Hitler's American business friends

And the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency

In February, we launched what we hoped would be a quick look into the NBA and Jeffrey Epstein. Why did he intersect so profoundly with the NBA’s most important source of cash? What happened next was, for me, a crash course in leverage: The kind of leverage that gets you the money to purchase an NBA overlaps with … stuff that never came up in high school U.S. History.

Thank you for coming along on this journey as I learn, and for supporting TrueHoop in this work. (Your subscriptions are essential.) After pausing for the playoffs, draft, trades, and free agency, today the series enters its final few posts, with a peek at the secret business history of America’s most powerful—doing business with Hitler, represented by lawyers who went on to become the founders of American intelligence.

  • PART 1: Apollo Global, deep pockets with ties to the NBA, Jeffrey Epstein, and Buzzy

  • PART 2: The earliest days of Sears Roebuck, the CIA, and United Fruit

  • PART 3: 1950s and 60s: Buzzy at Princeton, the CIA messes with mind control, Leon Black’s dad

  • PART 4: Beverly Hills in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s

  • PART 5: Buzzy the banker.

  • PART 6: In business with criminals

  • PART 7: Everyone in this story owns planes

  • PART 8: “The biggest crime in American history”

  • PART 9: “A stealth invasion of the U.S. banking industry”

  • PART 10: Jeffrey Epstein’s tutor

  • PART 11: Richard Nixon and Adnan Khashoggi

  • PART 12: The Dechert Report

  • PART 13: Nazis at the Waldorf Astoria

  • PART 14: Hitler’s American business friends

  • PART 15: Epstein teaches at private school


To this day, the Waldorf Astoria website notes the 18th floor where one can host an event “in a private suite for an air of confidentiality.” That’s precisely where I once huddled in a hallway with David Stern and Adam Silver after a bargaining session a decade ago.

On June 26, 1940, that’s where a group of America’s best-connected businessmen—top executives of General Motors, Ford, International Telephone & Telegraph, Texaco, and others—gathered with Hitler’s secret agent to celebrate Hitler’s victory over France (as described earlier in the series).

Hitler’s agent—German lawyer Dr. Gerhard Alois Westrick—reportedly bragged about monopolies and profits “beyond your wildest dreams” for the assembled conglomerates in Hitler’s empire. Westrick had every reason to think the American executives would be open to the pitch. He had been working with some of them for decades; Texaco was paying for the summer rental he slept in the night before.

Westrick saw a lot of America’s biggest corporations as Germany’s business partners, with powerful friends. The three key figures in this story are “Wild Bill” Donovan and the Dulles brothers—Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles.

They’re famous for many things—one’s a war hero, one has an airport named after him, all were politicians. All played key roles as America created, from scratch, what we now know as the United States Intelligence Community, especially the Central Intelligence Agency.

But for decades before all that, they were lawyers for J.P. Morgan and other blue-chip American clients, focused on developing business in Germany, working in tandem with the likes of Westrick. 

Maybe it’s not odd that conglomerates did whatever they could to make money, including building business ties even to Hitler’s government. Maybe it’s not odd that the best-connected lawyers on earth were eager to help.

What is odd is that in the years after the Waldorf Astoria meeting (after Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’s declaration of war against the Nazis) the U.S. turned to Donovan and the Dulles brothers, who had done so much to foster business in Hitler’s Germany on behalf of clients like J.P. Morgan, working with people like Westrick, to create the nation’s first intelligence service, which evolved into the CIA.

One of Wild Bill’s professors at Columbia law school was Harlan Fiske Stone. Stone became the dean of the law school in 1910, until he resigned in 1923 to go into private practice at Sullivan & Cromwell, whose key client at the time was J.P. Morgan. 

It’s an absolutely incredible firm. A fascinating account of Sullivan & Cromwell’s history, “A Law Unto Itself,” explains the firm’s ridiculous influence. Sullivan & Cromwell represented United Fruit in Guatemala, during a time when United Fruit was so powerful that it inspired the U.S. government to intervene on its behalf, determining the leadership of the Latin American nations where it operated. It created the nation of Panama (here’s an account) on behalf of itself and clients like J.P. Morgan.

Germany was a special area of interest. J.P. Morgan himself went to college at the University of Gottingen and spoke German. After World War I, the bank named for him hired Wild Bill, a war hero and attorney who had spent part of 1916 living in Germany on behalf of the Rockefeller Foundation.

So it’s not surprising that Sullivan & Cromwell was able to get two of its young attorneys, the Dulles brothers, in the room when the powers-that-be met outside Paris to settle affairs with the 1919 Versailles treaty at the end of World War I. Germany would pay reparations to the other European powers. In negotiating the 1919 Versailles treaty, the Dulles brothers argued against being too harsh on German industry. The Dulles brothers made the case for giant loans of American taxpayer dollars to German industry—and were successful to the tune of more than a billion dollars. 

In 1929, J.P. Morgan executives traveled to Paris to meet with the president of the German Reichsbank—Hjalmar Schacht—to negotiate an economic plan to stabilize Germany’s economy after World War I. Schacht had visited J.P. Morgan himself in New York in 1905. By 1931, Schacht “met Hitler and Joseph Goebbels and became a critical link between the Nazis and German big business,” according to Ron Chernow’s history of J.P. Morgan. The American bank played a leading role in the expansion of many German conglomerates. ULLSTEIN BILD/GETTY IMAGES

For a period after World War I, Allen Dulles lived in Germany, where Sullivan & Cromwell had an office. IG Farben became a Sullivan & Cromwell client, even as the chemical manufacturer purged all the Jews from his upper ranks, and became the single biggest contributor to the Nazi party in the 1933 election. Allen Dulles met Hitler personally.

Allen Dulles (left) greets his brother John Foster Dulles in New York in 1948. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg served with Allen in the OSS, and later declared, according to journalist David Talbot, that both Dulles brothers were guilty of treason. BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

The Dulles brothers had a certain rigid view, according to Stephen Kinzer’s The Brothers. “For us,” John Foster Dulles said, “there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who are Christians and support free enterprise, and there are the others.” From Adam LeBor’s review of that book:

Kinzer highlights John Foster Dulles’s central role in channeling funds from the United States to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Indeed, his friendship with Hjalmar Schacht, the Reichsbank president and Hitler’s minister of economics, was crucial to the rebuilding of the German economy. Sullivan & Cromwell floated bonds for Krupp A. G., the arms manufacturer, and also worked for I. G. Farben, the chemicals conglomerate that later manufactured Zyklon B, the gas used to murder millions of Jews.

Companies like DuPont, Ford, and General Motors had big deals in Germany. IBM opened a factory in Berlin, investigative reporter Edwin Black has unearthed evidence that Hitler’s regime used IBM punch cards to sort census data to track, among other things, the Jewish population.

A lot of America’s best known companies were positioned to profit from Hitler’s empire.

“Wild Bill” Donovan traveled to Europe in 1932 on the German ship S.S. Bremen. The fastest ship in the Atlantic, the Bremen was built in the wake of massive U.S. investment in German industry, as encouraged by Donovan and his colleagues. But the year after this photo, Hitler would require German ships to fly the swastika flag, which inspired protests when the Bremen docked in New York. BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

One of the obstacles to the bankers’ wildest dreams coming true was U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In what’s now called the Business Plot, in 1933 bankers—reportedly including those at J.P. Morgan—allegedly hired a retired American general to march on Washington, overthrow the President, and install a fascist replacement. 

Many laughed it all off as a wacky conspiracy theory. But the general who was to lead it, Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, and a congressional committee affirmed there was a genuine attempt to establish a fascist organization in the U.S.

What did businesses see in Hitler’s empire? An enormous market, but also, a regulatory environment that put profits above all, even basic liberties and human life. If slavery and murder helped the bottom line, Hitler’s Germany would accommodate. From Wikipedia:

Even before the war, Nazi Germany maintained a supply of slave labor. "Undesirables" such as the homeless, homosexuals, and alleged criminals as well as political dissidents, communists, Jews, and anyone else that the regime wanted out of the way were imprisoned in labor camps. ... 

Hundreds of thousands of people in occupied territories were used as slave labor by leading German corporations including Thyssen, Krupp, IG Farben, Bosch, Blaupunkt, Daimler-Benz, Demag, Henschel, Junkers, Messerschmitt, Philips, Siemens, Walther, and Volkswagen, on top of Nazi German startups which ballooned during this period, and all German subsidiaries of foreign firms including Fordwerke (Ford Motor Company) and Adam Opel AG (a subsidiary of General Motors). By 1944, slave labor made up one quarter of Germany's entire work force, and the majority of German factories had a contingent of prisoners. In rural areas the shortage of agricultural labor was filled by forced laborers from the occupied territories of Poland and the Soviet Union. The children of these workers were unwanted in Germany, and usually murdered inside special centers known as Ausländerkinder-Pflegestätte.

“Wild Bill” Donovan founded the Office of Special Services (OSS) which is often considered the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. Dulles worked for Wild Bill in the OSS and would later run the CIA. Sullivan & Cromwell veteran Harlan Fiske Stone ascended through the justice department, before a Supreme Court appointment, and along the way appointed J. Edgar Hoover to run the FBI. 

These were titles with the appearance of serving America’s goal to defeat Germany. Had these men abandoned their clients with deep business ties to Hitler?

The early days of American intelligence sent the wrong signals. The OSS has been described as a “secret brotherhood” of the upper class. Donovan ran much of the war effort from an ornate suite at London’s fanciest hotel, Claridge’s, where even one of his greatest admirers admitted he was “something of a racketeer.” There were so many high-society appointees—DuPont, Mellon, Vanderbilt—that some joked the letters stood for “Oh So Social.” There were allegations of everything from nepotism to orgies. 

Were the OSS’s headquarters at the Justice Department? Hardly! They were in Rockefeller Center. The Rockefellers also had their own German entanglements, including a foundation that reportedly funded eugenics research important to Nazis. 

Eventually the U.S. joined the war. Allen Dulles moved to Switzerland where one of the world’s most secretive banks had deep ties to both J.P. Morgan and Hitler. One of Dulles’s best friends from Wall Street, Thomas McKittrick, worked for the Bank for International Settlement (BIS). When Dulles arrived, the two stayed up all night together before Dulles ever made it to his apartment.

As detailed in several books, especially Tower of Basel by Adam LeBor, the secretive BIS was created in 1930. The idea was that this bank would serve to help Germany pay reparations for World War I, while also helping the other nations stabilize Germany’s currency enough that Germany could continue to pay. The central banks of England, Germany, France, Belgium, and Italy—as well as a consortium of Japanese banks—were the original members. 

The U.S. Federal Reserve declined a role on the board of the BIS. J.P. Morgan joined instead, with the support of the First National Banks of New York and Chicago. 

Dulles’ buddy McKittrick worked at BIS as “Hitler’s American banker,” according to LeBor. 

The German central banker, Hjalmar Schacht, called the BIS “my bank.” Schacht had a deep relationship with J.P. Morgan—he had met Morgan himself in 1905, and lunched in the partner’s dining room at J.P. Morgan’s New York headquarters as a young official at the Dresdner Bank in the early 1920s. J.P. Morgan always seemed to have an outsized influence at the BIS. When Schacht decided not to join the board of the BIS, in 1929, LeBor reports that he made it known not in a letter to the bank in Switzerland, but in a letter to J.P. Morgan.

David Talbot’s Devil’s Chessboard says the Dulles brothers were much more ideologically aligned with titans of German business than the U.S. president at the time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Talbot writes:

While Allen Dulles was using his OSS post in Switzerland to protect the interests of Sullivan and Cromwell’s German clients, his brother Foster was doing the same in New York. By playing an intricate corporate shell game, Foster was able to hide the U.S. assets of major German cartels like IG Farben and Merck KGaA, the chemical and pharmaceutical giant, and protect these subsidiaries from being confiscated by the federal government as alien property. Some of Foster’s legal origami allowed the Nazi regime to create bottlenecks in the production of essential war materials—such as diesel-fuel injection motors that the U.S. military needed for trucks, submarines, and airplanes. By the end of the war, many of Foster’s clients were under investigation by the Justice Department’s antitrust division. And Foster himself was under scrutiny for collaboration with the enemy.

But Foster’s brother was guarding his back. From his frontline position in Europe, Allen was well placed to destroy incriminating evidence and to block any investigations that threatened the two brothers and their law firm. “Shredding of captured Nazi records was the favorite tactic of Dulles and his [associates] who stayed behind to help run the occupation of postwar Germany,” observed Nazi hunter John Loftus, who pored through numerous war documents related to the Dulles brothers when he served as a U.S. prosecutor in the Justice Department under President Jimmy Carter.

If their powerful enemy in the White House had survived the war, the Dulles brothers would likely have faced serious criminal charges for their wartime activities. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, who as a young lawyer served with Allen in the OSS, later declared that both Dulleses were guilty of treason.

Few powerful Americans got in trouble for collaborating with Hitler.

Remember Allen Dulles’ friend Thomas McKittrick who spent the war in Switzerland as “Hitler’s American banker?” He was the toast of Wall Street, even after the U.S. declared war on Hitler. LeBor writes:

On Dec. 17, 1942, Leon Fraser, an American banker and himself a former BIS president, hosted a dinner for McKittrick at the University Club. Thirty-seven of the United States’ most powerful financiers, industrialists, and businessmen gathered in his honor. They included the presidents of the New York Federal Reserve, the National City Bank, the Bankers’ Trust, and General Electric, as well as a former under-secretary of the treasury and a former U.S. ambassador to Germany. Standard Oil, General Motors, JP Morgan, Brown Brothers Harriman, several insurance companies, and Kuhn Loeb also sent executives. It was probably the greatest single gathering of America’s war profiteers. Many of these companies and banks had, like McKittrick, made fortunes from their connections with Germany, connections that carried on producing profits long after Hitler took power in 1933 and certainly after the outbreak of war in 1939.

​​But, despite McKittrick’s powerful connections on Wall Street, the BIS was coming under pressure from the Treasury Department, where Henry Morgenthau and his aide, Harry Dexter White, were the bank’s most powerful foes. White was scathing about McKittrick, describing him as “an American president doing business with the Germans while our American boys are fighting the Germans.” The BIS, like all Swiss banks, needed a license to operate in the United States, and it had been revoked in 1941. McKittrick hired John Foster Dulles to get the license unblocked.

Things worked out fine for McKittrick. After the war, he hardly suffered for his ties to Hitler; he returned to New York and became vice president of Chase National Bank. 

By the time of the Battle of the Bulge it seemed clear the U.S. would push into Germany. There would be a need to deliver justice to the Nazis and their sympathizers.  

A Justice Department official named O. John Rogge proposed sending 200 FBI agents to Europe to collect and examine the paperwork and conduct interviews with members of the falling Nazi regime, to document the web of criminality and bring people to justice.

Instead, Rogge was granted a few helpers and a typewriter. He did his best. He interrogated key figures, pored through documents, and returned to the U.S. and produced a 296-page report that Rogge said “should be made public in the interest of the future security of the nation.”

It has not been made public.

But aspects of it leaked and implicated a good portion of America’s powerbrokers, from bankers to elected officials. Some of it was inarguable. Was Westrick a simple lawyer with some American clients, or a German secret agent? Rogge found Westrick in Germany and interviewed him personally. Westrick was most certainly a secret agent. Westrick explained how meetings with Hitler’s minister of foreign affairs—Joachim von Ribbentrop—led to a plan to coordinate with his American clients including International Telegraph & Telegram, Texaco, Underwood, Eastman Kodak, and International Milk. Westrick discussed meeting Henry Ford personally.

The report mentioned that at the time of Pearl Harbor, the German embassy in Washington D.C. had $3.65 million in cash earmarked to bribe the U.S. media to take positions friendly to the German war effort. (As guided by a J.P. Morgan executive in the decades prior, Japan and Italy had done similarly.) Everyone from William Randolph Hearst to Reader’s Digest was implicated. FBI summaries, in the same batch of documents, suggest several U.S. publishers took the money.

None of this lead to massive investigations and arrests.

Rogge pushed the issue. He took a leave of absence from the Department of Justice and went on a speaking tour to raise alarm about American fascists. Important Nazi collaborators walked free. The tangled web of companies that worked for Hitler with finance traceable to the U.S. continued to thrive (with names like Merck, Bayer, BASF, Texaco, IBM, Deutsche Bank). Imagine a bank financing Hitler’s advance on Poland and accepting payment in looted gold? The Bank of International Settlements exists to this day. All kinds of people who worked behind the scenes to help Hitler never faced significant justice. 

Rogge had receipts. What a treacherous time that must have been for some of the most powerful people in the U.S., including some of Wall Street’s heaviest hitters! 

Years later, the FBI released a collection of Rogge-related documents, but not, alas, his entire report. Included is a note from 1947, about Rogge, to FBI head J. Edgar Hoover. 

I hope you will be able to stop this agitator some day for he seems to be only another one of the damnable atheistic and godless Communists, stirring up trouble in China, in Europe, and wherever they go with no regard for principles, but only arousing up hate against Christianity with a pack of lies, lies, and more lies.

The author’s name is blacked out. It’s someone important enough that Hoover replied with a cryptic line about “appreciating” the author’s “interest” in the matter.

Not long into Rogge’s speaking tour, weather forced his plane to land in Spokane, where he was greeted by a man who seized his Department of Justice parking pass and handed him a letter saying he had been fired. 

Nothing about the work Rogge published concerned Communism or China. Rogge’s efforts are about business deals with fascists and Nazis, with on-the-ground evidence from Germany. Nevertheless, someone sent a letter in reaction calling Rogge a communist. There are mentions of China and godlessness and lies. This note about Rogge may seem unhinged, but it sketched out a defense that has worked ever since.

When the very powerful are threatened, one solid response is a giant distraction. A “look over here” magic trick that morphed into McCarthyism, and still has sway decades later. America’s Red Scare did many things. One of them: to nudge regular Americans not to linger too long seeing the Nazis as our chief enemies.

A few years later, Allen Dulles would take over the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency.

Eric Lichtblau in The New York Times in 2010:

A secret history of the United States government’s Nazi-hunting operation concludes that American intelligence officials created a “safe haven” in the United States for Nazis and their collaborators after World War II, and it details decades of clashes, often hidden, with other nations over war criminals here and abroad.

The 600-page report, which the Justice Department has tried to keep secret for four years, provides new evidence about more than two dozen of the most notorious Nazi cases of the last three decades. …

Perhaps the report’s most damning disclosures come in assessing the Central Intelligence Agency’s involvement with Nazi émigrés. Scholars and previous government reports had acknowledged the C.I.A.’s use of Nazis for postwar intelligence purposes. But this report goes further in documenting the level of American complicity and deception in such operations.

NEXT: The former OSS agent and Jeffrey Epstein.