Newly declassified FBI files have shed significant light on the Nazi sympathies of John McCloy, the US assistant secretary of war during World War II, revealing a depth to the relationship that was not previously known.
McCloy is an enormously significant figure in 20th century US history – as well as his war role, he went on to serve as World Bank president, US high commissioner for Germany, Council on Foreign Relations chair, and adviser to all presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan.
That McCloy performed extensive legal work for several corporations in Nazi Germany before the War – among them chemical giant IG Farben, notorious for manufacturing Zyklon B, the cyanide-based pesticide used in extermination camps during the Holocaust – and got extremely rich in the process is relatively well known, but typically relegated to a footnote in official biographies of the man.
However, the newly released documents show in stark detail that his ties to the Nazi apparatus were far deeper and more cohering than a mere commercial relationship. Of particular note is an official memorandum from January 1953, prepared by FBI Special Agent D.M. Ladd for Edward Allen Tam, Bureau deputy director, at his express request, which offers “a summary of information from our files concerning John McCloy.”
It records how in September 1939, mere weeks after Germany had invaded Poland and triggered World War II, McCloy approached the FBI’s New York office, informing them that a German national residing in New Jersey, who had done “considerable” work for him in recent litigations related to alleged sabotage of munitions factories in the US, was planning to move to another state due to local antipathy towards him.
McCloy said that he was advertising this intention as he didn’t want authorities to suspect his associate “was trying to avoid the detection of the FBI.” Ironically, the memorandum notes that the individual in question was in fact a “known German espionage agent,” at the time subject to a dedicated counterintelligence investigation by the Bureau.
Even more significantly, the file goes on to detail how in mid-October 1940, a month after McCloy was appointed assistant secretary of war, and at a time the Luftwaffe was waging blitzkrieg on London on a nightly basis, McCloy informed FBI headquarters that he was “personally acquainted with many of the officials in the Nazi government, including [Hermann] Goering, with whom he has a rather close personal friendship.”
He went on to reveal that, “only a short while ago,” someone he knew had called from Goering’s Berlin office, stating that an individual would soon be in touch, “and any statements this person would make to McCloy would be made on behalf of Goering and the present German government.”
This nameless person did indeed subsequently make contact, telling McCloy they’d “been instructed to secure the services of someone in the US to ‘front’ for a peace movement that could not appear to have been German inspired.”
He purportedly declined to assist, and it’s unknown whether the proposed astroturf effort ever took shape, or was probed further by the FBI. Still, that high-ranking Nazis were willing to inform him of planned clandestine activities on US soil, despite his government role, emphasizes the “rather close” bond to which he referred. Moreover, while he was apparently unwilling to help the Nazis on that occasion, he would more than make up for that disloyalty as US high commissioner for Germany.
McCloy once said of his tenure, which lasted from September 1949 to August 1952, “I had the powers of a dictator… but I think I was a benevolent dictator.” He granted clemency to dozens of Nazi war criminals, freeing or reducing the sentences of most SS extermination squad leaders, despite acknowledging their crimes were “historic in their magnitude and horror,” and carried out just five of the 15 death sentences handed down at the Nuremberg trials.
In a chilling twist, McCloy operated from the head offices of his former client IG Farben – 23 of its directors, among them SS members, were tried for war crimes, with 13 convicted. By 1951, all had been released. German industrialist Alfried Krupp, sentenced to 12 years for crimes against humanity due to the genocidal manner in which he employed slave labor at his factories, was likewise pardoned.
By contrast, Gestapo counterintelligence chief Klaus Barbie wasn’t prosecuted by US occupation forces – in fact, he was recruited as a spy, and reported on French intelligence activities in France’s German occupation zone, despite Paris that same year having sentenced him to death in absentia for innumerable crimes against humanity he committed while stationed in the country under the Vichy regime.
Known as the ‘Butcher of Lyon’, he employed bullwhips, drugs, electric shocks to nipples and testicles, and needles pushed under fingernails, in interrogations. Those few who survived were sent to extermination camps.
When the French learned Barbie was working for the US, they appealed directly to McCloy for him to be handed over. He refused, claiming that “allegations of the citizens of Lyon can be disregarded as being hearsay only.” The high commissioner knew this to be untrue, though. Barbie’s name was reportedly listed in McCloy’s own office as part of CROWCASS, the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects, which noted he was wanted for “the murder of civilians and torture and murder of military personnel.”
Barbie relocated to Bolivia in 1951 with US help, via a Central Intelligence Agency ‘ratline’. One of many Nazis who fled to Latin America to elude justice, he went on to be involved in a string of CIA coups across the region, train CIA agents and military interrogators in torture, and even played a role in the tracking and capture of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. (RT)
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