Gehlen, Reinhard

(1902–1979)
   Gehlen served as the German military high command chief of intelligence on the Soviet Union from 1942 until the defeat of Nazi Germany. As chief of Foreign Armies East (Fremde Herre Ost), Gehlen was repeatedly fooled by Smersh, which used radio games and double agents to misinform German intelligence and deceive the Nazi war machine. He miscalled the Soviet offensive near Stalingrad in November 1942. In 1944 his organization totally missed the Red Army’s offensive against Minsk, an error that contributed to the defeat of Army Group Center and more than 300,000 German casualties. Nevertheless, Gehlen was a conscientious intelligence officer whose estimates of the Red Army order of battle angered Adolf Hitler. In early 1945 Hitler fired Gehlen for his estimates of Soviet military strength.
   Gehlen sensed by 1945 that the end of the war would bring a cold war between the victors. Prior to the German surrender in 1945, he buried the records of his organization. He then approached the British and the Americans as the expert on the Red Army and the Soviet Union. The Western allies needed intelligence on the Red Army and agreed to finance Gehlen. In the late 1940s, the Gehlen apparatus ran operations inside the Soviet bloc with the same lack of success that they had a half decade earlier. There was little criticism of Gehlen, who was allowed to transform his organization into the Bundesnachrichtendiest (BND), West Germany’s foreign intelligence service. Gehlen produced important order of battle information for NATO; he was the only source of human intelligence on the Red Army.
   Gehlen’s greatest failing, however, was his unwillingness to vet his sources and his deputies. Believing that he could not be deceived, he invariably was. Following revelations in 1961 that a key deputy, Heinz Felfe, was a KGB agent, Gehlen was forced into relinquishing much of his power over the organization. Neither in Hitler’s court nor later in work with the Western allies did Gehlen ever admit he was wrong, which he was on a great many occasions.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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