The General Was A Spy

Title:                      The General Was A Spy

Author:                 Heinz Höhne

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

LCCN:    71187140

DD259.2 .Z6313 1972



  • Translation of Pullach intern, by H. Zolling and H. Höhne.
  • Published in London [Secker and Warburg, 1972] as Network: The Truth About General Gehlen and His Spy Ring

Date Updated:  October 18, 2016

Reviewed on the CIA web site[1]

The General Was a Spy, while a poor book, has an interesting background. Both Zolling and Höhne were staff writers for Der Spiegel and the book first appeared in serial form in that magazine in the summer of 1971. Der Spiegel tends to be quite nihilistic, particularly when it comes to anything to do with the state, the establishment, the U.S., and so on. As Conrad Ahlers, one of the Bonn Government Press Secretaries said, on the occasion of the start of this serialization, “Spiegel is singing its old song: alles ist Mist was der Staat macht.” [Roughly and crudely translated: “Everything the States does is shit.” And Ahlers is quite right. But at the same time the “line” of the book zigs and zags. The first part has a powerful attack on General Wessel, Gehlen’s successor; then the part which describes Gehlen’s G-2 career in the German Army is very laudatory; then the description of the Gehlen Organization’s battle with the East German service under Wollweber is laudatory (it has to be since it is based squarely on a cover story on Gehlen which Der Spiegel had published in 1954); then it turns anti-Gehlen. Granted that the 1950s were Gehlen’s salad days and the 1960s his time of troubles, it is quite obvious that Der Spiegel attacks him and Wessel as part of a calculated policy.

One of the most flagrant examples of anti-BND writing by Der Spiegel occurs in Chapter 9 which has the title “The Hunt for Enemies of the State.” This deals with Gehlen’s domestic operations, mentioned earlier. After setting forth pages of lurid “facts” to make their point, the authors conclude: “In the backrooms of Bonn and Pullach something was created which still haunts the BND: the unholy alliance between secret service and state party (Staatspartei).” This is utter nonsense, and it is ironic that one of Gehlen’s low points came in 1962 when Chancellor Adenauer suspected him of having tipped off to Der Spiegel editors a proposed government raid against their offices, permitting them to destroy documents the government was seeking in a security leak.

Another basic fault of The General Was a Spy is that so much of it is sheer garbage. Many of its facts are incorrect. For example:

  1. Neither CIA nor any U.S. government agency made Gehlen a gift—of DM 250,010 or of any amount—to purchase his home in Berg. (Incidentally, Cookridge[2] makes the same error.)
  2. The first annual budget (presumably for FY 1947, although this is not stated) of the Gehlen Organization was not $3.4 million, but much less than a half of that.
  3. Gehlen did not meet Chancellor Adenauer for the first time in September 1949, but on 20 September 1950.
  4. Lieutenant Colonel Siegfried Dombrowski, the chief of administration of the East German military intelligence service, was not recruited by CIA and turned over to the BND for handling prior to his defection in 1958; he was a walk-in to CIA, and the BND was brought in when he was surfaced and then resettled, months later.

There are many more such errors, and the above are only a few which this writer was able to identify from memory. There is probably not one book about intelligence operations written by an outsider which is not full of such errors, but this does not make The General Was a Spy a good book. It is plausibly and quite dramatically written, but is tendentious, and although some parts seem to be quite accurate (Gehlen as theater G-2, the Felfe case, as far as the description goes), it has far too many errors. I give it a D plus.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[3]

Based on Der Spiegel’s series on Gehlen, which stung Gehlen into writing a defense of his work, this was first published in Germany. The coauthor Zolling died while work was being completed on the English edition. Hugh Trevor-Roper in his introduction, which reveals little liking or sympathy for Gehlen, calls it a fine combination of historical scholarship and journalistic investigation. The reader will find it objective and accurate in some of its broad conclusions and judgments of Gehlen’s work and not so reliable on others and on a number of details. The authors’ story of Gehlen’s defeat by the Soviets after the war and the fate of many of his agents in East Germany is widely supported. That his organization was penetrated and neutralized in certain important aspects is also fact. There is doubt that Gehlen’s successes in the USSR during the war were as portrayed by the authors. One is advised to refer to Kahn’s Hitler’s Spies[4] for a more thorough look at this question. Experts also reject as foolish the notion of an alliance between Gehlen’s service and the state party. The authors’ portrayal of the Americans’ view of Gehlen’s importance when they captured him is off the mark. The errors of detail are almost inevitable in a book that relies on a number of unverified sources. For instance, most of the sources for Chapter 7 come from “private ownership.” These sources are responsible for some incredible items; such as the story that Richard Helms refused to tell President Johnson that the information about the Israelis’ plan to attack the Arabs in 1967 came from Gehlen and the story that someone in the U.S. government gave Gehlen a gift to buy a house. This book does not show any major improvements on the 1954 Der Spiegel coverage. See also Gehlen’ s memoirs, The Service.[5]

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[6]

This book is an excellent and well-documented treatment of General Gehlen’s amazing intelligence career, capped by his directorship of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND)—the German external service. Based on the Der Spiegel series on Gehlen, it is a relatively objective description of Gehlen’s career and his subsequent fall. The author’s notes, bibliography, and operational data sprinkled throughout the book will be of particular interest to the serious student of the period.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[7]

Another version of the life and career of General Reinhard Gehlen, one-time head of Wehrmacht intelligence on the eastern front, head of an autonomous intelligence service under the sponsorship of the CIA, and finally head of the West German espionage service—Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND).

[1] Anonymous. “The Service: The Memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlen by Reinhard Gehlen. Book review by Anonymous. CIA HISTORICAL REVIEW PROGRAM, RELEASE IN FULL (2 JULY 96). Originally this review was classified Secret but was declassified and released by the CIA and is on the CIA web site. It has been edited for continuity.

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

[3] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 239-240

[4] Kahn, David (1978, 1985). Hitler’s Spies : German Military Intelligence in World War II. New York: Collier Books

[5] Gehlen, Reinhard (1972). The Service: The Memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlen. New York: World Pub.

[6] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, D.C. : Defense Intelligence School, p. 33

[7] 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. 160


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3 Responses to The General Was A Spy

  1. Pingback: The Service | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Gehlen, Spy of The Century | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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

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