what i'm reading: operation paperclip: the secret intelligence program that brought nazi scientists to america

Many years ago, I wrote about how the label conspiracy theory is used to shut down inquiry and squelch the questioning of authority: two words, part one, two words part two. */**

Never have I been more aware of this than after reading two books about real events that could easily sound like the wacky imaginings of the tinfoil hat crew. 

Both books are impeccably researched and written.

The subjects of both books are incontrovertible fact. 

Both are about programs organized and run by members of the US government, kept secret from most people in government -- something many people believe is impossible to do. 

The first book, I wrote about here: Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control. The capsule summary: 

From the early 1950s to at least the mid-1970s, a tiny group of men within the CIA, led by Gottlieb, conducted research into biological and chemical weapons, experimenting on human subjects who lives were considered expendable. 

Without informed consent from their subjects, and usually without the subjects' knowledge at all, these CIA men tortured people (and to a lesser extent, animals) by feeding them LSD and applying other techniques of psychological torture. This went on for decades and involved thousands of vulnerable people -- drug users, prison inmates, psychiatric patients. Gottlieb also invented deadly new poisons and ways to secretly administer them, with the goal of assassinating foreign leaders. The program was known as MK-ULTRA.

The second book, I read earlier this year: Annie Jacobsen's Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America. (Unsurprisingly, these two bizarre and shameful pieces of US history intersect.)

These were not easy books to read -- the content is highly disturbing -- but I'm very glad I read both. I wish everyone would.

Here's what happened, in the briefest form possible

Immediately after the end of World War II, a small and highly classified group within the US government began to smuggle Nazi scientists out of Germany and into the United States. 

The program expanded and continued throughout the 1950s. In all, more than 1,600 Nazis were safeguarded this way.

This program was not reserved for the rank-and-file, the "we were only following orders" Nazis. Quite the opposite. Operation Paperclip gave a new lease on life to elite, high-ranking Nazi scientists, men who were part of Hitler's and Himmler's inner circle. 

Paperclip included the highest-level specialists in their fields: biological weapons, chemical weapons, and atomic weapons. They were also sadistic, amoral men who devised and carried out hideous experiments on human beings. They were war criminals. 

The American officials in charge of Operation Paperclip were not Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. They didn't give a fuck about the scientists' politics or what they had used their scientific knowledge for. They had only one, single-minded purpose.

The Nazis were miles -- light years -- ahead of the United States in the development of biological and chemical weapons, and the men of Operation Paperclip wanted their knowledge. 

Some were obsessed with keeping the scientists away from the Soviet Union. (The Soviets had a similar program and were also scooping up Nazi scientists as fast as they could.) Others were obsessed with the military implications of these weapons. All were neutral about something that should defy neutrality.

Some people within the program raised objections. Some within government, and in a position to curtail the program, raised objections. Those men were overruled and excised from decision-making positions.  

In theory, Operation Paperclip screened for war criminals and required the rescued scientists to undergo "denazification". In reality, none of that happened. War criminals were given new identities. Their families were relocated to the US. Many became US citizens. They were treated well and enjoyed comfortable, long lives. 

Content warnings, at least for me

As a child, I was inundated with Holocaust education. I remember coming home from Hebrew school after one of these lessons -- numb, nauseated, and unable to sleep. It's one thing to know this happened. It's another thing to know it would have happened to you

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a series of highly-regarded documentaries about the Holocaust. After watching one of them, I declared myself done. I decided I would never read or watch anything Holocaust-related, ever again. I felt I had nothing left to learn that could possibly do any good, and I was done exposing myself to this personalized horror. 

(This is specifically about Hitler's Holocaust. I have learned a lot about many genocides, in the past and present, and all over the globe.)

I don't know why it didn't occur to me that reading Operation Paperclip (the book) would require me to break that vow, and in a big way. Of course, in order to understand the import and implications of Operation Paperclip (the program), it is necessary to understand what these Nazi scientists did. 

So. I learned something new about the Holocaust. New-to-me details about the system of slavery used by the Nazis that I hadn't known. This was among the worst things I've ever heard of in my life. 

For a while, I didn't think I could continue reading. The details were so hideous; it felt so traumatic. But I was very motivated to read this book, for many reasons, so I continued. I'm glad I did, but/and now I know more things I wish I didn't know. If you read this book, which I hope you do, brace yourself.

Review in a nutshell

This is an outstanding book, an absolute tour de force of investigation and narrative nonfiction. 

One final note

In both Poisoner in Chief and Operation Paperclip, there is reference to something that has never been declassified. Hidden facts that neither Stephen Kinzer nor Annie Jacobsen were able to crack. A location so secret, so deeply classified, that it is still not known what went on there. Given what has been declassified and what is known, this may be the most disturbing idea of all.


* Written before I understood how to use post titles properly

** Posted only weeks before the date after which all comments are wiped out.


rtod: democracy or oligarchy

 Revolutionary thought of the day:

We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941)


the ballad of polly bee: in which newbie homeowners learn things they didn't want to know, but turn annoyance into opportunity

As you may or may not recall, Allan and I are first-time homeowners. In 2019, both of us in our late 50s, we bought a home in Port Hardy, BC, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. We were lifelong renters, and had no desire to change that. But circumstances conspired... and here we are. 

Statement of privilege

We love our home, and we were incredibly fortunate to be able to purchase it, taking advantage of a government option for first-time homebuyers who have RRSPs, a temporarily depressed housing market, low interest rates, and a gift from my mother. We bought a modest home by North American standards, and we hope to live here for the rest of our lives.

I love our home. But I can't say I love being a homeowner. Maintaining a home is incredibly expensive and time-consuming. It was a big adjustment. I'm grateful to have the privilege, but I was happier renting.  

Bethatasitmay, I'm a homeowner now. I tell you this story with full awareness of my privilege. I have a secure, middle-income job, as does my partner, and we can afford our life well enough. So as you read this story, please know: I'm not complaining. I just want to share.

First there was a bubble

On New Year's Day 2021, Allan noticed a discoloration, a bulge in the ceiling. When he poked the bulge, water leaked out. Holy moly! Move the TV, get a bucket, call a plumber. It turned out an upstairs toilet need a new seal. But... while the plumber was there, the told us our home was full of Poly-B. Read about it online, said Plumber. And so I did. 

Poly-B was an inexpensive plumbing material used in the 1980s and 90s. It was very popular in western Canada. Turns out, 10-15 years after installation, Poly-B deteriorates and disintegrates. Not might deteriorate. Does deteriorate. There are class-action lawsuits and law firms specializing in Poly-B. 

Our house was built in 1994. The horizon for plumbing failure was already visible. We realized that the smart move was to replace the plumbing now -- while we are both employed, and while the ceiling was already open. Why wait until the plumbing fails and we need everything done on an emergency basis? What if the plumbing failed while we were out of town? How could we ever be comfortable knowing that a plumbing time bomb was ticking behind our walls?

And if you do have a flood because of Poly-B, the insurance company won't look at you. In fact, if you have any homeowner's claim at all, and Poly-B is discovered, insurance won't pay, even if the issue is not water-related!

The fun begins

So. We had the plumbing replaced. One plumber did 80% of the work, then moved out of the area. 

We found another plumber, and waited for his availability. 

Then at last, all the Poly-B was out of the house.

Then there was no ceiling in the family room and there were holes throughout the house.

Eventually we found a drywaller and waited for his availability. 

He filled the ceiling, and now it had an ugly flat patch in an otherwise-textured look. 

Then he disappeared.

We found another drywaller, and waited for his availability. 

He patched the rest of the holes. (We opted not to fill the holes beneath the sinks, hidden by cabinets.)

This whole process was really difficult for me. Money that I thought would be saved for travel or retirement was being used for maintenance. Important maintenance, yes. We could afford it, yes. But still. Ouch.

So. Now the necessary work is done. The rest is cosmetic. 

We were going to paint the drywall patches ourselves, thinking the previous owners left cans of paint to match every room. But the paint was old, the colours were off, and we realized it would look crappy. The house looked beautiful when we moved in, and I wanted it to look beautiful again.

Turning annoyance into opportunity

So. I made a decision. 

The house, as purchased, was painted in shades of gray -- a light charcoal gray with a darker charcoal gray border. One room was a mustard yellow, another a very pale blue. 

I love colour. I have always loved the look of colourful walls. We've painted accent walls in rental houses, and I've spent scads of money on colourful window treatments and other colour splashes. When I see rooms on TV or online with richly colourful walls, or when we visit countries where colour is a prominent design feature, I always love how it looks. 

I also like bright white walls, and the brightness that brings to a room. Bright white + colours = exactly my look.

Here was an opportunity to bring my own aesthetic to our home. 

I found a professional painter. I started putting money aside. I looked at colours. Choosing colours was crazy! Especially if you love teal. Teal can mean dozens of different things, depending on the mix of green and blue.

Painting finished last week. I absolutely love it.

Our social/hangout/watching room has a teal accent wall,and the teal also borders the bright white kitchen, hallways and stairs. The laundry room and downstairs bathroom (not shown) are also bright white.

A wall at the top of the stairs, visible when you enter the house, is also teal.

The upstairs bathrooms are both tangerine.

We didn't have the bedrooms repainted. The walls in our bedroom are a light sage green. The two rooms we use as offices, which were previously kids' bedrooms, are a bright swimming-pool blue (mine) and the colour of a greenscreen (Allan's). We both like the colours, so we kept them. 

I'll also throw in a vid of the best part of this house, the feature that sold us, and that is very dear to my heart: the deck. The deck is roofed, so useable in all weather, but the roof is 12 feet high, and translucent, so you don't feel like you're indoors. It's my little slice of heaven.