German Foreign Intelligence from Hitler's War to the Cold War

Flawed Assumptions and Faulty Analysis

Robert Hutchinson

In the Allies’ post-war analyses of the Nazis’ defeat, the “weakness and incompetence” of the German intelligence services figured prominently. And how could it have been otherwise, when they worked at the whim of a regime in the grip of “ignorant maniacs”? But what if, Robert Hutchinson asks, the worldviews of the intelligence services and the “ignorant maniacs” aligned more closely than these analyses—and subsequent studies—assumed? What if the reports of the German foreign intelligence services, rather than being dismissed by ideologues who “knew better,” instead served to reinforce the National Socialist worldview? Returning to these reports, examining the information on enemy nations that was gathered, processed, and presented to leaders in the Nazi state, Hutchinson’s study reveals the consequences of the politicization of German intelligence during the war—as well as the persistence of ingrained prejudices among the intelligence services’ Cold War successors

Closer scrutiny of underutilized and unpublished reports shows how during the World War II the German intelligence services supported widely-held assumptions among the Nazi elite that Britain was politically and morally bankrupt, that the Soviet Union was tottering militarily and racially inferior, and that the United States’ vast economic potential was undermined by political, cultural, and racial degeneration. Furthermore, Hutchinson argues, these distortions continued as German intelligence veterans parlayed their supposed expertise on the Soviet Union into positions of prominence in Western intelligence in the early years of the Cold War. With its unique insights into the impact of ideology on wartime and post-war intelligence, his book raises important questions not only about how intelligence reports can influence policy decisions, but also about the subjective nature of intelligence gathering itself.

German Foreign Intelligence from Hitler’s War to the Cold War is a very fine, deeply researched, nicely contextualized, and beautifully written piece of scholarship that evaluates the reporting of Nazi-era foreign intelligence agencies immediately before and during the early stages of World War II. Hutchinson shows how these reports—quite different from what intelligence practitioners claimed after the war—confirmed Hitler’s political assessments and the NaziWeltanschauung. He then carries the story into the postwar era and demonstrates how the continuity of people and ideas influenced West German and US intelligence efforts against the Soviet Union.”

—Katrin Paehler, author of The Third Reich’s Intelligence Services: The Career of Walter Schellenberg

German Foreign Intelligence from Hitler’s War to the Cold War is extensively researched and well written. Robert Hutchinson demonstrates that Nazi ideology pervaded the German intelligence services and that their collective body of reports, rather than countering Hitler’s beliefs in fact supported and perpetuated them. Moreover, this book connects the wartime work of these services with the extensive work that hundreds of these former Nazi personnel conducted for the United States, Britain, and West Germany in the decades after the war.”

—Derek R. Mallett, author of Hitler’s Generals in America: Nazi POWs and Allied Military Intelligence

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About the Author

Robert Hutchinson is a fellow in the Strategy and Policy Department at the U.S. Naval War College.