Thursday Reads: MKULTRA, Offshore Tax Havens, Mitt Romney’s WH Lunch, and a Tom Ricks Update

Good Morning!!

The CIA keeps hoping that their cold war mind control programs (of which there were many back in the 1950s and 1960s), usually referred to by the umbrella term Project MKultra, will disappear down the memory hole; but occasionally it still rears its ugly head.

Yesterday was one of those occasions. The New York Times published an article by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist James Risen about a new lawsuit by Eric and Nils Olson that accuses the CIA of covering up the real causes of their father Frank Olson’s death.

First, a little background. Frank Olson was a scientist who worked at Ft. Dietrich in Maryland on top-secret research related to Project MKultra. From Wikipedia:

Frank Olson was a senior U.S. microbiologist at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland.[1] He was recruited from the University of Wisconsin, where his departmental advisor was Ira Baldwin, the civilian scientist who, along with industrial partners like George W. Merck and the U.S. military, established the U.S. bioweapons program in 1943, a time when interest in applying modern technology to warfare was at an all-time high.

His specific research work at Fort Detrick’s Special Operations Division has never been revealed, but he was clearly involved in biological weapons research. He had been assigned as a contact with the CIA’s Technical Services Staff, run by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb and his deputy Robert Lashbruck regarding experiments with bioweapons, toxins, and mind control drugs. This was the MKNAOMI – MKULTRA program, previously known as Project Artichoke and earlier, Project Bluebird, and justified based on claimed Soviet efforts to create a “Manchurian Candidate.” In 1953, as Deputy Acting Head of Special Operations for the CIA, Olson associated with Dr. William Sargant, investigating the use of psychoactive drugs at Britain’s Biological Warfare Centre at Porton Down. Hence, he was privy to the innermost secrets of the CIA interrogation and biowarfare programs.

In 1953, Olson was dosed with LSD without his knowledge at a retreat with his coworkers. Not surprisingly, he freaked out and became “paranoid.” A week later, he tried to resign his position, but his superiors sent him to New York City to see a psychiatrist involved with the CIA’s research, Harold Abramson. That night Olson supposedly committed suicide by jumping out of his 10th floor hotel room. Robert Lashbrook was in the room at the time, but claimed to have no idea how it happened.

Olson’s family had no idea what he had been working on or the details of his “accident.” All this came out after Congress began investigating the CIA’s insane mind control programs in the 1970s.

According to the the Risen article,

Eric and Nils Olson…said they plan to file a lawsuit in United States District Court here on Wednesday accusing the C.I.A. of covering up the truth about Mr. Olson’s death in 1953, one of the most infamous cases in the agency’s history.

During the intelligence reforms in the 1970s, the government gave the Olson family a financial settlement after the C.I.A. was forced to acknowledge that Mr. Olson had been given the hallucinogenic drug nine days before his death. President Gerald R. Ford met with the Olson family at the White House and apologized.

At the time, the government said Mr. Olson had killed himself by jumping out of a hotel window in Manhattan. But the Olsons came to believe that he had been murdered to keep him from talking about disturbing C.I.A. operations that he had uncovered.

Mr. Olson’s sons said that their past efforts to persuade the agency to open its files and provide them with more information had failed, and that a court challenge is the only way to find out the truth.

“The evidence points to a murder, and not a drug-induced suicide,” said Eric Olson, Frank Olson’s older son, who has devoted much of his life to investigating his father’s death. When the government told his family that his father had committed suicide, “one set of lies was replaced with another set of lies,” he said.

The Olson brothers claim that

In 1953, Mr. Olson traveled to Europe and visited biological and chemical weapons research facilities. The Olson family lawsuit alleges that during that trip, Mr. Olson witnessed extreme interrogations, some resulting in deaths, in which the C.I.A. experimented with biological agents that he had helped develop. Intelligence officials became suspicious of him when he seemed to have misgivings about what he had seen, the lawsuit contends. Eric Olson said Frank Olson also appeared to have deep misgivings about the use of biological weapons that was alleged in the Korean War.

According to Risen, it was after Olson expressed his “misgivings” that he was dosed with LSD. The lawsuit was filed yesterday afternoon.

Of course the CIA has never stopped developing methods of torture and mind control, as we learned during the Bush administration when the Abu Ghraib story broke and we began learning about the torture methods that were used on suspected terrorists and the CIA black sites in torture-friendly countries around the world.

I doubt if anything will come of this lawsuit, but I’m happy that Olson’s story and MKultra are back in the news. Perhaps a few people will read about it and wake up to the terrible things our government has been doing for decades and continues to do today.

In other news, the UK Guardian in cooperation with BBC Panorama and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) are in the process of publishing their research on Great Britain’s network of offshore tax havens. From the Guardian: Offshore secrets revealed: the shadowy side of a booming industry.

The existence of an extraordinary global network of sham company directors, most of them British, can be revealed.
The UK government claims such abuses were stamped out long ago, but a worldwide joint investigation by the Guardian, the BBC’s Panorama and the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has uncovered a booming offshore industry that leaves the way open for both tax avoidance and the concealment of assets.

More than 21,500 companies have been identified using this group of 28 so-called nominee directors. The nominees play a key role in keeping secret hundreds of thousands of commercial transactions. They do so by selling their names for use on official company documents, using addresses in obscure locations all over the world.

This is not illegal under UK law, and sometimes nominee directors have a legitimate role. But our evidence suggests this particular group of directors only pretend to control the companies they put their names to.

Another article reveals the real identities behind Britain’s secret property deals. Another article reveals how BBC Panorama filmed undercover in offshore tax havens.

Someone should tell Mitt Romney to turn off Fox News and read the Guardian for the next few days.

Speaking of Mitt Romney, he’ll be having lunch with President Obama at the White House today. The Boston Globe reports:

At some point late on Thursday morning, Mitt Romney will be driven to the steps of the White House. He will get out of the car, be escorted to a room adjacent to the Oval Office, and sit down for lunch.

But rather than arriving as an occupant, the one-time presidential hopeful will be a guest in someone else’s house.

In a meeting that has been weeks in the making, Romney will join President Obama for private lunch at the White House just 23 days after he lost the election. It will be the first time they have met since the election, and it follows several weeks in which Romney has started to contemplate life outside of politics.

I wonder if they’ll discuss the “gifts” that Romney claims Obama gave to the “47 percent” in order to get elected? I’m still waiting for mine.

At the Atlantic, Jen Doll writes about What Obama and Romney’s Lunch Might Look Like — or Should.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are having lunch! Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are having lunch! This is exciting to Americans because we just spent several mortifying days with our several mortifying relatives eating hopefully decent turkey, and now Romney is in our last-week’s shoes, sort of, as he prepares to sit across a table in a strange kind of tradition, breaking bread with a man he not so long ago vowed to defeat. So, yes, that’s slightly uncomfortable, perhaps. Kind of like the opening montage on Project Runway when those people who got kicked off in the first few episodes are all in your face saying how they’re number one and they’re going to win this whole thing, just watch.

This lunch will happen Thursday. Press is not allowed, which seems advisable. The lunch will be held at the White House (Obama’s home turf advantage) Private Dining Room (“next to the Oval Office in the West Wing”), and is the fulfillment of a promise Obama made on election night, as we reminded you earlier, that the president would meet with his former opponent. This is their first meetup since the election, or as the White House statement puts it, “It will be the first opportunity they have had to visit since the election.” Visit, of course, is the euphemism your grandmother uses.

This lunch, between a couple of men who didn’t seem terribly keen on each other just a few weeks ago, brings up a host of modern-day etiquette questions. Here, we do our best to answer them.

Read the rest at the link. It’s very funny.

The Tom Ricks vs. Fox News story continued into a third day. Ricks was invited to appear on MSNBC and said no. According to the WaPo’s Melissa Henneberger, Ricks’ Fox News putdown was

no mere partisan smackdown; it was more subversive than that, and even more bracing. Because as it turns out, Ricks doesn’t want to play on either the red or the blue team, and has no loftier view of Obama-cheering MSNBC than of Obama-jeering Fox.

When I talked to him Tuesday, he said yeah, actually, he had had some other TV invites, but we shouldn’t waste too much time clicking around looking for his next appearance: “MSNBC invited me, but I said, ‘You’re just like Fox, but not as good at it.’ They wrote back and said, ‘Thank you for your candor.’”

Henneberger asked Ricks if he had planned his Fox News smackdown ahead of time.

“It just kind of tumbled out,” he said, after “this fathead comes on and says the pressure is increasing on the White House; no, they’re backing off! Now their spokesman says I apologized; they’re just making stuff up.”

He told the young woman who pre-interviewed him that he felt the whole issue had been exploited for political reasons, “but my impression was she’s new to the game and thought that because I’m pro-military — and I do consider myself pro-military,” he’d naturally agree with the Foxified narrative.

After three years in the archives researching “The Generals,” Ricks said, “I’m blinking my eyes,” in the TV lights, and taken aback at how much a little truth-telling can set a guy apart around here.

Ricks was even more harsh in an interview with HuffPo yesterday.

Ricks hammered the point home when speaking with HuffPost Live’s Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. In response to Clemente’s statement indicating that Ricks “apologized” after the interview, “ignored the anchor’s question,” and doesn’t have “the strength of character to [apologize] publicly,” Ricks had one thing to say: “that’s horseshit.”

He recounted his hallway conversations once again, which included complimenting Fox News host Bret Baier on his weight loss and telling a Fox News staffer he was tired. “It was not an apology for what was said at all,” he added.

When asked about his decision to turn down an invitation to appear on MSNBC, Ricks said, “Fox really seems to sell outrage as its product, and MSNBC doesn’t as much. But they both seem to me to be running political campaigns almost more than they are running news networks. So I don’t particularly like either. That said, I’m not a fan of TV news generally. I think it’s a lousy place to get your information from.”

That’s all I have for you today. Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about?

Tuesday Reads: FBI’s Failed Amerithrax Investigation

Anthrax spores surrounding a red blood cell

Good Morning!!

For today’s morning reads, I’m going to focus on an important story that has long fascinated me: the anthrax attacks of 2001 and the FBI’s investigation of the case, which they dubbed “Amerithrax.” Did the FBI fail to really follow through on the investigation because of incompetence? Or is the government hiding something?

I’m sure you recall that just a week after the September 11 attacks, envelopes containing anthrax spores were mailed to several media offices and to Democratic Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Five people died from anthrax poisoning and seventeen others were infected, but survived. The UCLA School of Public health provides a list of anthrax attacks outbreaks in the U.S., including those related to the 2001 anthrax letters.

Steven Hatfill

The Bush administration tried to suggest that Iraq was somehow behind the attacks, but that hypothesis fell through when the chemical signature of the anthrax from the envelopes was shown to have come from a U.S. lab. The FBI then focused on Dr. Steven Hatfill, bio-weapons expert and virologist. When the FBI named Hatfill as a “person of interest,” the media went into a feeding frenzy, completely destroying this man’s career and reputation. In the end the government had to pay him a $5.8 million settlement.

In 2005, after the case against Hatfill fell apart, the agency found a new scapegoat in Bruce Ivins, an emotionally troubled bio-defense scientist at Ft. Detrick in Maryland. Ft. Detrick is notorious for its connection with the MKULTRA project and the mysterious suicide of distinguished researcher Frank Olson, who had been (probably) unknowingly dosed with LSD a couple of days earlier. But I digress. From the LA Times:

By the mid-1970s, Bruce Ivins had earned his doctorate and was a promising researcher at the University of North Carolina. By outward appearances, he was a charming eccentric, odd but disarming. Inside, he still smoldered with resentment, and he saw a new outlet for it.

Several years earlier, a Cincinnati student had turned him down for a date. He had projected his anger onto the young woman’s sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma. There was a Kappa house in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Ivins cased the building. One night when it was empty, he slipped in through a bathroom window and roamed the darkened floors with a penlight.

Upstairs, he found something that fascinated him: a glass-enclosed sheaf of documents, called a cipher, necessary for decoding the sorority’s secrets. The cipher would help him wage a personal war against Kappa Kappa Gamma into the sixth decade of his life.

This was the side of himself that Ivins kept carefully hidden. He devised sneaky ways to strike anonymously at people or institutions he imagined had offended him. He harbored murderous fantasies about women who did not reciprocate his overtures. He bought bomb-making ingredients and kept firearms, ammunition and body armor in his basement.

Yet Ivins managed to work his way into the heart of the American biodefense establishment, becoming a respected Army scientist and an authority on the laboratory use of anthrax.

In fact, Ivins obsession with Kappa Kappa Gamma was the main connection the FBI had between Ivins and the anthrax letters–they were mailed from a box in Princeton, New Jersey that wasn’t far from a business office rented by the sorority. Jim White at Emptywheel writes:

One former object of Ivins’ attentions, researcher Nancy Haigwood, is relied upon almost exclusively for making the leap from Ivins’ obsession with the sorority to his role in the anthrax attacks….Haigwood began to suspect Ivins in the attacks because of an email he sent to her and others in November, 2001 highlighting his work with the anthrax isolated from the attacks. In one a photo in the email, he is handling culture plates without gloves, a break of containment protocol for working with such dangerous material. Haigwood felt that by sending out this photo, Ivins was emphasizing his immunity to anthrax because he had been vaccinated.

Haigwood later suggested Ivins to the FBI as a suspect, and the agency used pretzel logic to build a connection between Ivins’ Kappa fixation and the mailbox used in the anthrax attacks. But White explains that

this shaky claim already has been thoroughly destroyed. In this post from August, 2008,

Marcy [Emptywheel] showed that Ivins’ work records–from data released by the FBI–indicate that it would not have been possible for him to make the round trip to Princeton and put the letters in the mailbox with them getting the appropriate postmark[.]

Ivins committed suicide in 2008 by taking an overdose of Tylenol–after years of being followed and spied upon by the FBI and named as “an extremely sensitive suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks.” After Ivins’ death, the FBI quickly closed the case and blamed the attacks on this man who could no longer defend himself and argued that no one else had been involved.

Yesterday morning, The New York Times published an article on the findings of a group of scientists who analyzed the FBI’s investigation and found it wanting. The results of their work will be published in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense.

[T]hree scientists argue that distinctive chemicals found in the dried anthrax spores — including the unexpected presence of tin — point to a high degree of manufacturing skill, contrary to federal reassurances that the attack germs were unsophisticated….

F.B.I. documents reviewed by The New York Times show that bureau scientists focused on tin early in their eight-year investigation, calling it an “element of interest” and a potentially critical clue to the criminal case. They later dropped their lengthy inquiry, never mentioned tin publicly and never offered any detailed account of how they thought the powder had been made.

The new paper raises the prospect — for the first time in a serious scientific forum — that the Army biodefense expert identified by the F.B.I. as the perpetrator, Bruce E. Ivins, had help in obtaining his germ weapons or conceivably was innocent of the crime.

The Times goes on to try to discredit the scientific analysis, but I just don’t buy it. Here is their summary of what the study authors had to say.

The tin is surprising because it kills micro-organisms and is used in antibacterial products. The authors of the paper say its presence in the mailed anthrax suggests that the germs, after cultivation and drying, got a specialized silicon coating, with tin as a chemical catalyst. Such coatings, known in industry as microencapsulants, are common in the manufacture of drugs and other products.

“It indicates a very special processing, and expertise,” said Martin E. Hugh-Jones, lead author of the paper and a world authority on anthrax at Louisiana State University. The deadly germs sent through the mail to news organizations and two United States senators, he added, were “far more sophisticated than needed.”

In addition to Dr. Hugh-Jones, the authors of the new paper are Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a biologist, and Stuart Jacobsen, a chemist; both have speculated publicly about the case and criticized the F.B.I. for years.

But these scientist are not the only people who have questioned the FBI’s investigation. McClatchy published an article in May on their analysis of the FBI lab reports:

Buried in FBI laboratory reports about the anthrax mail attacks that killed five people in 2001 is data suggesting that a chemical may have been added to try to heighten the powder’s potency, a move that some experts say exceeded the expertise of the presumed killer.

The lab data, contained in more than 9,000 pages of files that emerged a year after the Justice Department closed its inquiry and condemned the late Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator, shows unusual levels of silicon and tin in anthrax powder from two of the five letters.

Those elements are found in compounds that could be used to weaponize the anthrax, enabling the lethal spores to float easily so they could be readily inhaled by the intended victims, scientists say.

The existence of the silicon-tin chemical signature offered investigators the possibility of tracing purchases of the more than 100 such chemical products available before the attacks, which might have produced hard evidence against Ivins or led the agency to the real culprit.

But the FBI lab reports released in late February give no hint that bureau agents tried to find the buyers of additives such as tin-catalyzed silicone polymers.

I guess it was just more convenient to blame “crazy Bruce” instead of continuing to pursue the evidence wherever it might lead.

In a book released last month, Jeanne Guilleman “a medical anthropologist, a Professor of Sociology at Boston College and a senior fellow in the Security Studies Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology,”is also highly critical of the FBI investigation.

Tonight at 9PM Eastern, the season premiere of PBS’s Frontline will “take a hard look” at the FBI’s investigation of Amerithrax. I plan to watch, and I hope you will too.

I think it may be time for an independent investigation of this crime. The FBI has already had ten years to solve it, but they’ve mainly managed to destroy the lives and careers of two men and cause untold pain to their families and friends.

Now what are you reading and blogging about this morning?