Friday, March 12, 2010

Le Pain Maudit: Foreign Relations At It's Best

Back in the summer of 1951 a French town, Pont-Saint-Esprit suffered from a case of mass insanity that led to 7 deaths, 50 people being interned in mental institutions, and 250 overall incidents.  The insanity was traced to eating bread from a local bakery.  Original theories included mercury poisoning, but eventually most investigators settled on ergot poisoning.  This was not an entirely unreasonable assumption, all things considered.

Fast forward to 1975, and the Rockefeller Commission's investigation into the CIA's domestic activites and the Church Commitee.  The CIA's experiments with mescaline, LSD, and other psychoactives, bundled under the project name MKUltra, came to the knowledge of Congress and the public.  At least one of the researchers on the project, Frank Olson, died when he allegedly threw himsel out a window from a 10th story window due to LSD inspired insanity.  His family was paid $750,000 by Congress, an admission of culpability by the CIA.

In 1994 his body was exhumed at the request of his sons.  According to the medical examiner, he'd suffered sufficient blunt force to his head to render him unconscious before hitting the ground.  This strongly suggests that it was not a suicide, but actually homicide.

Now jump forward to present day... and investigative journalist Hank Albarelli
However, H P Albarelli Jr., an investigative journalist, claims the outbreak resulted from a covert experiment directed by the CIA and the US Army's top-secret Special Operations Division (SOD) at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
The scientists who produced both alternative explanations, he writes, worked for the Swiss-based Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company, which was then secretly supplying both the Army and CIA with LSD.
Mr Albarelli came across CIA documents while investigating the suspicious suicide of Frank Olson, a biochemist working for the SOD who fell from a 13th floor window two years after the Cursed Bread incident. One note transcribes a conversation between a CIA agent and a Sandoz official who mentions the "secret of Pont-Saint-Esprit" and explains that it was not "at all" caused by mould but by diethylamide, the D in LSD.

While compiling his book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments, Mr Albarelli spoke to former colleagues of Mr Olson, two of whom told him that the Pont-Saint-Esprit incident was part of a mind control experiment run by the CIA and US army
Circumstantially, it all ads up.  But just because it makes sense, doesn't mean it happened.  I'd really like to see confirmation or denial on this one though.  And I'm sure the French government would as well.
Mr Albarelli said the real "smoking gun" was a White House document sent to members of the Rockefeller Commission formed in 1975 to investigate CIA abuses. It contained the names of a number of French nationals who had been secretly employed by the CIA and made direct reference to the "Pont St. Esprit incident." In its quest to research LSD as an offensive weapon, Mr Albarelli claims, the US army also drugged over 5,700 unwitting American servicemen between 1953 and 1965.

None of his sources would indicate whether the French secret services were aware of the alleged operation. According to US news reports, French intelligence chiefs have demanded the CIA explain itself following the book's revelations. French intelligence officially denies this.
I'll follow-up on this if I hear more.

h/t BoingBoing

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