Talk about tangled webs. What started out as a simple retelling
of a first-hand experience with psychoactive drug studies
back in the 60's has become for me a fascinating trip
through the murky beginnings of the CIA
and its precursor, the OSS
Over the years we've all heard many tales of governmental plots and dark-doings, and the simple fact is our popular "culture" is so chock-full of spy stories and conspiracy theories that it has become difficult, truly, to separate fact from fiction. Of one thing, however, we may be certain: human nature and its problem child—war—have consistently incestuously engendered the need for secrecy, clandestine activity, and strategic information-gathering. The Need To Know—and the Need To Keep Hidden—drive everything.
Undoubtedly, modern espionage in America began with Wild Bill Donovan and the formation of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Expanding upon Great Britain's centuries-old espionage establishment, and with a virtually unlimited budget to boot, it is no wonder that Donovan, with the express consent and patronage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was well on his way to constructing the most formidable espionage organization in the world.
Donovan's successes were so great, in fact, that he was in danger of becoming megalomaniacal. If power corrupts, Wild Bill's absolute power in matters of the black art of espionage threatened to turn him into a government unto himself. Which is probably one of the reasons Harry Truman broke up the whole operation early in his administration. In a manner of speaking that is. You see, there was WAY too much going on in the world after Hiroshima for an intelligent man leading a far-thinking country to EVER truly give up the hard-won gains of America's Spymaker.
Specifically, the Nazis had done some very "good" work in rocket science and psychological, chemical, and biological warfare. It seemed a pity to let that work disappear in a puff of petrol smoke in a ditch at Hitler's Wedding Reception.
As early as the invasion of Normandy, in June of 1944, at least ten thousand American intelligence officers were charged with seizing Nazi experts in munitions, rocketry, and psychological, biological and chemical research. For good measure, French scientists who had collaborated with the Nazis were included as well. The experts and technicians were sequestered in a…camp, let's call it…known as the Dustbin. One can imagine the sort of "debriefing" that went on, but the fact is Nazi science was invaluable. Once the experts were corralled, however, the plot decidedly thickened.
Wild Bill Donovan and Allen Dulles, his old friend and the OSS chief of intelligence in Europe, a man who would eventually become Director of the CIA, lobbied President Roosevelt to allow these strategically important Nazis to enter the United States, suggesting that they "be given permission for entry into the United States after the war and the placing of their earnings on deposit in an American bank and the like."
Roosevelt responded just as we might think he would: "We expect that the number of Germans who are anxious to save their skins and property will rapidly increase. Among them may be some who should properly be tried for war crimes, or at least arrested for active participation in Nazi activities. Even with the necessary controls you mention, I am not prepared to authorize the giving of guarantees."
It would've been like giving Osama Bin Laden's experts in suicide bombing an apartment in Alexandria and a Visa Card, so long as they promised to only suicide bomb for our side.
We may conclude that FDR's response is the official one. Perhaps newsworthy, certainly available to posterity, possibly baldly political. Perhaps he simply changed his mind. The historical fact is, by July 1945, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved the entry of three hundred fifty German scientists into the country. Artillery experts, submarine architects, chemical weapons technicians and designers and—most importantly—Dr. Wernher Von Braun and his entire V2 rocket staff. Von Braun, who of course went on to found the American space program, was certainly a Nazi, as were Dr. Herbert Axster, Dr. Arthur Rudolph, and SS officer Georg Richkey.
They called it Operation Overcast, and never was a deed more aptly-named and better-left hidden.
For one thing, Von Braun's laborers back in the Fatherland were all prisoners from the Dora-Nordhausen concentration camps. Georg Richkey had worked 20,000 prisoners to death by the end of his enlistment there. He considered children to be "useless mouths" and routinely ordered them clubbed to death by SS guards. Enslaved rocket workers would urinate on electrical equipment in an effort to sabotage the rocket program and Richkey had them hung, a dozen at a time, from gantry cranes, with sticks shoved in their mouths to stifle their cries.
It wasn't the first time men with criminal intent had been associated with America's espionage operation. In an effort to keep tabs on Sicilian Mafia leaders who had been exiled by Mussolini, and to help prevent sabotage on the Atlantic coast and suppress the growth of Communism in Italy,
Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky—American Mafia leaders all—were enlisted by the OSS.
But that was old news, war-related. Operation Overcast was all about the future, and the lessons in intelligence expedience learned first-hand from the British, the Russians, and the Germans as well, stood American operatives in good stead.
Richkey, having been miraculously spared the gallows, or at least a cyanide pill, seemed to take to his new Republican home quite nicely. At the same time the affable Von Braun was charming American scientists, Congress, and the public alike, Richkey was in charge of security for all the other new Nazi-Americans. He also had access to many of Germany's war records, and thus was able to conveniently eradicate any troublesome documentation.
A public outcry, of sorts, ensued, and Richkey was deported to West Germany, put though a secret U.S. Army trial, and eventually acquitted. This was the only possible outcome, since it would ultimately have been revealed that the entire US rocket program—not to mention the OSS, Congress, and the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations— had been accomplices to war crimes. CIA records supporting these facts were finally declassified in the late 1980's.
World War II was over. The earth had been saved from Fascism. But a new "enemy" had appeared on the eastern horizon and it was called Communism.
In 1946 President Harry S. Truman approved Allen Dulles's pet project, code-named Paperclip—the importation of more than one thousand additional Nazis, including Kurt Blome, who had tested Sarin nerve gas on Jews at Auschwitz, Theodore Benzinger, an expert on battlefield wounds who had conducted explosion tests on non-combatants during the war, Dr. Sigmund Rascher, who filmed for Heinrich Himmler high-altitude pressure-chamber tests on Jews at Dachau, Dr. Kurt Plotner who had induced schizophrenic behavior in Jewish and Russian prisoners through the use of extremely high doses of mescaline, and of course the despicable Emil Salmon, who had set fire to a synagogue filled with Jewish women and children. Salmon, an aviation expert, went to work at Wright Air Force Base in Ohio after being convicted of war crimes in Germany.
America's pragmatic rationale is perhaps best exhibited by Colonel Montie Cone, an American G-2 (Intelligence) officer who commented: "From a military point of view, we knew that these people were invaluable to us. Just think what we have from their research—all of our satellites, jet aircraft, rockets, almost everything else." One presumes "everything else" might include weapons of mass destruction that to this day remain unthinkable.
Operation Overcast was only the beginning. In rapid congressionally-approved order, the smoking bones of the OSS coalesced into the enigmatic, many-tentacled spectre of the CIA, led—from 1953 to 1961—by none other than Allen Dulles, Wild Bill Donovan's best friend and the brother of John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under President Dwight David Eisenhower, the hero of the European Campaign and perhaps the man best-situated to appreciate just how dear is the price of freedom in our Brave New World.
Wild Bill Donovan
the Stars of Project Paperclip
burning crosses in the Fatherland
doing drugs for fun and profit
the CIA wants YOU!
When is a monkey's orgasm more than just fun and games?
The Johnny Appleseed of LSD
Sidney Gottlieb, the real-life "Q"
The Nuremberg Code
George Washington, Spymaster
the first American Intelligence failure in New York
The Bureau and the Mole
Chemical and Biological Warfare: America's Hidden Arsenal, Seymour M. Hersh (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1969)
The Paperclip Conspiracy: The Hunt for the Nazi Scientists, Tom Bower (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987)
Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip 1945 to 1990, Linda Hunt (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991)
Human Experimentation: An Overview on Cold War Era Programs, Government Printing Office, 1994
Old Nazis, the New Right, and
the Republican Party, Russ Bellant (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1991)