Thursday, June 10, 2010

Digging Deep: An Interview With Hank Albarelli on "A Terrible Mistake"

American Commentary readers, get ready to go down the rabbit hole. Today I interviewed Hank Albarelli on his new book, “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments”. It covers a broad range of shocking CIA activities, from drug testing, to assassination. This book is a work of serious scholarship, that came out of 10 years of tireless research. Mr. Albarelli worked in the Carter White House and is now an investigative journalist living in Tampa, Florida. His writing has appeared in World Net Daily, Pravda, and Counterpunch, among other websites. His full biography can be found here. He’s currently in negotiations to make a movie on the events of “A Terrible Mistake”.

AMERICAN COMMENTARY: You’ve recently released a book titled “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments”. It’s an expansive work of investigative journalism and story-telling, over 900 pages long. Could you give us a brief overview?

HANK ALBARELLI: Well, it’s hard to be brief, the story basically concerns Frank Olson’s [an Army biochemist’s] murder. Olson died in November of 1953, and at the time it was alleged to be a suicide. There were several small notices in the Frederick, MA, newspaper, and one in a Washington DC newspaper, and of course the family was notified so he could be buried, but beyond that it wasn’t really news to anyone. But in 1975 it became international news when it was revealed as having connections to a larger program concerning the Central Intelligence Agency. That connection was revealed through the investigation by a commission that had been appointed by President Gerald Ford and chaired by Nelson Rockefeller, the Vice President of the United States at the time, and that commission was charged with looking into illegal activities of the CIA within the US prior to 1975. One of the activities that was revealed was the experimental drug program that was conducted by the CIA and the Army in the 1950’s through the early 1970’s.

AC: All of this started coming out in 1975. What was it that caused this unveiling of CIA activities?

HA: It was a series of things, the straw that broke the camel’s back was there had been rumors for several years that the CIA had been conducting illegal programs within the US. There were few if any rumors at the time about drug programs being conducted, but when Ford appointed his commission they naturally went through everything and William Colby who was head of the CIA at the time issued a directive to all CIA employees calling on them to submit everything they had concerning illegal activities and on a few of the 800 or 900 documents that came from within the CIA there were 4 or 5 concerning the drug programs and one of those submissions to DCI Colby concerned Frank Olson’s death. There were only 2 or 3 lines on it, and Olson wasn’t even named in that document. When the Rockefeller Commission released their report they didn’t name Olson either.

AC: That’s pretty incredible, for most people who are uninitiated on all this, the government’s past history of LSD testing sound like a conspiracy theory but it’s actually pretty well documented.

HA: Oh, if anything it’s overly documented. If you look in the internet you’ll see that it’s overly-documented, and by that I don’t mean that there’s too much, I mean that some of it has taken on a life of its own, and connected with everything from the JFK assassination to UFO’s. In large part, prior to my book very little had come out about these experiments, and I tried to cover them as best as possible in the book, and I think did so within 900 pages. The book could have easily been double that size and still not have touched on all the experiments. That’s how extensive they were.

AC: When we talk about the CIA doing LSD testing on people we aren’t just talking about voluntary experiments, we’re talking about people who had no idea they were being drugged.

HA: For the most part, this is a conservative guess, about 85% to 90% of the experiments were done on unwitting people, people who had no idea what was going on. That included service members, people in medical institutions and hospitals, they had no idea they were being given whatever drug they were being given. It was far more than LSD too, it was a whole gamut of hallucinogenics, and other drugs. Hallucinogenics mixed with morphine and heroin, just all sorts of drugs.

AC: That’s shocking. What also shocked me, is the government’s official story from 1975, if you start going through the documents, it seems bad enough. Their story was that Frank Olson had committed suicide after being unknowingly dosed with LSD by the CIA. That already doesn’t reflect well on them. What caused you to dig deeper?

HA: That was the story that was released, and they stuck to the suicide aspect. The new twist that came out in ‘75 was that he had been given LSD at a secret meeting 9 days before his death. That part immediately triggered some suspicion on my part because 9 days before just doesn’t provoke that kind of depression, or if you accept the small amount, 70 micrograms of LSD, that’s just not enough. According to most experts that’s not enough to have an LSD trip or experience. That didn’t make any sense. Then when you looked at the details and features of a suicide it made no sense at all. He was in a small hotel room at the time of his death, there was someone else in the room; the room was small. He allegedly ran across the room in the dark at 2:30 am and dove through a closed window that also had a canvas shading and curtains, and fell 13 floors to his death. That alone had to have been a remarkable feat to conduct in the dark, so the more I read about it, nothing was adding up. It reeked of foul play.

AC: As you looked deeper you came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a suicide at all, it was murder.

HA: Yes, the evidence-- as far as I’m concerned the evidence is overwhelming that he was murdered. And the book goes into a fair amount of detail as to who murdered him and why he was murdered.

AC: It sounds like there’s a real dark web here, and a lot of connections to names here that are familiar to us now. I got a real kick out of reading one of the memos posted on your website, it’s between Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney back in 1975.

HA: Yeah, Well both of those characters worked in the Ford White House. Rumsfeld was the Chief of Staff, and Rumsfeld’s Chief of Staff in turn was Cheney, but they did a pretty good job of covering up the fact that Olson had been murdered, and also did a good job of diverting the media attention away from Olson’s murder, and the programs he worked on for the US Army. They did not want that information coming out at all. In a nutshell, a lot of those programs are almost mirror images of the programs going on today in terms of the War on Terror-- with interrogation, and torture, and murder.

AC: Yeah, it’s interesting to see some of the same people who are involved in some of the same shadowy and underhanded activities of the Bush administration were also involved in the exact same sort of cover ups back in 1975.

HA: Yeah, to me that’s incredible, now that Cheney is actually out of office, and probably will never be back in public office he’s become very bold and outspoken about his feelings on these programs. He’s very supportive of torture, and seems to have no respect whatsoever for human rights.

AC: Yes, it’s an odd thing to see a government official do this. I never thought I’d see the day that a government official would come out openly and cheerlead about torture, and also get applause from certain sectors for doing so.

HA: I agree, here’s a guy who used to be Vice President, and it’s incredible and you’ve got possibly 50%, I hope not more, of the country that supports him in these declarations.

AC: Absolutely, it’s sad to see some of those things that used to be taboo, not only become accepted, but publicly boasted about by government officials. We now have debates about whether or not people should even be read their Miranda rights, or should US citizens be assassinated without any sort of trial.

HA: I know, it’s almost like the Constitution has become some sort of antiquated document just to be gazed at, but not to be adhered to or respected in any fashion.

AC: It’s more than a little disheartening.

HA: Really, for somebody like me, I’m in my early 60’s and I presume you’re much younger. For somebody who’s just going into the service, it would make me wonder what am I really fighting for here, am I going to war or giving years of my life away to the country in return for what the US should stand for? Or is this all about Mobile oil, or BP, or GE?

AC: I know what you mean about such thoughts. These were things that deeply concerned me while I was in the Air Force.

HA: Yeah, in my view there’s no way around it. There’s an obvious need for a military, there’s no doubt about that-- a country without a military is a country that’s going to be in trouble, and there’s a need for the intelligence services too, but as far as I’m concerned, both the military and the intelligence community is completely out of control today. Especially the military, the military has just become sort of a cesspool of greed and capitalism, and you’ve got generals who maybe devote 15 or 30 years of their life to their country, but then they feel as if they deserve some sort of cash out. And they go to work for corporations, or they pop up the week after they resign as a spokesperson on a major media network. I just think that’s wrong.

AC: Ah, yes, and sometimes it’s the worst of the worst-- Oliver North now does work on Fox News. I would think that most people, whatever side of the political spectrum you are on, would be ashamed to be associated with a character like that.

HA: Yeah, there is no shame today, there’s no shame at all, but the bigger problem is no outrage. It’s one thing to have no shame, but people tolerate this, it’s incredible.

AC: Hopefully some of the things you’ve uncovered in this meticulously well-researched book can generate some of that much needed outrage. What do you think shocked you the most going through all this?

HA: Wow let me think… by the time I was done I was so numb to it all that honestly I don’t think anything could shock me now, but some of the experiments bothered me initially. There were a number of experiments conducted on service people alone. At Edgewood Arsenal 6000 servicemen were given LSD without their knowledge. And I remember thinking, somehow maybe 60 or 600 would seem less egregious, but 6000?! Give me a break! And the follow up figures show that there was all kinds of psychological damage, and an inordinate number of suicides, in later years. And another shocking thing was some of the experiments that were conducted and funded by the CIA, and were done on children at various hospitals and medical institutions-- I mean, this is no exaggeration, these were children ranging in age from 3 years old up to about 10. They were given electroshock therapy and LSD, repeatedly. That just adds an entire new dimension to the issue of unwitting testing, because how could you even begin to explain to a child that age what is being done to them. And the electroshock therapy was administered without any deadening of pain whatsoever. One of the experiments specifically that I’m speaking of was conducted in New York and then the Midwest, involved over a hundred children who had been labeled autistic and schizophrenic, and the amazing part is there are actually a few adults now who survived those experiments after being treated like that and declared autistic and schizophrenic—one of these guys is actually an attorney in San Francisco who went on as an orphan, was adopted and raised by a family. He’s a very successful attorney and he’s now a strong advocate against human experimentation. It makes you wonder, these children were declared autistic and schizophrenic, how many of them actually were?

AC: Yeah, this stuff reads like something out of a horror movie.

HA: Oh yeah, it’s like sitting around and imagining the worst things possible, and then looking to make it happen.

AC: Early on, the Rockefeller Report said that this sort of testing ended in 1967, do you think this is true?

HA: No I don’t, that was according to the CIA. What the CIA was actually saying was that the testing that had been done under the codename MKULTRA ended in 1967. But what actually happened is they changed the code name and it was given a whole new life under a different code name. So yeah, MKULTRA went out of existence, but then there was just another codenamed program to pick it up. And even today, from very recent reports, article in the New York Times and elsewhere, we are now learning that (and this is not news to people like myself), but we are learning that a lot of these torture sessions that the Bush administration administered to enemy combatants were actually experiments. They were veiled as torture, giving them the opportunity to try some new things. I honestly think that’s why they filmed some of those sessions, and then they destroyed the films. I think the reason they destroyed the films is that it would have been obvious from viewing them that they were actually experiments that were being conducted, with physicians advising.

AC: That’s an interesting perspective to take, but it would make sense. I remember being very frustrated when those tapes were destroyed. And if I’m correct weren’t those tapes requested by Congress?

HA: Yeah, they were.

AC: And then the CIA ignored that request and just destroyed the tapes. It was a purely criminal act.

HA: Oh yes, extremely criminal. The thing that I thought was sort of a dead giveaway was that you weren’t just talking about 40 minutes of tape. Don’t hold me to this, but I think it was more like 40 or 50 hours. And when you tape sessions like that, it’s not just so that you have a record. There’s probably another motive, and it’s probably a part of an experiment where the tapes could be used as a teaching tool down the road. Which they did in the 50’s and 60’s. They filmed all the stuff they did in the 50’s and 60’s and destroyed all of that too, at least they claim to have destroyed it. I doubt that it has, but getting to it would be impossible. The tapes that Congress requested recently, I’ve got to think that some of those are still in existence somewhere. They just don’t want to hand them over.

AC: I would be surprised if those things weren’t still out there in some form or fashion, but the way things are compartmentalized in the intelligence community now, it would be near impossible to ever find it.

HA: The government makes multiple copies of everything. And the way things are filmed these days it’s simply the push of a button to make a copy and then pass it around on a computer. So I think there are probably copies of these things somewhere.

AC: The problem here too, is that even when we know the CIA has destroyed torture tapes, it was very out in the open, or when the Obama administration refuses to release pictures of torture, which everyone knew about, these things still have a way of going down Orwell’s memory hole. People will talk about it for about a week, but then it’s gone, and we’re on to the next thing in the news cycle, like who is Kim Kardashian dating.

HA: Exactly, people have very short memories, and unless it’s kept right out in front of them, they just forget. And I think in a lot of ways they really don’t want to know some of this stuff. It’s not fun to think about at all for anyone. Unless maybe you’re Dick Cheney

AC: Haha, yeah I would guess Cheney gets a kick out of this stuff. Now as we’re talking about the crimes of government, I think we should establish that you are familiar with the inner workings of government, you worked in the Carter White House.

HA: Yes, yes I did.

AC: Given your experience in the White House, and your years of research into these matters, I’m interested in your take on a certain question: within circles where people are familiar with the crimes of government, and some of the less appetizing activities of the CIA, there are competing theories on the relationship between the CIA and the President. Do you see the CIA as a rogue agency, completely out of control? Or do you see them as essentially obedient to the President, but kept at arms length so American presidents can have plausible deniability?

HA: I see it as actually both. And that’s looking at it historically, from the beginning. I think most presidents take the position where they don’t want to know everything. Unless they have a specific interest, then they ask, and I think then they expect the truth. And sometimes they are briefed on certain things. Like the Kennedy’s certainly knew that the CIA was attempting to assassinate Castro. The CIA tried to kill Castro I think 8 or 9 times, both Robert and John F. Kennedy were well aware of that. I do think then and now that the agency is rogue in the sense that it’s too big for anyone to know, much less the person in charge, whether it be Panetta or anybody else. It’s just too big, there’s too much money, and there are too many fiefdoms. Like the whole drug issue. It’s almost getting to the point, and I think we will get there in the next 4 or 5 years, that it’s almost common knowledge and accepted by everyone that the CIA sells drugs. That they have a heavy hand into the heroin trafficking out of Afghanistan. Otherwise heroin production wouldn’t have gone up 85% since we’ve been there. And they take those drugs, sell them, and finance their operations, probably black operations, and nobody bats an eyelash. You see fictional accounts of it every month and every day on TV and the big screen, and you know… it’s no big deal. Nobody stops to think that we’ve got heroin in probably every school around the country now. And there’s a reason for that.

AC: Well, I think people at least sort of get the sense that they are being lied to. They know shady things are happening, they know secrets are being kept from them, and I think that broken trust is where a lot of the crazier conspiracy theories spring from. People don’t know what to believe. I wanted to ask you about the drug connection with the CIA, because that’s one of those things that I thought early on ‘oh, that’s just another conspiracy theory’.

HA: Yeah, and I thought that too, but in researching this book, and prominently displayed in the book, there’s a very close relationship between the CIA and what was called then, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the precursor to the DEA. In a lot of ways those two agencies were one. It was a revolving door. It was almost a given that anyone working for the narcotics bureau was also working for the CIA. And occasionally documents would come out, always heavily redacted, that really hinted strongly at the fact that drugs that were being confiscated by the narcotics bureau were actually not being destroyed. In a couple cases I saw, huge shipments of heroin and marijuana were sent to Army bases in New Jersey. What happened to them there I don’t know, but the documents don’t indicate any reason for that, and the Narcotics Bureau like the DEA today, told people that all these drugs were being destroyed. But they were being sent to Army bases, and this is prior to Vietnam. But CIA involvement with drugs in Vietnam and Afghanistan, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.

AC: No, you don’t hear that said a lot, but the facts are readily available. In Afghanistan poppy production and exporting has gone up tremendously since we’ve taken over, but the narrative we’re always seeing is that it’s the Taliban who are funding themselves through poppy production, but none of that actually washes when you take a closer look at the information.

HA: You’re right, it doesn’t and common sense dictates that if they were getting one tenth the profit from the sale of those drugs, they could have a nuclear bomb by now. You know, they wouldn’t have the crude weaponry they have, they would at least be much better armed. But if they are heavy into drug sales, then what the hell are they doing with all that money? Certainly not spending it on war, but that’s where they would be spending it if they were getting it.

AC: I think, from what I’ve been able to see, one of the most obvious documented cases of CIA complicity with the drug trade came out in Iran-Contra, if I’m correct.

HA: Yes you are, very much so, and in the writings of Gary Webb. It was all right there. And a lot of people just never read it because it was just so elaborate in its connections, which makes it hard to follow, and also hard to fathom. There’s so much money, billions and billions of dollars, and yet the CIA wants us to think that some flunky who never graduated from high school, maybe a rap singer, is the person who’s behind it all, at the top of the food chain. You know that’s just ludicrous.

AC: Even if-- for the average person, if you were to find some of this to be unbelievable, regardless of the fact that it’s out there and documented, you would have to ask yourself, would they really spend that much effort and money on the drug war, over decades, if it was such a failure? Drug use in America hasn’t gone down at all…

HA: Oh, it’s gone up. It’s gone up unbelievably; the drug war has been a miserable failure.

AC: Yes, at least in its official goals. To switch gears, I wanted to ask something else. Your book, the story that you’ve laid out, has all the makings of a huge news story, possibly even a movie. It’s written like a mystery, it’s intriguing, it’s got ‘James Bond’ action. What’s the highest level media outlet that’s come to you so far?

HA: Well actually, I’m talking to a studio, right now, for about the last three weeks, who are very interested in doing a movie on the book. Nothing is finalized yet, but they’re interested.

AC: Well good, I’d be baffled if something like that didn’t happen, this is perfect for a movie.

HA: Yeah, it’s important that it’s done right, and that it not be cranked out like a crappy Hollywood film-- it’s an opportunity to both entertain and to educate at once. Just by dealing with the facts, you don’t need to monkey with the facts at all.

AC: Oh, certainly not, the story is so incredible it simply couldn’t be made up. Now have you gotten any sort of resistance in putting this book together?

HA: Well, researching the book there was always resistance from the CIA, in terms of turning over documents through the Freedom of Information Act, but that’s just an ongoing task. And there’s a lot of stuff I filed for that I still haven’t gotten, but that’s not atypical. The most major resistance, or lack of cooperation I’ve gotten, actually came from a surprising place. And that was among the community-- I don’t know how to properly describe them-- but it’s the community that still wants to see LSD used as a drug for psychological treatment. These are physicians, psychiatrists, research psychologists, who almost view LSD as a sacrament, and they don’t like it when anything adverse is said about the drug. I tried to talk to a lot of those people, and I’d actually say they were the most uncooperative; they just didn’t want to talk at all. And they were very upset when they knew what I was writing, and were equally upset after the book came out. That really surprised me. I never said it was a bad or evil drug--- maybe it does have its uses. But I looked at that drug long and hard and if it has practical uses, I’d sure like to know about them.

AC: Well I imagine that in any case, getting a drug that you know you’re getting, is an entirely different thing than being slipped a drug without your knowledge.

HA: Right, and for recreational purposes, yeah, I’m not stupid, I have kids, I know people use it recreationally, at raves, parties, etc. That’s not to say it isn’t harmful but you know, but if that’s what you want to do then that’s your choice, it's a free country-- though I personally think there are better ways to enjoy life.

AC: Certainly. Well I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me here, and give a little insight into your book. I think the American people really owe you a debt of gratitude for the work you’ve done. You’ve researched tirelessly for ten years, trying to pull some very uncomfortable government activities out of the shadows, and that takes a lot of determination and courage. I think for some folks who are new to this sort of discussion, this smacks of “anti-Americanism”, which is a term I’ve never really understood. But once you get past that you realize that what you’ve done here is a great service to our democracy. This is our government, and we are responsible for its actions. We all pay our taxes, and keep this structure in power, and if any agency is using our money and support to carry out drug tests on children, or assassinations and cover-ups, or anything of that nature, we need to know about it so we can stop it and bring about the necessary changes. That’s the point of a democracy.

HA: I absolutely agree.

AC: Again, thank you for your hard work Mr. Albarelli.

HA: Thank you.

Hank Albarelli’s new book, “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments” is available for purchase at Amazon. For those of you who might still be skeptical (skepticism is healthy), Hank has posted many pages of corroborating internal documents on his website.

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