It sounds like a far fetched conspiracy theory, but dig just a little and the conspiracy sounds like it could be the truth. These are the facts—Frank Olsen joined other Central Intelligence Agency scientists on a retreat just before Thanksgiving in 1953. Nine days later he fell out of a New York City hotel room to his death.
The CIA, and the official police report, claimed it was a suicide, but Olsen’s family never quite believed it. He was a scientist who studied biological warfare and worked for the CIA before his untimely death. His work and his death are the subject of a new documentary series from Errol Morris, the director behind Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, and Fog of War. Set to air on Netflix on December 15, the series will use Olson’s death as the entry point to talk about the unscrupulous behavior of America’s intelligence agencies.
From the early 1950s to the early 1970s, the Central Intelligence Agency used psychoactive drugs and torture in attempt to control minds. The Agency dosed unsuspecting people with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and heroin, tortured schizophrenics, and hypnotized US army soldiers in attempt to shape the minds of humans.
And that’s just what we know about. The Agency called its project MKUltra and then CIA director Richard Helms had all records related to the project destroyed in 1973, just two years before a Congressional committee began to dig into the Agency’s clandestine activities.
It’s the stuff of conspiracy theories, but it’s true. The CIA destroyed most of its records and silenced its critics. According to Olsen’s family, he was one of those critics. Tune into Netflix on December 15th, to see Morris’ take on the story, complete with the dramatic reenactments Morris is known for and interviews with the family and former CIA agents.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .