U.S. intelligence involvement with World War II Nazi war criminals

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

US intelligence formed relationships with known or suspected Nazi war criminals for reasons both of pure U.S. and allied interest. It should be noticed that the Central Intelligence Agency had not been formed when these relationships were established, but came later if the relationship continued.

Not only British sensitivities were involved, but others, including German. "That's not up to us. Our mandate is to declassify US government records, not the records of other countries. I would assume that is something for the German press, German scholars, and German people to demand. I find it interesting that when the US releases information about Eichmann, it gets a lot of play in Germany. But there's no follow-up with the German government. After all, German scholars should be asking their government, "Why can't you do the same? Why can't you be as open as the US government? What are you hiding?" I mean, the CIA is willing to release materials that make it look bad. Why doesn't the BND release materials to have an open history of its past? What is it afraid of?"[1]

Occupiers also acquiesced in the appointment to leading positions in the new West German government of such former aides to Adolf Hitler as Hans Felfe, who had co-authored the antisemitic Nuremberg Laws of the 1930s and then went on to become one of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s closest advisors. The motivation here seemed again to be harmony with an ally, in this case West Germany.[2]

Some recruited personnel may not have been World War II criminals, but were Soviet assets that used the relationship to infiltrate Western intelligence.

The Gehlen Organization

Much of the immediate postwar activity, until the mid-fifties when it became part of West Germany's BND intelligence agency, was the Gehlen Organization. Reinhard Gehlen approached US Army intelligence shortly after the end of the war, and offered his files and staff on the Eastern Front and Soviet Union. Gehlen himself was not considered to be a war criminal, but some of his staff were far more likely to have been so. [3]

Originally, Gehlen had an excellent reputation in intelligence, but more recent information has brought this into question. At the GHI symposium, Michael Wala, managing editor of the German publication, Journal of Intelligence History, said Gehlen was assumed to have transformed German intelligence during the war. Wala, however, said it was less that Gehlen was so good as a Soviet analyst, but that his predecessors, prior to his taking over the Fremde Heere Ost (FHO, English "Foreign Armies East") had been so bad. Prior to 1942, according to Wala, Nazi racism caused FHO to deprecate Soviet strength and equipment, such as the T-34 (tank), widely believed to be the best tank of the Second World War. Even though Gehlen was not able to keep Nazi ideology out of estimates, leading to such things as a failure to predict the Soviet resistance at Stalingrad, he remained highly regarded by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, English: High Command of the Armed Forces).

In his essay reviewing James Critchfield's book Partners at the Creation,[4], Timothy Naftali [5] devalues and disparages the early postwar cooperation between the CIA and what later became West Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND, English: federal intelligence service). Naftali said Gehlen's organization and its successor, the BND, was of "questionable" value.[6] Wieck responded, "At no time during my tenure as president of the BND (1985-90) was the significance of its assessments of Soviet bloc developments doubted within NATO. This was true during the time of my predecessors and successors as well. With the disclosure of documents on the U.S. Army's and the CIA's relationships with Gehlen, the downside of that cooperation has become known. The upside-the quality of the intelligence project-remains undisclosed. Hence even with righteous, detached hindsight, a cost-benefit analysis of hiring Gehlen and his people remains far more difficult to make, even today, than Naftali who agreed that "contacts with unsavory characters sometimes prove beneficial."

Rather than accept Wieck's contention that the "upside" of the cost-benefit analysis could not be done, Naftali argues "CIA records show that Gehlen was insubordinate, his organization was insecure, and the entire operation provided intelligence of questionable value. Fifty years later, the German government still refuses to declassify its own records on the subject. Until it does, and unless those documents paint a dramatically new picture of the situation, the account of the Gehlen organization in the early Cold War will remain damning."

"Such assertions, it should be noted, are not simply casual opinions, but scholarly conclusions based on analysis of more than 800 "name files," including a multivolume "Gehlen file," released by the CIA from 1999 to 2004, pursuant to the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998. An extensive interpretation of this material can be found in the study "U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis," issued in May 2004 by the Nazi War Crimes and Imperial Japanese Records Working Group, and co-authored by Richard Breitman, Norman J.W. Goda, Robert Wolfe, and myself."[6]

Naftali said U.S. intelligence underestimated the extent to which Gehlen had hired war criminals, and overestimated the value of Gehlen and his organization. Wieck asked which other Germans could have provided the United States with intelligence in the early Cold War period, to which Naftali said that the correct approach would have been to recruit and train anticommunist Germans, "who could have done a much better job with far fewer tradeoffs." Elsewhere, Norman Goda describes as "catastrophic" the Soviet penetration of the Gehlen Organization, sponsored by CIC and CIA. [7]

Wieck said that the Gehlen Organization "recruited some former SS men (around 100) possibly guilty of war crimes-great weight must be given to the desperate need of the United States in the 1940s and early 1950s for information about the Soviet Union, its forces in Europe, and the communist regimes east of the Elbe. The United States had almost no agents of its own in the area during those years. Alternatives to Gehlen's group and remnants of other German espionage organizations from World War II capable of collecting such information simply did not exist." Wieck suggests that Critchfield, the U.S. liaison with Gehlen from 1948 to 1956, "had in mind a good greater than intelligence collection: assuring that the security elite of the new German state would be firmly Atlanticist. This contributed in no small way both to the development of mutual trust between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States and to the preclusion of a domestic neofascist or nationalist threat to the former."

Schmitz, a member of Critchfield's staff from 1949 to 1954, and his deputy in 1953 and 1954, said "the implication is that these former SS personnel-indeed, all former SS personnel-were unexposed war criminals and, as such, were subject to blackmail by the Soviets. It should be noted that the German Army General Staff, of which Gehlen and many of his subsequent co-workers had been a part, was by no means a haven for war criminals. Indeed, Gehlen did not have a high standing with Hitler, who had him fired after Gehlen produced estimates on Soviet military capabilities that exceeded what Hitler wanted to hear"[6]

Planning Stay-Behind Networks

Alongside the Gehlen Organisation, CIC had set up "stay-behind networks" in West Germany, who were supposed to stay put in the event of a Soviet invasion and transmit intelligence from behind enemy lines. Certain of these networks included ex-Nazis. [8] These networks were separate from those that have been called Operation Gladio, which refers specifically to Italian stay-behind networks.

Most of the networks were dismantled in the early 1950s when it was realised what an embarrassment they might prove. Those were the least of their flaws as would-be anti-communist agents. They had not risen in the Nazi ranks because of their respect for facts. They were ideologues with a keen sense of self-preservation.[8] "The files show time and again that these people were more trouble than they were worth," Mr Naftali said. "The unreconstructed Nazis were always out for themselves, and they were using the west's lack of information about the Soviet Union to exploit it."

One example of a network later dismantled was an apparent equivalent to the East German Freie Deutsche Jugend (Free German Youth), the Bund Deutscher Jugend (BDJ, League of German Youth) seemed, at first, to be a youth group that countered Communist movements. [9] Its increasing militancy and secretiveness about its financing, however, brought it to the attention of Georg August Zinn, the Socialist Minister President of Hesse.

Zinn discovered that BDJ was US-funded, and inside BDJ was a covert operations service, Technischer Dienst ("Technical Service") made up of former German officers, some Nazis and SS men, between 35 and 50 years old. Their mission was to wage guerrilla warfare against a Soviet invasion. "The BDJ affair demonstrated that at least some agencies of the U.S. government willingly worked with undemocratic elements in service to American power."[2]

Beyond the direct anti-Soviet activity, according to Zinn, the Technical Service had prepared long lists of West German "unreliables" to be "put on ice" on Invasion Day. Only a handful were Communists; the rest were Socialists, including such prominent anti-Reds as West Germany's No. 1 Socialist Erich Ollenhauer, the mayors of Hamburg and Bremen, and the Minister President of Lower Saxony.

After Zinn's presentation, the US High Commissioner for Germany (HICOG), Walter J. Donnelly, asked the West German government and Socialist Party to join in a U.S.-German investigation of the whole affair: "Let's get to the bottom of this. Let the chips fall where they may." Donelley and the United States Department of State were correct in that senior HICOG personnel had refused to meet with BDJ. John J. McCloy, the previous HICOG, refused to meet with BDJ, but US intelligence organized BDJ after becoming concerned by the invasion of Korea. US intelligence seemed to have been unaware of the BDJ blacklist and tried, too late, to denounce it and avoid Soviet propaganda. The Communists, however, termed it a proof of US-Nazi conspiracy. The independent Frankfurter Rundschau editorialized: "One would like to assume that the secret American sponsors knew nothing of the assassination plans. However, their support of a fascist underground movement is bound to produce distrust of American officials. We refuse to fight Stalinism with the help of fascism." No one seemed to understand, according to Time, that the U.S. had not been sinister, just silly.

Subsequent CIA operations involving German and associated war criminals

The CIA had been aware of the location of some high-profile Nazi war criminals, including the whereabouts of Adolf Eichmann two years before he was captured by Israeli agents, but the agency did not publicize this information, as it did not have a policy of pursuing Nazi war criminals at the time.[7]

Several former Nazi operational agents were recruited as U.S. secret agents, yet formed just a minor portion of the agents at that time; they were induced financially and promised exemption from criminal prosecution and trial for war crimes committed during World War II.[10]

CIA name file analysis

The IWG analyzed CIA name files as they became available. In an article by Richard Breitman, professor of history at American University and IWG Director of Historical Research, Nazi name files studied were broken into two categories of criminal. The process here involved analysis of the name file mechanism, not necessarily protection, since some of the criminals did not survive the war or its immediate aftermath.[11]

Tier 1 Tier 2, contact with GO Tier 2, no contact with GO
Adolf Hitler Emil Augsburg Eugen Dollman
Klaus Barbie(1) Horst Kopkow(2) Franz Goering(3)
Adolf Eichmann Wilhelm Krichbaum(4) Wilhelm Harster (3)
Josef Mengele Franz Six(4) Wilhelm Hoettl(5)
Heinrich Mueller Hans Sommer Michel Kedia(6)
Kurt Waldheim Friedrich Panzinger(4) Wilfried Krallert(7)
Guido Zimmer(8) Martin Sandberger
  • (1)CIC but not CIA
  • (2)The GO information did not come from the CIA name file
  • (3)BND but not GO
  • (4)Probable Soviet asset
  • (5)OSS & CIC but not GO or BND
  • (6)OSS & CIA, no GO or BND
  • (7)BfV (West German domestic intelligence)
  • (8)OSS, World War Two only

A CIA document, dated 19 March 1958, from the Munich station chief to headquarters, stated that German intelligence had provided a list of former Nazis and their locations. Eichmann was third on the list. The memo passed on a rumour that he was in Jerusalem "despite the fact that he was responsible for mass extermination of Jews", but also states, matter-of-factly: "He is reported to have lived in Argentina under the alias Clemens since 1952."[8]

There is no record of a follow-up in the CIA to this tip-off. The reason was, according to Timothy Naftali, a US historian who has reviewed the freshly-declassified archive, it was no longer the CIA's job to hunt down Nazis. "It just wasn't US policy to go looking for war criminals. It wasn't British policy either for that matter. It was left to the West Germans ... and this is further evidence of the low priority the Germans gave to hunting down war criminals."

It was not just a question of bureaucratic inertia. But it was not just Globke. When Eichmann was captured the CIA combed files it had captured from the Nazis to find information that might be useful to the Israeli prosecution. The results caused near panic among the CIA's leadership because, unknown to the junior staff who had looked through the files, a few of Eichmann's accomplices being investigated had been CIA "assets", and who might be discovered through Soviet knowledge of the Israeli prosecution records.

Individuals not in name files

Several Nazis were not evaluated in the preceding name file analysis, but are significant examples of the complications of accepting Nazis: Soviet counterespionage in the case of Heinz Felfe and smoothing US-German relationships with Konrad Adenauer, to whom Hans Globke was a key advisor.

Heinz Felfe

In particular, the recruitment of Heinz Felfe, an SS officer who rose through the ranks of West Germany’s Gehlen organization to become its counterintelligence chief in 1955 did not only raise questions of ethics, but produced a major security failure, since, in 1961, Felfe was identified as a Soviet spy. According to Norman Goda of Ohio University, Felfe was "the West German official most knowledgeable about CIA operations in Eastern Europe", which let him sabotage one of the CIA’s most important spy operations, against the KGB base in East Germany.[12] The CIA subsequently estimated that Felfe had compromised 15,000 items. The article cited an unidentified CIA officer as saying, in 1953, "Clear evidence of a war crimes record might also serve as a possible control."[7] Christopher Simpson claims that these agents had a long-term corrosive effect on American intelligence agencies.[13]

Hans Globke

Naftali does not understand the level of sensitivity about Globke, who at that point was the subject of a very public dispute with a man named Max Merten, who accused Globke of disposing of Greek Jews. "What could Eichmann have added that would have altered Globke's position? I don't know. I can only report the alarm that is evident in the document."

"It is very difficult to do international history from one side … It's a real shame that the German government refuses to release its information on these topics. [1] Naftali believes the immediate West German fear was what Eichmann would say about Hans Globke, who had also worked in the Nazis' Jewish affairs department. While Eichmann had gone on the run, Globke stayed behind, and, by 1960 he was Chancellor Konrad Adenauer's national security adviser. West Germany, NATO, and the CIA were concerned about "how the East Germans and Soviet bloc in general might make use of what Eichmann would say about Hans Globke." At the request of the West Germans, the CIA even managed to persuade Life magazine to delete any reference to Globke from Eichmann's memoirs, which it had bought from the family.[8]

Handling Nazis outside Germany

A "rat-line" is a term of art in clandestine operations, which deals with the methods used to get a human asset physically away from a dangerous environment, remove threats to that individual, or both. While the term is used in multiple contexts, it has been used in the specific context of protecting Nazis, either by getting them to welcoming countries or improving their security. It also has been used for specific postwar resources for escaping Nazis, which, in their entirety, may make up what has been dubbed the ODESSA support system.

In one known case and possibly a few others, relatively few cases, CIC personnel, may have directly participated in the evacuation of a Nazi that was not to work directly for US engineering or intelligence. It is possible that there was a quid pro quo for such evacuation, such as protecting a more valuable asset by removing a source of denunciation, or protecting an ally from embarrassment and making that joint effort more difficult (see Hans Globke and working with Adenauer).

Erhard Dabringhaus, a U.S. Army (CIC) intelligence officer in post-war Germany from 1946 to 1952 (i.e., the year that the OPC clandestine service was brought under CIA control), and later a a language professor at Detroit's Wayne State University, was Klaus Barbie's case officer. Dabringhaus said he was ordered to house and pay Barbie, and did inform his command of Barbie's past actions. [14] According to Dabringhaus, "They told me to forget it for now. When he was 'no longer useful, they would deal with him." They never did. In 1951 Barbie turned up in Genoa, Italy, before escaping to Bolivia with documents issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Bill Moyers quoted Dabringhaus as saying "[Barbie] was wanted by the French as their number one war criminal and somehow we employed a man like that as a very secretive informant." According to Moyers, Barbie worked with ex-Nazi Germans reporting on the Soviets. Once his work was done, the US did not turn him over to the French, but helped him escape, via Italy, to Bolivia. [15] An analysis of Barbie's U.S. Army file, by the IWG,[16] recounted that in May 1949, the French Ministry of Interior pressed the U.S. military government of Germany, HICOG, for Barbie's extradition. The CIC, however, was concerned both that Barbie knew too much about CIC espionage networks, but also about the adverse publicity if it became known he had been recruited. From the HICOG file,

To have exposed BARBIE to interrogation and public trial would not have been in consonance with accepted clandestine intelligence operational doctrine. . . . [H]e was knowledgeable of high level operations and operational procedures, which would have been compromised. Through procedures in effect at that time, BARBIE was therefor [sic] assisted in 1951 in leaving Europe for resettlement. U.S. Army Intelligence has had no further contact with BARBIE subsequent to his departure from Europe

CIC, therefore, arranged for Barbie to reach South America through a "ratline" in Italy. Barbie, using an alias but otherwise living openly in Bolivia, was extradited to France in 1983. While in Bolivia, he was also a security advisor to Alfredo Stroessner, President of Paraguay from 1954 to 1989.[16] Since CIC involvement clearly would become public, the United States Attorney General ordered the Office of Special Investigations of the United States Department of Justice to produce an investigative report. Alan Ryan, outgoing head of OSI, detailed the use by U.S. intelligence of Barbie, including his escape using a line that included assistance from a Croatian priest in the Vatican. Ryan concluded that "no other case was found where a suspected Nazi war criminal was placed in the rat line, or where the rat line was used to evacuate a person wanted…" But, he did find, "that officers of the CIC engaged in obstruction of justice… although "prosecution is moot because of the statute of limitations").[17]

A copy of a Guardian citation quoted Dabringhaus about Barbie.[18] "Barbie was so well in with my superiors that he did not ask me for orders, but just told me what he was going to do. In fact he was so well thought of that I was more like his chauffeur."

Weitzman referred to a 22 May 1999 report, in The Times, which painted a much larger scope. It cited Dabringhaus as personally having recruited hundreds of Nazis, operating at least into the 1960s. Some SS men may have worked for the CIA in Latin America, and may have taught methods of torture. [17]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Naftali, Timothy, ""This is a German Story"", Deutsche Welle (DW-WORLD.DE)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kisatsky, Deborah (2005), The United States and the European Right, 1945-1955, Ohio State University Press
  3. Van Hook, James C. (Spring 2006), "U.S. Intelligence and the Gehlen Organization: Symposium at the GHI, September 15, 2005 (summary)", GHI Bulletin
  4. Critchfield, James H. (2003), Partners at the Creation: The Men Behind Postwar Germany's Defense and Intelligence Establishments, US Naval Institute Press
  5. Naftali, Timothy (July/August 2004), "Berlin to Baghdad: The Pitfalls of Hiring Enemy Intelligence", Foreign Affairs
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Wieck, Hans-Georg (November/December 2004), The Greater Good, "Spies Like Us", Foreign Affairs
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Shane, Scott (7 June 2006]), "C.I.A. Knew Where Eichmann Was Hiding, Documents Show", The New York Times: p. 3
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Borger, Julian (8 June 2006), "Why Israel's capture of Eichmann caused panic at the CIA :Information that could have led to Nazi war criminal was kept under wraps", Guardian
  9. "Caught Red-Handed", Time, 20 October 1952
  10. Kampeas, Ron (2006-08-06), "Postwar U.S.- Nazi link revealed", Jewish Standard. Retrieved on 2007-04-15
  11. Historical Analysis of 20 Name Files from CIA Records, National Archives and Records Administration, April, 2001
  12. Goda, Norman J. W., CIA Files Relating to Heinz Felfe, SS officer and KGB Spy
  13. Simpson, Christopher (August 1989). Blowback: America's recruitment of Nazis and its effects on the Cold War. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.. ISBN 978-0020449959. 
  14. Kohan, John (21 February 1983), "Exorcising Old Ghosts", Time
  15. Moyers, Bill (1987), Extracts from Moyers transcript, The Secret Government: the Constitution in Crisis, Public Broadcasting System
  16. 16.0 16.1 Wolfe, Robert (19 September 2001), Analysis of the Investigative Records Repository (IRR) File of Klaus Barbie, National Archives and Records Administration
  17. 17.0 17.1 Weitzman, Mark (June 24, 1999), Remarks before the Nazi War Criminals Interagency Working Group, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles
  18. Webster, Paul (May 24, 1987), "Barbie's American Links Exposed", Guardian Weekly: 7