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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II
PART I: THE PERFECT SPY

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / March 11, 2001

Page 5 of 9

Continued from page 4

Good as Kolbe's information was, there were often enormous time lags between the time he filed it and the time it reached its destination. Take Hitler's Oct. 6, 1943, order to his top Nazi in Italy to round up the 8,000 Jews in Rome. ''They are to be liquidated,'' the report said. Other dispatches showed there was disagreement over taking that step, with some officials arguing that the victims should instead be used as laborers.

It took months for Kolbe's message to make it to Washington; the British intercepted the same extermination order -- albeit with virtually no context -- a week before it was actually carried out.

Richard Helms, who worked with Dulles and Kolbe in the OSS and ran the CIA from 1966 until 1973, said of Kolbe: ''He was absolutely gripped with trying to get rid of the Nazi elements. By the time the Americans and the British got around to believing this was the real thing, the war was so far along that it probably wasn't important.''

British intelligence kept harping on the notion that Kolbe was somehow part of an elaborate Nazi plot, even though, time and again, his reports were confirmed by events.

A full five months after Kolbe delivered his first batch of secrets, OSS chief William ''Wild Bill'' Donovan finally passed some of the reports on to President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a lukewarm endorsement of their credibility. One report even had details about Roosevelt's vice president, Henry Wallace, blabbing to a Swiss envoy about D-Day plans.

Helms says that he, Dulles, and others probably hyped the material to the point where there was a backlash effect on Kolbe's credibility.

''One of the problems with being a writer is you try to sensationalize things; it was Allen Dulles and me and various other people. And there was this argument with the British, and there was this period when the material was not thought of as sound. And we put it aside until we could find out,'' Helms says.

Still, the communiques show that certain information was indeed snapped up by Army and Navy strategists. Dulles himself said ''a vast amount of political material and strategic bombing information'' often arrived ''with only a few days delay,'' particularly when Dulles told Kolbe to focus on intelligence from the Pacific.

Kolbe relayed scores of reports from German attaches to Tokyo describing troop positions, industrial capacity -- even the number of shifts working at fighter-plane factories. As the Allies gained air superiority, Kolbe's reports painted a picture of a Japan so beleaguered that it was lying to its German allies about its setbacks. ''The Japanese claimed a smashing victory,'' one cable noted wryly after a Japanese defeat.

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