In April 1942, without any prior experience in intelligence work, Gehlen became head of the Foreign Armies East Department. After initial failures at estimating enemy capabilities, he reorganized his department and created his own espionage organization and a comprehensive information bank on the Soviet Union. He also took a leading role in recruiting more than 100,000 Soviet prisoners of war into the Russian Liberation Army to fight on the German side.
Gehlen's intelligence information was generally accurate, and he directed an extensive network of agents throughout Eastern Europe. In autumn 1944 he was preparing to transfer the military intelligence service to U.S. authorities in case Germany lost the war. In December 1944 he won promotion to generalmajor (equivalent to U.S. brigadier general). Adolf Hitler disliked Gehlen's accurate but gloomy assessments of Germany's military prospects on the Eastern Front and dismissed him from his post on 10 April 1945. Predicting a postwar rupture between the United States and the Soviet Union, Gehlen had copied his files and planned to offer them to the United States. He surrendered to U.S. forces in Bavaria at the end of the war.
In the U.S. Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps Camp in Wiesbaden, Gehlen was united with a group of his former staff members who were subsequently flown to Washington, D.C., after an initial screening of Gehlen's intelligence material. In July 1946 the group returned to Germany and formed the Organisation Gehlen, an intelligence service under the supervision of the U.S. Army Intelligence Service. The agents' network was soon extended into the Soviet occupation zone. Results were forwarded to the newly established U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In 1955, the Organisation Gehlen was taken over by the FRG and renamed the Bundesnachrichtendienst. Gehlen became its first president.
After the German Democratic Republic's (GDR, East Germany) national uprising of 1953 and the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the initially favorable situation of sources for the BND sharply diminished, and Gehlen sought to compensate for the lack of agents with enhanced technical reconnaissance. He retired in April 1968. Gehlen died in Berg am Starnberger See on 8 June 1979.
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Gehlen, Reinhard. The Service: The Memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlen. New York: World Publishing, 1972.; Höhne, Heinz, and Hermann Zolling. The General Was a Spy: The Untold Story of Reinhard Gehlen. Translated by Richard Barry. London: Secker and Warburg, 1972.; Krüger, Dieter, and Armin Wagner. Konspiration als beruf: Deutsche Geheimdienstchefs im Kalten Krieg [Conspiracy as a Career: German Secret Service Chiefs in the Cold War]. Berlin: Ch. Links, 2003.; Reese, Mary Ellen. General Reinhard Gehlen: The CIA Connection. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Press, 1990.; Whiting, Charles. Gehlen: Germany's Master Spy. New York: Ballantine, 1972.