April 5, 2010
I don’t want to give away the story that Hank Albarelli has uncovered, or any of the juicy details or important discoveries that will change the way you look at this case. You need to read this book carefully, cover to cover, to understand the enormity of what transpired that autumn evening in midtown Manhattan. The number of interconnected links between people, places and events is astounding. Familiar names like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld turn up, as well as Warren Burger and Rudolph Giuliani, Howard Hughes and Robert Maheu; less familiar names like John Rousselot, an American congressman, and John Bircher accused of being involved in the assassination plot against President Kennedy, also make an appearance. A walk through Hank Albarelli’s masterful presentation of the Frank Olson case is like a tour of American political and cultural life during the last sixty years or more … and, at the same time, it is a descent into a very particular hell. (Is there such a thing as negative nostalgia?)
Here we read of CIA’s interest in the occult, in Edgar Cayce, UFOs, parapsychology, and in the strange visions of the Book of Ezekiel… I am not making this up.
Here we read of so many other victims of the mind control programs that we are forced to accept that Frank Olson represents only the tip of a satanic iceberg. Innocent people were falling like flies all over America in the 1950s, like the textile plant workers in New Hampshire who were infected with anthrax without their knowledge because their mill was doing work on the side in chemical and biological weapons research. Or the detective in Houston, Texas, who committed “suicide” by shooting himself in the heart … twice.
If anyone has any doubts that Congress should investigate cases of torture and human rights abuses allegedly carried out by members of the intelligence community during the Iraq conflict, one only needs to review the Frank Olson case. Our failure to fully investigate this scientist’s death in 1953 contributed to further and ongoing abuses throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The very people – Cheney and Rumsfeld – who defended CIA’s actions in those cases when news of the CIA and military programs were exposed in 1975 would be defending them again decades later in a different guise and a different arena. In those days, it was MKULTRA, MKNAOMI, MKOFTEN, MKCHICKWIT, and of course Operations BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE. These are legendary names today; the stuff of pulp fiction and celluloid fantasy. But real people were drugged in those programs without their knowledge or consent. Men. Women. Children. Prisoners. Psychopaths. Prostitutes. Foreigners. Many of them were never the same again. Some went insane. Some died as a result.
And no one was held accountable.
Today we have Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, waterboarding. Our excuse today – as it was then – is national security. Hank Albarelli very helpfully reminds us of what Bella Abzug – the New York Congresswoman in the funny hats that the right wing loved to hate – said during the 1975 investigation of the CIA’s mind control programs. She said:
“You cannot be strong outside if you are weak inside. You have to defend your own principles in order to be able to fight for acceptance of your principles in other places in the world… The question of the protection of our liberties and our freedom is the basis upon which this country remains strong.”
That was in 1975. Thirty-five years ago. What Hank Albarelli reminds us in this invaluable record of a “terrible mistake” is that we have yet to learn from those terrible mistakes.
Or, more likely, not enough of us really care.
Hank Albarelli cares. And his concern is our gain. Part mystery story, part history, thoroughly documented and completely compelling, A Terrible Mistake is required reading for anyone interested in the lengths we have gone to defend the nation against all enemies (foreign, domestic, and the purely imaginary) … and, incredibly, against our own loyal and patriotic citizens.