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The US Recreated the Nazi War Crimes Machine * Part 2

In 1983 US recruitment of Nazis exploded in public over the Klaus Barbie affair. So U.S. intelligence took charge of investigating the recruitment of Nazi war criminals by...U.S. intelligence

by Jared Israel
[Posted 13 January 2004]

The first article in this series can be read at


Early in 1983 it became clear that, whether the US Establishment liked it or not, people were going to learn about US recruitment of Nazi war criminals following World War II.  This was not just a guess because the process had already begun.  The question was, how much would people learn and how quickly would they learn it? And most important, would the US foreign policy establishment be discredited?

It started on January 25th when the recently elected Bolivian government arrested Klaus Barbie, former head of the Gestapo in Lyon, second biggest city in Nazi-occupied France. The "Butcher of Lyon" had lived in Bolivia for three decades. During that time France tried him for war crimes in absentia two times. And two times he was sentenced to death. [1]

On February 5th, Bolivia expelled Barbie, putting him on a plane to French Guiana. There he was arrested and sent to the destination he dreaded most: France. Since the statute of limitations on Barbie's war crimes convictions had run out, France would put him on trial on a new charge, Crimes against Humanity.   

Even as Barbie was being arrested in Guiana, an American professor, Erhard Dabringhaus, was giving an interview on NBC TV.  Shocking millions of TV viewers, Dabringhaus said that after World War II, US intelligence had employed Barbie, paying him $1700 a month. How did Dabringhaus know this? Because as a US Army Intelligence (CIC) officer he had been Barbie's handler in conquered Germany in 1948.

The Associated Press headline the next day read, "Professor Says 'Nazi Butcher' Was Paid U.S. Informant". The AP quoted Dabringhaus saying the US had financed Barbie's escape to Bolivia and that Barbie had tortured members of the French Resistance: [2]

[Excerpt from Associated Press starts here]

"He caught hundreds of them and if they didn't talk or cooperate with him, he would string them up by their thumbs in the basement until they were dead. He said there is a mass grave outside his headquarters that must have 200 people in it," Dabringhaus said.

Twice, Dabringhaus said, French intelligence agents asked him if the United States knew where Barbie was.

"They had heard that we knew something about him and I was ordered by my own headquarters not to say anything, that we knew anything about him."

[Excerpt from Associated Press ends here]

The news spread like wildfire. In a book published a year later, Dabringhaus wrote: [3]

"On Sunday, February 6, 1983, a line of reporters formed at my front door.  They continued to write for three weeks and calls came in from as far away as Sidney, Australia." 

Ordinary people were shocked. The movies depicted US intelligence agents parachuting into occupied France to fight the Nazis. Could it be that even as leading Nazis were being tried at Nuremberg, the US had recruited one of the worst Nazi butchers and shielded him from French justice? If so, who authorized this? Was it the only case? How much was the US involved in Barbie's escape to Bolivia? Did US intelligence continue to employ Barbie after he got there?

The intelligence 'community' of course knew the damaging answers to these questions. And it knew that the US had recruited not one Nazi but thousands, some of them more important than Barbie. If the whole story came out, and especially if too much came out at one time, it could discredit the US foreign policy apparatus. And this could happen. After all, Dabringhaus had come forward out of nowhere.  Would other CIC officers also come forward?


Damning evidence: Barbie's life as a fugitive  


Given that there was a lot of readily available and incriminating evidence about Barbie's relationship to the US, it is amazing how little the public learned in 1983. Indeed, it is amazing how little the public knows today.

For example, while supposedly a hunted fugitive in Bolivia, Barbie played a central role in suppressing democracy. This was discussed in a 1989 Library of Congress study:  [4]

[Quote From Library of Congress Study Starts Here]

In 1980 [Bolivian president Lidia] Gueiler presided over elections in which the parties of the left gained a clear majority of the vote. Siles Zuazo and his Democratic and Popular Unity (Unidad Democrática y Popular--UDP) coalition alone got 38 percent of the votes; the Congress was certain to name him president on August 6, 1980.

The process was disrupted on July 17, 1980, however, by the ruthless military coup of General Luis García Meza. Reportedly financed by cocaine traffickers and supported by European mercenaries recruited by Klaus Barbie, former Gestapo chief in Lyons, the coup began one of the darkest periods in Bolivian history. Arbitrary arrest by paramilitary units, torture, and disappearances - with the assistance of Argentine advisers - destroyed the opposition.

[Quote From Library of Congress Study Ends Here]

Keep in mind that this analysis was not published until December of 1989 and of course, even then, Library of Congress studies are not mass reading.

However, on  February 25th  1983, the Associated Press *did* publish a related dispatch. It was in some ways stronger than the  Library of Congress study. For instance, the AP dispatch makes clear that the "paramilitary groups" which the Bolivian government accused Barbie of organizing were in fact death squads: [6]

[Excerpt from AP starts here]

Said to number anywhere from 900 to 3,000, they terrorized the country for [the next]... two years, raided homes and factories and traveled with official government credentials provided by the Interior Ministry or the drug control agency, according to government documents.

...Following the coup, thousands of political and labor leaders were either killed, tortured, exiled or sent to internment camps in the interior.

[Excerpt from AP ends here]

These death squads were reminiscent of the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazis' mobile murder squads responsible for millions of deaths in World War II. [5]

Thus Barbie continued to do in Bolivia some of the same things he had done in France.

Anyone reading this AP dispatch might ask: how could the CIA *not* know that Barbie, who for years was a US Army Counter Intelligence (CIC) employee, was organizing death squads in Bolivia?

Was Barbie in fact CIA? Had he been given the job of wiping out thousands of Bolivian leaders who wanted to chart a social and political course opposed by the US foreign policy Establishment?

Who were the "European mercenaries recruited by Klaus Barbie"? Were they other Nazis whom the US had helped emigrate to South America?  Was the US secretly using the old Nazi war crimes apparatus to create Einsatzgruppen to rid Latin America of political undesirables? Was the so-called flight of Nazis to Latin America therefore in fact a method of spreading a network of reliable killers all over the area?

These questions would have been asked by many people had the AP dispatch been read by ordinary people, but it was not. Nobody saw it.

Allow me to explain.

Associated Press is a 'wire service', meaning it produces news stories ('dispatches') and sends them to thousands of subscribers (newspapers, magazines and TV stations). Therefore an AP dispatch can only reach the public if one or more subscribers publishes it.

I chanced upon the AP dispatch about Barbie and the Bolivian death squads while doing research with the Lexis-Nexis media search engine. However, using this very effective search engine, I could find no evidence that any newspaper or TV news program had picked up the AP dispatch! Apparently Emperor's Clothes readers will be the first to read it. [6]

If ordinary people had read this dispatch in 1983 they would have had a lot to be upset about. They already knew the US had recruited Barbie and paid for his trip to Bolivia. Now it turned out that in Bolivia this Gestapo man continued doing some of what got him convicted for war crimes in France.

Was it a coincidence that not one newspaper picked up the AP dispatch?  Or were steps taken to suppress the story?  Either way, this AP dispatch illustrates the danger faced in 1983 by the powers-that-be: Barbie's activities in Bolivia were a time bomb waiting to blow.

Three weeks later it blew.


Build-up to a revelation


On March 7th the news came out that nine congressmen had written President Reagan:

"…. [urging him to] personally order an investigation that would, quote, 'once and for all make clear the United States position on Nazi war criminals and whether US agencies knowingly or unknowingly provided protection for Barbie and others.'"
-- ABC TV News; March 7, 1983; Monday

Attorney General William French Smith attempted to kill any possible  investigation:

"Since Barbie did not take up residence here, according to one source, the Attorney General sees little likelihood of prosecution and does not want Justice [i.e., the Justice Department] to become a department of historical research."
-- ABC TV News; March 7, 1983; Monday

Meanwhile, the accusation was made that, though a fugitive wanted for war crimes, Barbie had twice traveled to the US, as well as to other countries. The US didn't deny this: [7]

[Excerpt from New York Times starts here]

"The Justice Department has found evidence to support a report that Klaus Barbie...made several trips to the United States from his Bolivian refuge in 1969 and 1970... [But] Attorney General William French Smith, after being advised of the findings, ruled out further Justice Department action…"

A Federal official said the visits appeared to have been related to Mr. Barbie's business as co-owner of Transmaritima Boliviana, the Government-sponsored shipping company. He said there was nothing in the record to indicate that the visits were in any way linked to any American intelligence agency.

[Excerpt from New York Times ends here]

How did Barbie, a hunted war criminal, become co-owner of the Bolivian national shipping company?

And how believable was it that this achievement in the field of business, along with Barbie's achievements in the field of death squads, were not "in any way linked to any American intelligence agency"?

Moreover, an interesting question remained unanswered: If Barbie came to the US as co-owner of a shipping company, what exactly was it he wanted to ship?


The Miami Herald explodes the bomb


On Sunday, March 13th, the Miami Herald dropped a bomb. [8]

[My emphasis]

"The Miami Herald, quoting diplomatic and arms-dealing sources, reported Sunday that Barbie used a Bolivian diplomatic passport for his gun-buying forays into the United States....In one of his major gunrunning coups, Barbie shipped 100 *light tanks* from Austria in the mid-1970s, a diplomatic source told the Herald."

So according to the Herald, not only was Barbie a top agent of the Bolivian government, entrusted to purchase weapons  appropriate for an army, but this was common knowledge among diplomats!

The Bolivian government was of course aware that Barbie was wanted for war crimes in France. Why would they risk international condemnation by shielding this monster - indeed, by making him co-owner of their shipping company and giving him diplomatic credentials to purchase weapons? Unless of course the Bolivians had been assured by US officials that if France made trouble, the US would intervene on their behalf.




At this point some people in the US foreign policy establishment did some serious thinking.  It was clear that, one way or another, the general public was going to find out about US-Nazi relations. The question was: *what* would they find out and what would they think about what they learned?

If fresh revelations continued to surface while Attorney General Smith stonewalled against investigating, the public would conclude that this was a cover-up, that Barbie was just the tip of the iceberg of US recruitment of Nazis.

A new approach was needed.

First, something had to be done to stop former CIC agents from going on TV and telling all. This was accomplished by making it known that anyone who confessed to having knowingly worked with a war criminal might be subject to prosecution. I'll discuss that later.

Second, as France prepared for Barbie's upcoming trial, it was crucial to make sure that the French media was somehow diverted from focusing on Barbie's US connections. This was accomplished by Barbie's lawyer, Jacques Verges. More on that later as well.

Third, and most urgent, something had to be done immediately to counter the public impression of a cover-up.

This required a complete about-face. The Establishment was aware that the American public did not want to believe US intelligence had been constructed out of the Nazi war crimes apparatus. The public wanted to be told, "No, it isn't so."

In order to convince people that everything was OK, US officials had to express grave concern over the Barbie revelations. The intelligence 'community' itself had to take the lead in demanding an investigation. Moreover, the head investigator had to be someone with public credibility.

With the public soothed, a final report could be presented that admitted a few facts, but all mixed up with outright lies and misleading half-truths. 

Who had the credibility to do such a  job?

Enter Allan A. Ryan.


Deep concern


On March 14th the New York Times leaked the story that National Security adviser William P. Clark had pressured Attorney General French to change his mind. That same day, the Justice Department did an abrupt about-face. No longer were Barbie's relations with US intelligence a matter of purely historical interest. A Justice Department statement declared that: [9]

"We view these allegations with deep concern, and a preliminary review of pertinent Government files indicates that these allegations have sufficient merit to warrant a comprehensive investigation."

Allan A. Ryan was picked to head the investigation and produce a  report. He was the chief of the OSI (Office of Investigations.) This Justice Department division was charged with deporting Nazis who had illegally entered the US after World War II. And Ryan was high- profile: in the previous five months, he had been quoted seven times in the Washington Post and New York Times championing the  prosecution of Nazi émigrés. He had an anti-Nazi public image.

Ryan's investigation was followed by an official report.  That report stressed four questions:

* Was the decision to recruit Nazis made by low level intelligence officers or at the top?

* Did US intelligence officials know Barbie was wanted for war crimes when they employed him?

* Was Barbie the only war criminal the US helped "escape" from Europe?

* Did US intelligence continue working with Barbie after he settled in Bolivia?

In the next section I will analyze Allan A. Ryan's report.  I will show that Ryan knowingly misinformed the public - lied, if you will - about each of these vital points.  In doing so, he established the modus operandi by which Washington would deal with revelations about the postwar US recruitment of Nazis.  That MO was:

1) Seize the initiative;

2) Appear self-critical;

3) Give people the false impression that whatever happened was a blunder and/or constituted reasonable actions by low-level officials; 

4) Leave out key facts and lie about others so that it is difficult for people to see that the US had a systematic policy of recreating the Nazi war crimes apparatus; 

5) Gradually get people used to the idea that the US worked with Nazis so that any new revelations would seem like old news; in other words, desensitize them. This is a process much like vaccination.  Starting with Allan A. Ryan, we have been immunized in stages against grasping the truth about what the US did with the Nazis after World War II.

More coming in Part 3, "How Allan A. Ryan's Official Report Lied about Klaus Barbie."

Jared Israel
Editor, Emperor's Clothes

* Continued in Part Three *

Footnotes follow the fundraising appeal.


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Footnotes and Further Reading


[1] We have posted some material on Barbie's crimes. 

These crimes were so monstrous that it is easy to imagine Barbie was an exception, that his crimes did not result from Nazism but only from his sadistic personality. But this misses the point.  Nazism selected for and encouraged Barbie's character traits. He was the willing product of the SS, which was devoted to killing people whom the Nazis deemed subhuman or who politically opposed Nazism. His evaluations and decorations are evidence of what the SS stood for.  For example, after Barbie was posted to Holland in May, 1940:

"On April 20, 1941, he was awarded the iron Cross second class with swords for 'cleaning out' a ghetto of 300 Jews."
-- Erhard Dabringhaus, 1984, Klaus Barbie, Washington, D.C.: Acropolis Books, p. 101

Barbie's superiors considered his conduct exemplary:

"His [SS] file confirms the confidence he inspired: a comrade beyond reproach, excellent service record, exemplary conduct as an SS officer both on and off duty. 'He is considered to have affirmed his opinion regarding the conception of the Nazi world,' says one note in his file."
-- Manchester Guardian Weekly; February 13, 1983; Section: Pg. 1'; Headline: An unrepentant Nazi brought to book; byline :Jean Marc Theolleyre

[2] The Associated Press; February 5, 1983, Saturday, AM cycle; Domestic News; Headline: Prof Says 'Nazi Butcher' Was Paid U.S. Informant; New York

[3] Erhard Dabringhaus, 1984, Klaus Barbie, Washington, D.C.: Acropolis Books, pp. 28-29)

[4]  Library of Congress Country Study - Bolivia
See section entitled 'Military Rule, 1964-82' and click on 'Transition to Democracy'

[5] Regarding the Nazi death squads or Einsatzgruppen, see

[6] The Associated Press; February 25, 1983, Friday, Am Cycle; Section: International News; Length: 695 Words; Byline: By Peter Mcfarren, Associated Press Writer; Dateline: La Paz, Bolivia. The full AP dispatch is posted at

[7]  New York Times; March 8, 1983, Tuesday, Late City Final Edition; Section: Section A; Page 4, Column 1; Foreign Desk; Headline: U.S. Is Reported to have Evidence that Barbie Visited in '69 and '70; Byline: By Ralph Blumenthal, Special to the New York Times; Dateline: Washington

[8]  Quoted in: United Press International dispatch; March 14, 1983, Monday, PM cycle; Section: Domestic News; Dateline: Miami

[9] The New York Times; March 15, 1983, Tuesday, Late City Final Edition; Section: Section A; Page 4, Column 3; Foreign Desk; Headline: U.S. Plans Inquiry On Barbie; Byline: By Ralph Blumenthal, Special To The New York Times; Dateline: Washington, March 14

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