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W.E. Gutman: The new Frankensteins

Posted: May 29, 2010 11:03 p.m.
Updated: May 30, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Last in a series

"You've just got to trust us. We're honorable men."
- Richard Helms,
former CIA director

Missing chapters in an old ghoulish tale freshly re-exhumed add new dimensions of barbarity to revelations in the press, and subsequent admission by the U.S. government, that thousands of Americans were exposed to radioactive, chemical and biological agents in the '40s and '50s.

But the government's swift and uncharacteristic confession of past trespasses implies more than a willingness to expiate a tarnished conscience. It's a ploy to keep sinister secrets frozen beneath the thick ice of official censorship.

Like an iceberg, U.S. complicity in the rewiring and robotizing of thousands of unsuspecting Americans runs deep. And because such trickery demands absolute secrecy, the government nearly succeeded in keeping a tight lid on this ultra-covert component of its war machine.

Leaks have since sprung. Most were swiftly swabbed clean. A short memory and a phlegmatic unconcern for the inscrutable ways of government helped appease America's scruples and dissipate the telltale noxious fumes from its delicate nostrils.

A number of cases escaped skullduggery and oblivion, among them the mysterious death of tennis pro Harold Blauer. On the morning of Jan. 8, 1953, 42-year-old Blauer was taken from his room at Manhattan's State Psychiatric Institute, where he was being treated for depression, to receive an injection. Blauer resisted. A month earlier, four injections had made him horribly ill.

Shortly before 10 a.m., against his wishes Blauer was given 450mg of an experimental mescaline derivative code-named EA-1298.
Within minutes, his body snapped as if struck by lightning. His eyes rolled, saliva foamed down his chin. Oxygen and glucose were administered, as was Sodium Amytal. CPR failed. Blauer died shortly after noon. His death certificate stated that an undisclosed chemical compound had triggered a massive coronary.

Blauer was one of many victims of a fiendish relationship between the U.S. Army Chemical Corps and psychiatrists who were loyal to their research interests - not their patients. The facts about the case first became public in 1975, 22 years after Blauer's agonizing death, when his daughter, Elizabeth Barrett, sued the U.S. government for using her father as a guinea pig.

It took 12 more years of Byzantine courtroom proceedings and secret negotiations between the CIA, the Army and the plaintiffs before the U.S. District Court ruled against the government and awarded Barrett the paltry sum of $702,044 - not the $50 million they had demanded.

Nine months after Blauer's death, at 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 28, 1953, Robert Lashbrook was awakened by the sounds of shattering glass. When Lashbrook reached the gaping hole in the window of his New York City hotel room, Dr. Frank Olson, whose mind and body had been in his care, lay dead, splayed like a disembodied puppet on the pavement 13 floors below.

Lashbrook was in a hell of a fix. He called his bosses at the CIA. The agency concocted a story that prompted the otherwise fastidious New York police to drop the investigation. By knitting a tale of carefully tangled threads, the CIA concealed its role in
Olson's death for more than two decades. In 1975, a single sentence in a government report provided Olson's widow with the clue that enabled her to fit the pieces of her husband's puzzling death.

The CIA, she discovered, has spiked Dr. Olson's Cointreau with LSD to see if the hallucinogen had "a disabling or otherwise useful effect on the psyche." The effect was beyond anything the experimenters could have anticipated.

After nine days of forcible and repeated exposure to the mind-bending power of LSD, Olson, clad only in his underwear, escaped madness through the closed windows of the New York's Statler Hotel.

Nothing was learned from the experiment for which the CIA had "volunteered" him. So casual was the agency's approach to the (then) most powerful psychotropic drug that no one bothered to control the dosage. The CIA knew that LSD was dangerous before it condemned Olson to certain death.

There's more. Results of a forensic examination released recently also contradict government assertions that Olson jumped to his death. Multiple fractures to his skull did not appear consistent with a 13-story fall, according to James Starrs, a George Washington University professor of law and forensics, who was asked by Olson's family to examine the body and determined that he had hit the ground feet first. It is now believed that Olson, one of America's top germ warfare researchers, was assassinated when his handlers feared that the LSD he unknowingly ingested might cause him to compromise highly classified information.

Harold Blauer's and Frank Olson's immolation at the altar of national security, however tragic, will go down as a minor episode in a much larger grand design by a number of U.S. agencies to play Frankenstein with the bodies and souls of Americans.

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist and the co-founder in 1986 of the now-defunct NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) Defense and Technology magazine. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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