Control Not Morality? Explaining the Selective Employment of Nazi War Criminals by British and American Intelligence Agencies in Occupied Germany

Luke Daly-Groves. Intelligence and National Security. Volume 35, Issue 3. 2020.

At a War Office meeting in January 1947, the Chief of the British Intelligence Division (ID), Major-General John Sydney ‘Tubby’ Lethbridge told the Director of Military Intelligence, Major-General Gerald Templer of a ‘unique and extremely melodramatic episode’ about which ‘very few officers’ knew ‘the full story’. This top secret information, told in Lethbridge’s own words, can be found in a letter, tucked away near the back of a large Foreign Office folder concerning the infamous Bad Nenndorf detailed interrogation centre which was the subject of a torture scandal. Its contents, published here in unprecedented detail, are crucial to explaining the selective employment of Nazi war criminals by Anglo-American intelligence agencies in occupied Germany. Lethbridge’s letter also describes the death of an important Nazi war criminal-cum-American intelligence agent whose fate has hitherto remained a mystery to some experts and has never been fully explored or explained by historians. It describes the following incident:

At a safe house in Hamburg, on the evening of 18 January 1947, three British intelligence officers came face to face with a Nazi war criminal named Günter Ebeling. During the Second World War, he had been ‘the Commander of an “Annihilation Squad” of the S.S. in Warsaw’. But, in 1947, he was employed by the American Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) and known to the British and American intelligence services by his alias, Slim. He had first been employed by the CIC in 1945 when his services directly contributed to the successful completion of Operation Nursery. This operation involved the rounding up of a Nazi underground movement led by Artur Axmann, the head of the Hitler Youth. Since then, Slim had been helping the CIC to infiltrate other post-war Nazi movements. It was one of these missions which had brought him, along with a drunken CIC officer named Ludwell, to Hamburg.

At this time, the British knew Slim was a war criminal. Perhaps this is why they advised one of their own intelligence officers, Mr. Coleman, to ‘drop’ his personal friendship with him which had formed during Operation Nursery. Nevertheless, the British ID had been using Slim, in coordination with their American colleagues, in an anti-Nazi operation codenamed ‘Jersey Cow’ which would later develop into the better-known Operation Selection Board. But, Slim’s rendezvous on January 18th was a trap. The three ID officers had been ordered to arrest him. The order had come from the Chief himself, Major-General Lethbridge, who was acting on a request from his American colleague. When Slim, who was ‘an extremely powerful man, standing 6ʹ6” high and broad in proportion’ realised he was under arrest, he:

… fought all three British Intelligence officers with his bare hands for over half an hour. The British Intelligence officers had been ordered to take him alive, and did not in consequence use their pistols, except to try to overawe him. This however, had no effect, and one officer shot “Slim” through the foot early on in the fracas. This had no apparent effect on the man, who was by now “berserk”. The three Intelligence officers then tried to chloroform him but without success. Finally, after a severe struggle one of them hit “Slim” over the head with a loaded stick and knocked him unconscious. “Slim” and Ludwell were then placed in two waiting cars, and driven to Bad Nenndorf, where they were to be held pending advice from the Americans as to their disposal … “Slim” remained unconscious throughout [the journey] and on arrival at D.I.C. it was found that he was dead.

American intelligence were petrified of the public finding out that they had employed a Nazi who ‘was wanted by the Polish Government, as a major war criminal’. Moreover, Coleman had been threatened by the ‘ringleaders of “Selection Board” that he and his family would be killed if any harm came to “Slim” or if their organisation was “betrayed”’. Consequently, Lethbridge had Coleman, his wife and four children taken home and removed from service in Germany. Slim was given a funeral ‘with some pomp’. Local townspeople were told that he was a British intelligence officer who had succumb to ‘a highly infectious disease’. Even the local mayor ‘was co-operative to the extent of providing a quantity of Lysol at the grave’. Saluting shots were fired and wreathes were laid. Slim’s body was buried beneath a wooden cross marked with the name John X White. Perhaps his remains are still there.

How can historians explain this? A Nazi war criminal had been employed by American intelligence to arrest other Nazi war criminals. This makes little sense in moral terms. However, much of the existing literature surrounding the Allied employment of war criminals has, understandably, analysed such issues as a moral conundrum. In 1985, Linda Hunt concluded her article on the American recruitment of Nazi scientists as part of Operation Paperclip with a call for further research ‘… in the interest of salvaging justice and the United States’ morality’. To Hunt, the scientific achievements aided by Paperclip were ‘accomplished at great moral cost’. Almost twenty years later, Michael Salter rightly complained in the Journal of Intelligence History that many publications concerning the recruitment of Nazi war criminals still consisted of ‘investigative journalism and a stream of “exposé” style books’ which tended to be ‘one-sided’ in their negative portrayal of the recruiting intelligence services. In the historiography of war criminal recruitment, much attention has been devoted to explaining exactly what happened, and the extent of it, rather than why. This search for numbers can also be interpreted at least partially as a moral enquiry with the implication that the greater the amount of war criminals employed by the intelligence services, the more they can be condemned as immoral. Popular interest in such post-war Nazi recruitment remains high as in 2018, newspapers around the world published articles discussing how Heinrich Himmler’s daughter, Gudrun Burwitz, had been employed by the German foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND).

A notable exception to the exposé publications loathed by Salter is David Cesarani’s influential and valuable book Justice Delayed. Published in 1992, this book scrutinises the European Voluntary Worker schemes which brought ‘at least 10,000 former Waffen-SS soldiers’ to Britain. When discussing intelligence recruitment, Cesarani focuses overwhelmingly on anti-communism as a motivation for employing ‘ex’ Nazis. He was limited in his analysis by the classification of files which made it difficult for him at times to relate his arguments to the wider activities and policies of the British intelligence services. Nevertheless, Cesarani is partially correct to conclude that ‘the revulsion felt for the Waffen-SS’ was ‘tempered by a pragmatic sense that war criminals … could prove useful in the new struggle to ensure British security’. But contrary to the impression given by Cesarani, the struggle for security was not just a struggle against communism, but also one against Nazism, as this article will make clear. Nor was this struggle solely confined to British security, because it encompassed West German security, too. Moreover, the closely related struggle for control, which most clearly links war criminal recruitment to the wider aims of occupation, is notably absent in Cesarani’s analysis.

Since Salter’s call for more balance, several publications have explored the positive role which the British and American intelligence services played in destroying Nazi underground movements in post-war Germany. However, some recent publications which focus solely on the recruitment of war criminals, although more analytical, are still vexed by moral issues. Moreover, most articles and books concerning war criminal recruitment are case studies, focusing on a particular nation and/or intelligence service. For example, two of the most recent studies by Stephen Tyas and Michael Wala focus on MI6 and the CIA respectively. But for years, the understudied British and American Intelligence Divisions were the principle intelligence organisations operating in Germany. MI6 and the CIA had to coordinate many of their activities with them. Understanding of both ID’s has hitherto been hampered in the existing historiography by the classification of files, their officially organised mass destruction and their poor archival labelling. The lengthiest discussion of the British ID in the historiography is Paul Maddrell’s Spying on Science. Drawing on documents produced largely by the ID’s Scientific and Technical Intelligence Branch (STIB), Maddrell, like Cesarani, emphasises the need to deny the Soviets scientific and technical knowledge as a key, if not the key, motive behind the employment of Nazi scientists by the Western intelligence services.

Very few publications analyse both British and American recruitment practices together in detail, despite the fact that war criminal recruits were involved in joint operations such as Selection Board and Nursery. A useful joint analysis was recently published by Wala. But, he focuses predominantly on anti-communism as a reason for such recruitment, as does Cesarani, Maddrell and most other historians who have studied this topic in detail. The fact that the Allied intelligence services were initially recruiting some Nazi war criminals to use against Nazi underground groups has received little attention, although it is important for understanding later recruitment practices. Another drawback of the prevalent case study approach and the focus on communism has been a lack of synthesis when discussing different types of intelligence work. For example, Thomas Boghardt does not discuss Operation Rusty or Operation Paperclip because he believes ‘the recruitment of Nazi informants constitutes a significant and distinct aspect of Army intelligence operations in the early Cold War’.

The recruitment of Nazi informants was indeed significant. But this article argues that some common reasoning concerning security and control surrounded the recruitment of ‘ex’ Nazi scientists and the recruitment of war criminals. Operation Rusty, too, was subject to the same thinking concerning security and control as was the ad-hoc recruitment of Nazi informants. This can be revealed through a detailed analysis of a broad selection of British and American Intelligence Division documents. Scrutiny of these records will enable this article to further argue that, in contrast to some evidence analysed by Boghardt, moral disputes were almost entirely absent when discussing the employment of Nazi war criminals, but the language of control was constantly explicit. However, as will be further demonstrated, moral considerations were always implicit as one of the main reasons why the Intelligence Divisions employed Nazis was to help accomplish their missions of securing their occupation zones and helping to rebuild a democratic Germany by controlling and dividing far right movements and denying agents to the Soviets. On first consideration, the recruitment of Nazi war criminals by British and American intelligence organisations appears to jar with two important shared aims of the Allied occupation, outlined at the Yalta (4th-11 February 1945) and Potsdam (17th July-2 August 1945) conferences, denazification and democratisation. To achieve them, the Allies needed to establish firm control of the German population and ensure the security of their occupation zones. British and American intelligence organisations were vital to establishing such control and ensuring that security. They also actively pursued democratisation and various forms of denazification. However, British and American intelligence officers who worked with Nazi war criminals viewed selective recruitment of the latter as an effective way of achieving these aims, although ID methods did not always accord with those of military government, as will be seen.

But even the conclusions drawn here must only be tentative as many Intelligence Division files have been destroyed. Moreover, the American ID directed CIC detachments in Germany did not maintain ‘A central record of CIC controlled informants’. These factors all make it difficult to identify the reasons behind and the circumstances surrounding the employment of Nazi war criminals in post-war Germany. But by analysing files concerning war criminals alongside those concerning the employment of Nazis in general in several areas of intelligence work, those concerning their dismissal and ID attitudes towards Nazism, this article will place the recruitment of war criminals into an important broader context, enabling general conclusions to be drawn that are more fitting with the context of the time and less influenced by the shock of revelation and resulting exposé publications that surround this subject, or hindsight concerning the Cold War.

The employment, arrest and death of Slim is central to the argument of this article. However, his case is unusual due to its bloody conclusion and the amount of evidence preserved concerning it. For example, a CIC memorandum produced to ‘help analyse the intention of the informant [Slim]’ is still stored in the American national archives. This memorandum, dated 1946, reveals that the CIC may not have been aware that Slim was a war criminal at the time of his employment. Indeed, it appears to accept at face value Slim’s statement that he was ‘not under automatic arrest category’ and his personal criticisms of the atrocities committed by the SS. The CIC also seemed satisfied with Slim’s explanation for switching sides. He believed that ‘if all the wanted people are turned in and all underground movements are destroyed, the occupational forces will leave Germany, thus enabling Germany to regain self-rule’. As he was unable to convince Axmann of this strategy, he decided to help the CIC. Still, Slim’s closeness to high ranking Nazis must have caused some discomfort amongst the CIC as he eerily felt compelled to remind them: ‘“One loves the information and not the informant”’. However, according to Lethbridge, the Americans were aware at the time of Slim’s employment that he was wanted for war crimes in Poland. As Lethbridge explained: ‘In spite of this the Americans decided to employ him under his alias “Slim”, as a regular agent in their Counter Intelligence Corps. In so doing, they were of course taking a tremendous “chance”. Nevertheless, they decided to use him as a regular agent, to penetrate further German subversive organisations’.

The fact that Lethbridge considered the employment of wanted men such as Slim to be a ‘tremendous chance’ suggests that the employment of war criminals was not the norm in post-war Germany. Moreover, the decision to employ such characters was not taken lightly, and the intelligence services were aware of the risks. So why was Slim employed? Evidence suggests that the CIC believed he was crucial to the successful completion of Operation Nursery and the breaking up of other Nazi underground organisations. This turned out to be true, as Slim’s personal contact with Axmann proved essential for orchestrating the latter’s arrest, which Slim helped plan and was key to carrying out. But what is more revealing than the reasons for his employment is the reason for his dismissal and resulting death. Indeed, it was not the knowledge of Slim’s war crimes which resulted in the CIC’s change of heart but rather:

… the American authorities (General Burress) demanded the arrest of “Slim” and Ludwell, because they believed that (a) “Slim” was “double crossing” them and (b) Ludwell’s nerve had apparently broken. (Ludwell had been continuously drunk ever since he had entered our Zone). They feared that Ludwell was now completely under “Slim’s” influence and power, and they were anxious lest the penetration of the subversive movements should fail. In particular General Burress was apprehensive that “Slim” would “double cross” the U.S. Intelligence service by disclosing to the ringleaders of “Mayfly” and/or “Jersey Cow”, the names of the American agents which were known to him. He was also worried at the amount of knowledge that “Slim” possessed of the American Intelligence service.

In other words, Slim could no longer be controlled and had become a security risk. As this evidence suggests, the ability to control and issues concerning security, much more than moral considerations, were key factors for both British and American intelligence when deciding which Nazis to employ and which Nazis to arrest in post-war Germany. Further evidence of this can be found through analysis of general intelligence assessments concerning extreme political movements. For example, a 1947 American military intelligence report concerning the ‘Present Status of the Nazi Threat’ made clear that in aiming to establish an enduring democratic system in Germany (or, ‘in giving the Germans some rather intensive, on-the-job training in Democracy’), the Americans were fighting two wars at once, one against the far left and another against the far right. Remarkably, when explaining why American intelligence did not simply use all Nazis to fight communists, the report framed its response by primarily addressing issues of control, almost completely ignoring the moral implications of the question:

This brings us to a final line of reasoning frequently brought up in this connection. That is that if we are as aware as we claim to be of the menace of Communism, particularly as backed by a sullen and dynamic Russia, why all this hue and cry over the Nazis? Why not conserve this one residually anti-communistic element as a counterweight to the greater evil? For this answer one need only look back to 1939. The lessons of the great change of front have great bearing on the problem in hand. In the first place, an opportunistic, totalitarian movement has complete freedom of doctrine and position, so cannot be relied on. In the second place, one can only prevent such changes of front on the part of such an organization if one stays strong enough to control it [Emphasis added]. Lastly, if one is that strong he does not need such an organization anyway and is much better off without it.

Of course, the desire to introduce lasting democracy to Germany can be viewed as a long-term morally justifiable goal, but in the short term, attitudes towards Nazis and Nazism were addressed through the prism of control and security, as the report concluded:

To sum up, we see that the former Nazi movement as defined above, though now completely broken and disorganized, must still be closely watched until democratic processes and the necessary material well-being to insure their permanence are firmly established. For until then this movement if not controlled still has the dangerous potential capability of weakening democratic growth and thereby, whether involuntarily, or not, paving the way for Communism [Emphasis added].

The latter comment hints at a constant fear of both intelligence services in post-war Germany, that far-right neo-Nazi groups would merge to become a powerful singular force (reorganise) or that Nazis would join forces with communists to destabilise the occupation and achieve a totalitarian form of German unification, purposefully or not. Such fears were not unfounded as some opportunistic Nazis (Slim included) threatened to work for the Russians and others did in fact work for them.

But the Nazis who were viewed as the biggest threat to the occupation were those still actively engaged in extreme politics or military groups. As the British press release following Operation Selection Board (the rounding up of an underground Nazi movement and associated Nazis) stated:

These are desperate characters who have no hope for the future in any decent democratic society. They will clutch at any chance, however slender and however dangerous, to re-establish the days in which they flourished … Some of the leaders are war criminals who are wanted for crimes against humanity by one or more of the United Nations.

A similar statement filed alongside the above further explains that those individuals who started subversive groups were seen to:

… have no hope for a decent life in the future of Germany because they were leaders and fanatics of the Nazi Party … These persons are, in many cases, clever, intelligent leaders who are capable of attracting a following from the multitude of former Nazis now either imprisoned or undergoing other punishment …

They therefore had the potential to become:

… leaders and dictators of a new Germany, equally as dangerous to a democratic world as the Germany of Hitler … To prevent this type of individual from gaining any position where he might become a threat to the occupation or to a new democratic Germany, agents of the Army intelligence system have maintained unrelenting efforts to discover, observe and destroy such activity.

War criminals alone, then, were not the most dangerous and sought-after targets of the Allied intelligence services in later 1940s Germany. But rather, ‘clever, intelligent’ Nazi ideologue leaders who had no hope for any peaceful alternative occupation in the new democratic Germany which Anglo-American intelligence were helping to build. If a war criminal expressed disbelief in or at least refrained from extreme politics and offered his services to the Allies, they could be used to fight the continuing underground Nazi political movements which were, after the violent Werwolf style resistance petered out, perceived to be one of the most serious threats to lasting democracy in Germany. In summary, war criminals guilty of murder were, in some instances, not perceived to be as dangerous as those capable of giving them murderous orders and inspiring people to follow them.

The ID’s distinction between war criminals who could and could not be controlled, partially on the basis of present commitment to ideology, leadership skills and intelligence did not concur with the overt system of denazification which sought to categorise Nazis in terms of the positions they held in and their actions during the Third Reich in order to determine their level of guilt, punish them and remove them from positions of public influence. Unsurprisingly then, many intelligence officers were critical of the overt denazification process. For example, a British ID report argued in 1946 that ‘Denazification has been the cause of more muddled thinking than any other aspect of Allied policy in Germany’. Moreover, a British Intelligence Bureau report stated in December 1945 when discussing how to identify a ‘nominal’ Nazi that ‘labels are far from everything … .in the affiliated organisations rank is not a sure guide to enthusiasm’. It also warned that even Germans who had not been members of the NSDAP could be dangerous and therefore also needed ‘watching’. Interestingly, this report, which featured a rare mention of morality in its title (Moral Disarmament) drew a distinction between denazification and the ‘control of Germans collectively and individually to prevent their warlike association’, though both were viewed as part of the same overall task. Importantly, again, owing to its comments on the inadequacies of label-based denazification, this report arguably favoured the ‘control of Germans collectively and individually’ over denazification, though it did agree both were necessary. In light of such evidence, Perry Biddiscombe’s statement that the ID were ‘relatively strident denazifiers’, in the sense of military government policy, needs to be reconsidered.

British Air Force Intelligence in Germany went further in its criticisms of denazification, stating (with a probable bias for its own specialist area of focus): ‘It is all very well to go witch hunting after Nazis, but the really dangerous individuals in Germany are those with the military knowledge requisite for reconstituting Germany’s air power’. Again, they viewed this particular danger through the prism of control:

In view of European developments the problem of “control” would seem to fall into two phases: (1) Administrative control of key German Air Force personnel in the Western zone, and, (2) Preventive or protective control (i.e. the supervision of important German Air Force personnel to prevent their escape into, or utilisation within the Eastern zone.

The report continues to express fear that such individuals may try and stir up an ‘East-West conflict’ and revealingly suggests that their movements throughout Germany should be monitored. Moreover, it worried that if Luftwaffe records fell into the wrong hands, then ‘an aggressor could use them to control his German assistants’ or ‘the Germans could use them to re-organise themselves’.

As the above evidence suggests, concerns about security and control, rather than morality, were much more prominently expressed when it came to dealing with Nazis for the British intelligence services. Also prominent in the above statements was fear of German reorganisation, a merging of extreme movements, or ‘warlike association’. In light of this, it could be argued that the employment of Nazi war criminals as intelligence agents was part of a wider strategy of divide and rule. This broad idea is alluded to in some documents from the early occupation period. For example, in 1945, a letter from ‘Mr. Kirkpatrick’ suggested to the Foreign Office ‘that it should be our policy to split the Germans into as many groups, religious and political, as possible’. Using Nazi war criminals such as Slim against other war criminals involved in Nazi underground groups and arresting them before they could merge, could be viewed as part of this strategy. Clearly, for the British and American Intelligence Divisions, one of the best methods of controlling Nazi war criminals and reducing the security threat which they posed, was to recruit some of them.

But Anglo-American intelligence were aware that not all of the ‘ex’ Nazis who worked for them in post-war Germany would genuinely dispel their earlier Nazi convictions. For example, in October 1945, a British 21st Army Group report worried that one ‘Doctor Walther … one of the German arch exponents of jet propulsion’ was working ‘under British Naval supervision’ at Kiel. Although he was ‘co-operative in this work, he remains a professed Nazi’. He was just one of ‘many examples of such individuals’. The ‘only solution’ foreseen by this report was to deport such scientists from Germany to ensure they could not work together against Allied interests in secret. This suggestion could again be viewed as another example of divide and rule via the control of movements. But other intelligence officers, evidently in the majority, did not see the recruitment of Nazi scientists as much of an issue as their Nazi convictions did not seem to make their purely scientific work any more dangerous, especially when it was conducted under close British or American observation. For example, Brigadier Spedding believed the 21st Army Group report was ‘exaggerated’ and argued that ‘If these men were Nazis they would be dealt with under that heading, but he did not think they constituted a danger as scientists’. Importantly, those that were believed to be potentially dangerous were to be ‘kept under surveillance’.

Surveillance was not the only method of control which the British and American intelligence services could impose on scientists in Germany. Working under British or American control meant that Nazi scientists could, if so desired, be split up to ensure that they did not work together in any negative way as 21st Army Group worried they might. Indeed, the British expressed a constant desire ‘to place them in non-war potential work where their interests will develop along peaceful lines’. The desire to prevent certain scientists from working with potentially dangerous colleagues on dangerous projects, or, as Paul Maddrell points out, to prevent them from working for the Soviets, fits in well with the earlier discussed examples which expressed the need for a general divide and rule approach towards Germany and the need to control certain Germans lest another power, hostile to British interests, control them instead. Importantly, when some doubts were raised as to whether the manpower allotted to the Scientific and Technical Intelligence Branch of the British ID should come from the Control Commission and not the Ministry of Defence (which benefitted most from its work), the response again focused on issues of control: ‘The collection of Scientific and Technical Intelligence has been accepted as a part of the work of controlling Germany, and it is immaterial what Department gets the benefit of it’. Clearly, the employment of Nazi scientists was viewed and justified as part of a wider strategy of control.

But if the British and American intelligence services were recruiting Nazi war criminals and unrepentant Nazi ideologues as part of a wider strategy of control, how did they identify which war criminals could be controlled and what methods did they utilise to ensure that such characters in their employ remained under their control? As Lethbridge stated, in defence of British recruitment techniques:

Could it perhaps be pointed out to Manpower Division that in insisting on the application of their ordinary rules “without fear or favour” they are taking a singularly unrealistic and very short-term view? I do not think I am being too cynical in submitting that in these trying times we will not attach reliable German services to us by ideology alone.

Using ‘fear or favour’ to control and/or recruit informants was a strategy employed by Lethbridge’s American colleagues too. They called it a ‘hold’. For example, in 1946, questions were raised as to why the CIC had employed a journalist named Mrs. Hildegard R. Springer (Agent Honeypot), who had worked for the Nazi foreign office and was married to a former SS officer, to collect political intelligence concerning the KPD and other targets as part of Operation Honeypot. In response, the CIC stated that they were ‘aware of her background at the time she was picked up for use as an informant’ but that ‘All informants employed by this organization are checked for reliability, insofar as possible. Their background is investigated and in practically all cases some type of hold is exercised over the informant’. In other words, Mrs. Springer’s Nazi background was not much of an issue, as long as she remained under control and she would likely remain so due to the ‘hold’ which was probably placed on her.

Another method of control utilised by Anglo-American intelligence on their informants and indeed on all security suspects, was the control of movements and communications. Because censorship in occupied Germany was extensive, the intelligence services could keep a particularly close watch on the communications of their employees. For example, in 1952, the American Intelligence Division were alerted to the fact that ‘a former Paperclip specialist’ was committing ‘postal violations’. Moreover, the Anglo-American Combined Travel Board (CTB) often referred to a shared ‘Travel Restriction List’ (TRL) in order to restrict the movements of individuals within Germany. An analysis of correspondence between the Intelligence Divisions and the CTB reveals again that issues of security and control, not morality, were paramount when considering which Germans should have their movements restricted. For example, on 3 April 1951, Alfred Hermann Michahelles was placed on the TRL as his name was found ‘in the address book of Fritz Wiedemann, former aide-de-camp to Adolf Hitler …’ and he was suspected of being involved in Nazi espionage. However, at the end of the month, a former Nazi party member suspected of espionage was not placed on the TRL due to insufficient evidence and in December a former ‘ardent Nazi officer’, Hans Ruperti, was allowed to travel unrestricted. At other times, unevaluated British claims of being a ‘militant commie’ could result in some individuals being placed on the TRL. Again, such distinctions make little sense in moral terms. They do make sense, however, if one acknowledges that considerations of security and control, rather than morality, were paramount when it came to dealing with the far left, the far right and Nazi war criminals in post-war Germany. Indeed, these issues are best analysed under the broad heading of ‘security’, as they were by the intelligence officers dealing with them at the time.

As the above evidence suggests, Nazi war criminals, and individuals with Nazi pasts, were only employed when it was believed that they could be efficiently controlled. But perhaps more revealing than the reasons for their employment are the reasons for their dismissal. The British and American Intelligence Divisions often kept each other informed when agents had to be dropped in order to ensure that the services of the same, potentially damaging individuals, would not be utilised twice. An analysis of these documents again demonstrates that issues of security and control arguably always surrounded the employment of ‘ex’ Nazis. In January 1952, the American ID informed the British Liaison Officer at HQ EUCOM that one Herbert Edler, who had served in the German Army on the Eastern Front before finding employment with a ‘US agency’ had been ‘dropped for reasons of security’. In this instance, ‘his name, address and the nature of his activities became known to Soviet authorities’. He was ‘disgruntled’ at being dropped and was apparently seeking to sell his services to another intelligence agency. Consequently, the British were warned not to employ him as this would risk attracting unwanted Soviet attention. Later that month, the CIC informed several American intelligence agencies that one Hans Helmut Joachim Gast, a former member of the Waffen SS, had been ‘dismissed, with prejudice, for security reasons’. Two months later, the British informed their American colleagues that Hans Moritz-Middendorf had been ‘associated’ with British intelligence but dropped because his ‘activities were compromised’ and that a former Abwehr officer from Bad Salzuflen, Hans Rohde had been ‘in touch’ with them but found to be ‘very unreliable’. Also in 1952, several American intelligence agencies were informed that ‘Hans Jahns’ had been ‘dismissed as an informant of this organization’ for security reasons. He had been ‘double-dealing by working for a right wing German party’ and had ‘also tried to make contact with other intelligence agencies’. All of these individuals, like Slim, were dismissed because they had become security risks and/or could no longer be controlled, not because of their activities under National Socialism. As Jahns’ dismissal suggests, it was not permitted for an informant or agent of Anglo-American intelligence to be actively engaged in extreme politics. This again suggests that the British and American intelligence services sometimes found Nazi intellectuals—those capable of giving orders to execute innocent people—to be more dangerous than those who would (and had) carried out the executions.

Although the British and American intelligence services in Germany did share some information concerning the ‘ex’ Nazis and even Nazi war criminals who they employed, the employment of such individuals was a key source of rivalry and disagreement between the two organisations. Indeed, they could not always agree on which Nazis could be controlled, nor did they always see eye to eye on the best methods of control. Information concerning such employment was sometimes concealed too. For example, part of the reason why the CIC continued to employ Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, despite him being wanted by the British, was because:

CIC rationalized that if unemployed, Barbie would renew his overtures to the British “who would find out that CIC had not turned him in or reported him regarding SELECTION BOARD because CIC was using him as an informant”. CIC felt that such a revelation would be “a serious blow to CIC’s prestige in the eyes of the British”.

This concern with damaged prestige does suggest that moral considerations could have been implicit in this case. The British ID certainly did, at times, perceive the Nazi threat in occupied Germany to be more severe than their American colleagues. But the British had worked with Slim, albeit hesitantly, and had a record of employing several war criminals themselves. It would make little sense to oppose Barbie’s employment in moral terms whilst simultaneously working with other Nazi war criminals. Perhaps the blow to CIC prestige in the eyes of the British would have came from the fact that the British perceived Barbie to be uncontrollable and therefore a security risk. This would be consistent with their attitude towards the American employment of other prominent ‘ex’ Nazis, particularly Reinhard Gehlen whose American backed intelligence organisation, codenamed Operation Rusty, provided the foundations of the BND.

Many British officials did not like Operation Rusty which enabled the employment of several individuals with shady Nazi pasts. However, British objections did not stem primarily from the fact that Rusty involved disreputable Nazis (though this was likely a reason for objection too). No, the British were more concerned that Rusty sometimes operated under ‘ineffective, American direction and control’. Apparently, partially owing to this, Rusty had been a ‘nuisance’ in the British Zone. Evidently, concerns about control and security were in this instance, again, more prominent than issues of morality. Indeed, the second Chief of the British ID, Major-General Joseph Charles Haydon, was worried that ‘quite apart from what the American authorities may wish or intend, there is a real danger that RUSTY itself, to an extent not necessarily appreciated or known to the Americans, is aiming at the ultimate domination of both the present Security Service and the future Intelligence Service’. But such disagreements were not just manifested over insufficient methods of control. The two IDs sometimes also disagreed over which ‘ex’ Nazis could or should be controlled altogether. For example, during discussions concerning intelligence sharing with SHAPE in 1951, the British High Commissioner worried that without proper Anglo-American coordination, ‘… the British might describe a certain German ex-General as a ruffian while the U.S. might describe the same individual as a hero’. This suggests, as Boghardt points out, that the employment of war criminals usually occurred on an ad-hoc basis, subject to the opinions of individual intelligence officers managing each case. Whether a hold was considered to be sufficient to control an individual, or whether it was considered possible or desirable to control that individual at all, varied according to circumstance and the intelligence officers making the decision. Control itself became an important commodity for both the British and American Intelligence Divisions as each sought to gain advantageous influence in the future German intelligence services. However, by 1952, such competing desires were effectively managed by regular meetings of the Allied Directors of Intelligence. Indeed, by this point, the British had conceded that they would have to accept the employment of characters disagreeable to them in the German intelligence services as to disapprove could hinder Anglo-German intelligence liaison when the occupation ended.

For reasons of security, prestige and trust, the British and American intelligence services did not always reveal to each other which individuals they had employed as agents. The American ID even kept entire intelligence organisations secret from their British counterparts, as was the case with the Technical Intelligence Branch (TIB), which employed at least one former member of the Third Reich’s Counter Intelligence Corps. This secrecy sometimes created problems. For example, in February 1949, British public safety officers apprehended an individual known as Issel who was wanted for war crimes in Denmark. However:

While awaiting deportation from Hamburg on 24 February, British Intelligence prevailed upon by man named GROPP (through British Public Safety) to withhold ISSEL from deportation since the two of them were working for American Intelligence against Russians.

Issel was probably employed by TIB. This issue was resolved via a conference with a British Regional Intelligence Officer. It was agreed ‘that any effort to salvage this character will evoke questions by the Danish government which would be prejudicial to our intelligence efforts’. Moreover, it was suggested that TIB be advised ‘that the case is hopeless, without jeopardizing the entire organization’. The decision to abandon Issel may also have been aided by the fact that the two individuals who informed the British that Issel was employed by American intelligence allegedly stated: ‘“That if the son-of-a-bitching Americans wouldn’t protect them they wouldn’t work for them”’. Clearly such individuals could not be controlled and incidents such as this must not have increased British confidence in the American ability to control employees of similar organisations such as Rusty. Revealingly, it was suggested that ‘In view of the fact that Issel is wanted for a crime against humanity some of his associates may also be in the same category’ but no further action was to be taken unless specifically requested by higher headquarters. Again, the Nazi, and probable war criminal backgrounds of these individuals was not a key factor determining their employment or dismissal but rather whether they could be controlled and the threat which they posed to the security of the occupation. This is partially evidenced by the fact that the British and Americans at least discussed ‘salvaging’ Issel. In this instance, it was considered inadvisable to protect Issel, as Barbie was protected, lest it reveal the existence of the organisation he worked for, probably TIB.

Despite these examples, available evidence suggests that the employment of Nazi war criminals in post-war Germany by the British and American intelligence services was not very common. It was an exception, not the rule. This argument is supported by the initial reluctance of the British intelligence services to employ any Germans at all, even those without a Nazi past. For example, it was only out of necessity (presumably owing to manpower constraints) that Germans were employed in the British Control Commission’s Mail and Messaging Centre as typists in 1947. As a Top Secret British report on the ID organisation stated in 1947: ‘In the past, German personnel have not generally been employed by Intelligence Division, except to a limited extent as press readers under British direction’. When Germans were employed in such capacities, they were very carefully selected and monitored. This was the case in 1946 when it was decided that ‘local Intelligence Teams would vet all Germans to be employed by Censorship’. Moreover, whilst the Royal Navy in Germany were ‘obliged to employ an increasing number of foreign nationals’ due to the ‘run-down’ of occupation forces, they made it clear to the Chief of the British ID that they would, as a consequence, be increasing their security in case some of these new employees turned out to be infiltration agents.

American intelligence were more relaxed when it came to employing German personnel in some capacities. But, when it came to field intelligence work, they too, operated a vetting procedure for all informants, German or not. For example, in 1946, when the CIC was questioned as to why it employed Springer despite her Nazi background, it provided a revealing detailed overview of informant recruitment processes:

For those informants who are controlled by the Production Group … The individual, after careful investigation in the field, is approached and is required to complete a fragebogen … the investigation and fragebogen are forwarded to this office, where the fragebogen is studied, files of Central Registry are examined … SSU may be requested for information … if no derogatory information is discovered and the Subject appears to be reliable, he is assigned a code name … For those informants who are controlled by regions, sub-regions, and filed offices, the individual acting as informant is taken upon local investigation and the Subject’s standing in the community …

Although the CIC clearly did thoroughly investigate the background of its employees and informants, it was not always able to do so. For example, in 1952, 66th CIC Detachment complained that:

Under the present troop allocation, this organization has developed a sizable backlog of personnel security investigations due almost solely to personnel shortages. This represents a serious weakness in the security of EUCOM units in that personnel for key security positions are not receiving their clearance with maximum speed, and numerous employees are being hired without the proper security clearance or background investigation.

This undoubtedly explains why some Nazi war criminals were hired with the British and American intelligence services initially having no knowledge of their criminal Nazi pasts. But it is likely, given the emphasis on control and security, that such individuals would have been hired regardless, even if their pasts had been known from the outset.


The evidence discussed in this article suggests that the British and American intelligence services employed Nazi war criminals in post-war Germany as part of a wider strategy of control designed to ensure the security of the occupation and pave the way for a future democratic Germany. Viewing the employment of Nazi war criminals in this way has enabled this article to discuss and identify a common link between several fields of intelligence work in Germany (including security, political, scientific and technical), thereby providing a synthesis between the multitude of existing case studies.

Focusing on security and control has also enabled this article to better explain the selective nature of war criminal recruitment. Some Nazi war criminals were employed to arrest other Nazi war criminals because the level of threat posed by such individuals was evaluated through the prism of control and security, not morality. In some instances, Nazi ideologues capable of giving orders to murder innocents were viewed as more of a threat than those who had carried out such orders in the past. If the latter could be controlled, then such orders could be prevented. Nazi underground movements threatened to make these orders possible again. Therefore, involvement in current Nazi political activity was viewed as more of a threat to the mission of the British and American Intelligence Divisions than the past murderous activities of war criminals. Hence informants found engaging in extreme politics were dismissed.

But determining which war criminals and ‘ex’ Nazis could be controlled was subjective. Much depended on the individual judgement of the officer making the decision to employ and the personal past of the potential employee. Consequently, disagreements occurred within the British and American intelligence services and between them. But these disagreements, again, largely surrounded issues of control and security thus further demonstrating that the latter considerations took precedence over moral concerns. This also helps to explain why, as Boghardt points out, little ideological opposition was expressed over the gradual shift in emphasis from Nazi to Communist intelligence targets. Both were evaluated in terms of security and control. The broad strategy of control and the key missions of the Intelligence Divisions (securing the zones and building a democratic Germany) remained the same although the level of threat posed to security and democracy by the different enemies shifted.

It is important to note that the evidence analysed in this article, in contrast to that analysed by Wala, suggests that many British and American intelligence officers did not enjoy employing or working with Nazi war criminals. This is evidenced by the reluctance of British intelligence to employ any Germans at all, Slim’s comments about the CIC loving ‘the information and not the informant’ and the British ID’s attempts to make Coleman end his friendship with Slim. However, for reasons of security and control, both British and American intelligence officers felt that in certain circumstances they had little choice but to employ such individuals. The Intelligence Divisions did so in order to help achieve their missions, to secure their zones, control the population and help build a democratic Germany. This can be viewed as a long-term moral goal which was pursued by tactical, arguably immoral, concessions to considerations of security and control.

Historians such as Boghardt have understandably remained ambivalent in their conclusions concerning the morality and utility of employing Nazi war criminals. But some intelligence officers who engaged in such activities seemed to have experienced little difficulty in drawing conclusions concerning unpleasant work. As the former Chief of the British ID, Charles Haydon, reflected in a lecture on intelligence operations given in the 1960s:

There is nothing particularly pleasant, or indeed ethical, in the idea of Intelligence operations … Accept then—if you like—that Intelligence is a distasteful business, but accept, also, that—like medicine—it has to be taken if the body is to be kept healthy (and wise).