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 the USSR.

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 experience."

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...

Blowback - CSimpson

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