The End of "Liberation"
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
Many top Reagan activists have spent much of their lives promoting
the liberationist cause, even when the theory fell out of fashion
after the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
President Reagan himself bestowed a Medal of Freedom, the
country's highest civilian honor, on liberation theorist (and
former OPC/CIA emigre program consultant) James Burnham in 1983.
Burnham's liberation analysis "profoundly affected the way
America views itself and the world," Reagan intoned at the
awards ceremony. "And I owe him a personal debt," the
president continued, 'because throughout the years of travelling
on the mashed-potato circuit I have quoted [him] widely."
... the Reagan administration has updated liberationism to
apply to 1980s crisis points like Angola and Nicaragua. The CIA,
with the president's backing, is now spending in excess of $600
million per year to equip some 80,000 to 100,000 anti-Communist
"freedom fighters" with arms, supplies, and even state-of-the-art
Stinger antiaircraft missiles. This renewed cold war strategy,
sometimes known as the Reagan Doctrine, has also become a litmus
test of conservative Republican orthodoxy, writes Washington Post
political analyst Sidney Blumenthal. Right-wing true believers
have taken to using votes on funding for "freedom fighters"
like Angolan rebel strongman Jonas Savimbi as a means of extracting
concessions from Republican moderates and driving their party
farther to the right. The new liberationists' goal, Blumenthal
writes, "is to ensure that no Republican will be nominated
for president who has not pledged fealty to their ideology."
The scars that secret emigre anti-Communist programs have left
on life in the United States run considerably deeper than the
contribution they may have made to the early 1950s purge of former
Voice of America Director Charles Thayer or to the escape of certain
Nazis from justice. The cold war itself-and, indirectly, much
that has flowed from it-should be reconsidered today in the light
of what is beginning to be known of clandestine activities during
Many, though obviously not all, U.S. covert operations of
the period involved use of Nazi collaborators, and it is that
aspect of American secret warfare... The basic rationale for using
Nazis in covert operations has consistently been that doing so
was of practical value to the United States in international relations,
that it was putting "future American interests" ahead
of the "delights of revenge." In reality, however, these
affairs have worked to the long-term-and frequently the short-term-detriment
of the United States. The negative blowback from U.S. operations
employing Nazis and collaborators may be generally grouped into
six categories. The first of these, chronologically speaking,
stems from the intense West-East competition over recruitment
of German scientists and secret agents. The fight over these intelligence
assets played a surprisingly large role in the rapid erosion of
trust between the superpowers, especially in the first months
after the defeat of Hitler Germany.
The mistrust engendered during this race proved to be an important
factor in undermining the possibility of superpower peace as early
as the Potsdam Conference of July 1945.3' Both sides at Potsdam
read the clandestine campaigns of the other as the "true"
policy behind the veils of diplomacy. Yet both also insisted that
their own diplomatic initiatives be taken at face value. One practical
result of this semiotic clash was an acceleration of the upward
spiral of suspicion, hostility, and fear.
The second major type of damaging blowback has been the destructive
effect that Western covert operations and political warfare-particularly
programs employing Nazi collaborators-has had on provoking the
cold war and later crises in East-West relations. These affairs
were not only products of the cold war but also catalysts that
escalated the conflict. They offer graphic proof that the United
States' struggle against the USSR began considerably earlier and
was carried out with far more violence than the Western | public
was led to believe at the time.
Former Axis intelligence analysts enlisted by the U.S. Army and
the CIA consistently reinforced the existing self-deception among
U.S. national security experts concerning the USSR, particularly
during the first formative years of the cold war and the emerging
U.S. national security apparatus. Examples may be readily identified
today in spite of the extreme security measures that still surround
the internal intelligence evaluation processes of those years.
These include very basic errors that range from misappraisal of
the size and war readiness of the USSR's military establishment
to fundamental misjudgments about Soviet political intentions
in both Western and Eastern Europe...
Information and analysis that reinforced the dominant preconceptions
of the day almost always received a far more sympathetic reception
in Washington than news that ran counter to those beliefs. Thus
General Clay's (and Gehlen's) alarms about the Red Army in early
1948 counted for more in U.S. national security circles than the
reality that the USSR had significantly reduced its troop strength
in Europe, in large part because Clay's war scare confirmed the
American leaders' worst suspicions concerning the USSR.
Entrepreneurs such as General Gehlen, John Valentine Grombach,
and their various rivals have historically been able to manipulate
this situation to their own advantage, sometimes for years at
a time. Gehlen, above all, proved to be the master at playing
to the audience of American national security experts. By shaping
the data that shaped global decisions, he played an indirect yet
substantial role in world events. His support for a relentlessly
hostile cold war against the USSR, together with the success he
enjoyed in undermining his critics, has left a durable mark on
The fourth important type of blowback is the long-term corrupting
influence that financing the work of men like Alois Brunner, Klaus
Barbie, Stanislaw Stankievich, and others has had on the American
intelligence agencies themselves. The corrosive effect of recruiting
criminals, mercenaries, and torturers as CIA contract operatives
extends well beyond the impact of any single incident or operation
in which such persons may become involved. The internal logic
of clandestine agencies demands that the organization protect
its former agents long after their usefulness has passed-or at
least to "dispose" of such agents properly, as it is
termed in intelligence jargon-in order to retain their loyalty
to the institution as long as possible. This can produce compromising
personnel problems that last for years, even for decades.
The CIA has historically dealt with its disposal problem by
quietly resettling its former contract agents in South America,
Canada, or Australia. It has also brought a smaller number of
operators to the United States, official reports have finally
admitted. (Traitors and suspected double agents present a special
sort of disposal problem, of course. Congressional testimony and
fragmentary CIA records now in the public domain suggest that
some such persons have been murdered.)
Ongoing agent disposal programs create a strong incentive
for the government to continue protecting retired Nazis or other
criminals for years after their supposed usefulness to this country
has expired. The CIA's present determination to protect its agent
disposal system remains one of the single greatest obstacles to
expulsion of known Nazi criminals hiding in the United States.
The fifth and perhaps the most damaging type of blowback from
the emigre and Waffen SS utilization programs stems from the CIA's
large-scale intervention in domestic American politics during
the 1950s. These operations became important elements in the complex
process through which U.S. intelligence agencies systematically
nurtured persons viewed as useful, while attempting to suppress
those deemed dangerous.
The CIA was presumably motivated by a desire to achieve U.S.
foreign policy objectives when it promoted the careers of Eastern
European liberation activists inside the United States. Foreign
affairs, after all, are the CIA's assigned sphere of operations.
But the agency's liberation campaigns were never confined to overseas
operations or even to immigrant communities in this country. Instead,
they became a component of the agency's larger domestic political
agenda. The CIA combined the émigrés' liberation
efforts with other agency programs of even larger scope, such
as the manipulation of mainstream U.S. media, direct propaganda
broadcasting in this country through the Crusade for Freedom and
other CIA-financed radio shows, surveillance and harassment of
opponents, careful sculpting of academic and scholarly research
programs, aggressive lobbying on Capitol Hill, and penetration
of the senior leadership of trade unions, corporations, religious
groups, and even student organizations.
Many details of the CIA's domestic campaigns have gradually
leaked into the public domain over the last decade. The synergistic
effect that this enormous effort produced on life in this country
is still not adequately understood, however, and may not be for
many years. The fact is that the CIA's domestic operations had
a substantial and lasting impact on political debate in this country
during the cold war years, most important of all on foreign policy
issues. The agency played a powerful role in setting the general
parameters of the foreign policy debate in the United States throughout
those years and in drawing the lines that separated "respectable"
opinions from those considered beyond the pale.
The final major type of blowback is the role that these clandestine
operations played in the obstruction of justice. U.S. courts assert
that they have no jurisdiction to try persons accused of committing
Nazi war crimes or crimes against humanity, in large part because
the offenses took place in foreign countries and generally did
not directly involve U.S. citizens. Therefore, the present U.S.
government Nazi hunters who work for the Justice Department's
Office of Special Investigations (OSI) are limited to bringing
charges against war criminals in this country for violations of
U.S. immigration law-not for murder, looting, or other persecution.
If the prosecution is successful, the Nazi criminal is expelled
from this country.
Although the OSI is loath to admit it, the fact is that its
attorneys often have difficulty with war crimes suspects who plead
the "CIA defense" in response to OSI charges. Former
Nazis and collaborators who once worked for U.S. intelligence
agencies are arguing in court that they disclosed their war-time
activities, SS membership, or other compromising evidence to their
CIA or army controllers back during the cold war. In so doing,
defense lawyers claim, their clients satisfied any legal requirement
to acknowledge their pasts to the U.S. government during immigration.
Therefore, the lawyers say, they cannot be deported today.
In the final analysis, the cold war became the means for tens
of thousands of Nazi criminals to avoid responsibility for the
murders they had committed. The breakdown of East-West cooperation
in the prosecution of war criminals-motivated, again, in part
by the short-term interests of the intelligence agencies of both
sides in protecting their clandestine operations assets-provided
both the means for criminals to escape to the West and the alibis
for them to use once they arrived here. "Nazi criminals,"
as Simon Wiesenthal has commented, "were the principal beneficiaries
of the Cold War."
Most of the American officials originally involved in the
articulation of "liberation" during the 1950s or who
played roles in Operation Bloodstone and other programs employing
Nazi collaborators have long since died or retired.
And George Kennan keeps on. Now well over eighty [in 1988], he
maintains a remarkably rigorous schedule of public speaking and
writing, a neatly cultivated mustache, and a reputation as a senior
statesman. He lectures at length on a multitude of subjects without
notes, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling rather than at his
He considers himself "a strange mixture of a reactionary
and a liberal," as he put it recently, and favors decidedly
hierarchical governments run by an enlightened few regardless
of the shifting currents of mass public opinion. Democracy, he
once quipped should be compared to "one of those prehistoric
monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size
of a pin." He views the political left with undisguised contempt
and presents the long dictatorship of Portuguese strongman Antonio
Salazar as a model governmental efficiency.
Yet Kennan is today one of the few men of his station who
have had the courage to take public issue with the Reagan administration's
efforts to renew the cold war in the 1980s. The present American
military establishment, he wrote recently, operates on the "assumption
not just of the possibility of a Soviet-American war but of its
overwhelming probability and even imminence." He blames the
present administration, together with the media, for creating
an "image of the Soviet opponent in his most terrible, desperate
and inhuman aspect: an implacable monster, incapable of impulses
other than the lust for sheer destruction, and to be dealt with
only in a final military struggle." What much of the U.S.
government and journalistic establishment says today about the
USSR is "so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what
any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal that it is
not only ineffective but dangerous as a guide to political action."
He fears, he says, "the cards today are lined up for a war."
That situation may be traced in part to Kennan's own role
in the CIA-sponsored anti-Communist exile programs of the 1940s
and 1950s, including those that employed Nazi collaborators. True,
the problems of the U.S.-Soviet confrontation are far deeper than
any clandestine program. But there are moments in history when
small events clarify much bigger patterns, and such is the case
with the CIA's enlistment of Nazis during the 1940s and 1950s.
Here one sees the extent of the corruption of American ideals
that has taken place in the name of fighting communism. No one,
it seems, not even Adolf Eichmann's personal staff, was too tainted
to be rejected by the CIA's recruiters, at least as long as his
relationship with the U.S. government could be kept secret.
The American people deserve better from their government.
There is nothing to be gained by permitting U.S. intelligence
agencies to continue to conceal the true scope of their association
with Nazi criminals in the wake of World War II. The files must
be opened; the record must be set right.