It remains one of the great paradoxes of the post-World War II era: despite the United States’ participation in the prosecution of Nazis and other war criminals, several guilty individuals were protected, and even recruited by intelligence agencies to aid the U.S. in espionage it conducted after the war.
Shortly after the end of World War II, U.S. intelligence agencies began fostering relationships with escaped Nazis and other war criminals for purpose of exploiting their knowledge to the benefit of American interests. As if the intelligence community’s uneasy relationship with former enemies weren’t ironic enough, there were some instances where individuals that were being prosecuted for war crimes had actually been tapped for recruitment by the Counter-Intelligence Corps (prior to the establishment of the CIA) unbeknownst to the prosecutors that were building cases against them.
Among the most notorious war criminals who served the efforts of U.S. intelligence had been Nikolaus “Klaus” Barbie, who was employed by the United States and eventually helped to escape to Bolivia, where he was believed to have participated in the coup d’état undertaken by Luis García Meza in 1980. Barbie, nicknamed the “Butcher of Lyon” for his torture of Gestapo prisoners during the War, was eventually captured and extradited to France, where he stood trial for his war crimes and eventually died in prison.
The involvement of war criminals like Barbie in U.S. intelligence operations is one of the strangest and more disconcerting areas in post-war American history. However, what is less well known is that at one time, the CIA also investigated possible connections between Barbie and an American philanthropist and oil tycoon best known for conducting expeditions in search of the famous Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas.
San Antonio-based inventor Thomas Baker Slick, the founder of several scientific research organizations that included the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, also had a penchant for the mysterious and beastly. Beginning in the 1950s, he launched expeditions that went in search of proving the existence of creatures that included the famous Loch Ness Monster, as well as the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (as well as its American cousin, Bigfoot, shortly before his death.
Many of Slick’s exploits, as well as his possible associations with the Central Intelligence Agency, were detailed by cryptozoology chronicler Loren Coleman in his definitive biography Tom Slick and the Search for the Yeti (1989), as well as the updated 2002 edition Tom Slick: True Life Encounters in Cryptozoology, which featured a new appendix that examined possible involvement Slick had with the CIA (more on that subject can be found here).
However, an interesting footnote in Slick’s already intriguing history of possible interactions with the CIA and its operations turned up in the early 2000s, as a part of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act.
“From the 1960s through the 1990s, the U.S. Government declassified the majority of its security-classified records relating to World War II,” reads an official summary at the website of the CIA. “Yet, 60 years after the war, millions of pages of wartime and postwar records remained classified. Many of these records contained information related to war crimes and war criminals. This information had been sought over the years by congress, government prosecutors, historians and victims of war crimes.
Beginning in 1998, the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group (IWG) began its efforts under Congress to release what resulted in 8.5 million pages of records, the largest declassification effort related to any single subject in history. “These records include operational files of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) totaling 1.2 million pages, and 114,200 pages of CIA material,” the CIA’s website says, noting that the information it provides “sheds important historical light on the Holocaust and other war crimes, as well as the U.S. Government’s involvement with war criminals during the Cold War.”
One interesting memorandum that appeared in the release involves the CIA’s investigation in 1983 into allegations that Tom Slick had somehow had associations with Klaus Barbie.
According to the document, the claim was made by a Mrs. Jeri Walsh, which the CIA at least took seriously enough to investigate. The memorandum states that Slick had no ties to Klaus Barbie that were known to the CIA at any time, but then notes a number of interactions Slick had with the CIA over the years. Primarily, these interactions were with CIA Director Allen Dulles, and involved instances where Slick approached the agency about funding branches of his Institute of Inventive Research in parts of Europe and Asia in April 1953.
“Slick was advised that CIA did not need offices of this type so his request for funds was denied,” the memorandum reads.
Then again in October 1958, after Slick managed to secure funding from Life Magazine and the San Antonio Zoo for his Himalayan Yeti expedition one year earlier, Slick approached the CIA about the possibility of subsidizing the offices of his Scientific Exchange.
“This request was denied,” the memo states, adding that in October 1959, “Slick attended the 3rd Conference for Strategy and Peace in Warrenton, Virginia.”
“This entry represents the last information that we have on Slick,” the CIA memorandum reads.
While it has long been suspected that Slick had a much closer relationship with the CIA than was ever made known to the public, the March 1983 memo seems to downplay such connections, instead illustrating Slick as someone who had attempted several times to obtain funding from the agency for his various scientific efforts.
“From DCD files it was noted that Slick's contacts with CIA were attempts to obtain funding for one of his schemes or institutes,” the memorandum reads, adding that “There is no record of any official relationship between Slick and CIA.”
“However,” the memo does add, “CIA had periodic contacts with him between January 1950 and October 1959. According to DCD files Slick served in the U. S. Navy from 1942 to 1946, theatre unknown. Since Slick was personally known to former Director Dulles, this association may have developed during World War II.” The connection between Dulles and Slick described in the document likely would have occurred during their years attending college together at Yale. Even after World War II, additional CIA documents indicate that the two would likely have brushed elbows at events at the college where both men attended.
Although the 1983 memo conveys that Slick never had any “official relationship” with the CIA, the fact that it acknowledges periodic contacts he had with the agency throughout the 1950s certainly does cause one to wonder about the full extent of Slick’s post-war activities with the agency, and what they might have entailed.
This, as well as his relationship with Allen Dulles dating back to their years together at Yale before World War II, adds additional intrigue to an already curious association between one of cryptozoology’s early heroes, and espionage carried out by the United States during the Cold War.