Modern history



What does a wartime spymaster do when the fighting ends and his government has no more use for him? John Foster Dulles saw his brother facing this dilemma after the guns fell silent in Europe. He had an answer: come back to Sullivan & Cromwell. The only strong argument he could make was that legal work would offer rich returns. Foster stressed it in letters to his brother.

“An awful lot of things are opening up,” he wrote. “We’ll clean up!”

Allen was less than thrilled at the prospect, but with the Office of Strategic Services shutting down he had no better option. At the end of 1945 he resigned from government service for the second time. He returned to law practice under his brother’s supervision, and with some difficulty began feigning interest in bonds, debentures, and indemnities. “Much of the sparkle and charm went out of Allen’s personality as I had known it,” Mary Bancroft later wrote. “It was rather like the way an exuberant young person behaves when his parents suddenly show up.”

Allen spent hours writing nostalgia-filled letters to former OSS comrades. “Most of my time is spent reliving those exciting days,” he admitted in one of them.

Several of Allen’s closest ex-comrades became his favorite companions. Kermit Roosevelt, who was part of Allen’s smart set on Long Island, spent hours with him, officially to collect stories for a history of the OSS but often just to reminisce. Tracy Barnes, another Long Islander whom Allen had sent on a daring operation to photograph the secret diaries of Mussolini’s daughter, stopped by almost as often. Two others with whom Allen often shared drinks, cigars, and memories were young agents who had worked for him during his truncated assignment as OSS station chief in Berlin. Frank Wisner, once his partner in the operation to recruit the “Gehlen Group” of former Nazi spies, had also returned to work at a Wall Street law firm, and they spent weekends on Long Island grousing about Washington’s lack of interest in covert operations. Richard Helms, who had gone from selling advertisements for the Indianapolis Times to running Allen’s counterintelligence operation in Berlin, was also eager to return to the front lines.

These restless warriors, with a handful of others, would soon shatter the world.

In the years immediately after the war, world events unfolded in ways that convinced President Truman and many other American leaders of the need for a secret intelligence service. The nation was gripped by a fear that Soviet Communism was winning victories around the world while the United States was standing still or losing. Soviet takeovers in Eastern Europe, coupled with the emergence of nationalist movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, seemed to many in Washington a centrally organized campaign aimed at conquering the world. In this climate, Allen and his fellow OSS veterans found officials in Washington increasingly receptive to their idea that the United States not only needed a peacetime intelligence agency—something it had never had—but that this agency should have powers greater than any such agency had ever exercised in a democratic country.

Western secret services had always kept the collection of intelligence strictly separate from the analysis and possible action that might follow from it, since concentrating those functions in a single agency was thought likely to lead to intelligence reports tainted by pressure from covert operatives. This principle had been allowed to lapse during wartime, and the OSS men became accustomed to doing every part of the job: collecting intelligence, analyzing it, and acting on it. President Truman had created a loose body called the Central Intelligence Group to advise him on intelligence matters, but he gave it no authority to carry out covert operations. Allen wished this to change.

“The collection of secret intelligence is closely related to the conduct of secret operations,” he argued in one confidential report. “The two activities support each other and can be disassociated only to the detriment of both.”

Allen’s ability to press his case improved sharply after the 1946 congressional elections, in which Republicans took control of both houses for the first time in sixteen years. The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Arthur Vandenberg, named one of Allen’s old OSS comrades, Lawrence Houston, to his staff. Houston had directed many covert operations and shared Allen’s love of them. Together they drafted a bill that would create a National Security Council to advise the president on foreign policy, and a Central Intelligence Agency authorized to collect information and to act on it. “Wild Bill” Donovan, the widely admired former OSS director, lobbied for the bill in Congress but found some members reluctant. Several wanted the State Department, not a secret new agency, to oversee covert operations, but their case was weakened when Secretary of State Marshall announced that he did not want his department to be involved in such operations. The bill made its way through Congress in a matter of weeks. On July 26, 1947, Truman signed it into law.

“There were strong objections to having a single agency with the authority both to collect secret intelligence and to process and evaluate it for the President,” according to one history. “The objections were overruled, and CIA became a unique organization among Western intelligence services, which uniformly keep their secret operations separate from their overall intelligence activities.”

The new National Security Act contained a tantalizing clause worded to allow endlessly elastic interpretation. It authorized the CIA to perform not only duties spelled out by law, but also “such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct.” This gave it the legal right to take any action, anywhere in the world, as long as the president approved.

“The fear generated by competition with a nation like the USSR, which had elevated control of every aspect of society to a science, encouraged the belief in the United States that it desperately needed military might and counterespionage by agencies that could outdo the Soviet spymasters,” the historian Robert Dallek has written. “Dean Acheson [who would succeed Marshall as secretary of state] had the ‘gravest forebodings’ about the CIA, and ‘warned the President that neither he nor the National Security Council nor anyone else would be in a position to know what it was doing or to control it.’ But to resist the agency’s creation seemed close to treason.”

Donovan, who had all the experience necessary to head the new CIA, could not aspire to the job because of his poor relationship with Truman; he was an archetype of the slick Wall Street lawyer Truman detested, and he also epitomized a belief in secrecy and covert action that Truman did not share. Allen, who might also have been a candidate, was disqualified as a Republican associated with his brother’s partisanship—although Truman did offer to make him ambassador to France, a prospect he declined in part because Foster feared that having a brother working for a Democratic president would weaken his Republican credentials. Instead Truman chose Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, a quiet, steady officer who had been naval attaché in Moscow, as the first CIA director.

Although OSS veterans failed to place one of their own at the top of the CIA, they had won most of what they wanted. The intelligence service they considered essential to their country’s security—and to their own personal fulfillment—had been established. It had been given more power than any of its counterparts in the Western world. The only remaining obstacle was President Truman, who showed no inclination to use the CIA as Allen and his friends wished it to be used.

“It was not intended to be a ‘Cloak and Dagger Outfit’!” Truman wrote in frustration years later. “It was intended merely as a center for keeping the President informed on what was going on in the world.”

If that was Truman’s vision, it faded almost immediately. Just six months after the CIA was established, it had a rude shock when Communists in Czechoslovakia staged a “constitutional coup” that brought them to power. That event focused urgent attention on the upcoming elections in Italy, where the Communist Party was surging. The CIA sent its men into action, spending $10 million on operations that included supporting pro-American parties like the Christian Democrats, recruiting Catholic priests and bishops to denounce the Communist threat, and flooding Italy with letters, pamphlets, and books warning of Communism’s danger. Allen took a quiet leave of absence from Sullivan & Cromwell to help direct this campaign. It may not have been quiet enough, since ten days before the Italian election, the Boston Globe ran a story about his involvement headlined “Dulles Masterminds New ‘Cold War’ Plan Under Secret Agents.” The result, however, was a grand success: the Christian Democrats won a resounding victory at the polls.

The CIA’s early covert operations were in Europe, where the subversive threat was thought to be most urgent. Its first two major ones—intervention in the 1948 Italian election and the hiring of Corsican gangsters to break a Communist-led dockworkers’ strike in the French port of Marseille—were successful. Around the same time, however, an explosion of violence closer to home shook the assumption that Europe would be the main battleground of the unfolding covert war.

On April 9, 1948, while Secretary of State Marshall was attending the Ninth Inter-American Conference in Bogotá, Colombia, one of Colombia’s most popular politicians was assassinated, setting off riots in which thousands died. Historians have unanimously understood this episode, known as the Bogotazo, as part of an intensifying civil war that shook Colombia for decades. In Washington, though, it was seen as a Moscow-inspired effort to challenge the United States by destabilizing Latin America. Outraged politicians and editorial writers demanded to know why there had been no warning. In the fearful climate of that era, few in Washington could imagine that the Bogotazo stemmed entirely from conflicts within Colombia. They assumed it was part of a plot hatched in the Kremlin.

Soon after these early Cold War skirmishes, the Allied commander in Europe, General Lucius Clay, sent Washington a chilling warning that a Soviet attack could come “with dramatic suddenness.” This threw American leaders into what a later Senate report called “near-hysteria.” The year-old National Security Council reacted by issuing a secret directive called NSC 10/2, approved by President Truman, that gave the CIA more explicit power than it had ever had. It was dated June 18, 1948—four months after Communists took power in Czechoslovakia and two months after the Italian election and the Bogotazo. These events, it concluded, showed that the Soviet Union had launched a “vicious” campaign against the United States. In response, the NSC empowered the CIA to engage in “propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures, [and] subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups.” These operations were to be “so planned and executed that any US government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons, and that if uncovered the US government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.”

As the CIA evolved in the way Allen wished, Foster also began sensing events moving in his direction. He believed he could direct American diplomacy better than Secretary of State Marshall or anyone else working for “that shirt salesman from Kansas City,” as he called Truman. In 1948 he saw a chance to prove it. The one politician to whom he was truly close, Governor Thomas Dewey of New York, who had lost the Republican presidential nomination in 1940 and won it in 1944, only to lose the election to Roosevelt, was making a third run that seemed likely to succeed. It was widely assumed that after his victory, he would name Foster secretary of state.

Foster had been part of American delegations to half a dozen international conferences in the three years since the war ended. Through the reporting of the Luce press and the other journalists he cultivated, like his Princeton classmate Arthur Krock of the New York Times and the syndicated columnist Roscoe Drummond, he had the image of a principled hard-liner who forced the weak-kneed Truman administration to show backbone and resist Soviet demands. At home he found his adversaries not just among Democrats, but also in the group of Republicans who wished the United States to play a less intrusive role in the world. Their leader, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, who ran against Dewey for the Republican presidential nomination in 1948, rejected the idea that destiny was calling Americans to overspread the globe.

“It is based on the theory that we know more about what is good for the world than the world itself,” Taft said in one speech. “It assumes that we are always right and that anyone who disagrees with us is wrong.… Other people simply do not like to be dominated, and we would be in the same position of suppressing rebellions by force in which the British found themselves during the 19th century.”

The contest for the Republican presidential nomination in 1948 was not just between Dewey and Taft, but between the “internationalist” and “isolationist” wings of the party. Foster was Dewey’s foreign policy adviser during the campaign, and through Dewey, he pressed his internationalist views. In a series of memos for the candidate, he argued that the United States faced imminent threat and was called to forward defense around the world. “The enemies of human freedom are ever present and constantly looking for what seem to be soft spots,” he wrote. He also published an article in Life pledging that Republicans would move the United States “from a purely defensive policy to a psychological offensive, a liberation policy which will try and give hope and a resistance mood within the Soviet empire.”

As the election approached, Foster began making plans for after the victory. In one memo he sketched out ideas for the transition, including a suggestion that “the President-elect” make a quick trip to Europe to solidify alliances there. The press treated him reverently. “He has a sense of history, and he is good at the vanishing art of simple speech and definition,” James Reston wrote of Foster in a Saturday Evening Post profile. Reston’s only fear was that Foster “might be tempted to use the power of office to launch something of a crusade.”

Election night found Foster in Paris, attending a diplomatic conference with Secretary Marshall. His days there were heady, with foreign statesmen pressing to see him and all but ignoring Marshall, whom they considered a lame duck. On the morning of November 3, however, the world awoke to news that voters had re-elected Truman in one of the great upsets in American political history.

“You see before you the former future secretary of state,” Foster ruefully told an American correspondent.

Foreign Minister Carlos Romulo of the Philippines had unwisely arranged a “victory banquet” for that evening, with Foster as the guest of honor. Foster gamely went through with it, but the shock of Dewey’s loss was, as he admitted in a letter to Allen, “quite a bombshell.” For the next four years Truman, the man he had ridiculed—and who had returned the favor by scorning him as “that fella from Wall Street”—would direct American foreign policy. Someone else, not he, would whisper in the president’s ear. Dewey was clearly finished in presidential politics. At the age of sixty, Foster had reason to wonder whether his time was running out as well.

Allen rode the same political roller coaster in 1948. He was a close, day-to-day adviser to Dewey—unlike his brother, who disdained electoral politics. During the campaign he also wrote a private proposal urging that the CIA, which had been given broad powers but made only limited use of them because Truman mistrusted it, be unleashed and sent to launch operations “including covert psychological warfare, clandestine political activity, sabotage, and guerrilla activity.” Allen planned to present this proposal to Dewey after the election, in the hope that Dewey would endorse it and then name him to head a more aggressive CIA.

Like all Dewey supporters, Allen was prepared to celebrate on election night. Instead he wound up paying a somber call on the defeated candidate, whom he found in a room at the Roosevelt Hotel, standing quietly in his bathrobe. Rather than becoming leader of the Free World, Dewey would be returning to Albany.

* * *

Although both brothers faithfully tended to the interests of their Sullivan & Cromwell clients during the post-war years, their hearts were not in their work. Allen thought constantly about what he could do to push the United States back into the business of covert action. Foster served as the token Republican on diplomatic delegations and testified in Washington in favor of the security alliance that became the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Both were uncharacteristically adrift.

The first break came to Foster, most unexpectedly, on a summer day in 1949.

He was vacationing with Janet at Duck Island in Lake Ontario, a former rumrunners’ haunt that he had bought eight years earlier and where he maintained a spartan retreat without electricity or telephone. If there was urgent news, a nearby lighthouse keeper who had a radio would motor over. That day he brought a puzzling message: call Governor Dewey immediately. Dutifully Foster sailed back to the mainland.

Dewey had an offer few could resist. Senator Robert F. Wagner had just resigned due to poor health, and Dewey wished to appoint Foster to replace him. The rough-and-tumble of electoral politics, where compromise is a way of life and few succeed without the common touch, was hardly Foster’s natural habitat. Nonetheless the offer was a magnificent gift. Foster realized that it would propel him back to the center of national debate just when he feared his future was dimming. On July 8, 1949, he resigned from Sullivan & Cromwell, where he had worked for thirty-eight years. Later that day he took the oath of office as a United States senator.

Foster was an outsider in the ritualized environment of the Senate. He was aloof by nature, and in any case had little to offer as the body’s lowest-ranking member. Rather than respect the tradition that new senators should bide their time before making their maiden speeches, he waited just four days before unburdening himself of a long discourse depicting the Soviets as warmongers and the United States as “a living instrument for righteousness and peace.” In the following weeks he made several more speeches in the Senate, and although he had no real authority, he was exhilarated by his new position in Washington and the deference that came with it.

“They even cut your hair free of charge,” he marveled.

Three months after Foster took his seat in the Senate, Communists under Mao Zedong won the civil war in China. Foster had known Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the defeated Nationalists, for more than a decade, and was also close to the equally autocratic President Syngman Rhee of South Korea. Both were not simply anti-Communist but Christian, which made Foster especially zealous in their defense. He had once described the two men as “modern-day equivalents of the founders of the Church.” They helped shape his view of East Asia, which was based on the presumption that all upheaval there was fomented by Moscow.

One formidable obstacle stood between Foster and a career in the Senate. His appointment was temporary, until a special election could be held for the balance of Wagner’s term. Dewey had chosen Foster with the hope that his sober image would make him a strong candidate, but as the campaign unfolded, he proved to be stiff, uncomfortable in crowds, and out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. His opponent, Herbert Lehman, a folksy Democrat and former governor who championed causes like public housing and unemployment insurance, brought these shortcomings into high relief. Lehman ran as a friend of labor and the poor. Foster, playing to his own strength, campaigned in an open car bedecked with a banner reading “Enemy of the Reds.”

“Six-footer John Foster Dulles looks like a serious, mild-mannered professor, but don’t let his looks fool you,” his campaign brochure urged. “He’s serious all right, but the way he’s handled the Reds has proved he’s far from mild. He’s downright serious about keeping the world from going Communist. From the front row, he’s watched the Red menace creep over one-third of the face of the globe, and he’s learned some bitter truths. The Reds know he knows those truths. That’s why Andrei Vishinsky screamed, ‘That man should be put in chains.’ Can you think of a better tribute or a greater reason for keeping him in the Senate? The Commies dislike Foster Dulles for the same reason you will like him. He knows that their greatest threat to us is internal penetration by fellow-travelers. That’s why he fights Socialism and every sign of this political cancer in this country.… No wonder the Russians don’t want him in Washington!”

The special election was set for November 8, 1949, and as it approached, the campaign turned ugly. Foster charged that Lehman was “pushing us down the road to socialism” and toward “a very serious loss of personal liberties,” which explained why “the Communists are in his corner.” The Democrats replied that Foster’s work for the Schroder Bank and other German-based firms made him “a lawyer for those who built up the Nazi Party.” They also charged that his speeches during the 1930s had “justified German, Japanese, and Italian land grabs” and that his legal work for the Bank of Spain suggested sympathy for Francisco Franco’s fascist regime. There was enough truth in this to throw Foster off balance. During a campaign swing upstate, he told a crowd: “If you could see the kind of people in New York City making up this bloc that is voting for my opponent, I know you would be out, every last one of you, on election day.” Lehman denounced this as anti-Semitic and “a diabolical and deliberate insult to the people of New York.” In the end Foster was defeated by a decisive 200,000 votes.

“I’m glad that duck lost,” Truman said after hearing the news.

* * *

Political campaigns—and shared, though still diffuse, ambition—kept the Dulles brothers close during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The difference between them was that while Allen was happy to remain obscure, Foster sought ways to stay in the news. He returned to Sullivan & Cromwell after his brief stint in the Senate but was also an American delegate to early sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, considered the possibility of seeking the presidency of Princeton or Columbia University, and even inquired indirectly about the prospect of a job in the Truman administration.

“What, that bastard?” Truman replied when the idea was put to him. “Not on your life.”

Several months of persuasion, led by Senator Vandenberg, finally led Truman to soften his view. In May 1950 he agreed to name Foster “adviser to the Secretary of State.” To everyone’s surprise, since Foster had been mainly associated with policy toward Europe, his first major assignment was to negotiate a final peace treaty with Japan. He guided talks that produced the treaty and, in the first months of 1952, lobbied Republicans in the Senate to ensure its ratification. Truman was impressed and offered to make him ambassador to Japan. He turned down the job because he saw “no point in being at the end of the transmission line if the power house itself was not functioning.”

That Foster would speak so dismissively of Truman reflected new political realities. Truman’s term was ending. Cold War fears had intensified as the Soviets tested a nuclear weapon, Communists consolidated their rule in China, and a Communist army invaded South Korea. Foster had re-established himself as a successful diplomat and polemicist. His old dream seemed once again within reach.

Allen’s prospects were also brightening. He and his coterie of former OSS men never relented in their quiet but insistent efforts to transform the CIA from an intelligence collection agency into a globally aggressive force. In 1950 two developments, one secret and one front-page news, strengthened their case.

First was Truman’s acceptance of a chilling policy decree called NSC-68, which the National Security Council produced and which guided American foreign policy for the next decade and beyond. Its central premise was that the Soviet Union “is inescapably militant because it possesses and is possessed by a world-wide revolutionary movement, because it is the inheritor of Russian imperialism, and because it is a totalitarian dictatorship.” Truman adopted it without open debate and never referred to it in public. It remained secret for decades.

The Soviet Union, unlike previous aspirants to hegemony, is animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world. Conflict has, therefore, become endemic and is waged, on the part of the Soviet Union, by violent or non-violent methods in accordance with the dictates of expediency. With the development of increasingly terrifying weapons of mass destruction, every individual faces the ever-present possibility of annihilation should the conflict enter the phase of total war.…

Any substantial further extension of the area under the domination of the Kremlin would raise the possibility that no coalition adequate to confront the Kremlin with greater strength could be assembled. It is in this context that this Republic and its citizens in the ascendancy of their strength stand in their deepest peril.… The issues that face us are momentous, involving the fulfillment or destruction not only of this Republic but of civilization itself. They are issues which will not await our deliberations. With conscience and resolution, this Government and the people it represents must now take new and fateful decisions.

Less than two months after Truman turned NSC-68 into official U.S. policy, Communist soldiers from North Korea invaded South Korea. Documents released decades later make clear that this invasion was not part of a grand Soviet plot and was not even Stalin’s idea, but at the time no one knew that. NSC-68 had portrayed the Soviets as bent on conquering the world, and the invasion of South Korea seemed to prove it. Truman immediately asked Congress for $10 billion to buy new weaponry, and more to expand the size of the United States Army.

“Somehow or other, the North Korean attack came soon to appear to a great many people in Washington as merely the first move in some ‘grand design,’ as the phrase went, on the part of the Soviet leaders to extend their power to other parts of the world by the use of force,” George Kennan, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, wrote years later. “The unexpectedness of this attack—the fact that we had no forewarning of it—only stimulated the already existent preference of the military planners for drawing their conclusions only from the assessed capabilities of the adversary, dismissing his intentions, which could be safely assumed to be hostile. All this tended to heighten the militarization of thinking about the Cold War in general, and to press us into attitudes where any discriminate estimate of Soviet intentions was unwelcome and unacceptable.”

The fact that there had been no warning of the North Korean attack disturbed Truman, and he resolved to dismiss Admiral Hillenkoetter and name a new director of central intelligence. On August 18, 1950, he announced his choice: General Walter Bedell Smith, who had been Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff during World War II and then served as ambassador to the Soviet Union.

“I know nothing about this business,” General Smith admitted after his appointment was announced. That was precisely why Truman chose him. The president mistrusted spies and covert operatives, and wanted their agency to be run by someone who shared his mistrust.

Allen was one of the few Americans with long experience in the clandestine world, so it was all but inevitable that he would find his way to the CIA. In the autumn of 1950, soon after taking over as director, “Beetle” Smith—who had known Allen for thirty years, dating back to the days in Paris when they patronized Le Sphinx together—hired him on a six-week consultant’s contract. When the six weeks expired, Smith offered him a post he had just created: deputy director for operations. It was not the agency’s number-two job—that went to William Harding Jackson, a Wall Street lawyer and investment banker who had been an intelligence officer during the war—but it gave Allen control over all covert operations carried out by the United States abroad. He resigned from Sullivan & Cromwell, quit his post as president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and told Clover they would be moving to Washington. On January 2, 1951, he formally began his career at the CIA.

He had already won a concession from his boss. His title would not be “deputy director for operations,” but “deputy director for plans,” which he found more suitably obscure. The Soviets were not deceived. They had closely followed Allen’s career, and when he joined the CIA, the Soviet journalist Ilya Ehrenburg took note.

“Even if the spy Allen Dulles should arrive in Heaven through someone’s absentmindedness,” Ehrenburg wrote in Pravda, “he would begin to blow up the clouds, mine the stars, and slaughter the angels.”

From the beginning, Allen’s relationship with Smith was troubled. Style was part of the reason. Allen had emerged from a life of comfort and privilege, wore worsted jackets, smoked a pipe, told witty stories, and relied heavily on his legendary charm. Smith was a gruff, no-nonsense soldier who had worked his way up through the ranks without a West Point education and never got on well with “silver-spoon” types. More important were their divergent views of intelligence work. Allen was a compulsive activist who rarely saw a plot he didn’t like or a foreign crisis in which he did not want the United States to intervene; Smith was less partial to covert action. Allen believed the CIA should simultaneously engage in intelligence gathering, analysis, and covert action; Smith feared mixing these functions. By one account Smith “did not trust Allen’s capacity for judgment or self-restraint in the exercise of powers that, by their secret nature, had to operate beyond the normal discipline of accountability.” Nonetheless he allowed Allen to launch a series of operations whose ambition and variety foreshadowed the work he would do over the next decade.

“Once one gets a taste for it,” Allen admitted to a friend, “it’s hard to drop.”

Not long after Allen came to Washington, the post of DDCI—deputy director of central intelligence—became vacant when William Harding Jackson returned to Wall Street after less than a year. This was the job Allen had wanted from the beginning, and on August 23, 1951, Smith gave it to him. This brought him to the heart of a hidden global network that was full of potential, but still unformed and unfocused.

As Allen was moving up, Congress approved the CIA’s request for $100 million to be used for arming paramilitary exile groups “or for other purposes.” He persuaded General Smith that much of this money should be spent on the most ambitious CIA project yet, an effort to foment guerrilla uprisings behind the Iron Curtain. Over the next few years, he sent waves of agents into Eastern Europe and Asia, nearly all of them exiles, with missions ranging from collecting earth samples to launching armed attacks. Nearly every man he sent into action was quickly discovered, and many were executed—hundreds in Europe, thousands in Asia. These losses did not disturb him.

“At least we’re getting experience for the next war,” he reasoned.

Not until more than a decade had passed did one reason for this epic failure become clear. The senior British intelligence officer assigned as liaison to the CIA, Kim Philby, was a double agent working for the Soviets. Philby spent years in Washington and knew the top CIA men as well as any outsider. Later he wrote that he had found General Smith to have “a precision-tooled brain,” but was less impressed with Allen.

“He had a habit of talking around a problem, not coming to grips with it,” Philby wrote after defecting to Moscow in 1963. “I find recurring, with inexorable insistence, the adjective ‘lazy.’ Of course, AD was an active man, in the sense that he would talk shop late into the night, jump into aeroplanes, rush around sophisticated capitals and exotic landscapes. But did he ever apply his mind hard to a problem that did not engage his personal interest and inclination; or was he a line-of-least-resistance man.… Personally, I liked him a lot. He was nice to have around: good, comfortable, predictable, pipe-sucking, whiskey-drinking company.”

All the men Allen recruited, and who became his comrades for much of the next decade, shared his eagerness to launch a global war against Communism. Taking his old job as deputy director for plans was Frank Wisner, who had been set afire with anti-Communist passion when the Romanian royal family, with whom he was close, was brutally pushed from power by Soviet-backed forces. Tracy Barnes, who had parachuted behind enemy lines in France during the war and then become one of Allen’s favorite agents in Bern, quit his law practice and became one of Wisner’s deputies. Richard Bissell, also an OSS veteran, became Allen’s special assistant. Kermit Roosevelt took over the Middle East division. James Jesus Angleton, who had helped direct the CIA campaign to influence the 1948 election in Italy, became the agency’s liaison to the nascent Israeli secret service and then its counterintelligence chief. Harry Rositzke, who had worked for the OSS in Germany while posing as a wine merchant, became chief of the Soviet Division and was sent to Munich to oversee anti-Soviet guerrilla operations.

“All were gregarious, intrigued by possibilities, liked to do things, had three bright ideas a day, shared the optimism of stock market plungers, and were convinced that every problem had its handle and that the CIA could find a way to reach it,” the intelligence historian Thomas Powers has written. “They also tended to be white Anglo-Saxon patricians from old families with old money, at least at the beginning, and they somehow inherited traditional British attitudes toward the colored races of the world—not the pukka sahib arrogance of the Indian Raj, but the mixed fascination and condescension of men like T. E. Lawrence, who were enthusiastic partisans of the alien cultures into which they dipped for a time and rarely doubted their ability to help, until it was too late.”

These were the “best men” who formed the core of the early CIA. Most came from privileged backgrounds that isolated them from ordinary life and had gone on to the right schools: Wisner graduated from the University of Virginia, Barnes and Bissell from Groton and Yale, Roosevelt from Groton and Harvard, Angleton from Yale and Harvard Law. Rositzke had a doctorate in German philology from Harvard. During the war they had traded genteel lives for death-defying adventures. Upon returning home, they found the quiet routines of peace unfulfilling. They yearned to fight again, and either found or helped create an enemy so terrifying that fighting became essential. On the outcome of this shadowy war, they convinced themselves, hung the fate of the United States, civilization, and humanity itself.

“They were pining to get back,” one of Allen’s friends later recalled. “They were boy scouts who were bored in their law jobs. They were like fighter pilots in England after the Battle of Britain. They couldn’t adjust. They were … great romantics who saw themselves as saviors of the world.”

In his effort to “get back” during the early 1950s, Allen sought to decide the fate of three nations.

His first operation, in the Philippines, was remarkably successful. It also led him into a long and fateful relationship with Edward Lansdale, a former advertising executive who became one of the most admired CIA operatives of his age. Lansdale conceived a strategy, based in part on manipulating superstitions, religious beliefs, and rumors, by which he believed the army of the Philippines could defeat a Communist-led insurgency. He had also discovered a rising Catholic politician, Ramon Magsaysay, and was grooming him for national leadership.

“Lansdale operated with very little money,” according to one account. “His mode of operation was to gain the confidence of the Filipinos and to persuade them to take the necessary actions to promote Magsaysay, and to do this to help their own country and not to help the United States. However, on one of his trips to Washington, Allen Dulles offered Lansdale five million dollars to finance the CIA operations in the Philippines. Lansdale was uneasy about this amount of money and asked if he was supposed to buy votes with it.… He did finally accept one million dollars, which was delivered to him in cash by another CIA operator in the Philippines.”

Lansdale’s counterinsurgency campaign was brilliantly designed and brought near-total victory. He also helped make Magsaysay a global symbol of anti-Communist nationalism, guiding him first onto the cover of Time and then to the presidency of the Philippines. Allen was thrilled. His appetite whetted, he twice offered to overthrow a foreign government.

The first country where Allen wished to foment a revolution was Guatemala. Its nationalist government was cracking down on United Fruit, the country’s largest landowner and a longtime Sullivan & Cromwell client. Communists were active in the labor and agrarian movements. American newspapers ran articles with headlines like “Red Front Tightens Grip on Guatemala” and “United Fruit Becomes Victim of Guatemala’s Awakening.”

In mid-1952 the Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza, visited Washington and told his hosts that if they gave him weapons, he would “clean up Guatemala for you in no time.” Allen liked the idea. With General Smith’s approval—and by some accounts with indirect encouragement from the White House—he assembled a small team of CIA operatives that conceived a plot aimed at setting off a coup in Guatemala.

On the afternoon of October 8, CIA officers presented this plot, called Operation Fortune, to their counterparts at the State Department. Frank Wisner said that the CIA was seeking approval “to provide certain hardware to a group planning violence against a certain government.” Another officer asserted that the operation was necessary because “a large American company must be protected.” State Department officials at the meeting, according to one account, “hit the ceiling.” One of them, David Bruce, Allen’s old OSS comrade, told him that the State Department “disapproves of the entire deal.”

The next morning Smith gave his men the bad news. J. C. King, chief of the Western Hemisphere division, recorded the meeting in a memorandum.

The Director explained to [initials not declassified] that all plans for the operation were canceled. [Initials not declassified] then pointed out the responsibilities we have toward the people who are already in the field and who have committed themselves, and the dangers to the entire Caribbean of the decision reached yesterday. The Director replied that he was fully aware of the dangers inherent in such a decision, but that this Agency is merely an executive agency to carry out the policies of the Department of State and the Department of Defense, and if they instruct us not to engage in a certain operation, we shall not engage in that operation. [Initials not declassified] then commented that the Department of State might very well change its position in the near future.… To this the Director agreed.

While making his unsuccessful effort to push the United States into action in Guatemala, Allen promoted another intervention on the other side of the world. His second target was Iran, which like Guatemala had produced a nationalist government he considered unfriendly to Western power. Winston Churchill was outraged at Iran’s nationalization of its oil industry, long dominated by Britain, and wished to promote a coup, but could not do so without American help. Senior CIA officers wanted to join the plot. That would require approval from Secretary of State Acheson, however, and they knew he would not give it.

“I didn’t feel like raising the matter with him,” Kermit Roosevelt later wrote. “Neither did Allen Dulles.… We saw no point in getting the outgoing administration involved in something we thought they might be less enthusiastic about than the Republicans.”

Allen’s attempts to send the CIA into action against the governments of Iran and Guatemala were aborted, but he did not forget them. Two seeds were left to germinate.

By the end of Harry Truman’s term, the CIA had established its role as not simply a collector of intelligence but also an advocate of covert operations. It had shown its willingness to go beyond what it had done before, even to the extreme of overthrowing governments. Allen and his friends could not do all they wished because Truman would not allow it, but they were ready. All they lacked was a friend in the Oval Office.

* * *

Allen and Foster looked forward to the 1952 election with different degrees of interest. “Beetle” Smith had made clear that he would leave the CIA once a new president took office, and as the agency’s number-two man, Allen was positioned to become director no matter who won. Foster, however, was an unabashed Republican. His dream could come true only if a Republican won the presidency.

The likely nominee, General Dwight Eisenhower, was a career military officer who had rarely come into contact with the New York elite or the world of global finance in which Foster had spent his life. Foster was eager to establish a personal connection. He arranged to be invited to give a speech in Paris, where Eisenhower was serving as supreme Allied commander. They had two long conversations, and Foster left the general with the manuscript of an article called “A Policy of Boldness” that he had just written forLife. It charged Democrats with following a cowardly policy seeking only “containment” of Communism. Republicans, Foster vowed, would take the offensive. They would secure “liberation” of “captive nations” and crush Communist “stooges” around the world.

“There is a moral or natural law not made by man which … has been trampled on by the Soviet rulers,” he wrote. “For that violation they can and should be made to pay.”

Given Eisenhower’s age and breadth of international experience, Foster could not hope to establish the sort of father-son relationship he had enjoyed with Dewey. Nonetheless he wrote some of Eisenhower’s campaign speeches and was the main force in drafting the Republican Party’s foreign policy platform, which condemned the “containment” policy as “negative, futile and immoral” because it consigned “countless human beings to despotism and Godless terrorism.”

“We charge that the leaders of the administration in power lost the peace so dearly earned by World War II,” the platform asserted. “Communist Russia [has] a military and propaganda initiative which, if unstayed, will destroy us.”

Eisenhower scattered lines like this through his campaign speeches, though unlike Foster he often added that he wished to achieve his goals peacefully. He pledged that “liberating the captive peoples” would be one of his priorities in office, and vowed not to rest “until the enslaved nations of the world have in the fullness of freedom the right to choose their own path.” His running mate, Senator Richard Nixon of California, scorned the Democrats for treating the confrontation with Communism as a “nicey-nice little powder-puff duel.” Foster’s own speeches and writings hammered on the same theme: the Democrats had left a “heritage of appeasement” and followed policies “which at best might keep us in the same place until we drop exhausted.” When a television interviewer asked him whether the United States was stronger “as against Russia” than it had been a year earlier, his reply was gloomy.

“Probably not,” he replied. “The tide is still running against us. Everywhere I look around the world, the question is what maybe we’re going to lose next, you know, and we seem to be on the defensive and they’re on the offensive. You can look around the whole circle of the world and you find one spot after another after another after another where the question is, are we going to lose this bit of the free world?”

In retrospect this seems exaggerated. During Truman’s term, as the historian Stephen Ambrose has written, the United States “forced the Russians out of Iran in 1946, came to the aid of the Greek government in 1947, met the Red Army’s challenge at Berlin and inaugurated the Marshall Plan in 1948, joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, and hurled back the Communist invaders of South Korea in 1950, all under the umbrella of the Truman Doctrine, which had proclaimed American resistance to any advance by Communism anywhere.” Nonetheless the confusing rush of world events provoked emotions that pushed many Americans to the brink of panic. “We were all hysterical at the time,” Harry Rositzke wrote decades later.

Even now, as the emotions of the time can be recollected with relative tranquility, it is hard to define the precise quality of the public mood in which we began our work. Words like hysteria and paranoia come to mind, and if the main element in the first is “emotional excitability” and in the second “systematized delusions of persecution,” both are relevant.… The Cold War prism saw the main threat to America in the halls of the Kremlin. The bogey was Stalin, a despot and a devil, a devious plotter with a Blueprint for World Domination.… The world was divided into two parts: “Communist” and “free.” All countries were either good or bad. Those who did not take sides were bad.… The Cold War became a holy war against the infidels, a defense of free God-fearing men against the atheistic Communist system.

There was no serious dissent from this view for a decade. The White House, the secretaries of state, both parties in Congress, the press, and the reading public all viewed the Communist Threat through the same prism. It was the last great consensus in America on our foreign purposes.…

As it turned out, the image was an illusion. The specter of a powerful Russia was remote from the reality of a country weakened by war, with a shattered economy, an overtaxed civilian and military bureaucracy, and large areas of civil unrest. The illusory image was at least partly due to a failure of intelligence.… Had there been even the rudiments of an American intelligence effort in the Soviet Union during the war, or had we concentrated on intelligence operations against Russia and Eastern Europe in the postwar lull, the course of the Cold War might have been different. It was our almost total ignorance of what was going on in the “denied area” behind the Iron Curtain that helped create the false image of a super-powerful Soviet Union.

In the election of November 4, 1952, Eisenhower won a landslide victory over Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. Foster was the likely secretary of state but not a sure thing. His clipped, sanctimonious manner had irritated many in Washington. Others objected to his Manichean worldview. Some European statesmen thought him lacking in grace, subtlety, and wisdom. The British foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, went so far as to write Eisenhower asking him to choose someone else. For a time Eisenhower seemed to be leaning toward John J. McCloy, who had run the World Bank and then became high commissioner for Germany. He also considered Paul Hoffman, the administrator of the Marshall Plan—which covertly funneled 5 percent of its budget to the CIA—and Walter Judd, a militantly anti-Communist congressman from Nebraska. Judd turned aside an overture and recommended Foster.

“Well, he is being considered,” Eisenhower replied. “But he’s got a lot of opposition.”

The most surprising move to block Foster came from his old comrade Henry Luce, who passed Eisenhower a letter recommending Thomas Dewey instead. Dewey had no background in foreign affairs, which has led historians to suspect Luce of a hidden motive. “Although it was believed a foregone conclusion that John Foster Dulles would become Eisenhower’s secretary of state, and Luce greatly admired Dulles’s moral outlook on foreign policy, perhaps he still had a lingering hope to edge out his fellow Presbyterian,” one has written. “It might [have been] a Luce maneuver to toss the State appointment up in the air in the hope that it might light on him.”

Foster had known more than a dozen secretaries of state personally and had worked for eight. This was a pedigree for the job that no American has ever matched. It helped give his nomination an air of inevitability. After a few weeks of deliberation, Eisenhower chose him.

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the secretary-designate graphically laid out his view of the world. Soviet Communism, he asserted, was “not only the gravest threat ever faced by the United States, but the gravest threat that has ever faced what we call Western civilization, or indeed any civilization which was dominated by a spiritual faith.”

We shall never have a secure peace or a happy world so long as Soviet Communism dominates one-third of all of the peoples that there are, and is in the process of trying, at least, to extend its rule to many others.… Therefore, a policy which only aims at containing Russia where it now is, is in itself an unsound policy; but it is a policy which is bound to fail, because a purely defensive policy never wins against an aggressive policy. If our only policy is to stay where we are, we will be driven back. It is only by keeping alive the hope of liberation, by taking advantage of that wherever opportunity arises, that we will end this terrible peril which dominates the world.

Foster was widely respected in Washington, and the Senate confirmed his nomination by voice vote, the equivalent of consensus. Some were dubious. The polemicist I. F. Stone covered Foster’s confirmation hearing and reported afterward that the secretary-designate had “worked himself into a positive crescendo of righteousness” by repeatedly declaring his “obsessive hatred for socialism.” This, Stone warned, would intensify global tensions and push moderates in other countries away from the United States.

“Smooth is an inadequate word for Dulles,” Stone wrote. “His prevarications are so highly polished as to be aesthetically pleasurable.… Dulles is a man of wily and subtle mind. It is difficult to believe that behind his unctuous manner he does not take a cynical amusement in his own monstrous pomposities. He gives the impression of a man who lives constantly behind a mask.… It is fortunate for this country, Western Europe and China that he was not at the helm of foreign policy before the war. It is unfortunate that he should be now.”

Allen’s path to the top was also indirect. His boss, “Beetle” Smith, whom Eisenhower nominated to be undersecretary of state, did not want his deputy to succeed him. By one account Smith “made no secret of his concern over Allen’s enthusiasm for extravagant covert actions and, mirroring Eisenhower’s hesitancy about Foster, he worried what Allen would do with the expanding resources of the CIA without a cool hand to guide him.” Another of Allen’s former bosses, “Wild Bill” Donovan, warned Eisenhower that Allen did not have the ordered mind required to administer a large organization. Donovan, however, was waging a quiet campaign for the director’s job himself, so Eisenhower may not have taken his warning to heart.

Weeks dragged on. There was speculation that the CIA job might go to General Alfred Wedemeyer, who had been commander of American forces in China and then became a hero to American politicians who sought to overturn Mao Zedong’s victory there. At one point Allen told his friend Nelson Rockefeller that if he was not named to direct the CIA, he might seek to become president of the Ford Foundation, which was already a cover for much covert action. The Washington Post published an editorial asserting that some CIA operations seemed “incompatible with democracy,” but it did not mention the fact that the agency’s deputy director was hoping for a promotion. Inauguration Day came and went without an announcement. Finally, at the end of January, Eisenhower gave Allen the job. He would be the third director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the first civilian to hold the post. On February 26, 1953, the Senate confirmed his appointment without opposition.

During his OSS days, Allen’s cryptonym had been simply a number, 110. This time he chose a more mysterious one: Ascham. It was the name given to an elite warrior class in ancient Egypt, and is said to mean “those who stand at the left hand of the king.”

As the Dulles brothers reached pinnacles of power, their sister Eleanor found her career stalled. She had spent six years helping to administer the new Social Security system, and then, because of her familiarity with Germany, was recruited to join the State Department’s “Germany Committee” during World War II. When the war ended, she worked for a time at the Commerce Department and then returned to State. Her assignments brought her to the front line of the Cold War and gave her the chance to work with many prominent Europeans, including the future West German chancellors Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, and Helmut Schmidt. Because she was a woman, though, she faced discrimination at every stage. Her boss at the Commerce Department frankly told her she had “the best brain in this building,” but that he would not promote her because “I don’t believe in women getting too high up.”

Attitudes like these still outraged Eleanor when, in the 1970s, she reviewed her career in a memoir. “Women in the State Department are a problem—to themselves and to the men in the department,” she wrote. “Not until men, who hold nine-tenths of the power, are willing to train women the way they do the young men on their staffs will there be a serious chance for women.”

Whatever personal pleasure Eleanor took from Eisenhower’s victory stemmed from what it meant not for her, but for her brothers. Neither was young by the time he reached the pinnacle of power; Foster was sixty-five years old, Allen sixty. Long experience had hardened their view of the world. As the most intense phase of the Cold War began, it became the official view of the United States.

Foster was shaped above all by a lifetime working for international banks and businesses, whose interests he had come to identify with those of the United States. His mastery of complex legal and financial codes reflected a rigorously organized mind, but he was not a deep thinker. The few new ideas he developed were modest in scale, dealing with matters like tariffs and exchange mechanisms. His ideology was the defense of the two principles that he believed best served global commerce: free enterprise and American-centered internationalism. He was driven to find and confront enemies, quick to make moral judgments, and not given to subtlety or doubt.

Allen’s ideology was in all essentials identical to his brother’s. Both saw the world at war in ways that ordinary people could not comprehend, and both were eager to fight. Allen, however, was less moved by religious and ethical imperatives, more laconic and closer to cynicism. He felt a compulsive need to act, to strike and then strike again. Nations were to him like women: a succession of challenges to be mastered. He could not abide the idea of allowing history to take its course. Instead he wished to shape it.

Dwight Eisenhower took office on January 20, 1953. “Forces of good and evil are massed and armed and opposed as rarely before in history,” he declared in his inaugural address. “Freedom is pitted against slavery, lightness against the dark.”

Never before had siblings directed the overt and covert sides of American foreign policy. It was an arrangement fraught with danger. The Dulles brothers had shared such common backgrounds, and spent so much time together over so many years, that their minds had come to function as one. They knew, or believed they knew, the same deep truths about the world. Their intimacy rendered discussion and debate unnecessary. There would be no reason for State Department and CIA officers to meet and thrash out the possible advantages and disadvantages of a proposed operation. With a glance, a nod, and a few words, without consulting anyone other than the president, the brothers could mobilize the full power of the United States anywhere in the world.

“It has always surprised me that more of a fuss was not made over the constellation of power resulting from Foster at State and Allen at the CIA,” Mary Bancroft wrote years later. “Undoubtedly the only reason that there was not more criticism of this particular combination was that Eisenhower was in the White House. The American people had placed their faith in Daddy—and Daddy could do no wrong.”

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