Morality took a back seat to perceived security concerns during the Cold War as US intelligence agencies employed at least 1,000 Nazis as spies, a new book published this week says.
The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men, by Eric Lichtblau, was released Tuesday by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. A brief adaptation of the book appeared in the New York Times on Sunday.
According to interviews and newly declassified records, the CIA, FBI and other government agencies not only paid the ex-Nazis to collect intelligence, but also concealed their possible involvement in war crimes from other bodies responsible for prosecuting them.
“They believed the ex-Nazis’ intelligence value against the Russians outweighed what one official called ‘moral lapses’ in their service to the Third Reich,” wrote Lichtblau. Leaders like J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI and Allen Dulles at the CIA actively recruited the men as “assets” against the Soviets, even after concluding, in one case, that a former SS officer was probably involved in “minor war crimes”.
The agencies also went to great lengths to protect their assets. As late as the 1990s, the CIA moved to intervene in the investigation of a former Nazi collaborator living in the Boston area.
These ex-Nazi spies were rewarded for their service to the US in numerous ways, including relocation to the US and naturalization.
Otto von Bolschwing was an SS officer who served as Adolf Eichmann’s mentor and top aide. After the war, he was hired by the CIA to spy in Europe, then resettled in New York with his family, as “a reward for his loyal postwar service and in view of the innocuousness of his [Nazi] party activities,” the agency wrote.
“They used him, and he used them,” his son, Gus von Bolschwing, now 75, said in an interview. “It shouldn’t have happened. He never should have been admitted to the United States. It wasn’t consistent with our values as a country.”
The CIA also stepped in to protect him in the 1960s, when Eichmann was captured in Argentina. Afraid his ties to the other man would be uncovered, he turned to the CIA, which promised not to reveal his identity. Being identified as Eichmann’s “collaborator and fellow conspirator and that the resulting publicity may prove embarrassing to the US,” a CIA official wrote.
According to Richard Breitman, a Holocaust scholar at American University who worked on the government-appointed team that declassified the documents, at least 1,000 Nazis were employed by various government agencies. Norman Goda, a University of Florida historian on the same declassification team, says the number is likely much higher, as many documents remain classified even now.
The ex-Nazis were used for a variety of tasks, from the mundane to the dangerous. “In Maryland, Army officials trained several Nazi officers in paramilitary warfare for a possible invasion of Russia. In Connecticut, the CIA used an ex-Nazi guard to study Soviet-bloc postage stamps for hidden meanings.”
“In Virginia, a top adviser to Hitler gave classified briefings on Soviet affairs. And in Germany, SS officers infiltrated Russian-controlled zones, laying surveillance cables and monitoring trains,” wrote Lichtblau.
However, not all former Nazi “assets” turned out to be valuable, as many were inept or worse. “Some were deemed habitual liars, confidence men or embezzlers, and a few even turned out to be Soviet double agents, the records show.”
These revelations come hot on the heels of a scandal in which it was discovered the US was continuing to pay social security benefits to former Nazis who had lied to enter the US and left voluntarily upon discovery.