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Special to the JTA the Verbelen Case

It is no news that Robert Jean Verbelen, the convicted Belgian SS war criminal, was an agent of the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) after World War II. What is news was his certain involvement with an American “third agency,” undoubtedly the CIA and one of its European surrogates, in this instance, West German intelligence.

The recently released CIC documents on Verbelen provide some of the details about this hitherto unrealized development in this latest example of American intelligence utilization of wanted Nazi mass murderers. Its curious beginnings may be traced through the CIC documents.

In late 1965, Verbelen had become a source of concern to the European Army Command of the U.S. Forces when he was charged, tried and found not guilty of war crimes accusations in a Vienna court.

Realizing that, nonetheless, Verbelen might well become a source of acute embarrassment, or worse, a “Secret” TWX (telex) from CIC’s European headquarters were sent marked “urgent” to CIC’s 513th Intelligence Center at Oberursel where CIC personnel and other records were maintained.

The message noted that “USDAO, Brussels queried this HQ (U.S. Army in Europe) re above named individual (Alfred Schwab, an often used alias of Verbelen) currently employed with the (U.S.) Embassy under his true name Robert Verbelen.”

The secret message added that the “USDAO (pre-sumably the American Embassy in Brussels or a special office located there such as the CIA or military inteligence offices — a source said USDAO meant U.S. Defense Attache Office — that routinely use American Embassies as a cover, according to intelligence experts this writer consulted about the 1966 CIC TWX) … “requests information which it can release to the public re subj’s employment ….” This sentence is followed by what is obviously a key deletion.

The message then continued: “USDAO has letter from Belgian citizen who claims Robert Verbelen, alias Schwab, recently tried and acquitted for alleged war crimes by Austrian court but still considered murderer and traitor by Belgians.”

There then follows a series of substantial deletions from both this message and the reply sent to: “RUFHBS/DAO, Brussels, Belgium.”

It is obvious that this exchange between U.S. CIC in Europe and whatever intelligence agency at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels — it could have been the CIA or Army Intelligence serving ostensibly as a “military attache” at the Embassy — that reflected urgent concern about Verbelen’s past employment by CIC.

The striking aspect of this exchange of course was, however, the part describing “Schwab” as “currently (i.e. 1966) employed with the (U.S.) Embassy under his true name Robert Verbelen.”

Of course the extensive deletions in the recently released CIC records would go a long way toward providing specifics; yet from the surrounding circumstances of Verbelen’s employment by CIC, as carried in the released documents, do confirm Verbelen’s involvement with an American “third agency.”

EVOLUTION OF VERBELEN’S INVOLVEMENT

Verbelen himself, according to the CIC in a long memorandum dated July 11, 1956 — on the eve of CIC’s decision to discharge Verbelen — tells how he first came to American attention:

“In early 1946 SUBJECT (Verbelen) was walking on the street in Vienna … SUBJECT met an SS General, name not specified, with whom SUBJECT had worked in Belgium. The General asked the SUBJECT if he wished to continue to fight against Communism. Upon receiving a postive reply, the General confided that he was in contact with an American agency and would recommend that SUBJECT also be given employment.”

Again there follow gross deletions in this CIC document. Clearly, the details of how and precisely who hired Verbelen along with the terms of his usage were spelled out in the non-deleted version.

Yet one can put forward reasonable alternatives pending their full disclosure: if the “early 1946″ period is accurate (and there is evidence that Verbelen may have been contacted for espionage earlier, during his “bartender” days), then the SS General had already been a “card” (paid hire) by CIC.

The General’s identity is a relatively simple matter: there were only a few SS/SD Generals in Belgium.

It is quite clear also that Verbelen’s SD background with his leadership in the Belgian fascist group, Dervlag, attracted him to the CIC as an iron filing to a magnet. Precisely in that period, as was documented in the 1983 Justice Department report on Klaus Barbie, such fascist groupings as the lron Guard of Rumania, the Ustashi of Yugoslavia, the Arrow Cross of Hungary were the key elements in Barbie’s networks of agents.

Verbelen was to prove useful in running similar “nets” in Central Europe composed of agents from these same anti-Communist sources in addition to Dervlag and the Walloonian Rexist fascists from Belgium.

THE CASES OF DEGRELLE AND GEHLEN

Hitler’s favorite collaborator in Belgium was Leon Degrelle. He not only was a high-ranking officer in the SS Viking Division for which, (as reported in Part Two of this series) Verbelen recruited volunteers among the Flemish. But, more importantly, both Verbelen and Degrelle worked out of SD headquarters in Brussels against the Resistance, as is known from separate historical sources on both these SS men.

Degrelle escaped clean to Franco Spain. There he was said to have been employed by Otto Skorzeny, the SS commando and war criminal who probably worked for the CIA. Said Degrelle in a Dutch TV broadcast in 1973, beamed to Belgium: “I am a racist … The Jews? It is their own fault. It is a myth that six million of them were killed.”

Another vital point: ultimately, the Verbelen CIC networks would have had to come within the purview of the Gehlen Organization between 1947 and 1956 (Verbelen’s CIC service.)

The Gehlen Organization was headed by Reinhard Gehlen, chief of German Intelligence on the Russian Front, the FHO (Fremde Heere Ost, Foreign Armies East). As such he daily worked intimately with the SD, Gestapo and Einsatzgruppen squads in implementing the military-politics of their collective genocides, including the extermination of 1.4 million Jewish men, women and children.

Gehlen fled West toward war’s end and used his anti-Soviet intelligence files and his staff as bargaining chips with the United States.

After a year’s debriefing in Washington, American intelligence — a combination of U.S. military and State Department apparat (the Office of Policy Coordination, OPC) that became CIA’s covert operations after 1948– Gehlen was given initial funding of $7 million and put under direct American command of all espionage, counter-espionage and sabotage against the Soviet Union.

His operation became known as the Gehlen Org. Eventually, he became head of the West German BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) with continuous, intimate ties to the CIA.

A CRUCIAL MEMO

This background helps to make sense out of paragraph 12, page B-052 of the same July 11th CIC memo that disclosed how an SS General brought the CIC and Verbelen together. This crucial section states: “On an unknown date on or about 1 July 1946, Agency ‘B’ submitted a request for Central Registry Check for Agency ‘C’ on SUBJECT (Verbelen). The background material on SUBJECT (Verbelen). supplied by Agency ‘B’ was as follows: ….”

There follows some dozen lines deleted for “reasons of national security” by the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command in 1983.

What — or who — were “Agency B” and “Agency C”? There could have been several combinations: The intelligence office back in Brussels that put out the first anxious query on Verbelen who had to provide information for yet another agency. Or it could have been the CIA getting information from or for the Gehlen Org then the official West German counterpart (and still satellite of) the CIA.

In any event, “third agency” interest, intention to hire Verbelen after his CIC discharge, in other words, ongoing involvement with Verbelen is altogether clear. Verbelen’s immediate employment in the new Austrian secret police in 1957 is yet further confirmation of this intrigue.

Verbelen’s murderous Nazi past, his connection during and after the Holocaust with Barbie, his employment by the CIC and his involvement with an American “third agency” raises the crucial question: Will the U.S. Justice Department make a full disclosure of this sordid chapter?

The case of Robert Jean Verbelen is just beginning.

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