad dredged up the lurid details of Gottlieb's CIA past. His obituary in the Times of London began, 'When Churchill spoke of a world 'made darker by the dark lights of perverted science' he was referring to the revolting experiments conducted on human beings by Nazi doctors in the concentration camps. But his remarks might with equal justice have been applied to the activities of the CIA's Sidney Gottlieb.' The Guardian of London headlined its obituary 'The Real Manchurian Candidate.' The Toronto Sun's obituary ran under the headline 'CIA Acid Guru Dies.'

Such accounts found their way back to Rappahannock County. 'People were tearing their hair out and beating their breasts saying he was evil personified, and how could they reconcile that with the man they knew?' recalls Lois Manookian, a close friend of Gottlieb's.

Many rallied to Gottlieb's defense. Bob Scott wrote a letter to the Rappahannock News. 'The big city newspapers were not able to know the Sid Gottlieb we knew so well,' Scott wrote. 'Sid Gottlieb personified the spirit of the selfless servant.' For others, it was more difficult coming to terms with the news. 'What we read about him was not the man we knew,' says Kathy Clements, who ran the hospice.'It was hard for me to square that up with the person I knew,' recalls the Rev. Phillip Bailey. 'It just kind of floored me that he would have been involved in anything that would have endangered people without them knowing it. He was a very gentle, caring person.'

Says attorney Frank Reynolds, 'If he did the things that he did-that they say he did-how do I put this? If he did the things he did, it requires an ability to put research above other things and it sure looked to me like he put human things above other things in the time I knew him.'

Many have reached the same inexorable conclusion, the one articulated by Rose Ann Sharp, who worked in the preschool where Gottlieb volunteered: 'I always thought that a lot of Sid's later life was spent atoning, whether he needed to or not, for how he had been exposed publicly as some sort of evil scientist.'

'I felt that he was on a path of expiation, whether consciously or unconsciously,' agrees Rabbi Carla Theodore. In part she came to that conclusion after the revelations of Gottlieb's CIA past, but there were earlier hints. Theodore remembers him commiserating with a friend who said she had a past that had to be kept hidden.

'I, too, have done things I really regret,' Gottlieb told her. 'But I am learning to keep it to myself.' For a time, Gottlieb told Theodore, his own adult children were not speaking to him. 'There were enough cries of horror from near and far,' says Theodore. 'It was an extremely big fact of his past. Somehow he was living around it. It was there like a pink elephant.

'I once asked him if I could talk to him about it, and he said, 'Yes, not many people asked.' But the thing was, his answers were so defended that I gave up after a few minutes. It was a barrier. I wasn't going to get the truth. He was a delightful person to interact with, but at the same time I feel he grieved and suffered and that that was always there. Maybe in retrospect he was as puzzled by what he had done as we were who heard about it.'

Says Lois Manookian, 'He had given his heart and soul to the CIA, and because he made some mistakes, he suddenly found himself to be a national demon.'But 'he was always the same person,' insists Manookian. 'He did not become a different person 20 years ago. He was a man of great honor and great integrity.'What Manookian saw in Sid Gottlieb was a man of deep faith who sometimes put it in the wrong place. 'He was not a monster but a man,' says Manookian, 'He was, and is, us, and we didn't want to see it.'

In the end, his life, like many, was riddled with contradictions. He rarely spoke of the CIA, and when he did, he sometimes uttered what would have been apostasy to a younger Sidney Gottlieb. Gottlieb friend Butch Zindel says that Gottlieb told him he had never really believed that communism was the threat it was made out to be. 'We wasted a lot of money and a lot of people fighting it,' he once said.

In 1993 Gottlieb declined an interview with U.S. News & World Report, saying only that he was 'on the side of the angels now.'

Gottlieb's two worlds came together for one brief afternoon in the gym of the old schoolhouse across from Gottlieb's home. There, perhaps 200 gathered for his memorial service, bearing casseroles and covered dishes. Most who spoke were neighbors and friends from his second life, but there were also white-haired men from Langley who did not speak publicly but mingled afterward. The arc of his life had stretched from one Washington to the other. The first had all but branded him a monster. The second all but canonized him.

'Ah-poor Sid Gottlieb,' says Richard Helms, a former director of the CIA. 'He has been heavily persecuted, but to bail him out of the troubles he's in would take a lot more than just a few minutes and I'm not sure I'd be much of a contributor to it. The nation just saw something they didn't like and blasted it, and he took the blame for it.'

Now 88 and editing his own memoirs, Helms has chosen to delete all reference to MK-ULTRA. 'I see no way to handle it in the amount of space I have available,' he says.

Gottlieb's CIA associate John Gittinger maintained his friendship with Gottlieb after retirement, but the two rarely spoke of their travails. Still, Gittinger believes Gottlieb suffered from the investigations and lawsuits. 'His was twice as bad as mine, and mine was terrible,' says Gittinger. 'I have a feeling that Sid was left out on a limb as far as support from the agency was concerned.'Even now, Gottlieb has not fully escaped his past. Eric Olson, who lost his father 48 years ago, is preparing to sue the government, claiming that his earlier settlement was tainted by lies. His father's skeleton, potential evidence, rests under lock and key in the office of forensic pathologist James Starrs. Tissue samples are in labs in Florida and Pennsylvania.

But Gottlieb's life raised a question broader than any that will ever be addressed in court. It was the subtext of every obituary, the unspoken question on the lips of mourners: how to reconcile the two Sid Gottliebs. One is humble and compassionate, an altruist eager to ease the miseries of the weak and sick. The other, a heedless Cold Warrior, is willing to experiment on innocents or unleash anthrax in the name of national security.

It is hard to argue that Sid Gottlieb was not a product of his time. His life reflected the same polarities that defined the Cold War, the virtues and vices of extreme patriotism, the promise and perversion of science. He inhabited another era-a time of smothering conformity, loyalty oaths, witch hunts, segregation, lobotomies, sterilizations and radiation experiments.

As recently as August, many might have found it easy to look back at those excesses as virtually medieval and call them 'unthinkable,' a handy term to distance ourselves from unsavory elements of our own past. But what was unthinkable in summer is no longer so in autumn. This season, we don't need Gottlieb or anyone else to convince us of the hidden threats and potential horrors we face. We can see it in the endless loop of the news.

The revulsion felt at secret American schemes of assassination has given way to the fervent hope of some that our assassins will be more successful this time. A recent national poll revealed that one in three Americans is ready to sanction torture in the interrogation of terrorism suspects. Once again, the good we do and the evil we are capable of glide within the same tight orbit.

Ted Gup is the author of The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives and is a professor of journalism at Case Western Reserve University. He will be fielding questions and comments about this article at 1 p.m. Monday on .



Posted on Thu, Aug. 08, 2002

Scientist's death haunts family

 By Fredric N. Tulsky Mercury News 

The death in 1953 of a government scientist, Frank Olson, in a fall from a New York hotel window, is one of the most notorious cases in CIA history.

Only in 1975 did Olson's family learn that the CIA had slipped LSD into his drink, days before his death. President Ford apologized for an experiment gone awry, and promised that the government would reveal everything about the case.

But newly obtained documents show that the Ford administration continued to conceal information about Olson -- particularly his role in some of the CIA's most controversial research of the Cold War, on anthrax and other biological weapons.

The documents show that two of the key officials involved in the decision to withhold that information were White House aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, today the nation's vice president and secretary of defense.

``These documents show the lengths to which the government was trying to cover up the truth,'' said the scientist's son, Eric Olson, who gave them to the Mercury News. ``For 22 years there was a coverup. And then, under the guise of revealing everything, there was a new coverup.''

Rumsfeld's office referred questions about the withholding of information to the CIA, where a media officer, Paul Nowack, said CIA activities related to Frank Olson's death were investigated by the Rockefeller Commission as well as subsequent congressional committees.

``The CIA fully cooperated'' in those investigations, he said, and ``tens of thousands of documents were released.'' If anyone has new information, he said, ``they should contact appropriate authorities.''

Eric Olson has contended for years that his father was murdered to cover up his research for the CIA. At a news conference in Maryland today, he will reveal the results of his long inquiry into his father's death.

The new documents do not prove those allegations. But they do show that the White House officials were concerned about any public revelation of Frank Olson's work.

Contrary to the official explanation that Frank Olson was an Army scientist, Olson worked for the CIA, at the special-operations division at Fort Detrick, the Maryland laboratory where biological weapons were tested.

Classified research

Eric Olson said this week that a former colleague and friend of his father's contacted him last year and described some of the closely guarded work his father conducted.

He said the colleague told him his father was among scientists studying the use of LSD and other drugs to enhance interrogations, as Cold War tensions ran high and Americans feared that captured soldiers had been brainwashed in Korea.

In the months before his death, the colleague said, Frank Olson had gone to Europe, where he observed the interrogation of former Nazis and Soviet citizens at a secret U.S. base. And, the colleague said, Frank Olson had knowledge of the U.S. biological weapons program.

Eric Olson contends that in the final days of his life, his father became morally distraught over his work and decided to quit. Personnel records show that agency officials were concerned that he was a security risk. Eric Olson believes that the thought of Frank Olson quitting was a motive for the government to want him dead.

In 1993, Eric Olson arranged for his father's body to be unearthed and examined by a forensic scientist, James Starrs. Starrs concluded that Frank Olson had probably been struck on the head and then thrown out of the hotel window.

Starrs' conclusion is one of the tantalizing pieces that Eric Olson has gathered to support his belief that his father was murdered. Friday, satisfied that he has accomplished what he could, Olson intends to rebury the remains of his father.

In late November 1953, Frank Olson, then 43, joined a group of government officials at a conference at Deep Creek Lodge in western Maryland. For days afterward, Olson was withdrawn. His son, Eric, says his father told his wife that he intended to quit his job.

But Frank Olson did not quit. And on Nov. 23 he went to New York with another government official, where he twice visited Harold A. Abramson, a doctor who was one of the first researchers to study the effects of LSD.

Olson returned to Washington, then went back to New York on Nov. 28 and checked into the Statler Hotel. He was scheduled to enter a sanitarium the next day.

But early in the morning of Nov. 29, Frank Olson went through the window of the hotel room he was sharing with a colleague, Robert Lashbrook. Lashbrook told police that he was awakened by the sound of breaking glass.

The Olson family knew little else. But in 1975, a commission headed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller issued a report on CIA abuses, and an account in the Washington Post included a mention of an Army scientist who jumped from a New York hotel room days after being slipped LSD in 1953.

``We realized they were talking about my father,'' Eric Olson recalled. Family members talked to reporters about their outrage and said they would sue the government. Days later, the family was invited to the White House to meet President Ford. He assured them that they would be given all information about what happened to Frank Olson.

Soon after, family members were invited to lunch with CIA Director William Colby, who gave them a file of documents that amounted to the CIA investigation into Olson's death. But the documents left many questions unanswered about both his work and the circumstances of his death.

The family was told that a lawsuit was unlikely to succeed. Instead, the administration promised to support a private bill in Congress, through which the family received $750,000 to resolve its claims.

``The express understanding was that the government had promised to give us all information, which clearly meant information about his work relationship with the CIA,'' the Olsons' attorney, David Rudovsky of Philadelphia, said this week. ``It now appears that was not the case.''

Son finds clues

Over the years Eric Olson turned up many clues, real or coincidental. There was, for example, the assassination manual that the CIA declassified in connection with its Guatemala activities. The manual, created in the early 1950s, identified ``the contrived accident'' as ``the most effective technique'' of secret assassination.

``The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface,'' the manual stated.

Only recently Eric Olson obtained files from a University of California-Davis history professor that showed White House officials had intentionally withheld details of Frank Olson's death from the family.

The professor, Kathryn Olmsted, came across the records at the Gerald Ford library. They included a memo from Dick Cheney, a White House assistant at the time, to Donald Rumsfeld, the chief of staff, on July 11, 1975, one day after the Olsons first held a news conference.

The memo warned that a lawsuit could involve ``the possibility that it might be necessary to disclose highly classified national-security information in connection with any court suit or legislative hearings on a private bill.''

The documents also include memos written by White House counsel Roderick Hills to the president that were routed through Cheney and other officials. ``Dr. Olson's job is so sensitive that it is highly unlikely that we would submit relevant evidence'' to a court, Hills wrote, regarding a potential suit by the Olson family.

``If there is a trial, it is apparent that the Olsons' lawyer will seek to explore all of the circumstances of Dr. Olson's employment as well as those concerning his death. Thus, in the trial it may become apparent that we are concealing evidence for national-security reasons and any settlement or judgment reached thereafter could be perceived as money paid to cover up the activities of the CIA.''

As a result, Hills urged settling the case out of court.

Contact Fredric N. Tulsky at  or (408) 920-5512.

Reproduced gratefully from Mercury News


Government-linked 'suicide' probed 1954 incident bears similarities to death of CIA biochemist

Posted: September 8, 2002 1:00 a.m. Eastern

By H.P. Albarelli Jr. © 2002

Prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office have looked into possible connections between the 1953 death of CIA biochemist Dr. Frank Olson and the bizarre 1954 suicide of a Texas detective, WorldNetDaily has learned.

According to sources close to the recently completed grand jury inquiry into Olson's death, investigators in District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's office have examined top-secret CIA documents from a joint 1978 CIA-Department of Justice investigation related to the death of M.A. Billnitzer, who was a plainclothes investigator with the Houston, Texas, police department.

Informally dubbed the Victims Task Force, the joint investigation was initiated in 1979 after U.S. Attorney General Griffen B. Bell notified the CIA in the fall of 1978 of his opinion that "the government had a duty to seek out and notify persons who may have been harmed as a result of their having been used as unwitting subjects of [CIA] drug experiments." Chief among the experimental programs of concern to the attorney general were projects Artichoke, MKULTRA, MKNAOMI, MKDELTA and MKSEARCH.

In response to Bell's opinion, then-CIA director Stansfield Turner ordered David Brandwein, director of the CIA's Office of Technical Services, to conduct a comprehensive search of agency records to locate the names of any unwitting victims. Four months later, Turner informed Bell that the search "confirmed earlier findings that no subjects of drug experimentation are identified in the available [CIA] files." However, said Turner, in a January 1975 letter to Bell, "We have addressed correspondence to researchers and former employees considered most likely to be helpful" in identifying and locating unwitting subjects.

"As nearly as we can determine from records available," Turner's letter continued, "the CIA and the Bureau of Narcotics engaged in the operation of joint interest to the two agencies that may in some way have involved the administration of drugs to human subjects without their knowledge in safe houses in New York City and San Francisco."

Turner's letter then went on to make several astonishing admissions: "Exactly what took place in these facilities has not been determined, and neither our records nor the records of the Bureau of Narcotics (Drug Enforcement Administration) disclose any information that is useful in attempting to establish the persons who might have visited them for whatever purpose. Moreover, testimony before the Congress in the fall of 1977 by former employees of CIA and the Bureau of Narcotics revealed a distressing failure of recollections about CIA use of safe houses. The question of how the Bureau of Narcotics used them was never raised. While fragmentary records and amnesic recollections may render well nigh impossible the task of reconstructing the uses to which the safe houses were put by either Agency, and identifying any unwitting subjects there may have been, I consider it nonetheless incumbent upon us to make every reasonable effort to do so."

Several weeks later, the Victims Task Force was formed. Its chief field investigators were Richard Selmi and John H. Laubinger. Selmi was a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who worked in the Far East and with the DEA's internal security branch. Laubinger is a former CIA employee who joined the agency in early 1952 and worked as an analytical chemist in the Far East, Germany and France. Laubinger and Selmi reported to Robert H. Wiltse, a special assistant to John F. Blake, CIA deputy director of administration. A first-generation agency employee, Blake had been a former wartime OSS officer.

The common denominator between the deaths of Olson and Billnitzer is George Hunter White, a Federal Narcotics Bureau agent and also a former OSS officer. White, who died in 1975, worked surreptitiously from 1952 to 1967 for the CIA under several contracts related to drug experimentation and other matters. In his capacity as a CIA contractor, White also oversaw, and participated in, the operation of at least five CIA-funded safe houses in New York, Washington, D.C., and California. Three of these safe houses involved a sophisticated prostitution operation aimed at covertly eliciting information from targeted American citizens, foreign nationals, diplomats and drug traffickers.

Occasionally, the safe house prostitutes would carry out their assignments by using mind-altering substances, but, according to informed sources, they just as frequently operated along more conventional lines using sexual favors for information retrieval and extortion.

A Victim's Task Force report on one of the New York safe houses reads: "The apartment had been used by visiting politicians, U.N. personnel, and senior FBN people. It had been used operationally in the [Victor] Stadter case and others, had been used as a command post in a case involving diplomats, had been used operationally while Castro was visiting the U.N., had been used during the OESingle Convention' as a convenient meeting/entertainment spot, had been used to meet newspaper people for interviews, etc., and had been used socially."

A separate 1979 report on the Washington, D.C., safe house reads: "The three-story walk-up was used often during the afternoon hours and evening (after work) hours. It had been used by diplomats, politicians from the Hill and other visiting elected officials. It had also been used by various campaign people and on occasion by local law-enforcement personnel. An English basement apartment with separate front and rear entrances was used by technicians and other monitoring personnel."

The Washington, D.C., safe house was located near the State Department in the Foggy Bottom section of the nation's capital. The initial New York safe house – there were three – was composed of two adjoining ground-floor apartments located at the corner of Bedford and Barrow streets in Greenwich Village. The building, which was torn down in the late 1970s, that housed the apartments was owned by a "foreign national engaged in the import-export business," according to CIA leasing documents. In 1959, another FBN safe house in New York, located in Greenwich Towers at 105 West 13th St., was funded by the CIA. In California, one of the safe houses was located in San Francisco at 225 Chestnut St. Another was a private home in Mill Valley, Marin County, located at 261 Green St.

Detective's mysterious death

The story of White's involvement in the Houston incident is a particularly odd saga. It is reconstructed here from extensive interviews conducted with persons close to the event, as well as from CIA and FBN documents.

George White was ordered to go to Houston, Texas, in May 1954 by FBN Commissioner Harry Anslinger. Just weeks prior, White had made a mysterious and unexpected trip to Havana, Cuba, following a secret two-day meeting at New York's Belmont Plaza Hotel attended by five physicians who were surreptitiously under contract with the CIA and Army Chemical Corps. A little over 10 years earlier, White, as an OSS officer, had conducted a series of "truth-drug" experiments on unwitting Manhattan Project employees and others in the same hotel.

Ostensibly, White's objective in Houston was to investigate confidential informer reports that members of the Houston Police Department were selling narcotics seized from drug traffickers. White was joined in Houston by fellow FBN agents Fred Douglas and Henry L. Giordano. Douglas came from the Washington, D.C., branch of the FBN. Giordano, a pharmacist by professional training, came from Kansas City. (Giordano was appointed head of the FBN in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy.)

In Houston, White's investigation quickly led to his targeting vice-squad detective M.A. Billnitzer, whom White suspected of having detailed knowledge of the illegal dealings of other officers. White had been told by other Houston officers that "over $250,000 worth of heroin caps" had been siphoned off from a hidden stash belonging to a notorious dealer named Earl Voice.

According to White's written reports to Commissioner Anslinger, "The heroin was then, a week later, sold back to Voice by the same detectives that discovered the stash." White's sources on the scheme were Voice himself and Houston police officer William Pool. According to White, "Pool had blown the whistle on the rotten apples in the department by sending word to [Anslinger] in Washington, D.C." Pool, who had arrested Voice, told White, "Voice told me that he had bought back a big chunk of his own heroin within a week after it had been confiscated by the police. He said he bought it from a cop."

Billnitzer had been the senior detective brought in on the discovery of Voice's stash, so White called him in to give a statement. According to White, Billnitzer "was evasive and got his facts all jumbled." Dissatisfied, a few days later White asked Billnitzer to return to his suite in Houston's William Penn Hotel for a second interview. This time, reported White, Billnitzer changed his story and "admitted that there had been more heroin than officially reported."

The next day, at around 11 a.m., a police officer working outside Billnitzer's vice-squad office, was startled to hear a gunshot come from behind the detective's closed door. As the officer jumped to his feet, he heard something heavy hitting the floor in the office. Then, after a moment, a second shot sounded. The officer attempted to enter Billnitzer's office, but was unable to open the door. When other officers entered the office they found Billnitzer dead "with two bullet holes in his heart."

The death was quickly ruled a suicide, and no autopsy was performed. Odd as it was, the ruling was supported by Houston Police Chief Leroy Morrison and his lead homicide investigator, who said there was "not the slightest doubt" that Billnitzer killed himself.

White disagreed. Said White, "If [Billnitzer] killed himself, he is probably the first man who ever killed himself twice." Over the protestations of Houston law-enforcement officials, White conducted his own investigation into the detective's death. He soon reported that "the first shot that hit Billnitzer was fired while he was standing upright." That shot entered the detective's heart.

"Billnitzer then fell to the floor," reads White's report. "While falling, his head struck a steel filing cabinet so hard that blood and hair were found on the metal." It was then, White wrote, "after he had fallen that the second shot was fired into his heart."

Less than a week after Billnitzer's bizarre death, White was "astounded when I picked up a newspaper and saw a headline that accused me of driving Billnitzer out of his mind." The accusation was not the idle speculation of a reporter but the claim of Houston's city attorney, Will Sears. Outraged by White's activities in his city, Sears formally fired off a series of heated telegrams to Anslinger in Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Secretary of Treasury George Humphrey and FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.

Sears charged that White's actions defied "proper description" and that the agent's tactics "were absolutely ruthless and extremely unconventional." He demanded an immediate federal investigation.

"I sincerely believe that agent White used tactics and threats against a law-enforcement officer that seriously disturbed the balance of the officer's mind and lead to his 'suicide,'" Sears wrote.

Joining the Houston city attorney in his call for an investigation and asking that White be expelled from Houston was Chief Morrison, who also called for a separate "FBI investigation of White's Gestapo-type tactics."

Rudolph Halley, a close friend of White's and former head of the New York City Council, called White from Manhattan to report that the District Attorney's Office there had informed him that the Houston police had dispatched a team to New York to investigate White. Warned Halley, "These Texas people are trying to dig up everything possible on you."

Not surprisingly, White telephoned his CIA superior in Washington, D.C., Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, director of the agency's Chemical Branch, to alert him to the investigation. Gottlieb responded that he had already been informed that efforts were underway to "discredit" and brand White "as an associate with communists." The CIA official ordered White to temporarily suspend all New York safe house activities "until further notification." Months later, the Greenwich Village safe house was shuttered and White was transferred to San Francisco. He made only one more trip to Houston, in early 1955, as part of an official inquiry related to the Billnitzer case. The evening before he departed for Texas he had a dinner meeting with Gottlieb.

LSD-provoked suicide?

Victim's Task Force investigators Laubinger and Selmi learned of the strange Houston incident in August 1979 when they interviewed retired Federal Narcotics agent George Gaffney. According to a declassified CIA memorandum regarding the interview, Gaffney told Laubinger that he had been informed by the "resident FBN agent" in Houston, who was highly critical of White's tactics, "that Billnitzer had no reason to commit suicide" and that "he suspected the suicide had been provoked by excessive threats and abuse by White."

The memorandum goes on to state that Gaffney told Laubinger that he "remembered the LSD-provoked suicide by [Frank] Olson and after the recent revelations put two and two together and suggested the possibility that White had used a drug (possibly LSD) on Billnitzer, which had similarly provoked his suicide."

A subsequent Task Force report to John Blake, CIA deputy administration director, and the attorney general's office does not mention Frank Olson or his death. It reads: "Billnitzer was found on the floor, dead, with two bullet holes 'through the heart.' . . . According to press accounts, one shot was fired while he was standing and the other after he had hit the floor. There was no autopsy reported other than an examination of the externals of his chest."

The report continues, "The speculation was offered during this investigation that Billnitzer's 'suicide' may have resulted as an aftereffect of his having received an unwitting dose of LSD from White." Laubinger and Selmi then explained that they had interviewed "the one remaining witness" to "the two interrogations of Billnitzer" by White. This was retired FBN Commissioner Henry Giordano. Giordano told the two that as he recalled, "no food or drink was served during or before the interrogation." Said Giordano, "Even had White been inclined to have surreptitiously slipped LSD to Billnitzer" he did "not believe" that White "had the opportunity to have done so."

Intrigue into Olson death grows

In other developments related to the Olson case, last month, on Aug. 9, the surviving sons of Frank Olson, Eric and Nils Olson, reburied their father's remains in a Frederick, Md., cemetery. Olson's body had been exhumed on June 2, 1994, and subjected to a thorough forensic examination conducted by a team of 15 experts, including several pathologists and toxicologists, overseen by professor James Starrs of George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

The results of the examination lead Starrs to conclude in 1999, "It is highly likely that Frank Olson met with foul play." Starrs said last month, "By the process of exclusion, [murder] is the only reasonable possibility. For the occurrence of this, the explanation is somebody got away with murder, literally."

According to a highly controversial televised report broadcast by WJLA-TV, the Washington, D.C., ABC affiliate, the Olsons, at an Aug. 8 press conference, claimed "they can now prove Frank Olson worked for the CIA studying anthrax" and that "biological weapons were used during the Korean War."

WJLA also reported that Eric Olson said that he has "never before seen home movies" that "reveal one of the places his father visited during [his] frequent trips to Europe was a top-secret CIA safe house" where experiments and interrogations resulted in "German POWs" and others being "tortured and killed." According to the WJLA report, Olson said that the home movies also "show aerosol anthrax being sprayed from a crop duster during government experiments his father supervised."

However, asked for comment on the claims made in the televised report, Eric Olson said, "I can't vouch for any of that." On the anthrax spraying charge, Olson said, "I have no way of knowing whether it was anthrax, etc., and never claimed to know. . . . There appears an image of a crop duster within my father's movies. Where this is or what is being sprayed is not clear." Olson added that the report concerning the safe house "was taken from" a German documentary recently aired in that country. "There are no images of a 'safe house' among my father's slides or movies." It wasn't clear if Olson has seen the documentary.

Spokesmen for Fort Detrick, the U.S. Army facility where Frank Olson worked, flatly denied that the U.S. government ever used anthrax as a weapon during the Korean War.

"We would love to see those home movies that show anthrax spraying, but we aren't holding our breath," said one Army official who declined to be quoted by name.

Former Fort Detrick researchers who knew and worked with Frank Olson said they were "seriously troubled" and "deeply concerned" by reports of Olson's home movies. Said one researcher, "I can't imagine any such films existing. The Frank Olson I knew would have never done that. Besides, it simply makes no sense. Why would [Frank] Olson have such a film at home? That would be a very, very serious breach of security, both then and now."

Said another former Detrick researcher, "This is so far out. I can't believe anyone said that. [Frank] Olson never worked with anthrax. It wasn't his thing.

"And we never used it in Korea."

The Olson brothers said in a prepared statement read to the press on Aug. 9, "The death of Frank Olson on Nov. 28, 1953, was a murder, not a suicide. . . . He died because of concerns that he would divulge information concerning a highly classified CIA interrogation program called Artichoke . . . and [information] concerning the use of biological weapons by the United States in the Korean War."

The issue that the United States used biological weapons during the Korean War has been hotly debated since the mid-1950s after the Chinese and North Koreans accused America of using infected insects to disseminate disease in Korea. The debate was heatedly renewed in 1998 when Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman published a book entitled, "The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets From the Early Cold War and Korea." The book presents what many consider "hard evidence" that the U.S. military and intelligence communities lied to Congress and to the American people about their biological-warfare capabilities.

Endicott and Hagerman conclude in their book, "There is a long circumstantial trail of corroborative evidence that the United States experimented with biological weapons in Korea." Most visible along that turning and twisting trail is the myriad of covert research and operational programs conducted by the Army at Fort Detrick. Endicott's and Hagerman's book, which is masterfully researched, contains little about specific projects conducted at Fort Detrick's ultra-secret Special Operations Division, but through other sources and documents we are able to glimpse the dimensions of these projects.

Starvation as a weapon

That biochemist and program administrator Dr. Frank Olson worked developing new and better ways of biological destruction aimed at mass populations and targeted individuals is indisputable. A "Special Biological Department Report" prepared in 1950 by Fort Detrick's Special Operations Division (Olson's section of employment) in conjunction with its Crops Division vividly portrays one project that Olson worked on. The "Top Secret" report was obtained from the Department of Defense by this writer after filing several Freedom of Information requests. The report concerns a Special Operations project involving the development of "feathers as carriers of biological-warfare agents." The biological agent of particular interest in the report – one in a series of 18 such covert biological-warfare sub-projects listed under the codename ARCHON – was cereal rust spores.

Cereal rust spores produce rust infection. The infection is lethal, not to humans, but to edible plants that are grown in concentrations to sustain life. In the 1950s, Fort Detrick researchers considered the use of "plant pathogens" to produce various types of plant-killing fungus to be "a more humane way of eliminating enemy populations" – starvation.

Olson and several other Special Operations Division scientists, as detailed by other Defense Department documents, worked intently for about 18 months on the cereal rust project. The project report is lengthy and filled with technical jargon, but can be summarized in its own words.

Preliminary controlled tests conducted by Detrick's SO Division "demonstrated that birds dusted with cereal rust spores will retain sufficient numbers of spores to initiate a cereal rust infection." Initial tests to confirm this "were conducted at Camp Detrick [renamed Fort Detrick in 1954], consisted of dusting birds with cereal rust spores (Puccinia graminis avenae, Race 8) and releasing them for 1 1/2 to 24 hours in cages covering approximately 100 square feet of seedling Vicland oats." The result: "A heavy rust infection resulted on all of the plots."

The second test conducted by SO was quite dangerous, as infected birds were released from cages to fly "a 100-mile flight." Used in the test were 10 "homing pigeons dusted with rust spores" and then released and "allowed to fly approximately 100 miles to their home barn" at Fort Detrick. The report states: "This test demonstrated that sufficient spores will be retained on birds after a 100-mile free flight to initiate primary infection; it was also shown that large numbers of viable spores will remain on these birds for at least 19 days."

The third SO test was conducted "at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands," using "four test plots covering 1,600 square feet of Vicland oats." Again, birds were used and "heavy infection resulted in all plots, demonstrating that birds dusted with rust spores and released from aircraft will retain sufficient numbers of spores to initiate a cereal rust infection."

But, the problems of collecting, training, controlling and tidying-up-after birds were not attractive to SO researchers. One of Olson's areas of expertise was the airborne delivery of lethal micro-organisms. He asked, Why use birds when just their feathers will do? Olson and his colleagues soon devised an ingenious and diabolical scheme whereby large numbers of birds of multiple kinds were infected with spores and then their feathers were removed for placement in what were termed "MI6AI cluster adapters" – or in plain English, cluster or fragmentation bombs – normally used for dropping propaganda leaflets. WorldNetDaily found no evidence that these bombs were used as a weapon in Korea or anywhere else.

Asked by reporters for comment on the claims made at the Olsons' press conference, the CIA was quick to respond.

"The CIA fully cooperated in [the Rockefeller Commission and related congressional investigations into Olson's death]. Tens of thousands of documents were released. If anyone has new information they should contact the appropriate authorities," said CIA media officer Paul Novack. On any charges that the CIA murdered Frank Olson, Novack said, "It didn't happen. We categorically deny that."

A spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office declined to comment on the Billnitzer incident and Olson case, citing "the district attorney's long-standing policy of not discussing active cases."

Reproduced gratefully from:





World Socialist Web Site 


TV film on death of Frank Olson

German documentary charges US used biological weapons in Korean War

By Peter Schwarz
13 November 2002


The claim by the Bush administration that Baghdad is threatening the world with weapons of mass destruction is the main pretext for its war preparations against Iraq. However, a documentary recently broadcast by the German state television channel, ARD, suggests that the US government is itself hiding biological warfare programs from the rest of the world, and actually employed such weapons in 1952 during the Korean War.

The documentary, entitled Codename Artichoke—the Secret Human Experiments of the CIA, was aired by ARD last August. A book with the same title was published shortly afterwards. The authors of both the film and the book, TV journalists Edmond R. Koch and Michael Wech, focus on the case of biochemist Dr. Frank Olson, who died on November 28, 1953 after a mysterious fall from the 13th floor of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City.

At the time of his death, Olson had been given the highest clearance for access to classified information. He was one of the leading scientists doing research in the field of biological weapons, and had been working for ten years in the biological warfare facilities at Maryland’s Camp Detrick (today, Fort Detrick) near Washington DC.

He also occupied a leading position in “Operation Artichoke,” a CIA program that coordinated all projects of the Army, Navy and CIA involving psychedelic drugs, fatal poisons and similar substances. Those involved in this project included German doctors who had experimented with human beings in the Nazi concentration camps.

Artichoke involved the use of torture and drugs to interrogate people. The effects of substances such as LSD, heroin and marijuana were studied, using unsuspecting individuals as human guinea pigs. The CIA was eager to identify military uses for substances that altered the psyche. The agency was at that time obsessed with the idea that the Soviets or the Chinese might employ methods of brainwashing to recruit double agents or manipulate the population of entire nations.

Artichoke also included the development of poisons that take effect immediately. These substances were later used in attempts on the lives of a number of foreign leaders, e.g., Abdul Karim Kassem (Iraq), Patrice Lumumba (Congo), and Fidel Castro (Cuba).

Before Frank Olson plunged to his death from a window of the Hotel Pennsylvania in 1953, he exhibited symptoms of behavioural disturbance. Friends, family members and colleagues shown in the film and quoted in the book assume that he had seen things that he felt went too far, and intended to quit his work with the CIA. Prior to his death he had seen a psychiatrist on several occasions, always in the company of a CIA watchdog. He died one day before he was scheduled to be committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Olson’s death was officially described as suicide due to depression. Only in the mid-1970s, when the CIA’s secret activities were scrutinised in the wake of the Watergate scandal, did the government admit to a certain degree of responsibility: Ten days before his death, the CIA had administered LSD to Olson without his knowledge. President Gerald Ford subsequently apologised to the family, and the CIA paid compensation to his widow.

According to the documentary, this was a further cover-up operation. The film presents evidence suggesting that the death of the biochemical expert was not suicide, but murder.

Frank Olson’s son, Eric, is convinced that his father was assassinated. He has been trying for decades to clear up the circumstances of his father’s death, and has gathered numerous pieces of evidence supporting the thesis of murder, which he made available to the authors of Codename Artichoke.

In 1994 Eric Olson had his father’s body exhumed and examined by a renowned forensic scientist, who concluded that in all probability someone had knocked Frank Olson unconscious in the hotel room and thrown him out of the window, in contrast to the official version, which claimed Olson had jumped.

After the report on the post-mortem had been published, the public prosecutor’s office in Manhattan initiated proceedings against an unknown person. However, the prosecutor lost interest as soon as the CIA intervened into the questioning of the main witness, the CIA agent Robert Lashbrook, who had accompanied Olson continuously prior to his death and had been in the hotel room when Olson fell out of the window.

A memorandum dated July 11, 1975 and printed in the book strongly indicates that the CIA has something to hide. Addressed to the White House chief of staff, the memo urgently recommended an official apology by the president so as to forestall any trial or official hearing on the Olson case. Otherwise, the memo said, “it might be necessary to disclose highly classified national security information.” Ten days later President Ford met with the Olson family in the White House.

The addressee and the author of this memo are still active and hold prominent positions in government. The former is Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, who was then White House chief of staff, and the latter is Vice President Dick Cheney, who was then Rumsfeld’s deputy.

The following year, after delays in the payment of the promised compensation to the family, another well-known political figure intervened: then-CIA Director George Bush, who himself went on to become US president and whose son is George W. Bush.

Why the cover-up?


In the mid-1970s, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush senior collaborated to prevent a thorough investigation into Olson’s death, because they feared that it might “disclose highly classified national security information.” What information?

The authors of the documentary have traced numerous clues, but given the mass of multifaceted evidence presented, it is often difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Olson undoubtedly knew about many things that would have discredited the US administration, and it is entirely plausible that the government sought to silence him.

The authors describe how German physicians who had worked in Nazi concentration camps were rapidly rehabilitated after the war through the US denazification program and put to work on US research projects on biological and chemical warfare. The book also notes that Olson and his colleagues carried out large-scale field experiments with biological weapons. In one case they spread a certain bacillus—which they regarded as harmless—across San Francisco Bay, as a dress rehearsal for a major biological attack on a large city.

Both genuine and alleged enemy agents were subjected to horrifying interrogations, some of which Olson must have witnessed personally, the authors conclude. In some cases these interrogations led to the death of the accused. The most convincing proof of this is a telegram from 1954, in which the CIA director inquires about “bodies available for terminal experiments.”

In addition, thousands of people were used, without their knowledge or consent, for experiments with LSD, mescaline, morphine, seconal, atropine and other drugs. The CIA even ran its own brothels in order to lure its victims. As the inspector general of the US Army later stated in a report to a Senate committee: “[I]n universities, hospitals and research institutions” an “unknown number of chemical tests and experiments ... were carried out with healthy adults, with mentally ill and with prison inmates.”

Most of these activities were exposed in the 1970s, when two commissions appointed by Congress—the Rockefeller and the Church commissions—investigated the secret activities of the CIA. A further investigation was published by John Marks, a former employee of the State Department. After legal proceedings based on the Freedom of Information Act, Marks gained access to several thousand pages of classified CIA material. This material is utilised extensively in the documentary.

In 1969 the US officially cancelled all research programs on biological weapons. Fort Detrick was closed down. Today the site is used by the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), which, according to the official line, strictly limits itself to the analysis of biological weapons for defence purposes. In 1974, the US signed onto the international convention against biological warfare.

Were biological weapons used in Korea?


There must be reasons for the continuing secrecy surrounding Olson’s death that go beyond the facts which surfaced in the 1970s. One possible reason is linked to Korea—and to last year’s anthrax attacks against leading politicians of the Democratic Party and others that cost the lives of five people.

During the Korean War, both Pyongyang and Beijing repeatedly accused the US of employing bacteriological weapons. These accusations were supported by eyewitness reports, photos, laboratory analyses and the remains of biological bombs.

In 1952, two international commissions which examined the war area with Soviet and Chinese help concluded that the US army had indeed used such weapons. This was confirmed in written statements by US pilots who were held prisoner by Korea. Some of them appeared before the international press and repeated their confessions.

The US categorically denied these accusations, describing the evidence presented as forged, characterising the international commissions as instruments of communist propaganda, and claiming that the soldiers’ confessions were the result of “brainwashing.” Allen W. Dulles, the CIA director, even gave a speech devoted to brainwashing, in which he accused North Korea of “having turned around a whole number of our boys.”

When the prisoners of war who had made these confessions returned from Korea in the summer of 1953, they were interrogated by the Artichoke team, which had announced its eagerness to do so weeks in advance. In a memorandum to the top leadership of the CIA, the team said it wanted to use those “who have been exposed to and accepted in varying degrees Communist indoctrination ... as unique research material in the Artichoke work.” Among other things, hypnosis, anaesthetics and LSD were to be used on the former POWs. In this way, Artichoke hoped to gain insight into the enemy’s interrogation methods and to make sure that the returned soldiers did not work for the other side.

Koch and Wech, however, believe that Artichoke’s main concern was the confessions of the Air Force pilots. The authors suspect that they contained at least some true revelations.

The authors ask: “Was their will to be broken with LSD? Were they to be subjected to artificial amnesia to make them forget what they saw and did? Biological warfare? Experiments with anthrax and other deadly epidemics?”

Frank Olson probably witnessed some interrogations of soldiers returning from Korea. This is the conclusion drawn by the authors from a careful reconstruction of his travels. As the leading expert on the release of biological weapons, he must have known about the use of such devices if and when they were actually employed. Was this first-hand knowledge the ultimate reason for his demise? Did the CIA silence him when it became clear he was seeking to distance himself from the agency?

This suspicion is given credence by a reliable witness, Norman Cournoyer. In the early years of Camp Detrick, Cournoyer had worked closely with Frank Olson, and remained his best friend until the end. He knew about Olson’s intention to leave the CIA.

In April 2001, Cournoyer, who had read an article about the case in the New York Times Magazine, contacted Eric Olson and said he would tell him the truth about his father’s death. “Korea is the key,” he is quoted as saying.

The authors continue: “And then Norman Cournoyer confirmed that the American Air Force had indeed tested biological weapons during the Korean War.” Frank Olson had learned about this and began to despair about what he was doing. In conclusion, Cournoyer said: “Was this the reason for the CIA to kill your father? Probably.”

According to Eric Olson, this statement is in line with remarks of his mother, who used to say: “Your father was always worried about Korea.”

According to Koch and Wech, there is a direct connection between the cover-up of the Olson case and the sluggish investigations into the anthrax attacks of October 2001. Last year’s attempts on the lives of two high-ranking representatives of the American state have not been cleared up to this day. Despite the fact that all evidence points to Fort Detrick and one possible perpetrator is known by name, the investigation has plodded along without any suspects being identified by the government.

A serious probe into either Olson’s death or the recent anthrax attacks, the authors believe, could bring to light things that would severely damage the credibility of the United States. They suspect that the anthrax attacker’s knowledge of certain facts makes it impossible for the FBI to lay hands on him.

The authors suggest that this knowledge relates to secret biological warfare programs. They ask, “Is it conceivable that the US army carried out further research on biological weapons in spite of binding international treaties, even after the official termination of offensive projects involving biological weaponry in 1969?” They then charge that there are “very concrete indications that the Pentagon does not give a damn about international agreements on biological warfare.”

They cite several such indications: the production of a genetically improved version of the anthrax bacterium, which was reported by the New York Times on September 11, 2001; the plans by military institutes to develop new microbes that are able to dissolve certain materials; and the consistent refusal of the Bush administration to sign a supplementary protocol to the international convention on biological weapons that would give teams of United Nations experts access to American military laboratories. In the course of the negotiations in Geneva, according to the authors, it became known that Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld wanted at all costs to prevent any such inspections.

* * *


Codename Artichoke—the Secret Human Experiments of the CIA is available in German only from C. Bertelssmann Verlag, Munich.

Reproduced gratefully from:




Journalism and the CIA: The Mighty Wurlitzer

by Daniel Brandt
From NameBase NewsLine, No. 17, April-June 1997


Alongside those Greek morality plays and Biblical injunctions, we are also reminded by history itself that the use of unethical means to achieve a worthy end can be self-destructive. Power, by definition, is isolated from the correcting signals of external criticism. Or perhaps the feeling of fighting evil fits so comfortably, that it's difficult to shed even after objective circumstances change.

The history of U.S. intelligence since World War II follows both patterns. The Office of Strategic Services, the CIA's predecessor, had jurisdiction over wartime covert operations and propaganda in the fight against fascism. OSS chief William Donovan recruited heavily among social and academic elites. When the CIA was launched in 1947 at the beginning of the Cold War, these pioneers felt that they had both the right and the duty to secretly manipulate the masses for the greater good.

OSS veteran Frank Wisner ran most of the early peacetime covert operations as head of the Office of Policy Coordination. Although funded by the CIA, OPC wasn't integrated into the CIA's Directorate of Plans until 1952, under OSS veteran Allen Dulles. Both Wisner and Dulles were enthusiastic about covert operations. By mid-1953 the department was operating with 7,200 personnel and 74 percent of the CIA's total budget.

Wisner created the first "information superhighway." But this was the age of vacuum tubes, not computers, so he called it his "Mighty Wurlitzer." The CIA's global network funded the Italian elections in 1948, sent paramilitary teams into Albania, trained Nationalist Chinese on Taiwan, and pumped money into the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the National Student Association, and the Center for International Studies at MIT. Key leaders and labor unions in western Europe received subsidies, and Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were launched. The Wurlitzer, an organ designed for film productions, could imitate sounds such as rain, thunder, or an auto horn. Wisner and Dulles were at the keyboard, directing history.

The ethos of the fight against fascism carried over into the fight against godless communism; for these warriors, the Cold War was still a war. OSS highbrows had already embraced psychological warfare as a new social science: propaganda, for example, was divided into "black" propaganda (stories that are unattributed, or attributed to nonexistent sources, or false stories attributed to a real source), "gray" propaganda (stories from the government where the source is attributed to others), and "white" propaganda (stories from the government where the source is acknowledged as such).[1]

After World War II, these psywar techniques continued. C.D. Jackson, a major figure in U.S. psywar efforts before and after the war, was simultaneously a top executive at Time-Life. Psywar was also used with success during the 1950s by Edward Lansdale, first in the Philippines and then in South Vietnam. In Guatemala, the Dulles brothers worked with their friends at United Fruit, in particular the "father of public relations," Edward Bernays, who for years had been lobbying the press on behalf of United. When CIA puppets finally took over in 1954, only applause was heard from the media, commencing forty years of CIA-approved horrors in that unlucky country.[2] Bernays' achievement apparently impressed Allen Dulles, who immediately began using U.S. public relations experts and front groups to promote the image of Ngo Dinh Diem as South Vietnam's savior.[3]

The combined forces of unaccountable covert operations and corporate public relations, each able to tap massive resources, are sufficient to make the concept of "democracy" obsolete. Fortunately for the rest of us, unchallenged power can lose perspective. With research and analysis -- the capacity to see and understand the world around them -- entrenched power must constantly anticipate and contain potential threats. But even as power seems more secure, this capacity can be blinded by hubris and isolation.

Troublesome notes were heard from the Wurlitzer in the 1960s -- but not from American journalism, which had already sold its soul to the empire. Instead, the announcement that the emperor had no clothes was made by a new generation. Much that was dear to this counterculture was stylistic and superficial, and there were many within this culture itself, and certainly within the straight media, who mistook this excess baggage for its essence. Nevertheless, the youth culture's rumpled opposition was sufficient to slow down the machine and let in some light.

The ruling class failed to see the naked contradiction that they had created. They expected that the most-privileged, best-educated generation in history could be forcibly drafted to fight a dirty war against popular self-determination some 8,000 miles away -- a war that clearly had more to do with anticommunist ideology and corporate greed than it did with the defense of America. The elites didn't have a clue that this was even a problem; President Johnson's knee-jerk response to the student antiwar movement, for example, was to pressure the CIA into uncovering the nefarious (and nonexistent) foreign influences behind it.

Thus the crack in the culture that eventually encouraged American media to take a look at themselves. With rare exceptions,[4] it was the alternative press that began to question racism, police brutality, Vietnam, the defense establishment, and the JFK assassination. In 1967 Ramparts magazine exposed a portion of the CIA's covert funding network, whereupon the New York Times and Washington Post began naming more names. By then the Wurlitzer would never sound the same, particularly after the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy invited further suspicions.

The counterculture burned out once the war wound down, but it had already dented the lemming-like consensus that typified an earlier period. For roughly ten years, between 1967 and 1977, Americans learned something of their secret history. From the perspective of twenty additional years, the results were mixed and much remains secret. But it's scary to think of where we might be now if the counterculture had never happened.

During the last half of those ten years, sandwiched between Watergate coverage on one end, and Congressional investigations of the CIA on the other, the media showed some interest in examining their own intelligence connections. The first shoe was dropped by Jack Anderson in late August, 1973, when he revealed that Seymour Freidin, head of the Hearst bureau in London, was a CIA agent. Freidin, already in the news because the Republicans paid him $10,000 in 1972 to spy on the Democrats, confirmed Anderson's story. At that point William Colby, the new CIA director, was asked by the New York Times and the Washington Star-News if any of their staff were on the CIA payroll.

James (Scotty) Reston of the NYT was satisfied with an evasive answer, but when the Star-News editorial board met with Colby, they made some progress. The other shoe dropped with an article by Oswald Johnston on November 30: the Star-News learned from an "authoritative source" (Colby) that the CIA had some three dozen American journalists on its payroll. Johnston named only one -- Jeremiah O'Leary -- who was one of their own diplomatic correspondents. (The Star-News stopped publishing in 1981, at which point O'Leary joined Reagan's national security staff. From 1982 until his death in 1993, he was with the Washington Times.)

That was the first and last time that Colby was helpful on this topic. Some believe that the new director was under pressure from the "young Turks" (junior staffers) at the Agency, who were granted a mandate by Colby's predecessor to cough up the "family jewels" -- a list of illegal exploits that could be culled from the CIA's files. Already there were rumors that the CIA was guilty of illegal spying on the antiwar movement -- rumors that were confirmed a year later by Seymour Hersh, whose sources were some of these same "young Turks."

Why was Colby initially forthcoming on the issue of the CIA and the media, and why did he then start stonewalling? Some believe that he was attempting a "limited hangout" as the best way out of a position that made him nervous, while others feel that he was implicitly threatening to provide additional names in order to scare off the media. Colby had reason to be worried: by late 1973, investigative journalism was in the air because of Watergate -- an issue that had more than the usual share of CIA connections.

Colby's stonewalling continued for the remainder of his tenure, even as a Senate committee led by Frank Church desperately tried to squeeze more names out of him. George Bush replaced Colby in January, 1976, and eventually agreed to a one-paragraph summary of each file of a CIA journalist, with names deleted. When the CIA said it was finished, the Church committee had over 400 summaries.

The committee staff was shocked at the extent of the CIA's activity in this area, and felt that they still didn't have the story. But they were running out of time, and expected that the Senate's new permanent oversight committee would continue their work. The Church committee's final report contained only a handful of vague and misleading pages on the CIA and the media. "It hardly reflects what was found," stated Senator Gary Hart. "There was a prolonged and elaborate negotiation [with the CIA] over what would be said."[5]

The House investigation of the CIA, under Otis Pike, had more problems than the Senate investigation. The full House voted to suppress its committee's final report under pressure from the executive branch, at which point Daniel Schorr of CBS leaked a copy to the Village Voice. This report contained just twelve paragraphs on the topic of the CIA and the media, including the tidbit about the CIA's "frequent manipulation of Reuters wire service dispatches."[6] Another paragraph gave some idea of the scope of the CIA's efforts in this area:

Some 29 percent of Forty Committee-approved covert actions were for media and propaganda projects. This number is probably not representative. Staff has determined the existence of a large number of CIA internally-approved operations of this type, apparently deemed not politically sensitive. It is believed that if the correct number of all media and propaganda projects could be determined, it would exceed Election Support as the largest single category of covert action projects undertaken by the CIA.[7]

One enterprising researcher took this 29 percent figure, and extrapolating from figures on CIA expenditures for covert operations, found that the cost of propaganda in 1978 was around $265 million and involved 2,000 personnel. Comparing this to figures for other news agencies, he concluded that the CIA "uses far more resources in its propaganda operations than any single news agency.... In fact, the CIA propaganda budget is as large as the combined budgets of Reuters, United Press International and the Associated Press."[8]

CBS took Daniel Schorr off the air after he leaked the Pike committee report. This was most likely a convenient opportunity for William Paley, chairman of CBS, who didn't approve of Schorr's interest in the network's own CIA connection. Former CBS News president Sig Mickelson, who by 1976 was president of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, said that in October 1954, Paley called him into his office for a friendly discussion with two CIA officials. Schorr mentioned this on Walter Cronkite's show, and in an op-ed piece for the New York Times (Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the late publisher of the Times, had been cozy with the CIA also). "There are executives and retired executives," Schorr wrote, "who could help dispel the cloud hanging over the press by coming forward to tell the arrangements they made with the CIA."[9]

Little had changed since 1974, when Michael J. Harrington, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, leaked Colby's closed-door testimony about CIA involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile. Harrington soon found himself the target of a formal Ethics Committee investigation; now Schorr was also their target. Apparently Congress was fearful that the executive branch might paint them as bungling and irresponsible when it came to keeping secrets, and then use this as a club to deprive them of access to information.

If Congress felt this way, it was more than simple paranoia. In 1976 the CIA began cranking up their Wurlitzer on the matter of Richard Welch, a station chief in Athens who was assassinated by urban guerrillas at the end of 1975. The CIA's exploitation of this timely tragedy had both an immediate target and a general target. Ostensibly the CIA was complaining about an obscure Washington magazine called CounterSpy, which had been printing CIA names. In the same spirit, Philip Agee's just-published diary of CIA tricks in Latin America was loaded with names, and was already an international sensation. But the general target of this campaign was more important -- the CIA managed to change the nature of the debate. Suddenly it was no longer a question of what dirty work the CIA might be doing, but rather a question of what happens when the press recklessly endangers the lives of our brave boys overseas.

The fact that Welch's name had been published by the East Germans five years earlier, and that he could be identified as a CIA officer from his listing in the unclassified 1973 State Department Biographic Register, were both ignored. In any case, it was hardly a secret in Athens -- the group that killed Welch had been stalking his predecessor, Stacy Hulse, until Welch moved into the Hulse residence five months earlier. Colby eventually admitted to a House subcommittee that Welch's cover was inexcusably weak, and that the publication of his name in an Athens newspaper had only an indirect effect on his assassination.[10]

Colby could say this two years later because by then his comments were destined for a back page. The battle to rein in the CIA was already lost. In 1982 Congress passed a controversial new law that made publication of CIA names a felony under certain conditions. Although these conditions rarely applied to journalists, the wide coverage on this issue served to intimidate most publishers and editors.

Today the CIA, which once issued an automatic "no comment" when asked anything by reporters, is playing an adept game of "soft cop, hard cop" public relations. In 1991 an internal CIA task force recommended a more active posture by the public affairs office when responding to requests for assistance (that year they handled 3,369 telephone inquires from reporters, provided 174 unclassified background briefings for them at Headquarters, and arranged 164 interviews with senior Agency officials).[11] The "hard cop" was discovered by Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation. In 1995 she was telephoned by Vin Swasey, CIA deputy director of public affairs, who strongly objected to an editorial because it included the names of nine former station chiefs in Guatemala.[12] Reuters was persuaded by Swasey's colleagues to run the story without the names.

The final months of 1977 produced three significant pieces of journalism on the CIA and the media, just before the issue was abandoned altogether. The first, by Joe Trento and Dave Roman, reported the connections between Copley Press and the CIA. Owner James S. Copley cooperated with the CIA for three decades. A subsidiary, Copley News Service, was used as a CIA front in Latin America, while reporters at the Copley-owned San Diego Union and Evening News were instructed to spy on antiwar protesters for the FBI. No less than 23 news service employees were simultaneously working for the CIA. James Copley, who died in 1973, was also a leading figure behind the CIA-funded Inter-American Press Association.[13]

The next article was by Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. In a long piece in Rolling Stone, he came up with the figure of 400 American journalists over the past 25 years, based primarily on interviews with Church committee staffers. This figure included stringers and freelancers who had an understanding that they were expected to help the CIA, as well as a small number of full-time CIA employees using journalism as a cover. It did not include foreigners, nor did it include numerous Americans who traded favors with the CIA in the normal give-and-take between a journalist and his sources. In addition to some of the names already mentioned above, Bernstein supplied details on Stewart and Joseph Alsop, Henry Luce, Barry Bingham Sr. of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Hal Hendrix of the Miami News, columnist C.L. Sulzberger, Richard Salant of CBS, and Philip Graham and John Hayes of the Washington Post.

Bernstein concentrated more on the owners, executives, and editors of news organizations than on individual reporters. "Lets's not pick on some poor reporters, for God's sake," William Colby said at one point to the Church committee's investigators. "Let's go to the management. They were witting." Bernstein noted that Colby had specific definitions for words such as "contract employee," "agent," "asset," "accredited correspondent," "editorial employee," "freelance," "stringer," and even "reporter," and through careful use of these words, the CIA "managed to obscure the most elemental fact about the relationships detailed in its files: i.e., that there was recognition by all parties involved that the cooperating journalists were working for the CIA -- whether or not they were paid or had signed employment contracts."[14]

The reaction to Bernstein's piece among mainstream media was to ignore it, or to suggest that it was sloppy and exaggerated. Then two months later, the New York Times published the results of their "three- month inquiry by a team of Times reporters and researchers." This three-part series not only confirmed Bernstein, but added a wealth of far-ranging details and contained twice as many names. Now almost everyone pretended not to notice.

The Times reported that over the last twenty years, the CIA owned or subsidized more than fifty newspapers, news services, radio stations, periodicals and other communications facilities, most of them overseas. These were used for propaganda efforts, or even as cover for operations. Another dozen foreign news organizations were infiltrated by paid CIA agents. At least 22 American news organizations had employed American journalists who were also working for the CIA, and nearly a dozen American publishing houses printed some of the more than 1,000 books that had been produced or subsidized by the CIA. When asked in a 1976 interview whether the CIA had ever told its media agents what to write, William Colby replied, "Oh, sure, all the time."

Since domestic propaganda was a violation of the their charter, the CIA defined the predictable effects of their foreign publications as "blowback" or "domestic fallout," which they considered to be "inevitable and consequently permissible." But former CIA employees told the Times that apart from this unintended blowback, "some CIA propaganda efforts, especially during the Vietnam War, had been carried out with a view toward their eventual impact in the United States." The Times series concluded that at its peak, the CIA's network "embraced more than 800 news and public information organizations and individuals."[15]

By the time the Times series appeared, Congress was looking for a way out of the issue. Obligingly, Stansfield Turner promised that the CIA would avoid journalists "accredited by any U.S. news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station." There were at least three problems with this that most press coverage overlooked: many stringers and freelancers are not accredited; it didn't cover any foreign-owned media; and as Gary Hart complained at the time, the new policy included a provision that allowed the CIA to unilaterally make exceptions whenever it wished.[16]

Within several years of this alleged policy, the new Reagan administration ignored it in favor of a shooting war in Central America, one component of which was an illegal CIA-administered propaganda war at home. Edgar Chamorro, a contra sympathizer in Miami with a background in public relations, was recruited by the CIA in late 1982. After two years of following the CIA's instructions regarding the manipulation of U.S. journalists and even members of Congress, Chamorro went public with his story.[17] By now Congress was clearly out-maneuvered, even though it alone held the purse strings that controlled funding for the war.

The inability of Congress to address the CIA-media problem in the 1970s meant that more powerful forces were at work. In fact, while Congress was wringing its left hand over illegal CIA activities, its right hand was helping the CIA overhaul its Wurlitzer. Ever since 1967, when the Katzenbach committee was tasked by Lyndon Johnson to study the problem of the CIA's use of domestic organizations, the agenda at the highest levels had been to remove such activities from the CIA's payroll and continue them under a new umbrella. In the unclassified portion of their report, this committee recommended giving money openly through a "public-private mechanism." "The CIA's big mistake was not supplanting itself with private funds fast enough," observed Gloria Steinem, who had been part of the CIA's global network.[18]

The Asia Foundation was given a large "severance payment" so that they could find private funding,[19] and the Congress for Cultural Freedom got over $4 million from the Ford Foundation.[20] In 1971, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe were spun off and funded separately by new legislation. While this hardly diminished the CIA's control of these radio stations, it did help public relations by facilitating "deniability."[21] Then in 1983, Congress created the National Endowment for Democracy, with funding to carry on many of the activities that the CIA once carried out covertly within its own budget.

Bits and pieces of the old Wurlitzer were still evident everywhere: John Richardson, Jr., the new chairman of NED, had been president and CEO of Radio Free Europe during the 1960s, and some of the NED's dozens of grants were issued to groups that solicited aid for the contras.[22] "It is not necessary to turn to the covert approach," commented Colby in regard to the NED program. "Many of the programs which ... were conducted as covert operations [can now be] conducted quite openly, and consequentially, without controversy."[23] As if to prove his point, Colby's wife was soon a member of NED's board of directors.

Two major changes since the 1980s -- the collapse of socialism and the centralization of domestic and transnational media, suggest that the CIA now has everything well in hand. But it is far too early to tell. The pressure to stay competitive in the global marketplace could provoke economic nationalism in places where the CIA was once free to roam. France and Germany, for example, have recently expelled CIA agents. At the same time, the Soviet people are having second thoughts about all those benefits of U.S.-imposed capitalism. China remains aggressive and uncompromising; they may even tolerate less interference from us in their political process than we do from them.

It's a different world, and it's unfamiliar. A blue-ribbon panel of the Council on Foreign Relations suggested last year that the CIA be freed from some policy constraints on covert operations, such as the use of journalists and clergy as cover. This is alarming. Unlike the typical corporate-funded think tank, filled with pro-Pentagon pundits, the folks at CFR are either running the world or they know who does. For 70 years they've rarely recommended anything that has not become policy. Furthermore, they've thoroughly co-opted the major media (see sidebar).

There have also been official announcements that the CIA is mission-creeping into economic intelligence and computer-age information warfare. This might reflect a bit of nostalgia for the job security and moral clarity of the Cold War, or it could be a premonition that the American Century is over and the masses are expected to get uppity. Perhaps the First Amendment has always been something of a con -- a matter of "freedom," but only for those who own the presses, or for those who lived in an earlier century, before psywar and public relations experts.

Then again, stay tuned -- the credibility gap is back. A recent poll shows that Americans are fed up with mainstream news media. "Very favorable" ratings for television network news fell from 30 percent in 1985 to just 15 percent this year, and for large national newspapers it dropped 12 percent. A majority now believe that news stories are often inaccurate.[24]

After factoring in the new global economics and recalculating the prospects for the middle class, all bets are off. The poor performance of Congress and the press on the issue of journalists and the CIA may mean that the next time around, the elites will lack even the credibility to stage another co-opting charade of "oversight." That could prove beneficial, particularly if next the time threatens to be as inconsequential and diversionary as the last time.

1. Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1975), pp. 70-71.

2. Richard H. Immerman, The CIA in Guatemala (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982), pp. 111-114; Thomas P. McCann, An American Company: The Tragedy of United Fruit (New York: Crown Publishers, 1976), pp. 45-48.

3. Eric Thomas Chester, Covert Network: Progressives, the International Rescue Committee, and the CIA (Armonk NY and London: M.E. Sharpe, 1995), pp. 160-183.

4. The first anti-CIA book appeared in 1964: David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, The Invisible Government (New York: Random House). CIA director John McCone, and other officials acting under his direction, contacted the publisher in an effort to stop it.

5. Carl Bernstein, "The CIA and the Media," Rolling Stone, 20 October 1977, pp. 65-67.

6. "The CIA Report the President Doesn't Want You to Read," Village Voice, 20 February 1976, p. 40.

7. Ibid, p. 36.

8. Sean Gervasi, "CIA Covert Propaganda Capability," Covert Action Information Bulletin, No. 7, December 1979 - January 1980, pp. 18-20.

9. Daniel Schorr, Clearing the Air (New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1978), pp. 204-206, 275-277.

10. Norman Kempster, "Identity of U.S. Spies Harder to Hide, Colby Says," Los Angeles Times, 28 December 1977, pp. 1, 8.

11. Central Intelligence Agency, Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence from the Task Force on Greater CIA Openness, 20 December 1991, 15 pages.

12. Allan Nairn, "The Country Team," The Nation, 5 June 1995, p. 780.

13. Joe Trento and Dave Roman, "The Spies Who Came In From the Newsroom," Penthouse, August 1977, pp. 44-46, 50.

14. Bernstein, p. 58.

15. John M. Crewdson and Joseph B. Treaster, "The CIA's 3-Decade Effort to Mold the World's Views," New York Times, 25 December 1977, pp. 1, 12; Terrence Smith, "CIA Contacts With Reporters," New York Times, p. 13; Crewdson and Treaster, "Worldwide Propaganda Network Built by the CIA," New York Times, 26 December 1977, pp. 1, 37; Crewdson and Treaster, "CIA Established Many Links to Journalists in U.S. and Abroad," New York Times, 27 December 1977, pp. 1, 40-41.

16. While it's true that Gary Hart's complaint was not widely covered (there's one paragraph in the Los Angeles Times on 16 December 1977, p. 2), it is still amazing that when this clause was rediscovered in early 1996, indignant columnists pretended that it had been a secret all along. The truth is, journalists haven't been doing their homework for the last 18 years. This led the Society of Professional Journalists to earn a flunking grade for their 23 February 1996 press release: "An executive order during the Carter administration was thought to have banned the practice [of the recruitment of journalists by the CIA]. After a Council on Foreign Relations task force recommended that the ban be reconsidered, it was revealed that a 'loophole' existed allowing the CIA director or his deputy to grant a waiver. After protests, Deutch refused to rule out the practice, saying in some cases it might be necessary." To rephrase this politely, it took 18 years for the SPJ to become aware of the fine print in the CIA's policy. This is probably due to poor reporting from newspapers such as the Washington Post, which the innocents at SPJ must think of as not only "liberal," but also competent. So why, when the Post's intelligence reporter, Walter Pincus, was told about the waiver last year, did he write it up as a scoop in the 22 February 1996 Washington Post??? Perhaps Pincus really didn't know. Or perhaps ever since Pincus took money from the CIA in the early 1960s, it has affected his reporting on this issue.

17. Edgar Chamorro, Packaging the Contras: A Case of CIA Disinformation (New York: Institute for Media Analysis, 1987), 78 pages; Jacqueline Sharkey, "Back in Control," Common Cause Magazine, September/October 1986, pp. 28-40.

18. "CIA Subsidized Festival Trips: Hundreds of Students Were Sent to World Gatherings," New York Times, 21 February 1967.

19. Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (New York: Dell Publishing, 1975), p. 179.

20. Peter Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe (New York: The Free Press, 1989), pp. 224-225.

21. Marchetti and Marks, pp. 174-178.

22. John Kelly, "National Endowment for Reagan's Democracies," The National Reporter, Summer 1986, pp. 22-26; Council on Hemispheric Affairs and Inter-Hemispheric Education Resource Center, National Endowment for Democracy (NED): A Foreign Policy Branch Gone Awry (Resource Center, Box 4506, Albuquerque NM 87196), 1990, 93 pages.

23. William Colby, "Political Action -- In the Open," Washington Post, 14 March 1982, p. D8.

24. Jack Nelson, "Major News Media Trusted Less, Poll Says," Los Angeles Times, 21 March 1997.


Sidebar from NameBase NewsLine, No. 17, April-June 1997:


Journalists at Work: Who's Watching the Watchdogs?

In the handful of self-critical articles about the media that appeared twenty years ago, the matter of CIA connections with executives, editors, and reporters was emphasized. While this makes for good copy and is certainly worth repeating, it also fails to challenge American journalism at it weakest point: the corrupting influence of fame and fortune. Someone who has looked at this issue recently is James Fallows, formerly of Atlantic Monthly. Fallows argues in his recent book, Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, that his profession is becoming seriously compromised.

The name recognition that comes from flaccid punditry can be lucrative on the lecture circuit. Or if you have a name already, perhaps by doing something useless or naughty at the White House, you can acquire pundit status by writing a kiss-and-tell book. Big stars such as Cokie Roberts can collect five figures simply by offering up flattering platitudes at a corporate convention.

Another problem is the revolving door between the media and government. It's considered a badge of honor for a journalist to have spent time working for the White House, whereas it should be seen as a conflict of interest. Some suggest that it's okay to make the switch once -- Bill Moyers can call himself a journalist after working for Lyndon Johnson, but David Gergen has been spinning through the door so often that it makes the rest of us dizzy. Gergen flacked for Nixon, Ford, Reagan and finally Clinton, and between administrations he was an editor at U.S. News & World Report and a commentator for PBS. Come to think of it, James Fallows himself, the new editor at U.S. News & World Report, was the chief speech writer for Jimmy Carter.

Pundits and superstars aside, the larger problem is that the media is owned by the ruling class. With the increased media centralization of the last twenty years, their lock on the masses is now so complete that when they maintain an appearance of objectivity, it's only out of habit. (Sentences containing the words "ruling class" are scribbled self- consciously these days -- a measure of how well they have cornered the market on perception, and perverted what class consciousness we once had into a mass-consumer consciousness.)

How can one distinguish between news and propaganda when the overlaps and interlocks are so pervasive? John Chancellor was with NBC, then with Voice of America, and then again with NBC. John Scali was with ABC, and then with Nixon, and then again with ABC. Ben Bradlee, of Watergate and Washington Post fame, was once a propagandist in Paris, taking orders from the CIA station chief, and was friends with James Angleton. Bradley's sister-in-law was Mary Meyer, divorced from Cord Meyer. She was JFK's lover, and her 1964 murder was never solved. Robert John Myers was in the CIA for twenty years, at one time as an assistant to William Colby, and became publisher of the New Republic in 1968. Generoso Paul Pope, Jr. was in the CIA the year before he bought the National Enquirer in 1952. Laughlin Phillips, co-founder of the Washingtonian, was in the CIA for fifteen years. Former top CIA officials Cord Meyer, Jr. and Tom Braden became columnists (unlike Braden, Meyer rarely talks about his CIA career). George R. Packard and L. Bruce van Voorst were with the CIA before they joined Newsweek, and Philip Geyelin worked for the CIA while on leave from the Wall Street Journal.

There's always Katharine Graham, one of the world's richest women, who is now recognized as a victim of the male-dominated culture because her new autobiography says it's so. In a 1988 speech at CIA headquarters, Graham warmed to her audience: "We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets, and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows."

Over 100 pundits, news anchors, columnists, commentators, reporters, editors, executives, owners, and publishers can be found by scanning the 1995 membership roster of the Council on Foreign Relations -- the same CFR that issued a report in early 1996 bemoaning the constraints on our poor, beleaguered CIA. By the way, first William Bundy and then William G. Hyland edited CFR's flagship journal Foreign Affairs between the years 1972-1992. Bundy was with the CIA from 1951-1961, and Hyland from 1954-1969.

Reproduced gratefully from: NameBaseNewsLine 



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