The U.S. government protected Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie in the years after World War II and later unleashed the infamous Butcher of Lyon on South America by aiding his escape from French war-crimes prosecutors, according to a new report issued by the National Archives.
The report, entitled "Hitler's Shadow," concentrates on the decisions by the U.S. Army's Counterintelligence Corps to use Barbie and other ex-Nazis for early Cold War operations, but other work by investigative journalists and government investigators has shown how Barbie's continued allegiance to Nazi ideology contributed to the spread of right-wing extremism in Latin America.
With his skills as an intelligence operative and his expertise in state terror, Barbie helped shape the particularly vicious style of anti-communism that dominated South America for most of the Cold War. He also played a role in building a conduit for drug proceeds to fund right-wing paramilitary operations, including Ronald Reagan's beloved Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
In 1980, Barbie used his perch in Bolivian intelligence to organize an alliance of military leaders and cocaine barons to overthrow Bolivia's democratically elected leftist government in a bloody coup. Though fitting with Washington's distrust of left-wing populist governments in South America, the so-called Cocaine Coup had other long-term consequences for the United States.
Bolivia's coup regime ensured a reliable flow of coca to Colombia's Medellin cartel, which quickly grew into a sophisticated conglomerate for smuggling cocaine into the United States. Some of those drug profits then went to finance right-wing paramilitary operations, including the CIA-backed Contras, according to other U.S. government investigations.
Barbie reportedly collaborated, too, with representatives of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church as they worked with Bolivia's Cocaine Coup regime to organize anti-communist operations in South America. By then, the region had become a center for Moon's global money-laundering operations. In 1982, Moon began pouring hundreds of millions of his mysterious dollars into the right-wing Washington Times newspaper to influence U.S. politics.
Eventually, as Bolivia's corrupt Cocaine Coup government crumbled and Barbie's identity became well known, French authorities finally secured Barbie's return to France to face a war-crimes trial in 1983. (He died in 1991.)
The Butcher of Lyon's role in these South American anti-communist activities caused brief embarrassment for Moon's church and some right-wing Americans. But the Nazi collaboration didn't draw much attention from the U.S. news media, which was already shying away from critical reporting on the Reagan administration's unsavory alliances in Central and South America.
A Long Continuum
Indeed, the Right's growing dominance of Washington opinion circles can be viewed as a continuum dating back to those days right after World War II, when U.S. priorities switched quickly from prosecuting Axis war criminals to seeking their help in crushing leftist political influence in Western Europe and Asia.
Suddenly, U.S. intelligence agencies were freeing Nazi and Japanese war criminals from prison and exploiting their talents to neutralize labor unions, student groups and other left-wing organizations.
Though the new National Archives report deals with ex-Nazis in Europe, a similar program was underway in Japan where war criminals such as right-wing yakuza gangsters Yoshio Kodama and Ryoichi Sasakawa were freed and allowed to become important political figures in Japan " and later internationally by supporting a global crusade against communism.
In the 1960s, Kodama and Sasakawa joined with Rev. Moon and two right-wing dictators, Taiwan's Chiang Kai-shek and South Korea's Park Chung Hee, to create that World Anti-Communist League (WACL), which also brought in right-wing leaders from Latin America and Europe, including ex-Nazis and neo-Nazis, according to authors Scott and Jon Lee Anderson in their landmark 1986 book, Inside the League.
So, with the Cocaine Coup in 1980, Barbie not only closed the circle, bringing together death-squad commanders, ex-Nazis, neo-Nazis and various sociopaths from around the globe, but he helped ensure that drug proceeds would be available to fund right-wing causes in the future.
"Hitler's Shadow," in effect, tells the first chapter of this right-wing restoration as U.S. intelligence agencies turned to former Nazi officials and SS officers to counter the perceived greater threat from the Soviet Union and Communist groups in Europe.
"Gestapo officers, who also held ranks in the SS, were in the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps's automatic arrest category after the war," the report said. "Later, CIC used former Gestapo officers to garner useful intelligence for the postwar period on everything from German right-wing movements to underground communist organizations. Intelligence officers often overlooked the significant role Gestapo officers played in the murder of Jews, POWs, and the political enemies of the Nazis."