The Poisoned Well


“The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”
–William Faulkner

Since the attacks of 11 September 2001, the American public has endured an astounding avalanche of official lies, half truths, pseudo-events [1] and sheer balderdash that will surely enter the Guinness Book of Records. Among the most persistent and infuriating lies of government, to those who have imbibed their knowledge of the past from the crystalline springs of Gibbon and von Ranke, is the misleading historical analogy. Its purpose is twofold: to relativize whatever current disaster the governing class has waltzed the hapless populace into; and to kill any usable past. The technique also has the added benefit of making government placemen sound learned ­ at least in the estimation of an audience which gains its knowledge of the world through Fox News and other State media.

Iraq is a fruitful field for detecting such historical fables. It was during the summer of 2003, as it first became evident that the natives of Mesopotamia were less than entirely enthusiastic about their liberation, that the American apparat swung into action with historical comparisons between Iraq and the occupation of Germany.

Then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice took to the hustings to tell the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in her characteristic school-marmish fashion, that occupied Iraq was no more of a problem than occupied Nazi Germany ­ and look what a rousing success that turned out to be: “There is an understandable tendency to look back on America’s experience in postwar Germany and see only the successes, but as some of you here today surely remember, the road we traveled was very difficult. 1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers-called ‘werewolves’-engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them-much like today’s Baathist and Fedayeen remnants.” [2]

Whereupon the irrepressible Secretary Rumsfeld immediately chimed in with his own historical tour d’horizon: “One group of those dead-enders was known as ‘werewolves.’ They and other Nazi regime remnants targeted Allied soldiers, and they targeted Germans who cooperated with the Allied forces. Mayors were assassinated including the American-appointed mayor of Aachen, the first major German city to be liberated. Children as young as 10 were used as snipers, radio broadcasts, and leaflets warned Germans not to collaborate with the Allies. They plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government buildings, and they destroyed stocks of art and antiques that were stored by the Berlin Museum. Does this sound familiar?” [3]

Frankfurt Was Not Fallujah

One wonders which community college-educated speech writer activated the larynxes of our senior government officials. As history, this was bunk, although it sounded plausible to the half-educated mind. American forces took Aachen in October 1944 ­ well before the largest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army, the Battle of the Bulge, and fully six months before the 8 May 1945 “end of major conflict” in the European Theater. The assassination of Aachen’s mayor and the capers of the Werewolves were distinctly small beer, because they occurred in the midst of the bloodiest land battles in world history. The Werewolves, Rumsfeld’s proto-Baathists, only existed as a viable force as an adjunct to a still-functioning German government holding territory between the Rhine and the Oder-Neisse; a government that could put, even at that late date, 8 million men into the field. At the time, 4th Generation Warfare operations were distinctly subsidiary to conventional military campaigns. [4]

Once hostilities ended, the situation was otherwise than described by Professor Doktor Rice and Kriegsminister Rumsfeld. Compared to the 1,484 dead and 10,487 wounded in Iraq, the few post-VE Day GI homicides principally occurred from black market deals gone wrong or quarrels over a Fräulein. The dynamic of post-war Western Germany, where the population was uniformly terrified of a vengeful Red Army and accordingly seeking protection of the Amis, is a dynamic absent from present-day Iraq.

There are, however, profound lessons to be derived from the occupation of Germany and its integration into the post-World War II American world system. Principal among the institutions which America absorbed into its national security state was German Intelligence, specifically the Gehlen Organization.

A Viper Enters the Nest

The story of General Reinhard Gehlen has been endlessly rehashed in books, articles, History Channel reprises, and Gehlen’s own self-serving memoirs, so we do not intend to recapitulate the full historical record. But this precis will suffice for our purposes:

During mid- and late World War II, Gehlen was head of Foreign Armies East, a Wehrmacht organization tasked with gaining order-of-battle estimations of the Red Army. As the self-flattering retrospectives would have it, Foreign Armies East’s estimations were more accurate than those of the ever-optimistic Hitler and his sycophantic retinue. Consequently, Gehlen’s favor fell as the Russian steamroller inexorably crunched towards the Reich.

By early 1945, Gehlen and his associates saw the inevitable, and, having no desire to join their Führer on a Wagnerian funeral pyre, resolved to make a deal with the Western allies. They microfilmed choice extracts from their files and buried them in containers somewhere in the Alps.

At war’s end, Gehlen surrendered to the Americans and made a startling proposition. He would provide the Americans with what they lacked: intelligence about their erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union. To newly-minted intelligence officers from Topeka and Paducah, this sounded like an arresting offer. By August 1945, the Americans were sufficiently intrigued to fly Gehlen, in the uniform of a U.S. Army general, to Washington in General Walter Bedell Smith’s transport aircraft. He met with such “present at the creation” panjandrums as Allen Dulles and William Donavan.

The outlines of the deal are these: Gehlen would transfer his organization and its information into the American intelligence network. As indubitable anticommunists, their zeal to serve their new masters was self-evident. All Gehlen demanded in return was the following:

o Gehlen must have complete control over his organization’s activities;

o He retained the right to approve U.S. liaison officers to the Organization;

o The Organization would only be used against the USSR and its client states;

o The Organization would become the official intelligence agency of a future West German state;

o The Organization would never be required to do anything Gehlen considered against German interests. [5]

As the reader can surely guess, the American authorities snapped at the bait like a starving barracuda. And the rest is history: Since the Gehlen Organization’s sole claim to legitimacy was its purported knowledge of the Soviet Union, the Red Army perforce became 20 feet tall.

Threat Inflation: A German Import?
Elementary knowledge of human psychology suggests that once the United States Government ceased to be terrified by the Soviet military, the Organization would no longer have a privileged and well-paid function; its flunkies would accordingly be obliged to scratch a living through honest toil. That alternative being abhorrent, the U.S. Government received and disseminated the most baroque exaggerations of Soviet power ­ only a few years after the European USSR had been nearly leveled, with up to 27 million military and civilian deaths. Despite the fundamental weakness of the post-war Soviet Union (which Stalin attempted to conceal) Congress and the America public obtained a steady diet of scare stories:

o In 1948, U.S. intelligence purported to believe the Red Army could mobilize “320 line divisions” in 30 days. This at a time when millions of Soviets were living in holes in the soil of Western Russia, there being nothing better to house them.

o The same year, the Secretary of the Navy told Congress that Soviet submarine were “sighted off our coasts” ­ although the Office of Naval intelligence could offer no evidence of such sub sightings. Its own estimates said that the Soviet Navy would be unable to mount continuing, overseas operations until 1957.

o Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington claimed in Congressional hearings that the Soviet Air Force was superior to that of the U.S.

o The military governor of Germany in 1948, General Lucius Clay, wrote a letter that conveniently found its way to Congress, stating that it was his “feeling” that the Soviets were planning war. [6]

Where did these estimates come from? Did the Gehlen Organization, which was essentially the executive agent of U.S. intelligence in Eastern Europe, have anything to do with it? The CIA’s reticence, right up to February of this year, to declassify its files regarding interaction with Nazi personages is telling. [7]

The historical rehashes belabor the obvious: not only did the Gehlen Organization have a motive to exaggerate the Soviet threat, but the potential interest of war crimes courts in its members made them prime candidates for KGB blackmail. And, predictably, the Gehlen Organization was thoroughly penetrated by Soviet intelligence, to the detriment of both American intelligence operations and the German government ­ whose chancellor, Willy Brandt, fell in a spy scandal.

So far, so bad. Conventional history has correctly perceived the corrupted intelligence provided by the Gehlen Organization during the cold war. But it does not answer the question, why did the Americans tumble so readily in 1945 when they had abundant adverse information available to them about the effectiveness of German Intelligence?

Dulles and Other Dullards
In 1945, when Walter Bedell Smith, Alan Dulles, and their coat holders fell for Gehlen’s pitch, they were in possession of a priceless insight into the spying abilities of their wartime foe ­ the Ultra secret.

Beginning in 1940, the British were able to read the ciphers transmitted by what the Germans believed to be their unbreakable Enigma code machine. Intermittently at first, the British (with their American allies looking over their shoulder) succeeded with increasing speed and accuracy to crack first the sloppy Luftwaffe code, then the Army’s, and finally the Kriegsmarine’s. The allies not only knew what the Germans knew and planned, but perhaps more critically what they did not know about allied operations.

And in fact, strategic intelligence about the allies was a blank spot for Germany. Tactically and operationally very proficient (perhaps the best in the world), the Germans were amateurish in divining what B.H. Liddel Hart would have called what was happening “on the other side of the hill.” What else would explain the fact that MI 5 turned or executed every single agent the Germans attempted to insert into Britain? What else would explain the Germans’ falling for the elementary ruse of the fake “Army Group Patton” in the buildup to D-Day? What else would explain the Germans’ horrendous failure at Kursk, in contrast to the Russians’ accurate divination of the Wehrmacht’s plans to attack the Kursk salient?

Given their access to this information, why did the American authorities nevertheless assume that Reinhard Gehlen had something valuable to offer them ­ at extortionate terms? Foreign Armies East may have been more or less accurate in providing rough order-of-battle estimates of Red Army strength, as long as there was a copious supply of Red Army POWs, but why did the Americans assume, against all evidence, that Gehlen had the slightest clue about strategic matters: what Stalin was planning, the general thrust of Soviet policy?

Ordinary human experience suggests that the wish was father to the thought: American intelligence believed because it wanted to believe. Far from being righteous and wise pillars of the American Century, Allen Dulles and his comperes were merely corrupt and incompetent scions of rich establishment families; in Dulles’s case, he elbowed his way into intelligence work in order to provide hot tips to his investment banking friends.

Dulles’s post-World War II partiality towards Nazi war criminals was essentially a continuation of his pre-war activities as a partner of Sullivan and Cromwell, a firm which facilitated transnational business agreements with the German cartels. Dulles’s performance in the Bay of Pigs invasion does not suggest a penetrating strategic mind. His primitive thinking more likely went along the following lines: If Meyer Lansky could replace Castro as the ruler of Cuba it would signify a victory for private investment, just as Gehlen or Alfred Krupp was preferable to some German Social Democrat who had spent the war in Buchenwald.

Chalabi: Bastard Child of Gehlen?
But the U.S. Government’s gullibility, and culpability in these matters, does not end with its danse macabre with National Socialism. From the abortive invasion of Cuba, through Dallas, Watergate, Iran-Contra, to the present imbecility of economic sanctions, Cuban “exiles” have distorted and debilitated American politics for more than four decades. All our knowledge of Cuba is what “exiles” comfortably ensconced in Coral Gables want us to think, just as our appreciation of the USSR was distorted by exiles from the Greater Germany Project. Exiles like General Gehlen.

Does this begin to sound familiar? Why is everything we are supposed to know about “the Greater Middle East” funneled through a foreign power? Do Ahmed Chalabi’s alarming pronouncements about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction circa 2003 sound oddly similar to Reinhard Gehlen’s ominous estimation of Soviet capabilities circa 1948? Will we soon hear alarming news of Iran’s nuclear capabilities from Iranian exile organizations like the Mujahedeen e Kalq?

Gehlen’s malignant ghost is laughing.

* WERTHER is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst.

[1] The concept of the pseudo-event, i.e., a contrived incident intended to be disseminated for propaganda purposes through the mass media, was fully delineated more than four decades ago: The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America, by Daniel J. Boorstin, 1961, Atheneum.

[2] “Condi’s Phony History,” by Daniel Benjamin, Slate, 29 August 2003.

[3} Ibid.

[4] WERTHER Report: 4GW and the Riddles of Culture.

[5] The Yankee and Cowboy War, by Carl Oglesby, Sheed Andrews and McMeel, 1976.

[6] Examples of early post-war threat inflation are found in Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948, by Frank Kofsky, Palgrave Macmillan, 1995.

[7] “Congress, CIA Resolve Dispute Over Nazi Files,” Voice of America, 9 February 2005