On a sweltering morning in August 1950, a slim, blond, attractive twenty-eight-year-old woman named Erica Glaser Wallach woke from a restless sleep in her West Berlin hotel room, locked her papers and most of her money in the cupboard, and walked east through the Brandenburg Gate to her doom. The young German-born woman left behind her husband, a former U.S. Army captain named Robert Wallach who was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, and their two infant children. She was weak with fear as she entered the headquarters of the SED, the East German Communist Party. But she was determined to go through with her mission.
A year before, Erica Wallach’s adoptive father, a hopelessly idealistic American Quaker relief worker named Noel Field, had disappeared after being lured to Prague with the promise of a university teaching position. When his equally wide-eyed wife, Herta, and younger brother, Hermann, went looking for Noel behind the Iron Curtain, they, too, vanished. Despite the obvious risk, Wallach was now determined to find out what had happened to the Fields, a family that had rescued her during the war when she was a seventeen-year-old refugee from Nazi Germany and Franco’s Spain. Noel and Herta Field had whisked a sick and starving Erica and her ailing mother from a squalid French refugee camp, and later agreed to care for the teenage girl in Switzerland during the war when her parents fled to England. Wallach now felt honor-bound to track down the missing Fields, using her connections with German Communists whom she had met during the war.
When Wallach asked to see her old war comrades at the SED headquarters, she was told they were not available. She would later find out why: they were in prison, and Erica Wallach would soon join them. On her way out of the gloomy SED fortress, a hand suddenly gripped her shoulder. “Criminal police. Please come around the corner.” She didn’t even bother to turn around. “I knew that all was lost.”
For the next five years, Wallach would suffer harsh imprisonment, first in Berlin’s Schumannstrasse Prison, which she christened her “house of horrors,” and then, for the longest stretch, in Vorkuta, the dread prison labor complex in Russia’s Arctic wastelands a thousand miles northeast of Moscow. Wallach, the cultured daughter of a physician, learned to survive the gulag by giving up all hope that she would ever return to her family and the lost joys and comforts of her old life. She would rise early each morning in the dark with her labor gang and work as hard as she could to avoid freezing in the ferociously cold temperatures, shoveling gravel six days a week—and often seven—for new railroad embankments.
“This business of nothing to look at, the ugliness, the lack of color, the lack of good smell—that really is worse than the hunger,” Wallach later recalled. “But you get used to it. I finally after three years got used to the fact that I was totally alone in this world.”
Wallach learned to ingratiate herself with her fellow prisoners—Russian, Ukrainian, German, and Polish women, and even one American who had found small and less small ways of offending the Soviet state. She became a different person than the naïve woman who had walked through Brandenburg Gate that morning in August 1950. She even looked like someone else—muscled and thick and callused from her labors. The young woman made a grim new life for herself there “at the end of the earth” among the drunken, homesick Soviet guards and her fellow penal colony inmates. She found ways to break up the barren monotony of her days by listening to the Ukrainians’ melancholy folk songs and attending the Sunday “salons” hosted by the educated women whose latrine-cleaning duties were the foulest of all prison jobs, but gave them enough leisure to indulge their intellectual curiosity.
In the end, the hardened Wallach decided that surviving a frozen hell like Vorkuta was a matter of mental adjustment. “Horror, fear, mental torture,” she would later write, “are not physical facts but creations of one’s own spirit. They were not forced upon me by outside acts or conditions, but lived within me, born of the weakness of my own heart. . . . I did not have to break if I did not want to.”
While Wallach was enduring Vorkuta, the Fields were suffering their own nightmares behind the Iron Curtain. After Noel Field was arrested by Czech authorities in May 1949, he was drugged and driven to a secret location in Hungary. There he was dropped down a coal chute and subjected to a variety of tortures, including beatings, sleep deprivation, and round-the-clock interrogations.
Noel’s brother Hermann Field, who was an architecture professor, suffered less vicious treatment after he was grabbed by Polish secret police three months later in Warsaw while searching for his brother. But he spent the first several months of his five-year incarceration in solitary confinement, which wore terribly on his spirit. When a field mouse suddenly appeared in his cell, Hermann was beside himself with joy. The mere brush of the mouse’s fur against Hermann’s leg was the source of enormous comfort. One night, while sleeping, he accidentally crushed the mouse, which had crawled under his mattress. Hermann was so grief-stricken that he feared he would lose his mind. “A person living a normal life simply cannot comprehend how sharply such apparently trivial happenings affect a human being deprived of all living contact and driven to the very edge of loneliness,” he later observed.
During the harsh interrogations to which all four members of the Field family were subjected, including Erica Wallach, one name kept coming up. “How do you know Allen Dulles?” the inquisitors repeatedly asked. The spymaster was the one thread that seemed to connect all four of the deeply unfortunate prisoners as they languished in their cells.
By the time Noel Field was taken prisoner in Czechoslovakia in 1949, it had been nearly four years since Allen Dulles occupied an official position with U.S. intelligence. After the war, Dulles had returned to the fold at Sullivan and Cromwell, a business routine he now found quite dreary. “I must admit that these days I find it hard to concentrate on my profession of the law,” Dulles confessed to a friend. “Most of my time is spent reliving those exciting days when the war was slowly dying.”
A steady stream of former OSS colleagues came to pay their respects at Dulles’s Wall Street office, chatting about the war while “the Old Man,” as he was already affectionately known in spy circles, though he was only fifty-two, puffed genially on his pipe. But these conversations were not simply fond exercises in nostalgia. The men who called on Dulles—OSS veterans like Richard Helms, Frank Wisner, Tracy Barnes, and Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt—all shared the Old Man’s view that the blissful reign of postwar peace would be short-lived and that the West must quickly gird itself to confront the growing threat from the East.
That threat was not simply a convenient creation of “Western imperialism.” Stalin’s military machine might have been no match for America’s global reach and nuclear firepower. But it was quite capable of crushing democratic aspirations in Eastern Europe, which the Soviets, following the devastation of World War II, felt they were entitled to controlling as a buffer zone from Western aggression. American intelligence officials like Frank Wisner, who had been stationed in Romania near the end of the war and had witnessed the beginnings of the Soviet-dominated police state there, deeply empathized with the liberation struggles of the peoples in the Eastern bloc.
As they chatted in Dulles’s law suite and gathered for drinks at William Donovan’s town house on Sutton Place, this rarefied group of OSS veterans—who straddled the worlds of espionage, foreign affairs, and finance—were already plotting to create a powerful intelligence apparatus for the coming Cold War. Spurned by Harry Truman, Donovan began to feel that his own hopes for a return to postwar action would never be realized. “Our war is over, Allen,” he told Dulles one day. But Dulles would have none of it. The man’s irrepressible ego and ambition never ceased to amaze Donovan.
In truth, while Dulles punctually showed up for work at Sullivan and Cromwell each morning, he never retired from the intelligence game. No sooner had he resumed his life in New York than he began taking a leadership role in prestigious organizations and placing himself at the center of postwar political debates. At the end of 1945, Dulles was elected president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a group whose membership of prominent businessmen and policy makers played a key role in shaping the emerging Cold War consensus. Dulles would huddle with his colleagues in a soundproof room at the council’s headquarters on the Upper East Side as if he were already running the robust new spy agency that he envisioned.
Dulles’s stubborn insistence on staying in the middle of the postwar action paid off. In April 1947, he was asked by the Senate Armed Services Committee to present his ideas for a strong, centralized intelligence agency. His memo would help frame the legislation that gave birth to the CIA later that year.
Despite his controversial ties to Nazi Germany, John Foster Dulles had also managed to keep a foot in the political arena, putting himself forward as one of the Republican Party’s leading wise men on foreign affairs. Both Dulles brothers pinned their political hopes on New York governor Thomas E. Dewey, the GOP front-runner for the 1948 presidential nomination. Dewey, a former Wall Street lawyer with an impressive political résumé, was the Eastern establishment’s clear pick for the White House that year. Political prognosticators overwhelmingly predicted that Dewey would easily outclass President Harry S. Truman—a political hack from Missouri whom many New Deal loyalists considered unfit to carry on the Roosevelt mission and who, in fact, was facing a challenge on the left from independent candidate Henry Wallace, FDR’s onetime vice president and secretary of agriculture. Dewey, already picking out his drapes for the White House, let it be known that Foster would be his secretary of state and Allen would take charge of the new intelligence agency that he had helped create.
It was Allen who had the tougher views on foreign policy at this stage of the brothers’ collaboration. As Foster started to flesh out his ideas for the Dewey campaign, he showed his brother a draft of his thoughts on the Soviet threat, in which he suggested that the United States and Russia might somehow find a mutual “accommodation.” Allen promptly dismissed such soft thinking. “The difference between us,” Allen told Foster, is that “you hold out the hope of some satisfactory accommodation being possible between the Soviet system . . . and the rest of the democratic world. I doubt this.” Foster would eventually fall in step with his younger brother’s hard Cold War line.
Harry Truman had inherited Franklin Roosevelt’s antipathy toward the Dulles brothers and their circle. The Dulleses’ close connections to the Dewey camp did nothing to soften Truman’s sentiments. He would dismissively refer to Foster as “that Wall Street fella” or, more bluntly, as “that bastard.” Truman was equally suspicious of Allen, who kept pushing the administration to take full advantage of the broad powers granted the newborn CIA under the National Security Act of 1947. The president, however, took a dim view of a powerful spy agency, fearing that it might turn into a rogue outfit, and he insisted that the CIA serve primarily as a coordinator of intelligence reports for the White House.
Allen Dulles believed that the shadow war between the West and the Soviet bloc would have few if any rules, and he was contemptuous of any attempts in Washington to put limits on the conflict. He assumed that the United States faced an utterly ruthless enemy in Moscow, and he was prepared to match or go beyond whatever measures were employed by Russia’s KGB and the Eastern bloc’s other security services. Dulles’s aggressive Cold War stance found a key ally in President Truman’s defense secretary, James V. Forrestal, a former Wall Street investment banker at Dillon, Read who moved in Dulles’s circles and who shared Dulles’s suspicions about the Soviet Union. In early 1948, Forrestal persuaded the politically vulnerable Truman, who knew he was facing a tough challenge from Dewey, to appoint Dulles to a blue-ribbon committee to study the year-old CIA and propose ways to make it more effective.
The so-called Dulles-Jackson-Correa Committee, over which Dulles quickly assumed control, allowed him to roam freely through the halls of the new intelligence agency and develop a plan for how to give it teeth. The committee’s report was conveniently timed for January 1949, when Tom Dewey would presumably be inaugurated as president and Dulles would take over the CIA. The 193-page report would conclude its sharply critical assessment of the CIA by demanding that the agency take off its gloves in the growing confrontation with the Soviet Union. The CIA, it declared, “has the duty to act.” The agency “has been given, by law, wide authority.” It was time to take full advantage of these generous powers, the committee insisted.
Dulles and Forrestal didn’t wait for the report to be finished before taking their own action. In March 1948, James Angleton flew back from Rome to meet with Dulles, warning his mentor that Italy’s Communist Party was on the verge of taking power in the upcoming national elections in April. Seeing an opportunity for the kind of decisive counterattack that they had long envisioned against the Communist advance in Europe, Dulles and Forrestal flew into action, raising millions of dollars to tilt the election in favor of the U.S.-supported Christian Democrats. Within days, a satchel stuffed with American cash was being handed off to Italian agents at Rome’s Hassler Hotel, the luxurious villa atop the Spanish Steps favored by Dulles during his stays in the Eternal City. More cash would soon come pouring in. The massive infusion of campaign money and U.S. aid ensured victory for the U.S. government’s political clients. On the evening of April 17, the first day of Italian voting, Dulles scrutinized the election tallies from Rome at Forrestal’s home in Washington. The two men raised a toast when it became clear that the Italian Communists had suffered a stunning defeat.
In November, Dulles suffered his own electoral defeat when Truman pulled off a shocking upset over Dewey. It was a humiliating reversal of fortune, not just for Dewey but for the Dulles brothers.
Soon afterward, Allen would lose his strongest ally in the Truman administration, Jim Forrestal, when the president ousted the Dulles ally from the Pentagon. By the time he was pushed out, Forrestal was showing signs of severe nervous exhaustion. Angry and despondent about his ouster, he began spiraling quickly downward, ranting about how the Soviets had infiltrated Washington and how they had marked him for liquidation. Early in the morning of May 22, 1949, after Forrestal was checked into the Bethesda Naval Hospital for psychiatric evaluation, he squeezed through the small bathroom window of his sixteenth-floor hospital suite and fell to his death. The tragic collapse of the defense secretary, a man who had controlled America’s fearsome arsenal, was one of the stranger episodes of the Cold War.
With the Democrats maintaining control of the White House in the election of 1948, the Dulles brothers’ dream of running U.S. foreign policy seemed dashed. But Allen would find ways to stay in the spy game, no matter who was president.
In June 1949, Dulles organized the National Committee for a Free Europe in conjunction with an illustrious board that included General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille, and Time-Life publishing magnate (and close friend) Henry Luce. Ostensibly a private philanthropic group, the committee was actually a CIA front that channeled funds to anti-Communist European émigrés and financed major propaganda efforts like Radio Free Europe. At least $2 million of the money poured into the committee’s clandestine projects came from the Nazi gold that Dulles had helped track down at the end of the war. In the early years of the Cold War, the Nazi treasure looted from Jewish families and German-occupied nations would become a key source of funding for Dulles’s secret operations.
Private citizen Dulles further spread his influence by inserting close allies like Frank Wisner in key intelligence posts. Like Dulles, Wisner was a former Wall Street lawyer who had fallen for the glamour of espionage life. In 1949, Dulles helped create a new intelligence outpost and buried it in the State Department bureaucracy under a purposefully dull name—the Office of Policy Coordination. Despite its innocuous title, the OPC would evolve into the kind of combative agency that Dulles envisioned the CIA becoming in a Dewey administration. Wisner was maneuvered into position as OPC chief, and under his gung ho leadership, the obscure unit quickly threw itself into the black arts of espionage, including sabotage, subversion, and assassination. By 1952, the OPC was running forty-seven overseas stations, and its staff had ballooned to nearly three thousand employees, with another three thousand independent contractors in the field.
Dulles and Wisner were essentially operating their own private spy agency. The OPC was run with little government oversight and few moral restrictions. Many of the agency’s recruits were ex-Nazis. While President Truman continued to regard the primary purpose of an intelligence agency as the gathering of information for the president and his national security advisers, Dulles and Wisner were engaged in their own no-holds-barred war with the Soviet bloc. They saw Eastern Europe as their primary battlefield in the great struggle to roll back the Soviet advance, but their field of combat often strayed into the sovereign territory of U.S. allies such as France, West Germany, and Italy.
During World War II, Dulles had resolutely pursued his own initiatives in Switzerland, often in conflict with the policies of President Roosevelt. Now, in the early years of the Cold War, he was doing the same, directly under the nose of another Democratic president. Although the OPC’s tactics had been sanctioned by a National Security Council memo titled “NSC 10/2,” which had been formulated in the heat of the 1948 presidential campaign—when Truman was fending off Dewey and the Republicans’ charges that he was soft on Communism—it is uncertain how fully informed the president was about the exploits of the Office of Policy Coordination.
Whether or not Truman was fully briefed, Wisner pursued his job with a sense of daring abandon, dreaming up ever more inventive and dangerous ways to disrupt Soviet rule over its European dominion. Wisner would present his ideas to Dulles, as if the Sullivan and Cromwell attorney were still his boss. Dulles found one of Wisner’s brainstorms particularly intriguing. The idea was sparked in May 1949 when British intelligence informed Wisner that one of Dulles’s former wartime assets, a man named Noel Field, was planning to fly to Prague, where an attractive academic post was being dangled before him.
Why shouldn’t U.S. intelligence take advantage of Field’s ill-advised journey behind the Iron Curtain? Wisner had acquired a high-placed double agent inside the Polish security service, a man named Józef Światło. He could be told to spread the word, all the way from Warsaw to Moscow, that Field was actually coming to Prague on a secret mission, sent by his old spymaster, the infamous Allen Dulles. While in Prague, Field would be contacting his extensive network from the war years—the brave Communists, nationalists, and antifascists he had helped to survive when he was a refugee aid worker. These men and women were all part of the top secret Dulles-Field spy network.
None of this was true—but Wisner and Dulles knew that if they could successfully plant this seed in Stalin’s mind, they might wreak havoc throughout the fragile Soviet empire.
Allen Dulles had a long history with the Field family. Most men with this sort of connection to a family would have found it impossible to use such old acquaintances as pawns in a game of geopolitical intrigue. But Dulles was not like most men. His plan was heartless but inspired. By turning the unsuspecting Field family into members of a far-reaching U.S. spy ring, Dulles would panic Stalin—already rattled by the 1948 defection of Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito—into launching witch hunts that would fracture the Communist governments throughout Eastern Europe. As with all the bold counterintelligence gambits he undertook during his career, Dulles threw himself into the Field affair with great relish, even personally giving it a code name: Operation Splinter Factor.
Dulles had first met the Fields in Switzerland during World War I, when he tried to recruit Noel’s father as a spy. Herbert Haviland Field was a Harvard-educated, internationally renowned zoologist who ran a scientific institute in Zurich dedicated to the encyclopedic classification of the animal kingdom. The senior Field—a devout Quaker with a full, Darwinian beard—turned Dulles down, but he did feed him bits of information from time to time, and he invited the young diplomat to his home for dinners. It was here—in the Fields’ four-story, hilltop villa overlooking Lake Zurich—that Dulles became acquainted with Noel and his three siblings. A shy, gangly adolescent at the time, with a long face and soft, searching, green eyes, Noel impressed Dulles, when he asked the boy what he wanted to be, by earnestly declaring, “I want to work for world peace.” Noel became deeply committed to pacifism during the war, when he saw trainloads of horribly maimed soldiers in transit through neutral Switzerland. After Armistice, his Quaker father reinforced the boy’s feelings by taking him on a tour of the war’s blood-soaked battlefields.
When his father died suddenly of a heart attack after the war, a grief-stricken Noel vowed to dedicate his life to becoming a “saint” and helping lift the sorrows of mankind. He enrolled at Harvard, his father’s alma mater, and after storming through his courses in two years and writing his dissertation on the League of Nations and disarmament, he graduated with honors in 1924. Shortly afterward, he married his Swiss-German sweetheart, Herta, whom he had known since they were both nine. Noel then applied for the U.S. Foreign Service, deciding with typical moral gravity that it was “by far the most practical field in which an individual can do his bit towards international understanding.” In 1926, after passing the exams, Noel and Herta moved to Washington, D.C., where he began work as a junior foreign officer at the State Department.
From the very beginning, Noel was an odd man out in the insular world of the State Department, whose preppy officers liked to think of themselves as “a pretty good club.” Noel was bookish and idealistic, and he betrayed a sentimental weakness for the left-wing causes of the day, from the trial of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti to the Bonus March of impoverished war veterans on Washington in 1932 that turned violent when General Douglas MacArthur unleashed his troops on the protesters. While other young foreign service officers were dining with their own kind at Washington’s exclusive clubs, Noel and Herta would frequent the capital’s racially segregated theaters, where they sat with their black friends. The Fields also invited their racially mixed circle to their home in downtown Washington, a modest apartment overrun with cats.
Although he did not join the Communist Party, Noel was intrigued by the Soviet revolution, which he began to see as the hope for a world torn apart by war, greed, and poverty. He taught himself Russian by listening to phonograph records. He liked the sound of the language and wanted to read Lenin and Stalin in the original.
In a later era, Noel and Herta Field would have been just another young, free-spirited couple, given to utopian dreams, book clubs, nature hikes, and camping. But in the Washington of the late 1920s and early 1930s, as the growing misery of the Great Depression pushed the desperate and the idealistic in extreme directions, the Fields seemed marked for trouble.
In 1934, the couple fell in with a Viennese woman named Hede Massing, who turned out to be a Soviet intelligence agent. Noel began secretly passing information and copies of documents to Massing. But, increasingly tormented by his dual loyalties, he decided to quit the State Department, and in 1935 Noel and Herta moved to Geneva, where he took a job with the disarmament section of the League of Nations.
Field thought that by returning to Switzerland, he could maintain an honorable neutrality. For the rest of his overseas career—which took Noel from his League of Nations post to humanitarian work on behalf of Nazi refugees during World War II—he convinced himself that he could in good conscience serve his own country as well as the Soviet Union. But in the end, he would be crushed between these implacable forces. Both sides saw the dreamy Field as a useful victim. Earl Browder, leader of the U.S. Communist Party, would anoint him “a stupid child in the woods.” As for Allen Dulles, the man who was so impressed by the teenage Field’s sincerity, he came to see him as just another of those “little mice” whose necks would soon be snapped.
During the war, Field volunteered to work for Dulles, using his cover as a Unitarian Service Committee relief worker to transmit information back and forth across the Swiss border and to deliver packages of OSS cash to resistance fighters in France. Noel was particularly useful as a conduit to the German Communist underground. The Fields’ foster daughter, Erica, also proved helpful for Dulles, bicycling guns and medicine across the border to France.
It was clear that Noel’s antifascist work had a Communist tilt. In February 1945, he arrived at the OSS office in Paris with Dulles’s written blessing. Field met with young OSS officer Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the future historian and Kennedy White House aide. Field proposed that the OSS subsidize the recruitment of left-wing German refugees in France, who would be dropped inside liberated areas of Germany, where they would begin to establish the country’s new political foundations. Schlesinger, a man of the left, but an ardent anti-Communist, immediately sniffed out Field’s proposal as a scheme to give the Soviet Union a head start in the occupation of Germany.
Schlesinger took a strong disliking to Field. Years later, he would describe him as a “Quaker Communist, filled with idealism, smugness and sacrifice.” Or, as another observer put it, Field exuded “the arrogance of humility.” In Schlesinger’s estimation, he was less of a dangerous figure than a pathetic one. His pious dedication to the Soviet cause “did little damage to the interests of the United States.” Nonetheless, after their Paris meeting, Schlesinger strongly advised his OSS superiors against buying into Field’s scheme for postwar Germany.
Dulles ended up funding Field’s project anyway, which later resulted in much ridicule from his counterparts in British intelligence. Some observers have suggested that this is why, later on, Dulles was able to betray Field with such ease, spreading the lie that he was a secret agent working behind the Iron Curtain for the Americans. But when Dulles decided to feed Noel Field to Stalin—and then, one at a time, three of his family members—there was probably very little spleen involved, just cold calculation.
After Noel dropped out of sight in Prague, his family implored Dulles to help. He had been a guest in the family’s Zurich home. Both Field and his father had put themselves at his service. But Dulles did nothing to rescue Field. And he did nothing to prevent Noel’s family members from walking headlong into the same trap.
Three months into his long ordeal as a captive of Poland’s Stalinist regime, Noel’s brother Hermann was taken from his cell for another round of grilling. This time Hermann’s interrogator was someone like himself—a tweedy, academic type in his forties. He seemed eager to help Hermann out of his predicament, if only he would fully cooperate. There was no use in playing games any longer: Polish security knew that he and his brother were part of a conspiracy against the peace-loving peoples of the Communist world.
Hermann, a political innocent whose ideology amounted to nothing more than a kind of do-gooder Quakerism, was utterly confused. He had no clue about why he, or his brother, had fallen into this Kafkaesque nightmare. “But you’re not talking sense,” he told his inquisitor. “What conspiracy? Tell me what I have done to you. Give me just one example.”
The tweedy man began pacing back and forth in front of the stool where Hermann sat. Suddenly he stopped and blurted out, “Who is Allen Dulles? Mr. Field, tell me precisely, what were your contacts with Allen Dulles, and what was the nature of your assignments from him?”
Hermann’s interrogator clearly thought that by abruptly invoking Dulles’s name, Field would finally crumble. But the question only served to deepen Hermann’s confusion. Field had been too young to remember meeting Dulles as a child in Zurich. He had only a vague memory of the name.
“There’s a John Foster Dulles,” Hermann tried helpfully. “That’s the only one I’m sure of. He’s some sort of adviser on foreign affairs to the Republican Party.”
But the interrogator would have none of this evasion. He kept on badgering Hermann, hour after hour. “I felt like I was in an insane asylum,” Field later recalled.
In fact, the mysterious Allen Dulles was at the center of Hermann Field’s ordeal. Field just didn’t realize it.
Operation Splinter Factor succeeded beyond the OPC’s wildest dreams. Stalin became convinced that the Fields were at the center of a wide-ranging operation to infiltrate anti-Soviet elements into leadership positions throughout the Eastern bloc. The Dulles-Wisner plot aggravated the Soviet premier’s already rampant paranoia, resulting in an epic reign of terror that, before it finally ran its course, would destroy the lives of untold numbers of people. Hundreds of thousands throughout Eastern Europe were arrested; many were tortured and executed. In Czechoslovakia, where nearly 170,000 Communist Party members were seized as suspects in the make-believe Field plot, the political crisis grew so severe that the economy nearly collapsed.
Anyone whose life had been even remotely touched by Noel Field during his war relief work was subject to the sweeping purge. Many of the officials rounded up had been war heroes in their countries—antifascist fighters who survived the Nazi occupation only to be falsely accused as traitors by Stalin’s secret police. Most victims were independent-minded nationalists, the sort of leaders who put their own people’s interests ahead of blind obedience to Moscow. Jewish officials, whose “cosmopolitan” and “Zionist” sensibilities aroused suspicion, also bore the brunt of Stalin’s crackdown.
Back in Washington, Wisner exulted over each wave of arrests and each new round of show trials, where the accused were made to publicly condemn themselves before they were executed. “The comrades are merrily sticking knives in each others’ backs and doing our dirty work for us,” Wisner gleefully reported.
The Office of Policy Coordination men knew that many of the Splinter Factor victims were patriots who were beloved by their own people. But, in the eyes of Dulles, this actually made them more dangerous. As one political observer of Splinter Factor remarked, “Dulles wished to leave Eastern Europe devoid of hope so that he could introduce a pro-American, anti-Soviet form of government. . . . Nationalist Communists were making communism acceptable to the people, and so, accordingly, they had to be removed.”
As a result of the rapidly spreading inquisition, political dialogue in Eastern Europe was frozen, the screws of thought control were tightened, and cultural exchange and trade with the West were shut down. But Dulles saw all this as a positive development. Like the most rigid of Marxists, he believed that by increasing the suffering of Eastern Europe’s enslaved populations, they would be pushed beyond their breaking point and forced to revolt against their Soviet masters. But, as was the case with the Communist true believers who advocated “heightening the contradictions” in order to bring about the glorious revolution, Operation Splinter Factor brought only more misery to the people of the Soviet bloc. Dulles would not live long enough to see their day of liberation.
Erica Wallach was freed from her arctic gulag in 1954, after Stalin died and the “Field conspiracy” was finally exposed behind the Iron Curtain for what it was—a devilishly clever Allen Dulles brainstorm. She was released into the custody of Soviet secret police officials, who apologized and offered her money, and then took her to East Berlin, where they put her in a taxi to the West. She walked to freedom through the Brandenburg Gate, exactly where she had started her harrowing journey five years and two months earlier.
The Fields, too, were released that year. Hermann returned to the United States, where he became an urban studies professor and a pioneering environmentalist at Tufts University and wrote novels. Noel and Herta shocked their family by staying in Hungary, where they quietly lived out the rest of their lives. For Noel, the personal betrayal by Dulles and his own country was, in the end, more unforgivable than the years of abuse at the hands of his Communist comrades. “He would never talk to me about his years in prison,” Hermann said about his brother. “He dismissed the episode as a Stalinist aberration. He was a true believer . . . to the end of his life.”
Wallach was eager to reunite with her husband and their two children, although so much time had gone by, she was unsure how she would begin again with her family. It would take two years before U.S. authorities finally allowed her to enter the United States. “I was continuously interrogated—let’s put it that way,” she later said. “Not interviewed, interrogated. My visa was refused three times, even though I had an American husband and American children living here.”
The irony was not lost on her. The official mind-set on both sides of the Cold War looking glass was remarkably the same. The American interrogators kept asking the same questions that their Soviet counterparts had.
After she was finally allowed into the United States, Wallach settled into a comfortable life with her family. Her husband had begun a successful career as a banker in Washington, and they lived in the lush Virginia horse country, not far from the new international airport that would be named for John Foster Dulles. Wallach taught French and Latin at the exclusive Highland School.
Wallach wrote a book about her years in captivity, but she didn’t believe her ordeal bestowed any special distinction on her. “From a European point of view,” she drily observed, “this is a rather common story.”
Years later, Wallach came to realize that Dulles had played some significant role in her suffering. Wallach had worked briefly for Dulles immediately after the war, at the OSS base outside Wiesbaden, Germany, where the spy agency had taken over the gilded headquarters of the Henkell sparkling wine company. Wallach was one of the few OSS women on Dulles’s payroll at the time, and she had undoubtedly caught his eye. She had also worked with Frank Wisner at the winery. But neither man ever expressed any regrets for what they had done to the young mother.
A few months before she died, in 1993, Wallach recalled her story for a journalist who found his way to her grand house in the northern Virginia countryside. In the final stages of the cancer that would claim her, she seemed to float above her own life in a way that gave her a lofty yet clear-eyed perspective on the past. She could even appreciate—in a detached sort of way—the spycraft behind the Dulles operation that had ambushed her life. “Allen Dulles’s motives are easy to imagine,” she remarked. “Anything that destabilized the situation in Eastern Europe was good for U.S. interests. Stalin was paranoid enough. The crackdown was real enough. By fanning the flames, you could turn the people against communism. The strategy is completely understandable.”
She could even see how Noel Field made such a tempting mouse for someone like Dulles. “And then we have this fool Noel Field, a romantic, he had been everywhere, he was full of these enthusiasms, he went back and forth into these countries freely. I don’t think Allen Dulles hated Noel Field, not at all. But the opportunity was too good to miss.”
And yet, even in her enlightened state, Erica Wallach was not prepared to entirely forgive Allen Dulles. There was something disturbing about the man, at his core, that she wanted to put on record while she still had time. “Dulles had a certain arrogance in which he believed that he could work with the Devil—anybody’s Devil—and still be Allen Dulles,” she told her visitor. “He could work with Noel Field and betray him. He could work with the Nazis or with the Communists. He thought himself untouchable by these experiences and, of course, you cannot help be touched, be affected, no matter how noble your cause is.”