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Secret Scientists and Real Conspiracies — John Lisle on Stanley Lovell, the OSS precursor to the CIA, and the Masterminds of World War II Secret Warfare

The Dirty Tricks Department: Stanley Lovell, the OSS, and the Masterminds of World War II Secret Warfare (book cover)

Shermer and Lisle discuss:

  • why countries have spy agencies
  • the development of the modern American spy agency: From COI to OSS to CIA
  • Wild Bill Donavan
  • Stanley Lovell as Professor Moriarty
  • Vannevar Bush
  • Division 19
  • George Kistiakowsky and the Aunt Jemima explosive weapon
  • dirty tricks weapons: cat bombs, bat bombs, rat bomb, suicide pills, fighting knives, silent pistols, camouflaged explosives
  • A-pills, B-pills, E-pills, L-pills
  • psychological warfare
  • heavy water and nuclear weapons
  • Werner Heisenberg, Moe Berg, and Carl Eifler
  • camouflage technologies
  • biological warfare
  • chemical warfare
  • Operation Paperclip
  • truth drugs
  • Sidney Gottlieb, LSD, and MKULTRA (Bluebird, Artichoke).

John Lisle is a historian of science and the American intelligence community. He earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Texas and has taught courses on U.S. history, cyberspace, and information warfare at the University of Texas, Louisiana Tech University, and Austin Community College. His writing has appeared in Scientific American, Smithsonian Magazine, Skeptic, The Journal of Intelligence History, and Physics in Perspective. The Dirty Tricks Department is his first book. In Vol. 25, No. 2 of Skeptic he wrote about MKULTRA, the CIA program in search of mind control technology.

About the Book

In the summer of 1942, Stanley Lovell, a renowned industrial chemist, received a mysterious order to report to an unfamiliar building in Washington, D.C. When he arrived, he was led to a barren room where he waited to meet the man who had summoned him. After a disconcerting amount of time, William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of the OSS, walked in the door. “You know your Sherlock Holmes, of course,” Donovan said as an introduction. “Professor Moriarty is the man I want for my staff…I think you’re it.”

Following this life-changing encounter, Lovell became the head of a secret group of scientists who developed dirty tricks for the OSS, the precursor to the CIA. Their inventions included bat bombs, suicide pills, fighting knives, silent pistols, and camouflaged explosives. Moreover, they forged documents for undercover agents, plotted the assassination of foreign leaders, and performed truth drug experiments on unsuspecting subjects.

Based on extensive archival research and personal interviews, The Dirty Tricks Department tells the story of these scheming scientists, explores the moral dilemmas that they faced, and reveals their dark legacy of directly inspiring the most infamous program in CIA history: MKULTRA.

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on April 18, 2023.

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