BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Dobbs, author of "Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America," why a book now about this subject?
MICHAEL DOBBS, AUTHOR, "SABOTEURS: THE NAZI RAID ON AMERICA:" Well, when I first discovered the story, I thought it was such an incredible yarn. It`s -- the very idea of eight Nazi saboteurs coming to America, six months after America entered the war, by U-boat. Then they were tried by military tribunal. There`s a historic Supreme Court session. And finally, they were executed.
And that seemed so improbable to me when I first heard of it that I wanted to write a story about it. But then I was attracted by the huge amount of archival material available. I went down to the National Archives. There are whole shelves of boxes of FBI material going into great detail about every move they made. And finally, after I began the research, 9/11 happened, and I immediately saw a lot of parallels between the way the U.S. responded to this case and the way they responded -- the government responded to 9/11.
DOBBS: When did you first get the first little bit of information that suggested there was new stuff to be talked about here?
As soon as I looked in the FBI archives. I mean, this was one of the FBI`s biggest cases and one of Hoover`s greatest -- what he considered his greatest triumphs. So all their material is preserved in the National Archives.
LAMB: But what got you there, though, in the first place?
DOBBS: I`d been researching other books. I`d researched a book about the collapse of communism as a correspondent in Moscow, and then I did a biography of Madeleine Albright that had me spending a great bit of time at the National Archives. So I talked to the archivists, and one of them kindly took me behind the scenes to where they have the stacks of files. And I actually saw the -- all the FBI materials, including the materials on the Nazi saboteurs and Dasch. And just the sheer amount of materials made it very interesting to me to do research on that.
LAMB: I want to come back to that in a moment, but the year, the date of the first landing of Nazi saboteurs in this country that you`re talking about was when?
DOBBS: It was June 13, 1942, about six months after Pearl Harbor.
LAMB: Where did they land?
DOBBS: Well, there were two groups. Two U-boats came across the Atlantic. And the first group landed in Amagansett, Long Island, on June 13. And the second group landed six days later, June 19, at Ponte Vedra, Florida.
LAMB: How many of them?
DOBBS: There were four in each group. Actually, there had been more, but a couple of them dropped out for various reasons. One dropped out on -- just before his U-boat was meant to depart from the port of Lorient in France, which was the German submarine port. He decided the mission was -- he thought it was going to fail. He -- he pretended that he had a case of VD, and he dropped out. That was another new detail that I discovered in the FBI archives.
LAMB: What was their purpose?
DOBBS: Well, the purpose was -- from Hitler`s point of view, it was quite an intelligent response to America coming into the war. Hitler didn`t fear an immediate U.S. invasion. The U.S. armed forces were at that time pretty ill-prepared, certainly no match for the German army. But what he correctly feared was the long-term implications of America coming into the war, this huge industrial power with the ability to churn out huge numbers of tanks and airplanes. So he figured that he needed to somehow sabotage America`s ability to make war. And the target he chose was the aluminum production.
Aluminum was used to make airplanes, so the primary target or primary goal of these saboteurs was to sabotage aluminum factories around America and disrupt the production of aluminum. The secondary goal was to disrupt transportation around the country.
LAMB: In June of 1942, where was the war? How involved were we?
DOBBS: We were involved, but not in Europe. We were involved in -- mainly in Asia. There was the battle of the Midway had just taken place. Pearl Harbor, of course, had taken place. Guadalcanal was taking place as -- simultaneously with the events in this book.
LAMB: And how many American ships had been blown up by the Nazis, at that point?
DOBBS: Yes, that was another thing that was happening, that the U-boat war was going on in the Atlantic, up and down the American coast. And German U-boats were having a field day because America was really unprepared for this U-boat war.
And this, I think, is one of the parallels with the situation here before 9/11. There`s a kind of false sense of security, that even though America had entered the war, in America itself, nothing much had changed. And cities along the coast, for example, were very resistant to imposing blackout regulations. Miami thought that -- the city of Miami refused to impose a blackout because they thought it would be bad for tourism. So German U-boats were able to patrol up and down the coast, which was lit up by the light from cities, which was a perfect backdrop for providing silhouettes of the -- of targets. So the first few months of 1942, they sank dozens of ships all up and down the American coastline.
LAMB: Had there been loss of life?
DOBBS: A lot of -- well, quite a bit of loss of life.
DOBBS: Whenever a ship goes down, then, you know, several hundred sailors can be killed. And dozens -- I think I put the precise number in the book, but certainly, dozens of ships had been sunk in that period.
LAMB: What about landings on American coasts? Had there been any before this?
DOBBS: This was the first one. There were a couple subsequently, but this remained the largest -- the largest German effort to put -- insert saboteurs into America.
LAMB: Now, when you set out to write this book -- by the way, when was it? What year, what time?
DOBBS: It was actually just before 9/11. I began getting interested in the case in the summer of 2001, and I agreed with my publisher, Knopf, to write a book in the summer of 2001. But I didn`t really seriously start the research until 2002, and I wrote the book in 2002.
LAMB: So if we`d have followed you around, places you went in order to get a feel for everything, where did you go?
DOBBS: I began here in Washington at the archives, which is -- the National Archives, which are located in College Park, Maryland, which is an essential first stop, particularly researching this book because it`s the location of the FBI files, which were extraordinarily rich. And although I used other sources, that was the most helpful to me.
But having gone through the entire FBI file, I then more or less followed in the footsteps of the saboteurs themselves. I went to Amagansett. I saw -- I was able to recreate for myself the events on the night of their landing. I went to New York, of course, where they traveled to soon after landing at Amagansett. Another group went to Chicago. I went to Chicago. Then with the help of the FBI files that I already had -- the FBI was actually following a couple of the saboteurs around Chicago, so I was able to use that to follow precisely where they had been in Chicago over the course of a week. I went to -- here in this country, I went to Hyde Park, President Roosevelt`s retreat. I had been to upstate New York, where he took the decision to establish military tribunals.
Then abroad, I went to Hitler`s bunker, which is now in Poland, what used to be East Prussia, in the woods, in the forest there. It was actually the place where the attempt on Hitler`s life was made a couple of years after the events were made in my book, and it was where Hitler took the decision to mount this sabotage campaign against the United States. And in Germany, I visited the little town called Brandenburg, which is about half an hour`s train ride from Berlin, where they were trained in the arts -- in sabotage techniques prior to getting on the U-boat to come to America.
LAMB: Almost everybody I mentioned that I was reading this book knew about this incident. Do you have new stuff in here that no one`s ever seen?
DOBBS: Well, there`s a lot of new stuff. I mean, there`s a lot of new detail, and I think that`s -- I mean, that`s -- for me, the main thing about writing this book was to discover all this detail. I mean, we know the broad outlines of the story, but what makes it a rich story for a writer is all the detail provided by the FBI.
For example, the night they landed in Amagansett, the submarine that brought them over was -- got stranded on a sandbar a couple of hundred yards from the beach. Actually, they landed right next to a Coast Guard station, of all places, in Amagansett. And the U-boat was stranded on a sandbar. It was a foggy night, so the people on the beach, the Coast Guard, couldn`t see the U-boat, but they could hear it. And it was stranded there for about four hours. And I found the U-boat logs, which describe the panic inside the boat as they tried to get away. They were sure they certainly were going to be discovered. But the Coast Guard never thought to, you know, send a boat to investigate these sort of noises of diesel engines trying to escape. So that was one new discovery. But there are many others.
LAMB: I got the sense, though, in reading your acknowledgments and all that, that there might have been some guy out at the archives that said, Mr. Dobbs come right over here, and said, It`s all right there. Was there one of those moments?
DOBBS: Not exactly. Somebody did show me -- as I said, took me to the area where -- the stacks, which is where all these boxes of material are held. And you know, looking at those files, I immediately wanted to look at them. I don`t think anybody had really been through them systematically beforehand. Quite a bit of attention had been paid to the transcript of the military tribunal proceedings. I mean, that -- those became -- that became public 20, 30 -- actually, 30, 40 years ago. But the FBI files, I don`t think anybody had really -- I mean, they were only declassified about five years ago, so nobody had really systematically gone through them.
LAMB: What does U-boat stand for?
DOBBS: My German is not all that good. I think it`s "Unterboot," which means literally a submarine, a boat that goes under the water.
LAMB: How big was it, these two submarines?
DOBBS: They`re about -- each boat was about the length of two subway cars, and very thin and very crowded with food provisions, torpedoes, all kinds of equipment. So they`re incredibly cramped inside. There were about 40 or 50 crew, plus the four saboteurs. I mean, you couldn`t sort of move along the U-boat. In order to move along -- move from one end of the U-boat to the other, people would have to get out of one side. And there was also a kind of delicate system of balancing the thing. So too many people couldn`t be at the front or the back. A sort of very cramped and pretty delicate -- delicate piece of equipment.
LAMB: How fast would those boats travel?
DOBBS: Very slowly. They`d travel -- I`d say the normal speed was about the speed of a bicycle. So imagine somebody taking a bicycle across the Atlantic.
LAMB: They travel above water or below water?
DOBBS: For the most part, they traveled above water. I mean, so "submarine" is kind of the wrong term. They were really a submersible. I mean, they could -- they needed to travel on top of the water to charge their diesels, diesel engines, or to charge their electric motors and to charge their batteries. And they needed to do that most of the time, and then they could submerge and be powered with electric power. But most of the time, in order to make any speed at all, they had to travel on top of the water. So they`d only go underneath the water when they were in danger or when they`re about to mount an attack.
LAMB: Do I remember it would be 12, 14 knots above water, about 2-and-a-half knots below water?
DOBBS: I think that`s right, yes.
LAMB: And how much below water did they travel on either one of these subs coming over to this country?
DOBBS: I`d say about a quarter of the time they were below water.
LAMB: The eight men that came ashore, four in Amagansett, Long Island, and four down at Ponte Vedra beach in Florida, near Jacksonville, were of what background? How many of them were Americans?
DOBBS: Well, they were all German-Americans, and they all came out of a movement called the German-American Bundt, which was the American equivalent of the Nazi Party. They all had similar backgrounds. They had been born in Germany, just before the First World War, in most cases. Then after the war, they fled -- or their families fled Germany because the economic conditions were terrible, came to America looking for new opportunities. Then, there was -- of course, it was Depression in America, so it wasn`t a great time to find jobs in America, so many of them had failed in America in different ways.
So when Hitler came to power in Germany, they were then, for different reasons, attracted by Hitler, thought they wanted to go back to Germany, support Germany in the war that was just beginning. So they all, having been in America, become disillusioned with America for some reason, then went back to Germany, where because they had a knowledge of America and spoke varying degrees of English, they were selected for this mission, this sabotage mission.
LAMB: You`ve got some pictures in here. I want to show some of them because I want you to tell us about some of these folks. Who is the guy there on top?
DOBBS: Well, he was the leader of the expedition. His name is George John Dasch, and he had been a waiter in the United States. He was -- had failed in practically everything he did. He had been a traveling salesman. He failed at that. He`d failed as a waiter. He`d dabbled with communism, then became interested in Nazism. And -- but he did have an intimate knowledge of American ways. He had a kind of slang knowledge of English and knew a lot about American popular culture, baseball, which was one of the reasons that made him attractive to the people who organized this expedition.
LAMB: Which boat was he on?
DOBBS: He was on the first boat, the U-202 which landed in Amagansett, Long Island.
LAMB: Who`s this fellow down below him?
DOBBS: His name is Edward Kerling, and he was a much more committed Nazi than George Dasch. He was the leader of the second group that landed in Ponte Vedra, Florida. And of all the eight saboteurs, he was the most ideologically committed to the Nazi cause, and he was the most likely to carry out some kind of sabotage attacks on the United States.
LAMB: Did either one of these men have relatives here in this country?
DOBBS: They did. For example, Kerling had a wife. Not only a wife, he also had a mistress also. And as soon as he got back here, he started trying to make contacts with his -- with his family and his friends.
LAMB: As a matter of fact, the last pictures you have in your book -- down here, who`s this -- these two women at the bottom?
DOBBS: Well, that is the -- on the left is the...
DOBBS: ... Hedwig Engerman (ph), who`s the -- was the mistress of Eddie Kerling, and on the right is his wife, Marie.
LAMB: How much of this fact, that there was a mistress and a wife, played in the story at all?
DOBBS: Well, he traveled to New York, and one of things he did -- he had a very complicated -- as I`ve just suggested, it was -- he had a very complicated marital situation. So even though he had been seeing the mistress, by that stage, he`d decided he wanted to go back to the wife. And in addition to the sabotage operation, that was one of the things he wanted to resolve in his trip to the United States. He wanted to make up with the wife. So he was in the process, actually, when he came to New York, of seeing the mistress and seeing the wife and trying to get back together with the wife. So he also, even though -- despite his intense Nazi convictions, he also had personal reasons for coming to America.
LAMB: And this man, Mr. Burger here, who is he?
DOBBS: He was Dasch`s No. 2 in the group that landed in Amagansett. He`s an interesting person. He joined the Nazi Party in the early `20s. He was one of the participants in the Munich beer hall putsch, so he was one of Hitler`s earliest followers, had been a member of the Nazi Party from very early on, but he sided with some of Hitler`s opponents. So he kind of fell out with the -- with the Nazi Party establishment, and at one point actually spent some time in a German prison camp. So he came back -- he was selected for this mission -- for this mission as a way of redeeming himself and rehabilitating himself. But he harbored this secret grudge against -- against the Nazis, which later became important.
LAMB: Two things that you mention in the book I wanted to ask you to explain. One was the Munich beer hall putsch -- 1933?
DOBBS: No, no. In the early `20s -- `24, I think.
LAMB: Oh, yes. Yes, `33 is the year that Hitler became...
DOBBS: That Hitler became chancellor. And there was the "night of the long knives," in which Hitler murdered or killed or had killed many of the supporters of Ernst Rom (ph), who was the head of the SA, sort of Nazi street thugs.
LAMB: That was the "night of the long knives," which would have -- what year was that?
DOBBS: I think that was 1933 -- `32, `33.
LAMB: And putsch was -- what was it, the putsch?
DOBBS: The Munich...
LAMB: Munich beer hall, yes.
DOBBS: Well, that was when Hitler tried to seize power in the -- in Bavaria and in Munich, the Bavarian capital. It was a kind of failed attempt to seize power, as a result of which Hitler was arrested, went to prison. And so it was kind of a preliminary attempt by the Nazis to seize power. But the people who were at Hitler`s side, including Burger, during the -- during the Munich beer hall putsch, were sort of considered the original core membership of the Nazi Party.
LAMB: What`s the average age of these eight that came ashore here?
DOBBS: Well, they range from -- the youngest was about 22 and the oldest was about 40.
LAMB: Who is this?
DOBBS: That is Heinrich Heinck. He was one of the less distinguished members of the group that landed in Amagansett. He`d been a Volkswagen member, a member of the German-American -- a worker for Volkswagen, and a member of the German-American Bundt. He was essentially a follower, rather than a leader.
LAMB: And the fellow next to him, up top?
DOBBS: That`s Herbie Haupt. He`s an interesting person. He was the youngest of the saboteurs. He had been brought up in Chicago, was the most Americanized of all of them. He had left Chicago at the beginning of the war because he fell out with his girlfriend. He had made his girlfriend pregnant, and he essentially ran off to Mexico. I call him the accidental saboteur because he fell into this plot quite by chance. He ran around -- he went around the world. He ended up in Nazi Germany because he couldn`t get back to America. As soon as he got to Germany, he immediately sort of dreamed of getting back to America somehow. And this mission was -- offered him a chance to get back to America. But he kind of fell into -- fell into the plot by accident.
LAMB: I`ll show the others in a moment. But which U-boat landed first?
DOBBS: The U-boat in Amagansett.
LAMB: And what was the difference in time for the second boat that landed in Florida?
DOBBS: About six days later.
LAMB: How long did it take them to transverse the Atlantic?
DOBBS: About three weeks.
LAMB: They left from what port?
DOBBS: They left from the port of the Lorient, which is on the western seaboard, the Atlantic seaboard of France. France by that time had fallen under Nazi control, so Lorient was one of the main submarine ports the Germans had on the Atlantic coast and from where they launched many of their missions across the Atlantic.
LAMB: Did Hitler know about this?
DOBBS: About this precise mission?
DOBBS: He certainly knew -- he had approved the plan. I`m not sure how many of the details he actually knew, but he had approved the sabotage plan personally against the United States in a meeting that he had with the leaders of German military intelligence, in his bunker in East Prussia that I visited.
LAMB: I noticed in the back of the book that your author interviews included this man, and I got the sense that he might still be alive. Is he?
DOBBS: He is. Yes. He lives in Virginia, on the Chesapeake. His name is John Cullen (ph). And in 1942, he was a very young member of the U.S. Coast Guard. He was stationed at Amagansett. And on the night of June 13, 1942, when the U-boat landed -- he had the -- he was what was known as a "sand pounder."
The -- at the beginning of the war, Roosevelt insisted that some kind of rudimentary coastal defense be instituted. So they had Coast Guards along the entire seaboard, patrolling the coastline. They were unarmed. They patrolled alone, so they were not really prepared for anybody coming ashore. But -- and it took them sort of -- they had a -- each had a route that they had to follow, two miles out and two miles back. So Cullen was the Coast Guard that night at Amagansett who was on patrol when the saboteurs landed. And amazingly, he actually ran into Dasch on this foggy, incredibly dark night. It was a moonless night of June 13 when they landed.
LAMB: What did they carry with them? What kind of equipment?
DOBBS: The saboteurs?
DOBBS: They had come -- they were dressed in kind of rudimentary Nazi -- German army uniforms because they thought that if they were intercepted on landing, the uniforms would give them some kind of protection, that they would be arrested not as saboteurs but as soldiers. And they brought with them each four boxes of sabotage gear -- very -- pretty sophisticated sabotage equipment -- you know, bomb-making equipment, fuses, detonators, liable to do quite a bit of damage.
LAMB: Is it still there? I mean, is it -- did you find this or just this picture was there?
DOBBS: That`s the picture of four of the boxes of sabotage gear that were unearthed from Ponte Vedra beach. I didn`t find -- the equipment is no longer in the archives or never got to the archives. I imagine it`s in the basement of the FBI somewhere. I don`t know what happened to the equipment itself. That`s not there. A lot of other things are in the archives but not the precise equipment.
LAMB: When they landed on Amagansett -- by the way, how far out on Long Island is -- how far from New York City do you have to drive to get to Amagansett?
DOBBS: It`s about two hours by car from New York City, so it`s pretty near the tip of Long Island.
LAMB: Any marker there, by the way, that says that they landed there?
DOBBS: Not in Amagansett. There is in Ponte Vedra beach. There`s a marker identifying the post. And in fact, there`s some controversy over exactly where the spot is in Amagansett. There was never a sort of precise location made. I think I pretty much identified it. But it`s about a mile from where the Coast Guard station used to be. But it`s not identified.
LAMB: What time of day did they put in -- did the sub -- and how did the sub get in to the shore?
DOBBS: Well, the sub had been submerged, and it sort of -- it came to the surface. It sort of edged its way into the shore. And as soon as they felt that there was sand beneath them, they knew they were pretty close to the shore. They`d deliberately chosen a moonless night because they wanted it, you know, to be as dark as possible, for obvious reasons. Having -- but what they didn`t know is they bumped into a kind of false sandbar, which is actually notorious in Amagansett. There have been many shipwrecks on this sandbar.
So having bumped into the sandbar, they then got a rubber dinghy. The four saboteurs got into the dinghy and rode ashore from the dinghy. It was a very -- pretty stormy night, so they got drenched on the way, so they landed completely drenched and rather disoriented. In the meantime, the U-boat had swung around, so that the entire boat was sort of -- during the operation of putting the saboteurs onto the dinghy, they hadn`t paid enough attention to what was happening to the U-boat itself, and it swung around and got stranded on -- stuck on the sandbar.
LAMB: Was there any communications, by the way -- it was interesting to learn that the captain of the boat was, like, 29 years old.
DOBBS: Right. All the U-boats skippers were pretty young people. I mean, it was a very high mortality rate, higher in the German U-boat service than in any other military unit on either side, practically, I think. So all the -- I mean, the captain was 29 years old. Most of the crew were about 21, 22. He was considered an old man.
LAMB: I`ve got one -- is this the captain of the...
DOBBS: That`s the captain...
LAMB: ... Amagansett boat?
DOBBS: ... of the Amagansett boat.
LAMB: Twenty-nine years old.
LAMB: By the way, what happened to him?
DOBBS: He was later -- like many U-boat captains, he was -- his boat was sunk and he was killed during the war.
LAMB: Could they communicate from the boat back to Germany?
DOBBS: They could. They had to come to the surface in order to communicate. That was one reason why they -- why they had to frequently come to the surface. And the U.S. and Britain were able to track these communications and more or less get a pretty good idea of where the U-boats were through these communications. And at one point, they were able to decipher the communications through the -- the communications were coded with the help of a machine called Enigma, and the Allies found a way of deciphering this, actually, at the precise moment when these people landed. That was at a time when this window was closed.
So, at that particular time, the allies didn`t have the ability to decipher the communications. But they could locate the boats by triangulating where the radio signals were coming from.
LAMB: Who are some of the other members of this, of the two crews?
DOBBS: That`s Richard Quirin. He was one of the foursome that landed in Amagansett. He had also worked for Volkswagen, been a member of the German-American Bund.
LAMB: But the fellow down here in the middle?
DOBBS: That`s Werner Thiel. He was a member of the Florida group, another - I think he had also worked for Volkswagen when he went back to Germany.
LAMB: And finally?
DOBBS: Herman Neubauer. He was a member of Dasch`s group that landed in Amagansett. He`d been wounded on the Russian front, pretty severely. He had some chunks of metal in his head.
He was extremely nervous about coming back to the United States, probably the most nervous of all the saboteurs.
LAMB: How much did John Cullen remember? How old is he now?
DOBBS: He`s - well, he was 22 then, and this was about 60 - just over 60 years ago. So, he`s now in his early 80s.
He`s got a pretty sharp memory of it. I spent an afternoon with him in his house, that`s in - just outside his front door.
And, of course, you know, he`s told the story many times. And his role is limited to the 15 minutes or so when he spent on the beach. But, you know, those 15 minutes are imprinted on his mind.
LAMB: But the Germans had declared war. We`d declared war on them, both ways. This was 1942 in the middle of the year. And we didn`t have any real defenses that - or any thoughts that they really would come ashore?
DOBBS: We didn`t take the threat - perhaps, in theory, there was - people talked about the possibility of saboteurs landing. But until this happened, it wasn`t taken very seriously.
Actually, one of the few people who took it seriously was FDR, because Roosevelt had been Assistant Navy Secretary during the First World War. And he was kind of aficionado for spy stories.
And he thought there was a real threat. And he tried to beef up the Coast Guard. He tried - for example, walkie-talkies had just been introduced. And he`d seen his Secret Service people at Hyde Park and in Washington talking, using walkie-talkies to communicate. So he thought it would be a good idea if these two-way radios were also issued to - for sand pounders, the Coast Guards.
And he made the suggestion a few months before the saboteurs landed. But nobody took him up on this. It was sort of one of the suggestions from the commander in chief that people just ignored.
LAMB: So the four that came in at Amagansett ended up going where?
DOBBS: They, having got off the beach, they ran into Cullen on the beach. And he went back to summon help. And by the time that he came back, they had disappeared. They had moved inland.
Where did they go? They went to Amagansett rail station. And the first train into New York was the six o`clock ...
LAMB: The next morning.
DOBBS: No, well they landed at one o`clock, and they got to the rail station at four o`clock. And the first thing they did was to - they had lots of money with them.
They had about $100,000, the equivalent of about $1 million today. So they had no trouble paying the fare. They just took the first train that came along, which took them into Manhattan.
LAMB: By the way, six days later when the group went into Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida, where did they go?
DOBBS: They ...
LAMB: Did they have any trouble at all? Did anybody catch them at all?
DOBBS: No. They had much less trouble than the Amagansett group. Their landing went off pretty smoothly.
They buried their sabotage equipment. And they took a bus into Jacksonville, which is not precisely on the coastline. It`s about 30, 40 minutes away. And they checked into Jacksonville hotels, just as the Amagansett group checked into - and they arrived at Penn Station, and they checked into the hotel just across the street from Penn Station.
LAMB: The New Yorker.
DOBBS: It`s not the New Yorker. It`s - I forget the name, but it`s still there. It`s a different - it has a different name now. But it`s right opposite the train station.
LAMB: So - and then, we know they were caught. How long did it take? And how did it unravel that they were eventually caught?
DOBBS: Well, they - having landed - and there`s a question of when Dasch, the leader of the Amagansett group, decided to betray the rest of the them and turn himself in to the FBI.
But he and Burger called the FBI the night after they arrived. And he said that his name was Mr. Pastorius. The operation, by the way, was called Operation Pastorius, after the first German settlers who came to America in the 17th century.
But he called the FBI in New York and said his name was Mr. Pastorius. He just arrived by U-boat from Germany, and he had some very important information to impart to J. Edgar Hoover.
And he was dismissed as a crank. They thought that he was a lunatic. And they made a note of the conversation, but they didn`t do anything about it.
And then a few days later, Dasch took the train down to Washington, checked into the Mayflower Hotel here in Washington, and the next morning, walked into - or called FBI headquarters and was brought to FBI headquarters, where he began telling his story.
LAMB: Why did he want to do this?
DOBBS: Well, he says that he had become totally disillusioned with Nazism by the time he - soon after he returned to Germany, and that he secretly hated Hitler, and had decided to do it all along.
That he wanted to use the money that they`d been given for the operation to mount a propaganda campaign against Hitler using American radio facilities.
So that was his dream, that he would use this money to, through - by broadcasts on American radio, awaken the German people to the evil of Hitler.
LAMB: And that was how long after they landed?
DOBBS: That was - when he went into the FBI in Washington? That was about a week after they landed.
LAMB: So, simultaneously, the other ...
DOBBS: That was about the same time, almost simultaneously with the landing of the group in Ponte Vedra. And Dasch said that he was asked why he waited so long to go to the FBI.
And one of his reasons was that he wanted to give the Ponte Vedra group, the Florida group, the chance of also turning themselves in, that he wouldn`t just betray them without at least giving them the same chance that he had had of going to the FBI.
LAMB: Where did the Ponte Vedra group go?
DOBBS: Two of them went to New York, including Kerling, the leader of the group who had his wife and mistress both living in New York. And the other two went to Chicago. Herbie Haupt had lived in Chicago, been brought up in Chicago.
He went back, and the first thing he did was to - he had many friends, and he had family in Chicago. And so, he just resumed the life he had led before the war.
Of course, he had a lot of money in his pocket, so he was able to have a much - able to have a good time. He actually bought a car in Chicago at one point.
LAMB: And he had parents there.
DOBBS: His parents, his uncles, relations.
LAMB: Where did Cincinnati come in in all this?
DOBBS: Cincinnati was the place where, when they got the train to Chicago, they changed trains in Cincinnati. One group went to New York and the other group went to Chicago.
And they also had a plan for both groups to meet up in Chicago on July 4th. That having made their landings, the initial plan was that the two groups would come together in Cincinnati, or the leaders of the two groups would come together in Cincinnati on July 4th, and begin to put into operation their sabotage plan.
LAMB: I was surprised how often you said in the book that these - one of these guys would tell their friends they just came in on a submarine, and they were on a sabotage mission. Why would they tell all these people this?
DOBBS: Well, they told people they trusted. And they tried to hide it. I mean, Dasch was sort of naturally extremely talkative.
So, on the one hand, he was mysterious about exactly he`d got back to America. I mean, he was a well known figure in New York waiters` circles.
In fact, one of the things he did when he went to New York was that he went to the Waiters Club in New York, and has an - he was a fiend for pinochle, which is - is it "pin-oakley" or "pin-ockle"?
LAMB: "Pea-knuckle" is the way we pronounce it.
DOBBS: Pinochle, right.
DOBBS: He loved playing pinochle. And he had a 2.5-day game using some of the money he`d brought over with him, to gamble on pinochle. He played it for 2.5 days at a, well ...
DOBBS: ... non-stop.
And during that period, he was obviously under quite a bit of stress. But he let out to some of his waiter friends that he had come back on a submarine. Of course, nobody believed it.
LAMB: Now, another man you talked to is a man named Duane Traynor.
LAMB: And here`s a picture of him. Where did you find him?
DOBBS: Well, he lives in Springfield, Illinois. And he`s in his early 90s, but he still has an incredibly precise memory. And he was the FBI agent, the head of the FBI`s anti-sabotage unit, who was the first FBI man in the United States to interview Dasch.
So, when Dasch arrived at the Mayflower Hotel, he called the FBI again. This was his second call to the FBI. He asked to speak to Hoover. And Hoover`s office put him in charge - put him in touch with the next person down the hierarchy.
And after about three or four people, he finally got to speak to Traynor, who was the first person to take him seriously, and said, I`ll send a car right over for you. So, he went over to the FBI and began telling his story.
LAMB: Now, I know he talked to him for a long time. But one of the stranger things I learned in your book was that Traynor ended up moving into his hotel room in the Mayflower Hotel here in Washington and stayed in the room with him for how many nights?
DOBBS: He stayed just one night, but Traynor`s assistant stayed the other nights. It took Dasch four or five days to tell his entire story. And the transcript of his confession is about 500 pages long. He was just sitting in Traynor`s office as teams of stenographers took down his story.
And at that time, the FBI treated him very respectfully, and they treated him as a free man. So, instead of putting him in a jail cell at the end of each interrogation session, they permitted him to go back to the hotel.
And the first night, Traynor went back with him to the hotel. And that was about midnight they got back to the hotel.
And before they went to bed - I guess there were twin beds in the hotel room - Dasch told Traynor, he said, I`ve got something to show you. And he brought out his suitcase and produced about 100,000 American dollars, which was, Traynor told me, was more money than he`d ever seen in his life.
And it was sort of one of the things that convinced him that Dasch was telling the truth.
LAMB: The 500-page transcript, had that been published before?
DOBBS: Most of - a lot of that had come out during the military tribunal hearings, because Dasch insisted that his entire confession be read into the record. So, that transcript was available before, yes.
LAMB: I want to read a paragraph you wrote on page 87, and get your background on it.
"The sense of American invulnerability was reflected in the low priority placed on homeland security." This is 1942.
"The defenses set up along the Eastern seaboard in the immediate aftermath of America`s entry into the war were `scanty and improvised,` in the words of the Army`s official history. They were strengthened somewhat in April as a result of the growing U-boat menace and intelligence reports that Germans might be trying to land saboteurs along the coast."
Here`s what I want to ask you about. "But there were many glaring holes, caused in large part by bureaucratic turf fights between the agencies responsible for homeland security."
DOBBS: Very familiar.
LAMB: This is 1942.
DOBBS: Yes, `42, right. There were ...
LAMB: And then you end up - I showed a picture of the man you end up talking a lot about. And what he did in this whole story, J. Edgar Hoover and his aide there, Clyde Tolson, who were buried about three feet from each other out in the Congressional Cemetery here in Washington.
DOBBS: Well, J. Edgar Hoover was an extraordinary person. He built the FBI up into a remarkable organization. But he was also a vicious, bureaucratic infighter. And he was determined that he and the FBI would take the credit for breaking the case.
He horded information and he refused to let any FBI agents inform other government agencies. And there was vicious bureaucratic infighting between the FBI and other government agencies, all of which you can follow in the files - particularly vicious with the Coast Guard and Naval intelligence.
And at one point, things got so bad that they were leaking rival stories to the press as the military tribunal was going on.
The Coast Guard wanted to - they wanted to take the credit. They saw this is as a - the fact that their man, John Cullen had run into the saboteurs on the beach was something they wanted to be made public. And they thought that had led to the unraveling of the case.
Hoover was contemptuous of the way the Coast Guard had allowed the saboteurs to get away. And he thought they were completely incompetent and didn`t want to give any credit to the Coast Guard at all.
So, he had a PR guy called Lou Nichols who was probably - I mean, he`d made Hoover`s reputation. And he had a lot of contacts in the media. And he strong-armed the Coast Guard into keeping quiet. In fact, he sort of threatened the Coast Guard.
He said that if you bring out your side of the story, we will have to, for the sake of - he put in a kind of polite way - he said that, you wouldn`t want all this unpleasant information about the Coast Guard to become public, would you, the fact that you allowed the saboteurs to get away from the beach.
So, you see, and one of the reasons that I was interested in this case as a journalist is that, you know, we journalists don`t get to see what`s actually happening in the bureaucracies. We don`t read the memos.
But 60 years later, you can read the memos. And one of the things that we find when we do read these internal documents is that the infighting can become pretty vicious.
LAMB: Well, another parallel with today are these tribunals that happened back then. When was there a public announcement that these eight men had been caught?
DOBBS: Hoover made the announcement just after - about a week after Dasch walked into the FBI headquarters in Washington. It took them a week to round up everybody else.
And at that point, Hoover made his own announcement that they had been caught. And that disturbed a lot of other people in the government.
The military intelligence, the War Department was furious with Hoover, because they thought it would be much better if the whole thing was kept secret, and then perhaps other teams of German saboteurs would come over here, and they could roll them all up.
But by going public, Hoover prevented that from happening. So, that was one of the controversies inside the government.
LAMB: Where did they put the eight men?
DOBBS: They took them all - by this time they had arrested Dasch and stopped treating him as a free man. They eventually took them all to jail cells in the New York FBI headquarters.
And then, once they decided to hold a military tribunal, they were transferred to the Army and held in a military jail in Washington.
The military tribunal took place in the Justice Department building in Washington.
LAMB: Now, they were caught in June.
DOBBS: They were caught - they landed on June 13th. They were rounded up within two weeks of their landing.
LAMB: So, when were the tribunals?
DOBBS: The tribunals began in July, in mid-July.
LAMB: Right away.
DOBBS: So the whole - and that`s sort of contrast with what`s happening now. In two years after 9/11, in two years after the Bush administration`s announced that they were going to try al Qaeda people by military tribunals, no tribunals have yet been held.
But in this case, the whole legal process was compressed into two months - the landing, the rounding up of the saboteurs, the military tribunals. There`s a Supreme Court hearing and six of them were executed, all within two months.
LAMB: Now, the attorney general tried the tribunal for the government. In this picture here - he`s right over here - when was this picture made available to the media?
DOBBS: Well, that`s Francis Biddle, who`s the attorney general. And he prosecuted the case himself, because he didn`t trust any of his subordinates to prosecute it.
But the tribunal was held in secret, so journalists weren`t allowed into the tribunal hearing. But they made such a fuss about it, that the Army agreed to an exception and did permit them in to one small part of a hearing, and that`s when these photographs were taken.
LAMB: How long did the tribunals take?
DOBBS: They took about two weeks.
LAMB: What happened to those eight men in the tribunals?
DOBBS: Well, the two who had turned themselves in to the FBI - Dasch, who`d actually physically come here to Washington, and he had done it with the agreement of Peter Burger - he`s number two.
So they were given - they were all sentenced to death, all eight of them. But then the sentences on Burger and Dasch were commuted to life imprisonment.
LAMB: How were the six put to death?
DOBBS: The six were put to death in the D.C. jail by the electric chair.
LAMB: How soon after the tribunal`s decision?
DOBBS: Well, there was the tribunal, and then there was a habeas corpus appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled against the saboteurs.
By the way, the same thing is happening now. There`s a - some of the - attorneys for some of the detainees in Guantanamo have appealed to the Supreme Court, based on the 1942 precedent.
But so, there was the military tribunal, Supreme Court hearing. By within a week of the end of the tribunal, six of them had been executed.
LAMB: So, came to the country in June. They`re dead by ...
DOBBS: Executed August 8th.
LAMB: And you also show ...
DOBBS: Just under two months.
LAMB: And you also show that the Supreme Court was very emotionally involved in this, including Felix Frankfurter, the justice. They wanted these men to be executed.
DOBBS: I think the Supreme Court had to - first of all, the Supreme Court was divided. The chief justice, Stone, he wanted to assert some kind of judicial authority over the executive.
So he thought that the fact that the government had decided they should be put on trial by military tribunals, that there should be some kind of challenge to that. So he accepted the habeas corpus challenge.
But having done so, then the Supreme Court didn`t want to interfere with the government`s handling of the war. And particularly, Felix Frankfurter felt that in time of war, there was no time and little use for getting involved in constitutional arguments.
Frankfurter, by the way, was pretty friendly with Stimson, the Secretary of War. So he had decided pretty much from the outset that they weren`t going to agree to the habeas corpus request.
And partly under Frankfurter`s influence, they rejected these habeas corpus requests. It was two days Supreme Court hearing, and they did something very strange, which was that they rejected the requests of habeas corpus without explaining why they were rejecting them, without finding the legal grounds for the decision.
The legal grounds were only published and only agreed upon months after the saboteurs were executed.
LAMB: Will the current justices be dealing with it on the basis of that decision back then?
DOBBS: Well, this decision is an extremely important legal precedent, yes. Because up until then, the case that had guided whether or not military tribunals are legal was a Civil War era decision called Milligan.
After the Civil War, there was an appeal to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court then decided that military tribunals were illegal, as long as civilian courts were open and functioning.
And in 1942, the Supreme Court reversed, or partially reversed, the Milligan decision, and decided that there were some circumstances in which military courts were legal.
So both sides can actually draw some - both sides in the present debate - can draw some support from the 1942 Supreme Court decision.
LAMB: Dasch and Burger end up going back to Germany. How long did they live?
DOBBS: Dasch - they both went - were pardoned by Truman. They went back to Germany in 1948. Dasch spent much of his time trying to get back to the United States. He died in 1972. Hoover vetoed all his attempts to get back to the United States.
Burger was on much better terms with the FBI. He was considered much more trustworthy by Hoover. In fact, he used to send Hoover Christmas cards and inform - provide Hoover information about his fellow Nazis.
And the last mention of him that I found in FBI files is the early `60s. And then he disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to him.
LAMB: Help me out here, though. I read your book and I`m reading about this fellow Dasch, who considers himself an American. He comes over here on the boat. The first thing he does is turn in all of these people.
He goes to the FBI, he tells them everything about it. Why wouldn`t he get some kind of a pardon? Why would they just slap him in jail and then try him and convict him and sentence him to death?
DOBBS: Well, there were two reasons for that. One was that Hoover wanted to take all the credit for rounding up the saboteurs.
So he didn`t want it to be made public that, in fact, the reason why the FBI was able to round up the saboteurs is, one of them had gone and told the whole story to the FBI. So I think there was a personal reason.
But there was also a military reason, which is that they didn`t want to let the Germans know why the operation had failed. They wanted to give the Germans the impression that American coasts were impregnable, and that the FBI was everywhere. And that would be a deterrent to the Nazis to send further sabotage teams over to America.
But the fact was that, as a result of the publicity surrounding the case, the Germans had a pretty good idea of what had gone wrong.
LAMB: "Michael Dobbs was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland," it says in the back of the book, "and educated at the University of York with fellowships at Princeton and Harvard."
How did you get into this business?
DOBBS: Into journalism? Or into ...
DOBBS: ... writing?
DOBBS: Well, I`d been a journalist in Britain. And I had worked in many different countries, including Yugoslavia. I worked as a freelance in Yugoslavia.
And I was very fortunate that I was in Eastern Europe at the time when the region was exploding - in Poland, which I was there when the Lenin shipyard was occupied by strikers under Lech Walesa.
And I`d been stringing among other - for various newspapers, including the "Washington Post." And the "Washington Post" decided they needed a correspondent from Warsaw, and since I was on the spot, they appointed me.
LAMB: How long have you worked for the "Washington Post"?
DOBBS: Since those events in Poland, which was 1980.
LAMB: And how long - were you in Russia with them? The "Post"?
DOBBS: I then went to Russia with them. And I was fortunate there, because my time with the "Post" in Moscow coincided with the extraordinary Gorbachev reforms and the collapse of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
LAMB: And what`s your beat now?
DOBBS: I now cover American education. So I`m covering - this is the first really American beat that I`ve had. And it`s giving me an opportunity to find out a little bit about this country.
LAMB: And your next book?
DOBBS: I am talking to my publisher, Knopf, about a book about the Cuban missile crisis.
LAMB: We`re out of time.
Our guest has been Michael Dobbs, who is with the "Washington Post," and has written this book called "Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America."
We thank you very much.
DOBBS: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.