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What Was Operation Paperclip?

By: Laura Schumm

Updated: March 4, 2020 | Original: June 2, 2014

Operation Paperclip

As World War II was entering its final stages, American and British organizations teamed up to scour occupied Germany for as much military, scientific and technological development research as they could uncover. 

Trailing behind Allied combat troops, groups such as the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS) began confiscating war-related documents and materials and interrogating scientists as German research facilities were seized by Allied forces. One enlightening discovery—recovered from a toilet at Bonn University—was the Osenberg List: a catalogue of scientists and engineers that had been put to work for the Third Reich .

In a covert affair originally dubbed Operation Overcast but later renamed Operation Paperclip, roughly 1,600 of these German scientists (along with their families) were brought to the United States to work on America’s behalf during the Cold War . The program was run by the newly-formed Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA), whose goal was to harness German intellectual resources to help develop America’s arsenal of rockets and other biological and chemical weapons, and to ensure such coveted information did not fall into the hands of the Soviet Union . 

Although he officially sanctioned the operation, President Harry Truman forbade the agency from recruiting any Nazi members or active Nazi supporters. Nevertheless, officials within the JIOA and Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the forerunner to the CIA—bypassed this directive by eliminating or whitewashing incriminating evidence of possible war crimes from the scientists’ records, believing their intelligence to be crucial to the country’s postwar efforts.

Operation Paperclip scientists

One of the most well-known recruits was Wernher von Braun, the technical director at the Peenemunde Army Research Center in Germany who was instrumental in developing the lethal V-2 rocket that devastated England during the war. Von Braun and other rocket scientists were brought to Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, as “War Department Special Employees” to assist the U.S. Army with rocket experimentation. Von Braun later became director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, which eventually propelled two dozen American astronauts to the Moon .

Although defenders of the clandestine operation argue that the balance of power could have easily shifted to the Soviet Union during the Cold War if these Nazi scientists were not brought to the United States, opponents point to the ethical cost of ignoring their abhorrent war crimes without punishment or accountability.

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operation paperclip

Operation Paperclip

Apr 26, 2012

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Operation Paperclip. By: Klaus-Peter Mr. Michael Battey. Mission:. U.S. effort to capture German material and personnel related to Nazi research conducted during WWII . Mainly involved the V-1 and V-2 rocket programs but also : Chemical weapons Atomic weapons Jet engines

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Operation Paperclip By: Klaus-PeterMr. Michael Battey

Mission: • U.S. effort to capture German material and personnel related to Nazi research conducted during WWII. • Mainly involved the V-1 and V-2 rocket programs but also: • Chemical weapons • Atomic weapons • Jet engines • and many other things….

V-1 Flying Bomb • Robert Lusser • Developer of the V-1 with the Fieseler company • Initial test flight at Peenemünde in 1941 • First attack launch in June of 1944

V-2 Rocket • Since the 1930’s Dr. Wernher von Braun and the Spaceflight Society had been studying liquid- fueled rockets. • Initial test launch in October of 1942. • First attack launch in 1944 at Paris.

Peenemünde/Nordhasen • Research facilities during WWII • Housed the V-1, V-2 programs • Massive bombing raids by the British caused the scientists to move to underground locations.

Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp • Production Facilities for the V-2 program • 10,500 forced laborers • Many died due to the conditions: cold and heavy labor

Vengeance Weapons • V-1’s were launched to attack targets in England • 30,000 were manufactured, 10,000 fired, and 7,000 hit England. • In London about 5,000 people died because of the attacks. • V-2’s were fired at targets in Paris, London, Antwerp, The Hague • 3,000 V-2’s were fired before the end of the war. • 1,115 hit England • 2,700 people died

Overcast • Originally called Operation Overcast • Began when important Nazi scientists turned themselves over to American forces. • Allied forces were eager to find as much information before the Soviets could. • Allen Dulles an American intelligence officer working in Germany towards the end of the war and was the chief recruiter.

Collection • German bases/research facilities were found by American troops, materials were collected and the bases were blown with explosives to keep the Soviets from getting anything. • Scientists were found and transferred, hundreds of train cars of materials were moved to America. • President Truman ordered that only non-Nazi’s may be allowed to enter the country – but many files were “rewritten” to clean up their histories. • 700 Nazi’s were brought over to the US, some were still Nazi supporters. • It was renamed Paperclip because all Germans approved for transfer had paperclips clipped to their folders.

Wernher Von Braun • Of all the scientists involved Dr. Braun was the main asset. • Personally led development of V-2 program. • Member of the Nazi party and held a SS rank. • Guided a group of 200 of his own staff to find the Americans

Other Key Figures • Robert Lusser • The V-1 Flying Bomb • Arthur Rudolph • Developed the V-2 with Dr. Braun • Hans von Ohain • Jet Engines • Alexander Lippisch • Developer of the Messerschmitt Me 163 • Kurt Blome • Chemical weapons expert • Reinhard Gehlen • Chief military expert on the Soviet Union

In America • Personnel were secretly brought over to the U.S. • Scientist’s were deployed to White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico and Fort Bliss, Texas and Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. • They did not qualify for visas, Passports, green cards, or any identification. • They considered themselves “Prisoners of Peace”

Projects • First ICBM’s built using V-2 technology • Redstone Rocket • Jupiter • Jupiter-C • Atlas • Titan • Most scientists were given U.S. citizenship during this period.

NASA • NASA was established on July 29, 1958 • Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph • Saturn V Rocket • Apollo Program

Continuing Research • Wernher von Braun • In charge of the Marshall Space Flight Center • Left NASA after Saturn V went to Fairchild Industries. • Encouraged non-space based weapons. • Robert Lusser • Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Navy. • Alexander Lippisch • Helped with new jet aircraft designs for the Air Force • Arthur Rudolph • Director of Saturn V project thought out the space program.

Cold War And Other Nazi’s • Reinhard Gehlen • Continued to work for the Americans during the Cold War years against the Soviets • He ran an intelligence network against the Soviets that included 2,000 of his former Nazi comrades. • This network was extremely important to the U.S. so when Reinhard Gehlen helped some of his old Nazi friends get out of Europe the CIA turned the other way. • Klaus Barbie • Known as the “Butcher of Lyons” for his direct involvement in the execution of French Resistance forces during the war. • Helped the Americans with “policing duties” in the occupied territories.

Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act • In 1994 congress became aware of the Nazi's and US research after the war. • Petitions of classified information was denied on several occasions. • Finally, in 1998 the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act was enacted and the CIA began to release about one million pages of text concerning the Nazi’s after WWII. • As of 2005 the CIA is still declassifying reports.

The End Bibliography: www.wikipedia.com www.wsmr.army.mil www.nasa.gov www.redstone.army.mil/history www.msfc.nasa.gov

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Project Paperclip was the second name for a program to bring German and Austrian engineers, scientists, and technicians to the United States after the end of World War II in Europe. Known by many today as “Operation Paperclip,” which is actually a misnomer, it was originally called Project Overcast. Its official objective was to bring these experts to the United States for six months to a year to help America in the war against Japan. But that war suddenly ended in August 1945 and the program continued anyway. In fact, the U.S. armed forces and civilian agencies sought long-term advantages for the United States through the seizure of Third Reich technologies that they saw as superior to, or competitive with, Allied ones—notably aircraft, rockets, and missiles. The people who had invented or designed these weapons were needed to help transfer the technology. So what began as a short-term advisory project quickly evolved into a program of permanent immigration. 

One man sits in a chair while two men stand up and look at a paper.

Many of Project Paperclip's scientists and engineers had Nazi records, which were seen as an inconvenient problem by the project's administrators. Roughly half of the early Paperclip specialists had been members of the Nazi Party, many opportunistically. A minority were true believers who had significant party records or had joined the SS  (Schutzstaffel) , or SA (Sturmabteilung)   also known as Brownshirts for their brown uniform. The rapid deterioration of relations with the Communist-run Soviet Union, which by 1948 led to a Cold War that threatened to turn hot, made the immigration of ex-Nazis more palatable to the American government and public. It became easier to sweep their past under the rug. The argument was that we needed them for our weapons programs or, at the very least, we needed to deny their knowledge and talents to the Soviets.  

A case in point was the V-2 ballistic missile group led by Dr. Wernher von Braun. He had been a party member and SS officer and was at least tangentially involved in the murderous exploitation of concentration-camp prisoners in missile production, as were several associates. The U.S. Army kept that information classified and brought von Braun and about 125 colleagues to Fort Bliss, outside El Paso, Texas. The Germans helped Americans launch V-2s and were tasked with developing an experimental cruise missile. In 1950, von Braun’s group was moved to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, and became the heart of the Army’s nuclear-armed ballistic missile development. In his spare time, von Braun made himself world-famous by advocating spaceflight in magazines and on TV. Soon after the Soviets launched Sputnik in October 1957, he and his German-led group, now numbering in the thousands (almost all native-born Americans), helped launch the first United States satellite, Explorer I. In 1960, von Braun’s division of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency was transferred to a new civilian space agency, NASA. The Huntsville Germans, most naturalized in 1954-1955, went on to lead the development of the Saturn rockets that put Americans on the Moon in 1969.

Sir Frank Whittle and Hans J. Pabst von Ohain

That spectacular Cold War story has long overshadowed the project to the point that, even today, members of the general public and the media often equate the von Braun group with Paperclip. In fact, the Huntsville Germans, numbering closer to 200 by the mid-fifties thanks to later arrivals, were never more than 15 to 20 percent of Paperclip’s intake. The U.S Air Force, not the Army, brought over the most experts, and other specialists went to Navy facilities or those of the Commerce Department and private companies. It was part of a broad program to exploit German science and technology, one that paralleled projects in the Soviet Union, Britain, France, and several smaller countries. Most Paperclip specialists were dispersed as individuals or small groups to military laboratories, universities, and private companies, with the result that they did not have the public profile of the Huntsville Germans.  

Dr. William H. Pickering, Dr. James A. van Allen, and Dr. Wernher von Braun Holding the Explorer 1 Satellite at Press Conference

Another common fallacy is that von Braun’s group, and by extension, all the Paperclip arrivals, came to help the United States space program. But before the Eisenhower Administration started the Vanguard satellite project in 1955, there was no space program . The aerospace specialists, who constituted most of the Paperclip program, were here to help the United States in the rapidly developing arms race with the Soviet Union. Notable areas of focus were guided missiles, supersonic aerodynamics, guidance and control, rocket and jet engines, and aerospace medicine. In missile development, von Braun’s group accelerated the integration of German liquid-propellant rocket technology. But American rocket groups and companies had already formed in World War II—notably Reaction Motors in New Jersey and Aerojet and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California—which meant that the Germans were only one part of a complex story of technological change and adaptation. The driving force in rocket development after World War II, and especially after 1950, was the nuclear arms race. Until Vanguard and Sputnik, space exploration was only a side effect and an afterthought. V-2s and new United States sounding rockets reached into the extreme upper atmosphere and near-space to understand the environment that missiles would travel through. 

In sum, Project Paperclip made a significant contribution to American technology, rocket development, military preparedness and, eventually, spaceflight. But there was a moral cost to the program: the coverup of the Nazi records of many of the specialists. In a small number of cases, the United States hosted and integrated people who should have faced war crimes trials. These facts often lead to black-and-white judgments: either the Paperclip scientists and engineers were all Nazi criminals or all technological geniuses. In my assessment, the project and related efforts to seize German knowledge did greatly benefit American science, technology, and national security in the Cold War, but we needed a better filter to screen out some of the worst offenders. In the late forties and early fifties era of anti-Communist anxiety especially, it was all too easy to obscure and excuse their Nazi past. The facts came out only in the 1980s, when their files were declassified. Only then was it possible to make a balanced judgment about Project Paperclip.  

Michael J. Neufeld is a Senior Curator in the Space History Department and the author of The Rocket and the Reich and Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War.   

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Operation Paperclip

Operation Paperclip was the name given to the secret movement of senior German scientists to America at the end of World War Two in Europe. Operation Paperclip was primarily involved with the movement of scientists involved in rocket technology for Nazi Germany . By the end of World War Two in Europe it had become increasingly plain to both Britain and America that the USSR would not continue with her wartime alliances and that what was to be known as the Cold War was about to start. Weapons supremacy was vital to both sides and Operation Paperclip was a successful attempt by the Americans to gain an upper hand against the USSR.

Operation Paperclip was formulated by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and carried out by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency. The plan did have one huge boost going for it – few, if any, of the German scientists wanted to fall into the hands of the advancing Red Army. Therefore, when Werner von Braun and his colleagues fled Peenemünde, the home of Nazi rocket technology, they headed for the advancing lines of American troops.

Officially, Operation Paperclip forbade any US recruitment of German scientists who had been actual members of the Nazi Party or who had been an active participant in its activities. This would have made it very difficult to recruit those scientists America had identified as being important to America. Werner von Braun , for example, had been a Colonel in the SS and had used his pass card for the SS to facilitate his movement across Germany in the last few weeks of the war. JOIA got around this major problem – and a presidential order – by whitewashing the backgrounds of those they definitely wanted. Braun, for example, was ‘sold’ to the authorities in the US as being only a ‘honorary’ Colonel in the SS – plus the fact that he had been made to accept the rank. This was sufficient for the man credited with developing the V2 and rocket technology as it then stood to be moved to the US to work for the US government. How valuable this whitewashing was – and how important sidestepping a presidential order was – was seen in the huge importance von Braun played in US rocket development leading right up to the 1969 Moon landing. Once whitewashed, scientists such as von Braun were given security clearance to become ‘US Government Scientists’.      

American intelligence knew who they wanted to target as in the last few days of the war, a list was found at Bonn University of the scientists the Nazi regime had released from other duties to developed rocket technology to combat the success of the Red Army. This list, the Osenberg List, was handed to US intelligence. A US soldier, Major Robert Staver, was given the task of finding the men on the list. He was helped by the fact that many of them wanted to find the US military as the Red Army stormed across Poland towards Berlin.

Von Braun and many of his colleagues handed themselves in to US authorities who held them under the tightest of security at a safe house in Landshut, Bavaria in an operation titled ‘Operation Overcast’. However, when locals in the town started to talk about the man held at ‘Camp Overcast’, the US changed the name of the whole operation to ‘Operation Paperclip’.

Braun, other scientists and their families were moved to the US in great secrecy. They were initially housed at Fort Hunt in Virginia. It was here that Braun was questioned at length about what was known to the scientists as an entity, what had been their plans to develop such knowledge and what information had been shared with the Japanese – the war in the Pacific was still ongoing. Bletchley  House had intercepted encrypted Nazi messages regarding U864 , an ocean-going submarine that had been sunk with German and Japanese scientists on board along with jet engines. What the Americans needed to know was whether U864 had been the first U-boat to attempt to make the journey to the Far East or whether there had been a planned series of journeys with some getting through. 

Initially each scientist was offered a one-year contract to work for the US government; in August 1945, 127 men accepted this and moved to the US. The movement of the scientists and their families started in September 1945. While the USSR had ‘acquired’ some of the scientists who had worked at Peenemünde, the majority of them went to America. For example, the US offered a work contract to Dr. Herbert Wagner, the man who invented the Hs 293 missile. He worked for the US Navy for two years.

Those who had worked on the V2 at Peenemünde were moved to Fort Bliss in Texas. Here they developed their knowledge on rocket technology. Testing of their new rockets was carried out in New Mexico. These men and their families were given legal US residency in 1950.

Operation Paperclip was perfectly understandable in the context of the Cold War and desired weapons supremacy over the USSR. However, it had its detractors who believed that some of the scientists who were brought to the US had been involved in crimes that made it untenable that they should have been given US citizenship. It was said, for example, that Von Braun must have known about the underground factory at Nördhausen where V2 rockets and jet engines were made – and where many thousands of forced labourers died. If he did know about Nördhausen, JOIA ensured that it was suitably removed from his history. One of the Paperclip scientists, Arthur Rudolph, was deported from America to West Germany in 1984 but never prosecuted. Georg Rickhey, who was brought to America as part of Operation Paperclip, was charged with war crimes in 1947. However, he was acquitted and returned to America where he continued his work. One Paperclip scientist, Hubertus Strughold, was linked by written evidence to medical experiments at Dachau but faced no charges.

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Remembering ‘Operation Paperclip,’ when national security trumped ethical concern

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Now, a look at a moment when national security interests trumped ethical concerns.

Jeffrey Brown has our book conversation.


Nazi scientists, some of them tied to war crimes including horrific concentration camp experiments, brought to the U.S. in a secret program to advance American security interests during the Cold War. It sounds like the plot of a film drama, but it actually happened and on a large scale.

The story is told in the new book "Operation Paperclip." Author and journalist Annie Jacobsen joins us now.

Welcome to you.

ANNIE JACOBSEN, Author, "Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America": Thank you.

These were top scientists in the German war effort sought out by the U.S. military in the — as the war was coming to an end.


That's right.

These were Hitler's top weapons makers. And Operation Paperclip became a classified military program to bring them to the United States.

It also had a public face. So, there was on the one hand the truth about the program kept secret and on the other hand the idea that we will tell the public that these are the good Germans.

The good Germans. But they were dedicated Nazis, the ones you write about. We should say, there were many, 1,600 in all. Right?

You document about 21, dedicated Nazis, some, as I said, involved in horrific stuff.

What they did was known, right, to the people who were — to the Americans who were seeking them out?

Certainly to the American military intelligence officers who were interviewing them.

The idea that they were involved in war crimes was really necessary to be kept secret, and that's exactly what happened. In the book, I think I unveil a lot of the truth about this program that's remained clouded for decades.

So, give us an example of one of the figures that intrigued you.

Well, I think one of the worst-case scenarios was that the United States military made the decision to bring Walter Schreiber. This Major General Dr. Walter Schreiber, the surgeon general of the Third Reich. He wound up at a military facility in Texas.

And doing what?

Well, during the war, Dr. Schreiber had been involved in the vaccine program for the Reich, which sounds like a nice program, but it was actually a program to work on protecting German soldiers from these biological weapons that were also being manufactured.

So he was involved in war crimes in concentration camps. He became a prisoner of the Soviets, and then defected to the United States. We saw him as someone who we absolutely wanted here for his knowledge. So, in the United States, it still remains unknown what exactly he did, only that he worked for the U.S. Air Force in Texas.

You know, this becomes, of course, a story of practical vs. ethical choices, right, whether to — decisions made whether to look the other way or forget about the past in order to advance and gain advantage over the Soviets, it should be said, during the Cold War.


I mean, the Cold War got hot very quickly, and the Soviet threat was this foreboding menace. And the idea was, certainly at the Pentagon and among the Joint Chiefs of Staff who were really running this program, was, if we don't get these Nazi scientists, surely the Soviets will.

Was there much debate at the time about the ethics of it?

Absolutely there was a debate, and I think that's what makes the narrative so compelling, because you have some people, including high-ranking generals at the Pentagon, who are loath to work with Hitler's former scientists. And you have others who say, this must be and it will be done.

You said we don't really know much about the case of Walter Schreiber and what he did. Some of them, do know. Right?

And the very famous case — most famous one is Wernher von Braun.

Yes, he came here. He was the head of our rocket program and brought 114 fellow V-2 rocket makers with him. And this program again had a very beneficent face.

Only now do we know the facts are very different about what those scientists were involved in at the end of the war in what was called the Nordhausen slave labor factory deep in the tunnels that you had concentration camp prisoners building the V-2 rockets.

So in a case like that and others where we know that they did accomplish things for the U.S. when they came here, then the question — and you write this — does accomplishment cancel out past crimes?

That, I think, is the conundrum of Operation Paperclip.

And I hope that people come to their own conclusion about that, because certainly the idea that you would excuse some of this horrific, horrific behavior during the war becomes, you know, that big moral question.

And what happened to these guys in the end? A number of them just lived out their days quite well here in the U.S.

You know, the obituary for Dr. Theodore Benzinger in The New York Times I think kind of sums it up. He died in 1999. And The New York Times lauds him as a good German scientist who dedicated his life to the U.S. military.

It leaves out the fact that he worked with Himmler very closely during the war and was actually on the original list of Nuremberg war crimes trials. And yet he was released into U.S. custody and came to the United States. So this idea that you can just whitewash someone's past, I think, is important to look into and to investigate, so that that truth can be reconciled.

All right. It's a fascinating story, "Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America":

Annie Jacobsen, thanks so much.

Thank you for having me.

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The horrible secrets of operation paperclip: an interview with annie jacobsen about her stunning account.

Annie Jacobsen is a journalist and the author of the New York Times bestseller Area 51. A graduate of Princeton University, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.

operation paperclip presentation

Launch of a V2 in Peenemünde; photo taken four seconds after taking off from test stand, Summer 1943

The journalist Annie Jacobsen recently published Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America (Little Brown, 2014). Scouring the archives and unearthing previously undisclosed records as well as drawing on earlier work, Jacobsen recounts in chilling detail a very peculiar effort on the part of the U.S. military to utlize the very scientists who had been essential to Hitler’s war effort. 

As I read your book I started thinking about the various Nazi genre films such as; The Boys from Brazil, The Odessa File, and Marathon Man — they all hold to a similar premise, key Nazi’s escape Germany after the war and plot in various ways to do bad things. Apparently truth is stranger than fiction. What was Operation Paperclip?

Operation Paperclip was a classified program to bring Nazi scientists to America right after World War II. It had, however, a benign public face. The war department had issued a press release saying that good German scientists would be coming to America to help out in our scientific endeavors.

But it was not benign at all, as seen in the character of Otto Ambros, a man, as you explain, was keen on helping U.S. soldiers in matters of hygiene by offering them soap, this soon after they had conquered Germany. Who was Ambros?

Otto Ambros I must say was one of the most dark-hearted characters that I wrote about in this book. He was Hitler’s favorite chemist, and I don’t say that lightly. I found a document in the National Archives, I don’t believe it had ever been revealed before, that showed that during the war Hitler gave Ambros a one million Reichsmark bonus for his scientific acumen. The reason was two-fold. Ambros worked on the Reich’s secret nerve agent program, but he also invented synthetic rubber, that was called buna. The reason rubber was so important — if you think about the Reich’s war-machine and how tanks need treads, aircraft need wheels — the Reich needed rubber. By inventing synthetic rubber, Ambros became Hitler’s favorite chemist.

Not only that when the Reich decided to develop a factory at Auschwitz, — the death camp had a third territory, there was Auschwitz, there was Birkenau — they did it in a third territory called Auschwitz III also known as Monowitvz-Buna. This was where synthetic rubber was going to be manufactured using prisoners who would be spared the gas chamber as they were put to work, and most often worked to death by the Reich war machine. The person, the general manager there at Auschwitz III, was Otto Ambros. Ambros was one of the last individuals to leave Auschwitz, this is in the last days of January 1945 as the Russians are about to liberate the death camp. Ambros is there according to these documents I have located in Germany, destroying evidence right up until the very end.

After the war, Ambros was sought by the Allies and later found, interrogated and put on trial at Nuremberg, where he was convicted of mass-murder and slavery. He was sentenced to prison, but in the early 1950s as the Cold War became elevated he was given clemency by the U.S. High Commissioner John McCloy and released from prison. When he was sentenced, the Nuremberg judges took away all his finances, including that one million Reichsmark bonus from Hitler. When McCloy gave him clemency he also restored Otto Ambros’ finances, so he got back what was left of that money. He was then given a contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.

He actually came to work in the United States?

Otto Ambros remains one of the most difficult cases to crack in terms of Paperclip. While I was able to unearth some new and horrifying information about his postwar life, most of it remains, “lost or missing,” which I take to mean classified. We do know for a fact that Ambros came to the United States two, possibly three times. As a convicted war criminal traveling to the United States he would have needed special papers from the U.S. State Department. The State Department, however, informed me through the Freedom of Information Act that those documents are lost or missing.

You describe quite well the pushing and pulling on how this program came about — and the compulsion to accelerate things once the Cold War hit full steam. The rationale being if the U.S. didn’t employ these men — and they were all men — then the Soviets would have. How do you see that type of argument having these characters so vividly in front of you?

It was really one of the most traumatic elements of researching and going through the documents, seeing how there were different factions in the Pentagon — because the program was run out of the Pentagon by Joint Chiefs of Staff. They created a specific unit called the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA), which was in charge of Paperclip. In these documents you can see the tug-of-war between generals who were absolutely opposed to the idea of bringing anyone who participated in the Reich’s rise to power, they were loathe to bring these scientists here, they did not want to. I quote transcripts where certain generals saying exactly that. On the other hand, there were other individuals, generals and colonels, who were gun-ho about the prospect about making America’s arsenal, the aggregate of our military strength, the strongest in the world, and certainly stronger than the Soviets. To that end they did not see any problem in bringing these scientists to the U.S. and were seemingly willing to not only overlook the past of these Nazi scientists, but to white wash them.

The former Nazi Surgeon General, Walter Scheiber, had an advocate in the U.S in the person of Colonel Charles Loucks. You describe a photo taken of Loucks in Japan where he is standing by an “enormous pile of dead bodies” that in turn lay “next to a stack of incendiary bombs,” with a look of detachment.” This reminded me of the famous quote by U.S. General Curtis LeMay: 

Killing Japanese didn't bother me very much at that time... I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.... Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you're not a good soldier.”

LeMay and Louck’s justifications do not sound much different than the Nazi rationale of, “I was only following orders.” How do you see this and has your thinking changed in the course of writing this?

Certainly with some of the individuals involved a kind of necessary detachment in their perception of what they needed to do to serve their country. Mindful of the fact that I was not there during the Cold War and looking at history, one must take into account how high the stakes were — thermo nuclear war. Some of the individuals involved in Paperclip, i.e. the American officials, as a journalist I was able to consider that and see the paradox and conflict and empathize with having to make those very tough decisions.

General Loucks, however, stuck out as an exception to me because he didn’t only see work with Hitler’s closest confidants as a matter of national security for the United States moving forward, he grew to actually respect and appreciate the Nazi scientists. I found these quotes from him in his diaries, which he left posthumously to the Military History Institute in Pennsylvania. You see him discussing his fondness for example, a former Brigadier Fuhrer, Walter Schrieber, who was on Himmler’s personal staff and was so close to Hitler he was given a gold Party badge, which meant he was in favor by the Fuhrer. Sheiber was involved in concentration camp experiments, he was the liaison between Otto Ambros and Reich’s chemical committee, he had direct knowledge of the most horrific elements of the concentration camp, including genocide. Here he was being invited into the home of General Louck. At one point in the diary, I learned, he would even spend the night at the General’s home as a houseguest.

Now you point out an interesting passage in the book that I think gives a little perspective on General Loucks and made me wonder about how much the war had possibly transformed him? He was in charge overseeing the chemical weapons intelligence in Japan after the war. As I describe in the book going out into the Japanese countryside and taking a look at these incendiary bombs that he was in charge of manufacturing for the Americans during the war. He talks with this peculiar detachment about coming across a pile of what was left of these incendiary bombs and a pile of dead bodies, Japanese civilians who had been killed. He talks about them with such a strange perspective where he is only interested in seeing if his incendiary bombs had worked that it... gave me pause.

Former Vice President Henry Wallace, under Franklin Roosevelt, is perhaps best known for running for President, and refusing to renounce the support of U.S. Communists. What did he have to do with Operation Paperclip?

That’s such an interesting detail for you to pick up on and it was such an interesting element to write about. Although he had been Vice President and Truman later became Roosevelt’s Vice President, then of course fate and circumstance elevates Truman to the President. Henry Wallace is then Secretary of Commerce. What was interesting is that the Secretary of Commerce had a place on the JIOA, and was privy to some, but not all of the information regarding Operation Paperclip that was being run by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Wallace as Secretary of Commerce was incredibly gung-ho about getting Americans back to work. He had this book called, Sixty Million Jobs, and he intended to help America reach that milestone, the post-war prosperity that everyone in the nation was hoping for. Wallace saw science as a means to do that. Without knowledge of who these Nazi scientists were and what their pasts were Wallace endorsed this program, to such a degree that he wrote a letter to President Truman himself, saying you need to get on board with this program. That had a huge impact on Operation Paperclip which at that very moment in time, this is just a few months after the end of the war, the Joint Chiefs were struggling with the idea of Paperclip because the perception was that it was a deal with the devil. When Wallace stepped in, and said this is brilliant for commerce, it was exactly what the Joint Chiefs had been looking for.

How did you happen on this topic? How hard was it research and writing this?

I came across Operation Paperclip when I was writing Area 51, which involved the two Nazi aircraft designers who were brothers, Walter and Reimar Horten. The Horten brothers did not come to America as part of Paperclip, but their boss certainly did. His name was Siegfried Knemeyer, he was Herman Goering’s most important scientists for the Luftwaffe. Gorring liked him so much that he referred to him as ‘my boy‘ and made him chief of all technical engineering. When I learned that shortly after the war Knemeyer came to the United states with his seven children and his wife, had a long and prosperous career with the U.S. Air force, and that when he retired in the mid 1970s the Defense Department awarded him with the Distinguished Civilian Service Award — the highest award a scientist can get from the Pentagon — I thought to myself, how does that happen? How do you go from having Herman Goring as your boss then to having the U.S. Defense Department as your boss, and to be so important to both? That is where I became instantly curious about Operation Paperclip.

I was able to track down Knemeyer’s grandson who lives in the United States. He is about my age and is a very courageous fellow who believes in transparency. He agreed to let me interview him. There began a dialog between Dirk Knemeyer and myself about what this really meant. In those interviews I realized there was a way into Operation Paperclip in a manner that had not been reported before. Of course I was writing my book on the shoulders of so many amazing journalists; including Clarence Lasby, Linda Hunt and Tom Bower — people who have written about Paperclip before, but with limited access — we all sort of go along, and build on things as more informationgets revealed. I believe, though, that what gave me a lot of insight into the characters in Operation Paperclip was access to their family members.

As for the second part of your question, the subject matter is so complex, certainly when you are reading about the war, it is dark and evil. Then when you read about what happened after the war it is complicated and thought provoking. For a journalist that is challenging territory. I’m someone who always welcomes the challenge because I don’t believe stories are black and white. And I don’t believe stories are one-sided, or easily made simple. I believe this is a subject matter that deserves serious consideration and I also think there is so much more to be revealed. I hope my book inspires journalist sin the coming decade to look at this more. Because I absolutely know that there is so much out here that is still classified.

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The Secret Operation To Bring Nazi Scientists To America

operation paperclip presentation

Adolf Hitler salutes to a crowd of soldiers at a Nazi rally in 1938. Years later, in the final months of World War II, the United States undertook an enormous effort to attract Nazi scientists. Topical Press Agency/Getty Images hide caption

Adolf Hitler salutes to a crowd of soldiers at a Nazi rally in 1938. Years later, in the final months of World War II, the United States undertook an enormous effort to attract Nazi scientists.

Operation Paperclip

In the fall of 1944, the United States and its allies launched a secret mission code-named Operation Paperclip. The aim was to find and preserve German weapons, including biological and chemical agents, but American scientific intelligence officers quickly realized the weapons themselves were not enough.

They decided the United States needed to bring the Nazi scientists themselves to the U.S. Thus began a mission to recruit top Nazi doctors, physicists and chemists — including Wernher von Braun, who went on to design the rockets that took man to the moon.

The U.S. government went to great lengths to hide the pasts of scientists they brought to America. Based on newly discovered documents, writer Annie Jacobsen tells the story of the mission and the scientists in her book, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists To America .

Interview Highlights

On the origins of Operation Paperclip

It's just a few months after the landings at Normandy and you have Allied forces making their way across the continent, headed toward Berlin and Munich, and with them, sort of scattered among the soldiers, are these small teams of scientific intelligence officers. And they are searching for the Reich's weapons. And they don't know what they might find.

One example was they had no idea that Hitler had created this whole arsenal of nerve agents. They had no idea that Hitler was working on a bubonic plague weapon. That is really where Paperclip began, which was suddenly the Pentagon realizing, "Wait a minute, we need these weapons for ourselves."

On the U.S. government's efforts to mask the scientists' past

There began a propaganda campaign by the U.S. government to whitewash the pasts of these scientists who we very much knew were ardent Nazis. And it happened on a number of levels, from the bureaucrats in Army intelligence who were asked to sort of re-write the dossiers, on up to the generals in the Pentagon who flatly said we need these scientists, and we're going to have to re-write some history. And that's where it becomes very tricky and very nefarious.

You have to be a Nazi ideologue to move up that chain of command so high. It's almost like someone who is a hedge fund manager in the United States trying to take the line that they don't believe in capitalism, you know? That they're just trying to earn a living for their family. I mean, if you're going to rise to the top of your field, you maintain the party line and that is what I found was the case with Paperclip.

On Wernher von Braun's Nazi past

He is a great example, because you wonder where the deal with the devil really happened in terms of his whitewashed past — because the U.S. government, NASA in particular, was so complicit in keeping his past hidden.

operation paperclip presentation

Annie Jacobsen's last book, Area 51 , explores the history of the secretive American military base. Hilary Jones/Courtesy of Little, Brown hide caption

Annie Jacobsen's last book, Area 51 , explores the history of the secretive American military base.

In doing the research, one discovers that not only was von Braun a Nazi, but a member of the SS. And not only was he running the underground slave labor facility where his rockets were being built — he wasn't running the facility but he was in charge of the science there — but when they were running low of good technicians, Wernher von Braun himself traveled nearby to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he hand-picked slaves to work for him as laborers.

When you see that kind of activity during the war, and you have to imagine what he saw and what he knew, it's impossible to excuse him from his Nazi past.

On the fates of the Nazi scientists

They all had different trajectories, but none of them seemed to have been held accountable for what happened and what they were involved in during the war. Dr. Benzinger, who was one of the Nazi doctors, came here, and when he died at the age of ninety-something he had a wonderful obituary in The New York Times lauding him for inventing the ear thermometer. Entirely left out of the story was the work that he performed on concentration camp prisoners.

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The “remarkable” story of America's secret post-WWII science programs ( The Boston Globe ), from the  New York Times  bestselling author of  Area 51 . 

  • Print length 624 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Back Bay Books
  • Publication date January 20, 2015
  • Dimensions 4.75 x 1 x 8 inches
  • ISBN-10 0316221031
  • ISBN-13 978-0316221030
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (January 20, 2015)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 624 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0316221031
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0316221030
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.14 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 4.75 x 1 x 8 inches
  • #1 in Scientific Experiments & Projects
  • #13 in Intelligence & Espionage History
  • #52 in World War II History (Books)

About the author

Annie jacobsen.

ANNIE JACOBSEN is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times bestselling author. Her books include: AREA 51; OPERATION PAPERCLIP; THE PENTAGON’S BRAIN; PHENOMENA; SURPRISE, KILL VANISH; and FIRST PLATOON.

Her newest book is NUCLEAR WAR: A SCENARIO. 

Jacobsen’s books have been named Best of the Year and Most Anticipated by outlets including The Washington Post, USA Today, The Boston Globe, Vanity Fair, Apple, and Amazon. She has appears regularly on TV programs and media platforms—from PBS Newshour to Joe Rogan—discussing war, weapons, government secrecy, and national security. 

She also writes and produces TV, including Tom Clancy’s JACK RYAN. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband Kevin and their two sons. 

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    Operation Paperclip's central figure was Wernher von Braun, the world's most talented rocket scientist at the end of World War II. Germany was focused on rearmament in the early 1930s, and Germans with strong science and engineering skills like von Braun were quickly drafted into the military. The tank-destroying weapon, the bazooka, was a ...

  14. Book Review: 'Operation Paperclip' : NPR

    The Secret Operation To Bring Nazi Scientists To America. Adolf Hitler salutes to a crowd of soldiers at a Nazi rally in 1938. Years later, in the final months of World War II, the United States ...

  15. Operation Paperclip

    Dr. Michael S. Heiser talks about Operation Paperclip in this episode of Fringe Pop 321 The Lost Files, which took place at the close of WWII. Find out the d...

  16. Operation Paperclip And The U.S. Plot To Poach Nazi Scientists

    Inside Operation Paperclip, America's Secret Program That Employed 1,600 Nazi Scientists In Its Labs. During Operation Paperclip, the records of premier German scientists were expunged so that they could secretly work in American labs to give the U.S. a leg up over the Soviets in the Cold War. In the immediate wake of World War II, the Allies ...

  17. Operation Paperclip and the Nazi Generation of America

    In the program's early years, specifically in 1946 and 1947, a team of leading Nazi scientists immigrated to El Paso, Texas. The Americans needed their assistance to create the V-2 missile, a ...

  18. Operation Paperclip by Jonathan Barker on Prezi

    Wernher Von Braun-A Nazi Rocket Scientist who helped create the V-2 rocket. Near the end of WW2 forced to destroy all evidance, but hid it and surrendered to U.S. forces. Was a major scientist who helped create the spacecrafts that would land the first men on the moon. Operation Paperclip was happening from 1949 to 1990.

  19. Operation Paperclip : the secret intelligence program to bring Nazi

    Operation Paperclip : the secret intelligence program to bring Nazi scientists to America by Jacobsen, Annie. Publication date 2014 Topics World War, 1939-1945 -- Technology, Brain drain -- Germany -- History -- 20th century, Scientists -- Recruiting -- Germany -- History -- 20th century, Scientists -- Recruiting -- United States -- History ...

  20. Annie Jacobsen

    This document provides background on Operation Paperclip, a secret US program that brought German scientists to America after World War 2. It discusses how the program recruited over 1600 scientists, many who had worked directly with Hitler and helped develop weapons for Nazi Germany. It profiles 21 key scientists recruited under Paperclip, including details on their Nazi party involvement ...

  21. Operation Paperclip

    Operation Paperclip - Free download as Powerpoint Presentation (.ppt / .pptx), PDF File (.pdf), Text File (.txt) or view presentation slides online. Operation Paperclip was a secret U.S. program during 1945-1959 to recruit over 1,600 German scientists and engineers for U.S. government employment after WWII. Many had been members of the Nazi party.

  22. Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi

    OPERATION PAPERCLIP takes its place in the annals of Cold War literature, one more proof that moral purity and great power can seldom coexist."― Chris Tucker , The Dallas Morning News "Jacobsen uses newly released documents, court transcripts, and family-held archives to give the fullest accounting yet of this endeavor."

  23. Operation Paperclip

    Author Annie Jacobsen presents a fascinating topic from her new book, Operation Paperclip, and takes questions from the audience. This event was recorded Feb...

  24. UW Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition

    A reception will follow the presentations and free light foods and refreshments will be available. About: Hosted annually since 2017, the University of Washington's Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) event is a professional development competition that celebrates the exciting capstone and research experiences of master's and doctoral students.