On October 26, The New York Times published an article on the close ties between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and ex-Nazis after World War II. This wasn’t news, except for the fact that there were more Nazis poached by the CIA and other intelligence services, then brought to the US, and protected from prosecution than had previously been reported. The number is estimated to be about 1000, but with plenty of documentation still classified, odds are there were still more than that picked up during the short window between Nazis as public enemy number one, and communists becoming the graver menace.
The Times piece also revealed that the CIA hid their precious assets from Nazi hunters and prosecutors trying to deport then-old men in the 1980s and even into the ‘90s. Most disturbing, one of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann’s little buddies, Otto von Bolschwing, was protected until 1982, when he conveniently died of a brain disorder before he could be deported or prosecuted.
Famously, Nazi rocket scientists were picked up by America to prevent their expertise from falling into Soviet hands. Maybe an exception to the prickly feeling that letting heinous war criminals off the hook is not what America was supposed to be doing when it won the good war in a heroically-sepia montage could be made for geniuses like Wernher Von Braun. Von Braun was a rocket scientist and "honorary" SS member under the Nazis, and he helped America get to the moon (which is neat, so that apparently makes his debated level of involvement/enthusiasm for the party acceptable.) What exactly did von Bolschwing contribute to America after happily joining the SS in 1933 to make ignoring his crimes worthwhile? He was a CIA agent in Europe, basically. He might have been a useful spy, or a useless one. Who knows. Plenty of the ex-Nazis turned out to be unpleasant and unreliable, according to the article.
More alarming still is the description of von Bolschwing’s panic when Mossad agents snatched Eichmann from Argentina, to bring him to trial in Israel in 1961. The CIA, it seems, assured him he would be safe in America. No Nazi hunters would come make him pay for his crimes – or "embarrass the US" – not while the agency could use Bolschwing to presumably win the Cold War.
What’s the purpose of this kind of grim revelation? There are several. One, they diminish the moral high ground about the Second World War that the US clings to desperately to this day. Yes, everyone who isn’t literally Adolph Hitler gets to feel pretty good about themselves, so anyone not allied with Hitler must be doing the right thing. Yet, helping to plan the Final Solution is forgivable if the CIA really wants you around.
Another more contemporary reason to be horrified by this revelation is that it is just one outrage of many. Sharing the CIA’s dark corner is most of the other big-name, secretive agencies. For the past 18 months, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) massive campaign of spying has been big news. Less prominent were stories that suggest the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are also playing the part of secretive, unaccountable rulers.
The Times piece actually implicates J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI nearly as heavily as it does the CIA. In 1960, the FBI had 432,000 files on Americans. Hoover may not have owned presidents quite as much as his reputation suggests, but he had plenty of potentially embarrassing secrets to share about his enemies. And the FBI is still out of control. Many of the terrorist plots they heroically stopped in the past several years involved entrapment of gullible, lost idiots. Some of them really were purely manufactured by the agency, which last year patted itself on the back for going 20 years without an officially unjust shooting of a suspect.
As great as Edward Snowden’s leaks were for shedding light on the abuses of power within the NSA – and for actually getting them into the damn media for months at a time! – the problem of intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies doing whatever the hell they want dates back to the dawn of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
This week, Techdirt pointed to a shiny new book by Michael Glennon which details the extent to which unelected bureaucrats are more in charge than the officials we elect every four or six years. The book is called National Security and Double Government, which is not an encouraging title at all. Glennon, who has plenty of non-tinfoil-hat-chops, is echoing comments by folks like John Kerry who say some of these spy apparatuses are "on autopilot." Obama, too, may be purely Captain Renault shocked – shocked! – about the gambling going on, but a more frightening proposition than that is if the NSA really is handling its own accountability without even presidential oversight.
We don’t need in-depth revelations about Nazi involvement with national security to be concerned about what federal agencies are doing when no lights shine on them. But the Nazi thing sure doesn’t help engender trust that anyone is watching these powerful, secret groups, or that they have any guiding moral principles at all.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and a columnist for VICE.com. She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at www.thestagblog.com.