Allen Welsh Dulles was the first civilian and the longest serving (1953-1961) Director of Central Intelligence and a member of the Warren Commission. Between stints of government service, Dulles was a corporate lawyer and partner at Sullivan & Cromwell.
Allen Dulles was born on April 7, 1893, in Watertown, New York, and graduated from Princeton University, and in 1916 entered the diplomatic service. Dulles was serving in Switzerland and was responsible for reviewing and rejecting Lenin's application for a visa to the United States. In 1920 he married Clover Todd, daughter of a Columbia University professor. In 1926 he earned a law degree from George Washington University and took a job at the New York firm where his brother, John Foster Dulles, was a partner.
Dulles was appointed by William J. Donovan to become head of operations in New York for the Coordinator of Information (COI), which was set up in Room 3603 of Rockefeller Center, taking over offices staffed by Britain's MI6. The COI was the precursor to the Office of Strategic Services, renamed in 1942.
During the 1930s Allen Dulles gained much experience in Germany. An early foe of Adolf Hitler, Dulles was transferred from Britain to Berne, Switzerland for the rest of World War II, and notably was heavily involved in the controversial and secret Operation Sunrise. He is featured in the classic Soviet TV series Seventeen Moments of Spring for his role in that operation. Dulles became the station chief in Berne, Switzerland, for the newly formed Office of Strategic Services. Dulles supplied his government with much sensitive information about Nazi Germany.
Dulles worked on intelligence regarding German plans and activities. Dulles established wide contacts with German émigrés, resistance figures, and anti-Nazi intelligence officers. Although Washington barred Dulles from making firm commitments to the plotters of the 20 July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler, the conspirators nonetheless gave him reports on developments in Germany, including sketchy but accurate warnings of plans for Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 missiles.
Dulles's career was jump-started by the information provided by Fritz Kolbe, a German diplomat and a foe of the Nazis. Kolbe supplied secret documents regarding active German spies and plans regarding the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. In 1945, he played a central role in negotiations leading to the unconditional capitulation of German troops in Italy.
After the war in Europe, Dulles served for six months as the OSS Berlin station chief. In 1947, Congress created the Central Intelligence Agency. Dulles was closely involved with its development. His translator at this time was Henry Kissinger, who worked for Army Intelligence.
Dulles' CIA Operation Paperclip assimilated Nazi scientists into the American establishment by obscuring their histories and short circuiting efforts to bring their true stories to light. The project was led by officers in the United States Army. Although the program officially ended in September 1947, those officers and others carried out a conspiracy until the mid-fifties that bypassed both law and presidential directive to keep Paperclip going. Neither Presidents Truman nor Eisenhower were informed that their instructions were ignored.
In 1953, Dulles became the first civilian Director of Central Intelligence, which had been formed in 1947 as part of the National Security Act; earlier directors had been military officers. The Agency's covert operations were an important part of the Eisenhower administration's new Cold War national security policy known as the "New Look". Under Dulles's direction, the CIA created MK-Ultra, a top secret mind control research project which was managed by Sidney Gottlieb. Dulles also personally oversaw Operation Mockingbird, a program which influenced American media companies as part of the "New Look".
At Dulles' request, President Eisenhower demanded that Senator Joseph McCarthy discontinue issuing subpoenas against the CIA. In March, McCarthy had initiated a series of investigations into potential communist subversion of the Agency. Although none of the investigations revealed any wrongdoing, the hearings were still potentially damaging, not only to the CIA's reputation but also to the security of sensitive information.
In the early 1950s the U.S. Air Force conducted a competition for a new photo reconnaissance aircraft. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation's Skunk Works submitted a design number called the CL-282, which married sailplane-like wings to the body of a supersonic interceptor. This aircraft was rejected by the Air Force, but several of the civilians on the review board took notice, and Edwin Land presented a proposal for the aircraft to Dulles. The aircraft became what is known as the U-2 spy plane, and it was initially operated by CIA pilots. Its introduction into operational service in 1957 greatly enhanced the CIA's ability to monitor Soviet activity through overhead photo surveillance. Ironically, the aircraft eventually entered service with the Air force, who still operate it today.
At the direction of President Eisenhower, Dulles established Operation 40, comprised of 40 officials and agents whose primary area of operations was the Caribbean region, including Cuba. On 4th March, 1960, La Coubre, a ship flying a Belgian flag, exploded in Havana Bay. It was loaded with arms and ammunition destined for the armed forces of the government of Fidel Castro. The explosion killed 75 people and over 200 were injured. Fabian Escalante, an officer of the Department of State Security (G-2), later claimed that this was the first successful act carried out by Operation 40.
Operation 40 not only was involved in sabotage operations but also, in fact, evolved into a team of assassins. One member, Frank Sturgis, claimed: "this assassination group (Operation 40) would upon orders, naturally, assassinate either members of the military or the political parties of the foreign country that you were going to infiltrate, and if necessary some of your own members who were suspected of being foreign agents... We were concentrating strictly in Cuba at that particular time."
Over the next few years Operation 40 worked closely with several anti-Castro Cuban organizations including Alpha 66. CIA officials and freelance agents such as William Harvey, Thomas G. Clines, Porter Goss, Gerry Patrick Hemming, E. Howard Hunt, David Sánchez Morales, Carl Elmer Jenkins, Bernard Barker, Barry Seal, Frank Sturgis, William Robert Plumlee ("Tosh" Plumlee), and William C. Bishop also joined the project.
Dulles went on to be successful with the CIA's first attempts at removing foreign leaders by covert means. Notably, the elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran was deposed in 1953 (via Operation Ajax), and President Arbenz of Guatemala was removed in 1954. The Guatemalan coup was called Operation PBSUCCESS. Dulles was on the board of the United Fruit Company. Dulles saw these kind of clandestine activities as an essential part of the struggle against communism.
During the Kennedy Administration, Dulles faced increasing criticism. The failed Bay of Pigs Invasion and several failed assassination plots utilizing CIA-recruited operatives from the Mafia and anti-Castro Cubans directly against Fidel Castro undermined the CIA's credibility, and pro-American but unpopular regimes in Iran and Guatemala that he helped put in place were widely regarded as brutal and corrupt. The reputation of the agency and its director declined after the Bay of Pigs Invasion fiasco; he and his staff (including Director for Plans Richard Bissell and Deputy Director Charles Cabell) were forced to resign (September 1961). President Kennedy did not trust the CIA, and he reportedly intended to dismantle it after the Bay of Pigs failure. Kennedy said he wanted to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds." Ironically, Dulles was later appointed to the Warren Commission, the official government investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
On November 29, 1963, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Dulles as one of seven commissioners of the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of the U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
In 1969 Dulles died of influenza, complicated by pneumonia, at the age of 75. He was buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.