Spotlight: Code Name Artichoke
Spotlight: Code Name Artichoke
Category: Documentaries
Regions: North America


Airdates: No airdates currently scheduled.


An exposé of the CIA's secret experiments on humans in the 1950s. Through the use of drugs, hypnosis and torture, suspected Soviet agents were subjected to a rigorous brainwashing to induce their confessions. The issue is explored through the story of U.S. scientist Dr. Frank Olson, who was involved in these experiments. Tormented by his conscience, Olson wanted to quit the program – and died shortly thereafter under mysterious circumstances.

Forty years later, Eric Olson had his father's body exhumed to prove that he had been murdered, most likely to prevent Dr. Olson – one of the most important bearers of secrets in the U.S. – from revealing the truth. Working closely with Olson's survivors, authors Egmont R. Koch and Michael Wech shed light on these incredible events. For the first time ever, "Code Name Artichoke" shows exclusive photos and visual documents from Frank Olson's private archives and gives the scientist's former companions and colleagues a forum to air their views. For a transcript of the film, click here.

Spotlight is a weekly series of investigative reports from around the world, introduced by author and Journalist Mark Hertsgaard.  Mr. Hertsgaard’s latest book is “The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World."

CIA spokesperson Mike Mansfield, commenting on this case, Aug 8, 2002:

"The CIA vehemently denied on Thursday the family's claim that its agents killed Olson by throwing him out a New York hotel window on Nov. 28, 1953, to keep him from revealing secrets about torture of Cold War prisoners and biological weapons use in the Korean War.  "That's absolutely untrue and totally without foundation," CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said.  He said CIA activities regarding Olson's death had been thoroughly investigated by the 1975 Rockefeller Commission and others, including two congressional committees, resulting in the release of tens of thousands of pages.  "If new information becomes available, it should be brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities," Mansfield said. "This is a matter that has come up numerous times over the years, and we've made clear that we regret the tragic death of Frank Olson."

Statement of the Olson family:

The CIA has suggested that in order to resolve the case of Frank Olson's death the Olson family should "contact appropriate authorities" with new information. We wonder what authorities those might be. Should we dial "911"?

During the past year the Olson family sent letters and packages of information and documents on the case to more than a dozen U.S. Congress Representatives and U.S. Senators. We outlined the many reasons why the case of Frank Olson's death is far from resolved, and in fact appears from every indication to have been a murder. Professor James Starrs, for example, the forensic investigator who conducted the exhumation of the body, unambiguously concluded that the death of Frank Olson was "a homicide deft, deliberate, and diabolical." More information.

We asked the Representatives and Senators to whom we wrote to help organize an inquiry at the Federal level to investigate and finally resolve this matter of Frank Olson's death, which has so-long troubled the Olson family and many other Americans as well, and which is so pertinent to contemporary policy discussions in this country.

Not a single Congressional representative or Senator responded to our letter, or even acknowledged receipt of it.

As for the CIA's alleged "cooperation" in investigating this matter in the 1970's, the New York Times characterized the package of documents the Agency provided to the family in 1975, which purported to account for what had happened to Frank Olson, as "a jumble of deletions, conflicting statements, unintelligible passages and such unexplained terms as the 'Artichoke Committee' and 'Project Bluebird' that tend to confuse more than enlighten." NY Times Article 

This collection of CIA documents released to us directly from the hand of Director William Colby was about a hundred pages in length (not "thousands" as the CIA claims). The Agency said it was all they had on the incident.

The CIA then flat-out refused to help us understand those documents or to provide witnesses to explain them.

A statement issued by the Agency's spokesman alleges that the Rockefeller Commission "thoroughly investigated" the death of Frank Olson. If so that comes as news to us. The Rockefeller Commission Report included only a two extremely brief, uninformative, and mostly incorrect paragraphs on the incident in its 1975 report. That Commission did not even publish Frank Olson's name in its report (the Olson family was forced to surmise that the description referred to Frank Olson), and never notified the Olson family that new information had become available. If the Olson family had not deduced that the fragmentary information in the Rockefeller Report was referring to Frank Olson, and then held a press conference to demand an explanation, nobody would have ever heard of Frank Olson. Representatives of the Rockefeller Commission refused to meet with the family to discuss the matter further.

From statements contained in secret White House documents of 1975 relating to the de-classification of this matter, supervised at the White House level by senior staff members Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, we now know that we were not provided with all relevant documents, and that the underlying purpose of our meeting with President Gerald Ford in the Oval Office was to insure that we did not take our case to court, where we would have been entitled to obtain them. Additional Family Statements.

We doubt that anyone who watches "Code Name Artichoke" can seriously maintain that the investigations of the 1970's got to the bottom of the case of Frank Olson. In fact none of those "investigations" even mentioned the kinds of work in which Frank Olson was involved. That omission was intentional. It was precisely what the White House intervention was designed to avoid.

Perhaps the most telling comment on the CIA's allegation that the case of Frank Olson has been investigated on multiple occasions came from Armand Pastore, night manager of the hotel in New York at the time of Frank Olson's death. "It's a damned strange investigation," Pastore said on more than one occasion, "when nobody bothers to speak to the guy who found the body."

We conclude with an invitation to whatever Agency public relations officers happen to read this posting. Watch "Code Name Artichoke." Then read the chapter "Frank Olson: The Man Who Fell Thirteen Stories" in the new book "A Voice for the Dead: A Forensic Investigator's Pursuit of Truth in the Grave (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2005) by forensic investigator and George Washington University Law Center Professor of Law James E. Starrs. We doubt that at that point you'll still be in a mood to issue boilerplate denials about the inevitable return of locusts. If you decide to speak seriously about what really happened to Frank Olson please give us a call. We've been waiting for fifty-two years.

—The Family of Frank R. Olson, February 22, 2005

To contact the Olson family:

Spotlight Related Websites:

Olson Family Website
The Sunshine Project

Spotlight: Code Name Artichoke
Related Video