Intelligence Agency's Murky Past The Nazi Criminals Who Became German Spooks
Part 2: KGB Exploited Agents' Pasts
The former Wehrmacht general soon oversaw several thousand employees, funded and overseen by the Americans. The only stipulation was that he had to make sure not to hire any war criminals. This was due less to moral reasons, however, than to concerns that Nazi murderers would be susceptible to Soviet blackmail.
At the same time, the US Army wanted the Germans to find out about Soviet agents' activities in the American occupied zone. The so-called Agency 114, set up for this purpose, became one of the main points of entrance for Nazi criminals, as former BND employee Hans-Hennig Crome explains.
Indeed, Crome knows what he's talking about. In the 1960s, on Gehlen's orders, he collected material on BND employees with Nazi backgrounds, after several of them, including Johannes Clemens, the "Tiger of Como," were revealed to be Soviet spies. The BND suspected the KGB might also have used other employees' pasts to coerce them into turning on the German intelligence agency.
The young Crome came across Alfred Benzinger, who was nicknamed "der Dicke" ("Fatty"). A former sergeant with the Nazis' notorious Secret Field Police (GFP), Benzinger now headed Agency 114. The agency was located in a back courtyard on Gerwigstrasse in the city of Karlsruhe, behind a doorplate advertising "Zimmerle & Co.," a company supposedly specializing in roller blinds.
At Gehlen's behest, Benzinger used the counterintelligence assignment from the Americans to establish a comprehensive network of informers watching leftists and pacifists. A conservative and a nationalist, Gehlen sensed "Bolshevik Trojan horses" everywhere, "weakening Germany in preparation for a subversive takeover by Communists."
Glossing over Their Pasts
Benzinger "openly recruited" former members of the Gestapo, SS and SD, as CIA agent James Critchfield later reported. Critchfield oversaw the development of the German intelligence service. According to the CIA agent, word quickly got around among former SD members that there were jobs to be had with Gehlen.
Konrad Fiebig, who would later be charged with the murder of 11,000 Jews in Belarus, was one of these men. Another was Walter Kurreck from the SS death squad Einsatzgruppe D, who was responsible for tens of thousands of murders. Many of these men made statements attesting to one another's trustworthiness, while glossing over their own pasts. A mission to commit murder with an SS unit, for example, might be euphemistically described as a "regular group deployment to the front."
Some at the BND are secretly hoping the historical commission will find that headquarters in Pullach did know at the time about these SD and SS connections, but was unaware of its own employees' crimes. That outcome would also exonerate those who held political responsibility -- meaning Adenauer.
That hope is unlikely to come true, however. As Critchfield wrote, Gehlen viewed hiring possible criminals as "an acceptable political risk," apparently due to the good relations Gehlen enjoyed with Hans Globke, Adenauer's chief of staff.
Fewer Nazis than in Most Ministries
Gehlen had nothing to fear from Globke or Adenauer. As the CIA reported prior to the German government's 1956 takeover of the Gehlen Organization, the government was no longer concerned with "former Nazi and SS-types," in the CIA's words.
If there was ignorance on the matter, it was only because no one wanted to know -- not Gehlen, not Adenauer, not Globke and presumably many others as well.
As Gehlen once told the CIA, his agency employed, in percentage terms, fewer former SS and SD members "than most ministries."
The ministries he meant were those of the German government in Bonn.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein.
- Part 1: The Nazi Criminals Who Became German Spooks
- Part 2: KGB Exploited Agents' Pasts