Photo: Nazi Members of the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) marching down the Luitpoldhain with their banners at the Nuremberg Rally to mark the Sixth Nazi Party Congress on September 9, 1934. (FPG/Archive Photos/Getty)
One of the biggest U.S. whoppers began in May 1945, just three days after Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces. It lay buried in classified documents until the mid-1980s.
When the Allies began trying Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg in late 1945, Americans were proud of their country. What we didn’t suspect, however, was that the U.S. military-intelligence complex was simultaneously obstructing that very same justice system.
On May 10 of that year, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) sent a top-secret, 10,000-word directive to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander in chief of the Allied Forces in Western Europe. In it, the JCS ordered Eisenhower to
Nothing could have been clearer or tougher.
Then JCS took it all back in an 18-word sentence tacked onto the directive like an afterthought:
Therein lies the deception. The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg was trying Nazi war criminals by day, while America and its allies were secretly hiring them by night. Why they did so was clearly pragmatic.
A year before the war ended, Allied scientists and industrial leaders secretly gathered in London to compile a list of German and Austrian scientists whom they planned to interrogate and possibly hire. The problem was that most of them were either members of the Nazi Party, belonged to Nazi organizations, or headed Nazi-controlled projects, some of which employed slave laborers.
Nuremberg defined as war criminals those who had held important positions in Nazi-controlled industries and war-related research projects, as well as those like rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, who employed forced laborers.
How could the White House sell a program to Americans involving nearly 2,000 men who had worked for the Nazi regime?
At the same time, the Allies realized that their fellow wartime ally, the Soviet Union, would soon become their peacetime enemy. The Allies panicked. They didn’t even know the location of vital USSR factories, ammunition dumps, and military installations. And they didn’t have reliable spy rings operating in the Soviet satellite countries.
Eisenhower moved quickly to solve the spy problem for the U.S. Setting in motion a schizophrenic policy, he ordered the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) to find, investigate, and hand over suspected Nazi war criminals to Nuremberg for prosecution. At the same time, he commissioned the CIC to hire the most promising. The CIC recruitment program, codenamed Operation Daisy, is still classified.
The employment of German and Austrian scientists in America (Project Paperclip) presented President Harry Truman with a public relations headache. How could the White House sell a program to Americans involving nearly 2,000 men who had worked for the Nazi regime? The solution was simple. Tell another lie.
In August 1946, the Department of State submitted to President Truman for his approval a policy statement titled
By abdicating to the military, the White House and Department of State distanced themselves from future allegations that they had welcomed Nazi war criminals to America. “Don’t blame us,” they could later argue. “Blame the military for disobeying our clear policy.”
The subsequent chain of events shows that the White House policy was a faux policy. The government knowingly allowed the military-intelligence complex to repeatedly disregard its directive. But in order to bring Nazi war criminals and collaborators into the country, the military-intelligence complex had to circumvent strict regulations that made them ineligible for U.S. visas. According to recently declassified documents, which I reviewed while researching my book, Useful Enemies, the military-intelligence complex encouraged its hires to lie on their visa applications about their wartime activities, created false biographies for them, and hid behind the archetypal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”