The CIA’s decision to interpret a law requiring national agencies to divulge information about Nazis more broadly has raised hopes that a more accurate picture of American dealings with Nazi war criminals may be around the corner. “This is a major development, one that could finally fully open the book on our government’s close ties to Nazis,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who sponsored the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, a 1998 law, in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Members of the Nazi War Crimes Interagency Working Group, U.S. legislators and Jewish officials expressed outrage last week at the CIA’s refusal in recent years to declassify what could amount to hundreds of thousands of pages of information on Nazi war criminals.
But the intelligence agency made an about-face late last week, sending a letter to the chairman of the working group essentially acceding to their demands for a more liberal reading of the Disclosure Act and a more extensive declassification. A copy of the letter was obtained by JTA.
“Our goal is to be as flexible and as forward-leaning as possible in the review and declassification of these documents,” CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano told JTA. “The question we ask ourselves in dealing with issues of review and declassification is not what can we withhold, but what can we release.”
The 1998 legislation requires the CIA and other national agencies to release classified information about Nazi war criminals to the working group, which publicizes the information in reports and at the National Archives.
On Monday, members of the working group met with the CIA in Langley, Va., a meeting that Elizabeth Holtzman, one of the working group’s three civilian members, said was “a sign of cooperativeness and professionalism instead of obstructionism and bureaucratic naysaying” on the CIA’s part.
“This is very good news in my view, but of course the proof will be in the pudding,” Holtzman told JTA after the meeting.
The CIA already has disclosed some 1.2 million pages of documents under the law. But working group members and others had complained that the agency was keeping many relevant documents under wraps based on a misinterpretation of the law as requiring declassification only of documents from the period of the CIA’s predecessor organization, the Office of Strategic Services.
That narrow reading, they said, did not force the agency to release documents having to do with American recruitment, employment and protection of Nazis during the Cold War that the working group sought.
Further, they said the CIA was using too narrow a definition of “war criminals” and so was refusing to give up materials dealing with some members of the SS and the Nazi party.
“The CIA was saying that just being a member of one of those organizations was not enough to make the documents fall under this law,” Amanda Flaig, spokeswoman for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), told JTA.
“Sen. DeWine worried that we’d almost have to have Nuremberg again to prove that” some of the people about whom the working group was seeking information were war criminals. She was referring to famous war-crimes trials held in Germany after World War II.
DeWine is a member of the Senate Judiciary committee. He had threatened to call Porter Goss, the CIA director, to appear at hearings on the document matter.
“The CIA is now willing to use the definitions that we prefer,” Flaig added.
Those involved say hearings may no longer be necessary and that the working group’s mandate is likely to be extended by two years.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that the CIA’s cooperation in this regard will yield results,” said Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.