torkild Rieber, Norwegian naturalized American in 1904, ex-captain of an oil tanker, propulsed himself to the head of Texaco where he imposed his iron fist. In 1936, TIME magazine honored him with its coveted cover story. The year after he started to develop Texaco's business with Spain and Germany.
One of the most sympathetic to the Nazis before the war and to their need in oil was the americano-norwegian Torkid Rieber born in Voss (Norway) in 1882 and naturalized American in 1904. He joined the Texas Cy in 1905 and built ruthlessly its tanker fleet during the course of the next 30 years. In 1935, as the pinnacle of his career, he was sacred Chairman of Texaco and developped its business all over the world (Colombia, Bahrein) and professed an overt admiration for the Nazis and General Francisco Franco who was leading the civil war against the Spanish Socialists. Although not an anti-semite, -he always bragged about his friendship with Solomon Guggenheim- he clearly had some admiration for the way Germany was administered and the dictatorial methods of Hitler.
In 1937, out of his support to Franco, he ordered Texaco's tankers to smuggle oil to Spanish Insurgents from Galveston, Texas. Roosevelt disagreed and asked Rieber not to do it again. Rieber bolted and continued to ship oil to Franco this time through italian northern ports. In 1938, a German named Dr. Friedrich Fetzer convinced Rieber that it would be good for Texaco to do business with the Germans. The oil mogul agreed and started once more to ship oil to a fascist country, the oil was paid in Reichmarks onto an account in a German bank in Hamburg.
In spite of the outbreak of the war, Texaco continued its shipping to the Nazis and even defied the British embargo and blockade through the Atlantic. Rieber so much befriended the Nazis that at some stage in 1940 he visited FDR with a peace proposal emanating directly from Marshall Goering whose goal was to keep America out of the war while Germany would settle her differences with England, then with Russia. The US President was infuriated by the bold demand of Rieber and told him with some condescension "to keep out of this thing."
Undeterred by the presidential rebuke, Rieber accepted to finance the "pro-german" activities in the US of a German lawyer named Dr. Westrick who stayed in a Scarsdale (NY) mansion payed by Texaco and was even given a car. Helped by Texaco's money and Rieber's social connections, Dr. Westrick was able to meet Henry and Edsel Ford, James Mooney of General Motors and in June 1940 was capable to wire to Berlin that " an influential group headed by Mooney had agreed to put pressure on FDR to improve relations with Germany by suspending shipments of armaments to Great Britain." Into this group were Col. Sosthenes Behn, CEO of ITT, Ralph B. Strassburger, Pennsylvania financier, James D. Mooney, General Motors Overseas Operations CEO, Edsel Ford, Eberhard Faber and representatives of Eastman Kodak, the Underwood Elliott Fisher Cy. and The International Milk Cy.
But the worst was yet to come. In December 1939, Rieber had met another German named Dr. Nikolas Bensmann who was nobody else than a partner into the Law firm representing Texaco patents interest in Germany, Hermann Bensmann and Co. Unknown to Rieber, Dr "Niko" was also an Abwehr agent under matricule Sonderfuehrer F.2531. Rieber developped a genuine sympathy for this very brilliant man who spoke english without accent and excelled in ridiculing Hitler's antics. More he was an oil expert and knew everything about american oil industry. Thanks to his friendship with Rieber and his social connections, Niko was able to produce first rate intelligence to his masters in Berlin. Furthermore, Niko's contacts with the Abwehr allowed him to do some very big favors to Rieber "in recognition of the considerable services Captain Rieber was rendering to the German cause" : thus the Abwehr notably facilitated the secret release of an oil tanker -the Nuova Andalucia- from German shipyards in barter payment for the shipment of oil.
The ingeniosity and the contacts of Nikolas Bensmann through Rieber were such that he was eventually capable to wire to Berlin a secret coded message reading "during recent visit to FDR, Rieber learned personally from the President that FDR was absolutely determined to keep USA out of war under any and all circumstances. Rieber obtained same assurance from the Presidents of the Democratic and Republican parties."
Sosthenes Behn, CE of IT&T, was on the 26 june 1940 among an array of distinguished businessmen who celebrated the fall of France at the Waldorf-Astoria with a German lawyer named Gerhard Alois Westrick. This array also included tycoons figures as the Fords Henry and Edsel, James D. Moosey of General Motors and Ralph Strassurger, newspapers baron of Pennsylvania. The first meeting between Hitler and I.T.T. officials was reported in August 1933 when Sosthenes Behn and I.T.T. German representative Henry Manne met with Hitler in Berchesgaden. Subsequently, Behn made contact with the Keppler circle and, through Keppler's influence, Nazi Baron Kurt von Schröder became the guardian of I.T.T. interests in Germany. Schröder acted as the conduit for I.T.T. money funneled to Heinrich Himmler's S.S. organization in 1944, while World War II was in progress, and the United states was at war with Germany.
In August 1940 while he was under public scutiny for his leanings and even accused of being "pro-nazi", Rieber swore that "this country (the USA) had honored me with its citizenship and under no circumstances could I be identified with, or sympathetic to, any un-American activity." At the same time, shipments and intelligence to Germany were still flowing secretly from Texaco. The intelligence reports from the "Rieber ring" were invaluable to the Germans. Like pieces of a puzzle, they were feeding the global picture of american oil industry from exploration to research centers and they gave to the Abwehr an extremely accurate image of the american strength in the field. In the summer of 1940 just after France's collapse, Bensmann's reports even provided the actual US capacity of aircraft production : 50,000 units. This figure was synthesized by Texaco's economists who concluded that FRD's plans to produce this quantity was absolutely within the capability of US industry.
When Admiral Canaris, Head of the Abwehr, submitted this terrific information to Hitler, he was rebuked and dismissed with a snarl :"You must be out of your mind to take such crap seriously", snapped the Fuehrer. The "military genius" of Germany never paid attention to intelligence that did not match his prejudices and his intuitions.
However the Rieber's era came to an abrupt end due to the efforts of the british counter-espionnage MI.6 who had enough of the German espionage in America and of the anti-war tycoons propagandists. Their man in the USA, a certain William Stephenson, decided that he would blow up the cover of Dr. Westrick and his link to Rieber whom he did not suspect of any wrongdoings with the Abwehr but he wanted to put an end to Texaco's shipments to Germany. He did not take long to the MI.6 to accumulate evidence against both men and to siphon the intelligence to a reporter of the New York Herald. The scandal that followed the publication of the facts killed Rieber who was forced to resign as chairman of Texaco in August 1940. “If I were dying in a Texaco gas station, a Shell man then said, I’d asked to be dragged across the road.” Some authors even went to say that “Texaco has always taken pride in being the meanest of the big companies.”
Anyway Stephenson was more than happy with the outcome of his attack against the ring but unfortunately the British had no idea of the other involvement of Rieber with the Germans through Dr. Niko and the Abwehr.
Dr. Brensmann quietly continued to call his contacts at Texaco during the Blitz against England, inquiring from Rieber's successor how England's chances of surviving were seen in the US. And they were judged "very very dim". Of course nobody at Texaco suspected the association of Dr Niko with the Abwehr which shows three things : -1 the naivety of American businessmen before 1941 -2 their wrong appreciation of the reality of the Nazi regime -3 the greed of the oil barons and their indifference to moral issues.
It is only in 1941 that Texaco's Vice President C.H. Olmsted decided that "small talks over the phone" should end and that business with Germany should stopped all together." But the evil has been done. The support the Nazis were given by the Rieber ring was invaluable. It lasted until December 1941 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Then what stayed in History as a "day of infamy" changed the course of events for ever and for good. America turned her back to any peaceful idea and it was the end of the Rieber's ring dream of an America out of war.
Torkid Rieber will keep himself busy during the war working for his Guggenheim's friends who were unaware of his contacts with an Abwehr agent as he was himself : he became chairman of South Carolina Shipbuilding and Dry Docks, supervising construction of more than $10 million of U.S. Navy ships, and a director of the Guggenheim family's Barber Asphalt Corporation and Seaboard Oil Company of Ohio. He died in 1968 president of the Barber Oil corporation, an independent oil company created from the Barber Asphalt Corp.
Hopefully for his memoir, the link between Texaco and the Abwehr was never revealead before his death, otherwise he could have been judged for treason.