ver seventy years ago, shortly after the end of World War II, Allied intelligence agencies launched a concerted treasure hunt for German military and scientific inventions, including rocket and jet-engine technology.
Both sides in the coming cold war benefited greatly by picking through the ruins of Adolf Hitler’s war machine, but the U.S. War Department’s Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) scored a particular triumph with a covert operation known as Project Paperclip, authorized by President Harry Truman in September 1945.
Its aim was simple: “To exploit German scientists for American research and to deny these intellectual resources to the Soviet Union.”
Operation Paperclip team
The range of Germany’s technical achievement astounded Allied scientific intelligence experts accompanying the invading forces in 1945 such as: Supersonic rockets, nerve gas, jet aircraft, guided missiles, stealth technology and hardened armour were just some of the groundbreaking technologies developed in Nazi laboratories, workshops and factories.
Even though the JIOA’s recruitment of German scientists began in Europe on 8 May 1945 after the Allied victory, President Harry Truman did not formally order the execution of Operation Paperclip until August 1945.
President Truman’s original order specifically barred recruitment of anyone found “to have been a member of the Nazi party and more than a nominal participant in its activities, or an active supporter of Nazism or militarism”.
Those restrictions would have rendered ineligible most of the leading scientists the JIOA had identified for recruitment, among them rocket scientists Wernher von Braun, Kurt H. Debus and Arthur Rudolph, and the physician Hubertus Strughold, each earlier classified as a “menace to the security of the Allied Forces”.
Samuel Klaus, the State Department’s JIOA representative, complained that many of the scientists enlisted were “ardent Nazis,” but JIOA Director Bosquet Wev overruled that protest, declaring that “the best interests of the United States have been subjugated to the efforts expended in ‘beating a dead Nazi horse.’”
Furthermore, Wev cautioned, Soviet (Russia) posed a “far greater security threat to this country than any former Nazi affiliations which they may have had or even any Nazi sympathies that they may still have.”
Nazi’s imported scientists under Project Paperclip included:
Arthur Rudolph, director of the Mittelwerk factory at Dora-Nordhausen concentration camp, where 20,000 slave laborers died. A National Socialist since 1931, Rudolph was described in Allied files as “100% Nazi, dangerous type, security threat… Suggest internment.”
The JIOA found “nothing in his records indicating that he was a war criminal or an ardent Nazi or otherwise objectionable.” Rudolph became a U.S. citizen, designed the rocket used in the Apollo Project moon landings—and fled to West Germany in 1984 when his record of war crimes was reopened.
Werner von Braun, Hitler’s technical director at the Peenemunde rocket research center from 1937 to 1945 and developer of the deadly V-2 rocket. He later worked on guided missiles for the U.S. Army, served as director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and became a national celebrity in the 1960s as one of Walt Disney’s “World of Tomorrow” experts. In the 1970s he served as associate director of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Kurt Blome, another Nazi scientist who admitted experimenting on concentration-camp inmates with plague bacilli. Blome was acquitted of war crimes at Nuremberg in 1947 (although most observers accepted the fact of his guilt). Two months after that acquittal Blome was in Maryland, consulting with the U.S. military on germ warfare. The U.S. Army Chemical Corps hired him in 1951 to continue his life’s work and passion.
Walter Schreiber, a Nazi major general who, according to Nuremberg testimony, “assigned doctors to experiment on concentration camp prisoners and had made funds available for such experimentation.” Only Schreiber’s detention in Russia (1945–48) spared him from trial as a war criminal.
He next surfaced at the Air Force School of Medicine at Randolph Field, Texas. Columnist Drew Pearson revealed Schreiber’s crimes in 1952, whereupon the U.S. government arranged passage for Schreiber to join his daughter in Argentina.
Hermann Becker-Freysing, convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment at Nuremberg for conducting experiments on Dachau inmates, including force-feeding of seawater that was chemically treated to make it “drinkable.” Even before his trial Becker-Freysing was paid by the U.S. Air Force to report on his sadistic experiments.
Siegfried Ruff, a codefendant with Becker- Freysing at the Nuremberg “Doctor’s Trial,” where he narrowly escaped conviction on charges of killing 80 inmates in a low-pressure chamber designed to simulate altitudes above 60,000 feet. Like Becker-Freysing, Ruff was sought (and paid) by the U.S. Air Force in the interests of “national security.”
Reinhard Gehlen, while not a scientist, was one of the THIRD REICH’s top intelligence officers who were linked to the torture and murder of countless victims. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited him in 1950 to coordinate its secret war against Communism in Europe.
Klaus Barbie, the Nazi “Butcher of Lyon” and another prized CIA intelligence asset, whose association with the U.S. intelligence service spared him trial and execution for war crimes.
By 1955 more than 760 German scientists were granted U.S. citizenship, their dossiers “sanitized” to remove any taint of active involvement with Hitler’s genocidal regime.
A 1985 exposé in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists revealed that author Linda Hunt had secured more than 130 files on Project Paperclip immigrants and that she found that everyone “had been changed to eliminate the security threat classification.”
Some conspiracy theories supporters maintain that the postwar scientific looting of Germany also included secrets concerning UFOs (anti-gravity technology) which remain classified to this day.