Record Group 263: Records of the Central Intelligence Agency
Records of the Directorate of Operations
Analysis of the Name File of Wilhelm Krichbaum
By Paul B. Brown
IWG Historical Research Staff
The CIA file on Wilhelm Krichbaum is a lengthy one consisting of one folder of redacted photocopies. The redactions are small and primarily involve deletions of names of CIA employees or sources, and some foreign government information (FGI) is redacted as well. Some documents with potentially useful data (i.e., photocopies of data cards citing MGLA messages) are poor copies, although they may be the best available from poor microfilm.
Although the file does not add much to our knowledge of Krichbaum's pre-World War II and wartime career, it does contain useful details about Krichbaum's life and career during the post-World War II era. The bulk of the file contains CIA documents and documents from the Gehlen Organization. Although all of the documents in the file are dated prior to 1962, most of them are from the early 1950s, when Krichbaum was being investigated concerning his involvement with Curt Ponger, a former OSS officer arrested (and later convicted) for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union, and Wilhelm Hoettl, a former SS intelligence officer. Some of the photocopies are of Austrian newspaper articles concerning the espionage case involving Curt Ponger and Otto Verber.
Background of the Ponger/Verber Case: Curt Ponger and Otto Verber, both Viennese Jews, were brothers-in-law who escaped Nazi persecution, arriving in the United States in 1938. Both men later served as intelligence officers with the U.S. Army during World War II. Ponger and Verber apparently became affiliated with the Communist Party of the United States prior to the U.S. entry into World War II. After the war, both men obtained positions with the staff of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg. Ponger was an effective interrogator of war crimes suspects and witnesses while at Nuremberg. It was here that the former OSS officer met a number of former SS men, including Wilhelm Krichbaum and Wilhelm Hoettl. Once the IMT had adjourned, Ponger and Verber returned to Vienna, taking up residence in the Soviet sector of the Austrian capital. Once there, the two men established the Central European and Literary Agency, which served as a front for their espionage activities. In 1949, the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) became aware of Verber's (and later Ponger's) espionage activities and placed him under surveillance. According to U.S. Army records, nearly "continual surveillance of Verber, Ponger and several others was maintained for more than two and a half years..."1 The Ponger-Verber case lasted for a period of five years (1949-1953). During this period, agents of the 430th CIC Detachment, based in Vienna, "wrote approximately 2,000 T[op] S[ecret] Agent Reports concerning this case."2 Ponger and Verber were arrested, separately but simultaneously in Vienna on charges of espionage on 14 January 1953.
The most significant document in the file is an "MLB Contact Report," dated 10 July 1963, which states that Krichbaum was "also working for the Soviets when he recruited [Heinz] Felfe" in 1951.3 Although individual and organization names and cryptonyms are redacted, this document is believed to originate from an official Bundesnachrichten-dienst (BND) appraisal of Krichbaum's postwar involvement with Soviet intelligence.
The file also contains three separate reports written by Krichbaum (alias KRUG) and submitted to his superiors concerning his involvement with Curt Ponger, et al. It is clear from these reports that Krichbaum was purposefully vague in describing his association with Ponger and others. Also of interest is a report on the "Espionage Affair Verber-Ponger," dated 12 February 1953. This document refers to the possible use of Austrian front organizations in the United States as vehicles for Communist infiltration of the United States. The author reports that Ponger, Verber, and Walter Lauber (an associate of Ponger and Verber) were leading members of two such Austro-American groups while they were living in the United States.
This file is interesting and useful in establishing details of Krichbaum's postwar career and his involvement with Curt Ponger and Wilhelm Hoettl. The file shows clearly that the CIA and the Gehlen Organization had no knowledge of Krichbaum's association with Ponger and Hoettl prior to Ponger's arrest and extradition to the United States in January 1953. The file also shows that the CIA had no particular interest in Krichbaum's SS past prior to the 1961 arrest of Heinz Felfe, the KGB's mole inside the BND, since no record of a BDC records check prior to November 1961 is included in the file.
The release of the CIA file on Krichbaum is unlikely to generate a great deal of interest, despite the rather significant conclusion that Krichbaum was working for the KGB as early as 1950.
Notes of Sources Used Not from Krichbaum's Name File
- U.S. Army IRR File. "The Verber-Ponger Case." U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command. Released 7 April 1999.
- RG 319. Records of the Army Staff, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2. CIC Collection. Organizational History Files. 430th CIC Detachment (631: 53/21/5). Box 61. File 228-08. Declassified (NND 921531) 6 June 2000.
- Heinz Felfe was a former SS officer who initially worked for the British, but later was recruited by the Soviets. In 1950, Felfe was recruited by Krichbaum for the Gehlen Organization. Felfe became senior officer in the Gehlen Organization's Pullach headquarters until he was arrested in November 1961 on charges of spying for the Soviet Union.