Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
by Geoffrey E. Duin
One afternoon in early June 1945 Captain John R. Boker, an Army intelligence
officer, strode into a loosely guarded villa located in a leafy residential
area in Wiesbaden Germany where some high ranking German POWs were being held
and asked to see Generalmajor (Brig. General)Reinhard Gehlen who was
supposed to be an expert on the Soviet armed forces.
He found Gehlen, former head of the Fremde Heere Ost (FHO; Foreign
Armies East), the intelligence branch of the German General Staff on the
Eastern Front, napping in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Boker had Gehlen woken
and politely told him he would wait down on the terrace while he got dressed.
Boker's respectful attitude and the rapport both men soon established made
Gehlen decide that he could trust the American army captain.
Boker had been asked to interrogate Gehlen because of his reputation as 12th
Army Group Military Intelligence's (G-2) unofficial "Russian expert" through
his recent interrogation of a group of Eastern Front Luftwaffe intelligence
officers. Boker's tenuous expertise was indicative of the almost complete lack
of knowledge in the military, except for a relative handful of officers, about
the Soviet armed forces. And like many officers from Patton on down Boker had
an antipathy toward the Soviet Union and its brand of communism that had only
increased during his years of interrogation work when he learned, for example,
about Soviet gulags holding millions of people. By late in the war Boker had
become convinced that the Soviet Union was planning to take over all of Eastern
Europe, and perhaps more. He believed that it was imperative to U.S. interests
that it obtain as much information as possible about our Soviet ally even if it
meant using the recently defeated Germans against them.
So Gehlen could hardly have chanced upon someone more receptive as he explained
to Boker that in late 1943 he had concluded that Germany would lose the war
leading to Europe's subsequent realignment with the Soviet Union opposing the
Western allies. And like Boker, he was convinced that the Soviet's ultimate
goal was to take over Europe. He had decided therefore that he would deliver to
the allies, preferably the Americans, the intact FHO along with its files on
the Soviet Union (Gehlen's ultimate goal, which he withheld from Boker, was to
make the FHO the future Germany's intelligence service). To carry out his plan
at the closing months of the war he had ordered his closest colleagues to hide
the FHO files deep in the American Zone.
Boker had no illusions that what Gehlen was proposing would never receive
official authorization. Not only were the political implications of using
German General Staff officers against an ally insurmountable, especially at a
time when anti-German feelings were running high, but Boker, a mere captain,
could do little to carry out this plan without the support of much higher
ranking officers. And any unofficial sanction for dealing with Gehlen would
have to be gotten without provoking the Soviets or drawing attention to Gehlen,
as the Soviets were combing allied POW camps for former Eastern Front
Therefore Boker quickly and stealthily began preparing the groundwork to enact
Gehlen's plan. The first step would be to convince the commander of the United
States Forces European Theater (USFET) G-2, Major General Edwin L. Sibert, of
Gehlen's value. Boker moved Gehlen and four other General Staff officers along
with Boker's small team of fluent German speakers into a separate house. This
enabled the group to not only work in secrecy on an intelligence report aimed
to impress Sibert, but it kept the Germans out of the hands of other
interrogators and the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC), that Boker
believed included personnel with pro-Soviet leanings who might tip off the
Russians about Gehlen. As a further precaution against this, Boker had Gehlen's
name removed from the captured POW list.
While Gehlen worked on the report, Boker's team scoured POW camps around the
American Zone for the core FHO members. These then unearthed the hidden FHO
files and by mid-July Boker had basically reconstituted the nucleus of the FHO
and its files. Included in this cache were many forged and genuine Soviet Army
documents and inking stamps, hundreds of pay books (which could be used to
create bogus identities), a library of Russian language books and Cyrillic type
printing presses. Boker realized that he had assembled an intelligence
goldmine. Now he just needed to convince Sibert of this.
Gehlen also saw how vital it was to impress General Sibert so he and his newly
released colleagues churned out more reports; on Soviet tank production, Soviet
army strength, Soviet manpower, and the probable Soviet demobilization policy
which Boker then forwarded on to Sibert's office. But Gehlen had another card
to play. He knew there were limitations to his reports that were mostly
analysis based on earlier wartime intelligence. He claimed to Boker that he
could actually produce current intelligence on the Soviet Union
through a network of undercover agents operating in Soviet territory. These
could be reactivated by reestablishing contact with the man who had run this
agent network: Oberstleutnant (Lt. Col.)Hermann Baun.
In late July, supported by the commander of the U.S. Detention and
Interrogation Center (U.S.D.I.C.) at Oberursel near Frankfurt who arranged the
meeting, Boker met in conference with General Sibert. Fortunately for Boker and
Gehlen, Sibert's response was positive. He agreed to a provisional use of the
FHO to assess its intelligence capability. Meanwhile, he would see to it that
all the remaining FHO members scattered around Western Germany were located.
Boker did not inform Sibert about Baun and his agent network at this meeting.
Soon after Boker's meeting with Sibert, Pentagon G-2 ordered the FHO files with
Gehlen and his colleagues be flown to Washington. Pentagon G-2 had
learned about Gehlen from the British and was interested in the files, for
historical reasons, and only incidentally in Gehlen. Much alarmed, Boker
informed Sibert about the Baun agent network and convinced him to allow at
least one member of Gehlen's group to remain behind in Wiesbaden to reestablish
contact with Baun. Sibert agreed to this, and assumed responsibility for
defying a direct order. The man chosen to stay behind, Captain Gerhard Wessel,
was Gehlen's deputy and successor at FHO after Hitler had relieved Gehlen of
his command at the closing months of the war.
In mid-August, Gehlen and six other Germans, dressed in ill-fitting civilian
clothes (one carried his belongings in an old violin case, making them look,
one historian has written, like "a group of down and out musicians"), along
with twenty packing cases of FHO documents were put aboard Gen. Walter Bedell
Smith's private plane and flown to Washington DC. From there they were taken to
a top secret facility near Alexandria, Virginia, known by its cover name "Box
During the war Box 1142, or Fort Hunt as it was also known, had been used for
interrogating high ranking German POWs (Boker had been stationed there before
he was sent to Europe). With the end of the war Fort Hunt's primary function
had shifted to historical interrogation, operating under Pentagon G-2's
Document and Interrogation Operation branch, which took charge of the FHO
files, indicating again that the Pentagon was more interested in the FHO files
Boker much to his chagrin found Gehlen and the others locked up in cells and
treated like the actual POWs they were when he visited them at Ft. Hunt.
Although about to return to civilian life, Boker had one more important part to
play in the Army's involvement with Gehlen. Angry and frustrated by the
situation at Ft. Hunt and the Army's lack of interest in Gehlen and the files
except for historical purposes, Boker was able to get the support of G-2's
Eastern European Order of Battle (O.O.B.) branch at the Pentagon behind him.
Officers from here accompanied him to a meeting with the head of the Documents
branch. Boker, citing Sibert's interest in Gehlen, convinced this officer to
allow the Gehlen group to work on the documents as they had done in Wiesbaden.
Permission was granted and the Gehlen group with the documents were moved to an
empty barrack at Ft. Hunt. Boker then cabled Wiesbaden to have Wessel make
contact with Baun. Soon after this Boker left the Army.
The small Eastern European O.B. unit, particularly Lt. Eric Waldman, was quick
to appreciate the intelligence value of the FHO files. Waldman had fled his
native Austria during the 1930s and like most at the Pentagon was initially
reluctant to work with the Germans, but he soon became the group's most
enthusiastic supporter. During their year long stay at Fort Hunt the Gehlen
group contributed to Army G-2's first postwar handbook on the Soviet Armed
Forces. But Gehlen's work here was completely unrelated to the intelligence
operation going on in Germany.
Meanwhile, General Sibert with Wessel's help was rounding up the remaining FHO
members. Late that summer after a brief visit to the Pentagon and without even
informing his own CIC, the OSS(which President Truman would soon deactivate),
or the USFET commander Eisenhower, Sibert moved the Germans to a compound at
the U.S.D.I.C., Oberursel. Their mission, under the codename "Operation X", was
to spy on the Soviet armed forces in East Germany. Sibert gave command of the
operation to Lt. Col. John Russell Deane, Jr., a twenty-six year old West
Pointer with no intelligence background. Deane renamed the secret project
"Operation Rusty" after his young son.
The enigmatic and secretive Hermann Baun, born among the Volga German community
in Russia, initially joined the group at Oberursel but requested and got his
own facility. From here, backed by the seeming unlimited resources of his
American sponsors and with Sibert's personal support, Baun was given free rein
to reactivate his old agent network and recruit many others eager to work for
the Americans amid the mass poverty, hunger and desolation of postwar Germany.
By the following year Baun had 125 agents operating throughout Western Germany.
Through these he had forwarded to Wessel about 800 reports on the Soviet
military generated from his agents operating inside the Soviet Zone. Wessel's
group, which handled analysis and evaluation, then prepared the reports for
circulation to G-2 headquarters in Frankfurt and intelligence agencies in
Washington and Europe.
Baun's freewheeling style, although somewhat appropriate for the murky and
chaotic intelligence jungle he was operating in, clashed with Wessel and Deane.
And worse, the almost complete lack of supervision over Baun, his finances, and
his personnel led to serious security problems that would plague Gehlen in the
years to come. Besides some bona fide Soviet experts, including a former
ambassador to Moscow, Baun also recruited many unsavory types with dubious
credentials and questionable allegiances like the ex-Abwehr corporal
and con man who he placed at the head of a counterintelligence operation that
spied on the Soviet Liaison Mission in the U.S. zone.
After Waldman's (now a captain) arrival in Germany to pave the way for Gehlen's
return, Baun's days were numbered. Both Waldman and Deane distrusted Baun and
sided with Gehlen in the ensuing power struggle after Gehlen's return in July
1946. Gehlen won this after Deane eventually reorganized Operation Rusty with
Gehlen in overall command of both Baun's intelligence gathering and Wessel's
evaluation sections which by the late forties came to be known as the Gehlen
Organization, or simply the Org. Gehlen planted his own people in Baun's group
and when some financial irregularities were discovered Baun was gradually eased
out of the Org, dying in 1951.
Once at the helm Gehlen strived to make his organization indispensable to the
Americans with intelligence operations that included planting agents disguised
as returning POWS into East Germany and listening to Soviet air traffic. But
Gehlen's real value to the Army was in counterintelligence, like the operation
launched against Soviet Czechoslovakia that involved defectors, a school for
spies, and the Orient Express.
Gehlen has been accused of capitalizing on and exaggerating the Soviet threat
to consolidate his power and to maintain the U.S.'s support (the debate over
the extent of the Soviet threat to the Western Bloc continues even today). The
U.S. Army and the CIA have also been faulted for their moral lapse in working
with the "Nazi" Gehlen. A counter argument made to this is one of expediency;
in mid-1946 when most of the American public still viewed the Soviet Union as
benign, many in the military, especially those stationed in Germany, saw the
Soviet threat as very large and real (only two divisions and a border
constabulary remained in Germany after the massive U.S. troop pullout from
Europe. These faced dozens or more Soviet combat divisions scattered around
This is apparent by a meeting General Sibert organized before his final
departure from Germany. At the meeting, attended by Deane, Waldman, Gehlen,
Wessel and Baun, Sibert laid out his plans for Operation Rusty. This included
the startling proposal, at least to the Germans, that Operation Rusty should
become an American organization, incorporated into American intelligence with
the Germans and their families given U.S. citizenship. Further, in the event of
a Soviet attack on Western Europe, the Germans and their dependents would be
evacuated to the United States except for Baun's organization which would
remain behind as agents in place with neutral Spain chosen as their European
operating base. Waldman and Gehlen later traveled down to Spain to investigate
the viability of this and after a positive response from the Spanish, a
detailed evacuation plan was drawn up that even stipulated the bus each person
would be assigned to. But after Sibert returned to the U.S. in September 1946
his plan for the Americanization of Rusty never got traction.
However real the Soviet threat, there were always strong misgivings in
Washington about Operation Rusty. In Germany the well funded and minimally
supervised operation with its members enjoying (some said flaunting)the freedom
and privileges their yet undefined status accorded them was envied and
resented; the CIC referred to them as "a bunch of Nazis"(in later interviews
both Waldman and Deane insisted that during the period the Army had control of
it there were no Nazis in the organization. The British, French and Russian
intelligence services did however employ former members of the Sicherheitsdienst
(SD),the SS security service, during this period).
Lt. Col. Deane, who saw military intelligence as a career dead end and wanted
out, had attempted in late Autumn 1946 to get the Central Intelligence Group
(CIG), the precursor to the CIA interested in taking Operation Rusty over but
was unsuccessful. Deane's replacement at Oberursel disliked Germans and was
completely ineffectual in reigning them in and his tenure there only served to
exacerbate the "us and them mentality" the Germans had toward their American
Operation Rusty was moved in December 1947 to Pullach, outside Munich, to a
compound that had once belonged to Martin Bormann and came equipped with its
own PX and kindergarten. For the first time G-2 in Frankfurt gave Operation
Rusty a cover: the 7121 Composite Group, consisting of 10 U.S. Army officers
and 15 enlisted men. But questions persisted about what to do with the
political hot potato the Army had on its hands. Ideas ranged from liquidation
to again offering it to the CIG, which the CIG refused again; the specter of a
revived German General Staff always loomed large. But both agreed that
Operation Rusty needed more supervision and control now that Germany was no
longer a chaotic mess and had become the front line of the Cold War.
Finally in 1948 after pressure from the Pentagon and the White House the newly
created CIA sent their representative James H. Critchfield to Pullach on a fact
finding mission. Based on Critchfield's recommendation, the CIA would then
decide whether the Gehlen Org, which had now grown to about 300 persons, should
be disbanded or taken over by them. One of the items Critchfield wanted to know
was whether Gehlen was employing Nazis or war criminals and he found that this
was not the case. He recommended that the CIA take control of the Org which it
did in July 1949.
It would take another seven years for Gehlen's dream, formulated at the
beginning of Germany's slide into defeat, to be realized when he became the
head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND);West Germany's intelligence
service. At its center was his former FHO General Staff colleagues.
Show Footnotes and
Critchfield, James H., Partners at the Creation, Naval Institute
Press, Annapolis, MD, 2002
Reese, Mary Ellen, General Reinhard Gehlen: The CIA Connection, George
Mason University Press, Fairfax, VA, 1990
The following declassified CIA documents pertaining to Reinhard Gehlen’s
involvement with the U.S. Army were downloaded from George Washington
University’s National Security Archive web page:
Document 6: Report of Initial Contact with General Gehlen’s Organization by
John R. Boker. May 1, 1952
Document 7: Statement of Lt. Col. Gerald Duin on Early Contacts with the Gehlen
Document 9: Debriefing of Eric Waldman on the U.S. Army’s Trusteeship of the
Gehlen Organization during the years 1945-49. September 30, 1969
Copyright © 2007 Geoffrey Duin
Written by Geoffrey Duin. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact Geoffrey Duin at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author:
Geoffrey Duin has been a lifelong military history buff and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
His freelance articles have appeared in publications in Japan and the U.S. including for Military History magazine.
Published online: 07/15/2007.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.