Did the CIA Feed a French Town LSD?

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Surreal story of the day: On August 16th 1951, the southern French town of Pont-Saint-Esprit was brought to a standstill when its people suddenly began to suffer horrific hallucinations. How in the world could the CIA have allegedly had anything to do with it?

The incident left five people dead and many seriously ill. Leon Armunier was working as a postman at the time when all of a sudden he was overcome with nausea and began to hallucinate. “I had the sensation of shrinking and shrinking, and the fire and the serpents coiling around my arms,” he recalled in an interview with the BBC. “I’d prefer to die than go through that again.”

The cause of the outbreak has remained inconclusive and doctors at the time concluded the bread in one of the town’s local bakeries had become contaminated by ergot, a poisonous fungus. However, American investigative journalist, Hank Albarelli, thinks otherwise. The BBC has reported that Albarelli has uncovered a CIA document labeled: “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 was leading the research into the drug LSD at the time of the Pont-Saint-Esprit. Belin is allegedly a reference to David Belin, who was executive director of the Rockefeller Commission, created by the White House in 1975, to investigate abuses perpetrated worldwide by the CIA. Albarelli alleges that the Pont-Saint-Esprit and F. Olson files, mentioned in the document would have revealed, if they had not been “buried,” that the CIA were experimenting with LSD on the townspeople.

The journalist has also used the freedom of information legislation to gain access to a CIA report form 1954 documenting a conversation with a representative from the Sandoz chemical company in Switzerland. After a few drinks the representative is reported to have stated: “The Pont-Saint-Esprit ‘secret’ is that it was not the bread at all … It was not grain ergot.” The company’s base is a short distance from Pont-Saint-Esprit and was the only place where LSD was being produced at the time.

But now, nearly 60 years on, will the French government commence an official enquiry into just what happened in this little French town? (via BBC)

— Frances Perraudin