1964: The Warren Commission 1940-1945: The Nazi Connection to Dallas: General Reinhard Gehlen
The sparrow-faced man in the battle uniform of an American general clambered down the steps of the U.S. Army transport plane upon its arrival at Washington National Airport. It was August 24, 1945, two weeks after the surrender of Japan, three months after the German capitulation. The general was hustled into a van with no windows and whisked to Fort Hunt outside the capital. There he was attended by white-jacketed orderlies and, the next morning, fitted with a dark-grey business suit from one of Washington's swankiest men's stores.
General Reinhard Gehlen was ready to cut a deal.
Reinhard Gehlen had been, up until the recent capitulation, Adolph Hitler's chief intelligence officer against the Soviet Union. His American captors had decked him out in one of their uniforms to deceive the Russians, who were hunting him as a war criminal. Now U.S. intelligence was going to deploy Gehlen and his network of spies against the Russians. The Cold War was on.
This is a story of how key nazis, even as the Wehrmacht was still on the offensive, anticipated military disaster and laid plans to transplant nazism, intact but disguised, in havens in the West. It is the story of how honorable men, and some not so honorable, were so blinded by the Red menace that they fell into lockstep with nazi designs. It is the story of the Odd Couple Plus One: the mob, the CIA and fanatical exiles, each with its own reason for gunning for Kennedy. It is a story that climaxes in Dallas on November 22, 1963 when John Kennedy was struck down. And it is a story with an aftermath -- America's slide to the brink of fascism. As William L. Shirer, author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, put it in speaking of the excesses of the Nixon administration, "We could become the first country to go fascist through free elections."
Photo by Wide World
General Reinhard Gehlen, shown (center) in a rare photograph taken during WWII.
Even Robert Ludlum would have been hard put to invent a more improbable espionage yam. In the eyes of the CIA Reinhard Gehlen was an "asset" of staggering potential. He was a professional spymaster, violently anti-Communist and, best of all, the controller of a vast underground network still in place inside Russian frontiers. His checkered past mattered not. "He's on our side and that's all that matters," chuckled Allen Dulles, a U.S. intelligence officer during the war who later headed the CIA. "Besides, one need not ask a Gehlen to one's club."
Gehlen negotiated with his American "hosts" with the cool hand of a Las Vegas gambler. When the German collapse was at hand, he had looked to the future. He lugged all his files into the Bavarian Alps and cached them at a site called, appropriately, Misery Meadows. Then he buried his Wehrmacht uniform with the embroidered eagle and swastika, donned an Alpine coat, and turned himself in to the nearest U.S. Army detachment. When the advancing Russians searched his headquarters at Zossen, all they found were empty file cabinets and litter.
The deal Gehlen struck with the Americans was not, for obvious reasons, released to the Washington Post. As Heinz Hohne and Hermann Zolling phrased it in The General Was A Spy, the German general took his entire apparatus, "unpurged and without interruption, into the service of the American superpower." There is no evidence that he ever renounced the Third Reich's postwar plan, advanced by his own family's publishing house, to colonize vast regions of Eastern Russia, create a huge famine for 40,000,000, and treat the remaining 50,000,000 "racially inferior Slavs as slaves."
Allen Dulles may not have invited such a man to his club, but he did the next best thing: he funneled an aggregate of $200 million in CIA funds to the Gehlen Organization as it became known. Directing operations from a fortress-like nerve center in Bavaria, Gehlen reactivated his network inside Russia. Soon, news of the first Russian jet fighter, the MiG-15, was channeled back to the West. In 1949 the general scored an espionage coup when he turned up Soviet plans for the remilitarization of East Germany.
When Dulles spoke, Gehlen listened. The CIA chief was convinced, along with his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, that the "captive nations" of the Soviet bloc would rise up if given sufficient encouragement. At his behest, Gehlen recruited and trained an exile mercenary force ready to rush in without involving American units. Also at Dulles' direction, Gehlen tapped the ranks of his wartime Russian collaborators for a cadre of spies to be parachuted into the Soviet Union. Some of these spies were schooled at the CIA's clandestine base at Atsugi, Japan, where, in 1957, a young Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald was posted to the U-2 spy plane operation there.
Atsugi was only one station on Oswald's Far East intelligence route; he was also at the U-2 base at Subic Bay in the Philippines and, for a short while, at Ping-Tung. Taiwan In 1959 he was transferred to a Marine base at Santa Ana, California for instructions in radar surveillance. His training officer had graduated from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, which had close Agency ties. In May, 1960, when President Eisenhower was planning a summit meeting with Soviet Premier Khrushchev, a U-2 was shot down over Russia and its pilot captured. The pilot, Francis Gary Powers, later blamed his demise on Lee Harvey Oswald. The U-2 affair effectively sabotaged Ike's summit meeting.
In 1955, by pre-arrangement, the Gehlen Organization was transferred to the West German Government, becoming its first intelligence arm, the BND. The BND became a Siamese twin of the CIA a global operation. They had already worked well together, in Iran in 1953, where the country's first democratic government was in power. Two years earlier Premier Mossadegh had rashly nationalized the oil industry. Dulles, with Gehlen's help, engineered a coup that toppled Mossadegh and reestablished the Pahlevi family regime. The family patriarch, General Reza Pahlevi, had been banished from the country for his pro-nati activities during the war. Now his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, ascended the Peacock Throne. The Shah of Iran became one of the CIA's most faithful assets.
Gehlen pioneered the setting up of dummy fronts and cover companies to support his farflung covert operations. A major project was to form Eastern European emigre groups in the U.S. that could be used against the Soviets. Both the Tolstoy Foundation and the Union of Bishops of the Orthodox Church Outside Russia were funded by the CIA. When Lee and Marina Oswald arrived from the Soviet Union in June, 1962 they were befriended by some three dozen White Russians in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Many had identifiable nazi links; others were in the oil and defense industries. It was an improbable social set for a defector to the U.S.S.R. and his wife from Minsk.
By the time the Gehlen Organization became part of the West German state, Gehlen already had his agent-in-place in the United States. He was Otto Albrecht von Bolschwing, who had been a captain in Heinrich Himmler’s dreaded SS and Adolph Eichmann's superior in Europe and Palestine. Von Bolschwing worked simultaneously for Dulles' OSS. When he entered the U.S. in February, 1954, he cleverly concealed his nazi past. He was to take over Gehlen's network not only in this country but in many corners of the globe. He became closely associated with the late Elmer Bobst of Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical, a godfather of Richard Nixon's political career, which brought him inside Nixon's 1960 campaign for the presidency. In 1969 he showed up in California with a high-tech firm called TCI that held classified Defense Department contracts. His translator for German projects was Helene van Damme, Governor Ronald Reagan's appointments secretary. Von Damme is currently U.S. Ambassador to Austria, next door to the nazi's homeland.
In 1968 Reinhard Gehlen withdrew to his chalet in Bavaria. The chalet had been a gift from Allen Dulles.