David Talbot’s The Devil’s Chessboard has a massive scope to it. It deals with three main figures. The first, and the main character, is CIA Director Allen Dulles. The second, and a supporting character, is his brother, Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. The third major character, who is dealt with in the last 270 pages of the book, is President John F. Kennedy.
Beyond focusing on three historical giants, because the framework is a biography of Allen Dulles, the book deals with some extraordinarily complex, controversial, even convoluted, historical events. Because, as the subtitle of the book states, perhaps no other single individual did as much to create the so—called “secret government” of the United States. The one that the mainstream media refuses to recognize, but which the public, in growing numbers, has grown to accept as a fact of life. This dichotomy has done much to feed the growing disbelief by the populace in both the American government, and the American media.
Before we begin, it is important to place Talbot’s book in a historiographical framework (something which, to my knowledge, no reviewer has done yet.) For surprisingly, even though Allen Dulles passed away well over forty years ago, Talbot really did not have many antecedents. There were two previous, what I should call “group biographies”. That is, volumes dealing with Allen Dulles and his brother, and to a lesser extent his sister Eleanor (who also worked in the State Department.) In 1978, about ten years after Allen Dulles’ death, the prolific author Leonard Mosley wrote Dulles, about all three siblings. In 2013, former New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer wrote The Brothers. There have been two biographies that were solely about Allen Dulles. In 1994, Peter Grose wrote Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles. This was, more or less, an official version of Dulles’ life, befitting the fact that Grose was a member of a body that Allen Dulles himself very much controlled, the Council on Foreign Relations. In 1999, James Srodes wrote Allen Dulles: Master of Spies. Srodes has been a business writer for journals like Forbes, before becoming a contributor to conservative journals like American Spectator and the Washington Times.
(I should mention that one other attempted Dulles biography, by Richard Harris Smith, does not appear to have been actually published. In an e-mail communication with this reviewer, Talbot wrote that he did find this mysterious manuscript at the Hoover Institute in Palo Alto. He called it a work in progress, and, as he recalled, Grose had gleaned the best parts of it for his volume. Many years ago, when professor Donald Gibson was trying to secure this biography, he asked Mr. Smith—author of a good book on the OSS—what happened to it. Smith replied that he was not in the mood to talk about conspiracy theories.)
In this reviewer’s opinion, Talbot’s book is a leap beyond these. I don’t want to convey the idea that Talbot is independent of them, for he does reference the previous books. But in this reviewer’s opinion, Talbot goes much further than these previous authors in his attempt to excavate just how involved Allen Dulles was in some of the unsavory aspects that helped create and maintain the Cold War state. Many of these aspects were ignored or minimized in the previous books. But Talbot does not shy away from detailing Dulles’ role in attempting to undermine some of America’s allies, like France during the revolt of the French generals in 1961. Beyond that, he goes much further than they do in explaining Dulles’ dismissal by President Kennedy (it was not all about the Bay of Pigs). And, most interestingly, he highlights Dulles’ rather bizarre insistence in maintaining something like what the author calls an anti-Kennedy government in exile. (Talbot, p. 7) That is, Dulles continued to have regular meetings with high-level CIA officers for years after Kennedy removed him from office. And he does not shy away from the question of Dulles’ involvement in both the assassination of, and the cover-up surrounding Kennedy’s murder.
Criticism should be nothing if not comparative. Therefore, in these ways, The Devil’s Chessboard is a milestone in the field. This is good in itself of course. But one has to wonder: Why did it take nearly a half-century to write such a book? Talbot’s work is not without flaws—which I will detail later. But it is so far ahead of its competitors, and it deals with such a wide variety of important subjects, that I strongly recommend reading it. Most books I review in this field I read once, and then walk outside and throw them in the dumpster. Talbot’s book is so large in scale, so rich in detail, so wide-ranging and relevant in its gallop through time, that I read it twice—all the while writing 43 pages of notes in preparation for this review. It was the only way to do the book justice. And anyone who says they can grasp and appreciate the 620 pages of text in one reading is not being candid.
Unlike Srodes and Grose, Talbot does not spend a lot of pages on the formative years of Allen Dulles. I assume that, since the book was quite long in its present form, the author did not think it was necessary to fill in the man’s boyhood, schooling, even his spy services in World War I. Talbot does little more than just mention these matters.
He begins the book in a rather daring way. After the Prologue, we start the story proper in 1942, with Dulles in Bern, Switzerland. He was working for the OSS, ostensibly against the Third Reich. But revealingly, Talbot entitles this chapter, “The Double Agent”, because despite the fact Dulles was supposed to be working to topple the Reich, he was not obeying the orders issued by his president, Franklin Roosevelt, on that all-important matter. In January of 1943, Roosevelt had decided on a policy of unconditional surrender for the Nazi regime. (p. 29) That is, there would be no negotiations by, or for, the Germans in quest of a truce. This was a sharp and visionary stricture by FDR. As the author notes, it was meant to reassure Josef Stalin—the almost pathologically insecure and paranoid Russian dictator—that his allies, the USA and England, would not cut a separate peace with the Nazis, and then turn on him.
With that in mind, Talbot begins the book with a scene between Prince Maximilian Egon von Hohenlohe and Dulles. This meeting directly contravened FDR’s instructions. For the two men were discussing a possible deal that would sacrifice Hitler, but save a large part of the Nazi government. (pp. 31ff) And—exactly what FDR wanted to prevent—they saw Russia as the enemy, and they wanted to use Germany as a bulwark against Stalin. Meanwhile, they would dispose of the genocide problem by sending the surviving Jews of East Europe to Africa. During these rather bizarre, and definitely insubordinate conversations, Dulles told the prince that he had the president’s complete support. Which, of course, he did not. These discussions went on for over two months. And as the author reveals—in what is probably the most shocking aspect of the entire negotiation—the prince was representing none other than Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS. In other words, Himmler was betraying Hitler, and Dulles was betraying Roosevelt. But further, the implications are stunning: Dulles had no problem working out a truce with the man who was running the Final Solution, thereby leaving him alive and free and running a largely Nazi state.
This opening is both daring and quite suitable. For, like a musical prelude, it sets the thematic overtones of the book at the outset. Dulles will not abide by the wishes of his superior in the White House. He then begins to formulate his own personal foreign policy, oblivious to how it violates the policy of his president. Further, it does not matter to him if he is, literally, dealing with the devil. This is all appropriate and, in a structural way, thematically sound—because this same concept will be repeated in 1961. Except then, Dulles will be insubordinate, not once, but three times within the first year of the presidency of John F. Kennedy. With just cause, Kennedy will then terminate him. However, as the author notes, Dulles had been in power for so long that he began to manage and control what the author outlines as an “anti-Kennedy junta” in exile. Except it was not really in exile; it operated within the confines of the USA, but in secret.
Why was Dulles predisposed to negotiate with a representative of Himmler’s? In addition to seeing Marxism as the enemy around the corner, Allen Dulles and his brother, future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, had made a lot of money serving the business interests of Nazi Germany. (pp. 19-28) Their law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, was one of the largest and most powerful international corporate firms in America. And they had extensive dealings with Germany, way past the date when others had refused to deal with the Nazis since it had become obvious what Hitler was up to. In fact, Sullivan and Cromwell went as far as to set up phony shell companies to disguise the identity of IG Farben, along with Krupp, two of the largest business supporters of the Reich.
Very pointedly, as he is outlining all of this double-dealing with Nazis and their agents, Talbot also makes another telling observation about the personality of Allen Dulles. While having no qualms about dealing with the Nazis, even Himmler, Dulles essentially sat on more than one early warning about what the Reich had planned for the Jews of Eastern Europe. These were credible reports by Edward Schulte, Fritz Kolba, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler. These men all had direct testimony about what the Nazis were doing after rounding up all these Jews. Schulte had witnessed an early demonstration for Himmler of what zyklon gas could do in a shower chamber. (p. 48) Kolbe stole documents about what Hitler planned on doing with the Hungarian Jews being transported by night on trains. (pp. 53, 54) Vrba and Wetzler escaped from Auschwitz and wrote a 40-page report on what was happening there. (p. 56) Dulles sat on the first, summarized the second falsely, and he sent the last one to Cordell Hull, knowing he would be hesitant to act.
But trying to preserve a large part of the Third Reich, while delaying any rescue attempts of the Jews, was not enough for Dulles. Near the end of the war, Allen Dulles began his attempts to save certain members of the Reich from the hangman’s noose at Nuremburg. Near the end of the war, with the allies tracking him down, Himmler tried to get to Dulles in Switzerland, thinking he could find sanctuary there. He failed in this attempt, was captured, and killed himself by taking a cyanide capsule.
General Karl Wolff, Himmler’s chief of staff, was more fortunate. At the end of the war, Wolff was chief of all SS forces in Italy. As with Himmler, Dulles was trying to arrange a separate peace with the SS man prior to the end of the war. As the author notes, the aim of this was to prevent any influence from the Russians who were torrentially driving into Germany. Dulles wanted the Soviets to have no influence in Austria or the northern city of Trieste in Italy. (p. 76) As with his earlier dealings with Hohenlohe, Dulles falsely told Wolff that he was representing Roosevelt in these negotiations. (p. 77) Dulles told him he would probably be the Minister of Education in a new Germany after the war. (p. 87)
But the fall of the Reich changed all this. The Italian uprising against fascism literally endangered Wolff’s life. A cohort of Dulles saved him. Dulles then kept Wolff out of the first two rounds of trials at Nuremburg, even though the man arranged transportation to places like Treblinka and supervised some medical experiments there. Wolff also arranged for slave labor from the camps to large private contributors to the SS. (pp. 82-84) While in a rather comfortable detention—Dulles actually got him the use of a yacht—Dulles defended the SS manager from the worst of the charges brought against him by the Nuremburg prosecutors. These negotiations went on for month after month. Meanwhile, Dulles said Wolff should be in a hospital since he was suffering from nervous exhaustion. (p. 88)
When the charade was over, Dulles got Wolff’s penalty reduced to time served—less than four years. By the fifties, Wolff was fully rehabilitated. To the point that the State Department, under Foster Dulles’ control, granted him a visa. (p. 93) This same pattern was largely repeated with Eugen Dollmann, an assistant to Wolff.
But probably the most infamous Nazi who Dulles helped escape Nuremburg was Reinhard Gehlen. Talbot devotes a chapter to Hitler’s former chief of espionage on the eastern front. He begins it in a novel way: with Gehlen and a friend (also a former Nazi) watching the legendary 1951 World Series between the New York Giants and the Yankees, after which Joe DiMaggio retired. Dulles had helped arrange for the CIA to get the pair tickets, with a CIA escort.
From here, the author flashes back to the rescue of Gehlen from the Russians at the end of World War II. Like Himmler, Gehlen was making his way toward Dulles in hopes he could persuade the OSS spymaster in Bern to rescue him. For Gehlen was involved in a very large and heinous crime: the torture and sometimes murder of thousands of prisoners of war on the Russian Front. It turns out that Gehlen did not really have to seek out Dulles, as Dulles was searching for him. (Ibid, pp. 270-71) Other voices involved, like Army Intelligence, saw no point in enlisting Gehlen. But Dulles won the debate. After setting up a deal with Gehlen to be part of American intelligence after the war, the Nazi now began to recruit former SS officers into his organization, e.g., Konrad Fiebig, later charged with killing thousands of Jews in Belarus. (p. 275)
But this did not matter to the Dulles brothers because Gehlen delivered the goods they wanted: an inflated and venomous view of the USSR as a juggernaut intent on world domination. Except the Nazi went beyond that: “We live in an age which war is a paramount activity of man with the total annihilation of the enemy as its primary aim.” (p. 278) Yet even the leaders of West Germany did not want Gehlen around after the country was declared an independent republic. But again, Dulles resisted the efforts of Konrad Adenauer to dump Gehlen, probably because Gehlen had contingency plots to take over the West German government if it drifted too far left. (pp. 282-83)
After World War II and his salvaging of so many former Nazis, Dulles went back to work for a while at Sullivan and Cromwell. These previous political moves helped his clients of course, because now they could rebuild business relations with Germany, while Dulles used some of these former Nazis to crank up the Cold War with Russia—something even more beneficial to his clients.
One of the key moves Dulles made was with the Noel Field affair. This has been one of the most puzzling aspects of Cold War history. Noel Field was a rather naïve State Department employee who was very much impressed by the anti-Fascist heroism during the Spanish Civil War. In 1940, he resigned and worked for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee’s Relief Mission in southern France. During the war he worked as an informant for Dulles.
After the war, Field moved from Switzerland to Prague. He had allegedly been offered a teaching position at a university there. Shortly after he arrived in 1949, he was arrested. After Noel disappeared, his brother Herman began to search for him. He was also arrested. When his wife went looking for him, she was arrested. (pp. 140-43) The question all three detainees were asked during interrogation was, “How do you know Allen Dulles?”
It turns out that Dulles was using Noel Field. And his family. With the helpful ear of his protégée Frank Wisner, who ran CIA intelligence operations at the time, Dulles had concocted something called Operation Splinter Factor. (p. 151) Taking advantage of Stalin’s paranoia, Dulles had spread the word that the Fields’ going to Eastern Europe was part of a plot to destabilize the USSR. When the Fields did not confess—since there was nothing to confess to—Stalin went batty. He arrested over 170,000 Communist Party members. Show trials and executions followed. (p. 155) The Fields were not released until Stalin died in 1954.
A useful tool for Dulles to ratchet up the Cold War stateside was a young California congressman named Richard Nixon. Nixon first met Dulles in 1947 on a trip to Europe to promote the Marshall Plan. Representative Christian Herter was also on that voyage via the Queen Mary. These two men seduced Nixon into going along with the Marshall Plan, which most Republicans questioned. (pp. 158-161)
But Talbot writes that this was probably not the first time Nixon met Dulles. Borrowing from author/investigator John Loftus, he says that the introduction probably occurred in 1945. Nixon was an ensign about to leave the Navy, but he was wrapping up some matters when he discovered some documents relating to the Nazis and the Dulles brothers. He contacted Allen Dulles and the OSS chief told him to hush it up. In return, he and his brother would help him run for political office in California once he was decommissioned. Dulles came through—in spades. He had to, because Nixon’s opponent, Jerry Voorhis, wanted to shine some light on Wall Street’s cooperation with the Nazis during and prior to the war. (pp. 162-63)
With tons of cash at his disposal, Nixon began one of the great smear campaigns in American political history. The casting of Voorhis as a commie or commie sympathizer was complete fiction. And Nixon knew it. He later said, “Of course, I knew Jerry Voorhis wasn’t a communist. I had to win. That’s the thing you don’t understand. The important thing is to win.” (p. 166) This Machiavellian code, combined with barrels full of money, helped launch one of the most pernicious political careers in post-World-War-II history. And with it, the Second Red Scare.
In August of 1948, congressman Nixon met secretly with a small coterie of inside-the-beltway high rollers. Among them were the Dulles brothers. Nixon’s House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had just accused Alger Hiss of being a Soviet spy. This was largely based on the word of one Whitaker Chambers. Chambers said he was a former communist who broke with the party. He then turned into a conservative Time magazine writer, as well as a communist fear monger. The problem for Nixon was that Hiss had denied Chamber’s accusations of them knowing each other in the communist underground. Appearing before the committee, Hiss had done well. Some members of the runaway committee thought they should abandon the matter. Nixon was not one of them.
But he wanted to check with some heavy hitters in the Republican Party before proceeding, because he knew he needed their backing and support. John Foster Dulles was important since he ran the Carnegie Endowment for Peace where Hiss now worked. (p. 169) Nixon brought the committee’s files to this meeting, which indicated to him, and the HUAC, that Hiss was lying when he said he did not know Chambers. These files convinced the Dulles brothers that Nixon was correct and they approved his efforts to corral Hiss. As Foster Dulles later said, “It was clear he did not want to proceed until people like myself had agreed that he really had a cause to justify going ahead.” (p. 170) After all, it was a presidential election year.
As Joan Brady makes clear in her new book, America’s Dreyfus, Nixon had choreographed the proceedings perfectly, because at the time he made his denial, Hiss had not seen Chambers. When he asked to see him, Nixon always found a reason to avoid such a confrontation. Nixon knew, as Hiss did not, that the two men did know each other—except, at the time they did, Chambers went by a different name (one of many he used, perhaps as many as thirteen). That name was George Crossley. Further, in the 12-year interim, Chambers had gained something like fifty pounds, lost some hair, and greatly cleaned up his appearance, including extensive dental work. Which is why Hiss demanded a face-to-face meeting. He did not want to rely on photos—although Hiss suspected it was probably Crossley. On cue, when they did finally meet, Hiss asked Chambers if he used the name Crossley. Chambers denied it. This was a lie. (Brady, p. 123)
In fact, Chambers told so many lies that it was almost laughable that Hiss was the one indicted for perjury. But HUAC was a completely politically motivated apparatus. They were responsible for the infamous Hollywood Ten. As Talbot notes, they might have been responsible for the death of Harry Dexter White, a brilliant New Deal economist who was not in the best of health when he appeared before them. After he rode home by train, he died of a heart attack. (Talbot, p. 184) The chairman, J. Parnell Thomas, was later convicted for fraud. (Brady, p. 158)
At Hiss’ first trial, the prosecutor made a mistake. In his opening comments he said that if the jury did not believe Chambers, he had no case. (Brady, p. 228) Hiss’ first lawyer, Lloyd Stryker, caught Chambers in so many lies that one commentator wrote: getting another lie out of Chambers was like squeezing juice from an orange. But Prosecutor Murphy had the infamous typewriter. This was the legendary Woodstock #230099. Allegedly, Hiss’ wife used this typewriter to replicate the documents Hiss stole before giving them to Chambers to pass on to the Soviet underground in America.
Which is idiotic on its face. If Hiss were a spy he would just photograph the documents. But for Nixon to make a case, there had to be a direct connection between the documents, Hiss and Chambers. As Joan Brady comments—and every follower of the case now knows—Woodstock #230099 was the wrong typewriter. The serial number betrayed it had not been manufactured at the time the prosecution said it came into the hands of Hiss. (Brady, p. 315) Unfortunately for Hiss, his lawyers did not find this out until after the second trial, where he was convicted of perjury. Suffice it to say, if Stryker had known about this subterfuge, this combined with his demolition of Chambers would have been enough to stop Nixon right there. And then perhaps, as Brady and others have pointed out, the Frankenstein of Joe McCarthy might never have been unleashed.
When confronted with these troubling facts, the late author Allen Weinstein—the Gerald Posner of the Hiss case—always insisted: But the typewriter was found by the Hiss camp. The problem is that it had been found previous to that. (Brady, p. 218-19) Realizing it was the wrong typewriter, the FBI then built a machine itself. According to John Dean, Nixon actually admitted this to him. (ibid, p. 316) What makes that so compelling is this: the alleged Hiss investigator who found the typewriter and delivered it to the defense was a double agent. (ibid)
A point brought out by Brady which supports Talbot is that early on, Hiss asked Foster Dulles if he should go over to where Chambers was working and confront him. At least he would now be able to see the man in person. Dulles advised him not to. (Brady, p. 79) At the second trial, Foster Dulles appeared as a witness against Hiss. And Allen Dulles furnished Nixon with various intelligence files on the case. Indeed, “Nixon was impressed by the Dulles brothers’ bold decision to politically exploit the Hiss affair rather than run from it.” (Talbot, p. 171)
The author delves into something that Brady takes much further. A mystery about the case has always been why Hiss did not allow his stepson Timmy to testify at either trial. Talbot theorizes that there may have been a homosexual tryst between Hiss and Chambers. But in Brady’s book she suggests that the target of Chambers’ raging homosexuality was Timmy. The FBI discovered this apparently through Chambers, who reported it as a rumor, one he did not deny. (Brady, pp. 270-71) It was the discovery of this child abuse—Timothy was only 8 or 9 at the time—that caused Hiss to split from Chambers. If this is true, it greatly explains why Chambers told so many lies for Nixon. And why Timothy did not testify.
All in all, Nixon did a good job for his masters. He had successfully unleashed the fear of communist spies in our midst, even in our government. In turn, the Dulles brothers recommended him to Eisenhower as a VP candidate. (p. 185) Another Red Scare was on, and it would help the Eisenhower/Nixon ticket win in 1952. Allen Dulles further rewarded Nixon later, during the final stages of that election. It was then discovered that Nixon had taken a six-figure bribe from Romanian industrialist Nicolae Malaxa. But in a brilliant stroke of luck, the teller at the bank where it was deposited turned it over to some rivals of Malaxa. Unsuspectingly, they gave it to their CIA handler. When Drew Pearson reported the story, Dulles promptly arranged to have the evidence deep-sixed. (Talbot, p. 191) Which cinched the election for the Republicans. And guaranteed the Dulles brothers would be prominently featured in the upcoming administration.
As Talbot notes, James Forrestal got Allen Dulles on the Jackson-Correa Committee to recommend ideas to reform the CIA. This secured him a job as Deputy Director. (This was about the same time Dulles was creating the National Committee for a Free Europe by plundering Nazi gold. See Talbot, p. 150) Once Eisenhower was elected, it was just a matter of time until Foster Dulles got the president to promote his brother from Deputy Director to DCI. Once this was accomplished, with Allen at CIA and Foster as Secretary of State, as Talbot notes, the Dulles Imperium was on.
An advantage the brothers had in setting up their regime was that, with the Hiss case, they had done a good job in bringing the New Deal into question. Hiss had been part of Franklin Roosevelt’s Ivy League brain trust. He even helped form the United Nations for Harry Truman. Therefore, the establishment of the Red Scare at home now justified the fear of what Foster Dulles called “Godless communism abroad”.
But there was one more element to setting up this new imperial order. That was the Dulles connection to the Power Elite. Talbot adroitly introduces this by using the man who actually coined that term, C. Wright Mills. As the author writes, for the Dulles brothers, “Democracy … was an impediment to the smooth functioning of the corporate state.” (p. 197) Franklin Roosevelt was well aware of this oligarchy and its advocates. He once wrote, “The real truth … is that a financial element in the larger centers has owned the Government ever since the day of Andrew Jackson.” (ibid) Therefore, their backing of Nixon, and the creation of the Red Scare, all of this was a great opportunity for them to “prove masters of exploiting the anxious state of permanent vigilance that accompanied the Cold War.” (p. 195) As Mills referred to men like the Dulles brothers and Nixon, they believed in a “crackpot realism”; and in the name of that realism, “they have constructed a paranoid reality of their own.” (p. 198)
How far would they go in this respect? As the author notes, in 1952, Allen Dulles tried to convince DCI Walter B. Smith to assassinate Stalin at a Paris summit meeting. He also funneled funds from CIA front groups to the Eisenhower/Nixon ticket. (p. 203) This is how realpolitik worked for the Dulles brothers. In comparison to them, Henry Kissinger was an amateur. But Talbot does a nice job of sketching in the fact that as Nelson Rockefeller was a benefactor of Kissinger, the relationship between the Dulles clan and the Rockefeller brothers went back much further, and was intricately intertwined. (See pages 550-59) And to his credit, Talbot mentions the open letter from David Rockefeller to President Kennedy, which was suggested by publisher Henry Luce. In this letter, Rockefeller (the real chairman of the Eastern Establishment) criticized many of Kennedy’s economic policies. And he also expressed disdain for the Alliance for Progress. Even after Kennedy was dead, Nelson Rockefeller made a speech criticizing his foreign policy.
In his treatment of the two great disasters that the Dulles brothers orchestrated—the overthrow of the democratic governments of Iran and Guatemala—Talbot tries a different approach. He writes from a more personal level on both coups. For example, he notes that when the Shah fled Iran, he went to the same hotel Allen Dulles was staying at in Rome. This was no coincidence. Dulles was there to relay the progress of the overthrow and to firm up the resolve of the deposed dictator. In fact, Dulles actually flew back to Tehran with the Shah after the dirty work had been done. (p. 237) Dulles then manipulated the American press coverage of the coup, while covert officer Kim Roosevelt—who ran the operation on the ground—got a nice job with Gulf Oil afterwards.
With Guatemala—the following year—Talbot poignantly concentrates on the unfortunate personal fate that befell the family of Jacobo Arbenz after Howard Hunt arranged his family’s flight out of Guatemala. In the face of a CIA manipulated civil war, Arbenz had abdicated. His family became a band of wandering minstrels, going from country to country, until Jacobo died in Mexico City from an electric shock at the age of 57. But not before his daughter committed suicide. Arbenz’ only mistake was that he wanted more of his nation’s wealth to go to its citizens and less to United Fruit. If he had gone along with the wishes of the North Americans, he would have been a rich man, since they offered him two million dollars to shut his mouth. (p. 260) Instead, the fascist dictatorships that followed Arbenz ended up killing about 250,000 Guatemalans—in order to save the country from communism. Apparently, this is what Foster Dulles meant when he announced that their regime would be a A Policy of Boldness.
But the Dulles brothers were not just brutal abroad, they were also quite curt and short with their own employees. In this regard, Talbot provides nice summaries of the deaths of both Frank Olson and Jimmy Kronthal. Most readers understand the story of the former. Olson was part of the CIA’s MK/Ultra drug experimentation program, part of the aim of which was to produce a mind-controlled assassin. After Olson was doused with a dose of LSD, he allegedly fell to his death from the tenth floor of a Manhattan hotel. James McCord, part of the CIA’s Office of Security, called the case a suicide. (p. 296) The family did not buy it. Decades later, they had the body exhumed. The panel doing the examination ruled (with one exception) that there were traces of blunt force trauma on the head and chest area—before the fall. Dr. James Starrs, leader of the panel, told the press afterward, “I am exceedingly skeptical of the view that Dr. Olson went through the window on his own.” (ibid) In the latter case, Kronthal was a promising CIA officer who Dulles personally liked. The problem was that the Soviets found out he was a homosexual. They set up a honey trap for him, and then successfully turned him. (p. 298) The CIA found out about his doubling. In a private meeting at his personal residence, Dulles confronted him with the evidence. Kronthal then walked home, which was just two blocks from Dulles’ residence. Trailing him were two Office of Security agents. He left a note saying he was not to be disturbed the next morning. But later on, two men came to his house and told his housekeeper he had to attend a crucial meeting. When they went to his bedroom door, they found his dead body, fully clothed, with an empty vial next to it. (p. 299) Curiously, the autopsy failed to determine the cause of death, or what was in the vial next to his bed. CIA officer Robert Crowley came to believe that his suicide was assisted.
One of the highlights of the book is Talbot’s chronicle of what was probably the first case of extraordinary rendition on American territory. It occurred in 1956. This was the too little mentioned case of Jesus de Galindez, a professor at Columbia University.
After serving on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, Galindez decided to move to the Dominican Republic. There, he decided to become an academic. The problem is that someone as intelligent and democratic as Galindez would find it hard to swallow the bizarre and dissolute rule of Rafael Trujillo. As authors like Jim Hougan have noted, the word bloodthirsty seems to have been created for the reign of Trujillo, who State Department employees often referred to as a Central American Dracula in their memos. (Hougan, Spooks, p. 104) Trujillo was one of the early appreciators of snuff film pornography. He was also an inhabitant of the outer limits of torture; e.g., he would often order the suspected traitor’s eyebrows sewn to their brows so they could not close their eyes. Once he was deposed, palace films were found of children being forced to mate with animals. All this while he was looting his country. He reportedly had $840,000,000 on deposit in Swiss banks, a mind-boggling sum for 1960. (Hougan, p. 109)
The Dulles brothers, as well as Nixon, not only tolerated Trujillo; they embraced him. Nixon once said that Americans needed to back the Dominican dictator because, after all, “Spaniards had many talents, but government was not among them.” (Talbot, p. 318) Which is an odd comment coming from a man who ended his career with the Watergate scandal.
As if Trujillo did not have enough money on hand, the CIA and State Department passed on millions more to him each year, much of which he pocketed himself. After he left the country, Galindez wrote a 750-page expose on Trujillo. And he was also critical of the tilt of Foster Dulles’ foreign policy. (Talbot, p. 321) When Trujillo’s agents heard about the manuscript, they first tried to bribe the professor to prevent it from being turned into a book. When that failed, two Dominican thugs sat in on a class. When that did not do the trick, Allen Dulles helped the despot by farming out the Galindez kidnapping to Robert Maheu. The infamous Maheu was a former FBI man who left the Bureau to set up a CIA front company called Robert Maheu and Associates. Like Guy Banister’s operation in New Orleans, this was supposed to be a private detective agency. But it did little of that sort of work. Rather, it carried out domestic covert operations, like this one for the CIA, which was not supposed to perform covert ops stateside. After Galindez was kidnapped, he was flown to the Dominican Republic. He was confronted with his manuscript, and when he refused to renounce it, Trujillo ordered up his specialty. He first had the man boiled in water; he then fed him to his sharks. (p. 322)
But there was a problem that lingered after the murder. The pilot Maheu hired did not know what the end result of the rendition would be. So he began to talk. He was sent to see Trujillo. He then disappeared. This caused a lot of headlines in the papers that Dulles did not like. Neither did the Justice Department. So the authorities now arrested John Frank, who worked for Maheu as an agent on Trujillo’s estate. To make the Frank saga short: he was arrested, tried and convicted, but released on appeal. There was a lot of pressure placed on witnesses not to show up at the second trial. Therefore, the charges were plea-bargained down to Frank not registering as a foreign agent. In other words, although the authorities had a very good idea what had really happened, no one was ever arrested for the two murder/kidnappings.
Talbot begins to segue into the major topic of the last part of the book by briefly outlining the close relationship between Dulles and his counter-intelligence chief James Angleton. Today Angleton is the man who many experts, like John Newman, believe to be Lee Harvey Oswald’s ultimate control agent. And later in the book Talbot devotes a long section to the indications that Oswald was some kind of lower level intelligence agent. Dulles gave Angleton many top-flight assignments. For instance, he was the CIA liaison to the foreign desks of major countries like France, West Germany, Turkey, Taiwan and, most importantly, Israel. He also had liaison duties with the FBI, and, at times, with the Mafia. (pp. 336-37) Talbot notes that in his approach to Meyer Lansky to attempt to kill Castro, Dulles did not use Angleton. He employed a lower level officer named Sam Halpern. (In his previous book Brothers, Talbot exposed Halpern as blaming these machinations with the Mafia on the Kennedys.)
And this forms the introduction to one of the most interesting passages in The Devil’s Chessboard. One that this reviewer had never read about before. Let us call it the Shelburne vs. Hotel Theresa incident. In 1960, Fidel Castro visited the USA for the second time. By then, Allen Dulles and the White House—Foster Dulles had died in 1959—had decided that Castro was a communist and there was no point in dealing with him. When Castro and his entourage tried to book a suite of rooms at the Shelburne Hotel near the United Nations, the management demanded a twenty thousand dollar deposit. As Talbot clearly implies, this was on orders from Washington. Castro refused to pay. And in a beautifully directed turnabout, he moved his company to the Hotel Theresa in Harlem. (p. 339) Once ensconced there, leaders like Nasser, Nehru and Khrushchev visited him at the hotel. The man who took charge of the transfer was none other than Malcolm X. (p. 342)
Castro delivered what none other than I. F. Stone called a tour de force speech at the UN. The spectacle at the Theresa, and Castro’s powerful speech, caused the Fair Play for Cuba Committee to sponsor a party in his honor in the ballroom of the hotel. It was attended by such leftist luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes and C. Wright Mills. (p. 345)
In other words, the Dulles/White House operation was not just blunted. It was routed. After this September 1960 incident, two things happened which Talbot uses masterfully as a lesson in foreshadowing. First, the CIA now gets in contact with Maheu again. This time, the target is Castro. But secondly, the Theresa incident occurred in the middle of the presidential race. Two weeks after Castro left Harlem, candidate John Kennedy decided to book a room at the Hotel Theresa. He then spoke to a large crowd outside. (p. 349) He was joined by Eleanor Roosevelt and Representative Adam Clayton Powell. He gave an altogether memorable speech. One that revealed that it was Kennedy, not Nixon, who understood the temper of the times. Talbot quotes much of it verbatim:
I am delighted to come to Harlem and I think the whole world should come here and the whole world should recognize we all live right next to each other, whether here in Harlem or on the other side of the globe. We should be glad that Castro and Khrushchev came to the United States. We should not fear the twentieth century, for the worldwide revolution, which we see all around us is part of the original American Revolution. (p. 350)
To put it mildly, this is not what Dulles and Eisenhower would have had Nixon say. But it presages the clash of ideas between Kennedy and Dulles that would take place almost immediately upon Kennedy assuming power. Actually, the clash began before Kennedy was inaugurated.
One of the most poetic and elegantly written sections of the book is Talbot’s reverie on the final days of Patrice Lumumba. During the campaign, it became obvious that Kennedy opposed the Dulles/Eisenhower alliance with European imperialists to keep control of the Third World. As historian Philip Muehlenbeck noted in his study of the subject, Kennedy referred to Africa over 400 times during his 1960 campaign. He once even asked Democratic foreign policy advisor Averill Harriman if he should openly back Lumumba. Lumumba was a dynamic, anti-colonial leader who was trying to shake off the Belgian colonialist shackles from his native Congo. He was deemed to be so dangerous to American interests that Eisenhower ordered Dulles to hatch a plot to kill him. Like Arbenz, his true crime was that he wanted to use the enormous mineral wealth of his country to enrich its citizens and not European and American corporations.
On August 18, 1960, the NSC, under the guidance of Eisenhower and Allen Dulles, decided that Lumumba had to be eliminated. At first, the CIA went to the ceremonial president, Joseph Kasavubu, the man Lumumba had beaten in a democratic election. They asked him to stage a coup. He refused. (Jonathan Kwitny, Endless Enemies, p. 63) CIA station chief Larry Devlin then went to Josef Mobutu, an army colonel, to do the job. Some reports say Devlin wanted a wholesale disposal—that is, the elimination of Lumumba and his two closest political allies. Later Kasavubu swung over to the CIA’s side. On September 14th, the American inspired and designed coup succeeded.
After he was deposed by Mobutu, Lumumba was placed under house arrest. But he escaped. As Talbot describes it, he was running for his life. But right before he got to the sanctuary of his followers, he was separated from his wife and child. He then crossed back across the river to get them. It was this that allowed him to be captured. (Talbot, p. 382) Once this occurred, Lumumba was as good as gone. For Dulles had assigned two upper level officers to make sure Lumumba was now killed. These were Leopoldville station chief Devlin and Director of Plans, Dick Bissell. Dulles actually flew Bissell to Rome so he could monitor events more closely. Bissell assigned two hired assassins, codenamed QJ WIN and WI ROGUE, to kill Lumumba by either poison toxin or by rounding up an execution squad. (Talbot, p. 380) But these plots were called off in favor of one that afforded more plausible deniability.
While Dulles was getting the New York Times to print smear after smear about Lumumba, Lumumba’s captors decided to ship him to his direct opposition in Katanga province, the political base of Mobutu and his ally Moise Tshombe. Devlin knew about this three days in advance. Since he was in constant contact with Bissell and Devlin, Dulles had to have known also. (pp. 384-85) They allowed it to happen, knowing Lumumba’s fate. In fact, it later came out that the CIA picked up Lumumba’s corpse and pondered how to dispose of it.
As the author points out, Kennedy was racked with pain when he heard the news of Lumumba’s death. But he did not find out about it until almost a month after it happened. The CIA—Dulles, Bissell, and Devlin—deliberately kept it from him. As did the ambassador to Congo in the State Department. All these men had to know they were contradicting Kennedy’s announced reform policy for both Congo and Lumumba. Indeed, it is likely that Dulles speeded up the plot to make sure Lumumba was dead before Kennedy was inaugurated—which he was. It’s hard to believe that Kennedy did not later understand what had happened here. For the tragedy of the people of the Congo was truly epic. As with Arbenz and Guatemala, Congo fell under the claw of Josef Mobutu’s dictatorship, which lasted for well over three decades. Mobutu was simply a stand-in for European imperial powers, allowing them to sack the country, while he became perhaps the richest man in Africa. Congo has never really recovered from the death of Lumumba. As Jonathan Kwitny once wrote:
… the precedent for … the very first coup in postcolonial African history, the very first political assassination, and the very first junking of a legally constituted democratic system, all took place in a major country, and were all instigated by the United States of America. (Kwitny, ibid, 75)
As good as the writing on Lumumba is, Talbot’s section on the CIA’s aid in the April 1961 attempt to overthrow Charles DeGaulle might be even better. Truth be told, it’s one of the absolute pinnacles of the book. This dramatic encounter has been touched on tangentially in other JFK- or Dulles-related volumes. But I have never seen it treated as thoroughly, or at this length before. At a talk he did in Los Angeles, the author mentioned that he found a book published in France, and had it translated into English. It must have been a good book, because the details Talbot provides were almost all new to this reviewer.
What Talbot is describing is the bold attempt by the leaders of a dissident military faction in Algeria to invade Paris, in order to force DeGaulle to abdicate. There were four main generals who formed the axis of French soldiers who vehemently opposed DeGaulle’s policy to cut loose the French colony of Algeria, a policy on which Kennedy was in agreement with DeGaulle. Recall that in 1957, Senator Kennedy made a brilliant speech from the Senate floor harshly criticizing France’s colonial war to maintain control of Algeria. It was this speech, more than anything else, which brought Kennedy into direct conflict with the Dulles brothers and Vice-President Nixon. Kennedy predicted that if France did not voluntarily give up Algeria, she would find herself in the same situation she just emerged from after her defeat in Vietnam. The Algerian war caused the fall of the Fourth Republic and the return to power of DeGaulle—who understood the wisdom of Kennedy’s words. Just as the military veterans in Algeria did not.
On April 22, 1961, the dissident French generals seized power in Algiers. They immediately spread the word that they would next strike in Paris. (Talbot, p. 412) The plan was a combined paratrooper and tank attack. Once these assaults were in process, the Elysée Palace would then be seized as well as other key government outposts. Anticipating the attack, DeGaulle prohibited air traffic over Paris, and cinemas were shut down.
The leader of the coup was Maurice Challe. Challe had been a top figure in Algeria and then a NATO commander in 1960-61. Through that association, he had relationships with high-ranking French officers. NATO also helped him meet American Pentagon and CIA representatives. As Talbot notes, the French papers stated that both Dulles and Bissell backed the coup. (p. 414) In fact, one paper called the coup attempt, “The Strategy of Allen Dulles.” The CIA did not like the many disagreements DeGaulle had with NATO policy, and they thought the Soviets would move into Algeria if France left. What’s more, the CIA actually tried to drum up corporate support for the coup and American aid for it in Paris. One counselor to the Henry Luce press stated, “An operation is being prepared in Algiers to put a stop to communism and we will not fail as we did in Cuba.” (ibid) Challe ignited the coup because he thought he had American backing all the way up to JFK.
In this, he had been duped. And since we have seen this MO before, it was probably by Dulles. Scotty Reston of the New York Times reported that in spite of Dulles’ denials, the CIA was indeed “involved in an embarrassing liaison with the anti-Gaullist officers.” This had contributed to the growing perception at the White House that the Agency “had gone beyond the bounds of an objective intelligence gathering Agency and has become the advocate of men and policies that have embarrassed the Administration.” (p. 415)
The conflict between Dulles and DeGaulle went back to World War II. As OSS chief in Bern, Dulles opposed the segment of the French Resistance headed by DeGaulle. He preferred a more rightwing leader. (Considering that DeGaulle was, at most, a moderate, this shows how far right Dulles was oriented politically.) DeGaulle himself accused Dulles of scheming against his Resistance leadership at the end of the war. Dulles backed a more conservative rival. In typical Dulles methodology, this man had betrayed DeGaulle’s assistant to the Gestapo. (ibid) Once assuming power again, DeGaulle had grown so suspicious of Dulles he had tried to purge CIA influence in the capital of Paris, which was difficult to do since Dulles journeyed there each year to personally pay off informants and agents. The relationship was so chilly that DeGaulle refused to see the DCI personally. Dulles then wrote distorted reports to Kennedy, one which presented the possibility of a coup over DeGaulle’s mishandling of Algeria. In another memo, Dulles predicted DeGaulle would be gone by the end of 1961. And the basis for removal would be Algeria. (p. 417)
During the coup attempt, Kennedy called Hervé Alphand, the French ambassador in Washington. He told him that America supported DeGaulle. But he could not vouch for the CIA, because “the CIA is such a vast and poorly controlled machine that the most unlikely maneuvers might be true.” JFK also asked for information on suspected Americans aiding the coup so he could deal with them after. Finally, Kennedy told Ambassador James Gavin that the USA should extend help to DeGaulle in resisting the coup. (In some versions—which Talbot does not explicitly cite—it is stated that Kennedy offered France the use of the Sixth Fleet.) Although he appreciated the offer, DeGaulle declined. But after the calls, Kennedy went public with this support for the embattled French premier.
The plot fizzled because DeGaulle resorted to the airwaves. In a dynamic speech, he appealed directly to the people to preserve France. (p. 420) His ringing plea rallied the populace, especially on the left. A general strike was called; there were massive demonstrations against the Algerian war; hundreds of people went to airfields to stop any troops from landing from Algeria; civilians went to government buildings to protect them from attack. In the face of all this—which promised a brutal and bloody civil war—Challe surrendered.
But that is not the end of the story. Because later, Talbot actually caps this gripping chronicle. After the author relates the events of Kennedy’s murder, he quotes a much-suppressed interview of DeGaulle. This was made by one of his ministers upon DeGaulle’s return from Kennedy’s funeral in Washington. The French premier compared what happened to JFK with what almost happened to him over Algeria. He said Kennedy’s security forces were in cahoots with a renegade military. And the plotters invented Oswald as a cover story to cover their tracks. He continued in this vein by saying that Oswald was probably supposed to be shot. When he was not, Jack Ruby became the clean-up guy. DeGaulle concluded by explaining the rationale of the plotters: “Better to assassinate an innocent man than to let a civil war break out. Better an injustice than disorder.” (p. 567) It’s amazing that this analysis was made within days of Kennedy’s murder. The only political leader I know who had a comparable rapid understanding of what really happened was Fidel Castro.
Talbot’s description of the support by Dulles for the attempted coup against DeGaulle is written in tandem with his summary of Operation Zapata, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion—quite appropriately, since they happened at almost the same time. Talbot here conveys what has now become the accepted wisdom of those who have studied the declassified record of Zapata: namely, that the CIA deliberately tricked Kennedy into going along with it, knowing it had almost no chance of succeeding. Dulles and Bissell misjudged Kennedy. They thought that once he saw the assault crumbling, he would send in the Navy, which Admiral Arleigh Burke had stationed right off the coast of Florida. Unauthorized, he placed two battalions of Marines on board. (p. 401)
But he does bring in some fresh insights. He writes that the Zapata operation was staffed with some of the lowest graded officers in the CIA. In fact, almost half of them were graded in either the lowest third, and some of them in the lowest tenth percentile. Robert Amory, who wrote a book on amphibious landings, was not asked to join. (p. 397)
When Kennedy refused to send in American forces, after more than one personal plea, the operation was doomed. Immediately after, two reports were commissioned. One was by General Maxwell Taylor and one by Lyman Kirkpatrick of the CIA. Bobby Kennedy’s presence on the former panel sunk Dulles as a witness, and even Burke. President Kennedy was distraught, and then angry. He ordered a Reduction in Force—almost one in five CIA employees were retired. Afterwards Lyndon Johnson said, “You don’t hardly ever see the chiefs of staff around the White House anymore.” LBJ went on to say that the new first advisor to President Kennedy was RFK: “It isn’t McNamara, the chiefs of staff or anybody like that. Bobby is first in and last out. And Bobby is the boy he listens to.” (p. 412) Which was a keen observation by a man who thoroughly understood the workings of power in Washington.
When Kennedy digested the results of the two reports, he fired Dulles, Bissell and Deputy Director of the CIA, Charles Cabell. In each instance described above—Congo, the Paris coup, Zapata—Dulles had served his president poorly. More significantly, in each instance, Dulles had actually deceived Kennedy about important matters. It’s as if he did not work for John Kennedy. As a matter of fact, as Talbot points out, Dulles never hung a portrait of Kennedy at CIA Headquarters. (p. 403)
As the author further indicates, the fundamental problem was that 1.) Kennedy really thought he was president, and he wanted to run his own foreign policy, and 2.) His view of the world did not at all coincide with the Dulles/Nixon/Eisenhower view. Indeed, they were actually opposed on many issues. Therefore, if Kennedy was going to run his own foreign affairs, he had no choice but to fire Dulles. For what is truly remarkable about the above record of insubordination is this: It all happened in just four months! What was to be expected in four more years?
There was a problem with retiring Dulles, though. Powerful people don’t have to accept retirement. Dulles now set up his own mini government, one that was outside normal channels, and unbeknownst to Kennedy.
We now encounter the penultimate part of The Devils’ Chessboard. The part that has caused the most controversy. The part that has gotten Talbot boycotted by the major media—and Hollywood. For as the author told me, George Clooney requested the first press copy of the book. But as of today, Talbot has not heard from Clooney about the volume. As the author said to this reviewer, “It’s part 3 Jim.” Which is where Talbot outlines his case for Dulles being the CEO of the plot to kill President Kennedy.
I have seen some critical comments about this aspect of the book. Most of them, for example in The Daily Beast, begin by saying that this part is not as strong as the rest of the work. The problem with these critics is this: None of them deal with Talbot’s evidence in any kind of comprehensive way. Which, of course, makes what they write into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It also indicates that they are dealing the readers a stacked deck. Let us deal the readers a full deck. That is the only way to be honest with them, and to treat the author fairly.
After his termination, Dulles was, quite naturally, distressed for awhile. But this did not last very long. Through his extensive press contacts he began to attack Arthur Schlesinger, who was always opposed to Zapata, and who Kennedy had tasked with outlining a giant reorganization of the CIA. (p. 431) At this time, Dulles began having private meetings at his home with high-level CIA officers. James Angleton, Richard Helms, Des Fitzgerald, Howard Hunt, and Thomas Karamessines—Helms’ top aide—began to drive up to his Georgetown home and meet with the lion in exile. (p. 449) In addition, Dulles also met with Arleigh Burke, who Kennedy had pushed out of service after his performance during the Bay of Pigs. (ibid, p. 450) We know all of this through the man’s own desk calendars and notebooks.
In 1963, after Kennedy’s peaceful settlement of the Missile Crisis, Dulles now said he could never work for Kennedy again. Further, he publicly announced that Kennedy would never oust Castro because, he said, Kennedy was too concerned with America being loved in the world, rather than respected. He concluded by saying there could be no compromise with communism, it was the equivalent of appeasement. (p. 456)
Although his travel records are redacted, it’s pretty obvious that Dulles did a lot of hopping around the country in his “retirement”.
Consider the following: in the summer of 1963, a young English professor named Peter Scott had begun a second career as an academic at UC Berkley. Scott’s first career had been as a Canadian diplomat who worked in Poland. Because of that link, he had been invited to a gathering of Polish emigres at the Palo Alto home of W. Glenn Campbell. Campbell had been placed in charge of the Hoover Institute on the campus of Stanford University. Campbell was a very conservative Harvard trained economist—a Milton Friedman clone—which is why Herbert Hoover had chosen him to shake up the institute that bore his name. To say he succeeded does not begin to do him justice. A longtime personal friend of Ronald Reagan, he grew the endowment from about 2 million, to well over 135 million when he retired. He did this by appointing conservative stalwarts and friends of Reagan to the staff. Campbell was also known as a very combative personality, one who did not shy away from confrontation. Therefore, at the gathering at his home that night Scott was surprised at how virulent the anti-Kennedy talk got. Scott was actually shocked by the tenor of the talk, which seemed to drag on incessantly. Finally, a Russian Orthodox priest stood up and commanded everyone’s attention. Very quietly, and confidently, he said they had nothing to worry about: “The Old Man will take care of it.” (p. 458)
At first, Scott thought that the priest was referring to Joe Kennedy, JFK’s father. But he later learned that Joseph Kennedy had been felled by a stroke in late 1961. He was bedridden, or in a wheel chair much of the time. He even had great difficulty speaking. Years later, Scott was told by another researcher that, in intelligence circles, Allen Dulles was often referred to as The Old Man. The dropping of Dulles’ name was enough to calm the heated discussion.
As noted, Talbot places this meeting in the summer of 1963. A couple of months prior to this, Dulles had taken another meeting. This one was in Washington. And it might explain why the priest said what he did about the Old Man taking care of the problem. That April 1963 meeting was with a Cuban exile named Paulino Sierra Martinez. Of late, Sierra Martinez is becoming a figure of more intense study by people like Larry Hancock, for the simple reason that he seemed to come out of nowhere to become an influential player in the Cuban exile community in 1963. Sierra Martinez had worked under Batista as a foreign diplomat, though some figured he was really a hit man. (Talbot, p. 459)
When he came to the USA he first lived in Miami, but he then moved to Chicago. He became a legal consul for Union Tank Car Company, founded by the Rockefellers. He then became a major figure among the exiles. A month after his meeting with Dulles (the third man at the meeting was General Lucius Clay), Sierra Martinez convened a conference at the Royalton Hotel in Miami. This was a crucial moment since, after the Missile Crisis, Kennedy made it clear that he was not going to have the CIA back the exiles anywhere near the extent they had done previously. With Kennedy’s stricture in place, Sierra arrived in Miami like a gift from the gods. He said he now represented a consortium of large corporations who wanted to recover their lost investments in Cuba. (ibid) He told the audience that his backers were willing to put up 30 million if they could reorganize and launch a new invasion of the island. Although this invasion would not have approval from the top, it would be backed by officers in the military. They would provide weapons and training facilities.
After this conference, Sierra then traveled around the country spreading around money in hopes of forming a working coalition, which he called the Junta of the Government of Cuba in Exile. (ibid, p. 460) The source of his money, which was passed through Union Tank Car, was ill defined. Some reports suggested that some of the cash came though organized crime sources. In an interview with this reviewer, Larry Hancock said that the Mob money appeared to originate with Meyer Lansky. Lansky made tons of money for the Chicago Outfit through his interest in The Flamingo in Las Vegas. As Talbot points out, this is interesting because one of the plots against Kennedy in the fall of 1963 originated in Chicago. But further, after the failure of the Chicago plot, Sierra was negotiating an arms deal for one Homer Echevarria. This was in the days leading up to the successful Dallas murder. The day before JFK was killed, Echevarria supposedly said to an informant that his group—a part of Sierra’s umbrella junta—now had the money to mount a major Cuban operation since they had some Jewish money. (Lansky was Jewish.) And they would do so as soon as they took care of Kennedy. (Reuters dispatch of 12/20/95) Which sounds a bit like the troubling words used by the Polish priest with Scott.
How does a former judo instructor from Miami rise to the near top of the exile community? And with reputed backing from large corporations and the Chicago mob, in just a matter of months? Most objective people would think that the lunch with Dulles had something to do with it. And let us not forget, as Talbot noted, years earlier, Dulles had tried to get Lansky to do away with Castro.
In a fascinating dual discovery, Talbot sheds light on an ignored aspect of Kennedy’s foreign policy, and the role of a top CIA officer in obstructing it. As many know, Richard Helms got William Harvey out of the country after the Missile Crisis. He got him transferred to Rome. Bobby Kennedy was furious with the man since he had disobeyed orders by trying to launch offensive operations into Cuba during the crisis. In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy visited Italy in what was to be the final European tour of his life. Schlesinger had been badgering JFK to formally back something called “l’apertura a sinistra”—the opening to the left. This would allow the Socialist Party to split from the Communists and allow a center-left coalition with the ruling Christian Democrats. (Talbot, p. 464) As far back as Eisenhower, both James Angleton and Italian ambassador Clare Booth Luce opposed this strophe. After all, Dulles and Angleton worked on a covert operation—right out of his offices at Sullivan and Cromwell— to rig the 1948 Italian elections so the communists would not win.
But Kennedy ignored these protests. He even arranged for the United Auto Workers to back the socialists. (Talbot, p. 466) What must have made it worse for the CIA is that the Socialist leader in 1963 was the same man Dulles and Angleton defeated in 1948. They were not going to take this lying down. Their man on the scene, Bill Harvey, began working with Italy’s security forces to torpedo the diplomatic move by bombing the Christian Democratic Party offices and newspapers. (p. 475) Harvey even wanted to recruit mobsters to assassinate Communists. Harvey’s second in command, Mark Wyatt, objected to this. When he did, Harvey pulled a gun on him. (ibid)
In 1998, after an interview with a French journalist in Lake Tahoe, Wyatt off-handedly said, “I always wondered what Bill Harvey was doing in Dallas in November of 1963.” (p. 477) As Talbot later discovered, Wyatt bumped into Harvey on a plane to Dallas at that time. When Talbot talked to Dan Hardway of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, he told him that he tried to get Harvey’s travel vouchers and his security file, but the CIA always blocked this. If this is valid, I don’t have to tell the reader how important it is. Because as Dulles himself admitted, he was in Dallas about three weeks before the assassination, ostensibly on a book tour. (James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, p. 273) In a tearful admission to his brother, David Phillips acknowledged that he was in Dallas on the day of the assassination. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 364) And as writers like Lisa Pease have demonstrated, James Angleton once wrote that the CIA had to construct an alibi for Howard Hunt being in Dallas on the day of the assassination. (ibid, p. 363) Can this sudden attraction of CIA officers for the dusty cow town just be a coincidence? Even when they are flying in from Italy? Or maybe all four men were Cowboys fans? (But the Cowboys were pretty bad that year: 4-10)
In September and October of 1963, Dulles met with Angleton and Angleton’s first assistant Ray Rocca. Both men would later figure as strong influences on the Warren Commission cover up. He also met with Des Fitzgerald, who was in Charge of Cuba operations at the time; and with Dick Helms top assistant, Thomas Karamessines. (Talbot, p. 545) Helms would helm the CIA relationship with the Warren Commission.
The week before Kennedy’s murder, Dulles had been in Boston and New York on his book tour for The Craft of Intelligence. (On which Hunt had been a major ghostwriter.) On the day JFK was killed, Dulles landed in Washington in the morning, made a speech at the Brookings Institute, and after getting the word of JFK’s murder, he went to Camp Peary. (ibid, p. 546) This was a CIA location sometimes called The Farm. As Talbot writes, this was an alternative Agency headquarters, in which Dulles had built an office from where he could direct covert operations. He was there from Friday in the early evening until Sunday. What could he have been doing there? Of course, one thing he could have been doing was coordinating with Phillips, Hunt, Harvey and Angleton. And when Oswald survived, perhaps Lansky. After all, high stakes gambler Lewis McWillie—a close friend of Jack Ruby— had worked for Lansky in Cuba. (Michael Benson, Who’s Who in the JFK Assassination p. 272)
What makes this a bit more credible is another hidden point Talbot brings up. As we know through the sterling work of Donald Gibson, the idea of setting up a blue ribbon commission to inquire into the death of President Kennedy was not LBJ’s idea. It was forced upon him by Eugene Rostow and Joseph Alsop. Well, once that was done, Dulles began a lobbying campaign to get named to the Commission. (pp. 573-74) Among the sources for this was Agency military attaché William Corson, who knew Dulles, and also Dean Rusk. To my knowledge, no one else did this. Quite to the contrary, people like Earl Warren and Senator Richard Russell had to be coerced into joining.
Why is that significant? Because as author Walt Brown has demonstrated, Dulles quickly became the most active member of the Commission. As Warren later said, “I don’t think Allen Dulles ever missed a meeting.” (p. 575) And as Talbot shows, Dulles worked with Angleton, and others, to make sure that any tie by the CIA to Oswald was kept secret. (p. 578) Moreover, Dulles himself leaked stories that Oswald may have been a KGB agent. (p. 583) Dulles insisted that most of the report be consumed by a biography of Oswald, rather than the facts of the case. With his longtime friend John McCloy, and up and coming insider Jerry Ford, this trio controlled the Warren Commission pretty much completely.
We should now briefly add three more points to adequately summarize Talbot’s case. In December of 1963, Harry Truman wrote a newspaper editorial questioning how the CIA’s mission had evolved from what he had envisioned it. Dulles flew down to Missouri to meet with Truman and tried to get him to retract the statement. When this did not work, Dulles wrote a deceitful memo, which others could use to discredit Truman’s editorial. (pp. 565-72) In 1965, at UCLA, David Lifton attended a talk with Dulles. Bruin student Lifton stood up and began to question the Commission’s statement about there not being any evidence of a conspiracy in the JFK case. (p. 591) To say that Dulles was vehement in his denial does not even begin to describe his tenor. Suffice it to say, this reviewer never saw any of the six other members of the Commission react like this. Finally, when the Jim Garrison investigation was heating up, Dulles did what he could to monitor the proceedings. (p. 597) Again, I know of no other Warren Commissioner who did such a thing.
The above approximates Talbot’s case. Note that it follows through from the months in advance of the murder, to the day of the murder, to the aftermath of the murder. Do not trust anyone who describes it as “weak” unless they describe it in toto.
Because no one has.
In a book of this size, scope, and depth, there were bound to be flaws, especially since the book was essentially a pioneering effort. Chief among these was the section on the Rolling Stone article devoted to one Saint John Hunt. (p. 496)
Saint John is the son of Howard Hunt. In 2007, he cooperated on a story with Rolling Stone magazine. Talbot essentially relates that story, along with references to his book Bond of Secrecy and Howard Hunt’s posthumously published book An American Spy. The worst thing about this section is that Talbot uses it to underline the battle between the MSM and alternative media for the truth about the JFK case. I agree on the general point that the MSM has utterly failed the nation on the Kennedy assassination—with horrific results. But this Rolling Stone article was a poor choice to point out that failure.
In 2007 when I first read the article, I noted that Saint John said that on the night of the Watergate burglary, his father woke him up and said he needed some help. They wiped the fingerprints off of some electronics equipment. They then stuffed the equipment into two suitcases, drove to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and dropped them into the water.
I had read several books on the Watergate caper by 2007. In fact, Probe devoted a special issue to the subject when Oliver Stone’s Nixon was released. At that time, the best book on Watergate was Jim Hougan’s Secret Agenda. When I looked this incident up in that masterful book, I could not find it. According to Secret Agenda, Alfred Baldwin, James McCord’s assistant, told Hunt that he was returning the electronics equipment to McCord’s home in a van. (Hougan, pp. 210-11) As per Hunt, Hougan writes that he returned to the White House first, and then the Mullen Company (where he had worked prior to being employed by the White House). He was preoccupied with arranging a legal defense. (ibid, pp. 216-17) This discrepancy was enough to raise my antennae about this Rolling Stone article.
Then there was the five million dollar sum. The article said that Kevin Costner offered Howard Hunt five million dollars to tell the secret history of the JFK assassination—and what he knew about it. Since I had studied films a very long time, I understood that no producer would offer his main source that kind of money for a historical documentary, especially as an offer before production began, or any deals were in place. Because the vast majority of documentaries, even controversial political ones, simply don’t merit that kind of investment.
It’s surprising to me that Talbot did not talk to Costner. Or perhaps, Costner’s associate in this enterprise, Canadian writer and TV journalist David Giammarco, since it was the latter who initiated the whole discussion of the subject with Hunt. Giammarco did a talk on this very subject at a JFK Lancer Conference back when the article surfaced. There, he revealed that he had worked on trying to get Howard Hunt to talk for over ten years. Saint John and his brother David only came in toward the very end. I also talked to Giammarco myself. He told me that the sum of five million dollars was never, ever mentioned. He said that Costner offered Hunt 250,000 dollars up front and a share of the profits. Which is the only sensible way such a deal could be bartered. Although there is much more to the rather sordid tale, we can end it now. This is enough to convey the fact that Talbot made a needless mistake here.
There are other, more minor, errors. Talbot writes that Oswald was given a Rosenberg flyer as a youth. (p. 511) As I wrote in Destiny Betrayed, this is highly unlikely. Oswald said this while in Russia, at the wired-for-sound Metropole Hotel. He specifically said he was fifteen at the time this happened. But when he was fifteen he was in New Orleans. Who would deliver Rosenberg literature in that southern town? Further, the couple had been executed the previous year. (DiEugenio, p. 145) On page 562, Talbot writes that “The so-called magic bullet that delivered the fatal blow to Kennedy’s skull before proceeding on its improbable course … .” This is wrong. The Magic Bullet did not hit Kennedy’s skull. It entered his back, and then proceeded on its wild ride forward through both Kennedy and John Connally.
On page 493, the author mentions a photo of LBJ on a horse with Dulles standing beside him. Talbot says the photo was taken in the summer of 1963 when Dulles visited with LBJ at his ranch. The visit may have happened. But the best research on the photo—by David Lifton and Larry Hancock—says the picture was not taken at that time, but in 1961.
When mentioning Oswald’s move to New Orleans in the spring of 1963, the author writes that he moved there with Marina and “the girls”. (p. 540) At this time, Oswald had one daughter. It was not until October of 1963 that Marina had a second daughter. Talbot writes that the Warren Commission questioned George DeMohrenschildt longer than any witness. According to Walt Brown, who did a very detailed study of the Commission, it was really Ruth Paine who was questioned the longest. And although Talbot deals with the Paines, I think he is a bit soft on them.
And finally, Talbot brings up the, by now, dated episode of H. R. Haldeman meeting Richard Helms during Watergate. President Nixon asked him to question Helms about the Bay of Pigs. The usually cool and unflappable Helms lost his composure and got very belligerent. (Talbot, p. 494) Haldeman later wrote in his book The Ends of Power, that he came to think that the “Bay of Pigs” matter was really Nixon’s backhanded code for the JFK assassination. Although Talbot allows for another interpretation, he would have been better off just ignoring the mildewed incident. It happened, but the meanderings about what Helms meant by his explosion is just that, meandering.
And that is really not good enough for The Devil’s Chessboard. The book is a major achievement in more than one way. It should now become the standard biography of Allen Dulles. In its stark excavation of the evil he represented, the book stands beside, and actually surpasses, Kai Bird’s biography of John McCloy. To think that these two men served on the investigatory panel to find out who killed President Kennedy—that fact is just not palatable today. This book proves that the Commission was doomed from the start.