A Discreet Silence
excerpted from the book
America's recruitment of Nazis,
and its disastrous effect on our domestic and foreign policy
by Christopher Simpson
Collier / Macmillan, 1988
The basic rationale U.S. policymakers used after 1945 to justify
employment of former Nazis and collaborators was the possibility-
no, the imminence-of the outbreak of a new war between the United
States and the USSR.
The American anticipation of a cataclysm was reinforced by
the East-West geopolitical confrontation in Europe and the Mideast
in the first years after World War II; by the shortage of reliable
information about actual conditions in the east; and not infrequently
by religious doctrine that asserted that the Communists were Satan's
army on earth.' Such perceptions varied from individual to individual,
of course, but were by no means a fringe phenomenon.
The actual balance of forces in Europe during the decade following
1945, however, meant that neither the United States nor the USSR
was capable of unilaterally imposing its will on the other through
military force alone. The Soviets' advantage in troop strength
and geographical position gave it powerful leverage in Eastern
Europe, America's atomic bomb and economic wealth notwithstanding.
Given that situation, President Harry Truman ordered a program
of psychological warfare, covert operations, and intelligence
gathering aimed at the USSR and its satellites that began as early
as 1945 and significantly accelerated in the years that followed.
Recently declassified records make clear that by 1948 Truman had
approved claimed to have large networks of sympathizers behind
Soviet lines. German intelligence specialists like General Reinhard
Gehlen, who had run these networks during the war, asserted that
a modest infusion of American money and arms could produce secure
organizations of espionage agents, saboteurs, and strong-arm specialists
inside the East bloc countries and in the teeming refugee camps
that then dotted western Germany. The idea, in a nutshell, was
secretly to underwrite the work of these groups in much the same
way that the Allies had backed resistance forces inside German-occupied
territory during the war.
Contrary to the promises once made inside secret U.S. government
councils that the use of such persons would be of practical benefit
to this country, the truth is that these Nazi utilization programs
have frequently been disasters, even when all ethical considerations
are laid aside; Their behind-the-lines spy teams are now known
to have been largely nonexistent, and those that did exist were
laced with Soviet double agents. Instead of building a relatively
airtight anti-Communist spy service, the same old boy circles
used to recruit former Nazis ended up giving the USSR a relatively
easy way to penetrate legitimate U.S. intelligence gathering on
Soviet military capabilities and intentions. U.S.-sponsored secret
warfare campaigns employing these recruits failed consistently,
leading to the arrests, imprisonments, and sometimes executions
of thousands of Eastern Europeans.
The government's use of Nazis and collaborators in intelligence
programs has also left a mark on life in the United States itself.
This impact is what is known in spy jargon as "blowback,"
meaning unexpected-and negative effects at home that result from
covert operations overseas.
Often blowback from CIA clandestine work abroad has been no
more (and no less) alarming than, say, a fraudulent news report
planted in a European magazine that later shows up in U.S. publications
as fact. Sometimes, however, the problem has become far more serious.
In a case revealed here for the first time, an organization of
former SS and German military intelligence experts provided false
information that nearly led to World War III. In another instance
Senator Joseph McCarthy employed a secret U.S. espionage squad
made up in part of Nazi collaborators to gather slanderous information
used to smear political opponents.
Despite these negative consequences, the existence of U.S.
operations employing ex-Nazis has remained a carefully kept secret
in the West. There has been a certain convergence of powerful
interests, rather than the great conspiracy that some critics
have alleged, that has kept this story buried. The American government,
for example, has not been inclined to publicize the men and women
involved in sensitive "national security" missions.
Many U.S. documents concerning these programs have been systematically
purged from the files and destroyed, and the majority of the records
that remain are still classified above "secret." Most
of the men who put together the U.S. program-including the CIA's
former chief of clandestine operations Frank Wisner and his boss,
CIA Director Allen Dulles-are dead. Most of those who are still
alive refuse to talk.
Until recently the U.S. media could usually be counted on
to maintain a discreet silence about emigre leaders with Nazi
backgrounds accused of working for the CIA. According to declassified
records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, several
mass media organizations in this country-at times working in direct
concert with the CIA-became instrumental in promoting cold war
myths that transformed certain exiled Nazi collaborators of World
War II into "freedom fighters" and heroes of the renewed
struggle against communism. The general public, for the most part,
has had little reason to suspect that anything was amiss...
America's own initial plan to enlist the brains of Nazi Germany
concentrated on scientists, declassified U.S. Army records show.
Some American intelligence officials were clearly aware from the
very beginning that they were recruiting former Nazis, including
SS officers and others alleged to have personally participated
in executions of concentration camp inmates. Even so, top Pentagon
officers believed that these Germans could be put to work in the
then continuing war with Japan and the emerging conflict with
the USSR. A highly secret U.S. military intelligence coordinating
center advised the U.S. Army to alter its dossiers on those scientists
so as to bring them into this country with supposedly clean wartime
records. The United States soon stopped "beating a dead Nazi
horse", as Bosquet Wev, executive officer of the Pentagon's
intelligence coordinating office, put it, and began importing
German chemical warfare experts, submarine specialists, and the
scientists who had once built Germany's rockets using slave labor
from Nazi concentration camps.
At about the same time these experts were conscripted, the
United States also began a small, extremely secret program to
enlist German espionage and covert operations specialists at an
American camp for high-ranking Axis POWs near Wiesbaden. There
the chief of U.S. Army intelligence in Europe, General Edwin Sibert,
gave the go-ahead to a gaunt former Wehrmacht (German army) general
named Reinhard Gehlen to construct a new espionage organization
made up of German experts on the USSR. Sibert, in what was at
the time a clear violation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's
orders concerning denazification of Germany, assumed personal
responsibility for the project. Before the 1940s were out, Sibert
and Gehlen's small seed had grown into an organization upon which
the Americans depended for much of what they knew about Eastern
Europe and the Soviet Union.
With Gehlen's group at its core, former Nazis and collaborators
went on to play an important, though largely unnoticed, role in
the interlocked evolutions of the cold war and of American intelligence
capabilities. Gehlen provided U.S. Army intelligence and later
the CIA with many of the dire reports that were used to justify
increased U.S. military budgets and intensified U.S./USSR hostilities.
He exaggerated the Soviet military threat in Europe, says the
CIA's former chief analyst on Soviet military capabilities Victor
Marchetti, in order to ensure further protection and funding for
his U.S.-financed operation. The German intelligence group, as
it turns out, usually received at least part of any new budget
appropriations that accompanied escalation of the conflict with
At about the time the Gehlen organization was getting on its
feet, the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) gradually
moved from investigating underground Nazis for war crimes prosecution
to using some of these same Nazis and collaborators to track Communists.
By 1948 the CIC found itself in a sub rosa bureaucratic battle
with both the U.S. Air Force and the then newly founded CIA over
funding in the spy war against the Russians. One of the most valuable
prizes in this intra-American conflict was control of several
thousand former Waffen SS soldiers and officers whom the army
had hired and equipped for use in a guerrilla war against the
USSR. The army ended up actually integrating these SS troops into
U.S. nuclear strategy.
Policy concerning clandestine use of former Nazi collaborators
during the early cold war years was shaped by a series of National
Security Council directives and intelligence projects sponsored
by the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department, then under
the leadership of George F. Kennan, according to records discovered
recently in U.S. State Department archives. Kennan was at the
time assigned the task of internal policy oversight of all U.S.
clandestine operations abroad. His initiatives-along with those
of Allen Dulles, Frank Wisner, and a number of other latter-day
CIA executives- helped convince Truman's NSC to approve a comprehensive
program of covert operations that were explicitly modeled on the
Vlasov Army, an anti-Communist emigre campaign created by the
SS and the Nazi Foreign Office during World War II. Scholars and
propagandists who had once collaborated in formulating the Nazis'
political warfare program were brought into the United States
to provide brains for the new operation.
Wisner, the dynamic director of the CIA's clandestine operations
directorate, gradually gathered many of the threads of earlier
Nazi utilization efforts into agency hands. Wisner believed in
the tremendous espionage potential of the Eastern European emigre
organizations, their value as propagandists and agents of influence,
and the unique advantages of using soldiers who had no provable
ties to the U.S. government for certain particularly sensitive
missions, including assassinations. More than that, Wisner was
convinced that Communist rule would be soon overthrown in Eastern
Europe and possibly in the USSR itself. America was already at
war, as he saw it, and there was no time to quibble over the pasts
of its new foot soldiers.
Wisner's clandestine campaigns were originally aimed at the
USSR and its satellites. Before the decade was out, however, the
American people also became an important target for CIA propaganda
programs. It is at that point, over the winter of 1951-1952, that
the blowback from the CIA's overseas operations reached a new
and more dangerous stage. According to National Security Council
records, Wisner began large-scale programs designed to bring thousands
of anti-Communist exiles to the United States as a means of rewarding
them for secret operations overseas and to train others for guerrilla
warfare against East bloc countries. The CIA secretly subsidized
the work of right-wing refugee relief organizations aiding such
immigrants, including some groups with clear ties to extreme nationalist
and Fascist organizations in Europe. The agency simultaneously
funneled millions of dollars into advertising and staged media
events inside the United States during the same period, with support
for these overseas "refugee liberation" projects as
a primary theme.
Tens of thousands of Eastern European refugees emigrated to
the United States throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. Clearly
the overwhelming majority of these new immigrants have proved
themselves to be valuable citizens, who have made great contributions
to science, culture, medicine, sports, and the American work force
as well as to the defense of values like democracy and national
pride. But just as any large group of humans contains some criminals,
so, too, did this emigration. The difference this time was that
of the criminals who did come, many were experienced right-wing
political activists who were highly organized and blessed with
the patronage of the CIA.
Shortly before the presidential election of 1952 the agency
sharply expanded its media operations with a multimillion-dollar
publicity campaign inside the United States designed to legitimize
expanded U.S. cold war operations in Europe.' This program was
guided by a theory known as "liberationism," and an
important part of that strategy held that certain exiled Fascist
leaders left over from World War II should be regarded as democratic
"freedom fighters" against the USSR. The CIA's propaganda
campaign inside the United States was clearly illegal; but the
agency concealed its ties to the effort, and the enterprise prospered.
Right-wing emigre organizations, which had once been little
more than instruments of German (and later U.S.) espionage agencies,
began to take on a distinct life and authority of their own during
the cold war, particularly inside America's large Eastern European
immigrant communities. Through organizations such as the CIA-funded
Assembly of Captive European Nations (ACEN), certain Ukrainian
fraternal groups, and the Latvian Daugavas Vanagi alliance (each
of which included in positions of leadership persons whom U.S.
investigators have alleged to be Axis war criminals), these extreme-right-wing
exiles gradually expanded their reach in American affairs.
Although never the mainstream voices for their particular
nationality groups, these organizations and others like them succeeded
in creating genuine power bases on the far right of the U.S. political
spectrum. Before the decade of the 1950s was out, the activities
of extremist European emigre organizations combined with indigenous
American anticommunism to produce seriously negative effects on
U.S. foreign policy and domestic affairs under both Republican
and Democratic administrations. By 1959 these exile groups had
articulate defenders inside the staff of the National Security
Council and had won a measure of influence on Capitol Hill. Observing
their impact on U.S. policy toward the USSR and Eastern Europe
had become, as columnist Walter Lippmann wrote, "a morbid
In short, U.S. clandestine operations employing Nazis never
did produce the results that were desired when they were initiated,
but they did contribute to the influence of some of the most reactionary
trends in American political life. This lesson has increased in
significance over the years. More recent U.S. interventions abroad
have facilitated the entry into America of extremist and even
terrorist emigre organizations that have subsequently gained political
footholds in ethnic communities in this country, often through
the use of violence and intimidation. The influence of Bay of
Pigs veterans in Cuban-American enclaves or of the former Saigon
police among Southeast Asian refugees comes to mind in this regard.
"Blowback" of this type has not been limited to cold
war Nazi utilization operations; it is a much more widespread
characteristic of the CIA's emigre operations than is generally
recognized and one which deserves further study...