Srodes on Allen Dulles -- gentleman spymaster

May 16, 1999|By Tom Bowman | By Tom Bowman,Sun Staff

"Allen Dulles: Master Spy of American Espionage," by James Srodes. Regnery. 515 pages. $34.95.

Much like the Central Intelligence Agency he helped create, Allen Dulles was something of an enigma and a paradox.

Here was a Wilsonian liberal, a gentle man who spent his early career on disarmament and collective security, only to conclude his years by lording over an agency during its time of greatest excess. His agents trotted about the globe, overthrowing governments and targeting leaders for assassination.

Unfortunately Dulles remains a mystery after Srodes' lengthy biography of the spymaster. The reader is left with no sense of the man's ideological journey -- if there was one.

Did Dulles succumb to Washington amnesia: checking his beliefs in the name of career advancement? Or did war and Cold War cause Dulles to reassess his earlier views?

Just as the CIA was being created in 1947, Dulles maintained that the wartime "ruthless ... cloak and dagger methods" were unwise and politically dangerous in times of peace. But within several years, Dulles as director of the CIA would use these very methods throughout the world, from the Congo to Cuba. Srodes, however, makes no mention of this contradiction.

A longtime journalist and author, Srodes is entralled by Dulles -- save for his adulterous flings.

After graduating from Princeton, Dulles joined the new cadre of diplomatic intelligence officers in Vienna and later in Bern, Switzerland, learning his craft from the more experienced British spies.

The book follows Dulles through what is perhaps his greatest legacy, leader of the Office of Strategic Services in World War II Switzerland. Dulles was able to corral some vital intelligence sources, including a Nazi official armed with reams of secret dispatches.

If the OSS successor, the CIA, undertook "reckless missions," Srodes writes, it was at the behest of the president. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Dulles moved "with enthusiasm" for covert operations - "where brutal things are done for good causes." Srodes concludes with Dulles' 1969 eulogy, during which the master spy was called a Wilsonian liberal who believed Americans were destined to set an global example of "what free government is and can do."

A better example came from one of Dulles' CIA officers, Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore. Roosevelt oversaw the coup that brought the shah of Iran to power but balked at the CIA's coup in Guatemala and resigned over what he thought was a specious agency plan to overthrow Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser.

A spy agency can't go against the "grain of events," Roosevelt explained. Covert action only works when you have a majority of the people behind you and a better replacement -- words that should be etched in CIA's vast lobby.

Instead that lobby contains a bas relief medallion with a portrait of Allen Dulles and a Latin inscription that translates: "His monument is around us."

Tom Bowman is The Sun's military affairs correspondent and has written on intelligence issues. In 1995 he co-authored a six-part series on the National Security Agency.

Pub Date: 05/16/99

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