Conditional Amnesty

After WWII, in a joint military and intelligence action codenamed “Operation Paperclip,” the USG located, imported, and hired more than 1600 German scientists formerly associated with the Nazi Party who, before and during WWII, had developed expertise and conducted research of interest and deemed valuable to the USG. The USG sought out these Germans not only to improve American research in the fields of weapons development, nuclear physics, and rocket science, but also to prevent the Soviet Union from doing so.99 The U.S. military so prized these Germans’ experience and expertise that it deliberately altered background investigations on at least 130 of them to whitewash their pasts as ardent Nazis and potential security threats so that the U.S./DoS and the U.S./DoJ would not block their immigration to the United States.100 Because the USG would presumably have revoked their immunity in the face of intransigence, the USG effectively provided these German scientists de facto conditional amnesty.

Perhaps the most famous German recruited to the United States through Operation Paperclip was Dr. Wernher von Braun. Von Braun, who is widely regarded as the father of the U.S. space program, was an admitted member of the Nazi Party and the SS who developed the V-2 rocket that Nazi Germany showered on the United Kingdom during WWII. Von Braun allegedly also committed atrocities during WWII by using slave labor from concentration camps for his research, leading some commentators to characterize him as a war crimi- nal.101 A second famous German scientist brought to the United States through Operation Paperclip was Arthur Rudolph, who eventually designed the Saturn V shuttle that put American astronaunts on the moon. Like Von Braun, Rudolph allegedly committed atrocities during WWII while developing V-2 rockets. Von Braun and Rudolph were among the German scientists whose pasts the U.S. military deliberately obfuscated.102

Some Nazi scientists whom the U.S. military employed through Operation Paperclip, such as Major General Walter Schreiber, Siegfried Ruff, Konrad Schaefer, and Kurt Blome, were accused of experimenting on humans during WWII. These gruesome tests allegedly included locking concentration camp inmates in low-pressure chambers that simulated high altitudes as well as depriving other inmates of food and giving them only chemically processed seawater to drink. Once again, the U.S. military covered up evidence of these Germans’ atrocities in order to harness their knowledge and skills, including in furtherance of the USG’s biological weapons program.103

But Nazi scientists were not the only suspected atrocity perpetrators from Germany with whom the USG made deals. The USG also offered de facto conditional amnesty to at least 1000—and possibly as many as 10,000—former Nazi officials who boasted expertise in counterintelligence.104 The most notorious of these individuals was Barbie. During WWII, Barbie was known as “The Butcher of Lyon” for his notorious leadership of the local Gestapo and his alleged responsibility for the deportation and murder of hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews and other Nazi victims.

Despite knowledge of his work as a senior Nazi official, USG officials recruited, employed, and used Barbie for counterintelligence work during most of the period between 1947 and 1951. During these four years in which Barbie maintained a relationship with the USG, he agreed to sever ties with certain Nazis and act as an informant on German communist activities, to report on French and Soviet intelligence operations in the United States, and sometimes to provide intelligence about French zones of occupation in Germany. In exchange, USG officials promised not to arrest Barbie for his suspected crimes during WWII even though he was sought by American allies, particularly France and the United Kingdom. Barbie’s supervisors in the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) of the U.S. Army even lied about their knowledge of his whereabouts and whether they had contact with Barbie, to protect him from other parts of the USG, particularly the U.S. High Commission for Germany, which sought to arrest him and possibly extradite him to France. As a U.S./DoJ investigation later concluded: “Barbie’s background as an SS and Gestapo officer appears to have been distinctly subordinate to [CIC] Region IV’s interest in using him as an informant and [CIC] HQ’s interest in extracting from him information about other SS officers involved in postwar ‘subversive activities.’ ”105

Despite the USG’s promise of immunity, after using him for six months the USG did arrest and interrogate Barbie from December 1947 to May 1948. He later was released and then reinstated and re-employed as an informant for the USG until 1951. The USG continued to employ Barbie, even after more of his sordid past was uncovered, in part to prevent Barbie from seeking employment with the British or the French. USG officials were concerned that Barbie might otherwise reveal the nature (including the use of former Nazis such as Barbie) and extent (including against the USG’s wartime allies) of the USG’s postwar counterintelligence activities, which would embarrass the USG and potentially strain relations with its allies. After finishing using him for counterintelligence, USG officials assisted Barbie in escaping through the “rat line” out of Europe to Bolivia. He then lived in Bolivia until 1983, when he was expelled to and tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment in France, where he died in 1991.106

In an unusual act of humility and self-criticism as well as acknowledgment of its dark, unprincipled past, the USG officially apologized to France in August 1983 for deliberately and actively obstructing its efforts to locate and bring Barbie to justice. Allan Ryan, Jr., a U.S./DoJ official commissioned in March 1983 to investigate the relationship between Barbie and the USG, concluded from his research that:

It is a principle of democracy and the rule of law that justice delayed is justice denied. If we are to be faithful to that principle—and we should be faithful to it—we cannot pretend that it applied only within our borders and nowhere else. We have delayed justice in Lyon.107

In June 2006, the declassification of relevant USG intelligence documents revealed that West German officials informed the USG in 1958 of the location and alias of Eichmann, who oversaw the mass deportation and execution of Jews and others in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe during WWII. The USG apparently had colluded with West Germany to keep this information private in order to protect Hans Globke, the West German national security adviser. West Germans assumed Eichmanm would denounce Globke for his involvement in anti-Semitic activity during WWII if Eichmann were captured. Meanwhile, both West German officials and the USG wanted to safeguard Globke, who was an anti-communist asset during the Cold War.108 In choosing to keep this intelligence secret, the USG effectively cloaked Eichmann in de facto conditional amnesty (presumably because, had Eichmann revealed Globke’s Nazi past or if Globke became less valuable, the USG would have been less inclined to keep Eichmann’s whereabouts and identity secret). Ultimately, Israel’s Mossad agency apprehended Eichmann in i960 and Israel’s government prosecuted and sentenced him to capital punishment in 1962.109

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