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Olson v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 17, 2013

ERIC OLSON and NILS OLSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant

Page 224

For ERIC OLSON, NILS OLSON, Plaintiffs: Lucian C. Martinez, Jr., Mark Alexander Packman, Scott D. Gilbert, GILBERT, LLP, Washington, DC.

For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant: John G. Interrante, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

OPINION

Page 225

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

In 1953, CIA employees slipped LSD into a scientist's drink. The acid trip turned fatal when the scientist, while under the CIA's care, fell thirteen stories from a hotel window. Or so the CIA would have us believe. According to his children, the scientist's " accidental death" was in fact a secret assassination, suppressed by the CIA to this day. In this suit, the scientist's sons sue the United States for negligently supervising the CIA employees who carried out the murder and subsequent cover-up. The United States has now moved to dismiss. Concluding that most of the allegations are both untimely and waived by a prior settlement agreement, and that any timely or preserved claims fall outside of the United States' waiver of sovereign immunity, the Court will grant the Government's Motion.

I. Background

Although mention of LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) conjures in the popular imagination the 1960s escapades of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, see Tom

Page 226

Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), government study of its effects predates this by a decade. According to the Complaint, in fact, the CIA began testing LSD on human subjects in 1953. See Compl., ¶ ¶ 10-12. Dr. Frank Olson, father of Plaintiffs Eric and Nils Olson, was a bioweapons expert. See id., ¶ ¶ 15-16. He worked at the Special Operations Division of the U.S. Army's Biological Laboratory, which collaborated with the CIA, and was privy to a great deal of sensitive information on biological weapons and mind-control techniques. See id., ¶ ¶ 14-17. In 1953, CIA contacts came to suspect that Olson had serious misgivings about the Agency's work in these fields and thus posed a security risk. See id., ¶ ¶ 18-21.

While the Court must limit its analysis to the four corners of the Complaint, the skeptical reader may wish to know that the public record supports many of the allegations that follow, farfetched as they may sound.

A. The Alleged Murder

Olson participated in a joint meeting between employees of Special Operations and the CIA on November 19, 1953. See id., ¶ ¶ 22-23. During the meeting, Dr. Robert Lashbrook from the Chemical Division of the CIA's Technical Support Staff secretly put LSD in a bottle of Cointreau. See id., ¶ 23. Several people -- including Olson -- drank from the bottle, unknowingly taking the drug. See id. The proper CIA officials never sanctioned the experiment. See id., ¶ ¶ 13, 24.

The Complaint gives a spotty account of the days that followed. On November 24, Olson told a colleague that he wanted to resign, perhaps in part because he had unwittingly been made a human guinea pig. See id., ¶ 25. The colleague told Lashbrook, who, with others, took Olson to New York City to see a doctor. See id., ¶ ¶ 25, 27. Although Olson's wife was told that he went to New York for psychiatric treatment, in reality he saw only an allergist, who gave Olson a sedative, to be taken as necessary. See id., ¶ ¶ 26-28. The CIA men then returned with Olson to Washington for a single day on November 26 (Thanksgiving Day), but did not permit him to see his family because of continued " psychiatric treatment." See id., ¶ 29. Lashbrook then took Olson back to New York on November 27, where the allergist recommended hospitalization for further psychiatric treatment. See id., ¶ 30. Olson nonetheless called his wife and told her that he would be home the next day. See id., ¶ 31. But fate (or perhaps the CIA) intervened.

The night of November 27, Lashbrook and Olson shared a room at the Statler Hotel in Manhattan. See id., ¶ ¶ 31-32. Both had two martinis before bed. See id., ¶ 32. At 2:30 a.m. on November 28, Olson fell out of the window of his hotel room, tumbling thirteen stories to his death. See id. Eric Olson was nine years old; his brother Nils was five. See id., ¶ 43.

According to the Complaint, Dr. Olson's death bears a striking resemblance to a " secret assassination" technique described in a CIA manual from that era:

The manual suggested that " [f]or secret assassination . . . the contrived accident is the most effective technique" because " [w]hen successfully executed, it causes little excitement and is only casually investigated." Specifically, the manual counseled that " [t]he most efficient accident . . . is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface . . . [such as one from] unscreened windows." The manual also recommended that assassins use a blunt object to inflict " [b]lows . . . directed to the temple," but noted that " [c]are is required to insure [sic] that no wound or

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condition not attributable to the fall is discernible after death." Finally, the manual suggested that " [i]f the subject's personal habits make it feasible, alcohol may be used . . . to prepare him for a contrived accident of any kind."

Id., ¶ 34 (all alterations in original). Indeed, this would be the precise modus operandi the CIA is ...


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