The Ratline: The US-Ustasha Connection
"... Blowback is the inevitable result. ..."
By Carl Savich
June 2, 2007
The Ratline Operation following World War II was a covered-up and censored joint venture or enterprise between the US government and accused Croatian Ustasha war criminals. The US became enmeshed in the large scale “underground railroads for Nazis” after the US Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) “hired” former Croatian Ustasha leader and alleged Bosnian Croat war criminal Monsignor Krunoslav Draganovic.
Croatian Roman Catholic priest Krunoslav Dragonovic ran “special ratlines” for the US government for US intelligence assets that were deemed too “hot” for an official connection with the US government. These hot assets were former Nazis, Ustasha leaders, Roman Catholic priests and officials, former members of the Gestapo and SS, and accused war criminals. Based on a US Justice Department report, the US knew Krunoslav Draganovic was “a high-ranking prelate within the Croatian Catholic Church” who was directly involved in the deportation or ethnic cleansing of Serbs and Jews in Croatia and Bosnia. He was stated to have been a “relocation” official in the fascist Ustasha regime of Ante Pavelic. When he realized that Nazi Germany would lose the war, he fled the NDH in 1943 and established a base in the Vatican itself from which he organized one of the largest and most important “evacuation” projects of the Cold War, Operation Ratline. He specialized in getting high level Croatian Ustasha officials, accused of committing war crimes against Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies, out of Yugoslavia.
[Videp: Croatian Nazi chief Ante Pavelic and his Bosnian Muslim Foreign Policy Minister Mehmed Alibegovic meet Hitler.]
Krunoslav Draganovic was from Travnik in Bosnia-Hercegovina, where he attended secondary school. He studied Roman Catholic theology and philosophy in Sarajevo. From 1932 to 1935, Draganovic had been a student at the Papal Oriental Institute and the Jesuit Gregorian University in Rome.
After finishing his religious studies in Rome, Draganovic returned to Bosnia where he became secretary to Sarajevo Roman Catholic Bishop Ivan Saric, known as “the hangman of the Serbs”. According to declassified CIA documents, Draganovic was known by the US to be a leading Ustasha cleric and Nazi collaborator during World War II. Draganovic was a prominent Ustasha clerical leader during the NDH regime. He was claimed to have been part of an Ustasha commission that oversaw the forced religious conversion of Orthodox Serbs to Roman Catholicism.
A US Justice Department report revealed that Draganovic himself was responsible for the mass deportation of Serbs and Jews from Croatia. The US knew Draganovic was a suspected war criminal himself implicated in the mass deportations and murders of Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia. And yet the US government hired and worked with a known suspected war criminal and Nazi collaborator.
Draganovic was the Ustasha's unofficial emissary at the Vatican and the liaison to the Vatican organization that aided war refugees. He laundered Ustasha assets after the war. In 1945, after the collapse of the NDH Ustasha regime, 288 kilograms of gold were removed from the Croatian National Bank. Much of the Ustasha assets were made up of seized property and assets of Serbs. Draganovic, known as the “Golden Priest”, used this gold to finance the escape of known Croatian Ustasha war criminals, such as the Poglavnik, Ante Pavelic, who was smuggled out through Draganovic’s Ratline to Argentina.
When it became increasingly clear that Germany would lose the war, in August, 1943, Draganovi? again went to Rome. In Rome, he was the “secretary” of the Croatian “Confraternity of San Girolamo”, a Franciscan order, which was based at the monastery of San Girolamo degli Illirici in Via Tomacelli. The college was founded in 1901 as the Pontifical Croatian College of St. Jerome, known in Italian as Pontificio Collegio Croato Di San Girolamo. San Girolamo was the hub out of which Draganovic organized the Ustasha Ratline Operation, later in conjunction with the US government.
The Ratline Operation was made up of prominent Croatian Roman Catholic Priests and Ustasha operatives: Fr. Vilim Cecelja, who had been a former Deputy Military Vicar to the Ustasha regime, Fr. Dragutin Kamber, based at San Girolamo, Monsignor Karlo Petranovic based in Genoa, and Fr. Dominic Mandic, regarded as an official Vatican representative at San Girolamo and the treasurer of the Franciscan order.
[Video: Croatian Nazi chief Ante Pavelic on an official state visit to Rome on May 22, 1941 to meet Benito Mussolini.]
The Ratline “route” began in Austria where many of the accused and escaped Croatian Ustasha war criminals and other Nazis and collaborators were in hiding, and ended in the northern Italian port city of Genoa, which was the embarkation point for many of the accused Croatian Ustasha war criminals and Nazi collaborators on their transit to South America.
Thousands of senior Ustasha leaders were able to escape by means of the Vatican in Rome. Ivo Omrcanin, a former Ustasha emissary who lived in Washington, DC after World War II, and who had been a senior aide to Draganovic, said that Vatican funds were used to allow the Ustasha fascist war crimes suspects to escape. The Vatican was footing the bill for the Ratline, was funding and financing it.
The Ustasha “refugees” the Vatican helped escape justice “included men such as Ustachi chieftain Ante Pavelic and his police minister, Andrija Artukovic, who between them had organized the murder of at least 400,000 Serbians and Jews.” Christopher Simpson concluded that because Draganovic “went to work for the Americans” in smuggling Nazis out of Europe, the US “provided a source of financing and shield of protection, in effect, for the priest’s independent Nazi smuggling work.” In other words, the US paid for and organized the escape of Ustasha war crimes suspects accused of genocide. Both the US government and the Vatican funded escape routes for accused former Nazis and Croatian Ustasha war criminals implicated in war crimes and genocide.
Draganovic was a Croatian leader of the Intermarium. The Vatican had been working with smuggling Nazis and other accused war criminals out of Europe in the Roman Catholic group Intermarium, a militant organization made up of Roman Catholics. This group later became a key source for recruiting CIA exile committees and organizations. These Intermarium members became activists or officials in the CIA’s Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberation propaganda networks and in the Assembly of Captive European Nations (ACEN), another CIA propaganda outlet.
What was the Vatican connection to the Ustasha NDH regime? NDH Poglavnik Ante Pavelic was personally received by the Pope. Ustasha Croatia was described as a “pure Catholic state”. Roman Catholics in Croatia and Bosnia were the most ardent supporters of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and the Nazi New Order in Europe.
The US government knew of the role of the Vatican in smuggling accused war criminals implicated in genocide out of Europe. In a top secret 1947 US State Department intelligence report, it was reported that “the Vatican…is the largest single organization involved in the illegal movement of emigrants.” Intermarium was “an instrument of the German intelligence,” Abwehr, according to a US Army intelligence report. The US government merely took over the functions of this pro-Nazi group.
Another way the US was able to continue the policies of Nazi Germany was by using ethnic and religious groups to undermine countries that were regarded or targeted as enemies. This policy was known as the “Captive Nations” strategy, using various ethnic groups to sow discord in target countries to destabilize the enemy country. Not surprisingly, the “captive nation” in Yugoslavia was Kosovo. US policy was to use the Albanian Muslim ethnic minority in Yugoslavia to destabilize and destroy the Yugoslav federation. The policy was rather simplistic. In fact, any ethnic or religious group that the US could exploit and manipulate became a “captive nation”. It was a win-win approach. The US could claim that it was bringing “freedom” and “democracy” whenever it sought to destabilize a target country. The CIA sponsored and funded and organized the first Assembly of Captive European Nations (ACEN) congress in New York and published a book, The Assembly of Captive European Nations. Included in this book were commentaries by Albanian Bloodstone émigré Hasan Dosti, an accused Albanian war criminal and Nazi/fascist collaborator. The CIA also recruited Midhat Frasheri, a known Albanian fascist and Nazi collaborator, the leader of the Albanian Balli Kombetar, to head the Albanian department. Frasheri was a militant sponsor of a Greater or Natural Albania that would include Kosovo-Metohija.
At first the US merely “observed” and marveled at the efficiency of Krunoslav Draganovic’s Vatican-based Ratline. In the summer of 1947, however, the US was so impressed with Draganovic that it entered into a joint project with him, “hiring” him as a US intelligence asset. A declassified US Army intelligence report from 1950 by "IB Operating Officer" Paul Lyon of the 430th Counter Intelligence Corps disclosed that the US government had begun to use Draganovic’s Ratline Operation, his established network, to “evacuate” its own “visitors”, in the summer of 1947. The visitors were suspected war criminals and Nazi collaborators which the Soviets wanted to prosecute for war crimes. US intelligence, however, determined that it could use these Croatian Ustasha war crimes suspects and former Nazis as assets during the Cold War.
The US “deal” or agreement with Draganovic consisted of getting the “visitors” to Rome. According to the report, "Dragonovich handled all phases of the operation after the defectees arrived in Rome, such as the procurement of IRO Italian and South American documents, visas, stamps, arrangements for disposition, land or sea, and notification of resettlement committees in foreign lands."
The US made a deal with Draganovic to smuggle CIC assets out of Eastern Europe. He would create false IDs, visas, transport, and other necessary documentation. In exchange, the US would help Draganovic smuggle the Ustasha alleged war criminals accused of genocide escape out of US occupied areas.
The US government knew and was fully aware that Draganovic was harboring Ustasha war crimes suspects at his church, San Girolamo, which Christopher Simpson mistakenly called “Geronimo”. CIC Special Agent Robert Mudd reported that ten major Ustasha leaders were known to be living with Draganovic at the Vatican. Monsignor Juraj Madjerec, who headed the San Girolamo monastery and who was a personal favorite of Pope Pius XII, also helped in the Ratline. Dragonovic was nominally Madjerec’s secretary.
CIC Agent Paul Lyon and Major James Milano established the initial contacts with Draganovic. George Daniel Neagoy, who would replace Lyon, would later work with Draganovic as part of the CIC Ratline Operation.
George Neagoy died on January 19, 2005 at the age of 88 of congestive heart failure. At the time of his death, he was a retired Central Intelligence Agency agent who had owned and operated restaurants in the Washington, DC area. He was born in Romania. Neagoy grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where he had owned a bar. After the start of World War II, he joined the Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC).
The Counter Intelligence Corps or CIC was an intelligence agency of the US Army. The CIC evolved out of the Corps of Intelligence Police (CIP) created in 1917 by Ralph Van Deman for action during World War I. It gained prominence during World War II and during the initial stages of the Cold War. The CIC was replaced in 1961 by the US Army Intelligence Corps. In 1967, the Corps itself was replaced by the US Army Intelligence Agency. CIC intelligence operations eventually were assumed by the Defense Intelligence Agency and US Army Intelligence and Security Command.
After the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War II, the CIP was renamed the CIC on December 13, 1941 by the Adjutant General of the US Army and membership was expanded to include 543 officers and 4,431 non-commissioned agents.
As a member of the Counterintelligence Corps, Neagoy organized the 1951 “escape” of Gestapo and SS leader Klaus Barbie from Germany to first Argentina, then Bolivia. The US government had been using Barbie as an agent since 1947. Barbie, a known Nazi Gestapo and SS officer, was on the US payroll. US agents prevented British forces from turning him over to the Nuremburg Tribunal. The US hired the known Nazi Barbie to work for US intelligence. US officials rationalized his use as vital because of his expertise and knowledge in the intelligence field. Barbie was accused of committing atrocities and war crimes in Lyons, France, during World War II, where he was known as “the Butcher of Lyons”, torturing and executing members of the French resistance. The US knowingly used a Nazi war criminal in its intelligence operations during the Cold War.
The “evacuation” of Klaus Barbie was part of Operation Ratline, whose stated goal was to “evacuate” Soviet informers and military and diplomatic defectors to “safe havens”. In actuality, the Ratline was used to get former Croatian Ustasha and Nazi accused war criminals out of Communist or Soviet-controlled countries. Croatian Ustasha and Albanian fascist and Nazi collaborators were smuggled out because they would face war crimes prosecutions. The US government wanted to use these Croatian and Albanian former Nazis and fascists as assets during the Cold War.
Neagoy personally escorted Barbie and his family in their escape, which was organized by Draganovic. Neagoy recounted: "Barbie was the only Nazi we took out. Barbie and his wife were frightened and concerned the whole trip, like a couple of scared dogs.”
Neagoy was blasé and detached about his role in helping an accused Nazi war criminal escape from justice. In 1987, Klaus Barbie was tried in France, convicted of committing “crimes against humanity”, and sentenced to life in prison. Neagoy remained unconcerned about his role in helping a Nazi war criminal escape prosecution. In intelligence work, there is never an issue of right or wrong. It is “right” if it succeeds and “wrong” if it fails. It is a very simple code of “morality”.
Neagoy joined the newly-created Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1951. He was assigned to Romania during the Cold War because of his birth there. His role was to help destabilize Romania during the Cold War. During the early 1960s, he worked in Vietnam.
From 1970 to 1989, he owned and operated Gourmet Snacks restaurants in Rosslyn and Washington and the Top of the Town restaurant in Rosslyn. He used the money he earned helping accused Croatian Ustasha war criminals and Nazi war criminals and Albanian Nazi/fascist collaborators to become a successful entrepreneur and businessman.
Neagoy had been a former board member of the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, DC. The CIC and later CIA had used an Orthodox Christian operative to help Roman Catholic accused war criminals escape prosecution and punishment for war crimes. Needless to say, the majority of the victims of the accused Croatian Ustasha war criminals and the Albanian Muslim war criminals were Orthodox Christian Serbs in Krajina, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, and Kosovo-Metohija.
The CIC refused to arrest any of the Ustasha war crimes suspects and shielded them from the UN War Crimes Commission and the Yugoslav government following World War II. Klaus Barbie used the Draganovic Ratline to escape.
[Video: Serbian children in Croatian Nazi death camps]
The Draganovic Ratline Operation was regarded as an “open secret” for the intelligence and diplomatic operatives in Rome. That is, they all knew that Draganovic was using the Vatican to help accused Croatian Ustasha Roman Catholics escape prosecution for war crimes against Serbs. Everyone also knew that the Vatican itself was shielding and helping accused war criminals escape, especially if they were Roman Catholics who were accused of killing Serbs or Communists. In August, 1945, Allied commanders in Rome were aware that San Girolamo, known as the Collegium Illiricum, was being used as a "haven" for Ustasha escapees and questioned why it was allowed to continue unhindered. A US State Department report from July 12, 1946 listed nine accused war criminals, including Croats and Albanians, "not actually sheltered in the Collegium Illiricum but who otherwise enjoy Church support and protection." Moreover, CIC Special Agent Robert Clayton Mudd disclosed in February, 1947 that 10 NDH cabinet members of Ante Pavelic's Ustasha regime were known by US intelligence to be residing in either the Vatican or in San Girolamo. Robert Mudd revealed that US intelligence had infiltrated an agent into the San Girolamo monastery and had confirmed that it was "honeycombed with cells of Ustashi operatives". Mudd described the operations of the San Girolamo Ratline in detail:
"It was further established that these Croats travel back and forth from the Vatican several times a week in a car with a chauffeur whose license plate bears the two initials CD, ‘Corpo Diplomatic’. It issues forth from the Vatican and discharges its passengers inside the Monastery of San Geronimo [sic]. Subject to diplomatic immunity it is impossible to stop the car and discover who are its passengers…. DRAGANOVIC's sponsorship of these Croat Quislings definetly [sic] links him up with the plan of the Vatican to shield these ex-Ustashi nationalists until such time as they are able to procure for them the proper documents to enable them to go to South America. The Vatican, undoubtedly banking on the strong anti-Communist feelings of these men, is endeavoring to infiltrate them into South America in any way possible to counteract the spread of Red doctrine. It has been reliably reported, for example that Dr. VRANCIC has already gone to South America and that Ante PAVELIC and General KREN are scheduled for an early departure to South America through Spain. All these operations are said to have been negotiated by DRAGANOVIC because of his influence in the Vatican."
Lyon, Draganovic, and US officials, at least as senior as the Director of US Army intelligence in Europe, were aware that Draganovic was smuggling wanted war criminals. Under the Geneva Convention International Refugee Organization (IRO) charter, Nazis and Nazi collaborators and common criminals were barred. The US was violating international law in organizing and protecting Croatian Ustasha and Albanian Nazi and fascist collaborators.
US intelligence knew very well about the role of the Croatian Ustasha regime in the mass murder of Orthodox Christian Serbs. Lyon wrote that Draganovic himself “is known and recorded as a Fascist, war criminal, etc.” Lyon also noted that Draganovic’s contacts with South American diplomats “are not generally approved” by the US State department. Moreover, Lyon reported that “some of the persons of interest to Father Dragonovic may be of interest to the DeNazification policy of the Allies,” that is, these “Displaced Persons”, or DPs, were known Nazis.
Lyon offered his self-delusional plausible denial rationale: “[T]urning over a DP to a Welfare organization falls in line with our democratic way of thinking”. The CIC was being “humanitarian” and “democratic” in smuggling Croatian Ustasha, Albanian Muslim fascists and Nazi collaborators, and Nazis and known war criminals according to this rationale. This is a total and complete perversion of logic and morality. This, however, is how US intelligence operated during the Cold War, this was the modus operandi. The US wanted to control the former Nazi intelligence and espionage networks established by the fascists and Nazis. The US also wanted to exploit the knowledge and expertise of intelligence agents who had worked for Nazi Germany and for the Nazi and fascist collaborationist states. Moreover, the US wanted to use the anti-Communist, anti-socialist, anti-left fanaticism and commitment of the former Ustasha and former Nazi assets in the evolving Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union.
Croatian Ustasha Krunoslav Draganovic, as a priest, was regarded as excellent as a CIC or CIA operative in that it allowed for deniability and the cover of the church and religious freedom. The CIC and CIA could argue that Draganovic was being persecuted on religious grounds because he was a Roman Catholic. The atheistic Communists/Bolsheviks were smearing pious and devout Father Draganovic solely because of his religion. The CIC and CIA were in a win-win scenario. They were playing the religion card, and it worked. The “visitors” would not hurt a fly. Priests and the Vatican were helping these “refugees”. What could possibly be wrong with that? Of course, while the Ratline Operations were an open secret, they were conducted secretly and their existence was officially denied.
The CIC was, however, consciously and knowingly smuggling known Nazi and Ustasha war criminals out. The US was contemptuously violating international law and cynically thumbing its nose at any critics. Robert Bishop of the IRO in Rome, who was a CIA asset and former OSS agent, helped the CIC in the Draganovic Ratline Operation by issuing fake documentation for refugees. Later, Draganovic relied on Roman Catholic Church relief agency channels for false documentation. The US was infiltrating refugee and relief agencies in order to help accused Croatian Ustasha war criminals and Nazis escape prosecution for war crimes.
Vatican historian Fr. Robert Graham has acknowledged the existence of the Draganovic Ratline and has admitted that it was used to help accused Croatian Ustasha war criminals escape prosecution for war crimes: "I've no doubt that Draganovic was extremely active in syphoning off his Croatian Ustashi friends."
According to Christopher Simpson in Blowback, “considerable evidence” exists that the CIA “assumed control of Dragonovic [sic]---the “known and recorded…Fascist, war criminal, etc.,”---in mid-1951, then maintained that relationship for the remainder of the decade.” CIC Agent George Neagoy, who had replaced Lyon, switched over to the CIA in 1951. Draganovic was of “operational interest to OSI”, US intelligence, as late as October, 1960 according to CIC records. He was “a contract agent” for US intelligence for that time, most likely the CIA.
Draganovic continued to work for Vatican relief agencies and contributed to the Ustasha exile community and contributed pro-Ustasha articles in former Ustasha official Ante Bonifacic’s publications. He also smuggled currency in Italy and Yugoslavia. In 1967, Draganovic returned voluntarily to Communist Yugoslavia. He was not tried for war crimes and his past role in the Ustasha and in the Ratlines was not criticized. This accused Ustasha war criminal, fascist, Nazi collaborator and US intelligence agent, lived a normal life in Zagreb, Croatia. He died in July, 1983 in Yugoslavia.
US sponsorship and recruitment of accused Croatian Ustasha and Albanian Muslim war criminals during the Cold War created the setting for the violent breakup and dismemberment of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. US policy was committed to using ethnicity and religion to destabilize and ultimately to destroy the Yugoslav federation. The US nurtured and sponsored ethnic and religious enmity as divisive forces to turn one ethnic and religious group against the other.
The US sponsorship of accused Croatian Ustasha war criminals and Albanian Muslim fascist and Nazi collaborators has only encouraged ultra-nationalism and ethnic and religious fanaticism. On September 10, 1976, Croatian ultra-nationalists hijacked a TWA flight at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Bomb Squad Officer Brian Murray was killed in this Croatian terrorist attack. Croatian Zvonko Busic, one of the hijackers, was later found guilty and sentenced for the death of Murray. Blowback occurred because the Ustasha “criminals saved” by Draganovic “did not simply disappear” but “established new Ustachi cells in Croatian communities abroad, in some cases headed by the same men who had once led murder squads inside wartime Croatia. This “extremist sect” was a byproduct of the “the postwar Nazi utilization program”. Ustasha ultra-nationalists and racists were “active in the United States, Australia, and several other countries, and according to reports of FBI investigations, some cells have been responsible for an airplane hijacking, bombings, extortion, numerous murders, and the assassination of several Yugoslavian diplomats over the course of the last two decades.” “U.S. Nazi operations”, such as the Draganovic ratline operations, were done secretly. The use of Nazis and Ustasha as agents by the US expanded and became more open and “flagrant” during the Cold War. The US contributed to creating an Ustasha terrorist group in the US and outside the US and contributed to creating a neo-Ustasha ultra-nationalist movement outside of Croatia. The TWA hijacking in 1976 by Croatian ultra-nationalists and the alleged plan by Albanian Muslims to kill US Marines at Fort Dix in New Jersey in 2007 demonstrate that there is a price to pay for sponsoring and recruiting accused war criminals and those implicated in crimes. We may not see the effects immediately, but over time the effects become manifest.
Blowback is the inevitable result.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carl Savich is a historian who teaches history at the college level. His articles have appeared on numerous websites and newspapers.