Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS in Nazi Germany. Photo by AP
Text size
related tags

Nazi scientists who produced chemical weapons for Adolf Hitler were hired by the United States to fight the Cold War, and helped U.S. intelligence test LSD and other interrogation techniques on captured Soviet spies, according to a book by U.S. journalist Annie Jacobsen published this week.

"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," writes Jacobsen in "Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America."

Operation Paperclip was a postwar U.S. intelligence program the brought more than 1,600 German scientists to America under secret military contracts, she writes.

The 21 men examined in the book were dedicated Nazis, and eight of them – including Walter Schreiber, the former surgeon general of the Third Reich who became the chief medical doctor of Camp King, a clandestine U.S. facility in the American zone of occupied Germany – worked side by side with Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler or Hermann Goring during the war, Jacobsen writes. Six stood trial at Nuremberg.

They came to America, she writes, at the behest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Operation Paperclip left behind a legacy of ballistic missiles, sarin gas cluster bombs, underground bunkers, space capsules, and weaponized bubonic plague," writes Jacobsen. "How did this happen, and what does this mean now? Does accomplishment cancel out past crimes? These are among the central questions in this dark and complicated tale."

As part of Operation Paperclip, at least two Soviet spies captured by a Nazi spy ring were given LSD in a safe house in Oberursel, Germany, Jacobsen writes, in an excerpt posted on The Daily Beast.

“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,” explains a memorandum about the U.S. Artichoke program on modifying behavior through covert means. “In the first case, light dosages of drugs coupled with hypnosis were used to induce a complete hypnotic trance,” states the document cited in the book, one of the few action memos on record that were not destroyed. “This trance was held for approximately one hour and forty minutes of interrogation with a subsequent total amnesia produced.”

"The plan for the enhanced interrogation program was meant to be straightforward: drug the spies, interrogate the spies, and give them amnesia to make them forget," writes Jacobsen.

Artichoke program administrator Richard Helms, the future director of the CIA, later said in an interview that America had a responsibility to test LSD.

“We felt that it was our responsibility not to lag behind the Russians or the Chinese in this field, and the only way to find out what the risks were was to test things such as LSD and other drugs that could be used to control human behavior,” Helms told journalist David Frost in 1978. Other U.S. intelligence agencies, writes Jacobsen, were brought on board to help conduct these controversial interrogation experiments at Camp King. 

At the time, she writes, the CIA believed the Soviets were pursing mind control programs — supposedly a means of getting captured spies to talk — and the CIA wanted to know what it would be up against if the Russians got hold of its American spies.

Some U.S. officials, writes Jacobsen, believed that by endorsing the Paperclip program, "they were accepting the lesser of two evils – that if America didn't recruit these scientists, the Soviet Communists surely would."