Spymasters are usually discreet, but Allen Dulles had overthrown two governments in the space of ten months and did not feel compelled to deny it. In the summer of 1954 he invited a pair of reporters from the Saturday Evening Post into his confidence. Through them, he gave the world an account of his first year on the job. It emerged as a three-part series called “The Mysterious Doings of the CIA.”
“The Post presents its own exclusive report on America’s ‘silent service’—the super-secret Central Intelligence Agency,” read the legend on the opening page, below a large photo of Allen. “Here, revealed for the first time, are its methods, how it gets its operatives and money, and its accomplishments—in Guatemala, Iran, and behind the Iron Curtain.”
These articles reported that CIA operatives in Eastern Europe were fomenting strikes, mining rail lines, and blowing up bridges. More surprisingly, they made clear that the CIA had been behind the overthrows of Arbenz and Mossadegh. The reporters, presumably reflecting Allen’s views, wrote that Arbenz had been deposed because he was a “communist puppet” engaged in “unbridled subversion of the Guatemalan people,” and that had he remained in office, “we might have faced the necessity of sending Marines to reinforce the Panama Canal and save Latin America.”
“Another CIA triumph was the successful overthrow, in 1953, of old, dictatorial Premier Mohammad Mossadegh and the return to power of this country’s friend, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi,” they wrote. “A helping hand in the rescue of one country such as Guatemala or Iran from communism is worth the CIA’s annual budget many times over. Whether the squeamish like it or not, the United States must know what goes on in those dark places of the world where our overthrow is being plotted by communists.”
As Allen basked in this publicity, Time chose Foster as “Man of the Year” and put him on the cover of its first issue of 1955. He was a good choice. Few were fighting Communism more vigorously, and nothing less than the survival of humanity seemed to hinge on the outcome of that fight. The Time profile was flattering and self-congratulatory, as much about America’s destined role in the world as about an individual. It called Foster “a practical missionary of Christian politics” who had given Americans “a feeling of firm confidence in the U.S. economy and in dynamic capitalism as an economic way of life.”
The article devoted a page to challenges that lay ahead for Foster. Staring out from the center of that page was a thin, bearded figure with Asian features, hands crossed over his knees and wearing a field jacket. His face was not yet well known in the United States. Below his portrait was a simple caption: “Indo-China’s Ho.” He was about to become the third monster Foster and Allen went abroad to destroy.
In 1953, overthrowing Mossadegh had been the Dulles brothers’ obsession. The next year it was Arbenz. Now they focused on Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader of Vietnam’s anticolonial movement. They singled him out not simply because of who he was, but where he was. Europe had settled into its Cold War pattern, and although Foster and Allen still considered it the center of the world, they believed the front line had moved to East Asia. They mistakenly saw China as a pawn of the Soviet Union, and Ho, also mistakenly, as a puppet of both. Crushing him, they decided, would be the most potent next blow they could strike against “international Communism.”
In the decades that had passed since Ho’s failed appeal to Woodrow Wilson at the end of World War I, he had become Vietnam’s nationalist hero. By many accounts he admired the United States. He had been spellbound by the Statue of Liberty and East River bridges in New York. During World War II he collaborated closely with the OSS in the fight against the Japanese occupiers of his country.
Ho was a leader of anti-Japanese guerrillas, and in 1945 the OSS dropped a team into his jungle base with instructions to locate and support a “Mr. Hoo.” Team members trained Ho’s men in the use of American weaponry, which they received in air drops, and gave copies of U.S. Army field manuals to Ho and other English-speaking guerrilla leaders. Reports filed by team members suggest that they were mightily impressed with Ho. When the fighting ended with Japan’s surrender in August, the team commander, Major Allison Thomas of the U.S. Army, had a farewell dinner with him and asked him if he was a Communist.
“Yes,” Ho replied. “But we can still be friends, can’t we?”
A month later, Ho declared Vietnam independent. He became its first leader, and in his Independence Day speech he quoted American scripture by declaring, “All men are created equal; they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In November he wrote to the new secretary of state, James Byrnes, asking if he could send to the United States “a delegation of about fifty Vietnam youths with a view to establish friendly cultural relations with American youth on the one hand, and carrying on further studies in engineering, agriculture, as well as other lines of specialization, on the other.” Receiving no reply, he sent a letter to President Truman asking him to keep faith “with the idealistic loftiness and generosity expressed by your delegates to the United Nations assembly, Messrs. Byrnes, Stettinius, and J.F. Dulles.”
The French colonialists, who betrayed in wartime both the Allies and the Vietnamese, have come back, and are waging on us a murderous and pitiless war in order to re-establish their domination.… This aggression is contrary to all principles of international law and the pledge made by the Allies during World War II. It is a challenge to the noble attitude shown before, during, and after the war by the United States government and people.…
[Western powers] ought to keep their words. They ought to interfere to stop this unjust war, and to show that they mean to carry out in peacetime the principles for which they fought in wartime.… What we ask has been graciously granted to the Philippines. Like the Philippines, our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the United States. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.
Truman did not reply, and Ho’s letter was kept secret for a quarter century. Meanwhile, American diplomats in Vietnam reported in dispatches that Ho was “the outstanding representative of the native peoples” and a “wily opportunist” known for “straddling the fence.” Justice William O. Douglas wrote after traveling through Indochina that this “tubercular Communist” was one of the most “amazingly successful” revolutionaries of his era.
“He was hunted by every French policeman but never found,” Douglas reported. “He was a phantom, a ghost, who seemed to move at will, casting a shadow on the French regime. Peasants spoke of him in whispers. The hopes of thousands of miserable people went with him wherever he moved.”
The Dulles brothers’ campaign against Ho began in Geneva, where countries concerned with Indochina met in the spring of 1954. Foster at first said he would not attend the conference because a Chinese delegation would also be there. French leaders persuaded him that if he did not, their government would fall and France might move toward an open break with the United States. When Foster announced at a Washington press conference that he would indeed travel to Geneva, he vowed to make no concessions either to the Chinese or to Ho, whom he presumed to be their puppet.
Q: What would you regard as a reasonable satisfactory settlement of the Indochina situation?
DULLES: The removal by the Chinese Communists of their apparent desire to extend the political system of Communism to Southeast Asia.
Q: That means the complete withdrawal of Communists from Indochina?
DULLES: That is what I would regard as a satisfactory solution.
Q: Is there any compromise that might be offered if that is not entirely satisfactory to the Communists?
DULLES: I had not thought of any.
Foster arrived in Geneva with a single goal: to prevent any compromise with Ho. Every other delegation, except for the one representing Vietnam’s old emperor, Bao Dai, favored compromise. Rather than accept the consensus, Foster resolved to lead the United States on a course of its own. In time this would lead it to war in Vietnam.
For years Foster had worked assiduously to isolate the Communist government of China. He considered the Nationalists on Taiwan to be China’s legitimate rulers, and he resolutely defended their right to the Chinese seat at the United Nations. Since he did not recognize the Communist regime, he refused to negotiate with it. He also used the State Department’s control over passports to ban all travel to China for American citizens, including journalists.
The Geneva conference of 1954 gave Foster his first chance to reassess this absolutist policy. China’s delegation to the conference would be headed by Zhou Enlai, the formidable prime minister and foreign minister. Zhou would be across the table from him during negotiating sessions, and available for a chat anytime. This stirred interest in Washington. A reporter asked Foster if he could imagine meeting the Chinese leader when they crossed paths in Geneva.
“Not unless our automobiles collide,” he replied.
That was a remarkably droll answer from a man not known for wit. Behind it lay the three assumptions Foster carried with him to Geneva. This makes them the assumptions that drew the United States into Vietnam:
• World Communism is a monolithic movement directed from the Kremlin.
• Having been checked in Europe, this movement now seeks to conquer Asia.
• Its most active agent there is Ho, which makes him America’s new enemy.
Many in Washington had shared these assumptions for years. “Question whether Ho as much nationalist as Commie irrelevant,” Dean Acheson had written in one cable. “All Stalinists in colonial areas are nationalists.”
President Harry Truman had agreed. “To lose those countries to the rulers of the Kremlin would be more than a blow to our military security and our economic life,” he once warned. “It would be a terrible defeat for the ideals of freedom—with grave spiritual consequences for men everywhere who share our faith in freedom.” In 1950, eager to win French support for the American-led war in Korea, Truman put aside his anticolonial impulse and agreed to begin subsidizing France’s war in Vietnam. He sent $100 million. By 1952 this aid had tripled to $300 million. Two years later it was nearly $1 billion.
One mid-level figure in the State Department, Paul Kattenburg, who was the desk officer for Vietnam during much of Foster’s tenure, suggested to a colleague that instead of continuing to spend money fighting Ho, the United States should offer him $500 million in reconstruction aid. This, he reasoned, would allow Ho to draw away from China and the Soviet Union, while also keeping the United States out of war. This unorthodox view was heresy, and Kattenburg did not push it. Later he wrote a poignant account of the mind-set he faced.
Few if any policy practitioners in Washington or among American representatives in Asia would dare to say in 1950, for example, when Ho Chi Minh was beginning to defeat the French: “Ho is certainly a Communist, but he has great appeal; he is regarded as a champion of nationalism and of anti-colonialism; he is forging an unbreakable bond with his people; he will win his revolutionary struggle regardless of the odds, for we can see, hear, and sense that the masses of the people support him and not the French or their puppets.” Stilling or silencing voices such as these, and hearing instead only those who said, “Ho is a Communist, therefore he cannot really represent the aspirations of his people, and moreover they regard him as a tool of Russia or China,” led American leaders—and people as well—into an anti-Communist climate of deafness and blindness.… It is one of the most dangerous, in fact potentially suicidal, things a great nation can do in world affairs: to cut off its eyes and ears, to castrate its analytic capacity, to shut itself off from the truth because of blind prejudice and a misguided dispensation of good and evil.
Foster first hoped to keep Ho from power by continuing to support the French army in its war against his movement, the Viet Minh. The United States paid most of the cost of this war, more than $2 billion between 1950 and 1954. It was not enough to turn the tide.
Late in 1953, Viet Minh attackers surrounded the strategic French outpost at Dien Bien Phu, in Vietnam’s mountainous northwest. All understood that a decisive battle was at hand. If France faced defeat, might the United States send troops to relieve the besieged garrison? When this question was raised at a National Security Council meeting on January 8, 1954, according to the official transcript, President Eisenhower reacted “with vehemence.”
“[There’s] just no sense in even talking about United States forces replacing the French in Indochina,” he said. “If we did so, the Vietnamese could be expected to transfer their hatred of the French to us. I cannot tell you … how bitterly opposed I am to such a course of action. This war in Indochina would absorb our troops by divisions.”
Foster had not specifically recommended the dispatch of ground troops, though by some accounts he seemed to favor it. Once the president pronounced himself so forcefully, however, the option of sending American soldiers to war in Vietnam had to be discarded. Foster looked for others.
“Nothing could hold Dulles back,” David Halberstam wrote. “There was an absolute belief in our cause, our innocence and worthiness, also a belief that it was better politically to be in than to be out. It was mostly Dulles’s initiative.”
Pressure for a new policy was intense because Viet Minh fighters were closing in on Dien Bien Phu, which according to Time had been transformed “from a scratch on the map to one of the most important places in the world.” Time called Ho “a matchless interplay of ruthlessness and guile,” and warned that defeating him “will take power, humanity, and steely nerve.”
On April 5 a cable arrived in Washington conveying France’s request for “immediate armed intervention of US carrier aircraft” for bombing raids on Viet Minh positions around Dien Bien Phu. Eisenhower “actively contemplated taking the United States directly into the war,” the historian Fredrik Logevall has written, and sent Foster to Capitol Hill for hurried meetings with congressional leaders. They told him they would oppose any intervention in Vietnam unless other countries joined.
“I sat listening to him talking about sending American boys off to fight in a war like that,” Senator Richard Russell told the New York Times afterward, “and suddenly I found myself on my feet shouting, ‘We’re not going to do that!’”
Foster’s only hope was to enlist Britain, which had substantial forces of its own and could also mobilize those of Australia and New Zealand. Together with the United States and two subservient allies it could enlist, Thailand and the Philippines, this would make a modestly credible coalition. Eisenhower appealed to Prime Minister Churchill in a letter, reminding him that the West had allowed Hitler’s rise “by not acting in unity and in time.” He was asking Britain to join the United States in launching a new war.
Churchill, who believed Ho’s power was irresistible, demurred. Foster then flew to London to make a personal appeal to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. He told Eden he was “greatly disturbed” by Britain’s refusal to fight alongside the United States, and warned that it could prove “disastrous” for relations between their countries. This too fell on deaf ears.
“The loss of the fortress must be faced,” Churchill reluctantly advised his American friends.
Nineteen fifty-four was a congressional election year in the United States, and domestic politics was one reason some around Eisenhower felt compelled to reject Churchill’s advice and plunge into Vietnam. Foster had spent years denouncing the Democrats for what he called “appeasement of Communism.” He realized that if he were to accept a settlement in Vietnam that gave even limited power to Ho, he would be overwhelmed by charges of hypocrisy. Vice President Nixon predicted that Democrats would call any settlement “a sellout.” Eisenhower’s press secretary, James Hagerty, warned that it would “give the Democrats a chance to say that we sat idly by and let Indochina be sold down the river to the Communists without raising a finger or turning a hair.”
Eisenhower wished to crush Ho—to keep him from power at all costs, and preferably destroy his popularity at the same time—without using military force. No one in Washington could imagine how this might be done. The only alternative to intervention, however, was to face the reality that Ho was overwhelmingly powerful in Vietnam and could not be defeated. Britain recognized this, and France was about to. The United States could not.
“In certain areas at least, we cannot afford to let Moscow gain another bit of territory,” Eisenhower told one National Security Council meeting. “Dien Bien Phu may be just such a critical point.”
A few dissenters raised doubts. Senator Edwin Johnson of Colorado declared himself “against sending American GI’s into the mud and muck of Indochina on a blood-letting spree to perpetuate colonialism and white man’s exploitation in Asia.” From London, Foreign Secretary Eden warned that only “intervention on a Korean scale, if that, would have any effect on Indochina.” One of Eisenhower’s advisers, C. D. Jackson, wrote in a private memorandum that dreams of stopping Ho were fantasies produced by “wishful thinking, rosy intelligence, oversimplified geopolitical decisions … and unwillingness to retreat from previously taken policy decisions.”
These calls for caution went unheeded. A powerful Republican, Senator William Knowland of California, warned that any compromise with Ho would be a “Far Eastern Munich.” Eisenhower agreed. He was determined to confront Ho. So were his secretary of state and director of central intelligence. The question was not whether they would fight, but how.
Foster and Allen decided to try the same brotherly combination that had succeeded in Iran and Guatemala. One would orchestrate political and diplomatic pressure on Ho while the other launched a covert war. They gave themselves authority in a directive they wrote and the National Security Council approved: “The Director of Central Intelligence, in collaboration with other appropriate departments and agencies, should develop plans, as suggested by the Secretary of State, for certain contingencies in Indochina.”
Foster launched his part of the campaign with a speech to the Overseas Press Club in New York on March 29, 1954. His central challenge was to explain to Americans why they must resist Ho. The answer was what he called the “domino theory.”
If the Communist forces won uncontested control over Indochina or any substantial part thereof, they would surely resume the same pattern of aggression against the other free people in the area.… The entire Western Pacific area, including the so-called “offshore island chain,” would be strategically endangered.… The imposition on Southeast Asia of the political system of Communist Russia and its Chinese ally, by whatever means, would be a grave threat to the free community. The United States feels that possibility should not be passively accepted, but should be met by united action. This might involve serious risks. But the risks are far less than those that will face us a few years from now if we dare not be resolute today.
The “united action” Foster wanted was a military alliance committed to denying Ho control over any territory. No other country, however, wished to join that effort. That forced a choice on the United States. It decided to fight alone.
None of the three Americans who pushed their country into the Vietnam quagmire at this decisive moment—Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers—underestimated the challenge Ho posed. Nonetheless they believed they could defeat him. Much of their confidence stemmed from their conviction, strengthened by their successes in Iran and Guatemala, that covert operations could turn the tide of foreign battles. Foster would play his part in the drama, but it was Allen and his clandestine operatives on whom the outcome would mainly depend.
As soon as Eisenhower approved this project, Allen set out to bring down his third monster. Eisenhower cheered him on. So did Foster. Neither wished to know details.
* * *
Although Ho was a dominant figure on the geopolitical radar that guided Foster and Allen during the mid-1950s, they operated in complex worlds far beyond Vietnam. There was no place on earth where they did not seek to win influence or guide the course of events. Vietnam may have been their most urgent project during this tense phase of the Cold War, but it was hardly their only one.
Allen devoted much effort to building a global network of informants. Often he recruited them personally, during secret trips abroad. In select company he claimed to have cabinet-level sources in every Western and neutral government.
He even had an agent in the Soviet military intelligence service, Pyotr Popov, who offered himself to the CIA in 1953 by slipping an American diplomat a note that said, “I am a Soviet officer. I wish to meet with an American officer with the object of offering certain services.” Over the next six years, Popov betrayed valuable secrets including details of Soviet military capacities, names of Soviet spies in Europe, and information about Soviet plans to plant long-term agents in the United States. The CIA asked the FBI to follow one of these agents, who was living in New York. She realized what was happening and notified her superiors in Moscow. They quickly determined that Popov, who had been her control officer, was a traitor. He was arrested in 1959 and executed the following year.
Much of what Allen was able to discover about life behind the Iron Curtain came from the espionage network General Reinhard Gehlen created to serve the Nazi regime and then, after the war, turned over to the CIA. Allen paid him a reported $6 million annually for his services, much to the displeasure of some of his British counterparts, who harbored wartime grudges against Gehlen. His other close German partner was Otto John, the chief of West Germany’s domestic security service. Allen was jolted when, just a few days after John visited CIA headquarters in mid-1954, he defected to East Germany, saying he could not bear Konrad Adenauer’s commitment to remilitarization and his appointment of ex-Nazis to government posts. A roundup of Western agents operating in the East soon followed.
In Japan, Allen turned the ruling Liberal Democratic Party into a client. He backed a rising politician, Nobusuke Kishi, who later became prime minister; doled out cash to other party leaders; and worked to subvert the rival Socialist Party. This operation continued for more than a decade and helped keep Japan allied with the United States for the duration of the Cold War.
“We ran Japan during the occupation, and we ran it in a different way in these years after the occupation,” the officer who directed this operation later recalled. “General MacArthur had his ways. We had ours.”
Beyond running “penetration” projects like these, Allen pursued his interest in propaganda and mass psychology. Convinced that the United States could improve its standing in the world by showcasing the vibrancy of its culture, he spent millions of dollars subsidizing tours by American jazz bands, traveling exhibitions of abstract art, and magazines in countries from Britain to Brazil. He funneled money to supposedly independent groups like the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the National Student Association, and to cultural figures—sometimes without their knowledge—including Dwight Macdonald, Ted Hughes, Derek Walcott, James Michener, and Mary McCarthy. Through Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, on which he spent about $30 million annually, he beamed pro-Western propaganda into the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The CIA secretly financed the publication of hundreds of books, and regularly placed articles in Foreign Affairs, the Times Literary Supplement, and other publications read by intellectuals. In Europe, where this “hearts-and-minds” campaign was most intense, CIA operatives were swimming in cash as a result of a secret arrangement that allowed them access to Marshall Plan funds. They distributed millions of dollars through fake philanthropies and real ones like the Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations.
“These covertly sponsored activities sounded many of the themes that permeated American official and unofficial propaganda,” one CIA officer based in Europe wrote years later. “Politics was reduced to a simple black-and-white formula of East or West, slavery or freedom. Liberalism was attacked as an ally of communism, with ex-Communists playing a leading role as the only men who really knew what communism was all about. ‘Neutralism’ was a dirty word, since no one could be detached from the great battle for men’s minds. Intellectuals, writers, and artists raised the angel-devil issue to a sophisticated level of international polemics.”
Law prohibited the CIA from operating within the United States, but Allen interpreted it loosely. He sought to shape coverage of world events in the American press through calls to editors and publishers. After Europeans began citing the absence of African American actors in Hollywood films as evidence of racism in the United States, he assigned an officer to visit producers and urge them to hire more. Perhaps his most imaginative media operation was taking control of the animated film version of George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian classic Animal Farm. The book’s ending, in which animals realize that both ruling groups in the barnyard are equally corrupt, is a trenchant rejection of the binary worldview. Allen realized that this message implicitly contradicted much of what the United States was saying about the Cold War. By investing in the film and influencing its content through a team of operatives that included E. Howard Hunt, a veteran of PB/Success, he arranged for the film version to end quite differently. Only the pigs are corrupt, and ultimately patriotic rebels overthrow them. Orwell’s widow was disgusted, but the film reached a wide audience. The United States Information Agency distributed it around the world.
Although Allen was skilled at recruiting high-level informants and found the subtleties of “psy-war” intriguing, he was never happier than when immersed in covert operations. By one account he “had a child’s enjoyment of the adventures of his officers.” His deputy director for plans, Frank Wisner, shared his zeal. Together they spent as much money as they wished on endlessly ambitious operations in dozens of countries.
“Dulles was enthralled with covert operations,” according to one history of the CIA. “He was called ‘the Great White Case Officer’ because he was so fascinated with the details of these operations. Another reason why he favored covert warfare was that it sustained Congress’s and the President’s support for the new intelligence agency.… An operation like Guatemala dazzled the politicians who controlled the CIA purse strings.”
Eisenhower may have been dazzled, but he was not blinded. During his first years in office he commissioned several outside reviews of executive agencies. In 1954 it was the CIA’s turn. He asked General James Doolittle, who had won fame for leading air raids on Tokyo during World War II and who then became a Shell Oil executive, to review the agency’s operations. Doolittle’s conclusions were terrifying.
“It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost,” Doolittle wrote. “There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, long-standing concepts of ‘fair play’ must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counter-espionage services and must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective weapons than those used against us. It may become necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy.”
Although Doolittle’s language bordered on the apocalyptic, the CIA reforms he proposed in his report, such as better hiring procedures and increased use of polygraphs, were bland. His real recommendation was so sensitive that he decided to deliver it orally: fire Allen Dulles.
Doolittle made his case to Eisenhower at a meeting in the Oval Office on October 19, 1954. He said he admired Allen’s “unique knowledge” of the covert world but warned that he was guided by “emotionalism … far worse than it appeared on the surface.” As for the CIA, Doolittle reported that it had “ballooned out into a vast and sprawling organization.” No one controlled it, he said, because of the “family relationship” between its director and the secretary of state.
“It leads to protection of one by the other, or influence of one by the other,” he warned. Before he could continue, Eisenhower stopped him. The CIA, he told Doolittle, was “one of the most peculiar types of operation any government can have, and it probably takes a strange kind of genius to run it.”
“I am not going to be able to change Allen,” he said. “I’d rather have Allen as my chief intelligence officer, with his limitations, than anyone I know.”
Allen was a poor administrator. Many around him also noted a lack of intellectual engagement. He often turned aside probing discussion by telling a story, or musing about his favorite baseball team, the Washington Senators. His mind was undisciplined. By one account he “seemed almost scatterbrained.” A senior British agent who worked with him for years recalled being “seldom able to penetrate beyond his laugh, or to conduct any serious professional conversation with him for more than a few sentences.”
Eisenhower had given his private endorsement of Allen’s leadership to Doolittle just two weeks after accepting the resignation of one of his oldest friends and collaborators, Walter Bedell Smith. The two retired generals had worked closely during World War II. “Beetle” became director of central intelligence under Truman, and Eisenhower made him undersecretary of state. His departure marked a loss for Eisenhower but a decisive leap in power for Foster and Allen. Foster no longer had a second in command with direct access to the Oval Office. Allen’s predecessor was no longer looking over his shoulder. With “Beetle” gone, no one was left to challenge their commanding role in shaping and carrying out American foreign policy.
Early in 1955 Allen scored a quietly celebrated triumph when the phone-tapping tunnel his men had spent months digging in Berlin “went live.” Construction had required a maze of cover stories and diversions, and the work of cutting into underground cables without provoking service interruptions was delicate. The taps produced a stream of information, though nothing truly startling or explosive. One day, after the operation had been running for a year, Soviet agents suddenly charged into the tunnel from the East German side. CIA officers fled wildly. A few days later the chief of the Soviet KGB station in East Berlin invited reporters to see the CIA’s handiwork. This allowed Allen to take open credit. In Washington he was celebrated for an audacious success. Years later it was discovered that a British agent who helped supervise the digging project, George Blake, was actually a KGB “mole” and that the Soviets had monitored it from the beginning.
Allen’s other great success of this period was also less spectacular than it first appeared. In 1956 he thrilled Eisenhower and the National Security Council by producing a copy of the top-secret speech in which the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin’s brutality. He took ostentatious pride in this accomplishment and described it as “one of the major coups of my tour of duty.” Years later it became clear that the Israeli secret service, acting through a Jewish operative in the government of Poland, had actually obtained the speech and that Allen had received it only after the Israelis decided to send him a copy.
Part of the reason Allen was able to cultivate an image of success was that he managed to keep his failures quiet. The most glaring of them was his inability to foment upheaval inside the Soviet Union, but there were others. One was his effort to seize control of the oil-rich Buraimi Oasis on the Persian Gulf. The oasis was controlled by Oman and Abu Dhabi, whose leaders were aligned with Britain, and Allen wished to bring it under the rule of Saudi Arabia, where both King Saud and his brother, Prince Faisal, were on the CIA payroll. Allen sent Kermit Roosevelt to run a covert operation that involved infiltrating Saudi soldiers into the oasis, offering Saudi citizenship to its inhabitants, and tempting its ruling sheikh with an air-conditioned Cadillac and $90 million in gold. The sheikh, however, proved loyal to his British patrons. Ultimately the dispute was submitted to an international tribunal in Geneva. Allen sought to bribe its members, but they resisted. In the end, Saudi troops were forced to withdraw. This conflict made worldwide headlines, but it was portrayed as an inter-Arab dispute rather than a skirmish between the power that had long dominated the Middle East and the one that sought to replace it. The true story did not emerge until decades later.
Allen had long experience in the Middle East and paid it special attention. In 1952 he sent $12 million in cash to one of the emerging rulers of post-royalist Egypt, General Muhammad Naguib, but the money was discovered in a search of Naguib’s house, and one of his rivals, Gamal Abdel Nasser, used the resulting scandal to push him out of power. Later Allen sent another bribe—also $12 million—to the mother of King Hussein of Jordan, in the hope that she would guide her son into the American orbit. Hussein was not tempted, perhaps because the British were already subsidizing him.
More successful was Allen’s cultivation of Saudi leaders, to whom he passed tens of millions of dollars. This solidified a partnership that gave Americans access to a seemingly unlimited supply of oil. It also bolstered a deeply radical regime devoted to promoting forms of anti-Americanism that would ultimately prove more devastating to the United States than anything emanating from Moscow.
Allen worked from an unmarked building at 2430 E Street, in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington. One day as he was arriving for work, he overheard a guide telling a group of tourists, “This is where the spies work.” He concluded that it was foolish to pretend otherwise, and ordered a sign put up in front that said CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY.
This building was across the street from the State Department, a proximity that was more than casual. Foster and Allen had discovered that by working together, they could shake the world. They cooperated ever more closely. This created a nexus of power unmatched in American history.
“The process of delegation was carried a step beyond Eisenhower’s delegation of powers to John Foster Dulles,” Senator Eugene McCarthy wrote in his memoir. “Dulles’s own delegation included his giving, in some cases, powers that he did not have to the Central Intelligence Agency, directed then by Allen Dulles, brother of the Secretary of State. The CIA became a major force in executing and formulating foreign policy. There were two particular advantages in such delegation. First, the CIA was more free of congressional intervention and supervision than was the State Department, and second, it was free to use methods that would not otherwise have been allowed.”
* * *
Confidence in the power they wielded led Foster and Allen to believe they could begin defeating Ho in the spring of 1954. France was losing its will to fight him. Britain could generate none. At the Geneva conference, the United States began assuming the role its allies refused to play.
Negotiators from Cambodia, Laos, and the two enemy factions in Vietnam—one led by Ho, the other anti-Communist—gathered around a horseshoe-shaped table at the old League of Nations headquarters with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. The timing could not have been better for Ho. On May 7, soon after delegates began their work in Geneva, his Viet Minh forces overran the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu. The Western powers were split on how to respond. Britain and France reluctantly agreed that Ho had won the right to at least a portion of power. Foster found this abhorrent and could not accept it.
The Geneva conference was, among other things, a diplomatic debut for the five-year-old People’s Republic of China, the first time its diplomats had appeared on the world stage. Zhou Enlai arrived with an entourage of two hundred. He installed himself in a twenty-room château where Rousseau had once lived. At his first grand reception, Scotch whisky and Italian vermouth were served along with caviar and frogs’ legs.
No American attended this reception, because Foster had instructed his delegation to have no contact with the Chinese. During plenary sessions he refused to acknowledge Zhou’s presence and, according to one British diplomat, projected “almost pathological rage and gloom” with his “mouth drawn down at the corners and his eyes on the ceiling, sucking on his teeth.” By another account he “conducted himself with the pinched distaste of a puritan in a house of ill repute.”
This determination to reject corporal reality for diplomatic reasons led Foster to the oddest and perhaps most wounding contortion of his public career.
“At the first meeting,” the American diplomat U. Alexis Johnson recalled years later, “when we went out into the reception hall for a break in the meeting, Zhou Enlai was there.… And when Dulles came in, Zhou Enlai moved towards him, obviously to shake his hand. A number of photographers were around, and Dulles quite brusquely turned his back.… This deeply wounded Zhou, and over the years, even up to now, Zhou recounts this incident to visitors, and it very deeply, I think, affected his attitude. I’m not saying political factors would have changed, but this was a loss of face, of course, and a deep wound as far as Zhou Enlai was concerned, and this had some effect. I knew this. I saw it and I could see it reflected throughout the rest of the conference.”
Nearly everyone in Washington still believed that China and the Soviet Union were marching in lockstep, rather than careening toward a bitter split. The dismissal of the State Department’s senior East Asia experts, and their replacement by “China Lobby” partisans, left no one to explain subtleties or argue for a diplomatic overture. Any suggestion that Foster meet with Zhou, or even shake his hand, would have disappeared into a fog of unexamined assumptions.
“Unfortunately, there are governments or rulers that do not respect the elemental decencies of international conduct so that they can properly be brought into the organized family of nations,” Foster said in explaining his behavior at Geneva. “That is illustrated by the regime which now rules the Chinese mainland.”
Soon after the Geneva talks began, Foster sensed that his nightmare scenario was unfolding. It took him just a week to realize that he had no hope of keeping Ho from power. As soon as he did, he flew home. It is the only time in American history that a secretary of state has abandoned a big-power conference before it ended.
“Dull, unimaginative, uncomprehending,” Churchill said of Foster when he learned of his abrupt departure from Geneva. “So clumsy I hope he will disappear.”
Three months of talks at Geneva, interrupted by the fall of the French government, finally produced an accord. Vietnam would be partitioned at its waist, along the seventeenth parallel. Ho would rule from Hanoi in the north, while France and her allies would shape a pro-Western regime in the south, headquartered in Saigon. Partition would last for two years, during which outside powers would refrain from sending troops or weapons to support any faction. In July 1956 an election would be held “under the supervision of an international commission.” The country would be reunited under whoever won.
France’s ambassador in Washington and future foreign minister Maurice Couve de Murville candidly described this as “an agreement to leave it to the Communists because nobody could prevent it.” The Paris newspaper Le Figaro said France was “in mourning,” but welcomed the accord because it meant “French blood will no longer flow in a hopeless battle.” Foster considered it calamitous. The United States refused to sign the Geneva accord. Foster issued a statement saying that the United States would respect it as long as doing so did not weaken American security and would “refrain from the threat or use of force” to disturb it.
Had Foster accepted the Geneva accord and persuaded Eisenhower to do so, the United States could have avoided involvement in Vietnam. Instead he resisted it, did not consider the United States bound by its provisions, and ultimately acted to subvert it. He believed the United States had a duty, in Indochina as elsewhere, to “fill the vacuum of power” left by retreating colonial powers—and to maintain “not merely the ability to act in an emergency, but day in, day out presence.”
Once it became clear that Vietnam would be partitioned, Foster and Allen realized that the temporary new state to be created in the south would be their platform. They would have to find someone to lead it. Their ideal candidate would be a figure inspirational enough to displace Ho as the country’s national hero and then defeat him, either politically or militarily. This was the first of many impossible tasks the United States set out to achieve in Vietnam.
Ngo Dinh Diem, a portly Catholic mandarin, had been a minor official in Vietnam and was interior minister for three months in 1933. He had not held a job in the more than two decades since then, living instead in seminaries, including one in Lakewood, New Jersey, that was overseen by the redoubtable Cardinal Spellman. His Christianity made him an unlikely leader of his homeland—Vietnam is 90 percent Buddhist—but Americans appreciated it. Spellman introduced him to opinion makers like Henry Luce, and Catholic politicians like Senators Mike Mansfield and John F. Kennedy. When the time came for American leaders to choose a savior for South Vietnam, they knew no one else.
Some who had worked with Diem doubted that anyone would be able to turn him into a statesman. General Paul Ely, the French chief of staff, considered him “extremely pig-headed.” Emperor Bao Dai, who had ruled the country with French support before retiring to Cannes, called him “a psychopath who wishes to martyrize himself even at the price of thousands of lives,” but offered to name him prime minister because he believed—correctly, as it turned out—that Diem would be able to lure the United States into the role France was abandoning.
“I had said to Foster Dulles when we were at a meeting, ‘I don’t think Diem is the man for that,’” Pierre Mendes-France, the French prime minister, recalled years later. “Number one, he is a man from the north. He is not a man from this country. He’s coming from the north, so the people in this South Vietnam country don’t feel he belongs, you understand? Number two, he’s Catholic.… Here is something which, again, doesn’t belong in that country. Number three, he’s connected with very reactionary military circles, and I don’t think he is able to make any democratic reforms. You cannot count on him for agrarian reform, for example, because he has too many landlords in his entourage.… Number four, he’s a man having too much confidence in the police, in some kind of government which is always treading toward a Fascist conception.”
Mendes-France was designing the Geneva accord that Foster considered a craven surrender, so his words had little effect. Foster and Allen decided Diem was the best candidate available. With their blessing, Bao Dai offered him the leadership of South Vietnam. He accepted and, on June 25, 1954, flew from Paris to Saigon to take over a country that did not yet exist.
Allen chose one of his favorite operatives, Edward Lansdale, to coach Diem toward popularity and ultimately to victory over Ho. In the Philippines during the early 1950s, Lansdale had raised an obscure politician, Ramon Magsaysay, to national leadership and helped him crush a guerrilla insurgency, using tactics ranging from folklore-based propaganda to election rigging to napalm bombing. Now Lansdale would be sent to Saigon, with the rank of an air force colonel and cover as an assistant air attaché, to work the same magic with Diem.
“I want you to do what you did in the Philippines,” Foster told Lansdale at a send-off meeting.
The day Diem arrived to assume leadership of his new country, he met the man Allen had sent to guide him toward victory.
Lansdale strode into Gia Long Palace, formerly the French governor’s residence, and found Diem walking down a corridor in one of his trademark white suits. He introduced himself, and the two men withdrew for the first of what would be countless private talks. This was the beginning of a long and intense partnership between two men and two governments.
Just hours after this fateful meeting, in faraway Guatemala, President Jacobo Arbenz resigned. On a single weekend—June 26–27, 1954—the second Dulles target fell and covert action against the third began.
Diem was installed as prime minister ten days later. In the months that followed, Lansdale saved him twice, once from a coup by his army chief of staff and then from an uprising by powerful gangs and religious sects. Using the blank check Allen had given him, Lansdale paid $12 million to rebel leaders who agreed to call off their plots, and hired mercenaries to crush the sect that would not be bribed.
The violence of this crackdown, along with Diem’s corruption and refusal to broaden his government beyond his own narrow clique, set off a wave of angry speeches and editorials in the United States. Eisenhower felt compelled to send a special envoy to Vietnam, and when the envoy, General J. Lawton Collins, returned, he recommended that Diem be replaced. Allen, however, had received a cable from Lansdale arguing that despite his flaws, Diem “represented a better chance of success” than any possible replacement. Allen passed this verdict to Foster, who in turn brought it to Eisenhower. All accepted it. There was no more talk of replacing Diem.
This was the moment at which United States involvement in Vietnam became a Dulles project. Foster and Allen decided to throw in their lot with Diem. They persuaded Eisenhower. That set a fateful course.
Long-secret documents from mid-1954 make clear that both sides realized they were heading toward a clash. In August the National Security Council, where Foster and Allen held decisive influence, adopted a directive entitled “U.S. Policies Toward Post-Geneva Vietnam,” which declared that France must be made to “disassociate” itself entirely from Vietnam so the United States could fight Ho in its own way.
Ho also saw war coming.
“Up to now we have concentrated our efforts on wiping out the forces of the French imperialist aggressor,” he told his comrades at a clandestine meeting. “But now the French are having talks with us, while the American imperialists are becoming our main and direct enemy. So our spearhead must be directed at the latter. Until peace is restored, we shall keep fighting the French. But the focus of our attention, and that of the world’s people, should be on the United States.”
At the Saigon Military Mission, as Lansdale’s covert cell was known, agents were busy carrying out Allen’s multi-pronged strategy. They sent teams trained at Clark Air Base in the Philippines to carry out operations in the north, ranging from sabotaging bus depots and train lines to attacking government outposts. After several months it became clear that these operations were having little effect; by one account, every Vietnamese agent they sent northward defected to Ho’s army. Lansdale also launched a series of rumor campaigns, most aimed at playing on traditional Vietnamese superstitions. In the second half of 1954 alone, he helped publish more than 150 different books, pamphlets, and leaflets and distributed fifty million copies of them. This effort also produced no palpable results.
Allen pressed Lansdale to come up with a more imaginative and audacious “psy-war” project. Ideally it would be one that would both wound Ho and persuade Americans that fighting him was vital to their freedom and security. This was the genesis of what the historian Bernard Fall called “an extremely intensive, well-conducted and, in terms of its objective, very successful American psychological warfare operation.” Like the pastoral letter that Allen had used to turn Guatemalans against Arbenz, this one aimed to mobilize religious sentiment for political purposes.
Lansdale seized on a provision of the Geneva accord that allowed anyone in North or South Vietnam to move freely to the other part of the country. More than one million Catholics lived in the north. Communists had not treated Catholics well in Indochina, and CIA officers launched a large-scale propaganda campaign aimed at frightening them into abandoning their homes and fleeing to the south. They bribed soothsayers to predict doom in the north, persuaded priests to tell their parishioners that “the Virgin Mary has fled to the south,” and distributed leaflets suggesting that Ho’s regime was plotting anti-Catholic pogroms, had invited Chinese troops into the country who were raping Vietnamese women, and expected an American nuclear attack. Tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, responded to this campaign. Carrying their belongings on their backs, they flooded into the harbor town of Haiphong, where U.S. Navy warships were waiting to carry them south. This is said to have been the largest-scale naval evacuation in history.
Lansdale, steeped in the principles of advertising and “psy-war,” concluded that the story of Operation Passage to Freedom would resonate more deeply if he could find a single figure to personify it. Americans associated the anti-Communist crusade with dour scolds like Foster, Senator McCarthy, and Cardinal Spellman. Lansdale wished to give it a brighter face.
The face he chose belonged to a young man named Tom Dooley, a handsome young Notre Dame graduate who had become a doctor, enlisted in the navy, and thrown himself into the noble mission of rescuing Christians from Ho. Within months of his arrival, Lansdale began steering journalists to him. They pounced on the human aspect of his story, and he quickly became a popular hero in the United States.
Americans admired Dooley because he reflected them as they believed themselves to be. He was an idealist, like Shane, who wished only to help others. In his best-selling book, Deliver Us from Evil, Dooley described Ho as “a Moscow puppet” who had launched his revolution “by disemboweling more than 1,000 native women in Hanoi.” Fortunately for the Vietnamese, “our love and help were available, just because we were in the uniforms of the U.S. Navy.” Dooley provided a narrative calculated to move the American soul: Christians in a foreign land were being brutalized by Communists; these Communists also wished to harm Americans; therefore, the United States must act.
“The American press reported on the million-person migration as if it were a spontaneous rejection of communism and the manifestation of a natural yearning of people for freedom,” according to one study. “The media portrayed the typical refugee as a devout Catholic who wished to practice his or her religion freely. Newsreels depicted U.S. naval vessels crammed with humble and hungry huddled masses being transported to freedom by kindhearted and white-uniformed sailors of the U.S. Navy. Photographs showed the small, stooped, frightened, and bedraggled Vietnamese peasants finding safety in the arms of their big, clean, strong American protectors.… What the American public was not told, however, is that much of what they were seeing and hearing was the result of a CIA-instigated propaganda campaign designed to frighten Catholics in North Vietnam and to elicit sympathy for them in the United States.”
The Tom Dooley story was a masterstroke for Allen, Lansdale, and the CIA. It might have been tarnished when Dooley was forced out of the navy for homosexuality, but the facts were hushed up. A poll in the late 1950s found him to be one of the ten most admired people in the United States. For a time after his death in 1961, the Catholic Church considered canonizing him.
“As a key agent in the first disinformation campaign of the Vietnam War,” one scholar wrote of Dooley, “he performed the crucial propaganda function of making the American people knowledgeable of and willing to fight Communism in Southeast Asia.”
* * *
While Allen and his agents in Saigon escalated their covert war against Ho, Foster attacked on the diplomatic front. Eager to show that the United States still had friends in the world after the debacle at Geneva, he flew off for meetings in Europe but pointedly left France off his itinerary. This produced much unhappiness in Paris, where people had been stunned by the loss of their colony in Indochina and were sensitive to insult. One French newspaper lamented that Foster had shown “a remarkable lack of psychology.”
Foster’s next step was to pull pro-American governments into a new regional alliance, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, or SEATO, modeled on the robust NATO alliance in Europe. He imagined it as a symbol of resolve in the face of Communism and a font of support for the new state the United States was creating in South Vietnam. Despite his efforts, SEATO never became a major political or military force. Its member states—Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines, Pakistan, and the United States—committed themselves only to “consult” in case of emergency, not to come to each other’s defense in time of war or establish a joint military command.
SEATO may have done more harm than good. Foster, often with quiet help from Allen, used all the pressure he could muster to pull regional leaders in. The most popular among them, however, were neutralists who wanted fewer, not more, military alliances in the world. Among those who were deeply unhappy with the emergence of SEATO were Sukarno of Indonesia, U Nu of Burma, and Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia. Sihanouk later wrote about his decision not to join.
U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, each visited me and attempted to persuade me to place Cambodia under the protection of SEATO. I kindly declined the offer, preferring to adopt a neutral stance in the conflict between our neighbors and the U.S. I considered SEATO an aggressive military alliance directed against neighbors whose ideology I did not share but with whom Cambodia had no quarrel. I had made all this quite clear to John Foster, an acidy, arrogant man, but his brother soon turned up with a briefcase full of documents “proving” that Cambodia was about to fall victim to “communist aggression” and that the only way to save the country, the monarchy, and myself was to accept the protection of SEATO. The “proofs” did not coincide with my own information, and I replied to Allen Dulles as I had replied to John Foster: Cambodia wanted no part of SEATO. We would look after ourselves as neutrals and Buddhists. There was nothing for the secret service chief to do but pack up his dubious documents and leave.
At least as damaging to United States security over the long run was Foster’s determination to bring Pakistan into the alliance, despite the fact that it is not in Southeast Asia. He dealt mainly with Pakistani generals, to whom he promised $250 million in aid so they could quadruple the size of their army, and let them know that he considered them, not the elected civilian government, as America’s preferred partner in Pakistan. This appalled Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in neighboring India, who believed SEATO was “more likely to promote mistrust and suspicion than security.” Nehru presciently warned that Pakistani membership would weaken that country’s nascent democracy, push it toward militarism, and subject it to endless pressures from Washington. “When military aid comes in, the whole country becomes a base,” he told the Indian parliament. “It is not a question of an odd base here or there. It is the whole country which can be utilized for purposes laid down by other peoples and countries.”
The New York Times reported that “nothing in the realm of foreign affairs has so exercised India since she became free as the proposed extension of United States military aid to Pakistan,” and that SEATO had led to a “sharp deterioration in relations between India and the United States.” This was fine with Foster, who detested Nehru. He encouraged Pakistani generals to exercise authority in ways that deformed their country’s political system and ultimately led the United States to much grief. Even at the time it seemed hard to understand, and Walter Lippmann asked him about it in an interview.
“Look, Walter,” Dulles told him, “I’ve got to get some real fighting men into the south of Asia. The only Asians who can really fight are the Pakistanis. That’s why we need them in the alliance. We could never get along without the Gurkhas.”
“But Foster,” Lippmann replied, “the Gurkhas aren’t Pakistanis.”
“Well, they may not be Pakistanis, but they’re Moslems.”
“No, I’m afraid they’re not Moslems, either. They’re Hindus.”
“No matter!” Foster replied, and launched into a half-hour lecture about the dangers of Communism in Asia.
Foster was at the founding SEATO meeting in Manila when, on September 3, 1954, artillery batteries on the Chinese mainland unleashed a barrage of fire at the small islands of Quemoy and Matsu, which lay close to the mainland but were controlled by the Nationalist regime in Taiwan. The administration’s leading hawk, Admiral Radford, saw this as a chance to wage the war for which he and others in the “China Lobby” were eager. Supported by two of the other three Joint Chiefs of Staff—the dissenter was General Matthew Ridgway of the army—he urged Eisenhower to bomb China in retaliation. Foster was sympathetic and brought up the possibility of using nuclear weapons, which he claimed could “utterly destroy military targets without endangering unrelated civilian centers.” He abandoned this proposal after CIA analysts estimated that a nuclear attack on China would kill twelve to fourteen million civilians. Eisenhower was relieved.
“We’re not talking now about a limited, brush-fire war,” the president told the National Security Council. “We’re talking about going to the threshold of World War III.”
In this mini-crisis, Foster behaved much as he had during the debate several months earlier over Dien Bien Phu. His instinct was to respond to global challenges by using, or at least threatening to use, military force. Eisenhower was more cautious, preferring to navigate what he called the “narrow and dangerous waters between appeasement and global war.”
Foster did manage, however, to persuade Eisenhower that he should not give “Red China” an apology for covert air flights over Chinese territory—even though it might have produced the release of two captured CIA fliers.
Late in 1954 the Chinese government announced that the two, John Downey and Richard Fecteau, whose plane had been shot down while on a mission to pick up a CIA courier inside China, had been tried, convicted of espionage, and sentenced to long prison terms. Both men had pleaded guilty. Prime Minister Zhou Enlai suggested that he was open to negotiating their release, and even invited the men’s relatives to visit them. Foster forbade these visits and denounced the Chinese for their “reprehensible” imprisonment of two Americans on “trumped up charges.” He might have used this case as a way to begin a dialogue with China. As he had shown by snubbing Zhou at Geneva a few months earlier, however, he was disposed in the opposite direction.
In 1957 Zhou made another overture, offering to free the two airmen if Foster would allow a delegation of American journalists to visit China, but Foster scorned this as “blackmail.” There the case lay for more than a decade, until Chinese-American hostility finally began to fade. In the warmer climate that surrounded President Nixon’s visits to Beijing in the early 1970s, the United States finally made the admission for which China had been waiting: the two men were intelligence officers. Fecteau was released in 1971. Downey came home two years later.
“One must look to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to understand fully the complex and disappointing course of the prisoner affair,” one study concluded years later.
The Secretary’s extraordinary animosity toward the Chinese Communists and communism in general, combined with his tendency toward over-simplification and exaggeration, precluded him from cooperating with the Chinese. A moralist to the end, Dulles consistently saw the Downey-Fecteau case as a fight between good and evil, between right and wrong, and thus compromise was never a realistic possibility. Further, Dulles’s strong allegiance to the conservative “China Lobby” and McCarthyites in Washington gave his moral revulsion to the Chinese a degree of political legitimacy. While these characteristics may have been common among American officials during the 1950s, as Secretary of State (and one with the unflinching trust of the president), Dulles’s personality had extraordinary influence on American policy and action. Thus it was the unlucky, but not coincidental, fate of John Downey and Richard Fecteau to be imprisoned for two decades after flying covertly over China at the height of the Cold War, with a stubborn, anticommunist, anti-Chinese figure serving as the American Secretary of State.
Since few leaders in other countries considered the world to be as irreconcilably divided as Foster believed it to be, he was often isolated. His relations with Britain were especially poor. He considered Foreign Secretary Eden soft, weak, and unwilling to confront the Soviet menace—hardly better than the French, whose decision to abandon Indochina he found unforgivable. According to one of Foster’s close aides, he had “absolutely no regard” for Eden’s positions on world affairs and believed “you could simply not count on the British.” Eden, who fruitlessly pleaded with Foster to soften his attitude toward China, returned this low esteem. He considered Foster a narrow-minded ideologue and deplored his vivid denunciations of Communism. According to a memoir by one of Eden’s advisers, the British foreign secretary saw Foster as “always ready to go on the rampage.”
Churchill agreed. After one of their meetings he remarked, “Foster Dulles is the only case I know of a bull who carries his own china shop around with him.”
Although Foster and Allen continued to share an almost identical worldview, their private lives remained as different as ever. Allen loved being the center of attention at dinners and parties where he could impress men and flirt with women. Sometimes he did more than flirt. One of the women with whom he is reported to have conducted an affair during the mid-1950s was Clare Boothe Luce, the wife of his old friend Henry Luce—who was then seeing Allen’s longtime partner Mary Bancroft. Another of his conquests, according to several accounts, was Queen Frederika of Greece, formerly a German princess. Luce may have been sharing a private joke when he put Frederika on the cover of Time with the caption, “My Power Is the Love of the People.”
One foreign correspondent who covered the Middle East during this period met Allen at a reception in Cairo, where he was trying to arrange the overthrow of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. “We were talking animatedly about Arab-Israeli problems,” the correspondent wrote afterward, “when a long-legged Swedish blonde passed by, showed all her teeth in a large smile, and said, ‘Why, Allen Dulles!’ He was off in her direction like a shot.”
Foster had a different way of relaxing. Every few months he and Janet would decamp to their rough-hewn cabin on Duck Island in Lake Ontario. During these stays he dropped out of contact with Washington, refused all visitors, and devoted himself to sailing, fishing, hiking, and whatever else might take his mind off work and bring back boyhood memories. In 1955 he turned sixty-seven but seemed remarkably vigorous.
“When you figure that he had thromboid phlebitis, very bad eyes, malaria, a slipped disc, diverticulitis, quite serious hay fever if he didn’t watch it, and finally cancer, which is quite a complement of physical ills, it’s amazing how he refused to let them limit his activities or cloud his brain,” his sister Eleanor later marveled. “He got about as much out of his body and mind as he could possibly have done.”
Foster’s sojourns on Duck Island and his ceaseless foreign travels were in part a way to escape from his administrative responsibilities, in which he had no interest. He wanted to run the world, not the State Department. To those around him he projected what one contemporary called “the heavy opaqueness of a large bear—massive in physique, in energy, in capacity for work, in self-certitude.” His closeness to Eisenhower made him powerful, but he remained the reserved, distant figure he had always been. Once he asked an aide to make a list of interesting guests who might enliven the formal dinners he hosted for visiting dignitaries. When he saw Marlene Dietrich’s name on the list, he was taken aback.
“Perhaps the department has gone too far,” he said.
* * *
Resplendent in embroidered robes that billowed in the tropical wind, wrapped in saffron pajamas like those worn by Buddhist monks, and even, in a few cases, wearing business suits and bowler hats, leaders of twenty-nine Asian and African nations gathered at the provincial Indonesian city of Bandung for one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable summits, the Asian-African Conference. If there was a historical moment when the modern Third World or “non-aligned movement” was born, this was it. Never before had leaders of so many former colonies—their countries had 1.6 billion inhabitants, more than half of humanity—gathered to set a common course. Most shared the neutralist passion of their host, President Sukarno of Indonesia, who welcomed them on April 18, 1955, with a speech calling on big powers to give up their interventionist mind-set and adopt the “live and let live principle.”
“How terrifically dynamic is our time!” Sukarno cried. “We can mobilize all the spiritual, all the moral, all the political strength of Africa and Asia on the side of peace. Yes, we! We, the people of Asia and Africa!”
Foster considered neutralism a Kremlin project and the Bandung conference “a communist road show,” as Time called it. In a speech broadcast on national radio and television, he warned Americans not to be fooled by what might come out of “a so-called Afro-Asian conference.” He saw the conference not as a chance for leaders of emerging nations to meet and clamor for change, but as part of a Soviet effort to seduce and conquer the Third World. In private his aides scorned it as “the Dark-Town Strutters’ Ball.”
As Foster feared, the ringing doctrine of neutralism stirred delegates at Bandung. They cheered Nehru when he said, “I do not believe in the communist or the anti-communist approach.” Nasser insisted that “the game of power politics in which small nations can be used as tools must be stopped.” Most intriguingly, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai of China, in his second appearance at a major conference in as many years, made several thoughtful speeches insisting that Chinese leaders “do not want to have a war with the United States,” and wanted to “discuss the question of relaxing tension in the Far East.” Zhou met with diplomats from many countries, listened to their concerns about China, assuaged many of them, and seemed, as Foreign Minister Carlos Romulo of the Philippines put it, “affable of manner, moderate of speech.” A correspondent for theEconomist reported that Zhou “played his cards there with superb skill.”
“He behaved very humbly and put the six hundred million people of China on the same level, say, as Ceylon or Laos,” the correspondent wrote. “Bandung has been compared to the Magna Carta and the Gettysburg Address, and it had the same timeless quality of certainty about it. For the Chinese Communists it was a master stroke to place themselves at the center of such a gathering.”
African and Asian leaders met at Bandung as the civil rights movement in the United States was beginning to grow. In 1953 the National Book Award for fiction was awarded to Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison’s searing best seller about growing up black in America. A year later the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional, and then ordered integration to proceed “with all deliberate speed.” The murder in Mississippi of a black teenager, Emmett Till, set off a wave of outrage in the summer and fall of 1955. It had barely subsided when an Alabama woman, Rosa Parks, refused to move to the rear of a segregated bus, as required by law, setting off a boycott of buses in Montgomery that lasted for more than a year. A deeply ingrained paradigm of American life was being thrown into question.
Civil rights leaders in the United States would soon begin tying their campaign to a larger, transnational movement that was emerging in postcolonial countries. This was an enormous leap of consciousness. It may be traced in part to Bandung and its influence on American civil rights advocates.
Organizers of the Asian-African Conference invited the United States to send observers. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of Harlem urged Foster to assemble “not an all-white Department of State team but a team composed of Negroes and whites, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics” so the world would see “that America is a democracy of the people.” Foster replied that he had no intention of recognizing the conference or sending anyone to represent the United States.
“The Department of State deliberately and calculatedly imperiled the future of the United States for perhaps the rest of our lives,” Powell wrote in his memoir. “When I realized that our government’s stupidity would not allow them to send an observer to this, one of the most significant conferences of our times, I then informed the administration that I was going to Bandung anyway, and I was going to pay my own way. Immediately all hell broke loose.”
On the day the conference opened, twin front-page headlines in the Observer, Indonesia’s only English-language newspaper, read “United States Refuses to Send Message to Asian-African Conference” and “Best Wishes for Asian-African Conference from Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” Powell wrote that “not a single journalist at Bandung could understand why our government had been so blind,” and concluded, “We missed the boat in Bandung.” After returning he sent Eisenhower a series of recommendations, including that he tour countries emerging from colonialism and consider calling a Third World summit of his own. Eisenhower rejected all except one: that he recruit more blacks into the diplomatic corps so American embassies would not present all-white faces.
After his return, Powell dropped by CIA headquarters to see Allen.
“Allen Dulles was a wonderful, dedicated man, usually in a tweed suit and always smoking a pipe,” he wrote. “I was seated beside him, with the top espionage leaders of our country around the rest of the table. The soundproof room was guarded. I began to tell Allen Dulles about the final communiqué issued by the Asian-African powers. He became excited and asked, ‘Where did you get this?’ I said, ‘They were printed in English and stacked on the desk at the Information Center for anyone who wanted one.’ He pounded on the table.… He, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, hadn’t been informed of its release.”
The other influential black American who was sufficiently intrigued by the promise of Bandung to travel there was the impassioned novelist and social critic Richard Wright, who like Powell saw links between the structures of American power at home and those it enforced abroad. Wright traveled to Bandung and interviewed scores of delegates.
“There was something extra-political, extra-social, almost extra-human about it; it smacked of tidal waves, of natural forces,” he wrote afterward. “Over and beyond the waiting throngs that crowded the streets at Bandung, the conference had a most profound influence upon the color-conscious millions in all the countries of the earth.”
Malcolm X did not attend the conference, but it strongly impressed him. He told his followers it was “the first unity meeting in centuries of black people—and once you study what happened at the Bandung conference, and the results of the Bandung conference, it actually serves as a model for the same procedure you and I can use to get our problems solved.”
Foster’s diplomacy in the post-Bandung period was aimed not at softening the clash between superpowers, as neutralists wished to do, but sharpening it. One of his tactics was constructing anti-Soviet alliances, or what some in the press called “pactomania.” Having created SEATO in 1954, he went on in 1955 to create CENTO, the Central Treaty Organization, whose founding members were Britain, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. It began falling apart just three years later, when Iraq withdrew, and never had a substantial impact on regional events.
Although Foster willingly negotiated with smaller countries, many of which had little choice but to accept his terms, he continued to oppose direct talks with the Soviet enemy. In 1955, however, Eisenhower overruled him and agreed to meet the Soviet Union’s post-Stalin leaders. The summit, which opened in Geneva on July 18, 1955, was staged in a tense climate. Eight months earlier Foster had won approval for one of his most cherished projects, the integration of West Germany into NATO, and in May 1955 the Soviets had responded by creating a military alliance of their own, the Warsaw Pact. Eisenhower made news at the summit by proposing a plan he called “Open Skies,” under which the United States and Soviet Union would be allowed to photograph each other’s territory from high-altitude planes, but nothing came of it. Foster had decreed before the talks began that no Americans should be photographed smiling or shaking hands with Russians. Eisenhower obeyed with some difficulty; the columnist Stewart Alsop later recalled that “his whole instinct was to smile and be friendly” but instead “he’d kind of draw back, remembering what Foster had said.” This summit proved to be only a momentary Cold War icebreaker.
Two meetings of powerful leaders, held thousands of miles apart, reflected profoundly different views of the world. Leaders who gathered at Geneva presented the traditional Cold War narrative: two warring blocs led by Moscow and Washington. Those who convened at Bandung offered a counter-narrative. They saw a world divided not between Communists and anti-Communists, but between nations emerging from colonialism and established powers determined to continue influencing them. The summit at Geneva helped maintain a delicate peace between superpowers. From the Asian-African Conference emerged a kaleidoscope of nationalist passions that would shape the next half century.
* * *
A year after the Dulles brothers set out to destroy Ho Chi Minh, he remained not only alive but strong, popular, and certain to win the nationwide election mandated by the Geneva accord. Eisenhower admitted at a press conference that Ho would take “possibly eighty percent” of the vote. This might have been the moment for a pause, even for soul-searching. For Foster and Allen it was not. Determined to block or topple Ho, they forged ahead.
In the spring of 1955, Foster traveled to Paris for talks with French leaders. His goal was to persuade the French that they must wash their hands of Vietnam and turn responsibility for its security over to the United States. Prime Minister Edgar Faure, who abhorred Diem but saw that the United States was determined to rise or fall with him, reluctantly agreed. Foster did not wish to formalize this accord into a treaty, but came home with a “kind of gentleman’s agreement” that gave the United States freedom to wage war in Vietnam on its own terms.
“Suppression of alternatives, both on the general and particular level, led to a circularity in and reinforcement of existing policies,” the Pentagon Papers concluded years later. “There is little indication that U.S. policymakers, their thoughts dominated by the objective of containing the monolithic communist bloc, faced up to the costs of winning the Indochina war, even while direct U.S. intervention was being considered.”
Eisenhower played twenty-seven holes of golf at a Colorado resort on September 23, 1955, and then dined on hamburger and onions. Before dawn the next morning, he suffered what doctors called a moderate coronary thrombosis. The heart attack kept him away from Washington for six weeks. His senior aides made great efforts to maintain a public sense of stability. Foster traveled as planned to a summit of foreign ministers in Paris while his boss was hospitalized. He set off a tempest, however, with an interview he gave to Life in which he said that his diplomacy was aimed at bringing the United States “to the verge of war.” His words struck many as terrifying. Newspapers around the world denounced him—one in London called him an “edgy gambler”—and James Reston of theNew York Times wrote that he had become a “supreme expert” in the art of diplomatic blundering.
“He doesn’t just stumble into booby traps,” Reston observed. “He digs them to size, studies them carefully, and then jumps.”
Half a world away at the Saigon Military Mission, Edward Lansdale was launching the next stage of his covert war. He and Diem agreed, with approval from Foster and Allen, that the national vote in July 1956, mandated by the Geneva accord, should not be held. “We will not be tied down by the treaty that was signed against the wishes of the Vietnamese people,” Diem declared in announcing this decision.
Allen feared it would be difficult to persuade Americans to support a leader who had consolidated power by canceling an election. For their benefit, and also to remove the last obstacle to American influence in Vietnam, he encouraged Diem to stage a referendum in which voters would be asked if they wished to be ruled by him or Emperor Bao Dai. It was held on October 23, 1955. Lansdale arranged for ballots favoring Diem to be printed in red, considered lucky in Vietnam, while the Bao Dai ballot was green, the traditional color of misfortune. Campaigning for Bao Dai, who remained in France, was forbidden. Cartoons and other material, much of it designed by Lansdale’s men, showed the emperor in pornographic poses with French women and defamed him as a “dung beetle who sold his country for personal glory.” Local officials were ordered to bring peasants to the polls and tell them to vote for Diem.
As ballots were being cast, Lansdale advised Diem to announce that he had won 60 to 70 percent of the vote. This turned out to be one of the few times he could not bend Diem to his will. Diem insisted that his vote total be announced as 98 percent—and then decided on 98.2. In Saigon, where there were 450,000 registered voters, he claimed more than 600,000 votes.
Americans, wishing to believe they had found the “miracle man” who would woo the Vietnamese away from Ho, put aside their doubts and hailed Diem. “The people of Viet-Nam have spoken, and we, of course, recognize their decision,” Foster said in a statement. His ambassador in Saigon, Frederick Reinhardt, pronounced the referendum a “resounding success.” The New York Times called it “a sound democratic procedure [and] a public tribute to a strong-willed leader.”
Three days after the vote, Diem proclaimed a rump Republic of Vietnam in his half of the country, with himself as president. Then he banned political parties and proclaimed a constitution that gave him the power to rule by decree for five years. This formalized his rejection of the all-Vietnam election that was to unify the country in 1956.
Ho would almost certainly have won the 1956 election, but no one can know what he would have done afterward. He might have established a regime that was Communist and repressive, but not fully subservient to Moscow and not anti-American—like the one he did in fact establish twenty years later. In a great failure of imagination, the political class in Washington never entertained this possibility.
“No systematic or serious examination of Vietnam’s importance to the United States was ever undertaken,” Leslie Gelb, the editor of the Pentagon Papers, wrote a quarter century later. “It was ritualistic anti-Communism and exaggerated power politics that got us into Vietnam. These were articles of faith and were not, therefore, ever seriously debated.”
Yet at the same time that Foster and Allen were escalating their campaign against Ho, they not only accepted but embraced another Communist with whom the Vietnamese leader had much in common.
Josip Broz Tito, the leader of the patched-together country called Yugoslavia, committed himself to Communism in 1920, the same year Ho did. During World War II he, like Ho, led a resistance army that pinned down large numbers of occupying troops. Like Ho, he received support from the Office of Strategic Services despite his Communist convictions because he was bleeding the Axis. After the war, both leaders forged powerful Marxist movements, thereby making themselves enemies of the United States. Yet a few years after taking power, Tito broke with Moscow.
“No matter how much each of us loves the land of socialism, the USSR, he can in no case love his own country less,” he wrote in a letter to Stalin.
For the first time, Foster considered the possibility that a Communist leader might also be a genuine nationalist, and not necessarily Moscow’s lackey. At the end of 1955 he traveled to Yugoslavia to meet Tito. They sat on a terrace at Tito’s villa on the Adriatic island of Brioni. During their talk, according to one account, Foster “became convinced once and for all of the Yugoslav commitment to independence.” Upon his return he persuaded Eisenhower that although Tito was a Communist, he was not an enemy of the United States. The next year’s American budget included $90 million in food aid to Tito’s regime. It was an all but unimaginable gift, given Foster’s implacable convictions. He showed something new: an ability to distinguish among various sorts of Communists.
Why was Foster able to see Tito this way, but not Ho? The best explanation stems from the Eurocentrism that was ingrained in his identity and that of almost every other American foreign policy specialist of his age. He, his brother, and Eisenhower had studied European history, were steeped in European politics, and understood the subtle interplays that for centuries had bound and separated European states. About East Asia, by contrast, they knew little. Blinded by their anger at “losing” China and robbed of expertise by the dismissal of the State Department’s “China Hands,” they never gave Ho the chance they gave Tito. Instead they drew closer to Diem, their anti-Ho.
“We have been exploring ways and means to permit our aid to Viet-Nam to be more effective and to make a greater contribution to the welfare and stability of the government of Viet-Nam,” Eisenhower wrote to Diem in a letter dated October 23, the same day as the stage-managed referendum. “I am, accordingly, instructing the American Ambassador to Viet-Nam to examine with you in your capacity as Chief of Government, how an intelligent program of American aid given directly to your government can serve to assist Viet-Nam in its present hour of trial.”
Three days later, in accordance with this offer, Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a “long-range program for the organization and training of a minimum number of free Vietnam forces necessary for internal security.” Some historians point to the decisions of this week—Eisenhower’s letter and Wilson’s directive—as the beginning of a commitment to South Vietnam that would, over the next two decades, cost the United States more than $100 billion and the lives of more than fifty-eight thousand soldiers.
“None of [Foster] Dulles’s actions was to bring forth a darker harvest than his refusal to allow the United States to support or even countenance a diplomatic settlement of the French colonial war in Indochina,” Townsend Hoopes wrote two decades later. “Although he demonstrated tactical flexibility beneath a strident rhetoric, Dulles steadfastly refused to acknowledge the existence of any reasonable or legitimate claims on the Communist side.”
During four years as a highly active secretary of state, Foster had become accustomed to being feted by world leaders. Allen normally traveled more discreetly, but in mid-1956, moved in part by the realization that he would certainly lose his job if Eisenhower was not re-elected that fall, he decided to take a grand tour. At the end of August, aboard the best-appointed plane the air force owned, the director of central intelligence set out to circle the globe in fifty-seven days.
At every stop Allen met with his station chiefs and case officers. He could not bring himself to keep a low profile, though. Dignitaries assembled to greet him wherever he landed. Heads of state and prime ministers hosted formal dinners for him. Reinhard Gehlen, the former Nazi spymaster who had become one of his closest collaborators, welcomed him in Bonn. Not one but two of his intimate friends, Clare Boothe Luce and Queen Frederika, met him in Athens. Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan were next, followed by India, where Prime Minister Nehru complained to him about his brother’s schematic approach to the world. In Thailand there were three days of feasting, complete with dancing girls. Vietnam was more work-oriented, including a formal meeting with President Diem and several sessions with Edward Lansdale. From there Allen flew to Manila, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul. Everywhere he was hailed as a grand figure.
“I never saw him in later years,” wrote Ray Cline, a CIA officer who accompanied him, “without our reminiscing about this famous trip, unique in the annals of the CIA, until tears of laughter came to our eyes.”
Eisenhower’s re-election campaign was going well when Allen returned to Washington, but whatever hopes he and Foster had for a tranquil autumn were wiped away with the sudden explosion of two world crises. Both were unexpected, and both exposed Foster and Allen to unaccustomed waves of criticism.
The crisis in Egypt began brewing soon after the Dulles brothers took office. They were suspicious of Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, the fiery nationalist who came to power after helping to topple the Egyptian monarchy in 1952, but for a time believed they could work with him. To their disappointment, he proved unwilling to accept the Cold War paradigm. When Foster warned him about the Soviet threat during their first meeting in mid-1953, he replied with the tart observation that the Soviets “have never occupied our country, but the British have been here for seventy years.” Allen sent Kermit Roosevelt to help Nasser set up his security service and gave Roosevelt $3 million to spend in any way that might “harness Arab nationalism” to American purposes. A delegation of U.S. military commanders and CIA officers came to Cairo to offer Nasser a security partnership and $20 million in military aid. Foster suggested that if Nasser became an ally, the United States might even agree to finance Egypt’s “dream project,” the Aswan High Dam, which would open arid regions near the Nile to productive farming.
It was unrealistic to hope that any of this would shake Nasser from his neutralist principles. His cause, Arab nationalism, defined itself as resistance to power blocs. So virulently did he reject the idea of aligning Egypt with the United States that his ambassador in Washington, Ahmed Hussein, felt compelled to remind him that Foster and Allen knew how to destroy defiant leaders.
“Remember Guatemala,” Ambassador Hussein warned him.
“To hell with Guatemala!” Nasser replied.
Foster was no less determined. He did not even reply to Nasser’s detailed request for American weaponry and called Nasser’s implicit threat to turn to the Soviets “immoral blackmail.” In any case, he told aides, the threat was “surely a bluff—the Soviets just don’t have that kind of surplus to sell or give away.”
Seeking to intensify pressure on Nasser, Foster began retreating from his offer to finance the Aswan dam. “Washington began to treat Nasser’s need for the dam as it had treated his need for arms, leaving his messages unanswered and its own promises unhonored,” New York Timescorrespondent Kennett Love wrote afterward. Foster struck the final blow during a meeting with Ambassador Hussein on July 19, 1956.
“Please don’t say you are going to withdraw the offer,” the Egyptian ambassador pleaded. Patting his jacket pocket, he added, “We have the Russian offer to finance the dam right here.”
“Well then,” Foster replied curtly, “as you already have the money, you have no need of our support. The offer is withdrawn.”
Nasser was outraged—“Americans, may you choke on your fury!”—and six days later, he lashed out against the West by nationalizing the Suez Canal, which was controlled by Britain and France. The British, desperate to hold their last major possession in the Middle East, decided to invade Egypt in the hope of deposing him. France, which was also bitter at Nasser for his support of rebels in French-controlled Algeria, agreed to join. So did Israel, which saw a chance to weaken a hostile Arab power and seize the Sinai peninsula. Planning for the invasion was kept so secret that not even the CIA learned of it.
As this crisis was about to explode, another one in Europe riveted the world’s attention. A student-led protest rally in Budapest on October 23, 1956, gathered mass support and quickly snowballed into a revolt against Hungary’s pro-Soviet regime. Military units rebelled, the border to Austria was opened, and Prime Minister Imre Nagy announced that Hungary would quit the Warsaw Pact and become “neutral” in the East-West conflict. The Soviets responded by ordering tanks to Budapest and crushing the uprising after several days of intense street fighting. Thousands were killed, a new pro-Moscow regime was installed, and Nagy was executed.
Foster had repeatedly called for the “liberation” of Eastern Europe. Allen had gone further, sending agents to encourage rebellion in every country behind the Iron Curtain. Yet when an uprising broke out in East Germany in 1953, the United States refused to aid the rebels. Three years later in Hungary, the story was much the same.
Street fighting was still raging in Budapest when, on October 29, the British, French, and Israelis launched their invasion of Egypt. Anti-colonial outrage erupted across the Middle East and beyond. Eisenhower was furious, partly because he wished to see an end to European power in the Middle East in order to open the region to American influence. He began what turned out to be a successful effort to force the British, French, and Israelis to withdraw from Egypt. He also realized that the invasion had made Nasser a hero of epic proportions, and reluctantly told Foster and Allen that deposing him was no longer a realistic possibility.
“The President said that an action of this kind could not be taken when there is as much hostility as at present,” according to notes of the meeting. “For a thing like this to be done without inflaming the Arab world, a time free from heated stress holding the world’s attention, as at present, would have to be chosen.”
This rush of events threw Foster and Allen off balance. They were publicly criticized for not having foreseen the invasion of Egypt, and also for having whipped up anti-Soviet feeling in Hungary and then done nothing when Hungarians rebelled against Soviet power. Before the year was out, they faced another new challenge when a project they had overseen produced results they did not expect.
Allen had worked for several years to build a capacity for high-altitude surveillance photography. He persuaded Eisenhower that this project should be run by the CIA rather than the Defense Department because the CIA, not hobbled by contract requirements, could move faster. The plane he developed with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, the U-2, was able to take detailed photographs from seventy thousand feet, beyond the range of most antiaircraft weapons. On May 31, 1956, Eisenhower authorized the first U-2 flights over the Soviet Union. They began two weeks later, and photo analysts soon began producing reports on what they saw. Among their first findings was that the Soviets could not possibly be producing as many warplanes as the CIA had estimated. James Killian brought this finding to Eisenhower. He appreciated it but refused to agree with Killian that the overstated estimate reflected the “administrative inadequacies of Allen Dulles.”
Eisenhower had appointed two thoughtful diplomats—Robert Lovett, a former secretary of defense, and David Bruce, who had been an OSS officer, ambassador to France, and undersecretary of state—to a body he had recently created, the President’s Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities, and in 1956 he asked the board to prepare a report on the CIA. The report, delivered several months later, warned about “the increased mingling in the internal affairs of other nations of bright, highly graded young men who must be doing something all the time to justify their reason for being.” Bruce, Lovett, and others on the board made a series of suggestions to limit Allen’s power, including moving his office to the White House and appointing a deputy to administer the CIA. Eisenhower rejected them all.
During Allen’s first four years as director of central intelligence, Eisenhower repeatedly defended him and yielded to his judgment. He accepted Allen’s advice that the United States continue to support Diem in South Vietnam even though his own personal envoy urged the opposite; he rejected General Doolittle’s suggestion that he fire Allen; and he turned aside Killian’s criticism of Allen’s administrative ability. Following this pattern, he ignored his intelligence board when it recommended that he curb Allen’s authority.
The nation that turned out to vote on November 6, 1956, was prosperous and largely united at home, despite rumblings from what would become the civil rights movement. What it feared lay abroad. In the weeks before the election, Soviet tanks had rolled into Budapest and three nations had invaded Egypt. This did not seem a good moment to change presidents. Eisenhower was overwhelmingly re-elected, preserving not only his own job but those of his secretary of state and director of central intelligence.
In his second inaugural address on January 20, 1957, Eisenhower described the world as he and most Americans saw it.
“The divisive force is International Communism and the power that it controls,” he declared. “The designs of that power, dark in purpose, are clear in practice. It strives to seal forever the fate of those it has enslaved. It strives to break the ties that unite the free. And it strives to capture—to exploit for its own greater power—all forces of change in the world, especially the needs of the hungry and the hopes of the oppressed.”
Once he had established the scope of this threat, Eisenhower vowed that the United States would resist no matter where it emerged. This was the essence of the “containment” doctrine that shaped American foreign policy for a generation.
“We recognize and accept our own deep involvement in the destiny of men everywhere,” Eisenhower said. “And so the prayer of our people carries far beyond our own frontiers, to the wide world of our duty and our destiny.”
Vietnam was the place “far beyond our own frontiers” where Eisenhower, along with Foster and Allen, saw the greatest danger. Yet their effort to undermine Ho was failing. Elaborately planned American operations had brought down two foreign leaders, but Ho proved more resilient.
This left Foster and Allen in search of a new target. During their first four years in office, they moved almost seamlessly from Mossadegh to Arbenz to Ho. With the presidential election behind them, they set out to choose their next victim.