Reinhard Gehlen (3 April 1902 – 8 June 1979) was a Nazi German general who was chief of the Foreign Armies East (FHO) military-intelligence unit, during World War II (1939–45); spymaster of the anti–Communist Gehlen Organization for the U.S.(1946–56); and the first president (1956–68) of the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND) during the Cold War (1945–91).
In 1942, Gehlen was chief of FHO, the German Army's military intelligence unit on the Eastern Front (1941–45). As a professional soldier, the Wehrmacht officer Gehlen achieved the rank of major general, before Hitler sacked him, because of the FHO’s pessimistically accurate intelligence reports about Red Army superiority. In late 1945, at the start of the Cold War, the U.S. military (G-2 Intelligence) recruited General Gehlen to establish an espionage network against the Soviet Union; the Gehlen Organization (1946), wherein he employed ex–military-officers of the Wehrmacht and Nazis from the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD).
In the event, Gehlen became president of the Federal Intelligence Service of West Germany, until 1968. Although ostensibly a civil servant in the BND, he was a lieutenant-general in the Reserve forces of the Bundeswehr; thus, Reinhard Gehlen was the highest-ranking reserve-officer in the army of West Germany.
Early life and military service
Reinhard Gehlen was born to a Roman Catholic family in Erfurt; his father owned a book shop. In 1920, Reinhard joined the Reichswehr; attended the German Staff College, was graduated in 1935, after which he was promoted to captain and assigned to the Army General Staff.
Captain Gehlen was on the General Staff from 1935 to 1936, and in 1939, Gehlen was promoted to major. At the time of the 1939 German attack on Poland he was a staff officer of an infantry division. In 1940, Gehlen became liaison officer to Army Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch. He was later transferred to the staff of Army Chief of Staff General Franz Halder.
In July 1941, Gehlen was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, sent to the Eastern Front and assigned to the German General Staff, section Fremde Heere Ost (FHO), or Foreign Armies East, as a senior intelligence officer.
In the watershed year of 1942, according to Gehlen's memoir, he was approached by Colonel Henning von Tresckow, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and General Adolf Heusinger to participate in an assassination attempt on German head of state Adolf Hitler. His role was to be minor. When the plot culminated in the failed bomb plot of 20 July 1944, Gehlen's role was covered up and he escaped Hitler's retaliation against the conspirators. Throughout his years at FHO, Gehlen allowed determined opponents of the National Socialist government to hold conspiratorial discussions inside his section and he was present at Berchtesgaden in the final days before 20 July when details of the assassination attempt were discussed.
In the spring of 1942 Gehlen took over FHO from Colonel Eberhard Kinzel. Even before the disaster of Stalingrad, Gehlen realized that FHO must be fundamentally reorganized and he methodically set about finding the right personnel. Gehlen scoured army personnel files, searching for linguists, geographers, anthropologists, lawyers and junior officers who had recently joined FHO. He accepted anyone who seemed suitable to him and who would be likely to raise the intellectual level of FHO. A stream of fresh and energetic officers and experts flowed in. It was this cadre that amassed a comprehensive data file on the Red Army, producing assessments and "defeatist reports" that reached Hitler. Their discouraging accuracy eventually resulted in his dismissal in April 1945, but not before his last promotion, to the rank of major general.
As head of the Foreign Armies East, Gehlen was responsible for the acquisition of information from captured Soviet POWs. See German mistreatment of Soviet prisoners of war.
During the war, Gehlen's organization accumulated a great deal of information about the Soviet Union and the battlefield tactics of the Red Army. When the Iron Curtain descended in 1946, leaving the Western Allies with virtually no intelligence sources in Eastern Europe, Gehlen’s vast store of knowledge made him very valuable.
Realizing early on that Germany would ultimately be defeated, Gehlen made preparations to ensure his own survival after the fall of the Third Reich. He ordered the microfilming of the holdings of Fremde Heere Ost and had them placed in watertight drums, which he buried in several places in the Austrian Alps. He had fifty cases of archives buried at the Elendsalm in the mountains of Upper Bavaria, planning to sell them after the end of hostilities.
After the Second World War
On 22 May 1945, General Reinhard Gehlen surrendered to the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) of the U.S. Army, in Bavaria, and was taken to Camp King, near Oberursel, and there interrogated by Captain John R. Boker. As a spymaster with great knowledge of Soviet forces, and anti-communist intelligence contacts in the USSR, the American Army recognized the political value of the Nazi General Gehlen. In exchange for his liberty and the liberty of his command (prisoners of the U.S. Army), Gehlen offered the Counter Intelligence Corps access to the FHO’s intelligence archives, and to his anti-communist espionage network in the Soviet Union. In the event, Capt. Boker deleted the names of Gehlen, and his Wehrmacht command, from the official lists of Nazi prisoners of war, and transferred seven FHO senior-officers to join Gehlen.
The FHO archives in the control of Gehlen were unearthed and secretly taken to Camp King, ostensibly without the knowledge of the camp commander. By end of summer 1945, Capt. Boker had the support of Brigadier General Edwin Sibert, the G2 (senior intelligence officer) of the U.S. Twelfth Army Group. Gen. Sibert arranged the secret transport of the Gehlen Nazis and the FHO intelligence archives, authorized by his superiors in the chain of command, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith (chief of staff for Gen. Eisenhower), who worked with William Donovan (former OSS-chief) and Allen Dulles (OSS chief), who also was the OSS station-chief in Bern. On 20 September 1945, General Reinhard Gehlen and three associates were flown from the American Zone of Occupation in Germany to the U.S., to become spies for the U.S. Government.
In July 1946, the U.S. officially released the military prisoner Gehlen and returned him to Occupied Germany. On 6 December 1946, Gehlen began espionage operations against the Soviet Union, by establishing a secret intelligence service composed of ex–intelligence-officers of the Wehrmacht and Nazis from the SS (Shutzstaffel) and the SD (Sicherheitsdienst), first at Oberursel, near Frankfurt, then at Pullach, near Munich. The cover-name of the Gehlen Organization was the South German Industrial Development Organization. For the staff of his spy agency, Gehlen selected 350 ex-intelligence officers of the Wehrmacht as members, eventually, the organization comprised some 4,000 anti-communist secret agents; yet, to U.S. intelligence, they were the called the Gehlen Organization and the Org.
From the beginning of his association with the U.S. Government, Gen. Reinhard Gehlen always had been under military sponsorship, controlled by US Army G-2 (Intelligence), which he resented; eventually, the general realized a formal association with, and sponsorship by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), established in 1947, a year after the Gehlen Organization was established. The CIA kept close control of the Gehlen Organization, because, for years, during the Cold War (1945–91), the Org agents were CIA’s only eyes-and-ears on the ground in the countries of the Eastern Bloc of Soviet hegemony.
Between 1947 and 1955, the Org agents interviewed every German PoW who returned to West Germany from captivity in the Soviet Union. The Gehlen Org employed hundreds of ex–Nazis, and also had close contacts with the anti-communist organizations of the East European émigré communities in Western Europe. The espionage of the Gehlen Organization comprehended observing the operations of the railroad systems, airfields, and ports of the USSR, and the infiltration (by sea, air, and land) of Org secret agents to the Baltic countries, and to the Ukraine. Among the successes of the Gehlen Org is Operation Bohemia, a major effort of anti-communist counter-espionage.
The security and efficacy of the Gehlen Organization were compromised by East German moles within the Org, and by Communists and their sympathizers within the CIA and the SIS (MI6), especially Kim Philby, himself a Soviet secret agent. As the spies emerged from the shadows, Gehlen, personally, and the Gehlen Organization, officially, were attacked by the governments of the Western powers and the Soviet Union. The British government was especially hostile towards the spymaster Gehlen, and the politically liberal British press ensured full publication of the existence of the Gehlen Organization, Nazis in the employ of Western intelligence agencies.
BND (Federal Intelligence Service)
Eleven years after the end of World War II, on 1 April 1956, the U.S. Government and the CIA formally transferred the Gehlen Organization to the authority of West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany, BRD), under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1949–63). By way of that transference of geopolitical sponsorship, the anti–Communist Gehlen Organization became the nucleus of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND, Federal Intelligence Service).
As the spymaster of the Gehlen Organization, Reinhard Gehlen became president of the BND as an espionage service, wherein he experienced operational success and failure, until he was forced out of office in 1968. The end of Gehlen’s career as a spymaster resulted from a conflation of events in West Germany; (i) the discovery of the professional secret agent Heinz Felfe (ex–SS lieutenant and a Soviet-agent) working in the Pullach headquarters of the BND; (ii) political estrangement from his boss, Chancellor Adenauer, occurred in 1963, aggravated every problem; (iii) and the inefficiency of the BND — consequent to Gehlen’s poor leadership and continual inattention to the business of espionage-as-national-defence.
In 1968, Reinhard Gehlen retired as a civil servant of West Germany, classified as a Ministerialdirektor, a senior civil-service grade of generous pension; after eleven years of retirement, Gehlen died in 1979, at the age of 77 years.
Notes and references
Bibliography and sources
- Cookridge, E. H. Gehlen: Spy of the Century. London: Hodder & Stoughton. 1971, and New York: Random House. 1972
- Critchfield, James H.: Partners at Creation: The Men Behind Postwar Germany's Defense and Intelligence Establishments. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2003. x + 243 pp, ISBN 1-59114-136-2.
- Hersh, Burton. The Old Boys — The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA. New York: Scribner’s. 1992
- Höhne, Heinz; Zolling, Hermann (1972). The General Was a Spy: The Truth about General Gehlen and his spy ring. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan. ISBN 0698104307.
- Kross, Peter. "Intelligence" in Military Heritage, October 2004, p. 26–30
- Reese, Mary Ellen. General Reinhard Gehlen: The CIA Connection. Fairfax, Virginia: George Mason University. 1990
- United States National Archives, Washington, D.C. NARA Collection of Foreign Records Seized, Microfilm T-77, T-78
- Weiner, Tim. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Trade Paperback, p. 10–190, Anchor Books. 2008. ISBN 978-0-307-38900-8
- Simpson, Christopher. "Blowback 'The first full account of America's recruitment of nazis, and its disastrous effects on our domestic and foreign policy'", 1988, 398 pp, Collier books, Macmillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0-02-044995-X
- John Douglas-Gray in his thriller 'The Novak Legacy' ISBN 978-0-7552-1321-4
- WEB Griffin, in post World War II fiction novel 'Top Secret'. ISBN 978-0-399-17123-9