Courtesy Reuters

Spies Like Us

The Greater Good


In his essay reviewing James Critchfield's book Partners at the Creation ("Berlin to Baghdad," July/August 2004), Timothy Naftali devalues and disparages the early postwar cooperation between the CIA and what later became West Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), its federal intelligence service. Naftali asserts that the intelligence delivered by General Reinhard Gehlen's organization and its successor, the BND, was "of no significance" and of "questionable" value.

At no time during my tenure as president of the BND (1985-90) was the significance of its assessments of Soviet bloc developments doubted within NATO. This was true during the time of my predecessors and successors as well.

In considering the morality of U.S. Army and then CIA collaboration with Gehlen's organization-which recruited some former SS men (around 100) possibly guilty of war crimes-great weight must be given to the desperate need of the United States in the 1940s and early 1950s for information about the Soviet Union, its forces in Europe, and the communist regimes east of the Elbe. The United States had almost no agents of its own in the area during those years. Alternatives to Gehlen's group and remnants of other German espionage organizations from World War II capable of collecting such information simply did not exist.

In recommending cooperation with Gehlen, Critchfield, who was the CIA's liaison with Gehlen from 1948 to 1956, had in mind a good greater than intelligence collection: assuring that the security elite of the new German state would be firmly Atlanticist. This contributed in no small way both to the development of mutual trust between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States and to the preclusion of a domestic neofascist or nationalist threat to the former.

With the disclosure of documents on the U.S. Army's and the CIA's relationships with Gehlen, the downside of that cooperation has become known. The upside-the quality of the intelligence project-remains undisclosed. Hence even with righteous, detached hindsight, a cost-benefit analysis of hiring Gehlen and his people

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