What was Operation Paperclip?

Immediately following World War II, America’s Office of Strategic Services began to quietly recruit former Nazis via Operation Paperclip. What was the purpose of this program? And why does it rank as one of the most controversial programs in U.S. history?

The Chaos Book Club

Today marks Day 5 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

Operation Paperclip

During World War II, Nazi scientists developed an impressive level of technical expertise, which manifested itself in a series of brilliant war-time inventions and weapons. As the war drew to a close, American officials began to realize that this knowledge could be extremely valuable in the post-war world. At the same time, with the Cold War looming, they also wished to keep it out of Russian hands.

Unofficially, American recruitment of Nazi scientists began shortly after Germany’s surrender on May 8, 1945. It wasn’t until August that President Harry Truman formalized Operation Paperclip. His order expressly forbade recruiting anyone who had been “a member of the Nazi party and more than a nominal participant in its activities, or an active supporter of Nazism.” Background investigations were to be conducted by the newly-established Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA).

Bending the Rules

However, this restriction would’ve made attractive scientists ineligible for recruitment. As such, the JIOA concealed incriminating information about these scientists. It also created fake employment and political records for them. Thus, while official policy was to prosecute war criminals, the JIOA worked to bring many of them into America instead. Here are three particularly famous examples…

  • Wernher von Braun: Member of the SS and held the rank of major under Hitler. Helped design the deadly V-2 rocket. After coming to America, he worked on the IRBM program before joining NASA. He was chief architect of the astonishingly successful Saturn V launch vehicle, which helped land Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on the moon.
  • Arthur Rudolph: Operations Director of the Millelwerk factory where 9,000 workers died from exhaustion, 350 were hanged, and another 10,000 or so died from disease, starvation, or execution. After coming to America, he helped Wernher von Braun develop the Saturn V rocket. When the truth of his wartime record came out, he agreed to leave America and renounce his citizenship in 1984.
  • Hubertus Strughold: Physician who is believed to have been involved with the Dachau concentration camp. At Dachau, inmates were subjected to water immersion, air pressure experiments, the forced drinking of seawater, and freezing temperatures. After Operation Paperclip, Strughold became known as “The Father of Space Medicine.”

These three men are believed to be just the tip of the iceberg. Proponents of the program justify the illegal recruitments by pointing to their numerous achievements, such as Saturn V. However, there was a dark side to the program as well.

The Dark Side of Operation Paperclip

Between 1950 and 1974, Operation Paperclip scientists conducted experiments on U.S. soldiers at Edgewood Arsenal. Participants were exposed to chemical and biological agents as well as LSD, THC, and BC. The three latter substances were part of a top-secret CIA mind-control project known as MKULTRA.

All told, at least 7,120 U.S. soldiers were involved in these experiments although the exact number may be much higher. So, while the recruiting of Nazi scientists had some good outcomes, it also resulted in horrible treatment of American servicemen, reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps. In addition, PaperClip scientists were far from loyal and there are numerous examples of these scientists smuggling classified American documents out of the country. Worst of all, the Nazi mentality toward human experimentation was subsequently adopted by some American officials. As Linda Hunt put it in her work Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945 to 1990

“The Machiavellian attitude behind these operations was born when a World War II ally became a new enemy and the world axis shifted. To fight the Russians we turned to the men responsible for the horrors committed under Hitler and hired them to work as scientists, saboteurs, and spies. Over time these operations took on a life of their own….No matter how necessary intelligence activities may be, they cannot be allowed to operate unchecked, in secrecy and darkness, shielded from the democratic process of accountability. Otherwise, in the end we become our own worst enemy. Edgewood already has provided us with a horrifying example of the true legacy of the cold war, which lies in the stories of James Stanley and other soldiers who were treated like laboratory rats. In essence we used Nazi science to kill our own people.” ~ Linda Hunt

Operation Paperclip and Chaos

The morality of Operation Paperclip remains a hotly-debated topic even today. But regardless of your feelings on it, it’s a part of American history that deserves to be told. Operation Paperclip doesn’t play a giant role in Chaos, at least not directly. However, it enabled a brilliant and mysterious physicist named Dr. Karl Hartek to come to America, setting in action a course of events that lead to devastating consequences.

Chase lifted an old color Polaroid from the desk and passed it to me. The faded image depicted a strange-looking fellow, with puffy eyes, a bulbous nose, and misshapen shoulders.

Sort of like the love child of an ostrich and an ape.

“His name is Dr. Karl Hartek,” Chase said. “He was a German physicist during the Second World War.”

“What happened to him?”

“He emigrated to the United States in 1945, shortly after the surrender of Nazi Germany. He was a part of Operation Paperclip.” ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David Meyer

Only Cy Reed, a former urban archaeologist turned treasure hunter, is capable of undoing the potential disaster wrought by Dr. Hartek’s strange invention, die Glocke.

That’s all for today. Make sure to come back tomorrow when we’ll be discussing two more topics that play crucial roles in Chaos…namely, lost Nazi treasure and the mysterious ODESSA program. I hope to see you then!


Chaos Book Club

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