Much like poor put-upon Patty Hearst, America is generally a nice lady with unfortunate taste in friends. Over the years, we’ve thrown our lot in with dictatorial theocrats, mafia hitmen, Nazi doctors, fascist terrorists, and every other kind of nasty bastard short of Satan himself (though some would argue that assertion). As an exercise in humility, I occasionally try to point out such assholery and am typically met with pointed silence. It’s like bringing up an ex-boyfriend who once passed out and pissed himself at a party. We all know it happened, but no one wants to talk about it.
Thus, in the interest of uncomfortable remembrance, I’ll try present a running tally of people America really should have ignored. Here’s the first:
Around the time the US government was grabbing up Nazi scientists by the armful, it was taking its first hesitant steps toward the greatest dick-measuring contest in the history of the world. I am speaking, of course, about the Cold War. Truman and Stalin had barely finished stomping Germany a new one when they extracted their boots from Berlin and aimed them at each other’s asses.
For those of you who have never been in a dick-measuring contest (there must be a least a couple of you out there, right?) the one thing you never want to do is actually measure dicks. It’s just bad strategy. Once the flies are undone, the best you can hope for is to awkwardly stare at another dude’s junk. At worst, you find out that his is actually bigger. So instead of measuring, you posture and brag and threaten to whip it out. More importantly, you spread rumors about your manhood’s prodigious dimensions whilst simultaneously surveying your opponent’s most intimate acquaintances for insider info re: his package.
Unfortunately for the world’s newest superpower, its intelligence agencies were deeply enmeshed in Western Europe and the Pacific. The US had little to no espionage resources that would let it get a peek at Stalin’s pecker. (The metaphor might be falling apart at this point. Let’s move on.) Providence provided, however. It just so happened that a substantial spy network already existed on the Eastern front: the one the Nazis left behind.
Enter Reinhard Gehlen. During the war, Gehlen was a Generalmajor, the highest rank attainable in the German army, and Hitler’s chief spymaster on the Eastern front. He managed to achieve such a lofty post despite having played a minor role in an assassination attempt on Hitler. (The one from that Tom Cruise movie. You know what I’m talking about.) At least that’s what he claimed in his memoirs. It’s entirely possible that he made it up, given that he was Hitler’s goddamn spymaster. Just saying.
Gehlen was captured by US forces in mid-1945. True to Nazi-spy form, he immediately began negotiating for his release. He turned over all of his intelligence archives, gave up his entire spy network, and even outed a few OSS officers as Communists. He was just that kind of guy. US Army Intelligence was so gosh-darned delighted that they released him in 1946 with a mandate to get back to work. Operating out of West Germany, Gehlen established his own personal network of 350 hand-picked ex-Nazis and got busy selling information to the Allies. The organization was informally known as the Gehlenapparat (Gehlen Organization) to the Germans involved. US Army Intel officially named it “Operation Rusty”, for no apparent reason.
“Rusty” did good business, pulling in $2.5 million a year from its inception. (This is in 1946 “movies-cost-a-nickel” dollars.) For comparison, the Strategic Services Unit (an interim agency that transitioned the wartime OSS into the peacetime CIA) had an operating budget of around $400,000. That wad of cash bought “little new or particularly valuable information,” according to the CIG (Yet another precursor to the CIA). In fact, the Gehlenapparat was generally panned by every domestic intelligence agency from its inception. The reasons for this are several, but they generally fall into three main complaints.
Firstly, Nazis adhere to Nazi philosophy (that’s why it’s called that), which incorporates concepts of racial superiority. Besides being completely dickish, the “master race” idea is not congruent with reality, leading its adherents to underestimate their opponents. For instance, German intelligence drastically underestimated the capabilities of the Soviet T-34 tank, assuming that Slavs simply couldn’t build as good a tank as the German Panzer. This is a lot like assuming that Oscar de la Hoya can’t kick your ass because he’s Hispanic. It’s just dumb. The ginormous cock-up helped stall the Germans at Stalingrad and turn the tide of the entire war.
Secondly, Nazis weren’t exactly winning any popularity contests in Eastern Europe circa 1946. Their personal histories left them wide open to blackmail. I don’t know about you, but when I’m trying to hire foreign espionage agents, I try to avoid the ones that are all blackmailey.
Rounding out the why-Nazis-make-shitty-spies trifecta is a little dustup some people refer to as World War II. Apparently, no one in Army Intelligence noticed it. The Allies had just finished curb-stomping these guys across Europe. Sure, Nazis hated Russian Communists, but they weren’t necessarily keen on buddying up to the Amerikaners either.
There are other reasons why Nazis were a bad choice for post-WWII American spies. If you really want to pare it down, though, all of these reasons can be reduced to one: because they were fucking Nazis. Nothing about these guys made them good spies. By many accounts, they were less like an intelligence organization and more like an alumni association. “Rusty” was a great place for German officers to maintain their lifestyle and status while simultaneously avoiding the whole “crimes against humanity” thing. Gehlen filled the group with his old war buddies, eventually commanding over four-thousand former Nazi officers. Among these were several known war criminals, including Leopold von Mildenstein, former head of the SS’s Jewish Affairs department, Otto Albrecht von Bolschwing, an aide to Adolf Eichmann who helped orchestrate his “Final Solution”, Aleksandras Lileikis, who killed thousands of Jews in Lithuania, Alois Brunner, who gassed 140,000 Jews at the Drancy Interment Camp, and at least a hundred other former SS and Gestapo members. National Archives historian Robert Wolfe summarized it thusly: “US army intelligence accepted Reinhard Gehlen’s offer to furnish alleged expertise on the Red Army—and was bilked by the many mass murderers he hired.” In short, we paid a lot of money for a bag of assholes.
Now, I know what you’re saying… “Ok, so the CIA funded thousands of useless Nazi fucktards for a decade or so, but at least they kept the Ruskies out!” You would be wrong in saying that. Idiot.
The Gehelenapparat was the least secure spy corp since Get Smart. As mentioned above, the political liabilities of its members made them prime targets for blackmail from Soviet agents. The NKGB had double agents in the organization before you could say “Boris and Natasha”. Those compromised agents quickly recruited Russian moles, giving the Soviets one of their first conduits into the US intelligence community. They used Gehlen’s group as a springboard to eventually infiltrate the CIA.
The Gehlenapparat was handed over the West German government in 1955. It formed the core of the newly minted German Federal Intelligence Service a year later. The best you can say about the whole scaticane (That’s a hurricane made out… aww what the hell. You’re smart enough to get it.) is that they’re someone else’s problem now.