The CIA Recruitment of Nazis Alois Brunner and Otto von Bolschwing
Brunner and von Bolschwing
excerpted from the book
Blowback: America’s recruitment of Nazis,
and its disastrous effect on our domestic and foreign policy
by Christopher Simpson
The tough-guy ethos of most professional intelligence officers has always militated against letting conventional ethical considerations stand in the way of collecting information or carrying out special operations. “We’re not in the Boy Scouts,” as latter-day CIA Director Riehard Helms often said. “lf we’d wanted to be in the Boy Scouts we would have joined the Boy Scouts.’
By the time Allen Dulles became CIA director in 1953, almost all resistance within the CIA to using Nazi criminals to accomplish the agency’s mission seems to have evaporated…
… Nazis were never employed or protected for their own sake, but only as a means to achieve some other goal that was presumably in the interests of U.S. national security. Conversely, the fact that a man might have been a mass murderer did not by itself disqualify him from working for the agency if he was believed to be useful. And once such a person had worked for U.S. intelligence, there was inevitably pressure to protect him, if only to keep out of the public eye the operations he had been involved in.
There were occasional internal purges of former Fascists for public relations reasons from time to time during the 1950s. A series of Soviet propaganda broadsides exposing Nazis at RFE and RL in 1954 led to the dismissals or reassignments of thirteen employees. And Eberhardt Taubert, a former Goebbels ministry propagandist with anti-Semitic credentials stretching back to the 1920s, was forced to resign from the directorship of the CIA and German government-financed Peoples League for Peace and Freedom in 1955 under public pressure, even though Taubert himself claimed to have abandoned Nazi thinking. A handful of other examples along these same lines cropped up in the course of the decade.
But the fundamental decision to exploit anyone who might have something to offer to the struggle against Moscow remained untouched. This is precisely because such “pragmatism” is at the very heart of contemporary clandestine practice. Using Nazis (or the Mafia or, conversely, a church-sponsored organization of college students) was never an aberration in the minds of most intelligence operatives. This is simply the way clandestine wars are fought, they say, whether the general public likes it or not.
Still, public opinion does remain a factor, at least in the West. Gehlen’s organization benefited greatly from that fact because the CIA often turned to Gehlen when it wished to bury certain very sensitive operations even more deeply than usual. At those times his contacts among former SS and Gestapo men could be uniquely valuable. One such occasion took place in Egypt in late 1953, shortly after Solarium’s renewed approval of large-scale CIA countermeasures aimed at offsetting Soviet influence in the Mideast. There the Central Intelligence Agency bankrolled the activities of SS Sturmbannfuhrer Alois Brunner, a man considered by many to be the most depraved Nazi killer still at large.
Brunner had once been Eichmann’s top deportations expert for the entire Reich. He was a skilled administrator who specialized in driving Jews into ghettos, then systematically deporting them to the extermination camps. This was a difficult job, requiring a keen sense of the exact types of terror and psychological manipulation necessary to disarm his victims.
Brunner did not simply administer the deportations. He was a troubleshooter who rushed from Berlin to Gestapo offices throughout occupied Europe to train local Nazi satraps in how to carry out the destruction of Jews quickly and thoroughly. He did not neglect the murder of children because (as he told Berlin lawyer Kurt Schendel, who was pleading on behalf of a group of French orphans) they were “future terrorists.” Brunner studied hard for his assignment and is said to have eventually become an expert on the railway systems of Europe so that he could locate enough boxcars to carry out his mission for the fatherland. “He’s one of my best men,” Eichmann said.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center estimates that Brunner is personally implicated in the murder of 128,500 people. The French government eventually convicted him in absentia of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death. Instead of facing trial, however, Brunner was in Damascus, Syria, where he had become Gehlen’s “resident”-a post similar in authority to the CIA chief of station-shortly after the contract for the Org had been picked up by the Americans in 1946, keeping him safe from the French. His alias was “Georg Fischer.” Brunner/Fischer eventually became an important part of a CIA-financed program to train Egyptian security forces…
The story of U.S. intelligence relations with criminals such as Brunner is of necessity fragmentary, for both the CIA and Brunner himself have taken extensive measures to keep such affairs hidden. It is clear, however, that Brunner was not an exception to the rule who managed to ingratiate himself with the Americans through guile or through an oversight. There is, in fact, at least one other known case of U.S. recruitment of another SS veteran of Adolf Eichmann’s “Jewish Affairs” office, the elite committee that served as the central administrative apparatus of the Nazis’ campaign to exterminate the Jews.
That recruit’s name is Baron Otto von Bolschwing. Supremely opportunist, von Bolschwing succeeded in traversing the whole evolution of U.S. policy toward Nazi criminals. He had profited during the war from the Nazi confiscation of Jewish property, then later from the defeat of Nazi Germany itself. Von Bolschwing enlisted as a CIC informer for the Americans in the spring of 1945, and before two years were out, CIA agents in Vienna, Austria, had recognized his skills and recruited him for special work on some of the most sensitive missions the agency has ever undertaken. These included running secret agents behind the Iron Curtain and even spying on Gehlen himself on behalf of the Americans.
Von Bolschwing was deeply involved in intelligence work-and in the persecution of innocent people-for most of his adult life. He had joined the Nazi party at the age of twenty-three, in 1932, and had become an SD (party security service) informer almost immediately. In the years leading up to 1939, von Bolschwing became a leading Nazi intelligence agent in the Middle East, where he worked under cover as an importer in Jerusalem. One of his first brushes with Nazi espionage work, according to captured SS records, was a role in creating a covert agreement between the Nazis and Fieval Polkes, a commander of the militant Zionist organization Haganah, whom von Bolschwing had met through business associates in the Mideast. Under the arrangement the Haganah was permitted to run recruiting and training camps for Jewish youth inside Germany. These young people, as well as certain other Jews driven out of Germany by the Nazis, were encouraged to emigrate to Palestine. Polkes and the Haganah, in return, agreed to provide the SS with intelligence about British affairs in Palestine. Captured German records claim that Polkes believed the increasingly brutal Nazi persecution of the Jews could be turned to Zionist advantage-at least temporarily-by compelling Jewish immigration to Palestine, and that the Haganah commander’s sole source of income, moreover, was secret funds from the SS.
The cases of SS veterans like Alois Brunner and Otto von Bolschwing provide a small but documented glimpse into a broad trend of events in U.S. intelligence relations with the former “assets” of Nazi Germany’s intelligence services. By the time von Bolschwing entered the United States in 1954, his former patron, Reinhard Gehlen, had parlayed his American backing into de facto recognition as the official intelligence service of the emerging Federal Republic of Germany. CIA Director Allen Dulles liked Gehlen for the simple reason that he seemed to produce useful results. Gehlen’s intelligence assets in Eastern Europe appeared to be solid, and his contacts in the German-speaking enclaves in South America, the Middle East, and Africa were second to none. His Org also helped the United States collect signals intelligence, though his work in that area was still not up to the British standard. All these services and more, and all at what seemed a reasonable price.
If there were former SS and Gestapo men at Gehlen’s Pullach headquarters, senior members of the American intelligence community didn’t want to know enough about them to be forced to do something about it. “I don’t know if he’s a rascal,” Dulles said of Gehlen. “There are few archbishops in espionage. … Besides, one needn’t ask him to one’s club.” …