Six decades after the government of the United States recruited 1,000 former Nazis as spies, someone in the government still seems to want to hold on to the program’s secrets.
When New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau was digging through once-secret archives for his new book on the American government’s dealings with ex-Nazis, he found something odd: CIA files that had been declassified only years before had gone missing again.
“You would routinely come across pages that had been pulled because they had been reclassified, usually by the CIA,” Lichtblau told the Forward.
Lichtblau’s book, titled “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men,” is drawing new attention to this history that some in the government have done their best to cover up.
After World War II, a number of U.S. government agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, recruited former Nazis to spy on the Russians. In some instances, those agencies later interfered with efforts to prosecute those Nazis.
Today, the program is recalled as an embarrassment — not only because of the unsavory nature of the relationships, but also because many of the Nazis turned out to be particularly bad spies.
“If you’re going to make this Faustian bargain to win the Cold War, you should at least be using good spies,” Lichtblau said. “The idea that you’re going to put national security into the hands of a thousand Nazis is suicide.”
The CIA declined to comment on why files relating to its dealings with Nazis may have been reclassified, or on why the agency took years to cooperate with a declassification effort in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The debate over what constitutes protection of national security secrets, versus covering up the agency’s disgraces, continues today. In late October, 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners petitioned President Obama to release the Senate’s long stalled report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11, which the agency has been fighting, claiming unresolved national security issues.
Some corners of the federal government have spent significant resources since WWII rooting out Nazis who took refuge here. The Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, in particular, brought proceedings over 100 former Nazi officers before it was reorganized into the DOJ’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, where it continues its work.
Others in the federal apparatus, however, have worked at cross purposes, as Lichtblau’s book and other recent research shows.
In an excerpt from his book published October 26 in The New York Times, Lichtblau revealed a previously undisclosed 1995 memo the CIA sent to the House Intelligence Committee in which the agency claimed that it had not known that one of its spies, Aleksandras Lileikis, was involved in the massacre of Jews while heading a secret police unit in Lithuania in the 1940s. Documents later released by the agency showed that it actually had known of Lileikis’s wartime activities.
Much of the history of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement cooperation with former Nazi war criminals was suppressed until 1998, when an act of Congress launched a massive declassification effort targeting secret documents on Nazi war crimes. The panel created to lead the effort, called the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, faced unusual resistance from the CIA.
“The first go-around on this, the CIA was — you could make the case — was actively obstructing them,” Lichtblau told the Forward.
Richard Ben-Veniste, a Working Group member who had been a Watergate special prosecutor, told the Forward that the CIA initially did not cooperate at all.
“They attempted to wait us out,” Ben-Veniste said. The act authorizing the Working Group was initially set to run out after just a few years; Ben-Veniste said that the CIA seemed to be stalling until the Working Group ran out of time and was disbanded.

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