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Klippenstein writes: "David Talbot, the founder of Salon, has written a new book, 'The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government.' The book exhumes a number of the US government's historical skeletons: its rejection of Jewish refugees during WWII, its cooperation with key Nazi figures, its complicity in a variety of coups, to name just a few."

Allen and John Foster Dulles in 1948. (photo: Bettmann/Corbis)
Allen and John Foster Dulles in 1948. (photo: Bettmann/Corbis)

David Talbot on How the First CIA Director Collaborated With Nazis

By Ken Klippenstein, Reader Supported News

20 October 15


avid Talbot, the founder of Salon, has written a new book, “The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government.” The book exhumes a number of the US government’s historical skeletons: its rejection of Jewish refugees during WWII, its cooperation with key Nazi figures, its complicity in a variety of coups, to name just a few.

Ken Klippenstein: What role did Dulles play in securing amnesty for Nazi war criminals?

David Talbot: The Dulles brothers – both of them, Allen [the first civilian CIA director] and Foster – did business with Nazi business interests before the war. In fact, Sullivan & Cromwell [the law firm owned by Dulles brothers] became quite wealthy by getting involved in the Germans’ war reparations business and the rebuilding of Germany economically after World War I. Some of the major companies that later became notorious during World War II – like IG Farben [German chemical industry conglomerate], which produced Zyklon B, the gas that was used in the death chambers of Nazi Germany, and the Krupp steel firm, which was a huge war manufacturer for Germany – were clients of the Dulles brothers’ law firm. So they tended to see the world in a similar way as these wealthy German business interests that later aligned themselves with Hitler.

The Dulles brothers were very slow to recognize Hitler as a threat. They thought that in some ways he was good for Germany: that he was helping rebuild Germany, that he was disciplining the workforce. He was of course very anti-left. This all fit into the Dulles brothers’ ideological framework.

Foster was particularly slow to realize that Hitler was a sinister threat. In fact, his law firm had to force him to finally sever relations and shut down the firm’s satellite office in Germany, where its lawyers had to sign every letter “Heil Hitler” at the end. Foster Dulles was involved in the America First campaign with Charles Lindbergh to keep America out of the war. It was very late when they finally got on the bandwagon and said, “Yes, Hitler needs to be stopped.”

During the war, Allen goes off to Switzerland – this strange sort of neutral haven in the middle of war-torn Europe that’s encircled by the Nazis – and he manages to get across the border quite easily because of his connections. Once he’s there, instead of pursuing the war against the Third Reich, he spends most of his time trying to cut deals with the Nazi forces. What he’s particularly interested in is trying to cut a separate peace deal with Nazi forces in Italy. He finally succeeds in doing that (Operation Sunrise was the [name of that] secret operation) and it was a disaster in many ways: first of all because it violated President Roosevelt’s firm policy of unconditional surrender, which he and Winston Churchill hammered out at the Casa Blanca conference in 1943.

Ken Klippenstein: Why was Dulles never prosecuted for directly violating Roosevelt’s directive?

David Talbot: Because he was a very canny spy – he kept that largely hidden from Washington. He was so remote off there in Switzerland by himself – he was surrounded by German forces – [so] he was kind of his own boss there. He had very little supervision from Washington. So he was able to do this stuff behind the Roosevelt administration’s back.

Ken Klippenstein: You point out in the book that Switzerland was a place where they were keeping money that they were stealing from the Jews and even from their slave labor. Was that the origin of the Swiss banking system?

David Talbot: Not the origin but it certainly became a corollary to the Nazi banking system. In fact, one of the key banks there [in Switzerland], the Bank of International Settlements, became in effect the Nazi’s main foreign exchange bank. They would deposit these assets that they looted – from the countries they invaded, from Jewish families (in some cases ripping the gold out of Jews’ teeth) – and they would deposit it and basically would launder this money in Swiss banks. It was the money they then used to buy key materials they needed from around the world: Iron, Tungsten, beef, whatever Germany needed to keep the war machine going.

The Swiss banks had a very despicable role in the German war effort. They claimed to be neutral but, in fact, they were a great asset for the Third Reich.

Ken Klippenstein: It’s hard to exaggerate how not neutral Switzerland was.

David Talbot: Yeah and that’s one reason why Dulles thrived there during the war. He had a great time. He went around, he never tried to hide his identity. It was announced in the newspapers that he was President Roosevelt’s special representative in Switzerland when he arrived. He made no effort – unlike most spies – keep a low profile. He was happy to have the Nazis know where he lived, and they came and did business with him. On the one hand, you had these heroic Germans, as I write about, slipping across the border – at great peril to their own lives – in order to tell Dulles (who they thought of as the legitimate representative of the United States) the horror stories about the Final Solution as it was first taking shape.

In one case a German industrialist had seen Auschwitz being built and had heard what they were going to be using it for. He slipped across the border with this eyewitness account and Dulles basically did nothing with this to make this an urgent priority of the Roosevelt administration. He was not concerned about the Jews’ fate. He was more concerned about his clients, his German clients: making sure their assets would be carefully hidden and that Germany would emerge from the war defeated but a strong bulwark against the Soviet Union, whom he always regarded as the true enemy.

Ken Klippenstein: These people [who brought Dulles documentary evidence of the Final Solution] could have been executed for doing so, correct?

David Talbot: Absolutely. They were coming across the border from Germany as I say with great risk to their own lives. The US public and the US political representatives needed this kind of hard evidence of the horrors that Hitler’s regime was committing because, in the beginning, before the US was involved in the war, there was a great debate about whether the US should even go to war. Later the question became, do we bomb the trains taking these Jewish prisoners to these camps? Do you bomb the camps themselves?

The country needed this hard evidence to make the decision about what to do, and it was withheld from the Roosevelt White House in large part, for a long time, because of the intransigence and the indifference of people like Dulles … and from the State Department, which was frankly an enclave of anti-Semitic old boy WASPs. They too had the same kind of cold indifference to the plight of the Jews that Dulles had.

Ken Klippenstein: You don’t quite come out and say it explicitly in the book, but would you call Dulles an anti-Semite?

David Talbot: Yeah, I think he’s what you’d call a gentlemanly anti-Semite. That was sort of a reflexive attitude within his world. Most of the people in his banking and legal and national security world were WASPs who thought of Jews as outsiders. Certainly there wasn’t a lot of empathy for the Jewish people.

You see that in some of the reports when these Nazis meet with Dulles in Switzerland – including one who’s this kind of decadent prince who was an emissary of no less than Heinrich Himmler, who’s head of the SS under Hitler and the creator of the Final Solution and who operated the concentration camps. Himmler starts to realize the war is going south and he needs to save his own neck, and so he starts sending representatives out to meet with Dulles to see if they can cut a side deal that would keep him in power in some way while throwing Hitler under the bus.

[Dulles] was very dismissive of the Jewish issue. When [Dulles] is talking with these Germans, he says, ‘all this talk from FDR about unconditional surrender, that’s just political talk, we don’t need to really pay attention to that.’ He was a very cold and calculating man. Even the way he dealt with his family.

Ken Klippenstein: Right. There’s a passage in the book where his wife and his mistress are commiserating over the fact that he’s a “shark,” as they called him.

David Talbot: Right. His wife and his mistress ironically became friends, commiserating about this man who dominates their lives. The nickname that they both came up with for him was “the shark,” because he was this sort of cold and relentless guy. He was full of surface charm: he could be very charming at parties. Arthur Schlesinger, the historian who served in Kennedy’s White House and knew him well, called it a faux bonhomie – a sort of fake charm and friendliness.

Ken Klippenstein: Would you call Dulles a psychopath?

David Talbot: My colleague who helped me research the book, Karen Croft, who actually studied psychology at Stanford, she immediately began to see him in those terms and I think I came around to that point of view. He certainly would send people to their deaths without a second thought. His own power and his own ambition were the most important things to him. He tells his mistress Mary Bancroft once, much to her horror, while they’re in her bedroom, how he loved to see the little mice’s necks get snapped when he set these traps for them. By little mice he meant the people who he was at odds with in his spy games.

So yeah, I do think there’s definitely a psychopathic element to Allen Dulles. When I was researching this book and seeing how cold and calculating and ruthless he could be, the image that kept coming to mind was the Lannister family in “Game of Thrones.”

Ken Klippenstein: The patriarch in particular – the similarities are striking!

David Talbot: Yeah, yeah. It’s all about power. Everything else, even [Dulles’s] own family, was a very distant concern, if at all. His family was important to him in terms of its power: so his relationship with his brother was important, much more than with his sister Eleanor, who did go into politics and diplomacy as well. But certainly his relationship with his brother Foster, because they formed this sort of dynamic brotherly bond. Not much affection between them, but they were this power duo, so that was very important to Allen.

Ken Klippenstein: It was fascinating to me how even Carl Jung [the famed Swiss psychotherapist], who worked with Allen Dulles’s wife, commented on the darkness of Allen’s character.

David Talbot: Yeah, I mean here was a guy, Carl Jung, who actually had seen Hitler up close at an event, as well as Mussolini, the sort of major symbols of evil of the 20th century, and he kind of understood them. Hitler, the way he described him, was a much more monstrous and chilling character than Mussolini, who at least had some human aspects. But with Dulles, the great Carl Jung, who was the second pillar of psychology after Freud – even Jung is kind of confounded by Dulles, trying to figure him out. He saw him up close in Switzerland because not only was Dulles’s mistress seeing Jung as a patient, but then his wife also saw Jung as a patient. I think Jung, fascinated by powerful men and the archetypes they represented, did try to figure out Dulles, but he told his mistress at one point, “He’s a very tough nut to crack, be careful.”

Ken Klippenstein: You mentioned Operation Sunrise before, could you elaborate on that?

David Talbot: Dulles was very intent on bringing the war to a conclusion in a way that left the German power structure at least partially intact. He knew that Hitler had to go – there was no doubt about that – but he was quite content to allow much of the Nazi power structure to remain intact because he didn’t want the German left, the union movement, the communist party and so on to reassert itself. He wanted Germany to be a strong bulwark against the Soviet Union in the Cold War that he knew was inevitable; in fact, he helped make it inevitable with Operation Sunrise.

One of Joseph Stalin’s greatest fears was that he would be sold out by his allies – by Churchill and Roosevelt – and be stabbed in the back. To this day, I don’t think most Americans understand that the Soviet Union took most of the brunt of World War II – 20 million Russians dead.

Ken Klippenstein: Dulles is already planning how to crush Russia before all the bodies are even in the ground!

David Talbot: Exactly. His negotiations with these German military figures included one Karl Wolff, who had been the right hand man to Himmler, and should’ve stood trial at Nuremberg for his war crimes. Karl Wolff was savvy, and he and his aides realized that to save their necks, they would have to cut a deal with Dulles. The deal that they finally cut, where they have the Germans surrender to the Americans, really came just a few days before the general surrender in Europe. It didn’t really mean much from a geopolitical or military standpoint. In fact, the only lives it really saved were the lives of these Nazis who might’ve otherwise hung at Nuremberg.

And yet, after the war, Dulles went to great lengths saying this was supposedly a great coup of his, to engineer this early surrender – even though, as I just said, it came just five days before the general surrender of Europe. He cooperated and collaborated with the establishment of these so-called “ratlines” that allowed the Germans to escape down through the Alps into Italy and then overseas to Latin America or even, in some cases, to the United States.

In the worst case of this kind of evading justice, Dulles helped install one of Hitler’s former spymasters, Reinhard Gehlen, as the top spy official in West Germany after the war.

Ken Klippenstein: And it’s not just Wolff – there’s a whole cast of Nazi figures for whom Dulles works to ensure their safety.

David Talbot: One of the most intriguing stories for me was how these cat and mouse games [were played by] Dulles and his right-hand man James Angleton, who became a legendary CIA official (he was the head of counterintelligence for Dulles during much of the Cold War).

After the war, in post-war Rome, it’s this nest of intrigue and there are some heroic intelligence people working for the US army intelligence. I interviewed one of them – he was a young guy at the time, I think only 19 – and just as quickly as his military intelligence unit could track down these war criminals, round them up and put them in jail in Rome or somewhere else in Italy, Dulles and Angleton’s people would let them out the back door. In fact, Angleton set up this posh apartment for them in a luxury district in Rome where he stashed these war criminals and hid them, including Eugen Dollmann, who was gay and able to survive the war, even though he was gay, going to orgies, and yet he became the key link, the interpreter, between the Italian allies and the German allies during the war, Hitler’s personal interpreter whenever Hitler visited Italy or when Mussolini came to Germany.

In fact, [Dollmann] escorted Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun … he escorted Eva Braun on shopping expeditions around Rome whenever they came there. So he was this key figure, he was part of this Operation Sunrise intrigue, and because of that he also escaped – he was only briefly imprisoned and then he escaped legal judgment. He was just one of the many colorful Nazis who escaped down these ratlines.

Ken Klippenstein: Dulles oversaw a number of coup attempts, including the French president Charles de Gaulle. Could you describe them?

David Talbot: I don’t think we even know the full extent to which Dulles either tried to or successfully subverted governments – in some cases friendly governments, supposedly – during the Cold War when he was running intelligence. The case that you mention, that I think is one of the most mind-blowing and is something that, I think, very few if any Americans know about is his effort to overthrow a friendly government in Paris, an ally, the government of war hero Charles de Gaulle.

Charles de Gaulle was a conservative, he was a military man, he was not some flaming left-winger. And yet because he was a proud nationalist, he was flirting with leaving NATO at that point, he was trying to bring peace to the colonial war in Algeria, and the CIA and the hardliners in Washington were afraid that this would play into Communist hands, maybe the Soviet Union would get a foothold in Northern Africa with its oil and so on. So they thought that de Gaulle had to go.

There were some right-wing generals in Algeria who fought the colonial war there, which was a vicious, bloody, colonial war, and they thought that de Gaulle was going to sell them out, so they formed a right-wing (far right) military organization called the Secret Army. They intrigued against de Gaulle, they tried to kill him many times, and one of the most dramatic moments in French history in the 20th century is when the French generals mutiny in Algeria and declare that they’re going to overthrow de Gaulle’s government, and there’s a sense that paratroopers are going to start descending on Paris as these guys attack de Gaulle’s government.

In the middle of this crisis, which happened right on the heels of the Bay of Pigs crisis in Cuba and Kennedy is just reeling trying to deal with that huge crisis, he suddenly finds out that de Gaulle is not only besieged in Paris but that de Gaulle is blaming the CIA and Kennedy’s own government for supporting this coup. So that has not been really fully – it’s sort of disappeared, this whole amazing story. It was the second CIA-related crisis that Kennedy had faced in that same month in April 1961.

Finally de Gaulle goes on TV in a very dramatic moment, he rallies the French people. He says, ‘Help me, French men, French women, help me.’ And they go into the streets, they block the runways with their vehicles so the rebellious air force units can’t land their planes there. They demonstrate by the hundreds of thousands in the streets and it becomes clear from this huge popular show of support for de Gaulle’s government that the coup is doomed, and it’s finally defeated.

But this was a hair-raising moment, it was a huge crisis of relations between France and the United States, and in the middle of it, JFK basically assures de Gaulle that he’s not supporting this coup, but he has to admit that he’s not in full control of his own government. The French ambassador in Washington has to communicate this back to Paris that Kennedy is not in control of the CIA; the CIA is a mysterious organization. It’s not under his control.

So that, to me, is one of the most telling and most chilling moments in the book, because the book of course is all about this epic battle between the forces of democracy and the forces of the national security state. And here you have it nakedly demonstrated, who’s really in control.

Ken Klippenstein: I found it interesting that Dulles was actually a Wall Street lawyer before being OSS [Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of the CIA] and later CIA chief. He marshaled those connections frequently during his time as spy chief.

David Talbot: [In the book] I do talk about the Dulles brothers, their law firm, as a center of resistance to the New Deal, when FDR pushes through these banking reforms aimed at getting some controls on a Wall Street that had just pushed the US economy over the cliff with the stock market crash.

Ken Klippenstein: At one point after the New Deal regulatory measures pass, [Dulles] is telling his business clients, ‘just ignore it.’

David Talbot: Yeah, so they’re discussing the Securities Exchange Commission, a New Deal reform to regulate Wall Street, things like the Glass-Steagall Act, which Clinton unfortunately threw overboard with disastrous results. So these wealthy clients of Dulles’s law firm are debating these reforms that they’re furious about, and Foster just tells them, ‘don’t worry, just ignore them and we’ll ride this out.’

So that was the feeling, that reform presidents come and go, that presidents like FDR and JFK can be ignored or subverted or manipulated somehow. People like the Dulles brothers felt that democracy was too important to be left in the hands of the people or their elected representatives. They strongly felt that the intelligent people, as Allen Dulles once explained while he running for Congress – with disastrous results, he had no feel for the electoral game – he said that it should be left it in the hands of intelligent people, and by that he meant of course people like himself and his brother. They had a very elitist view and they felt that if things weren’t going their way in the democratic arena, they could always pull strings and get what they wanted.

Ken Klippenstein: I was fascinated by the part of the book about Allen Dulles’s relationship with the Rockefellers, one of the most influential families in the U.S. at the time.

David Talbot: That’s an important part of the book, because I don’t want to communicate the feeling that the Dulles brothers were somehow these rogue devils, that they were doing these evil things on their own. They were part of a network of power, and in some ways they served that power more than they ran it. They were lawyers, they were used to having clients who were more wealthy and powerful than they were in some ways, but they were the executors of that class and they took care of business when a consensus was formed within that class, within that “power-elite” circle, as C. Wright Mills wrote in his famous book in the 1950s, who analyzed this power group and how it functioned.

So these were the men who controlled the most powerful corporations and controlled the key national security institutions like the CIA and the Pentagon. And they all intermingled, they often intermarried, they belonged to the same social clubs, they exchanged jobs, they were a very cohesive group that developed a cohesive view of what America should be and what America’s role in the world should be and how to confront any threat to American power. They would work out these policies in groups like the Council on Foreign Relations, which the Dulles brothers were both very powerful in, this policy-discussing club in New York City.

So yeah, the Rockefellers were key allies of theirs. They were a younger generation – David Rockefeller and Nelson were the two key members of that generation, the grandsons of John D. Rockefeller who had created his oil fortune. Nelson of course was a well-known political figure, became governor of New York. He was kind of the front-man for the Rockefeller power. David Rockefeller was the banker who ran Chase Manhattan Bank and was the spokesman of international finance, he was sort of more behind the scenes.

The Dulles brothers used their [the Rockefellers’] money for some shadowy CIA operations that they couldn’t openly fund. The Rockefellers would sign checks for them. They had the same views. They had interests around the world, particularly in places like Latin America, oil interests. When people like Fidel Castro took over Cuba and was nationalizing the oil industry there, they felt that it was a direct threat to the Rockefeller interests – because it was. Whenever America’s corporate interests were threatened, they would turn to men like Allen Dulles; he was the enforcer. They knew that if they couldn’t handle it through the CIA by killing leaders or overthrowing governments then the next step was the military. But they preferred to do it through the CIA because it was more cost-effective and not as disruptive. Allen Dulles was all too willing to be their enforcer, whether it was in Iran or Guatemala or the Congo.

Ken Klippenstein: Could you talk about the coups in Iran, Guatemala and Congo, which Dulles’s CIA backed?

David Talbot: To this day we still feel the ripples of that fateful coup that the CIA engineered back in the 50s against a very popular, elected leader, Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh came up through Iranian politics, which was a minefield. He became a figure of national resistance against the British empire, which basically owned Iran and owned all the oil there via a company that later became British Petroleum [BP today].

Because Mosaddegh was nationalizing the oil, that was the final straw. The CIA helped engineer this fateful coup and brought the Shah [Iranian dictator] back from exile and crushed any defense. The Shah oversaw and ruled Iran until 1979, when the Ayatollah came in, and relations with the United States have been poisoned ever since.

Same thing in Guatemala – a coup there against a guy who was really kind of a Kennedy of Guatemala, a progressive reformer named Jacabo Arbenz. This set the stage for decades of tragedy and bloodshed in Guatemala. Guatemala was turned into a killing ground. Tens of thousands of Guatemalans later died as a result of the military dictatorship.

Congo was in very bad shape because Patrice Lumumba was one of the great hopes of post-colonial Africa, was this great charismatic nationalist leader. Belgium had ruled the Congo with such a vicious hand that it was notorious; Joseph Conrad based his book on it [“Heart of Darkness”]. Lumumba comes along as that colonial regime is finally cracking; he’s the hope of the future. Once again the CIA sees him as a threat because there’s huge mining interests in the Congo, which is very mineral rich. We weren’t about to allow any other interest to move in there.

So he [Lumumba] was demonized as a communist – which he wasn’t, he was a neutralist, he wanted to create his own people’s destiny in the Congo. He was overthrown by a CIA-supported coup and later put under house arrest, and then when he tried to break out, he was arrested finally tracked down and horribly tortured and murdered. Later during the Church Committee hearings on this, the CIA said, ‘oh, it wasn’t us who killed him, we weren’t very good at assassinating people, we tried but failed.’ They tried to come off as the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Actually they were being too modest because the people who actually beat Lumumba to death when he was captured were on the CIA payroll. More blood on Dulles’s hands.

Interestingly, another thing that the book reveals is that a number of the people who were involved in the killing machine who were assembled to kill overseas I think were brought home to Dallas in November 1963 and were involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. Dulles had created a very lethal apparatus within the CIA and he felt nothing by 1963 – no compunction against bringing these same lethal forces home.

Ken Klippenstein: What was Dulles’s role in the Warren commission?

David Talbot: I make that case that he was involved in the assassination itself. The guy that [Dulles] hired to reach out to the mafia and develop a plot to kill Castro, William Harvey (essentially the head of the Castro assassination unit), fell afoul of the Kennedys, so the CIA had to save his career by sending him off to Rome to run the CIA station in Rome. Even though he’s supposed to be in Rome, his deputy, a guy named Mark Wyatt – I interviewed Wyatt’s grown children for the first time and Wyatt saw Harvey on a plane going to Dallas early in November 1963, just before the assassination. He asked him what he was doing there and Harvey answered very vaguely, “I’m here just to look around.”

A week later [Harvey] became a major figure of suspicion by Congress during the House Select Committee on Assassinations’ investigation in the 1970s. So to have William Harvey identified as going to Dallas early in November before the assassination is very, I think, suspicious.

There’s a number of other circumstantial pieces of evidence I put together that tie Dulles to this crime in various ways. He certainly, indisputably, was a key figure in the cover-up because he was so dominant a character on the Warren Commission that some people think it ought to be called the Dulles Commission. He was huddled with his old CIA colleagues after CIA sessions and discussed what strategies to take, how he should handle witnesses – their whole mission was to deflect attention and focus way from the CIA. There are a number of pieces of evidence coming out that linked Lee Harvey Oswald to the CIA and that suggested he had been playing some kind of intelligence role, if not in the assassination, certainly when he went abroad as a so-called defector for the Soviet Union.

Richard Schweiker, the senator from Pennsylvania who was on the Church Committee, later said, “When you look at Lee Harvey Oswald, the fingerprints of US intelligence are all over him.” The Warren Commission began to get a little bit curious about that and it was Dulles’s job to say, ‘no, no, no, don’t look in that direction, look over here, he was a lone assassin, he was a misfit,’ etc.

Ken Klippenstein: Was there a single president who felt as though Dulles was loyal to him and liked Dulles?

David Talbot: No. Every single president he served, at least from a high position in intelligence, was suspicious of him, didn’t trust him.

Ken Klippenstein is an American journalist who can be reached on twitter @kenklippenstein or via email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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