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FBI ignored past of alleged Nazi collaborators, records show

WASHINGTON -- The FBI and other US agencies ignored the pasts of alleged Nazi collaborators living in the United States, because the government saw them as useful during the Cold War, according to newly released records.

Government historian Norman J.W. Goda, in a collaborative book based on records released yesterday at the National Archives, said that the FBI "did not dig deep for the truth" on such people, because it wanted them on America's side in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

The government saw Nazi sympathizers as useful in countering procommunist leanings in immigrant communities in the United States, and the CIA and other agencies sometimes thwarted immigration authorities from beginning deportation proceedings, the records show.

In the thousands of files released, the CIA is also shown as seeking help from the Immigration and Naturalization Service in easing travel for Mykola Lebed, a Ukrainian accused of aiding German storm troopers in brutal suppression of local resistance during World War II.

The INS found "some basis for at least some of these allegations," according to a 1953 letter from the agency seeking direction from the Justice Department. If they were true, the agency said, Lebed should be deported.

But the INS called off its investigation of Lebed at the CIA's request, even while declining at that time to give him freedom to leave and return to the United States at will.

"I do not feel that we are in any position to give such assurance, since there is a strong likelihood that subject is inadmissible under the immigration laws," the INS commissioner wrote.

Goda said Lebed was hired by the US Army Counter Intelligence Corps, and then in 1948, by the CIA. He entered the United States under the cover of the Displaced Persons Act.

Goda said the documents show that the INS was not, as long thought, "asleep at the switch" during the years when many Nazi sympathizers made it into the country. "They tried to institute proceedings against these people," he said, only to be thwarted by the FBI, CIA, or others in government.

With Lebed, he said, "the CIA was strong-arming INS to allow him to stay and leave on CIA business and come back."

The records also describe the case of Viorel Trifa, an alleged student leader in Romania's fascist Iron Guard movement who became bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the United States and once led prayers in Congress.

In a 1953 document, the CIA cited evidence that he had been a "moving spirit" in the 1941 Iron Guard rebellion and pointed to his manifesto openly calling for the pro-Nazi movement to prevail. Trifa denied being part of the group while acknowledging he was close to its leaders.

The FBI understood Trifa's background, Goda said, but FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered him a "very desirable part of the landscape during the Cold War. "Men like him kept emigre communities from being sympathetic to communist governments back home," he said.

Trifa was stripped of his US citizenship and deported in 1984, and the Portuguese government took him, Goda said.

The Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group released the book by its historians yesterday. Called "U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis," it details declassified documents issued by the CIA, FBI, Army, State Department, and other US agencies under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act.

The group also uncovered that Nazi Germany accumulated more than $20 million in foreign-exchange funds before World War II with the aid of US banks that understood the transactions involved money from accounts of fleeing Jews.

Chase National Bank, a J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. predecessor, and other banks realized that Germany was paying commissions and building its exchange with the confiscated money, the report said. It said the banks increased their business after the 1938 anti-Jewish attacks known as Kristallnacht, "the night of broken glass."

"This is part of the unfinished business of World War II, telling the truth about what happened with Nazi war criminals," said Elizabeth Holtzman, 62, a former New York congresswoman and district attorney who is a member of the 12-member US Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group.

In another case, former Croatian interior minister Andrija Artukovic slipped into the United States under a false name in 1948. Goda said he had authorized anti-Serb and anti-Jewish legislation in Croatia. He said the Justice and State departments stymied Yugoslavia's attempts to have him extradited for years. But he was finally extradited in 1986, sentenced to death, and died awaiting execution.

Material from Bloomberg New Service was used in this report.

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