Twin town may have suffered from CIA experiment
Wednesday, 17th March 2010.
The spotlight fell on Haverhill's French twin town of Pont St Esprit last week with revelations in a recent book that it may have been the site of a CIA drug experiment in the 1950s.
On August 16 1951 townspeople in Pont were suddenly assaulted by terrifying visions of beasts and fire.
It had always been put down to a dodgy batch of bread into which some ergot, a hallucinogenic mould, had been introduced, and was called Le Pain Maudit - The Cursed Bread.
But in research for his new book A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments, investigative journalist H P Albarelli Jnr claims to have found evidence of "secret of Pont-Saint-Esprit" and explains that it was not caused by mould but by diethylamide, the D in LSD.
After the Korean War the Americans launched a big research programme into the mental manipulation of prisoners and enemy troops.
Scientists told how agents had sprayed LSD into the air and also contaminated "local food products", he claims.
Mr Albarelli came across CIA documents while investigating the suspicious suicide of Frank Olson, a biochemist working for the US Army's top secret Special Operations Division who fell from a 13th floor window two years after the Cursed Bread incident.
French magazine articles following up the claims have found older residents of Pont St Esprit, pictured, which is in the Gard region of southern France, keen to find out what was behind the extraordinary events of August 1951, which resulted in many townspoeople being placed in strait jackets and taken to asylums.
One man tried to drown himself, screaming that his belly was being eaten by snakes. An 11-year-old tried to strangle his grandmother. Another man shouted: "I am a plane", before jumping out of a second-floor window, breaking his legs. He then got up and carried on for 50 yards. Another saw his heart escaping through his feet and begged a doctor to put it back.
Haverhill was first twinned with Pont St Esprit just 12 years after these events, in 1963. More recently twinning links on a regular basis have been revived and strengthened with Haverhill people visiting there and French visitors staying in Haverhill.
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