At least 1,000 former Nazis, and likely many more, spied on behalf of the United States at the height of the cold war, The New York Times reported Monday, ahead of the release of a book on the matter by one of its reporters.
Eric Lichtblau's “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men” is due to come out on Tuesday. The book records how U.S. law enforcement and intelligence leaders like FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and CIA director Allen Dulles heavily recruited former Nazis, favoring their value to provide intelligence on suspected Communists over moral drawbacks of hiring potential war criminals.
The CIA even hired one spy after concluding he probably committed "minor war crimes," according to the report. The extent of the collaboration ran so deep that the FBI withheld information from the Justice Department about suspected Nazis living in the United States, some of them still in the service of the bureau, The New York Times reports.
One bureau official was quoted as justifying the refusal to hand over information based on the need for "protecting the confidentiality of such courses of information to the fullest possible extent."
The Times cites examples such as Otto von Bolschwing, an SS officer who was a mentor and top aide to Adolf Eichmann; Aleksandras Lileikis, who the CIA linked to the machine-gun massacres of 60,000 Jews in Lithuania. Von Bolschwing was allowed to relocate with his family to New York City in 1954, according to records, as "a reward for his loyal postwar service and in view of the innocuousness of his [Nazi] party activities," wrote the agency. The CIA also assured von Bolschwing that it would not disclose his ties to Eichman after Israel abducted the architect of the Final Solution and he became worried that he might be next. Lileikis, who was naturalized in 1976, was eventually deported, but not before the CIA hid its knowledge of his past activities from lawmakers, according to the report.
None of the spies in question is alive, but the dubious role of the United States in becoming one of the world's biggest safe havens for Nazi criminals, remains a burning issue.
Richard Breitman, a Holocaust scholar at American University, who was part of a team appointed by the U.S. government to declassify war-crime records, said intelligence officials rarely considered morality when recruiting ex-Nazis.
"This all stemmed from a kind of panic, a fear that the Communists were terribly powerful and we had so few assets,” he said, according to the Times.
“U.S. agencies directly or indirectly hired numerous ex-Nazi police officials and East European collaborators who were manifestly guilty of war crimes,” said Norman Goda, a University of Florida historian who puts the numbers at much higher than 1,000. "Information was readily available that these were compromised men."
The CIA declined to comment for the article.
While the article notes the CIA knew of Lileikis's complicity in the mass murder of Jews, a classified memo to the House Intelligence Committee in 1995 denied such knowledge.
“There is no evidence,” the CIA wrote, “that this Agency was aware of his wartime activities.”
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