The annual VE Day – victory in Europe – celebrations held this month see, as usual, Western governments indulging in self-glory and moral superiority for their supposed defeat of German fascism. However, the official history books do not tell of the secret pact that Western governments and Washington in particular formed with the remnants of the Nazi war machine.
The absorption of Nazi military practice and intelligence into the CIA and other Western organizations at the end of the Second World War had fateful and far-reaching pernicious consequences – consequences that are becoming more and more manifest today, as US-led wars of aggression rage around the world.
If we want to understand why US-led wars of aggression, covert and overt, are plaguing the planet, from Iraq, Afghanistan, to Libya, Syria and Iran, we can gain much insight into today’s problems by going back to events at the end of the Second World War.
Within days of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender to the Allies – 68 years ago this week – the Western powers of the United States and Britain were already drawing the battle lines for their next war – against the Soviet Union.
On 22 May 1945, the Third Reich’s chief of intelligence on the Eastern Front, Major General Reinhard Gehlen, surrendered himself to the American military near his Bavarian hideout. The Americans quickly realized the scoop. Gehlen had been Hitler’s “spy master” during Nazi Germany’s war on the Soviet Union, in charge of running agents, death squads and compiling data on Soviet and Red Army infrastructure.
Gehlen prepared well for his surrender to the Americans. He traded his copious intelligence assets for liberty, instead of being handed over as a wanted war criminal to the Soviets, as the Americans should have done as part of an agreement hammered out between the Allies at the Yalta conference weeks before the war’s end. The Soviets wanted Gehlen and his high-value files, and they knew that the Americans were breaking their word.
Hitler’s spy master was not only given his liberty. He was flown to Washington and was received with open arms by President Truman’s top intelligence brass. For the next year, Gehlen worked with American military intelligence to establish an anti-Soviet clandestine army that would operate throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltics and inside Russian territory. The Gehlen Organization, as it became known, was Washington’s “eyes and ears” on the Soviet Union.
One of Gehlen’s closest American associates at the time was Allen Dulles, who led the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Europe during the war. Dulles shared Gehlen’s rabid anti-communist views. Justifying the American collaboration with this senior Third Reich officer, Dulles said: “He’s on our side, and that’s all that matters.” The OSS would soon evolve into the Central Intelligence Agency and Dulles became its director.
While the Nuremberg Trials were prosecuting a handful of high-profile Nazi leaders, such as Hermann Goring and Rudolf Hess, the glaring but lesser-known contradiction to the much-vaunted “de-Nazification” was that the US was recruiting thousands of Nazi scientists, industrialists, militarists and intelligence.
The Gehlen Org was a foundation stone of the CIA and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). A central part of the American deal with Reinhard Gehlen was that he not only supplied all his intelligence files on the Soviet Union, but he also rendered the services of his contacts and operatives among the Wehrmacht’s vast Eastern Front.
The Americans and British turned a blind eye as thousands of former Nazi personnel were quietly released from POW camps or brought in from hiding to join the ranks of the Gehlen Org. They included wanted war criminals and former members of the Gestapo, Waffen-SS and Einsatzgruppen – the mobile killing squads that had carried out mass exterminations in the Nazi onslaught against the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa (1941-44).
According to Christopher Simpson in his book, Blowback, notorious Nazi death squad figures, such as Klaus Barbie, Franz Six and Emil Augsberg were afforded “rat lines” to escape from justice and become re-employed to serve American and NATO military intelligence against the Soviet Union in what became the Cold War.
For years after the Second World War, the Gehlen Org’s remit was to run espionage, sabotage and assassination operations – state-sponsored terrorism – on behalf of the American CIA and NATO behind enemy lines in the Soviet territories, stretching from the Balkans to the Black Sea. Thousands of other Nazi war criminals were spirited out of Europe with American oversight to take up residence in South America.
Some of them would resurface as key players in American-backed fascist dictatorships in South and Central America during the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
One consequence of the US incorporating the Nazi war machine was the deep-chilling effect on Western-Soviet relations. The Soviet Union had borne the brunt of Nazi aggression during the Second World War, with as many as 50 million of its citizens killed. It is not hard to imagine how the redeployment by the US of Nazi spies, intelligence, commandos and Eastern European puppets must have appeared then to Moscow. It was an unspeakable betrayal and de facto declaration of war by its former war-time ally.
This Western betrayal set the scene for the Cold War that would haunt international relations for nearly six decades from the end of the Second World War. Gehlen would go on to become head of West German intelligence (BND) until his decorated retirement in 1968. He died in 1979 at the age of 77.
The reliance of the CIA, the Pentagon, White House and NATO on the Nazi war machine for its intelligence ensured that a deadly nuclear arms race took hold. The result was the growth of the gargantuan American military-industrial complex, which today not only threatens the rest of the world with hyper destructive power, but also the viability of American society from the exorbitant economic cost for maintaining this voracious complex.
Another result was that the rabid anti-communist ideology and military practices of the Nazi apparatus became embedded in American foreign policy and military doctrine.
It is ironic that every year the American and Western European governments commemorate VE Day – victory in Europe – when the army of the Third Reich surrendered on 8-9 May, 1945. Washington and its Western allies claim that they saved the world from fascism, and for decades Western governments have lived off that supposed glorious victory. The moral authority that these governments have derived seems wholly undeserved given the expedient alliance they forged out of the ashes of the war with the cutting edge of German fascism.
In reality, no sooner had the Nazi war machine capitulated, when it was promptly used as the foundation for American and Western military intelligence and counterinsurgency establishments.
When we survey the carnage of criminal wars of aggression by the US and its NATO allies since the official end of the Cold War, including the genocides in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and currently in Syria, not to mention large swathes of Asia and Africa, it is worth bearing in mind the moral corruption at the heart of these governments that can be traced back to end of the Second World War. Today, more than ever, America’s clandestine partnership with the Nazi war machine is increasingly made manifest.