Gehlen, Spy of The Century

Title:                  Gehlen, Spy of The Century

Author:                 E. H. Cookridge

Cookridge E. H. (1971). Gehlen: Spy of The Century. London: Hodder and Stoughton

LCCN:    73157482

DD247.G37 S65 1971


Date Updated:  October 18, 2016

The title, if lurid, is not inappropriate. I have come across references to the “Gehlen Organization” in the post-WWII cold-war era, but I had never previously seen an in-depth treatment of Reinhard Gehlen and his intelligence operation. Gehlen smoothly transitioned from his post as Hitler’s chief intelligence officer for Eastern Europe to the CIA’s chief intelligence officer for the same area. Gehlen was reclusive, not granting interviews with journalists and not allowing himself to be photographed. Much of his professional life he and his family resided within the highly-secured Gehlen Organization compound at Pullach. First published in 1971, this book pre-dates the Freedom of Information Act; I would expect that additional information has become available since it was written. However, the book is well-written and seems to be neither a puff piece nor an exposé. He notes the many ex-SS members of Gehlen’s staff (some with notorious histories) as simple facts, realities of the post-war environment in Germany.

Cookridge himself would seem to be an interesting person. Per the dust cover of the book, he was a wartime intelligence agent that was imprisoned by the Gestapo at Dachau and Buchenwald. Educated in Vienna, London, and Lausanne, one can assume that he speaks German and French in addition to English. He supplies notes for sources on each chapter and includes a good bibliography. The book has numerous photographs that complement the text. For anyone interested in the military history of WWII and the murky conflict of the Cold War this book is a nice source of obscure information, and well-presented.

Wolfgang Krieger[1] gives a more contemporary view of the Gehlen Organization in Chapter 7 “US Patronage of German Postwar Intelligence,” in Handbook of Intelligence Studies, Loch K. Johnson, editor.

He relates that stories abound that members of the Nazi SS, Nazi officers, and German intelligence personnel were brought wholesale into American intelligence immediately at the end of WWII. To some extent there is truth. General Reinhard Gehlen served Hitler as Chief of the Fremde Heere Ost (FHO) for the eastern front, and later became chief of West German Intelligence (BND – Bundesnachrichtendienst)

Certainly General Gehlen was made head of the West German intelligence, but until West Germany officially became an independent state, he was relegated to serve the interests of American Intelligence only, regardless of whether it served German interests or not. Andreas Hillgruber asserted that German soldiers on the eastern front were genuinely motivated by their fears of bolshevism. Whether it was a self-serving position is unclear.

At first, American interests in the FHO derived from the simple but powerful idea that military history was the essential resource of military professionalism. Eventually, the German-American intelligence exchange occurred within the wide context of exploiting German resources on the Soviets.

It is also clear that the early German-American intelligence network was a key element in initiating and sustaining the Berlin airlift – providing early warning (if it were to occur) of planned Soviet attack. Otherwise the airlift might have been considered too risky..

Gehlen’s apparatus employed a small number of former SD officers. Sicherheitsdienst (English: Security Service), or SD, was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany. The organization was the first Nazi Party intelligence organization to be established and was often considered a “sister organization” with the Gestapo, which the SS had infiltrated heavily after 1934.

Gehlen and his senior associates were never charged with Nazi war crimes, but there was no way to overlook the fact that German military intelligence – leaving aside SS-intelligence – was deeply involved in the brutal ways in which Nazi Germany conducted the war. What is more, Gehlen’s organization harbored a number of individuals of highly questionable background in the SS or the Gestapo or elsewhere in Heinrich Himmler’s[2] vast “security” empire.

Between 1933 and 1939, the SD was administered as an independent SS office, after which it was transferred to the authority of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or RSHA), as one of its seven departments and offices. Gehlen used them for counterintelligence operations inside West Germany. It was “Gehlen’s most costly mistake,” as Critchfield wrote in Partners (p. 164) because it allowed the KGB to insert at least two highly productive spies, Heinz Felfe and Hans Clemens. Critchfield headed up the American running of the German intelligence organization of Gehlen. He worked hard to overcome anti-Gehlen feelings in Washington. He has stated there were 4,000 people in Gehlen’s organization.

The CIA finally took over the operation – marking the first time the CIA got involved in foreign policymaking. The German part of the American-German intelligence was taken over completely by the Germans only after West Germany came into existence as an independent state, under Konrad Adenauer. Under Adenauer, Gehlen had very little political leverage.

By controlling the Gehlen organization and, to a large extent, the later BND, the Americans could be sure that no secret preparations were made by the Bonn republic which might have beenh hostile toward Washington. It was an insurance policy which turned out to be unnecessary – like most insurance. But during the darkest days of the Cold War that particular insurance seemed worth its premium.

Although it may contain some CIA bias, as any work coming out of the Agency is likely to do, the two volumes edited by Kevin Ruffner[3] give an exhaustive picture of US-German intelligence relations.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[4]

Spiro, political journalist, foreign correspondent, and wartime British intelligence agent has written extensively on espionage. Here he has written an impressive account of the organization of Reinhard Gehlen. Should be read in conjunction with Hӧhne and Zolling’s The General Was A Spy.[5]

[1] Dr. Wolfgang Krieger is University Professor of Modern History and History of International Relations at Marburg University, Germany. He was a fellow at Oxford and Harvard and has taught at Johns Hopkins, Princeton, the University of Toronto, and the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris.

[2] Heinrich Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo (Secret State Police). Serving as Reichsführer and later as Commander of the Replacement (Home) Army and General Plenipotentiary for the entire Reich’s administration (Generalbevollmächtigter für die Verwaltung), Himmler rose to become one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany as well as one of the persons most directly responsible for the Holocaust. According to Martin Allen, following the German defeat at Stalingrad, Himmler recognized that Germany would lose. Through his trusted envoy, Walter Schellenberg, he devoted much energy to negotiating his intended post-war role as the man who would lead Germany. He believed his intermediary, the British Ambassador in Sweden, Victor Mallet, was in direct contact with Winston Churchill. In fact, he was the victim of a highly effective sting by the Political Warfare Executive (PWE). However, Allen’s book is not to be relied on. His book, Martin Allen (2005). Himmler’s Secret War, is one of three books written by an author with a talent for forgery. Most of his “authentic archival documents” are rather poor modern forgeries. This book is on Nigel West’s list of the worst books written on intelligence.

[3] Ruffner, Kevin C. (ed.) (2002). Forging and Intelligence Partnership: CIA and the Origins of the BND, 1945-49. Washington, D: CIA History Staff, Center for the Study of Intelligence, and European Division, Directorate of Operations. (1999, released May 2002). No ISBN. [Found at]

[4] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 161

[5] Höhne, Heinz (1972) and Zolling, Hermann. The General Was A Spy: The Truth About General Gehlen And His Spy Ring. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan


This entry was posted in German Intelligence and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Gehlen, Spy of The Century

  1. Pingback: Handbook of Intelligence Studies | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: The Service | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  3. Pingback: The General Was A Spy | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  4. Pingback: Espionage and Counterespionage, Chapter 14 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  5. Pingback: Blackstock Selected Bibliography of Fifty Titles | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s