WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 - The Central Intelligence Agency is refusing to provide hundreds of thousands of pages of documents sought by a government working group under a 1998 law that requires full disclosure of classified records related to Nazi war criminals, say Congressional officials from both parties.
Under the law, the C.I.A. has already provided more than 1.2 million pages of documents, the vast majority of them from the archives of its World War II predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services. Many documents have been declassified, and some made public last year showed a closer relationship between the United States government and Nazi war criminals than had previously been understood, including the C.I.A.'s recruitment of war criminal suspects or Nazi collaborators.
For nearly three years, the C.I.A. has interpreted the 1998 law narrowly and rebuffed requests for additional records, say Congressional officials and some members of the working group, who also contend that that stance seems to violate the law.
These officials say the agency has sometimes agreed to provide information about former Nazis, but not about the extent of the agency's dealings with them after World War II. In other cases, it has refused to provide information about individuals and their conduct during the war unless the working group can first provide evidence that they were complicit in war crimes.
The agency's stance poses a sharp test between the C.I.A.'s deep institutional reluctance to make public details about any intelligence operations and the broad mandate set forth in the law to lift the veil about relationships between the United States government and Nazi war criminals.
The dispute has not previously been made public. Critics of the C.I.A.'s stance, including all three private citizens who are members of the working group, said they were disclosing the dispute now in hopes of resolving the impasse by March, when the working group's mandate is to expire.
"I think that the C.I.A. has defied the law, and in so doing has also trivialized the Holocaust, thumbed its nose at the survivors of the Holocaust and also at Americans who gave their lives in the effort to defeat the Nazis in World War II," said Elizabeth Holtzman, a former congresswoman from New York and a member of the group. "We have bent over backward; we have given them every opportunity to comply."
At the request of Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a public hearing on the matter early next month, and is planning to call C.I.A. officials and members of the working group as witnesses, Congressional officials said.
A C.I.A. spokesman said the agency had already declassified and released 1.25 million pages of documents under the law, including those related to 775 different name files.
"The C.I.A. has not withheld any material identified in its files related to the commission of war crimes by officials, agents or collaborators of Nazi Germany," he said.
The spokesman acknowledged that the C.I.A. had refused to disclose other material "that does not relate to war crimes per se" and that the agency was working on a report to Congress to justify its actions under exemptions spelled out in the law...
A book, "U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis," that was released by the working group in May provided a partial picture of those dealings. It has shown that the American government worked closely with Nazi war criminals and collaborators, allowing many of them to live in the United States after World War II.
Historians who have studied the documents made public so far have said that at least five associates of the Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann, the architect of Hitler's campaign to exterminate Jews, had worked for the C.I.A. Eichmann, who was arrested by the Allies in 1945, escaped and fled to Argentina. He was captured by Israeli agents in 1960, tried and hanged. The records also indicate that the C.I.A. tried to recruit two dozen more war criminals or Nazi collaborators.
American officials have defended the recruiting of former Nazis as having been essential to gaining access to intelligence after World War II, particularly about the Soviet Union and its cold war allies. Among former Nazis who were given refuge in the United States was Wernher von Braun, the German scientist who developed the V-2 rocket in World War II for the Nazis and played a major role in the development of the American space program.
After World War II, the Allied powers who occupied Germany defined war crimes broadly, declaring the Nazi SS to be a criminal organization guilty of exterminating and persecuting Jews and killing prisoners of war and slave laborers. They identified as a war criminal anyone who was a principal, accessory to, or consented in the commission of war crimes, or anyone who was a member of an organization or group connected with the commission of such crimes.
Exactly how many pages of documents the C.I.A. is still withholding is not clear, according to people involved in the dispute. But they said that at minimum, they believed it amounted to hundreds of thousands of pages.
HT: Eric Alterman, who slapped Jarvis ...