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2000-06-06

Germany Corruption Scandal, Nazis and the CIA

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At a dinner last week in Germany, President Clinton’s evening went up in smoke when German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder offered him a box of Cuban cigars.

Diners at a Berlin restaurant said the president stopped laughing when Schroeder offered him the stogies, which a German government official brought back from a trip to Cuba last week.

According to witnesses, Schroeder said "The cigars that I am holding in my hand come from Cuba and, thus, I am holding one of Fidel’s cigars in my hand that I would like to give to you."

The diners said Clinton–perhaps remembering the way cigars were put to use in the Monica Lewinsky affair–looked irritated and then, remembering protocol, smiled politely.

President Clinton ended a four-nation European tour yesterday, which included Portugal, Russia, the Ukraine and Germany. While in Germany, Clinton met with the country’s former chancellor Helmut Kohl who has been mired in a financial scandal that exploded last year after Kohl admitted accepting close to a million dollars in donations from sources he has refused to name. Our guest today says this scandal reaches back to when the U.S. placed Nazis, Hitler youth and Third Reich veterans in positions of power in West Germany.

Guest:

  • Martin Lee, expert on the ultra right and author of ??The Beast Reawakens. He recently wrote an article in intellectualcapital.com called "The CIA’s Neo-Nazis."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

We move now to the second major subject of today. At a dinner this past weekend in Germany, President Clinton’s evening went up in smoke when German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder offered him a box of Cuban cigars.

Diners at a Berlin restaurant said the President began fuming when Schroeder offered him the stogies, which a German government official brought back from a trip to Cuba last week. According to witnesses, Schroeder said, "The cigars that I am holding in my hand come from Cuba and, thus, I am holding one of Fidel’s cigars in my hand that I would like to give to you." The diners said Clinton, perhaps remembering the way cigars were put to use in the Monica Lewinsky affair, looked irritated and then, remembering protocol, smiled politely.

Well, that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. President Clinton did end a four-nation European tour yesterday, which included Portugal, Russia, the Ukraine and Germany. While in Germany, Clinton met with the country’s former chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who has been mired in a financial scandal that exploded last year after Kohl admitted accepting close to a million dollars in donations from sources he refused to name.

Well, our guest today says this scandal reaches back to, well, right after World War II, when the U.S. placed Nazis, Hitler youth and Third Reich veterans in positions of power in West Germany.

Martin Lee joins us from California, expert on the ultra right and author of the book, The Beast Reawakens. He recently wrote an article online at intellectualcapital.com called "The CIA’s Neo-Nazis."

Tell us about the history of this neo-Nazi connection, Martin Lee.

MARTIN LEE:

Well, it turns out today that, you know, the neo-Nazi movement in Germany is growing. And some of the elder statesmen of that movement, including one particular figure named Friedhelm Busse, had a long history and career with neo-Nazi and ultra rightwing groups in Germany. And if you look back years ago, you find he also at one point worked with the Central Intelligence Agency. This was back in the early 1950s.

Friedhelm Busse was a member of a group called the Bund Deutscher Jugend, the German Youth Organization, which was an elite CIA-trained paramilitary organization that was composed largely of former Hitler Youth and SS personnel and German military veterans in West Germany. And this group was formed by the CIA basically to engage in anti-Communist activities. And it was part of a larger policy that involved restoring Third Reich veterans back into positions of power in German society.

And this also included within the espionage establishment in Germany. One key figure here was General Reinhard Gehlen, who was Hitler’s chief anti-Soviet spy during World War II. And because of his expertise about the Soviet Union, the US government decided to employ Gehlen after World War II to continue spying on the Soviets, but now instead of doing it for Hitler, he would do it for the CIA. And it was part of that — in the context of that framework that some of the key figures in the neo-Nazi scene today first worked with the CIA back years ago.

AMY GOODMAN:

What, at this point, is the CIA-neo-Nazi connection to the whole scandal of the chancellor and his mentor?

MARTIN LEE:

Well, this is interesting, because it does also relate to the figure of General Gehlen and his network that the CIA employed as an anti-Communist spy operation after World War II.

See, the Kohl scandal is essentially an influence-peddling scandal. Former Chancellor Kohl, when he first began his political career back in the 1970s, had a very close relationship with German big business, particularly the chemical and the pharmaceutical industries. And his mentor within the big business community in Germany was a man named Fritz Ries. He was a German industrialist who literally made a killing during World War II, during the Third Reich, from profiting from slave labor at Auschwitz. He profited from the Aryanization of Jewish properties during the 1930s; essentially, basically, he benefited from property stolen from Jewish people in Germany. And this person was well set up after World War II. Rather than being punished, he was allowed to continue and prosper by the US government, which was more interested in creating a strong bulwark in West Germany against Communism than in bringing war criminals to justice oftentimes.

So this Fritz Ries ended up becoming Helmut Kohl’s political patron when Kohl got involved initially in German politics in the middle of the 1970s. Eventually he became chancellor. He was the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, the conservative political party there for a while.

What’s interesting is that Fritz Ries’s legal advisor, one of his legal advisors, was a man named Dr. Eberhard Taubert, who also had close links to the Hitler regime. Taubert was one of Goebbels’s propaganda ministry minions. He was also a judge on a people’s tribunal during the Hitler years that hand down death sentences for crimes such as telling an anti-Hitler joke or a German sleeping with a Jewish person, this kind of thing. And Fritz Ries employed Taubert as his political advisor. And Taubert also went through a period where he worked with this Gehlen organization spying for the CIA, in terms of the anti-Communist politics that were happening during the Cold War.

AMY GOODMAN:

And so, now we bring it back to today. What happened on May Day?

MARTIN LEE:

Well, on May Day, what you had was demonstrations in several German cities organized by one of the leading neo-Nazi parties in Germany today called the National Democratic Party. It’s the most extreme of all of the far-right parties in Germany. And they tried to basically encroach on sort of leftwing turf by holding what they claimed would be pro-worker demonstrations in various cities in Germany on May Day. In fact, this happened in many different European countries. Ultra rightwing groups held demonstrations on May Day.

In Berlin, the demonstration was addressed by this former CIA asset, Friedhelm Busse, who is now a leading figure within the neo-Nazi scene in Germany. Of course, when the CIA employed Busse years ago, they did not intend for him to emerge as a leader of organizations that were vociferous in their hatred of the United States.

So what really is an example of kind of the blowback phenomenon, where it entails unintended consequences of covert operations conducted by the US government, particularly the CIA, that are kept secret from the US public, that end up sort of blowing up in the US’s face and boomeranging. And this is really what happened with a lot of employment of these Nazis and recruitment of Nazis by the CIA after World War II.

AMY GOODMAN:

Martin Lee, we have to break for stations to identify themselves. When we come back, I want to also ask you about the connections between Busse, who is head of the National Democratic Party, Germany’s most radical political party, and Haider of Austria.

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back with Martin Lee in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to talk about Germany today and the neo-Nazi movement there with Martin Lee, who is the author of The Beast Reawakens, an expert on the fascist right in Europe today.

You were talking about this man, Busse, head of the National Democratic Party, Germany’s most radical political party. What about its connection to Haider of Austria?

MARTIN LEE:

I should point out that Busse is not actually the head of the party, but he is a leading figure and spokesperson for the party.

Its relation to Haider is an interesting one. The National Democratic Party in Germany actually held a demonstration earlier this year on the anniversary of the Anschluss of Austria, when Hitler’s Germany incorporated Austria into the Third Reich. The National Democratic Party had a demonstration basically in support of this. And they came out very strongly also in support of Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party in Austria, which only a couple of months before that entered the government in Austria and is now a dominant political force in Austria.

Well, there’s no direct connection between the National Democratic Party today in Germany and the Freedom Party in Austria. However, when — you know, the National Democratic Party has been around for a while in Germany. They actually peaked in the mid 1960s, late 1960s when they won representation in a majority of state governments in Germany. And at that time, sort of a spin-off party, also called the National Democratic Party, was formed in Austria. And some of those figures in the Austrian version of this party ended up becoming players in the Austrian Freedom Party later on and helped Joerg Haider’s rise to power.

So the National Democratic Party in Germany is more overtly extreme. It’s about as Nazi as you can get in Germany without, you know, crossing the legal boundaries and breaking the law. The Freedom Party in Austria is more sort of a suit-and-tie version of fascism. It tries to be much more respectable, much more careful, in terms of the image it projects.

AMY GOODMAN:

I wanted to ask you, Martin Lee, in related news headlines of the French government’s attempts to prevent French internet users from getting to Nazi websites or Nazi propaganda, your thoughts on that.

MARTIN LEE:

Well, it’s interesting, because the use of the internet and the web by neo-Nazi groups does pose significant problems and is of strategic advantage to these groups, in particular in terms of promoting what they call the leaderless resistance strategy, which is something that has been manifested in the United States in terms of these lone wolf type of terrorists we saw with the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996 and even, you could say, the Oklahoma City bombing is an extension of that strategy.

The idea is that you can post on the web messages, hateful diatribes and, you know, suggestions and hinting to people that they should take actions, as they see fit, against the enemy, against the government, whether it’s the United States or in other countries, on certain days to coincide with certain events.

This allows neo-Nazi groups to avoid getting into a situation where a particular leader will issue a specific order commanding someone to go out and undertake a specific action, which then that leader can be held liable for. So the internet really does facilitate this strategy.

AMY GOODMAN:

It’s interesting. Just on Yahoo!, there’s auctioning of Nazi paraphernalia.

MARTIN LEE:

Yeah, that’s a matter of — you know, a lot of it is just a matter of making money for somebody auctioning this stuff. But it does come into conflict with the laws in certain countries in Europe, which don’t allow publication of Holocaust-denial text, unlike in the United States. So it does — you know, there is a legal conflict here. And I think these kinds of legal skirmishes are going to continue to play out, because we’re in sort of an unprecedented situation with the internet, and these things will continue to happen.

AMY GOODMAN:

Back to Germany, President Clinton’s visit there, what is the US government saying about its past and the CIA connections to supporting the Nazis of World War II and the — connected to the neo-Nazis today?

MARTIN LEE:

Well, you know, very little. I mean, it’s one of those examples, really glaring examples, of how the United States government refuses to own up to its own Cold War skeletons in its closet and confront them. You know, with all of the brouhaha about the United States winning the Cold War, you have this very significant chapter of history where the CIA incorporates into its bosom in the very early going, in the late ’40s, literally thousands of former Nazis. And some of them weren’t so former. Some of them were really heinous war criminals. And it was all part of this sort of obsessive anti-Communist orientation that was being pursued in US foreign policy.

I think that the — you know, the United States doesn’t really own up to the role it has played in setting the stage for the kind of scandal that unfolded in Germany that has resulted in the fall from grace of Helmut Kohl, a former chancellor, and many leaders of his party, because, you know, basically the logic was that as long as these allies were strongly anti-Communist, whether they be in West Germany or in Italy or any other country in Europe, the United States was willing to look the other way no matter how corrupt they were, as long as they, you know, sort of were, you know, playing, you know, part of the anti-Communist team. And I think that’s what happened, where for so long this kind of festering corruption was allowed to continue.

And in particular, in terms of the Kohl scandal, in — there were certain cases where actually some of the slush fund money that Kohl was gathering from these German industrialists was actually put to use to facilitate CIA covert operations. In the mid-’70s, for example, there was a government in Portugal that — longtime repressive rightwing military regime, Salazar, he had fallen. The colonies were — you know, Portugal was letting go of its colonies in Angola, and there was an opportunity for real change. But the CIA and West German money secretly flowed into an electoral campaign in support of a rightwing socialist against a more progressive candidate. And eventually it’s the rightwing socialist that took power. So that also relates to this kind of scandal.

This money that was sloshing around, you know, it wasn’t happening just beyond Washington’s interests. It played into US covert operations, as well.

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re hoping in a few minutes to go down to Santiago to get the latest news on the court’s decision there, an appellate court, to strip General Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, of immunity from prosecution. And the tentacles of the whole Nazi movement certainly extended beyond Europe and into Latin America. Pinochet was not only involved with Chile, but the whole Operation Condor extended into Argentina, as well, which was a great refuge for Nazis at the time. What is the connection? Are there connections today, Martin Lee?

MARTIN LEE:

Yes. I mean, going back even to the Hitler years, I mean, after the Third Reich fell, you had Nazis going to South America. It’s well known some of these people ended up becoming advisors to military regimes in countries like Chile. There was Walter Rauff from the Third Reich, who advised the Chilean secret police. Others ended up in Bolivia, such as Klaus Barbie, another war criminal, who advised a succession of military regimes there.

And I think, again, one of the legacies of the CIA’s recruitment

en masse of so many Nazis after the war as a part of the anti-Communist foreign policy the US was pursuing, one of the legacies is the death squads that emerged in Latin America, because in each of these countries, you find "security advisors," quote/unquote. Whether it’s in Argentina, Brazil, even El Salvador or other Central American countries, you find Nazis there working with the military governments in these counties. And so, basically they were promoting this kind of torture mentality, torture regime. And this is one of the legacies of the CIA’s involvement with Nazis after the war.

AMY GOODMAN:

You know, in the last week, we’ve done an exposé on Yair Klein, Israel’s number one mercenary, and his involvement with training death squads, paramilitary death squads in Colombia, his involvement in Guatemala. And I just had this picture, as you were talking about the origins of death squads and Nazis, the successors to Nazis in Central America, of having Israel’s number one mercenary working with Nazis. It’s sort of an unusual picture.

MARTIN LEE:

Unusual, and yet not so unusual. It’s happened in other countries, as well. In Nicaragua, Israelis were involved in working with the Contras during the 1980s to fight against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Also you had some of the Contra leaders who were outright fascists, had lots of links, that have been documented, with neo-Nazi groups and neo-fascist groups around the world. So that kind of constellation — you get a strange group of bedfellows when the bottom line is anti-Communism that the United States is pushing.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Martin Lee, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Martin Lee is an expert on the ultra right in Europe and author of the book The Beast Reawakens. If people want to see your work, like the article you just wrote on the CIA’s neo-Nazis, where can they go on the web?

MARTIN LEE:

There is an interesting publication on the web called intellectualcapital.com. It doesn’t have a particular political coloration. It’s right, left and center. But it’s one, you know, venue for people to publish, and they do serious work. So that’s one place to look. Otherwise, there’s the book The Beast Reawakens.

AMY GOODMAN:

Thank you very much for being with us, Martin Lee.

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