The Gehlen Org: From OSS to CIA
World War II, the OSS had infiltrated nearly two hundred agents into the Third
Reich--almost three times as many as had been sent by Britain. Its operatives
were inserted into almost every militarily significant city from Vienna to
Berlin, Munich to Bremen. In all, over 70 cities had been salted with OSS spy
teams by war's end.
casualties had been heavy, but not exorbitant. Of the total number of agents
that worked behind German lines, only thirty-six had been killed or captured.
And of these, the majority were lost in the waning days of the war in the
vicinity of the Last Redoubt of Bavaria. It was at this time that almost every
civilian found on the road by the Gestapo was detained and questioned as to
why they were not in uniform for the Fatherland, or at least under arms in a
home defense unit. Even the best cover stories provided to the young OSS
agents might fail such a test. Many did.
the organization as a whole was remarkable in its conception, implementation
and execution. The bravery of the field teams was beyond question. They were a
necessary entity, brought about by drastic circumstances. But after Germany
surrendered, the need for specially trained spy-commandos was considered by
the White House to be nil. In fact, Truman considered the OSS a peacetime
a letter to General Donovan, he wrote: "I want to take this occasion to
thank you for the capable leadership you have brought to a vital wartime
activity in your capacity as Director of Strategic Services. You may well find
satisfaction in the achievements of the Office and take pride in your own
contribution to them." He then promptly took steps to abolish the
service, dividing the few necessary peacetime functions between the State
Department and the War Department.
from the ashes rose a new organization. One much more powerful--and sinister.
And it would be an organization that would grow much faster than anyone could
ever dream. For a very good reason.
April 1, 1945, a convoy of eleven trucks wound its way through Bavaria,
traveling south from Berlin, away from the advancing Red Army who was at that
moment conducting their own blitzkrieg through eastern Germany. Aboard
the trucks were hand-picked German intelligence officers who guarded a very
special cargo. Inside crates that had been carefully stacked and hidden under
the canvas tops of the trucks were the most valued prizes of the head of
German military intelligence: the files on Russia.
purpose of the convoy was not to transport the documents to the Last Redoubt,
but to remove them from harm's way altogether for use as future bargaining
chips with the advancing Allies. For the files, which were the fruit of five
years of intensive intelligence gathering on Russia, were now the personal
property of a youthful 40 year-old general named Reinhard Gehlen. And with
them, he planned on bargaining his way to a very special arrangement--with the
Gehlen, known as Hitler's spy master, had overseen a huge organization of more
than 3500 spies scattered throughout both Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
His top officers, Nazi zealots who had committed some of the most atrocious
crimes of the war, had proven very effective in their efforts to extract
information from prisoners and insert agents into Russia. The spies that were
sent into the Soviet Union infiltrated not only the Red Army, but even the
Soviet General Staff. The records Gehlen had amassed over the previous four
years would be invaluable to the Allies--especially a select group of very
interested Americans. Now it was only a question of saving the files and
making the proper contacts on the American side. Gehlen was confident a
suitable arrangement could be made for not only himself, but his organization.
had been planning this move for months. He noted in his memoirs that,
"Early in 1944 I told my more intimate colleagues that I considered the
war lost and we must begin thinking of the future...and plan for the
prepare they did. Within the crates were documents that detailed roads,
bridges, factories, military installations, airfields, water supplies,
communications sites and virtually every item of interest inside Russia and
the satellite countries to a military planner. But of more interest were the
hundreds of files he had amassed on the personnel at the top of the Soviet
military machine including the Soviet High Command. Much of this information
was derived by interrogation, torture and starvation of selected officers and
soldiers of some four million prisoners taken on the Eastern Front. Those who
did not cooperate were summarily executed. Those that did were often executed
afterwards when they were deemed of no further value. It was for these reasons
that Gehlen and his officers were adamant about being captured by American
forces. If they were taken by the Russians, they knew what would happen to
months before Germany surrendered, Gehlen made his move. Along with a group of
his most trusted senior officers, he microfilmed the vast horde of documents
and had them sealed in water-tight metal drums. These drums were covertly
removed from army headquarters in Berlin and transported to secret cache sites
throughout the Austrian Alps. It was well for Gehlen that this effort was
made. For when the convoy of trucks transporting the hard copies of the files
reached central Germany, the convoy was spotted by Soviet planes and bombed.
Five of the eleven trucks were destroyed, and with them, the files they
and his officers, after abandoning Berlin to make their way toward Switzerland
and the Americans, were--according to official history--indeed fortunate. When
they finally found an American unit to surrender to, instead of running into a
by-the-book American officer who might have offered them up to the Russians in
accordance with the Yalta agreements, they encountered Captain John Bokor.
Boker, who was described as a pragmatist who regarded the Soviets as the next
potential enemy, impressed Gehlen as a person who, "...had no illusions
about the way political events were turning. We became close friends."
according to Gehlen's memoirs, ignored official policy. When he found out
about the secret caches of records, he allegedly decided on his own to keep
the matter confidential and quietly work to hand Gehlen, the records and the
men of Gehlen's spy network over intact to the OSS. Then, according to Gehlen,
Bokor quietly went around removing the names of Gehlen's men from the rosters
of war criminals. Once this was accomplished, Gehlen turned part of his
records over to Bokor who promptly spirited them away from the interrogation
center without even Military Intelligence knowing of their existence. Within
ninety days Boker had direct liaisonCand the personal support of--General
Walter Bedell Smith, Chief of Staff of the Allied Supreme Command (who later
headed the CIA), and General Edwin Sibert, the highest ranking military
intelligence officer in Europe. Quite a feat for a mere captain.
the same time, Gehlen's existence in Allied hands quite coincidentally became
known to General "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the OSS, and his
station chief in Europe, Allen Dulles. In August, Gehlen and three assistants
were covertly flown to Washington and secreted away at Camp David for
interviews with both Military Intelligence and the OSS. Apparently the OSS
offered the best deal, for within a eighteen months the Gehlen Org,
resurrected from the original Nazi spy network, had been installed in West
Germany to act as the eyes and ears of the newly-created CIA.
story that Captain Bokor, using great foresight and planning, managed all of
these feats of clandestine operations on his own is too incredible to be true.
It is not probable that a company-grade officer would risk his career to
protect a Nazi war criminal, or put himself personally in jeopardy by wantonly
violating international agreements. In any normal case, such activity would
earn him a courts martial. It is even more improbable that Gehlen would
stumble into the one American in a thousand that would quickly see the value
in what Gehlen purported to offer and immediately begin work to protect not
only Gehlen, but his officers.
is more believable is that Gehlen had made these arrangements far in advance.
By using certain trusted contacts within the German High Command who had both
pre-war and current business dealings across national boundaries, Gehlen had
coordinated a deal with a specified contact within the American intelligence
community. Namely Allen Dulles.
knew Gehlen was coming. In April, one month before the war ended, and
forty-five days before Gehlen surrendered to Bokor, Dulles ordered an aide to
begin talks with the German general through intermediaries in Berlin.
the Paperclip scientists were setting up shop in the U.S., Reinhard Gehlen
began reestablishing his presence in West Germany. His organization, the Gehlen
Org, quickly regained control of the majority of his former agents inside
the Iron Curtain, and with the help of many of his former staff, put them back
to work. Though he agreed not to hire any former Gestapo, SS or SD members, he
sought them out and put them on the payroll--the CIA's
payrollCregardless of his promise. And the CIA did not stop him.
his recruits were Dr. Franz Six and Emil Augsburg. Six and Augsburg had been
members of an SS mobile Death's Head killing squad that hunted down and killed
Soviet Jews, intellectuals and partisans wherever they could be found. Six was
known as a Streber, or Eager Beaver, for the enthusiastic manner in
which he pursued his job. Gehlen also recruited the former Gestapo chiefs of
Paris, France, and Kiel, Germany. Then, that not being enough, he hired Willi
Krichbaum, the former senior Gestapo leader for southeastern Europe.
was pleasantly surprised by what happened next. His new employer, the OSS, not
only encouraged but financed an escape mechanism set up by Gehlen for former
Nazis. The Gehlen Org established, with OSS help, "rat lines" to
provide an underground escape network to be used by former war criminals to
escape prosecution by German war crimes tribunals. By way of this
organization, over 5,000 Nazis secretly made their way out of Europe to
relocate around the globe.
went to South and Central America. The countries of choice were Argentina,
Chile, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Within a few years after their arrival in
these particular countries, the infamous right-wing government "death
squads" made their first appearances. Of note in the expatriate community
were such characters as Dr. Joseph Mengele, who specialized in crude genetic
experiments on Jewish concentration camp inmates, and mass murderer Klaus
Barbie, the infamous "Butcher of Lyons."
to some sources, former OSS officer James Jesus Angleton, who later became CIA
Chief of Intelligence, was the man responsible for providing the Nazis with
new identities before their departure from the detainment camps. Angleton
worked directly for Dulles.[ii]
satisfy his new employers, Gehlen realized that he had to produce information
that was of value to Washington. He also realized that for an intelligence
organization to be of value, and to justify a large budget, it had to have an
entity that was considered a deadly threat to spy on. He knew that the
Americans had little knowledge concerning both the Russians as a military
machine, and what activities were transpiring behind the Iron Curtain. The Red
Menace would fit the requirement of the ominous threat nicely. All Gehlen had
to do was paint as bleak a picture of the situation as he could, and continue
creating reports that indicated that the scenario was continually
deteriorating. The more bad news he gave Washington, the more money he would
have to work with. He knew that in peacetime, the only way to justify a large
intelligence organization was to make sure there was always "an enemy at
He began by feeding information to Dulles--and consequently to Truman--that appeared to show that the Russians were poised to attack the West. He reported that the Soviet forces in eastern Europe were comprised of 208 crack assault divisions, most of which were high-speed capable motorized rifle and tank divisions. Such figures showed that the Communists outnumbered the Western forces by a ratio of ten-to-one.
in early 1947, he reported to the fledgling CIA that his agents had noted
subtle changes in Soviet billeting and leave policies, and that troops were
being recalled for some unspecified reason. He alluded that this could be the
beginning of a preparation phase for the suspected invasion.
was followed by Gehlen's prediction that the Russians would move quickly once
all troops and equipment had been activated and put into position for attack.
It wouldn't be long until there was a Soviet blitzkrieg.
actual fact, Gehlen's information could not have been further from the truth.
By 1946, the Red Army was an over-extended, under-equipped, and exhausted
force of combat-riddled units. Many of the battalions that had reached Berlin
had done so on foot. There was not even sufficient motor transport to move one
entire division without depriving another of its motorized assets. Almost half
of the Red Army's transport was horse drawn. In addition to this, U.S.
Army Intelligence had established that the majority of Soviet forces in
Eastern Europe was bogged down in rebuilding the eastern zones, reorganizing
security structures, and performing governmental administrative functions.
According to the intelligence estimate, the Soviet ground and air forces would
not be combat effective against the Western powers for at least the next
10:1 Russian superiority figure that Gehlen referred to was unrealistic from
the beginning. Gehlen well knew, as did Dulles and the other veteran OSS
agents, that the Soviet divisional structure was far less in numerical
manpower than its U.S. equivalent. A Soviet division was typically one third
as strong as an American division. And its leadership was far less effective.
Instead of being able to function in combat with flexibility by making
on-the-spot field expedient decisions, the Soviet officers had to wait for
orders from upper echelon before reacting to a change in the flow of battle.
This fact in itself often caused the Soviets grievous losses, and even
defeats, during land battles. The U.S. forces, on the other hand, encouraged
battlefield decisions during the heat of conflict to be made at the lowest
the OSS--and the follow-on CIG (Centrel Intelligence Group which replaced the
OSS)Cchose to conveniently believe Gehlen. Over 70% of the reports submitted
to Washington on CIA stationary were simply Gehlen's words. According to a
former CIA officer, "Gehlen's reports and analyses were sometimes simply
retyped onto CIA stationary and presented to President Truman without further
results of such activities were exactly what the intelligence communityCand
the militaryCwanted. Truman ceased cutting the military budget; increased
spending for weapons research, military equipment, aircraft and the space
program; ordered an increase in the development and construction of nuclear
weapons; and most importantly to the young CIA, began pumping millions of
dollars into the "black" budget for covert operations. In the ten
years that followed the war, the CIA consumed over $200 million dollars of
funds that did not have to be accounted for.
to Victor Marchetti, former chief analyst on Soviet military capabilities and
author of The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, "The agency loved
Gehlen because he fed us what we wanted to hear. We used his stuff constantly,
and we fed it to everybody else: the Pentagon; the White House; the newspapers.
They loved it." Marchetti further explained, "Gehlen had to make his
money by creating a threat that we were afraid of, so we would give him more
money to tell us about it. In my opinion, the Gehlen organization provided
nothing worthwhile for understanding or estimating Soviet military or political
capabilities in Eastern Europe or anywhere else."
final result of all these cloak-and-dagger exercises was a reputed Cold War that
lasted for almost half a century, and cost American taxpayers alone over $8 trillion
intelligence gathering had become big business--profitable to not only the
growing intelligence organizations, but to the defense industry and the
investors who financed both it and the government.
[i]. Covert Action, Fall 1990.
[ii]. Covert Action, Winter 1986.
[iii]. Blowback; America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effect on the Cold War, by Christopher Simpson, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), 1988.< ABOUT CRAIG ROBERTS BOOKS BY CRAIG ROBERTS >