Friday, 29 January 2010

Frank Olson, The Original Faller From A Great Height

Anyone wondering if Timothy Hampton or David Kelly were murdered, and it seems very likely that Dr Hampton was, should consider the case of Colonel Frank Olson, who very probably was murdered, although that only became known following a second post-mortem more than twenty years after his death.

There are a lot of conspiracy theories about Frank Olson, many of them, to Medawar's knowledge, wrong to a greater or lesser extent. So here goes with what Medawar believes to be the true story, as briefly as possible.

Frank Olson was a US Army researcher, whose main career goal was to improve the protection of American soldiers against unconventional weapons on the battlefield. Anyone who has studied the history of unconventional warfare, including chemical and biological warfare, knows that it is military suicide to deploy, let alone use, unconventional weapons unless you first have some form of defence against them for your own soldiers. Failing to do this, with poison gas, was one of the mechanisms by which Imperial Germany helped defeat itself during the First World War, and it's also how the US Army Chemical Corps came dangerously close to inflicting similar disaster on American soldiers and particularly the US Marine Corps, in the same conflict. (The Americans were hastily loaned effective British and French gas masks until the Chemical Corps caught up with reality and started to produce adequate protective gear and training as well as huge amounts of offensive gas munitions.)

Imperial Germany, after lobbying at the highest levels by the Nobel Laureate Fritz Harbur, was the first to use poison gas in the First World War. British troops somehow held on, had improvised protection within about a day, and then later counter-attacked with hastily-produced gas weapons of their own, against which German troops still had no effective protection of any kind. Because the British devised a more effective method of delivering poison gas accurately onto enemy positions, Germany always suffered more than it gained from gas warfare, throughout the war. Some historians describe Hitler's reluctance to use the "vastly superior" nerve poisons available to Nazi Germany in the second world war as "irrational" but Medawar sees it more as a case of a madman having a very lucid moment, based on his own nightmare experiences.

Olson, therefore, for the most grounded, objective and rational of reasons, believed that there was no military advantage in novel means of warfare unless you possessed the means to stop the enemy using them to greater effect than your own side could. He was also active as a researcher during the early cold war period, when the US Army Chemical Corps set about repeating its mistakes of the first world war, on a scale terrifying not just because of the physical dangers of vast poison gas stockpiles, far outstripping progress in protective equipment, but also in the huge sums of taxpayer's money being wasted in the process. Atomic bombs, each costing about what it took to build, man and deploy a single B-29 bomber, seemed cost-effective compared to achieving the same results through carpet-bombing with a thousand or so bombers at a time, many of which might be lost to enemy defences or pure accident in crowded skies. What the chemical corps was doing in the late forties and early fifties, looked cost-effective only when compared to Caligula's palace construction programme.

Against this background, Frank Olson was seconded to work on project "MK Naomi" a sort of sister project to (but quite not the same thing as) the CIA's "MK Ultra". MK Naomi was intended to produce drugs and psychoactive chemical weapons, for battlefield use and for interrogation of enemy spies who might have time-sensitive information of the highest importance. Those at the top of both projects followed Chemical Corps tradition and massively oversold their projects to the newly-built Pentagon and to the White House. Almost from the outset, there was an unbridgeable gulf between what they were capable of achieving and what those voting the funds had been led to expect, and those funds were, by the standards of the day, very substantial. (The Truman and Eisenhower Administrations desperately hoped that throwing money at miracle weapons would save them from having to do a proper job of post-war re-armament with up-to-date tanks and jet fighters. A small legion of charlatans, including several German scientists who'd successfully conned the Third Reich into giving them carte-blanche and millions of Marks, promptly set up shop. American Intelligence Officers were baffled as to why their British counterparts had been so slow and unwilling to snap up all the hundreds of ex-Nazi scientists that were on the market in 1945-47, but there was a reason. The sole genuinely-competent aerodynamicist amongst them suddenly found himself working for Handley Page, the rest were mostly passed over in favour of home-grown British and Commonwealth talent.)

Once at MK Naomi, Olson quickly found that he was in a scientific bunko booth and that most of the work being done was either scientifically impossible, being falsely presented as successful when this was far from clear, or was a personal hobby-horse of one senior "scientist" (most of them were actually psychiatrists and not rigorously scientific at all) and thus perhaps of interest, but not at all obviously of military value. Olson could see enough unmet need for better chemical and biological warfare protection for American soldiers, to greatly resent the diversion of money and effort away from that need. He was not a subversive or a troublemaker, nor a faint-hearted pinko: he was a patriot who wanted the US Army and Marines to be properly, preferably superbly, equipped for the perils of modern warfare.

It has been stated that Olson was working with Porton Down to test psychoactive weapons. This is a serious misrepresentation:

He was ordered to work with some UK experimental psychiatrists, from the University of Sussex, not Porton Down, who had already been refused a licence by the Medical Research Council (in 1947) to experiment on mentally-ill patients with such mind-altering drugs as LSD. The independent experts (then at University College, London) who evaluated the toxicity of LSD in a report for the MRC, which led to the licence being emphatically refused, had worked at Porton during the war and subsequently returned there. They had, in fact, also recommended to the Home Secretary that possession and manufacture of LSD should be banned before anyone popularised its recreational use! They described it as a toxin rather than a drug.

The University of Sussex Psychiatrists got wind of MK Ultra and MK Naomi and realized, like all the CIA's ex-Nazis, that this was an opportunity to obtain funds and experiment at their whim, outside the control of the boring old Medical Research Council. In effect, they went to the Pentagon and the CIA over the heads of the UK's own research watchdogs and sought to use the secret military programme to recreate their own purely medical (but not very rational) research project, despite this having been banned by the proper authority as unethical, dangerous and unlikely to yield any medically useful result. The probability that it was equally unlikely to yield a militarily useful result, was ignored.

Because it was now a "secret" and "military" project, and because the farm that the University of Sussex had been using had no safe facilities for storing, let alone experimentally dispersing, potentially toxic gas, the team was granted access to facilities at Porton Down. This does not make their project a Porton Project, it's just that this was the only safe place for certain of their experiments to happen. (The same is true of most of the controversial tests of nerve agents on army volunteers. They happened at Porton, but were done by army doctors from elsewhere, who were often alarmingly inexpert and reckless. Porton's indigenous population had too much respect for nerve gas to be reckless with it.)

So, in the middle of a nightmare where he was surrounding by charlatans doing dangerous, unethical and, to his way of thinking, militarily useless, experiments, Olson had to make trips to Porton to use facilities that didn't exist elsewhere. In the process, he met genuine scientists who were doing precisely the work that he wanted to do, that would one day actually protect soldiers from all the nightmares that his erstwhile colleagues were cooking up in figurative, if not literal, witch's cauldrons. Now, Porton Down isn't a holiday resort, anyone who saw it as an escape route has to have been in a pretty desperate place! But Olson did see it as a way out of MK Naomi, and he asked the President to allow him to leave direct US Army employment and go to work there, on protective measures for soldiers, against everything from nerve gas and biological weapons, to, perhaps, the mind control and psychoactive chemical warfare of MK Ultra and MK Naomi.

Medawar knows for certain that in the months immediately before his death, Frank Olson was shown around the actual research laboratories at both sides of "Porton Down" that is The "Chemical Defence Establishment (Salisbury)" and the "Microbiological Research Department" which is what starred in Alistair Maclean's novel "The Satan Bug." He was introduced to researchers as "Frank, he is going to be working with us now" and he seemed very pleased to have found a new career home. At Porton, he was neither depressed nor in any way unbalanced, just relieved and optimistic. He was the first American ever to have been into some parts of the facility, perhaps the only one to this day. This would not have happened if his employment was not sought by the director and endorsed by the responsible minister, Duncan Sands. It's unlikely that the UK Cabinet would have let Sands employ a top American scientist from a highly classified project, unless the US President had approved Olson's request to leave MK Naomi and move to Wiltshire, outside nominal US jurisdiction. (Which is the legal reason why he had to ask, as a serving officer and not a private citizen.)

The rats (and their friends) must have objected to the cat jumping ship.
The charlatans running MK Ultra and MK Naomi, appear to have even had groupies, fascinated by the idea of mind control and forcing people to do things against their will. This is an inherently sadistic aspiration, simply not holdable by a normal, sane person. Faced by someone who was not only calling their bluff and blowing the gaffe, but was determined to demonstrate an alternative direction for the Pentagon's chemical and biological warfare research funding to take, the charlatans, and perhaps even more so their groupies, may have acted vengefully and murderously.

In New York, Colonel Olson was struck on the head, a high window was broken, and then he was pushed through it afterwards, with no glass lacerations to his body.

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