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Watch Wormwood


I’ve got a movie recommendation for you: Watch Wormwood, a fantastic Netflix original. Set aside time for binge watching because once you start, you will want to continue watching to the end.

Combining a documentary format with depictions of events with actors, the series focuses on the CIA’s execution of Frank Olson, an American citizen who worked for the U.S. national-security establishment. More accurately, the series revolves around his son, who has spent his life ascertaining the truth about what the CIA did to his father.

Frank Olson worked as a civilian for the U.S. military and the CIA during the 1950s, when Cold War hostilities between Russia and the United States were a thousand times greater than they are today. Working in the military’s top-secret chemical section, Olson was connected to Operation MKULTRA, the top-secret CIA project that subjected unsuspecting Americans to LSD and other chemical agents.

Olson was different, however, from everyone else around him, in that he was stricken with a crisis of conscience over what the government was doing, not only with MKULTRA experiments but also with respect to germ warfare that the U.S. national-security establishment had waged against North Korea during the Korean War, a war crime that U.S. officials denied but which international investigators concluded was true. (See This Must Be the Place: How the U.S. Waged Germ Warfare in the Korean War and Denied It Ever Since.”)

U.S. officials decided that Olson had become a grave threat to national security owing to the distinct possibility that he might, in his crisis of conscience, reveal the secrets of MKULTRA and U.S. germ warfare in North Korea to others.

Think about the U.S. national-security state’s attitude toward people like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, John Kiriakou, Thomas Drake, and others who have released secrets of the national security establishment to the public. All of them are considered to have harmed “national security” by revealing national-security state secrets to the public.

That’s how U.S. officials perceived the threat posed by the conscience-stricken Frank Olson.  They couldn’t afford to take the risk that he would suddenly reveal what he knew to the New York Times or some other mainstream publication, especially with respect to MKULTRA and illegal germ warfare against the communists, both of which they were steadfastly committed to keeping secret.

Olson had to be taken care of.

On November 28, 1953, Olson plunged to his death from the window of a 13-story hotel in New York City. Officials labeled it a suicide, which the Olson family accepted.

More than 20 years later, in 1975, the Rockefeller Commission revealed the existence of the CIA’s super-secret MKULTRA project. Even though the CIA had destroyed MKULTRA records, on orders of CIA Director Richard Helms, to prevent Americans from learning the full scope of the operation, the Olson family learned that Frank Olson had been subjected to LSD without his knowledge shortly before his death.

The Olson family threatened to sue. At this point, things got stranger. The CIA immediately confessed to negligently causing Olson’s death by giving him the LSD, which, it said, caused him to plunge into depression, which caused him to commit suicide. President Gerald Ford and CIA Director William Colby profusely apologized to the Olson family, both in the White House and in CIA headquarters. To settle any possible litigation, they got Congress to appropriate a $750,000 payment to the Olsons.

Why is all that strange? Because the U.S. national-security establishment never apologizes to anyone and certainly not to the families of people it assassinates.

Think about Rene Schneider, the head of Chile’s Armed Forces who the CIA conspired to kidnap and assassinate in 1970. When the Schneider family sued, the CIA successfully resisted the case and never even hinted at an apology.

Or think about Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, the two American men who were executed in the U.S.-supported Chilean coup in 1973. In a top-secret investigation, the State Department determined that U.S. intelligence had played a role in their execution. No apology to either family.

Or about Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, both of whom were assassinated without indictment or due process of law. No apology to the al-Awlaki family.

So, why the open confession and profuse apologies in the Olson case?

To disguise what they had really done. By confessing to negligently causing Olson’s death with the LSD experiment, they eliminated the threat of a lawsuit that could have led to the truth — that they had in fact murdered Olson to ensure his silence, thereby protecting “national security.”

In 1994, Eric Olson had his father’s body exhumed and a second autopsy performed. The first autopsy stated that there were cuts and abrasions on Olson’s body. The second autopsy observed that there were none. The second autopsy also found a large hematoma on the left side of Olson’s head and a large injury to his chest, neither of which could have happened from the fall. According to Wikipedia, the head of the autopsy team, James Starrs, professor of law and forensic science at the George Washington National Law Center, called the evidence “rankly and starkly suggestive of homicide.”

Did anything ever come of this? Come on! This is the CIA and the Pentagon we are dealing with. This is “national security” we are talking about. What Justice Department prosecutor or U.S. federal judge is ever going to question or challenge the national-security establishment’s assassination of people in the name of “national security”?

Watch Wormwood on Netflix. Or read an excellent book about what they did to Frank Olson: A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War by H.P. Albarelli. You’ll learn a lot about how evil is committed in the name of “national security” and about a son’s courageous and persistent search for truth about the national-security state’s murder of his father. But like wormwood, it is likely to leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.