The Chargé in Argentina ( Reed ) to the Secretary of State

No. 17869

Sir: …

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Espionage Developments

The latest espionage roundup, a full account of which was transmitted to the Department with the Embassy’s despatch no. 17801 of April 25,13 apparently gathered in practically all the loose ends which remained after the Utzinger group was corralled in August, 1944. The police communiqué of April 21, when combined with the highly interesting and informative memorandum of the Legal Attaché at Montevideo (Montevideo despatch no. 5683, of April 1013), provides a fairly comprehensive picture of the workings of the Becker organization. [Page 458] Although the details have been adequately reported in the above two reports, certain supplementary comment is believed pertinent.

The sending to Argentina of two highly trained agents, Walter Burckhardt and Alphonse Chantrain, as late as June, 1944, shows the importance to Berlin of the River Plate district even after Germany’s chief interest in Europe was self-preservation. Burckhardt was quite obviously sent because Becker had become almost valueless to the Nazi cause owing to police knowledge of his activities. Once Burckhardt was caught (with laudable promptness) and Utzinger’s “Orga T” broken up, the remainder of Becker’s organization was fatally handicapped. He had to fall back largely on the services of individuals who had previously been mere underlings, notably the nationalists (Uruguayan, Brazilian and Argentine) and a number of German-Argentines. The part played by the Spanish Falangist priest Alfredo Fernandez is also worthy of note. In gathering up the loose ends the Argentine police showed commendable patience in waiting until they had the whole story. Undoubtedly they did not get all the minor characters, but it appears that those still at large will have no means, and little desire, to continue their activity.

The work of Major Oscar C. Contal, head of Coordinación Federal, has demonstrated clearly that the Argentine police can be extremely capable when they have a mind to. His signal success only points up more strongly the fact that during 1942 and 1943 the existence of large-scale espionage in Argentina depended almost entirely on the complacence of the Argentine authorities. At the time of the recent late-April roundup it appeared that at last the Embassy was on the point of receiving real cooperation from Coordinación Federal. Major Contal had several interesting and fruitful talks with the Military and Legal Attachés and indicated that his mission had the blessing of higher-ups, including, presumably, Perón. Such optimism as the Embassy permitted itself was short-lived, however. Before the month was out further contact was evaded and it appeared that Contal’s carte blanche had been countermanded. …

It is evident that even half-hearted cooperation between the police and the Embassy … can only be effected through a definite governmental understanding. In such an event, moreover, the Embassy would have to be constantly on guard against the sabotaging activities of individual Nazis and “Yanquiphobes” within the police and the army. Probably the most effective plan would be the formation of an international committee, in Argentina as elsewhere, subsequent to the San Francisco Conference.16

[Page 459]

As pointed out in the Embassy’s despatch no. 17782 of April 21, 1945,17 it should not be forgotten that there are still nine persons in jail for “North American espionage”. Notwithstanding Argentina’s well-known touchiness on the subject of sovereignty, it is difficult to see what purpose is served by the continued detention of these unfortunates. Twelve other such agents were released on December 19, along with nine Germans.

That the Germans will reorganize is taken for granted. It does not appear, however, that espionage activity will be a major worry for the present, with Germany knocked out of the war. The underground will probably now concentrate its efforts on aiding Nazi refugees and Nazi capital to become established in this country, as well as to organizational planning for the future of Pan-Germanism. Owing to their more evanescent nature, such activities will be hard to detect unless the Argentine police can be impressed with the necessity for cooperation.

Nazis, Fascists and Falangists

In spite of being downcast at the Fatherland’s defeat, the Germans in Argentina realize that they are now probably the most fortunate group of Teutons in the world. No matter what happens in Europe and in other parts the Germans of Argentina will continue to lead a comfortable existence, and even official intervention in German businesses and present supervision over their private affairs will never be more than superficial. Basically, the Germans in Argentina are “old settlers” who date from the days of the Kaiser, and for them Nazism has been no more than a passing phase. Most Germans in this country were not Nazis, strictly speaking, but their longing for Teutonic world conquest was no less fervent on that account. Like most Germans living abroad their acceptance of Nazi doctrine obeyed to an inner necessity to believe in some creed preaching Germanic superiority, together with the highly developed Teutonic herd-instinct.

There is little doubt that the recent measures taken by the Argentines will temporarily curb the more obvious German activities on behalf of the Fatherland. Nevertheless, the German schools continue to function throughout the Republic, especially in such Teutonic centers as the Province of Entre Ríos and the Territory of Misiones. Although the principal German Club in the Capital was intervened on April 11 and its possessions taken charge of by the State, most German community entities continue to function much as before. In Mendoza it has been reported from a reliable source that the German Club still remains open, and that the members have even gone so far as to take up a public collection for “German prisoners of war” in France. The true destination of these funds is open to conjecture.

[Page 460]

In Mendoza, too, the classes of the German school are open as usual, including special night courses for stenographers and others. The ex-crew members of the Graf Spee interned near the town are reported enjoying practically the same liberties as before the declaration of war, in spite of the new decree regulating their internment.

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The Japanese

The principal event in the Japanese community during April was the internment of the Japanese diplomatic group of 62 persons, including officials, families and servants, at the luxurious Eden Hotel in the Córdoba hills. The internment was ordered very suddenly on the night of April 18, just after the Warren Mission had arrived in Buenos Aires, and the Japanese left rather dazedly the following day for La Falda, Córdoba, accompanied only by Foreign Office and Swiss Legation representatives. The Swiss have since reported that a very strict watch is being kept over the group to prevent communication with outsiders, but it has also been reported that the Japanese group is endeavoring to obtain agents to act as intermediaries for outside contact and that two Italians in La Falda were approached in this connection. The extremely short notice with which the Japanese were interned is believed to have prevented them from making prior arrangements with Japanese agents.

The Japanese community otherwise remained unmolested during the month excepting for the necessity of registering as enemy aliens, several being arrested for failing to do so. The rest carried on their normal business and social activities as usual, except for the ten intervened firms. …

Respectfully yours,

Edward L. Reed
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  3. For documentation on the United Nations Conference on International Organization, held at San Francisco, April 25–June 26, 1945, see vol. i, pp. 1 ff.
  4. Not printed.