NEW YORK – Newly released records reveal details on how U.S. intelligence officials used and protected some Nazi Gestapo agents after World War II, tracked Holocaust administrator Adolf Eichmann and relied on a suspected war criminal from Ukraine living in New York to try to disrupt the USSR, according to a report to Congress obtained by The Associated Press.
The report, titled "Hitler's Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence, and the Cold War," was authored by historians hired by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. It was sent to Congress late Thursday.
The report draws from an unprecedented trove of records on individuals and clandestine operations that the CIA was persuaded to declassify, and from over 1 million digitized Army intelligence files that had long been inaccessible.
"The CIA records give us a much better picture of the movements of Nazi war criminals in the postwar period. The Army records are voluminous, and will be keeping people busy for many years," said Richard Breitman, of the American University in Washington, D.C., who co-authored the report with Norman J.W. Goda, of the University of Florida.
CIA spokesman George Little said Friday: "The CIA at no time had a policy or a program to protect Nazi war criminals, or to help them escape justice for their actions during the war. The agency has cooperated for decades with the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations."
The records were made available under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998, one of the most ambitious and exhaustive federal government efforts to expose its own secrets.
The papers include correspondence, legal documents, excerpts, clippings, medical records and vouchers. They illuminate the activities and postwar whereabouts of some of the most high-profile alleged Nazi war criminals.
One of the report's chapters deals explicitly with how the Americans used Gestapo officers, including Rudolf Mildner, after the war.
Mildner oversaw security in Denmark in 1943 when most of the country's 8,000 Jews were ordered arrested and deported to Auschwitz concentration camp — though they were rescued after Danish resistance leaders were tipped off. The Army detained Mildner, and kept him from landing in the hands of war crimes investigators, because his knowledge of Communist subversion was considered useful.
"The Army's willingness to use Gestapo officials against Communists was more substantial or greater than what we had known, even if there are no cases as prominent or large as Klaus Barbie," said Breitman, referring to the notorious "Butcher of Lyon" who worked for U.S. intelligence in the postwar period.
Mildner later escaped to Argentina, where he met up with Eichmann, who had also fled from Europe to the South American country.
The newly disclosed records answer some questions about Eichmann's movements before he was kidnapped by Israeli intelligence in 1960 and spirited away to be prosecuted for his crimes, the report said.
"The most recent American declassifications fill in some small gaps," the report states. "They show what the West knew about Eichmann's criminality and his postwar movements. No American intelligence agency aided Eichmann's escape or simply allowed him to hide safely in Argentina."
The report also details significant use of Nazi collaborators by the CIA during the Cold War.
In an attempt to disrupt the USSR, through penetrations in Ukraine, the agency turned to Nazi-affiliated nationalists, including Mykola Lebed, who led a paramilitary organization that pursued ethnic cleansing policies during the war. He was relocated to New York by 1948, and his relationship with the CIA "lasted the entire length of the Cold War," the report states.
Though he was later publicly identified by federal investigators as a possible war criminal, he was never brought to justice.
The CIA "shielded Lebed by denying any connection between Lebed and the Nazis and by arguing that he was a Ukrainian freedom fighter," the report stated.
"The CIA concluded that Lebed's activities on behalf of American intelligence were of such 'inestimable value' that the agency could ill afford to lose him as an asset," according to a 2003 CIA document viewed by the AP. The CIA prevented his deportation.
"Tireless in his efforts on behalf of Ukrainian nationalism, Lebed remained one of the agency's oldest contacts until his death in 1998," the document said.
Nazi hunters and lawmakers have long raised questions about what U.S. government knew and its involvement with war criminals during the Cold War.
Elizabeth Holtzman, a former Democratic congresswoman from New York who championed the disclosure of Nazi files, said each subsequent release has added to the historical record.
"This is a difficult, and in some respects shameful, chapter in American history," Holtzman said. "It was not known to the public, and I think it's a mark of governmental courage and of national courage to take this era and these documents and say, 'We want to learn the truth about what our government did,' and to do it in a way that was professional and serious."
The Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act has so far resulted in more than 8 million documents being declassified; a landmark 2005 book on "U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis" in part authored by Breitman and Goda; and a final report to Congress. The interagency working group overseeing the project was disbanded in 2007, but its work was extended by federal lawmakers as even more records continued to be discovered and released.
These included more than 1,000 files on individuals and records on over 50 secret operations that the CIA turned over to the National Archives.
A second batch of files, many of them from the Army Counterintelligence Corps, couldn't be read until a new system capable of handling terabytes of information had been developed, said William H. Cunliffe, a senior archivist at the National Archives who oversaw the declassification project.
Yet even more records are still hidden.
The U.S. Department of Justice's special Nazi-hunting unit, the Office of Special Investigations, was merged with another office in March to create the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section. The Office of Special Investigations was exempted under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act to protect ongoing investigations and prosecutions.
That included records it generated or records of interest that it flagged at other agencies.
In 2007, the OSI had waived more than 23,000 pages, according to the latest count available. It had excluded over 18,000.
National Archives: http://www.archives.gov/iwg
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