Dulles: Lord Of The Spies


The Life of Allen Dulles

By Peter Grose

Houghton Mifflin 641pp $30

This is not the Central Intelligence Agency's finest hour. Congress is looking askance at the $28 billion spent yearly on intelligence, even as the public starts to question the secret agency's usefulness. After all, from its creation in 1947 to the outlawing of the Soviet Communist Party in 1991, the agency's paramount foe was the Soviet Union. The conservative British weekly The Spectator argued recently that the CIA "has spent more than $100 billion of public money in the five years since its main reason for existence disappeared. There is almost nothing to show for it."

What does show is troubling. Take the 1993 arrests of operative Aldrich H. Ames and his wife. Ames rose to run the key counterintelligence unit of the agency's Soviet division in 1983 despite his heavy drinking and sloppy work. Although his sudden wealth should have set off alarms, he spent nine years turning over reams of information to the high-paying Soviet KGB--treachery that meant death for at least 10 CIA agents.

As Peter Grose argues in his masterful biography of Allen Dulles, who guided the CIA during its 1950s heyday, the Firm fell victim to its own success. When it started, the Central Intelligence Group had barely 100 employees. Days before he left the CIA in 1961, Dulles transferred its huge bureaucracy to sprawling headquarters in Langley, Va. Writes Grose, a former New York Times correspondent: "With remarkable accuracy, the dynamism and effectiveness of a bureaucracy can be measured in inverse proportion to the physical elegance in which it operates."

It may be, as Grose seems to suggest, that combining a superpower's intelligence-gathering and covert political operations simply produces a rogue elephant. Dulles, the erudite son of a Presbyterian minister, whose grandfather, uncle, and brother were all Secretaries of State, was always happier doing risky spy work or improvising spectacular covert operations with his Ivy League golden boys than he was managing a runaway bureaucracy.

He first practiced the spymaster's craft as head of the Office of Strategic Services network in neutral Switzerland in 1942, and Grose's account of his early successes is as breathtaking as any spy thriller. With almost no staff, he skillfully ran agents in and out of the Third Reich. Among them were Fritz Kolbe, a functionary of the Nazi Foreign Office who smuggled 1,600 top-

secret Nazi documents to Dulles' modest villa during the war's last two years, and Eduard Schulte, a German industrialist who brought Dulles the first detailed reports of the Holocaust in 1943.

America's greatest spymaster, Grose reveals, was also a great womanizer. His liaisons included Queen Frederika of Greece and the daughter of conductor Arturo Toscanini. The looser sexual mores of wartime only partially explain these affairs. Dulles' lovers were invariably powerful and intelligent women who could be useful in his work. Wally Toscanini, for example, was a key link between the OSS and Italian resistance fighters.

The cold war's early years were golden ones for Dulles and the CIA. The Stalinist grip was tightening on central Europe, and the fragile postwar Italian and French democracies were vulnerable. Thanks to infusions of CIA cash, Italy's Christian Democrats, not the favored Communists, won key elections in 1948. In 1953, Dulles oversaw a countercoup in Iran against the anti-Western Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. The following year, the CIA organized a successful coup against the left-wing Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz. Voluminous material released under the Freedom of Information Act and scores of interviews with retired agents let Grose shed fresh light on such episodes.

These successes, of course, had their dark side. The National Security Council's 1948 directive giving the CIA responsibility for political warfare to counter the Soviet threat set the stage for much of the abuse that in the end backfired against U.S. interests around the world. By the mid-1950s, the agency was engaged in far-flung assassination programs against foreign leaders while at home, it was testing LSD on unwitting human guinea pigs. Diplomat George F. Kennan later called the NSC directive, which he helped sponsor, "the greatest mistake I ever made."

Operations such as Guatemala and Iran left the CIA and Dulles feeling dangerously omnipotent, and by the late 1950s, the agency was slipping up badly. It bungled a coup against Indonesia's rulers in 1958 and left President Dwight D. Eisenhower with egg on his face after the Soviets shot down a U-2 spy plane in 1960. The CIA's institutional hubris led directly to Dulles' biggest catastrophe: the Bay of Pigs operation to bring down Cuba's Fidel Castro. After the invasion failed, President John F. Kennedy had no choice but to replace the 68-year-old Dulles.

The intelligence business thrives on conflict: Dulles learned his craft in the apocalyptic days of World War II, and his CIA became the West's key weapon during 40 years of cold war. But even during this post-cold-war lull, the U.S. needs a strong intelligence service. Think of Saddam Hussein, the North Koreans, Islamic fundamentalists: The world is in many ways scarier and less predictable than during the old balance of terror. Proving how vital intelligence is to a democracy is Dulles' legacy. But the failures of the CIA on his watch remind us what disasters can occur when there is little efficiency and accountability in intelligence-gathering.