For decades, the CIA and the FBI reportedly employed and protected at least 1,000 Nazis, using them as spies and later shielding them from prosecution, the New York Times reports.

According to Eric Lichtblau,who reviewed declassified reports and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the two intelligence agencies recruited at least 1,000 Nazis to operate as spies and informants—a number experts say is probably a lowball estimate.

Historians say they were recruited under a "cold war mentality" that the Nazis' ability to gather intel on the Russians outweighed their war crimes.

But shockingly enough, many of the Nazis proved to be unreliable:

But many Nazi spies proved inept or worse, declassified security reviews show. Some were deemed habitual liars, confidence men or embezzlers, and a few even turned out to be Soviet double agents, the records show.

Even so, the CIA and the FBI reportedly protected many of them well into the 1990's. Reports Lichtblau:

When the Justice Department was preparing in 1994 to prosecute a senior Nazi collaborator in Boston named Aleksandras Lileikis, the C.I.A. tried to intervene.

The agency's own files linked Mr. Lileikis to the machine-gun massacres of 60,000 Jews in Lithuania. He worked "under the control of the Gestapo during the war," his C.I.A. file noted, and "was possibly connected with the shooting of Jews in Vilna."

Even so, the agency hired him in 1952 as a spy in East Germany — paying him $1,700 a year, plus two cartons of cigarettes a month — and cleared the way for him to immigrate to America four years later, records show. Mr. Lileikis lived quietly for nearly 40 years, until prosecutors discovered his Nazi past and prepared to seek his deportation in 1994.

When C.I.A. officials learned of the plans, a lawyer there called Eli Rosenbaum at the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit and told him "you can't file this case," Mr. Rosenbaum said in an interview. The agency did not want to risk divulging classified records about its ex-spy, he said.

Lilekis was ultimately deported despite the CIA's intervention, the Times reports. But the FBI also tried to prevent prosecution from other agencies.

In 1980, F.B.I. officials refused to tell even the Justice Department's own Nazi hunters what they knew about 16 suspected Nazis living in the United States.

The bureau balked at a request from prosecutors for internal records on the Nazi suspects, memos show, because the 16 men had all worked as F.B.I. informants, providing leads on Communist "sympathizers." Five of the men were still active informants.

[image via AP]