It's long been known that Nazi scientists helped the U.S. in its quest to secure its military might and space program at the height of the Cold War. Wernher von Braun, for example, a Nazi rocket scientist, led a team that helped the U.S. develop the vehicle employed for the first nuclear missile test, and aided efforts to launch first Western satellite in 1958. Hundreds of Nazi scientists were given citizenship between 1945 and 1955. But what's been unknown -- until today -- is the extent to which former Nazis were employed to test LSD and other interrogation techniques on captured Soviet spies.

According to a book released this week by journalist Annie Jacobsen, U.S. intelligence hired Third Reich scientists in capacities stranger and more nefarious than anything reported before.

"Under Operation Paperclip, which began in May of 1945, the scientists who helped the Third Reich wage war continued their weapons-related work for the U.S. government, developing rockets, chemical and biological weapons, aviation and space medicine (for enhancing military pilot and astronaut performance), and many other armaments at a feverish and paranoid pace that came to define the Cold War,"  Jacobsen writes. Her book is titled  Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America.

The book follows 21 former Nazis, eight of whom worked side by side with Hitler and his top lieutenants. According to Jacobsen, they joined the U.S. fight against the Soviets in the U.S. at the behest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Her account reveals the bizarre, funhouse-like theater that pervaded the U.S. military and intelligence services at the time. It takes the reader a step farther than previous narratives, exploring the nexus of Nazis and Americans, who'd been at war just years before. In a memorable paragraph, she describes U.S.-Nazi collaboration over LSD.

Quoting a memorandum on a program titled U.S. Artichoke, she writes, “Between 4 June 1952 and 18 June 1952, an IS&O [CIA Inspection and Security Office] team… applied Artichoke techniques to two operational cases in a safe house. In the first case, light dosages of drugs coupled with hypnosis were used to induce a complete hypnotic trance... This trance was held for approximately one hour and forty minutes of interrogation with a subsequent total amnesia produced.”

She also posits that the CIA teamed up with former Nazis to develop interrogation techniques.

“The CIA teamed up with Army, Air Force and Naval Intelligence to run one of the most nefarious, classified, enhanced interrogation programs of the Cold War,” Jacobsen writes. “The work took place inside a clandestine facility in the American zone of occupied Germany, called Camp King. The facility’s chief medical doctor was Operation Paperclip’s Dr. Walter Schreiber, the former Surgeon General of the Third Reich… The activities that went on at Camp King between 1946 and the late 1950s have never been fully accounted for by either the Department of Defense or the CIA.”

Jacobsen, an L.A. Times reporter, is not without her detractors. In 2004, she reported that thirteen Middle Eastern men appeared to be making a dry run for a terrorist attack on a flight she took between Detroit and L.A. While noting that the men would have looked suspicious to a casual observer, the rumor-debunking website Snopes called the account false. All of the men were detained following the flight and then released. None were charged with a crime. They were, in fact, musicians traveling to perform.

Nearly a thousand Nazis scientists were given citizenship in the decade following the war. Many of them had been members of the Gestapo, and worked with concentration camp slave labor. CNN reporter Linda Hunt first revealed the broad scope of U.S.-Nazi collaboration in her 1991 book, Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945–1990, calling the program “the biggest, longest-running operation involving Nazis in [U.S.] history.”

Jacobsen reveals more in an excerpt of the book was published in the Daily Beast.

It was 1946 and World War II had ended less than one year before... Since [the] war’s end, across the ruins of the Third Reich, U.S. military officers had been capturing and then hiring Hitler’s weapons makers, in a Top Secret program that would become known as Operation Paperclip. Soon, more than 1,600 of these men and their families would be living the American dream... From these Nazi scientists, U.S. military and intelligence organizations culled knowledge of Hitler’s most menacing weapons including sarin gas and weaponized bubonic plague.

As the Cold War progressed, the program expanded... In 1948, Operation Paperclip’s Brigadier General Charles E. Loucks, Chief of U.S. Chemical Warfare Plans in Europe, was working with Hitler’s former chemists when one of the scientists, Nobel Prize winner Richard Kuhn, shared with General Loucks information about a drug with military potential being developed by Swiss chemists. This drug, a hallucinogen, had astounding potential properties if successfully weaponized. In documents recently discovered at the U.S. Army Heritage Center in Pennsylvania, Loucks quickly became enamored with the idea that this drug could be used on the battlefield to “incapacitate not kill.” The drug was Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD.

Other Nazis hired by the U.S. space program included:

  • Major General Walter Dornberger, a close associate of von Braun’s

  • Werner Heisenberg, physicist and Nobel laureate who founded quantum mechanics

  • gaseous uranium centrifuge expert Dr. Paul Harteck

  • Nazi atomic bomb physicist and military project leader Kurt Diebner

  • uranium enrichment expert Erich Bagge

  • 1944 Nobel Prize winner Otto Hahn, called the “father of nuclear chemistry”

  • scientists Carl Friedrich von Weizsaecker, Karl Wirtz, and Horst Korsching

  • physicist Walter Gerlach

You can read a longer excerpt of the book here.

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