The Army frequently relied on Nazi war criminals and collaborators to gather Soviet intelligence during the Cold War, believing the "end justified the means," a Justice Department report charges.

The report Thursday said the Army's reliance on informants with tainted backgrounds allowed a Flemish "traitor" to use the service to avoid punishment for war crimes.Robert Jan Verbelen, convicted in absentia by a Belgian military court of killing 101 people, worked for the Army's Counter Intelligence Corps in Vienna between 1946 and 1956, officials say.

The 92-page report criticized the military for failing to question the informant about his background and avoiding closer scrutiny of his past, but concluded the agency did not learn of Verbelen's true identity until 1956.

Neal Sher, director of the Justice Department's office of special investigations, said the Army was "taken for a ride" by Verbelen.

The report cited 13 other informants working for Army intelligence in Vienna who belonged to the Nazi Party or collaborated with Germany during World War II.

"In pursuing its mission of ensuring the security of the United States, the Counter Intelligence Corps . . . commonly followed the policy that the end justified the means," the report said. "Thus the Counter Intelligence Corps was often willing to overlook a person's past if it was judged that he could provide reliable and valuable information."

The report, the culmination of a two-year investigation, drew praise from the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith, which first asked the department to investigate Verbelen's ties to Army intelligence in 1983.

Justin Finger, associate director of the league, applauded the department for its willingness to expose the Army's use of war criminals and collaborators and suggested the practice may have been more pervasive than previously thought.

"It's not unlikely this kind of recruitment and activity (in Vienna) took place at other Counter Intelligence Corps units," Finger said. "It was a turbulent post-war period."