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Strange Bedfellows Boost Extreme Right In Germany

Part two of a 2-part series

By Martin A. Lee

 
Horst Mahler is not your typical attorney. A founding member of the
now-defunct Red Army Faction, he spent ten years in jail for his exploits
with the armed, left-wing extremist cadre, which terrorized Germany during the 1970s and 1980s. But last summer he switched sides and joined the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD).

The German government recently asked the country’s highest court to ban the NPD, claiming it has ties to skinhead gangs involved in a surge of violent attacks against foreigners and other minorities. Mahler will represent the NPD when the Constitutional Court considers whether to outlaw the organization.

Mahler sees no contradiction between his past and present. “The labels left and right don’t apply anymore today,” he asserts, adding: “The NPD is against globalization. . . [It] knows that the only power that can stand up against globalization is the nation.”

A born-again nationalist, Mahler says he is fighting for the identity of the
German people and the survival of German culture against pernicious foreign influences – in particular, mass immigration and the homogenizing juggernaut of global corporations. Mahler’s anti-globalist rhetoric has touched a raw nerve, particularly among embittered Germans in the five formerly Communist eastern states, where unemployment tops twenty percent and much of the population is demoralized.

The purported goal of the NPD, according to a recent German intelligence report, is to “build a new Germany out of the rubble of liberal capitalism.” Brandishing slogans such as “Work for Germans first” and “Big capital destroys jobs,” the NPD has staged “pro-worker” demonstrations in several German cities.

Last year in Berlin, the star speaker at the NPD’s May Day rally was
Friedhelm Busse, age 71. Horst Mahler’s new found political comrade roused the crowd with anti-foreigner and anti-American vitriol that elicited loud cheers from shaven-head teenagers and twenty-somethings who waived illegal imperial German black-and-white flags. Violence erupted after Busse ended his pep talk with a line from an old Nazi song: “We’re marching for Hitler day and night because of the need for freedom and bread.”

A veteran neo-Nazi agitator, Busse is especially proud of the fact that he
was one of the youngest members of the Hitler Youth during the Third Reich. His current status as an elder statesman among hard-core neo-Nazis in Germany is all the more troubling given that his checkered past includes a controversial stint with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Back in the early 1950s, Busse joined the Bund Deutscher Jugend (BDJ), an elite, CIA-trained paramilitary organization composed largely of ex-Hitler Youth, Wehrmacht, and SS personnel in West Germany. Busse’s group was primed to go underground and engage in acts of sabotage and resistance in the event of a Soviet invasion. But instead of focusing on foreign enemies, Busse’s “stay behind” unit proceeded to draw up a death-list that included future Chancellor Willi Brandt and other leading Social Democrats (then West Germany's main opposition party), who were marked for liquidation in case of an ill-defined national security emergency.

The Bund’s over was blown in October 1952, when the West German press got wind that U.S. intelligence was backing a neo-Nazi death squad. Norris Chapman, a West German-based State Department official, acknowledged in a once-classified State Department report that the scandal had resulted in “a serious loss of U.S. prestige.”

West German “stay behind” forces quickly regrouped with a helping hand of the CIA, which recruited thousands of ex-Nazis and fascists to serve as Cold War espionage assets. “It was a visceral business of using any bastard as long as he was anti-Communist. The eagerness to enlist collaborators meant that you didn’t look at their credentials too closely,” explained Harry Rostizke, ex-head of the CIA’s Soviet desk.

The key player on the West German end of this unholy espionage alliance was General Reinhard Gehlen, who served as Adolf Hitler’s chief anti-Soviet spy. During World War II, Gehlen was in charge of German military-intelligence operations on the eastern front.

As the war drew to a close, Gehlen sensed that the U.S. and USSR would soon be at loggerheads. In his memoirs, he recounts how he surrendered to the Americans and touted himself as someone who could make a decisive contribution to the impending struggle against the Communists. When Gehlen offered to share the vast information archive he had accumulated on the Soviet Union, U.S. spymasters bit the bait.

With a mandate to continue spying on the East just as he had been doing
before, Gehlen reestablished his espionage network at the behest of U.S.
intelligence. Incorporated into the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency in the late 1940s, the Gehlen “Org,” as it was called, became the CIA’s main eyes and ears in Central Europe – an arrangement that many CIA officials would later regret.

Despite his promise not to recruit unrepentant Nazis, Gehlen rolled out the welcome mat for thousands of Gestapo, Wehrmacht, and SS veterans. Some of the worst war criminals imaginable — including cold-blooded bureaucrats who oversaw the administrative apparatus of the Holocaust — found employment in the Gehlen Org, according to author Christopher Simpson. Simpson is a member of the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group, which was established by President Clinton to review governments documents related to Nazi activity.

While dispensing spy data to his avid American patrons, Gehlen operatives helped thousands of fascist fugitives escape to safe havens abroad. Third Reich expatriates subsequently served as “security advisors” to repressive regimes in Latin America and the Middle East. Ironically, some of Gehlen’s recruits would later play leading roles in neofascist groups around the world that despised the United States and the NATO alliance.

Friedhelm Busse went on to direct several ultra-right-wing groups in
Germany, while another Gehlen protégé, Gerhard Frey, also emerged as a mover-and-shaker in the post-Cold War neo-Nazi scene. A wealthy publisher, Frey currently bankrolls and runs the Deutsche Volksunion (DVU), which U.S. army intelligence described as “a neo-Nazi party.”  During the late 1990s, the DVU scored double-digit vote totals in state elections in economically depressed eastern Germany

Even before he formed the DVU in 1971 with the professed objective to “save Germany from Communism,” Frey admits that received behind-the-scenes support from General Gehlen, Bonn’s powerful spy chief. But when the Cold War ended, the DVU fuehrer abruptly shifted gears and demanded that Germany leave NATO. Frey’s newspapers started to run inflammatory articles that denounced the United States and praised Russia as a more suitable partner for reunifiedm Germany. Frey also joined the chorus of neofascist leaders who backed Saddam
Hussein and condemned the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991.

In American spy parlance, it’s called “blowback” – the unintended
consequences of covert activity kept secret from the U.S. public. The covert recruitment of a Nazi spy network to wage a shadow war against the Soviet Union was the CIA’s “original sin” and it ultimately backfired against the United States.

An unforeseen consequence of the CIA's ghoulish tryst with the Org is
evident today in a resurgent neofascist movement in Europe that can trace its ideological lineage back to Hitler’s Reich through Gehlen operatives who served U.S. intelligence. Moreover, by subsidizing a top Nazi spymaster and enlisting badly-comprised war criminals, the CIA laid itself open to manipulation by a foreign intelligence service that was riddled with Soviet agents.

“One of the biggest mistakes the United States ever made in intelligence was taking on Gehlen,” a U.S. intelligence official later admitted. With that fateful sub rosa embrace, the stage was set for Washington’s tolerance of human rights abuses and other dubious acts in the name of anti-Communism.

Martin A. Lee (martin@sfbg.com) is the author Acid Dreams and The Beast Reawakens, a book on neofascism.
 

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