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The Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998 has made possible the recent release of millions of pages of declassified files, memoranda and intelligence documents from the files of the postwar-era FBI, CIA (formerly the Office of Strategic Services, known popularly as the OSS), State Department and War Department. The initial research on this material has been conducted by a body known as the Interagency Working Group, whose work has led to the publication of an informative new book, U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis (Trust Fund of the National Archives, 2004). The publication sheds new light on the myth of de-Nazification of Germany, and the extent to which the United States and its allies condoned the employment of former Nazis after the war. It is a cautionary tale as we now consider the prospect of the de-Ba’athification of Iraq. At the close of World War II, many Nazis quietly slipped back into civilian life. Most informed estimates suggest that the majority of former Nazis simply de-Nazified themselves by returning to their old wartime civilian bureaucratic and professional jobs. Hence the ultimate failure of de-Nazification of European society was certain, as surely as the current de-Ba’athification process in Iraq will eventually fail, and for much the same reason: The occupiers’ wish to avoid the infrastructure vacuum that would require a perpetual occupation and would likely serve only the destabilizing interests of extremists. But other World War II war criminals evaded justice by taking other routes. Files concerning some important new details about Nazi fugitives, among other matters, have now become publicly accessible. The new publication offers some valuable new insight into the depth of involvement of a number of American intelligence agencies in sheltering and providing a way for some prominent Nazi war criminals to escape being brought to justice in the postwar years. Of course, the Office of Special Investigations, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Nazi-hunting unit in operation since 1979, has been most effective in reversing some of the legal and moral damage done earlier to America by some government agencies that negligently, or in some cases knowingly, allowed Nazi war criminals to enter and make their homes here. Most Nazi persecutors were allowed to acquire citizenship in direct violation of Article 8 of the U.S. Code, which prohibits �migr�s from illegally concealing their Nazi past and thereby fraudulently obtaining American citizenship. The sad truth is that some of these people were covertly invited in by the government; most others were permitted to enter without being subjected to thorough background checks, their entrance made possible by the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. This act permitted, for a variety of reasons (including anti-Communism), non-Jewish Eastern Europeans (some with a serious criminal Nazi past) to enter the United States while the act itself appeared designed by some of its provisions (like a preference for prior farming experience) to prevent Jews from obtaining a U.S. visa. A shameful history The postwar trajectories of Nazi war criminals fleeing prosecution were well known even before the recently declassified papers. While many melded back into the general population, others became displaced persons who sought relocation to escape Communism, some were secretly shepherded out of Europe by sympathizers who provided counterfeit identity travel documents and conduits for safe passage and aided in transferring ill-gotten wealth to safe havens in other countries. Finally, some Nazis who specialized in rocket science, aviation-related medicine and espionage were invited into America secretly by our intelligence establishment, under code names such as Project Paperclip, in exchange for their skills in building America’s defense capabilities during the emerging Cold War against the Soviet Union. The now declassified papers reportedly offer some valuable new information on the CIA’s links to the Gehlen Organization (which eventually evolved into the West German intelligence establishment), a Europe-based group that often hired former S.S. and Gestapo operatives to set up an espionage network to spy on communists and other Nazis of notable interest, mostly under CIA supervision and funding. The newly declassified data may offer some good reason to believe that the FBI (and other agencies) knew about the Nazi past of some �migr�s to America, but was willing to overlook their crimes if they were anti-communist and stayed out of trouble here. The philosophical significance of this data underscores once again that governments, like individuals, can for the sake of expediency, compromise their moral authority and integrity even as they act to further cherished values. Ultimately, the choice of unvirtuous means, no matter how well intentioned, debases both the agents and the ennobling goals of their pursuits. Alan S. Rosenbaum is a professor of philosophy at Cleveland State University and is the author of Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals (1993).

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