Catching One Nazi Became His LifeBreaking News
As a lawyer in the Justice Department’s National Security Division, McKay Smith oversees many of America’s most-highly classified intelligence programs. In the debate over government surveillance, people often ask, “Who’s watching the watchers?” Smith is. That’s his job.
But on his own time, Smith has been hunting for ex-Nazis who may have taken part in some of the most heinous war crimes in World War II. While the U.S. government has spent years tracking down former German soldiers and concentration camp guards, Smith has never officially participated in those efforts. Rather, he has spent the past four years, and $15,000 of his own money, accumulating an archive of more than 10,000 pages of official documents and photographs, many of which he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and had been classified for years after the war. Smith reads historical documents the way most people read the newspaper or a book—in bed at night, on the couch on weekends, on the treadmill at the gym. He says he hasn’t read a book purely for pleasure in years.
It’s an obsession that began by accident. Four years ago, Smith, who is 36, started researching WWII-era military records looking for information about his grandfather, Lt. Raymond Murphy, who served on a B-17 bomber and died in 1970, before Smith was born. Digging through old Army files, Smith found a copy of a once-classified “escape and evasion” report, in which Murphy described in harrowing detail the shoot down of his B-17 bomber over Avord, France, on April 28, 1944. Murphy managed to bail out and spent the next four months behind enemy lines before making his way to England.
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