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A Look Back ... Allen Dulles Becomes DCI

President Dwight Eisenhower called on Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence (DDCI) Allen Dulles to lead the United States’ intelligence effort during the darkest times of the Cold War. At the time, it seemed impossible to outsmart the Soviet Union. The Soviets caught our spies and were very careful about protecting their secrets. The Iron Curtain seemed impenetrable. During DCI Dulles’ tenure, intelligence advancements were made that helped draw back the curtain.


From Spymaster Hero to DCI


During World War II, Dulles joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and served as the OSS chief in Bern, Switzerland. From that key neutral outpost, Dulles collected important intelligence from German sources and negotiated an early surrender of German forces in Italy. OSS Director William Donovan made sure these accomplishments made it into the American press, and Dulles became famous in America as a spymaster and wartime cloak-and-dagger hero.

After the war ended in 1945, Dulles returned to his law practice but was consulted about the creation of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In 1948, Dulles was asked to chair an early reform study of the organization. DCI Walter Bedell Smith brought Dulles in to oversee operations in 1951 and then made him his deputy director a few months later. When the newly inaugurated Eisenhower made Dulles DCI on February 26, 1953, it seemed to fulfill his destiny.


Rollercoaster Tenure

Dulles served longer than any DCI, from February 1953 to November 1961. His tenure is often said to be a “golden age” for CIA.

It was a time of derring-do, when the public viewed the CIA as a patriotic organization of people fighting our Cold War enemies. It was an era of innovation in technical collection.

Above all, it is remembered as the hey-day of successful espionage against the Communist Bloc. Dulles presided over the Agency during one of its most active and interesting periods.

Because President Eisenhower sought to manage the Cold War and to contain the USSR without massive spending on U.S. conventional forces or risking nuclear war, he authorized Dulles and CIA to confront communist expansion and influence throughout the world. Dulles accomplished this and more by:

  • Conducting vigorous “hearts and minds” campaigns for people under communist domination;
  • Creating and funding Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, which were broadcast to the Soviet bloc and were hugely successful programs; and
  • Supporting a network of anti-Soviet social, labor, cultural, and student groups in Europe and elsewhere, as well as scholars, publications, and research institutions.

Technical collection successes accomplished under Dulles include:

All of these accomplishments helped keep the Cold War cold. They gave President Eisenhower—and his successors—intelligence about Soviet strategic capabilities and provided timely information about developing crises and hot spots.


Leaving Behind a Legacy

Dulles’ most lasting legacy is perhaps the Agency’s Headquarters campus itself. For most of his tenure as DCI, Dulles worked hard with congressmen and contractors to achieve his dream of a collegial, campus-like headquarters for his beloved CIA. So it is fitting that the memorial of Dulles in the Original Headquarters Building lobby has the inscription, “His Monument is Around You.”

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Posted: Mar 27, 2009 12:26 PM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:11 PM