“Operation Paperclip (née Overcast) was a military intelligence plan, launched by the Office of Strategic Services, late in World War 2 to capture Nazi scientists and bring them to the United States. As Allied troops made their way toward Germany, led by the U.S., they began to seek out Nazi scientists. They wanted the scientists to help them identify weapons and other equipment which the U.S. would bring home for research and development. While the search was underway, some key people concurrently had the same revelation about the project.
Germany had put all of its resources for over a decade into the war, enabling its scientists to achieve unparalleled advances in aeronautics, especially rocketry, and the development of chemical and biological weaponry. Many of these advancements involved not only slave labor at concentration camps, but using the prisoners for human experimentation, practices which directly led to the creation of the Nüremberg Principles, which legally define war crimes. Now the U.S. military wanted all that expertise for its own purposes and was willing to do almost anything to get it.
Germany surrendered early in 1945, but the U.S. was already planning for its next war, possibly a “total war” with the Soviet Union. This fear, along with defeating Japan in the Pacific, were the key factors driving the pursuit of the German scientists. It was thought that German weapons could help end the Pacific war, but this ended up being irrelevant as the atomic bombs forced Japan’s hand in early August, 1945. The Soviet Union remained the sole reason for Operation Paperclip thereafter.
No one has written a more authoritative and exhaustive history of these events than Annie Jacobsen. Her book, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America, incorporates information from U.S. and German archives and scores of books, government reports, articles and first-hand interviews and correspondence, to present a highly detailed look at how fears of the next war overshadowed atrocities committed in the one that just ended. Nazi scientists connected to human medical experiments and slavery at concentration camps, as well as horrific chemical and biological weapons research were welcomed warmly by the United States, where they inspired additional infamous ‘research.’
In our conversation, we discuss in great detail the origins of the program, some of the key people involved on both sides, some of the results from bringing the Nazis to the U.S. and what is still to be discovered about this shameful part of U.S. (and German) history.