‘Wormwood’ will uncover secret CIA LSD experiments

According to the Hollywood Reporter, a documentary filmmaker named Errol Morris has produced a six-part Netflix series called “Wormwood.” The series will focus on the controversial LSD experiments conducted by the CIA in the 1950s. “Wormwood” will pay particular attention to Frank Rudolph Olson, who either jumped or was pushed from the window of a New York hotel room after secretly being given LSD. The man’s sons, Eric and Nils Olson, have embarked on a decades-long quest to uncover the truth of their father’s death, filing suit against the federal government in 2012.

Olson worked at Camp Detrick (now Fort Detrick), an Army facility established to develop biological weapons. One of his duties was experimenting with aerosol-delivered anthrax. At some point during the early 1950s, Olson became a CIA employee at the agency’s Technical Services Staff, headed at the time by Sidney Gottlieb. During a retreat at a place called Deep Creek Lake, Gottlieb spiked a bottle of triple sec with LSD which Olson consumed, not knowing that he was taking a dangerous psychotropic drug.

A week after the retreat, Olson asked to be removed from the biowarfare program. He then suffered a nervous breakdown. Nine days after the retreat he plunged to his death. Officially, Olson died of a wrongful death, for which the government paid $750,000 to his family along with a personal apology from then President Gerald Ford and CIA Director William Colby. The 2012 suit was based on the suspicion, based on a 1994 autopsy of Olson’s body, that he was murdered. The case was dismissed in 2013. However, doubts linger.

The CIA was experimenting with LSD as a way to develop drugs that would break a prisoner’s will to resist interrogation as well as wipe their memories and even turn them into programmable robots to do the bidding of others. Some of the experiments, done on test subjects like Frank Olson, were done without their informed consent, resulting in a number of deaths. The experiments were conducted sloppily, without ordinary controls and expert observations. The program did not result in anything useful for the CIA and its mission of intelligence gathering. It did cause considerable embarrassment and condemnation of the agency when its existence was revealed in the 1970s during the so-called Church Committee hearings.

“Wormwood” is going to ask some very tough questions. How far should a democracy go in developing the means to defend itself? How often can a government lie to its own people and still retain its legitimacy?

“Wormwood” drops on Netflix December 15.