Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Over the last few days, there have been moments when I felt like I should reengage with the troubles of the world and especially the new wave of nascent fascism that is sweeping the US like a cyclical summer scourge, but I will not let the guilt of responsibility push me beyond reasonable limits. I will ride out the heatwave by concentrating on the foolish and conspiratorial – like this Cold War acid story supplied by the revered UK Steve. In his accompanying email Steve noted “Did the CIA test acid on a French town? The answer is probably "no", but it's quite intriguing anyway.” I tend to agree with him. While working on my books CIA: Secrets of the Company and Who’s Watching You I cover much of the same ground as Hank Albarelli and the guy does seem to have a taste for super-sensational conclusions.

“Nearly 60 years ago, a French town was hit by a sudden outbreak of hallucinations, which left five people dead and many seriously ill. For years it was blamed on bread contaminated with a psychedelic fungus - but that theory is now being challenged. On 16 August 1951, postman Leon Armunier was doing his rounds in the southern French town of Pont-Saint-Esprit when he was suddenly overwhelmed by nausea and wild hallucinations. "It was terrible. I had the sensation of shrinking and shrinking, and the fire and the serpents coiling around my arms," he remembers. Leon, now 87, fell off his bike and was taken to the hospital in Avignon. He was put in a straitjacket but he shared a room with three teenagers who had been chained to their beds to keep them under control. "Some of my friends tried to get out of the window. They were thrashing wildly... screaming, and the sound of the metal beds and the jumping up and down... the noise was terrible. "I'd prefer to die rather than go through that again." Over the coming days, dozens of other people in the town fell prey to similar symptoms. Doctors at the time concluded that bread at one of the town's bakeries had become contaminated by ergot, a poisonous fungus that occurs naturally on rye. That view remained largely unchallenged until 2009, when an American investigative journalist, Hank Albarelli, revealed a CIA document labelled: "Re: Pont-Saint-Esprit and F.Olson Files. SO Span/France Operation file, inclusive Olson. Intel files. Hand carry to Belin - tell him to see to it that these are buried." F. Olson is Frank Olson, a CIA scientist who, at the time of the Pont St Esprit incident, led research for the agency into the drug LSD.” (Click here for more)

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The secret word is Mould


Munz said...

Frank Olson is, of course, the CIA scientist who was dosed by MK-ULTRA's Sid Gottlieb and was later thrown out a hotel window by CIA-hired goons. Albarelli has written extensively about this case, as have John Marks and Jon Ronson.

Rick Nielsen said...

there is a good book about the Pont-Saint-Esprit deal called "the day of Saint Anthonys Fire" by Frank Edwards

hcb said...

I don't know about France, but I'm certain that in the late 1960s the CIA regularly tested the effects of LSD with variable dosages on the high schoolers of Gary Indiana. It found that we preferred Orange Sunshine over Yellow, and Black Flats over Purple Double Domes.

stu said...

nothing EVER happens round here.