In an interview with DW-WORLD.DE, US historian Timothy Naftali says Germans should pressure their own government to receive more information on the role of Nazis in German government after 1945.
The US Central Intelligence Agency recently declassified some 27,000 pages of its operational records from the post-World War II era. At the time, the US covered up the identities of ex-Nazis and used them as spies against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Timothy Naftali is one of four scholars charged by a US government panel called the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, or IWG, to examine and interpret the material.
At a press conference earlier this week, he said records showed the CIA and West Germany had together suppressed the whereabouts of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1958 -- around the time Israel had given up searching for him for lack of clues. The newly disclosed records also showed that the CIA and West Germany suppressed part of Eichmann's diary that could have embarrassed Hans Globke, the national security adviser to German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Globke had helped draft the Nuremburg laws under the Nazi regime; under Adenauer he was Germany's main liaison with the CIA and NATO.
DW-WORLD.DE: What were some of the big surprises that came out of these CIA documents?
Timothy Naftali: We came out with some information (in a look at previously released documents) in 2004 that showed the extent to which the Gehlen organization (the prototype German intelligence agency set up by by the Americans under Richard Gehlen, who had run military intelligence on the eastern front under the Nazis -- eds.) had recruited some Nazis with criminal pasts. The extent to which the US government did not exercise supervision over the Gehlen organization came as a surprise to me. This time I found the information about Eichmann very interesting, but not terribly surprising since I knew that it wasn't US policy to follow Eichmann.
Was it official policy to leave Nazi hunting to the Germans?
After the end of the de-Nazification trials, it really was US policy to leave this to the Germans. … It was part of recognizing German sovereignty.
It seems clear that the CIA and West Germans went a long way to try and protect Adenauer's national security chief Hans Globke. Was it not known that he had been very active in the Nazi regime?
I can't explain the alarm that is evident in the German government, at least in the West German intelligence community, after Eichmann was taken. After all, Globke at that point was the subject of a very public dispute with a man named Max Merten, who alleged that Globke had participated in resolving the question of the Jews of Salonika, in Greece. What could Eichmann have added that would have altered Globke's position? I don't know. I can only report the alarm that is evident in the document.
It is very difficult to do international history from one side … It's a real shame that the German government refuses to release its information on these topics. I don't understand why Berlin cannot release the BND (German intelligence agency) files on Eichmann. Why not? I would be intrigued to see what the West German government had on Eichmann and the decision making at the highest levels between Adenauer and Globke over what to do about Eichmann. That's the great question.
Does it look like any more information is coming down the pike from any of the Western European players in World War II?
That's not up to us. Our mandate is to declassify US government records, not the records of other countries. I would assume that is something for the German press, German scholars, and German people to demand. I find it interesting that when the US releases information about Eichmann, it gets a lot of play in Germany. But there's no follow-up with the German government. After all, German scholars should be asking their government, "Why can't you do the same? Why can't you be as open as the US government? What are you hiding?" I mean, the CIA is willing to release materials that make it look bad. Why doesn't the BND release materials to have an open history of its past? What is it afraid of?
Were you surprised by the coverage you received on what was essentially a status report on your research?
I found it remarkable that the press coverage of my particular piece focused on what the CIA didn't do. In fact, by the late 1950s, (hunting Nazis) was largely a West German matter. And I was surprised that the German papers didn't say, "Why were we protecting this criminal?" Or, perhaps protecting is too strong a word. Why didn't they ask, "Why were we happy to let him live in exile? What were we afraid that he would say?" This is not actually an American story. This is a German story.
IWG panel member Elizabeth Holtzman said the documents "force us to confront not only the moral harm but the practical harm" of relying on intelligence from ex-Nazis. What conclusions do you draw about using tainted sources to gather intelligence?
The moral argument is well known. But the counter-argument was always, "Well these people are useful, and sometimes you have to make moral compromises." All I can say is: People are now welcome to look at the operational records of these tainted individuals, and they can come to their own conclusions about whether making the moral compromise was operationally useful. And more often than not, these people were not productive.
World War II ended 60 years ago. Is it still important to look at documents about the Nazi era?
It's healthy for a society to have the tools to evaluate the performance of its intelligence community -- even if the performance involves activities that are 50 years old. And I would also hope that the intelligence community itself will take lessons from the past.
Timothy Naftali is the director of the Presidential Recording Program at the University of Virginia's Miller Center for Public Affairs. His forthcoming book, co-authored with Aleksandr Fursenko, is called "Kruschev's War: The Inside Story of an American Adversary."