The CIA’s Operation Paperclip Hired Nazi Party Scientists During the Cold War

By: Gaia Staff  | August 15th , 2017

Operation Paperclip

The CIA project that allowed Nazi scientists, many who committed war crimes, to live freely in the US to exploit their technology.

The end of WWII was exciting for the Allies and their efforts to defeat the Nazis, but the spillover into the Cold War led to some paranoid moves by the CIA and U.S. government that were ethically questionable and sometimes downright detestable. One example of this in particular was the pardoning of hundreds of high-ranking Nazi scientists for the exploitation of their knowledge; and it wasn’t just pardoning, but providing cushy jobs with not-so-modest salaries and a high standard of living.

Many of these scientists were quietly assimilated into American society, and some have even been commemorated with plaques, statues and busts, in celebration of their contributions to science. The name of this project was Operation Paperclip, due to the CIA’s use of paperclips to indicate the most nefarious and malevolent Nazis when one would look through a dossier of their profiles. On one hand, their achievements led to NASA’s Apollo missions and the moon landing – on the other, some “achievements” led to the creation of our chemical weapons program and more notorious, clandestine operations like MKULTRA.

The impetus behind Operation Paperclip was to prevent advanced Nazi weapon technology from falling into the hands of the Soviet Union. The program, which brought in roughly 1600 scientists, was originally titled, Operation Overcast, before the CIA realized it needed to gloss over the notoriously paperclipped Nazis. Many of these scientists were known to have committed horrendous war crimes, like experimenting on live humans with chemical and biological weapons, but few were prosecuted.


Mittelwork and the V2 Rocket 

Toward the end of the war, when the Nazis were nearing defeat, they developed the V-2 rocket under the guidance of Wernher von Braun and Arthur L Rudolph. Both of these scientists eventually went on to develop the Saturn V rocket that was so critical to the success of the Apollo missions, and bringing together mankind in the subsequent moon landings. But the story was much different at the Mittelwork facility in Germany, where slave labor was used to develop the V-2, resulting in the death of roughly 20,000 people, and that doesn’t even include deaths from the use of the bomb itself.

The prisoners that were put to work at the factory were brought in from concentration camps, like Buchenwald, and forced to work 12 hour shifts under harsh conditions in underground factories. Many died from malnutrition, while others were hanged in front of their coworkers for not performing or sabotaging the rockets. Despite feigning shock when asked whether slave labor was used at his factories in Germany, Rudolph was eventually exposed and deported for his knowing involvement in Nazi war crimes.


German V-2 Rocket designed by Wernher von Braun


But Rudolph was one of few who was actually persecuted for his crimes, and that persecution only resulted in deportation. In the case of von Braun, it is unclear whether he was sympathetic to the Nazi cause or if he simply abided by it for his own protection. Rudolph, on the other hand, was found to have placed orders for new workers when he knew his were sick and dying, and received daily strength reports on the status of his prisoners. He was even thought to have conceived and implemented the program, himself, after seeing prisoners used for slave labor in other German factories.

Von Braun anticipated the U.S. actions of Operation Paperclip and carefully plotted his escape from Nazi supervision to surrender himself and his team to American soldiers. Upon telling U.S. intelligence about his work and how it related to the American rocketry program under Robert Goddard, the U.S. quickly recruited him. He became one of the most important members of Paperclip and was given top security clearance throughout the 50s. During this time, he was involved in many of the elite inner circles in Washington. And although von Braun, who was an SS officer, claims to have only worn his uniform once and didn’t ascribe to Nazi ideology, his development of the V-2 led to a tragic number of deaths.

Nazi Influence on Chemical and Biological Weapons

A more disturbing aspect of Operation Paperclip comes from developments made by the Army Chemical Corps. Nowadays, the Chemical Corps’ duty is to research biological and chemical weapons to protect against, but originally, it’s goal was to develop their use. The Nazi scientists who were recruited to work on these projects were typically those who had committed depraved experiments on live subjects.

One of these scientists, Kurt Blome, was the Deputy Surgeon General in the Third Reich and headed its biological warfare program. Under the guise of “cancer research,” Blome conducted experiments involving spreading disease through insects like mosquitos and lice. He also ran tests that involved dropping nerve gas and insecticides from planes as well as attempts at creating weaponized bubonic plague. It is likely that the work of Blome and his colleague Dr. Fritz Hoffmann helped the Army Chemical Corps. develop Agent Orange, the herbicide and defoliant that was so devastating in the Vietnam War.

Experiments under the guidance of Blome also included testing psychedelics like LSD for mind control and behavior modification. The experiments were run to develop LSD as a truth serum and were often conducted in countries, like Germany, where testing on humans wasn’t entirely condemned. This program was given the name Operation ARTICHOKE which inevitably became the infamous Project MKULTRA.



There is a long list of other Nazi scientists that were recruited in the program, who went on to lead comfortable, undisturbed lives, despite having committed horrendous war crimes. And despite efforts by the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations to prosecute some of these former Nazis, many politicians claimed their scientific contributions exculpated them of previous atrocities. Some were given lifetime achievement awards, while others were even thought to be deserving of Nobel prizes.

Some view the negative consequences of their actions as being difficult to weigh against the positive. Would we have developed the horrific chemical weapons that were later used in Vietnam, requiring billions of dollars to clean up? Would we have landed on the moon and developed such an advanced space program? And which other government-funded projects in our society were the product of Nazi scientists who went on to lead exonerated lives?


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