WASHINGTON — The sons of a Cold War scientist who plunged to his death in 1953 several days after unwittingly taking LSD in a CIA mind-control experiment are suing the government. They claim the CIA murdered their father, Frank Olson, by pushing him from a 13th-story window of a hotel — disagreeing with the CIA, which says he jumped to his death.
The sons, Eric and Nils Olson, of Frederick, sought unspecified compensatory damages in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court. Their lawyer, Scott D. Gilbert, of the Washington law firm Gilbert LLP, said they also want to see a broad range of documents related to Olson’s death and other matters that they say the CIA has withheld from them since the death.
Olson was a bioweapons expert at Fort Detrick, the Army’s biological weapons research center in Frederick. Their lawsuit claims the CIA killed Olson when he developed misgivings after witnessing extreme interrogations in which they allege the CIA committed murder using biological agents Olson had developed.
The CIA had a program in the 1950s and ’60s called MK-ULTRA, which involved brainwashing and administering experimental drugs like LSD to unsuspecting individuals. The project was investigated by Congress in the 1970s.
Olson consumed a drink laced with LSD by CIA agents on Nov. 19, 1953, the suit says. Later that month, after being taken to New York City purportedly for a “psychiatric” consultation, Olson plunged to his death.
At the time — when Eric and Nils Olson were 9 and 5 years old, respectively — the CIA said he died in an accident and did not divulge to his family that Olsen had been given LSD.
But in 1975, a commission headed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller released a report on CIA abuses that included a reference to an Army scientist who had jumped from a New York hotel days after being slipped LSD in 1953. Family members threatened to sue, but President Gerald Ford invited the family to the White House, assuring them they would be given all the government’s information. CIA Director William Colby handed over documents, and the family accepted a $750,000 settlement to avert a lawsuit.
In an email, CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said that while the agency doesn’t comment on matters before U.S. courts, “CIA activities related to MK-ULTRA have been thoroughly investigated over the years, and the agency cooperated with each of those investigations.” She noted that tens of thousands of pages related to the program have been released to the public.
In a statement, Eric Olson said that the CIA has not given a complete picture of what happened to his father.
“The evidence shows that our father was killed in their custody,” he said. “They have lied to us ever since, withholding documents and information and changing their story when convenient.”