By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
The CIA organized Cold War spy networks that included former Nazis and failed to act on a 1958 report that fugitive Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was living in Argentina, newly released CIA records show.
The records were among 27,000 pages of documents made public yesterday at the National Archives. They shed new light on the secret protection and support given to former Nazi officials and Nazi collaborators by U.S. intelligence agencies as fighting communism became the central aim of American foreign policy in the years after World War II.
"It was not U.S. policy to track Nazi war criminals once the Cold War began," said historian Timothy Naftali of the University of Virginia, a Cold War expert who has studied the new documents.
"The CIA based its decisions about using former SS men or unreconstructed Nazis solely on operational considerations. . . . Hiring these tainted individuals brought little other than operational problems and moral confusion to our government's intelligence community," he added.
The subject of postwar collaboration between U.S. intelligence and former Nazis that the government sought to use in the struggle against the Soviet Union has been documented, but historians said the previously inaccessible documents have enabled them to fill in many blanks in the historical narrative.
About 60,000 pages of CIA records had already been released since 1999, after a 1998 federal law opened up secret government files relating to war crimes by the German and Japanese governments during World War II.
Historians reviewing the records for the government published a 2004 book, "U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis," based on 240,000 pages of FBI records, 419 CIA files and 3,000 pages of U.S. Army information. It detailed the Army's postwar relationship with former officers of the German Wehrmacht's intelligence service, which are available at the National Archives.
The materials released yesterday include operational documents detailing the activities of the CIA and its contacts abroad, historians and other officials said during a news conference at the National Archives.
"It's a rare release of operational files," said Allen Weinstein, head of the National Archives and chairman of the interagency working group overseeing the declassification of records about World War II crimes and criminals. "The files are also more inclusive than any other CIA files made public before. . . . This time, the documents are nearly all without redactions, providing researchers and historians the clearest view yet of the postwar intelligence world."
The release of the records stalled last year with the deadline for the interagency project approaching when the CIA balked at declassifying more detailed documents about the agency's postwar ties to Nazis. But the CIA caved in under pressure from Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), an author of the original legislation, and other prominent backers of that law. Congress passed a new law extending the life of the interagency panel by two years, to early 2007.
Some of the newly released documents show that between 1949 and 1955, the CIA organized "stay-behind" networks of German agents to provide intelligence from behind enemy lines, should the Soviet Union invade western Germany.
One network included at least two former Nazi SS members -- Staff Sgt. Heinrich Hoffman and Lt. Col. Hans Rues -- and one was run by Lt. Col. Walter Kopp, a former German army officer referred to by the CIA as an "unreconstructed Nazi." The network was disbanded in 1953 amid political concerns that some members' neo-Nazi sympathies would be exposed in the West German press.
In a March 1958 memo to the CIA, the West German foreign intelligence services (BND) wrote that Eichmann, a top Gestapo official who helped orchestrate the mass murder of Jews, "is reported to have lived in Argentina under the alias CLEMENS since 1952." The memo also mentioned a rumor that Eichmann lived in Jerusalem.
In fact, Eichmann was in Argentina and was using the name Ricardo Klement -- but apparently neither the CIA nor the West Germans acted on the information, Naftali said.
"Tragically, at the moment the CIA and the BND had this information the Israelis were temporarily giving up their search for Eichmann in Argentina because they could not figure out his alias," Naftali wrote in an analysis of the documents.
Eventually, Israeli Mossad agents abducted Eichmann in Buenos Aires on May 11, 1960. He was tried in Jerusalem, sentenced to death and hanged on May 31, 1962.
Robert Wolfe, a former federal archivist and an expert on captured German records, said the new CIA documents illustrate the "sorry results" of recruiting former Nazi intelligence personnel to U.S. efforts to keep the Soviet Union in check.
"The alleged intelligence those recruits peddled was mostly hearsay and gossip designed to tell their American interrogators what they wanted to hear, in the hope of escaping retribution for past crimes, or for mercenary gain, or for political agendas not necessarily compatible with American national interests," Wolfe said.