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Allen Welsh Dulles

In office
February 26, 1953 – November 29, 1961
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Preceded by GEN Walter Bedell Smith, USA
Succeeded by John McCone

Born April 7, 1893
Watertown, New York
Died January 29, 1969 (aged 75)

Allen Welsh Dulles (April 7, 1893 – January 29, 1969) was the first civilian and the longest serving (1953–61) director of central intelligence (de facto head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) and a member of the Warren Commission. Between stints of government service, Dulles was a corporate lawyer and partner at Sullivan & Cromwell. Allen W. Dulles was one of the directors of the J. Henry Schroder bank.


Early life and family

Allen Dulles was born on April 7, 1893, in Watertown, New York, and grew up in a family where public service was valued and world affairs were a common topic of discussion. Dulles was one of five children born to Presbyterian minister Allen Macy Dulles and his wife Edith (Foster). He was five years younger than his brother John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's Secretary of State and chairman and senior partner of Sullivan & Cromwell, and the grandson of John W. Foster, another Secretary of State and brother to diplomat Eleanor Lansing Dulles. His paternal grandfather, John Welch Dulles, had been a Presbyterian missionary in China. His uncle (by marriage) Robert Lansing also was a U.S. Secretary of State.[1] His nephew, Avery Dulles, was a Roman Catholic cardinal, Jesuit priest and noted theologian who taught at Fordham University.

Allen Dulles graduated from Princeton University, and in 1916 entered the diplomatic service. Dulles was serving in Switzerland and was responsible for reviewing and rejecting Vladimir Lenin's application for a visa to the United States. In 1920 he married Clover Todd, daughter of a Columbia University professor; their only son, Allen Macy Dulles Jr., was wounded and permanently disabled in the Korean War when a mortar fragment penetrated his brain. In 1926 he earned a law degree from George Washington University Law School and took a job at the New York firm where his brother, John Foster Dulles, was a partner. He became a director of the Council on Foreign Relations in 1927, becoming the first new director since the Council's foundation in 1921. He was the Council's secretary from 1933.[2]

Background in intelligence

Dulles was appointed by William J. Donovan to become head of operations in New York for the Coordinator of Information (COI), which was set up in Room 3603 of Rockefeller Center, taking over offices staffed by Britain's MI6. The COI was the precursor to the Office of Strategic Services, renamed in 1942.

During the 1930s Allen Dulles gained much experience in Germany. An early foe of Adolf Hitler, Dulles was transferred from Britain to Berne, Switzerland for the rest of World War II. He was assisted in intellegence-gathering activities by a German emigrant Gero von Schulze-Gaevernitz. Dulles notably was heavily involved in the controversial and secret Operation Sunrise (secret negotiations in March 1945 to arrange a local surrender of German forces in northern Italy). He is featured in the classic Soviet TV series Seventeen Moments of Spring for his role in that operation. Dulles became the station chief in Berne, Switzerland, for the newly formed Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA), a logical one. Dulles supplied his government with much sensitive information about Nazi Germany.

Dulles worked on intelligence regarding German plans and activities. Dulles established wide contacts with German émigrés, resistance figures, and anti-Nazi intelligence officers (who linked him, through Hans Bernd Gisevius, to the tiny but daring opposition to Hitler in Germany itself). Although Washington barred Dulles from making firm commitments to the plotters of the 20 July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler, the conspirators nonetheless gave him reports on developments in Germany, including sketchy but accurate warnings of plans for Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 missiles.

Dulles's career was jump-started by the information provided by Fritz Kolbe, a German diplomat and a foe of the Nazis. Kolbe supplied secret documents regarding active German spies and plans regarding the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. In 1945, he played a central role in negotiations leading to the unconditional capitulation of German troops in Italy.

After the war in Europe, Dulles served for six months as the OSS Berlin station chief. In 1947, Congress created the Central Intelligence Agency. Dulles was closely involved with its development.

In the 1948 Presidential election, Allen Dulles was Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey's chief advisor. The Dulles brothers and James Forrestal helped form the Office of Policy Coordination. Under President Eisenhower, Dulles became CIA director.

CIA career

In 1953, Dulles became the first civilian Director of Central Intelligence, which had been formed as part of the National Security Act of 1947; earlier directors had been military officers. The Agency's covert operations were an important part of the Eisenhower administration's new Cold War national security policy known as the "New Look". Under Dulles's direction, the CIA created MK-Ultra, a top secret mind control research project which was managed by Sidney Gottlieb. Dulles also personally oversaw Operation Mockingbird, a program which influenced American media companies as part of the "New Look".

At Dulles' request, President Eisenhower demanded that Senator Joseph McCarthy discontinue issuing subpoenas against the CIA. In March, McCarthy had initiated a series of investigations into potential communist subversion of the Agency. Although none of the investigations revealed any wrongdoing, the hearings were still potentially damaging, not only to the CIA's reputation but also to the security of sensitive information. Documents made public in 2004 revealed that the CIA had broken into McCarthy's Senate office and intentionally fed disinformation to him in order to discredit him.[3] In fact, the CIA had been seriously compromised and "duped by Soviet and Chinese intelligent services" from its inception. Dulles discredited McCarthy, knowing that revelations of these facts would lead to the agency's destruction[3] as well, presumably, as that of his own career and reputation.

In the early 1950s the U.S. Air Force conducted a competition for a new photo reconnaissance aircraft. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation's Skunk Works submitted a design number called the CL-282, which married sailplane-like wings to the body of a supersonic interceptor. This aircraft was rejected by the Air Force, but several of the civilians on the review board took notice, and Edwin Land presented a proposal for the aircraft to Dulles. The aircraft became what is known as the U-2 'spy plane', and it was initially operated by CIA pilots. Its introduction into operational service in 1957 greatly enhanced the CIA's ability to monitor Soviet activity through overhead photo surveillance. Ironically, the aircraft eventually entered service with the Air force, who still operate it today.

In 1953, Dulles was also involved in the covert operations that led to the removal of Mohammad Mossadeq, prime minister of Iran, by the Shah. Rumors of a Soviet takeover had surfaced due to the recent nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In actuality, British diplomat Christopher Woodhouse had pitched the idea of a coup to President Eisenhower to try and regain British control of the oil company. He would later say, "Not wishing to be accused of using Americans to pull British chestnuts out of the fire, I decided to emphasize the communist threat [to Iran].

At the direction of President Eisenhower, Dulles established Operation 40, comprising 40 officials and agents whose primary area of operations was the Caribbean region, including Cuba. On 4 March, 1960, La Coubre, a ship flying a Belgian flag, exploded in Havana Bay. It was loaded with arms and ammunition destined for the armed forces of the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The explosion killed 75 people and over 200 were injured. Fabian Escalante, an officer of the Department of State Security (G-2), later claimed that this was the first successful act carried out by Operation 40.

Operation 40 not only was involved in sabotage operations but also, in fact, evolved into a team of assassins. One member, Frank Sturgis, claimed: "this assassination group (Operation 40) would upon orders, naturally, assassinate either members of the military or the political parties of the foreign country that you were going to infiltrate, and if necessary some of your own members who were suspected of being foreign agents... We were concentrating strictly in Cuba at that particular time."

Over the next few years Operation 40 worked closely with several anti-Castro Cuban organizations including Alpha 66. CIA officials and freelance agents such as William Harvey, Thomas G. Clines, Porter Goss, Gerry Patrick Hemming, E. Howard Hunt, David Sánchez Morales, Carl Elmer Jenkins, Bernard Barker, Barry Seal, Frank Sturgis, William Robert Plumlee ("Tosh" Plumlee), and William C. Bishop also joined the project.

Dulles went on to be successful with the CIA's first attempts at removing foreign leaders by covert means. Notably, the elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran was deposed in 1953 (via Operation Ajax), and President Arbenz of Guatemala was removed in 1954. The Guatemalan coup was carried out under the CIA code-name Operation PBSUCCESS. Dulles was on the board of the United Fruit Company. Dulles saw these kind of clandestine activities as an essential part of the struggle against communism.

During the Kennedy Administration, Dulles faced increasing criticism. The failed Bay of Pigs Invasion and several failed assassination plots utilizing CIA-recruited operatives from the Mafia and anti-Castro Cubans directly against Fidel Castro undermined the CIA's credibility, and pro-American but unpopular regimes in Iran and Guatemala that he helped put in place were widely regarded as brutal and corrupt. The reputation of the agency and its director declined after the Bay of Pigs Invasion fiasco; he and his staff (including Deputy Director for Plans Richard M. Bissell, Jr. and Deputy Director Charles Cabell) were forced to resign (September 1961). President Kennedy did not trust the CIA, and he reportedly intended to dismantle it after the Bay of Pigs failure. Kennedy said he wanted to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds."[4]

Later life

Dulles published the book The Craft of Intelligence (ISBN 1-59228-297-0) in 1963.

On November 29, 1963, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Dulles as one of seven commissioners of the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of the U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Despite his knowledge of the several assassination plots by the CIA against Castro, he is not documented to have mentioned these plots to any investigating authorities during the Warren Commission.

In 1969 Dulles died of influenza, complicated by pneumonia, at the age of 75. He was buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

In the media

In the film The Good Shepherd, William Hurt portrays the fictional head of the CIA, Phillip Allen, who appears to be based on Dulles.

In the film JFK, Jim Garrison suspects Dulles as having a role in John Kennedy's assassination and attempts to subpoena him.


  • The Craft of Intelligence: America's Legendary Spy Master on the Fundamentals of Intelligence Gathering for a Free World ISBN 1-59228-297-0
  • From Hitler's Doorstep: the wartime intelligence reports of Alan Welsh Dulles ISBN 0-271-01485-7
  • Germany's Underground ISBN 0-306-80928-1
  • Marshall Plan ISBN 0-85496-350-2
  • The Secret Surrender: The Classic Insider's Account of the Secret Plot to Surrender Northern Italy During WWII ISBN 1-59228-368-3
  • Classic Spy Stories ISBN 1-59228-484-1

Further reading

  • Dulles, Allen. Craft of Intelligence (New York: Harper & Row, 1963; Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2006)
  • Dulles, Allen. The Secret Surrender (New York: Harper & Row, 1966; Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2006)
  • Dulles, Allen. From Hitler’s Doorstep : The Wartime Intelligence Reports of Allen Dulles, 1942-1945 / edited with commentary by Neal H. Petersen. (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996)
  • Grose, Peter. Gentleman Spy, The Life of Allen Dulles (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1994)
  • Srodes, James, Allen Dulles: Master of Spies (Washington: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1999)
  • Audio stream of Lecture given by Dulles: 'The Role of Intelligence in Policy Making'[5]


  1. ^ "Allen Welsh Dulles - CIA director". CNN. Retrieved 2007-08-17.  
  2. ^ "The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996 - Historical Roster of Directors and Officers".  
  3. ^ a b Weiner, Tim (2007). Legacy of ashes: the history of the Central Intelligence Agency. New York: Doubleday. pp. 105-106. ISBN 978-0-385-51445-3
  4. ^ "CIA: Marker of Policy or Tool? survey finds widely feared agency is tightly controlled" New York Times. April 25, 1966
  5. ^

External links

See also

Government offices
Preceded by
Gen. Walter Bedell Smith
Director of Central Intelligence
February 26, 1953 - November 29, 1961
Succeeded by
John McCone
Preceded by
William Harding Jackson
Deputy Director of Central Intelligence
1951 - 1953
Succeeded by
Charles P. Cabell

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