The Old Man and the CIA, Part 1 - American Gestapo

The Old Man and the CIA, Part 1 - American Gestapo

Some men make headlines. Others make history. A subtle few mold the future of nations in their image - and you'd never even know it. In this two-part True Spies miniseries, journalist and author of The Devil's Chessboard, David Talbot, joins Sophia Di Martino to uncover a hidden history of the United States. A history penned by a man who made an outsized impact on the way we live today: Allen Dulles. In Part 1, Talbot documents the rise of the CIA's longest-serving director - and the first civilian to hold the post.
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True Spies, Ep 188, The Old Man & The CIA - American Gestapo

+++CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains references to suicide.++++

NARRATOR: This is True Spies, the podcast that takes you deep inside the greatest secret missions of all time. Week by week, you’ll hear the true stories behind the operations that have shaped the world we live in. You’ll meet the people who live life undercover. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? I’m Sophia Di Martino and this is True Spies, from SPYSCAPE Studios.

DAVID TALBOT: Truman created the CIA in 1947. And he says he does not want the CIA to be an ‘American Gestapo’. He does not want them going around fomenting coups, overthrowing governments, or assassinating people. And that was the vision that Allen Dulles had.

NARRATOR: The Old Man & The CIA, Part 1: American Gestapo.

DAVID TALBOT: There are two paths that America could have gone on after World War Two. Franklin Roosevelt and high-level aides of his plan the path toward one way, which was: America would lead the world through diplomacy and attempt to bring the Soviet Union into its orbit, through diplomatic goodwill and through economic and financial mechanisms. That was one vision. 

NARRATOR: Indulge me, for a second, in an exercise of the imagination. What would the world look like if the United States had never embarked on the Cold War? If Soviet Russia and America had built upon the uneasy truce of World War II - and come to accept one another. Perhaps it sounds preposterous, but in the throes of post-war optimism, Franklin D. Roosevelt believed it might be possible.

DAVID TALBOT: The other vision, much more aggressive, much more clandestine, much more confrontational, was the Dulles brothers’... and the Dulles brothers were much more sly and much more conniving in their pursuit of power. And I believe that the bad guys essentially won in this dynastic struggle for the soul of America. 

NARRATOR: There are two distinct breeds of influence in this world. There’s the influence that is proudly, vocally wielded by those in the public eye. This influence is the currency of politicians, pop stars, and all who stand atop a stage and command our attention. Franklin D. Roosevelt traded in this kind. And then there’s the other kind. The secret currents of power that lurk out of view, detached from celebrity or idealism. The invisible strings of the puppeteer. The story you’re about to hear concerns the second breed of influence, and the man who became its master. 

DAVID TALBOT: I think that Allen Dulles was one of the central figures of secret power in the US, really from the early part of the 20th century up until he died.

NARRATOR: It’s time to meet your guide in this hidden history of the United States.

DAVID TALBOT: I'm David Talbot. I'm the author of The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, The CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. 

NARRATOR: For the historian David Talbot, no single individual has had a greater impact on the fate of the American nation than Allen Dulles, the first civilian director of the CIA, a figure affectionately referred to by those who worked for him as ‘The Old Man’. Over the next two episodes of True Spies, you’re going to get up close and personal with one of the most notorious spymasters the world has ever seen. A man who saw, in the global currents of communism, an apocalypse in the making - and who cast himself as protector of the soul of the West. A man who would stop at precisely nothing in his campaign to keep America pure. You’re going to stalk The Old Man through the members clubs and Georgetown brownstones where the fates of individuals and nations are sealed. You’re going to learn what makes him tick, and what ticks him off. Yes, you’re going to find out all about the devil and his chessboard, but first, you need to understand where he comes from because men like Allen Dulles don’t emerge out of nowhere.

DAVID TALBOT: Allen Dulles himself had a very modest background. He and his brother John Foster Dulles were the sons of a Presbyterian minister. Though five years younger than John Foster, Allen was the first of the Dulles children to inherit the name of his Reverend father. It seems he inherited little else from the man of the house. I think that he, in particular, had some contempt for his father because he was a do-gooder. He literally would give you the coat off his back, as he did on one occasion to a poor woman who needed it. And I think he and Foster, his older brother, both had contempt for the sort of do-gooder sense of the world.

NARRATOR: Growing up in the sleepy retreat of Watertown, in upstate New York, the Dulles brothers quickly learned disdain for their father and his limited means. Luckily for the young Allen Dulles, there were other role models available - glamorous visitors in well-tailored suits, men who regaled in booming voices stories from the backstages of power in Washington and New York.

DAVID TALBOT: On his mother's side, there were a number of statesmen, diplomats, bankers, and a world of power that he was exposed to as a young man growing up.

NARRATOR: Allen’s mother, Edith, was the daughter of John Watson Foster - briefly Secretary of State, under President Benjamin Harrison. It was through his constant benefaction that the Dulles family was able to get a taste of the finer things in life and a glimpse of the thrill of influence. Allen Dulles got his own first taste of influence in 1916 when he graduated from Princeton University and entered the diplomatic service. A slender and striking young man, with a high brow and pale, piercing eyes - he was stationed in Bern, Switzerland during the dying gasps of the First World War. Later, he joined the American delegation at the Paris Peace Accord with his elder brother John Foster. But once the sojourn of a European war had concluded, it was time for the Dulles brothers to find their true path in life. Suffice it to say, they neglected to follow in their father’s down-at-heel footsteps.

DAVID TALBOT: They were more interested in power. And they became heads - John Foster Dulles - of the most powerful law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, on Wall Street, and Allen Dulles really did the dirty work for that law firm, a lot of espionage and dark work for their different corporate clients. 

NARRATOR: Where did this instinct for so-called ‘dark work’ come from? Dulles had always enjoyed a certain reputation in his family, as a boy with a certain detachment. Like when he’d seen his younger sister, Nataline, sink below the water at their lake-side holiday home, and had simply watched on, impassive - as others scrambled to save her. Did this cold passivity make him a natural fit for the business of lies and secrecy? Perhaps. In any case, it was on Wall Street that Allen Dulles truly began to indulge his instinct for hidden manipulation. It was also here that he honed his politics.

DAVID TALBOT: That was a very conservative firm, very Republican firm. Sullivan & Cromwell had offices in Nazi Germany. Foster Dulles continued to be very close to the Nazi regime and to his clients in Germany. 

NARRATOR: It’s at this point in the story that we must ask a question that will crop up, time and time again. Was this relationship - between the Dulles brothers' law firm and Nazi Germany - born out of pure financial gain, ideological alignment, or some combination of the two? It would be fair to say that, at this point, the brothers saw more cause for concern in Stalin’s expansionist USSR where the machinery of capitalism had already been dismantled and done away with. If he had to choose between that and National Socialism, well… who can say what he’d have picked? Allen did eventually force his brother to close up shop in Berlin as the evidence of Hitler’s anti-semitic campaigns mounted. But when war broke out in Europe once again, the brothers did all they could to oppose America’s entry. They were fundamentally suspicious of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his ambitious, anti-elite New Deal.

DAVID TALBOT: They advised their clients to resist the New Deal, to resist FDR. They were very much opposed to the reform on Wall Street that FDR stood for.

NARRATOR: Yet when the time came, and America did enter the War, Allen appears to have had a change of heart. Perhaps he sensed the opportunity for a victory lap around Europe. A chance to be at the center of history. No doubt, a compelling opportunity for a man with a taste for power. 

DAVID TALBOT: Allen Dulles was sent by Franklin Roosevelt to be the main spy in continental Europe during the war.

NARRATOR: This mission would be under the banner of the newly formed Operation of Strategic Services, or OSS - America’s fledgling, war-time spy agency. But why would Roosevelt insert such a vocal critic into this prominent position?

DAVID TALBOT: I think he was sent as a dangle to see what Nazi officials, what Nazi captains of industry, he would meet stationed where he was, in Bern, Switzerland, during the war.

NARRATOR: Of course, this is all speculation. But what’s undeniable is that Allen Dulles did meet with prominent Nazis during the war.

DAVID TALBOT: And in fact, his career as a spy during World War II was capped by Operation Sunrise, a deal that he made with Karl Wolff, who was one of the top Nazi generals in Italy. He made a secret deal with him that violated FDR and Churchill's agreement that they made in Casablanca during the war, that they would fight Germany until the end and there would be no secret surrenders, no secret separate deals with Nazi commanders. Dulles violated the agreement by pursuing this pact with Wolff.

NARRATOR: When the Soviets caught wind of Dulles’s secret negotiations with Wolff, it stoked their paranoia that the US was attempting to negotiate a separate peace with Nazi Germany. Roosevelt was furious at the carelessness of the rogue spy. After the war ended, Dulles ostensibly returned to civilian life, his official standing with the president tarnished by Operation Sunrise. The OSS itself - always intended as a wartime operation - was dismantled. But by 1947, with a Cold War heating up, the new president, Harry Truman, was forced to concede that a permanent central intelligence agency might be necessary. Out of the ashes of the OSS, he created the CIA. But there was no role for his vocal critic, Allen Dulles, within the operation. But by then, Dulles had become acquainted with the thrill of secret power.

DAVID TALBOT: He continues his somewhat devious rise, even during the Truman administration. And he continued to work, I think, in a kind of deceptive and secretive way as a spy in those years. He was not an official within the Truman administration, Alan Dulles, but he continued to operate that way. 

NARRATOR: Truman had been explicit about his intentions with the CIA. He did not want an American Gestapo. And yet, even in its infancy, it appears that the CIA had found impunity to act as it saw fit. How else to explain the fact that Allen Dulles, effectively banished from the secret services, could continue to operate as a spy in the organization - without the president’s knowledge? This detail also reminds us of something important about Allen Dulles. The man refused to take no for an answer.

DAVID TALBOT: And he collaborated, I think, secretly with Frank Wisner and other CIA colleagues, former OSS people, in pursuing his aggressive Cold War policies, which were, I think, even more aggressive than President Truman's. 

NARRATOR: One of the operations Dulles organized off the books, was Operation Splinter Factor. It centered around an American diplomat called Noel Field. Field, a family friend of Allen Dulles, had been a communist spy during the war, where he’d worked with both Soviet Russia and the OSS during the brief window in which their aspirations were aligned. After the War was over, he bid his American colleagues farewell and defected to the Eastern Bloc.

DAVID TALBOT: And he was dangled a position, a teaching position, in what was then Czechoslovakia. 

NARRATOR: When news of his family friend’s new position reached Allen Dulles, he decided to use him for an experiment.

DAVID TALBOT: Dulles and Wisner heard about this and used the Field family to put out the word that they were part of a spy operation, aimed at the Stalin regime. 

NARRATOR: Dulles was curious to know how easily he could influence the situation behind the Iron Curtain. He pushed bogus intelligence to contacts in the East - intelligence that suggested devoted communist, Noel Field, and his entire family were actually committed American spies. In other words, he impassively offered up a man he’d once considered a friend, as a sacrifice. All to see if he could get under the skin of the Soviet leader.

DAVID TALBOT: Joseph Stalin, who was famously paranoid and violent and murderous, took the bait. And the Field family, unfortunately, were victims in this plot. They were tortured, imprisoned, and kept behind the Iron Curtain for many years as a result of the Dulles and Wisner machinations.

NARRATOR: By Talbot’s estimation, Operation Splinter Factor sparked a ruthless purge - not just of the Field family - but on innocent citizens of the Eastern Bloc, caught up in the crosshairs of Stalin’s paranoia. And Dulles took this as a victory, proof of his ability to wreak havoc beyond the Iron Curtain.

DAVID TALBOT: Operation Splinter Factor was a success on his terms. Not for the liberals, the Jews, the nationalists who opposed Stalin’s regime behind the Iron Curtain. Those people were rounded up there. They were tortured. They were put on show trials. They were often killed. So Stalin went nuts. And actually, his paranoia overwhelmed him. And many of these people died as a result.

NARRATOR: In 1951, Allen Dulles was finally offered an official position in the CIA - by now under the leadership of Walter Bedell Smith. In 1953, after President Eisenhower was elected, and ‘Beetle’ Smith was shifted to the State Department - Dulles landed the job he had always dreamed of.

DAVID TALBOT: He was finally appointed head of the CIA by President Eisenhower in 1953. 

NARRATOR: At the very same time, Eisenhower selected Allen’s brother, John Foster, as his Secretary of State. From their positions of power - they wasted no time in cleaning house.

DAVID TALBOT: The Dulles brothers not only cemented their power during the Eisenhower years, they drove out remnants of the New Deal. They drove out liberals and Democrats from Washington through the Cold War, repression through the blacklist, through Joe McCarthy, who they controlled or fought and manipulated in many ways. 

NARRATOR: The Dulles brothers stoked the anti-communist rhetoric of the time, using Senator McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities to cast their opponents into political exile, and strengthen their own grasp on the strings of secret power. According to Talbot, it was their fraternal partnership that directed America’s positioning in the world.

DAVID TALBOT: I see Eisenhower again as a very passive, a weak American president, not the hero that he's come to be known as. He empowered during his eight years as the president, the more aggressive Cold Warriors, the Dulles brothers, to carry out their own policy. 

NARRATOR: Talbot sees this as a deadly mistake. Albeit, one born out of an understandable impulse.

DAVID TALBOT: So I believe that President Eisenhower was deathly afraid of another war breaking out. He'd seen the effects of World War II. He's seen the casualties. He'd seen the great losses, he'd seen how Europe was devastated by the war. He didn't want to repeat a world war. He didn't think America even had the money to pursue a third World war like that. So he outsources foreign policy to the CIA, largely. He said. ‘You'll conduct war on the cheap, a shadow war with the Soviet Union, and will threaten to use nuclear weapons,’ because, at that stage, the US had almost complete superiority, nuclear superiority. So John Foster Dulles, as secretary of state, threatened again and again to use nuclear weapons all around the world against China, against the Soviet Union, and so forth.

NARRATOR: All while Allen Dulles - and his CIA - conducted a shadow war wherever he saw a communist threat. One of the very first targets of his campaign was the Central American country of Guatemala, where a tropical fruit importer called The United Fruit Company had long operated.

DAVID TALBOT: The United Fruit Company was a major corporate power in this part of the world, in Latin America, starting really early on in the 20th Century and certainly going on up until the end of the century.

NARRATOR: In Guatemala, The United Fruit Co. owned half a million acres of land as well as the nation’s railroads, port, and telecommunications infrastructure. In the first part of the 20th Century, business was booming. But the nation’s citizens, many of them employed by The United Fruit Co., were living in dire poverty. Against the backdrop of this injustice, a charismatic young politician quickly climbed the ranks of Guatemala’s government in the 1940s. This man’s name was Jacobo Árbenz.

DAVID TALBOT: Jacobo Árbenz is the democratically elected president of Guatemala. He's the Kennedy, essentially, of Guatemala. 

NARRATOR: Just like Kennedy, Árbenz was part politician, part celebrity. He and his glamorous wife, María Cristina Vilanova, were Guatemala’s golden couple. 

DAVID TALBOT: He was married to a woman from a wealthy family in El Salvador. But she herself was very progressive. She had friends who were Marxists. She had friends who realized the country had to change, that this old feudal structure had to be changed in Central America for there to be justice and for people to have a decent way of life. So when Árbenz was elected, her husband's elected, he had inclinations that way himself, of course. But I think she pressed him further. She was the Eleanor Roosevelt or the Jackie Kennedy of Guatemala. And she, I think, had him expand his political vision.

NARRATOR: Jacobo Árbenz’s headline policy, in the 1950 election that saw him crowned president, was land reform.

DAVID TALBOT: Jacobo Árbenz said that he would nationalize land for a very poor peasantry in Guatemala that was not being used. This was arable land, good land that the United Fruit Company allowed to go uncultivated.

NARRATOR: This seizure and redistribution of unused land might sound radical, on the surface of things.

DAVID TALBOT: But what was key to his reforms was redistributing this land and not expropriating the land without due payment. He was willing to pay for it, but he wanted the peasants to be able to till the land. And he understood that was the only way that there would be a true revolution that this country needed, that that was nonviolent and would redistribute the wealth that was held, as I say, in a very feudal way by the landowners, by United Fruit, by the military and so on. 

NARRATOR: But whether or not Árbenz intended to pay for the land was irrelevant to the United Fruit Corporation. They could not countenance being undermined by some petty radical in a country that they effectively owned. And by Talbot’s estimation, they knew exactly who to lobby back home for support with their predicament.

DAVID TALBOT: They were one of the major corporate clients for the Dulles’ law firm on Wall Street. So Allen Dulles, really, by pursuing this anti-Árbenz strategy, was really representing his client in some ways, his former client, United Fruit, as well as what he perceived to be the US interests.

NARRATOR: Here again, we see that convenient intersection of business interest and ideology. After all, Dulles was inclined to agree with United Fruit Co.’s reading - land reform in Guatemala was out of the question.

DAVID TALBOT: That to the Dulles brothers, the Eisenhower administration, was communist activity, was a communist threat. 

NARRATOR: And so Allen Dulles decided to exercise the influence of the Central Intelligence Agency. He needed Eisenhower’s sign-off, of course, but in the context of an escalating Cold War, that was an easy sell.

DAVID TALBOT: So they sold Guatemala to him by saying, “Look, the communists have a foothold here. Árbenz is really a wolf in sheep's clothing. He's importing weapons from the Soviet orbit.” They could convince this aging, weak president of just about anything.

NARRATOR: Better to head off this revolutionary moment at the pass, the Dulles brothers advised Eisenhower. They were confident they could organize a swift, efficient coup - all with minimal risk to American lives. They wouldn’t even need to send troops.

DAVID TALBOT: They found a renegade officer, kind of a hapless character, to lead this coup against the Árbenz administration, which had been duly elected by the people of Guatemala. 

NARRATOR: The CIA’s chosen puppet was a man named Carlos Castillo Armas.

DAVID TALBOT: He was a low-level military guy selling furniture, I believe, in a neighboring country before he was recruited and given this role to play.

NARRATOR: In 1954 - just a year after Dulles took the reins at the CIA - the Agency armed and trained a small army of men to fight under Armas. With whatever means they had at their disposal, they sowed the seeds of insurrection.

DAVID TALBOT: The CIA used to power its influence, its networks, its connections, and its money. They spread money throughout these countries, desperately poor countries, to win over people. And, of course, they create mobs by giving people a few dollars to do their dirty work for them. 

NARRATOR: They also launched a campaign of psychological warfare, undermining Árbenz’s government in any way they could.

DAVID TALBOT: And this is very important, even to this day, the CIA - and Allen Dulles in particular - developed friendships, relationships with the top media people in this country. The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, CBS, and so forth. He would go to lunch with them. They had nicknames for each other. They were very chummy and very close. He persuaded The New York Times, Dulles did, to withdraw its reporter from Guatemala before the coup because he was reporting in a very fair way, a very objective way, what was actually happening. Well, the CIA didn't want the truth about Guatemala told, not in The New York Times. So they prevailed upon The New York Times publisher to withdraw this guy, to pull him out of the country. 

NARRATOR: On the 18th of July, 1954, Armas’s small army invaded Guatemala and headed toward the capital. They were far outnumbered by Árbenz’s still-loyal military but the threat of American airstrikes, and even an invasion, weighed heavily on the president’s mind.

DAVID TALBOT: He was told there would be great bloodshed if he resisted this coup, and that many people would die as a result.

NARRATOR: And so, Jacobo Árbenz faces a stark choice. His vision for Guatemala had always been a peaceful revolution. But now he has a CIA-backed army, marching on the capital - threatening to undo all the work of his presidency. How far will he go to bring about the change his country desperately needs?

DAVID TALBOT: By the way, a young Che Guevara was in Guatemala at that time, and he advised the supporters of the Árbenz presidency to fight back, to distribute guns to the poor people, the peasants to that country to resist the coup. 

NARRATOR: But Árbenz simply couldn’t stomach the idea of so much bloodshed.

DAVID TALBOT: So he did what he felt was a necessary and heroic thing, which was to step down from power.

NARRATOR: On the 27th of June, Jacobo Árbenz taped a final message to his people, intended for broadcast on the radio an hour later. But the CIA had other plans.

DAVID TALBOT: They limit who he can reach in his farewell address. And it's unclear to this day how many people actually heard that final broadcast because the CIA interfered with the communication. 

NARRATOR: And so his resignation, that same day, came without much fanfare. Perhaps Árbenz imagined, at least, that his torment would now be over. He was wrong. 

DAVID TALBOT: He's taken to the airport. He's going into exile. He's humiliated. First of all, there was an assassination attempt against him on the way to the airport.

NARRATOR: Boom. A car in Árbenz’s motorcade explodes, its pieces scattered to the streets of Guatemala City. But the would-be assassins have targeted the wrong vehicle. 

DAVID TALBOT: There were fake cars that were used in the motorcade, fortunately, carrying bodyguards and so forth. So the assault was on the wrong car. They didn’t injure or obviously kill Árbenz, but an attempt was made. Howard Hunt, who's a CIA agent, later said that he was involved in some way.

NARRATOR: Then, when a shaken Árbenz arrives with his family at the airport…

DAVID TALBOT: He is surrounded by the press. He's surrounded by mobs who were created by the CIA, essentially. And he's forced to humiliate himself on cameras that go around the world, on photographs, and so on. He's said to be smuggling cash out of the country. So he's forced to strip in front of the cameras down to his underwear to show that he's not carrying cash as he's forced into exile.

NARRATOR: Árbenz’s family is forced to watch on as the proud man is taunted before their eyes. Yet, look at the photos taken that day, and you’ll see a man still standing tall - despite the indignities he’s been subjected to. This defiance, this refusal to crumble under the CIA’s campaign, must have frustrated a man like Allen Dulles. For him, it’s not enough to defeat Jacobo Árbenz. He must be crushed entirely. It’s a process that begins, in that airport - but continues wherever the Árbenzes try to rebuild some semblance of a life.

DAVID TALBOT: It's a very tragic story. They fly originally to Mexico, from Guatemala. Then they fly to Paris, France. They seek asylum in Switzerland… behind the Iron Curtain. Whatever place they go to, they meet political problems. They're told you can't teach. You can't meet with the press, that he's a shadow person. He's invisible.

NARRATOR: Anywhere that the CIA - or the American government - exerts any kind of influence, the Árbenzes find their path obstructed. Eventually, they follow their old friend and advisor, Che Guevara, to another Latin American hotbed of idealism. But even there, life is not simple.

DAVID TALBOT: Even in Cuba, where he seeks asylum in Castro's Cuba, he's seen as a loser because he lost Guatemala. So he's told that he can't teach. He can't do anything. So, he's a man without a country, really, without an identity. 

NARRATOR: And behind each new disgrace lurks the ominous puppeteering of Allen Dulles’ CIA.

DAVID TALBOT: The CIA is often behind the bad press that he gets. He's accused of being a communist. He's accused of having stolen money from Guatemala's Treasury. Neither of which is true. So this bad press hounds him wherever he goes.

NARRATOR: As the once-great politician watches the proportions of his own life grow smaller and smaller - he comes increasingly to cherish what he does still have: his family.

DAVID TALBOT: He's very close to his grown daughter. She's a beautiful woman. She gets involved with another celebrity, a matador, I believe. And he's a ladies’ man because he's very handsome and a celebrity, and she walks into a café in Latin America where he was at the time, and she kills herself in front of him. 

NARRATOR: There’s no indication that this incident had anything to do with the CIA’s campaign - but that scarcely made any difference to Jacobo Árbenz. He must have felt cursed.

DAVID TALBOT: I don't believe that Árbenz ever recovered from the death of his daughter. He mourned her for the rest of his life. 

NARRATOR: The end of Árbenz’s own life, in 1971, is similarly brutal.

DAVID TALBOT: He ends up dying in a very violent, very suspect way in a Mexico City hotel room scalded to death in a bathtub. It's not the way people usually commit suicide.

NARRATOR: And yet, by this time, Jacobo Árbenz - humiliated politician, defeated alcoholic, perpetually grieving father - cuts such a tragic figure, no one thinks twice.

DAVID TALBOT: That's why the charge that he committed suicide at the end in Mexico City Hotel because he was a very, I think, sad man, you know, stuck. 

NARRATOR: It’s a suitably punishing end to a desperately sad story. But the CIA, and especially the Dulles brothers, never saw it that way. Back in 1954, after Árbenz had resigned, they debriefed President Eisenhower on what they described as a bloodless coup.

DAVID TALBOT: And he's elated because they brought off this thing with very few deaths and so forth and they changed [the] power regime in Guatemala. 

NARRATOR: Mission accomplished, then, a nation rescued from the communist scourge - safely in the hands of the American-backed military man, Carlos Castillo Armas. 

DAVID TALBOT: And he survives by himself for a few years before he's assassinated also. 

NARRATOR: In reality, the legacy that the CIA left in Guatemala is anything but bloodless.

DAVID TALBOT: Now, in Guatemala, it's led to years of killing fields, of torture, of executions, of journalists, trade unions, progressive political officials being disappeared, jailed, killed, executed. Years and years of violence and bloodshed and upheaval, not only in Guatemala but throughout the region. And that's directly as a result of US policies in those countries that disrupted the efforts toward democracy in those countries. And Jacobo Árbenz is a key example, I think, his downfall, of the US policies, which are so tragic and I think anti-democratic as I say. 

NARRATOR: Was this outcome really what Eisenhower had in mind when he sought to prevent war at any cost? Talbot believes the president was manipulated by the Dulles brothers. Used to consolidate their own influence, in the high-power circles of American business, and to further their ideological campaign against the existential threat of communism.

DAVID TALBOT: At the end of the Eisenhower presidency, John Foster Dulles has died. He died in the second term of cancer. But Allen Dulles is still very much alive. And he accused Allen Dulles and the CIA of leaving him a legacy of ashes. And why did Dulles leave Eisenhower this legacy? Because again and again, he had sabotaged Eisenhower's attempts at creating peace with the Soviet Union. And he'd done this through his own machinations as CIA director. 

NARRATOR: Perhaps it was this belated understanding that motivated Eisenhower’s iconic farewell speech, broadcast to the nation on the 17th of January, 1961. In that speech, Eisenhower warned against the insidious influence of what he termed the Military-Industrial Complex. To quote: “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” It’s a stark warning from a man who signed off on violent, anti-democratic coups in nations like Guatemala and Iran. But as far as Allen Dulles was concerned, Eisenhower’s warning was irrelevant. This was a rinse-and-repeat model of operation. From his position at the top of the CIA, he was convinced he could roll out the same secret warfare time and time again, irrespective of opponent, irrespective of the desires of whoever happened to be sitting in the White House. He was president-proof. Soon enough, his theory would be put to the test. By a new president, for one thing.

DAVID TALBOT: I think he thought Kennedy was inexperienced, was young, was malleable. 

NARRATOR: It would be put to the test by a new revolutionary.

DAVID TALBOT: Castro was something he'd never come across before. He was a charismatic, very popular nationalist hero at home. 

NARRATOR: And it would be put to test by another Latin American nation, one that had witnessed the collapse of the Guatemalan dream and was prepared.

DAVID TALBOT: And I think that's one reason why the Cuban revolution was very, very well-armed and did kill and execute people after the revolution to cement their own power because they felt that they were up against a very powerful enemy. 

NARRATOR: In Part 2 of The Old Man & the CIA, Allen Dulles meets his match at the Bay of Pigs.

DAVID TALBOT: I think he was stunned by Kennedy, how stubborn he was, how resolute he was, how he stood his ground at the Bay of Pigs. I think that he thought Kennedy would cave and he didn’t. And I think he was shocked by that. 

NARRATOR: I’m Sophia Di Martino. Join me next time for another chapter in the life of America’s most infamous chess master.

Guest Bio

David Talbot is the author of The Devil's Chessboard and Brothers, as well as being an activist and independent historian. He was also the founder and former editor-in-chief of the online magazine Salon and has written for Time magazine, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and other publications.

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