"I ... Prefer to Remain Ignorant"

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 emerging East-West conflict had entered a new and clearly more hostile phase early in 1947. The British government, exhausted by war and deeply in debt, had abruptly announced that January that it was withdrawing from its earlier guarantees to stabilize power in Greece, where a bitter civil war was raging between left-wing rebels and British-backed Greek monarchist forces. President Truman blamed the Soviets for the crisis and stepped in with a multi-million-dollar aid program for the "democratic" forces in Greece-though there is considerable dispute over just how democratic they actually were ...

... U.S. Intelligence turned ... [to] the Holy Bond of Greek Officers, or IDEA, by its Greek initials. This organization was made up in large part of Nazi collaborators. The Greek army and police were well known to have been controlled by rightists since the 1930s, and the bulk of those forces had collaborated with the Nazis during the German occupation. These sympathizers created "security battalions" during the war to hunt down anti-Nazi partisans and to execute Jews who had escaped from the ghetto at Salonika. These detachments were responsible for the murders of tens of thousands of Greeks during the occupation, according to all accounts, and directly assisted the Nazis in the liquidation of about 70,000 Greek Jews. After the Nazis had been driven out of the country, however, the security battalions and their officers were in deep disgrace. Colonel George Papadopoulos helped create IDEA shortly after the Nazis had been driven out of Greece, ostensibly to protect the Greek population from Communist attack. "In reality," however, the Times of London later reported, "a principal activity of IDEA was to secure rehabilitation of those officers who had been initially purged by the post-liberation coalition government because of their activities in the collaborationist 'security battalions of the occupation years."

Secret Pentagon papers now in the U.S. National Archives show that the United States poured millions of dollars into IDEA during the U.S. intervention in Greece in order to create what it termed "Secret Army Reserve" made up of selected Greek military, police, and anti-Communist military officers...

American arms and money had a powerful impact on Greece. Many Greek nationalist forces abandoned their former EAM lies-in part because of the brutality of the EAM in its execution of an attempted guerrilla war against the U.S.-backed forces-and within two years a strongly pro-American government achieved control of the country.

Truman's decisive action in Greece had wider ramifications. t helped crystallize sentiment inside the U.S. government, which up to that point had often been divided over just how harshly to deal with the USSR, into a new and much more obdurate approach to U S.-Soviet relations. This new strategy marked an important watershed in the development of U.S. efforts to make use of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers, eventually creating the administrative structure and bureaucratic rationale for their utilization on an even wider scale than before.

The thinking behind this strategy was perhaps best articulated by George F. Kennan, the State Department expert on Soviet affairs who at the time had recently been appointed chief of the department's Policy Planning Staff. Kennan had served several tours of diplomatic duty in Moscow over the previous two decades, and his experience there had left him deeply bitter about both Stalin s dictatorship and the prospects for East-West cooperation. His antipathy toward Stalin had kept him isolated from the policy process during the Roosevelt administration, when relatively close US - USSR ties were backed by the White House. He had come into his own, however, in the Truman years. His famous 1946 "Long Telegram" from Moscow (as it has since come to be known) became a rallying cry for those at State, the War Department, and the White House who were determined to get tough with the Russians. That message read, as Kennan himself later recalled, "exactly like one of those primers put out by alarmed congressional committees or by the Daughters of the American Revolution, designed to arouse the citizenry to the dangers of the Communist conspiracy. Even so, "its effect . . . was nothing less than sensational," he writes. "It was one that changed my career and my life in very basic ways.... My reputation was made. My voice now carried."

By the time the United States intervened in Greece, Kennan enjoyed the direct sponsorship of Secretary of the Navy (soon to be Secretary of Defense) James Forrestal and of Secretary of State George Marshall. Acting on Forrestal's behalf, Kennan prepared a - pivotal analysis of the USSR that has since come to be called the containment doctrine" and is generally recognized as one of the basic programmatic statements of the cold war. In it, Kennan succeeded in reconciling many of the inchoate and conflicting perspectives on how to deal with the Soviets that had characterized Truman s administration up to that point. He argued that U.S.-Soviet relations were a fundamentally hostile, protracted conflict that had been initiated by the USSR-not the United States-and that normal relations between the two states would be impossible as long as a Soviet type government was in power in the USSR Their ideology," he wrote, ". . . has taught them that the outside world was hostile and that it was their duty eventually to overthrow the political forces beyond their borders.... [This] means that there can never be on Moscow's side any sincere assumption of a community of aims between the Soviet Union and powers which are regarded as capitalist."

The USSR was an imperial empire, Kennan continued, but the modern-day East-West clash could be managed through measures sort of all-out war through what he termed "long term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies" and the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a se of constantly shifting geographical and political points." As originally formulated, the containment doctrine envisioned bottling internal pressures inside the USSR until they forced the Soviet Union to "cooperate or collapse," as Newsweek summarized it process that was expected to take about ten to fifteen years. "Soviet power, Kennan concluded, ". . . bears within it the seeds of its own decay, and . . . the sprouting of these seeds is well advanced."

Regardless of Kennan's reservations, it was precisely these more aggressive aspects of containment that attracted Forrestal and other hard-liners in the Truman administration. In their hands, containment became the theoretical framework for U.S.-Soviet relations under which a wide variety of clandestine warfare tactics, ranging from radio propaganda to sabotage and murder, was chosen to counteract-"contain"-left-wing initiatives virtually anywhere in the world.

Although it was rarely mentioned in the public discussions, it is clear that covert operations aimed at harassing (and, if possible, overthrowing) hostile governments were an integral part of the containment strategy from the beginning. A new breed of realpolitik advocates among the government's national security specialists embraced containment as a rationale for what has since come to be called "destabilization" of the USSR and its satellites. Put briefly, destabilization is a type of psychological or political warfare that is calculated to undermine a target government, to destroy its popular support or credibility, to create economic problems, or to draw it into crisis through some other means. U.S. security planners of the late 1940s became fascinated with the prospect of destabilizing the Soviet Union's satellite states while simultaneously harassing the USSR. They were anxious to capitalize on the spontaneous rebellions against Soviet rule then rumbling through the Ukraine and parts of Eastern Europe, some of which were approaching civil wars in intensity...

Use of former Nazi collaborators became interwoven with these clandestine destabilization efforts and with the containment doctrine in general from 1947 on. According to Pentagon records, at the same time that Kennan was publicly promulgating containment, he and his close colleague Charles Thayer were lobbying with top Department of State and military officials for a revival of the remnants of the Nazi collaborationist Vlasov Army for use against the USSR. Kennan and Thayer pushed for the creation of a new school for anti-Communist guerrilla warfare training designed to bring together U.S. military specialists, Vlasov veterans and other Eastern European exiles from Soviet satellite states. Several such schools were eventually established in Germany and in the United States and served not only as a training ground for insurgents but also as a source of highly skilled recruits for a variety of other American clandestine operations as well.

Not all the clandestine containment programs were aimed at the USSR and its satellites. Some of the most important early applications of these tactics began in Western Europe. The Italian elections of early 1948 marked another important milestone in the development of U.S. covert operations and in high-level U.S. support for use of former Nazi collaborators. Two developments of far-reaching importance for these programs took place during this election campaign. First, U.S. security agencies successfully tested a series of propaganda and political manipulation techniques that were later to come into widespread use around the world, including inside the United States itself. Secondly, the CIA established much deeper and broader ties with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome than had previously been the case. This not only had a powerful impact on the Italian political scene but also ... laid the foundation for the agency's relationship with Intermarium, an influential Catholic lay organization made up primarily of Eastern European exiles that operated under the protection of the Vatican. At least a half dozen senior leaders of Intermarium and its member groups can be readily identified as Nazi collaborators. Some were fugitive war criminals. However, Intermarium was later to emerge as one of the mainstays of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberation from Bolshevism (later renamed Radio Liberty), and scores of other CIA-sponsored clandestine operations during the next two decades.

The Italian Communist party was favored to score heavily in the 1948 elections, and many analysts said that the party might democratically win control of the country's government. This prospect created such alarm in Washington that George Kennan-by then the foremost long-range strategist for the U.S. government-went so far as to advocate direct U.S. military occupation of the Foggia oil fields if the voting results went wrong from the point of view of the United States.

Washington's apprehension was shared-indeed, was enthusiastically fueled-by the Holy See. The church's hierarchy, which was already under severe economic and political pressure in Eastern Europe, feared a Communist takeover of the very heart of its institution, or at least of its worldly resources. The prospect of a Communist electoral victory in Italy coming close on the heels of Communist gains in Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland was viewed by many of the hierarchy as the most profound material crisis the church had seen in centuries. Prochurch Italian officials were "positively desperate and almost immobilized by the fear which hangs over them," Bishop James Griffiths, an American emissary to the Vatican, wrote at the time. They were afraid, the bishop said, of a "disastrous failure at the polls which will put Italy behind the Iron Curtain.''

The election campaign became a major test of containment and of its accompanying clandestine political warfare strategy. Allen Dulles, Frank Wisner, James Angleton, William Colby, and a team of other top-ranked U.S. intelligence officials put together a crash program of propaganda, sabotage, and secret funding of Christian Democratic candidates designed to frustrate the Italian Communist party's ambitions. The CIA was a young organization in those days and was primarily limited (until June 1948) to simple information gathering and analysis. Therefore, much of this campaign was handled on an ad hoc basis out of the offices of Allen and John Foster Dulles at the Sullivan & Cromwell law firm in New York. Kennan watched events unfold from his vantage point at State Department headquarters in Washington, while Thayer kept up a steady cannonade of pro-West and anti-Communist broadcasts over the Voice of America.

Working in close coordination with the Vatican and with prominent Americans of Italian or Catholic heritage, the CIA found that its effort in Italy succeeded well beyond its expectations. On a public level the United States dumped $350 million in announced civil and military aid into the country during this campaign alone. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper, and a score of other prominent Americans were enlisted to make radio broadcasts to Italy warning against the Communist electoral menace. A CIA-financed media blitz showered Italian newspapers with articles and photographs expressing American munificence and Communist atrocities, both real and manufactured...

The CIA's strategy in Italy, including Monsignor Biccherau's strong-arm squad, was a great success. The Italian Communists lost by a comfortable margin, and the American intelligence services emerged with the Catholic Church as a powerful new ally. Perhaps most important of all, the strategy of using covert operations to achieve political goals in peacetime was firmly implanted in the minds of Washington's foreign policy elite as a powerful weapon in an increasingly dangerous cold war.

The utility of the new covert operations apparatus seemed clear at the time: It permitted the White House to circumvent the cumbersome bureaucracy of Congress and the Department of State in the field of foreign affairs; it extended the reach of the United States with what appeared to be relatively little risk; and it permitted the president secretly to carry out actions that would discredit the United States if they were undertaken openly. Covert action was also relatively cheap, at least compared with the costs involved in maintaining a permanent military presence throughout the world.

George Kennan, in particular, "was deeply impressed by the results achieved in Italy," according to Sig Mickelson, the longtime chief of Radio Free Europe. "And [Kennan] foresaw similar crises arising in the future." Kennan was "directly concerned with the refugee problem and worried about the weakness of the nation's intelligence apparatus," Mickelson writes. "[He] advocated the creation of a covert action capability designed to complement covert psychological operations somewhere in the governmental structure.... His intention was to create a mechanism for direct intervention in the electoral processes of foreign governments," the former Radio Free Europe president continues. "It would be under the control of the Department of State, specifically [Kennan's own] policy planning staff, but it would not be formally associated with the department. State was still skittish about dealing openly with foreign governments on the one hand [while] carrying out covert destabilizing efforts on the other."

Greece in 1947 and Italy in 1948 also taught the CIA that it could employ former Nazi collaborators on a large scale in clandestine operations and get away with it U.S. national security planners appear to have concluded that extreme-right-wing groups that had once collaborated with the Nazis should be included in U.S.-sponsored anti-Communist coalitions, for the participation of such groups became a regular feature of U.S. covert operations in Europe in the wake of the Greek and Italian events.

A case may be made for the idea that doing so was simply real politik. Former collaborators were, after all, a substantial organized force, so why not make use of them? At the time the benefits of using former Nazi collaborators appeared to outweigh any drawbacks. The American media-and the American people, for the most part-warmly welcomed the victories of European center parties over their Communist rivals There were few public questions concerning exactly how these successes had been brought about...

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