The Eyes and Ears

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

Of all the networks of former Nazis and collaborators employed by the United States after World War II, it is Gehlen's organization that has left the most substantial imprint on the United States. Gehlen's analysis of the forces that guide Soviet behavior, which were forged in part by his personal defeat at the hands of the Russians during World War II, became widely accepted in U.S. intelligence circles and remain so to this day.

Gehlen's impact on the course of the cold war was subtle, but l real. Self-avowed pragmatists in the U.S. intelligence services have consistently argued that the otherwise questionable employment of Gehlen and even of unrepentant Nazis through the Org was justified by their significant contributions to fighting a powerful and ruthless rival: the Soviet Union. "He's on our side," CIA Director Allen Dulles later said of Gehlen, "and that's all that matters."

During the first years of the CIA under Rear Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter's administration, according to a retired executive of the CIA's Office of National Estimates, Gehlen's reports and analyses were sometimes simply retyped onto CIA stationery and presented to President Truman without further comment in the agency's morning intelligence summaries. Gehlen's organization "shaped what we knew about the Soviets in Eastern Europe and particularly about East Germany," he continued. Heinz Hohne, an internationally recognized historian and senior editor at Der Spiegel magazine, asserts that "seventy percent of all the U.S. government's information on Soviet forces and armaments came from the Gehlen organization" during the early cold war. While any such precise number is bound to be arbitrary, the thrust of Hohne's comment is certainly accurate.

Contrary to the accepted wisdom, however, U.S. dependence on Gehlen's organization for intelligence on the Soviet military was quite likely a blunder from a strictly practical point of view. For one thing, enlisting Gehlen was in itself a substantial escalation of the cold war that undermined what little hope was possible for EastWest cooperation during the pivotal years of 1945 to 1948. Once on board, Gehlen's Nazi-tainted operatives often gave the Soviets an easy target for denunciations of war criminals being sheltered by the West. This has since become a highly successful Soviet propaganda theme-in part because there is some truth to it-that is replayed regularly to this day as a means of undermining U.S. and West German relations with Eastern Europe. Financing Gehlen's organization also appears to have made infiltration of Western intelligence by Soviet spies easier, not more difficult, as will be seen. Most important, Gehlen's operatives and analysts strongly reinforced U.S. intelligence's existing predilection toward paranoia about communism and the USSR, contributing significantly to the creation of a body of widely believed misinformation about Soviet behavior.

"Gehlen had to make his money by creating a threat that we were afraid of," says Victor Marchetti, formerly the CIA's chief analyst of Soviet strategic war plans and capabilities, "so we would give him more money to tell us about it." He continues: "In my opinion, the Gehlen Organization provided nothing worthwhile for understanding or estimating Soviet military or political capabilities in Eastern Europe or anywhere else." Employing Gehlen was "a waste of time, money, and effort, except that maybe he had some CI [counterintelligence] value, because practically everybody in his organization was sucking off both tits." In other words, Gehlen did not produce the reliable information for which he was employed, but careful monitoring of the Org might have produced some clues to Soviet espionage activity because the group had been deeply penetrated by double agents, thus giving the United States a vastly expensive and not very efficient means of keeping up with Soviet spies.

"The Gehlen Organization was the one group that did have networks inside Eastern Europe, and that is why we hired them," international affairs expert Arthur Macy Cox says. "[But] hiring Gehlen was the biggest mistake the U.S. ever made. Our allies said, 'You are putting Nazis at the senior levels of your intelligence,' and they were right. It discredited the United States." According to Cox, the Gehlen Organization was the primary source of intelligence that claimed that "the Soviets were about to attack [West] Germany.... [That was] the biggest bunch of baloney then, and it is still a bunch of baloney today."

Had Gehlen's role been limited to the preparation of top secret studies for the use of America's own most expert intelligence analysts, it is unlikely that his project would have done much harm during the postwar period, and it might actually have done some good. But that is not how intelligence agencies actually work. In reality, contending factions in the government leak their versions of events to favored members of Congress or reporters and from them to the public at large. "Secret reports" revealed in this way- especially those that frighten or titillate us-take on a mystique of accuracy that is undeserved. These "secrets" become potent symbols that rally constituencies whose concern is not with the accuracy of a given bit of intelligence but rather with the use to which the leak can be put in the domestic political arena. As time goes on, a self-reinforcing process sets in, each new leak lending credibility to the next, which in turn "confirms" those stories that have already been revealed.

"The agency [CIA] loved Gehlen because he fed us what we wanted to hear," Marchetti concludes. "We used his stuff constantly, and we fed it to everybody else: the Pentagon; the White House; the newspapers. They loved it, too. But it was hyped up Russian boogeyman junk, and it did a lot of damage to this country."

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