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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 578

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This is the grave of Allen Dulles.

Born in 1893 in Watertown, New York and brother of future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Allen grew up in an elite Republican family. In fact, his sister Eleanor would later be a major diplomat. His grandfather, John Foster, was Benjamin Harrison’s Secretary of State and his uncle, Robert Lansing, was Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State. So a career in foreign policy seems pretty inevitable. He went to Princeton, graduated in 1916, and entered the foreign service. He went first to Vienna and then to Bern. He met Clover Todd, the daughter of a language professor, in Paris at the end of World War I and they married in 1920. She is also buried here. But he was a horrible husband to her. His own sister estimated that Allen had around 100 different affairs over the course of their marriage. If only that was the worst thing about this horrible, evil, vile man.

Dulles was assigned to Istanbul in the early 1920s, where he helped expose the forgery that was the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, one of the rare good things in his disgusting life. From 1922-26, he headed the Near East Division in the State Department. He left government service in the late 20s and was a legal adviser on arms treaties for the League of Nations into the 1930s. This exposed him to fascism before nearly all other Americans and he was so horrified by the anti-Semitism of Germany that he convinced the law firm he now worked for, Sullivan and Cromwell, to close their Berlin office and refuse to do business with the Nazis, over the objections of John Foster, who also worked there.

Dulles became a major interventionist with the Republican Party, but this was an unpopular position among Republicans in the late 1930s and an attempt to run for Congress in New York on this platform failed. But he wrote some books about the fascist threat. In October 1941, he returned to government work with the Office of Strategic Services, serving as OSS director in Switzerland. He ran all sorts of spies in Europe during the war, including making connections with the people who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944. When the OSS was dissolved in 1945, Dulles again left government and worked as an advisor to Thomas Dewey, who everyone thought would be president in 1948. The CIA had been created in 1947 and in 1949, Dulles co-authored a report that was highly critical of its early operations. He was brought into the CIA himself in 1951 and when Eisenhower became president in 1953, named Dulles head of the agency.

Up until this point, one can look at Dulles’ career and see mostly good things. After all, he was a big fighter against anti-Semitism at a time when many Americans were A-OK with it. And his work in World War II was admirable. But….things got really bad with him as CIA director. See, the CIA began to implement the worst impacts of the Truman Doctrine. In following through on the nation’s commitment to fight communism wherever it might spread, it soon began to deny people around the world the rights and freedoms that Americans themselves enjoyed because demanding those rights supposedly threatened U.S. interests in the Cold War. This led to some of the worst actions in American foreign policy history, ones that still resonate strongly in the world today.

First, Iran. Mohammad Mosaddegh had become prime minister there through a democratic election, based mostly on a platform of using Iranian oil to help Iran instead of the British who controlled it. When Mosaddegh moved to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the CIA under Dulles intervened to overthrow him. Operation Ajax worked with the British government to claim that Mosaddegh was moving toward the Soviets (largely not true and to the extent it was, it was a response to British military threats) to destabilize Iran and launch a coup against him. The CIA bribed Iranian politicians and military leaders to go along, take the lead on the coup, and then install the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, as monarch of Iran. The Shah of course paid off the U.S. big time, giving it tons of cheap oil and a compliant ally in the Middle East, all while allowing no democratic opposition and engaging with widespread political oppression. This laid the groundwork for the 1978 Islamic Revolution. When Khomeini and others called the U.S. “The Great Satan,” they pretty much described Allen Dulles. What he and Eisenhower and Churchill wrought in 1953 is the root of our modern problems with Iran today. Sorry George W. Bush, the Iranian government is awful, but the actual Axis of Evil is centered at Langley, not Tehran.

And then there’s Guatemala. Jacobo Arbenz was elected president in an unusually democratic process for Guatemala, a nation where the Ladino elite ruled over their indigenous serfs with murderous violence. A man of the poor, Arbenz saw how United Fruit and its predecessors had dominated his country for over a half-century by the early 1950s. United Fruit had a lot of land on the nation’s Atlantic coast that it wasn’t using anymore to grow bananas, thanks to a blight. So Arbenz decided to nationalize that land and engage in land redistribution to give the poor people of Guatemala a chance to improve their lives. This was after a 1944 coup against a military leader had established a fragile democracy in the nation. The first post-coup president stepped down after an election, Arbenz won fair and square, and some hope came to that country. Enter Allen Dulles. He and John Foster’s law firm had long had business with United Fruit, a company whose annual profits were twice that of the budget of the Guatemalan government. And that company was not about to have their land confiscated, even though Arbenz was willing to pay them for it. Their friends and UFCO got on the phone and told them to take care of it. Eisenhower and Dulles were more than happy to. They launched Operation PBSUCCESS. The CIA told tons of lies that Arbenz’s advisors were communists under Soviet control and then funded and trained an army of 480 men under General Carlos Castillo Armas to overthrow the president. The men invaded and then the CIA ran a huge anti-government propaganda campaign that spread disinformation about the government collapsing. That caused panic, Arbenz was forced to resign in 1954, and Castillo Armas became the new president. This began a civil war in Guatemala that lasted four decades and created the unstable nation it is now, with people fleeing horrifying violence to the United States. No single American deserves more blame for this than Allen Dulles.

Next, shall we go to the Congo? In that new African nation, coming out of the single most horrible experience of colonialism in the entire world, Patrice Lumumba was the closest thing Congo had to a George Washington. In 1960, Dulles and Eisenhower ordered his assassination. Dulles stated, “It is safe to go on the assumption that Lumumba has been bought by the Communists; this also, however, fits with his own orientation.” This was another lie. Lumumba probably was not a communist. The State Department sure didn’t think he was. Lumumba was a nationalist and a pan-Africanist trying to give his people freedom, like so many other anti-colonial leaders. He did have connections with the Soviets, but that happened only after the UN and the Americans refused to help him bring his country together. Dulles shielded Eisenhower from direct responsibility in the assassination, taking on the responsibility himself. He gave CIA agents in the Congo full range to do whatever they wanted to Lumumba. Who was the CIA happy to work with instead? Lumumba’s rival, who later became known as Mobutu Sese Seko, one of the most horrifying and kleptocratic dictators in the twentieth century. For Allen Dulles, having a compliant tyrant in charge of a mineral-rich African nation was way better than someone who actually wanted to build his nation; after all, American companies could count more on the former. Congo became a complete disaster after Lumumba’s 1960 assassination and remains so today. Once again, no American is more responsible for this than Allen Dulles.

There are lots of other examples of horrible CIA ratfucking of other countries during Dulles’ tenure. But let’s end with another fun time–the Bay of Pigs. When JFK became president, he let Dulles stay on to head the CIA. And there was plenty of reason to think the Bay of Pigs would work. After all, Dulles’ horrible methods had overthrown all sorts of governments around the world. He told Kennedy about Guatemala when laying out the Cuba plans for him, which it was based on. When it didn’t and when the CIA was known to have some involvement in the Generals Putsch against De Gaulle in France to keep the nation in Algeria, Kennedy fired Dulles. Technically, he was allowed to resign.

In conclusion, while Dulles defintely is a huge figure in American intelligence history, especially for how he set up and professionalized modern spying, even though he is often described as a poor administrator, his overall impact on the world is truly appalling.

After Kennedy fired Dulles, he remained an important power player. Lyndon Johnson named him to the Warren Commission to investigate Kennedy’s assassination. Probably the reason for this was so that Dulles could guide the commission to shield knowledge of JFK’s interventions to overthrow other governments from the public. He published his book, The Craft of Intelligence, in 1963. He died of the flu compounded by pneumonia in 1969. He was 75 years old.

Allen Dulles is buried in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

This grave visit was funded by LGM reader contributions. Many thanks! If you would like this series to visit other CIA directors, a litany of true scumbags, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. John McCone is in Seattle and William Raborn is in Annapolis. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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