If you’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s 2015 film Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks or read the recent book by David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, you would know that Allen Dulles was quite a controversial figure in US history.
Who Was Allen Dulles
Allen Dulles held the post of Director of Central Intelligence for the longest in CIA history (he led the CIA for eight years). Dulles was the first civilian to hold this post which was previously held by those with a military background. As he was leading the CIA during the Cold War, he was one of the most instrumental figures who shaped US foreign policy in the 1950s. He did not limit his influence to US foreign policy, he also had a significant role in some of the chaotic political upheavals in South America, Iran and Germany.
Under Dulles, the CIA had led covert operations to overthrow democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh in favour of Shah Reza Pahlavi using sophisticated methods of bribery, extortion, supporting pro-Shah rebels and espionage. They carried out a similar coup in Guatemala in 1954. These coups set the blueprints to many future ‘regime change’ operations by the US to cement their power in world politics.
The Bay of Pigs
Dulles is most infamous for his failed mission to oust Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba’s communist party. The operation named Bay of Pigs was conducted just after John F Kennedy became president of the United States. It involved an army of Cuban exiles with US backing landing on the shores of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs and attempting to create an uprising with the intention of deposing Fidel Castro. The mission was a complete disaster as the Cubans were aware of the arrival at the Bay of Pigs and due to poor planning and execution by the US. The failed mission effectively ended Dulles’s time as the head of the CIA after John F Kennedy removed him from the post. The event had a disastrous effect on US-Latin American foreign relations. Here is more on that.
He also drew controversy during his early career during the period shortly after World War Two where he supposedly helped Nazis who could be useful to US interests in the Cold War avoid prosecution for their crimes. Dulles started off as Deputy director of the CIA and in no time was promoted to be its director. He had tremendous influence over how the CIA would be run after President Truman established the National Security Act.
One of the more sinister revelations about Allen Dulles was his involvement with MK Ultra, a covert mind control research project that toyed with using drugs such as LSD on subject under interrogations.
Dulles was heavily involved in ousting numerous foreign heads of state including those of Iran and Guatemala. Under Dulles, the US had a habit of supporting any dictatorial regime that shared the US’s hatred of communism. Dulles however saved most of his contempt towards the Soviets.
The Warren Commission
Talbot’s book also had some major revelations about Dulles’ role in the Warren Commission which oversaw the investigation into the assassination of then US president John F Kennedy. Talbot’s book implies that Dulles was pivotal in the “whitewashing’’ of the official investigation, noting that the alleged perpetrator Lee Harvey Oswald was also killed shortly after and faced no trial.
Allen Dulles was not shy about lying as the Director of Central Intelligence. In de-classified documents on the Warren Commission, Dulles had stated that the directors of the CIA or FBI can lie to anyone bar the president to protect the identities of undercover agents.
The conversation in the documents centered around the question of whether then US president J. Edgar Hoover and John A. McCone (Dulles’s successor) would honestly answer if Lee Harvey Oswald had any involvement with the FBI or CIA. Dulles said that both the J Edgar Hoover and McCone would deny that Lee Harvey Oswald had any involvement with the CIA.
There is no doubt however that no matter how controversial Allen Dulles was, he was a pioneer of sorts. He managed to use secret operations and clever espionage tactics to manipulate foreign policy to the best interest of the US, accusations the US are still facing with recent ‘regime change’ wars.
Dulles drew major criticism for his involvement in ‘unethical’ social experiments, his aggressive anti-communism and his manipulation of CIA operations to depose democratically elected foreign governments.