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WASHINGTON — The founder of Salon.com just published a biography of one of the Cold War’s most influential figures, and it contains controversial allegations that tie the CIA to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Almost 60 years after Kennedy’s killing, questions continue to swirl over whether the shooter Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, or was supported by a conspiracy of allies that some believe had government ties. David Talbot’s new book, “The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government,” is renewing the debate with allegations about Dulles and his purported links to the assassination after Kennedy fired him from his post as the first civilian leader of the CIA.
In his book, Talbot, an independent journalist and the first editor-in-chief of progressive news site Salon, traces the rise to power of Allen Welsh Dulles, a diplomat and former lawyer who later led the CIA while it carried out some of its most notorious misdeeds. He was aided in his influence over the U.S. government by his older brother, John Foster Dulles, who became Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Before joining the ranks of the Washington elite, the brothers were partners at the powerful Wall Street law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell.
Allen Dulles took the helm at the CIA under the Eisenhower administration, and was allowed to remain in the role during most of Kennedy’s presidency. During a lengthy interview with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, Talbot explained that Kennedy initially supported the CIA’s agenda, but gradually began to break away over the agency’s increasingly violent plans for Cuba after the “Bay of Pigs invasion,” a failed CIA-backed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro in April 1961:
So he was kind of sandbagged by the CIA. He did go through with [the Bay of Pigs invasion], but he had no intention of widening it into an all-out U.S. military assault on the island, on Cuba. But that’s what the CIA had in mind. … [W]hat they hoped and what they planned was that a young President Kennedy, as this invasion was bogged down on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs, would be forced then to send in the Marines and the U.S. Air Force to topple Castro.
But Kennedy resisted, and kept the U.S. from being led into a nuclear war over the Cuban missile crisis. According to Talbot, “that was the beginning of [Kennedy’s] break” from the CIA.
Talbot alleges that although Kennedy dismissed Dulles from his post at the CIA in November 1961, after the Bay of Pigs, Dulles continued to meet with government officials and influence U.S. policy, essentially creating a secret government that prioritized a corporate agenda over the rule of democracy in the U.S. — including plotting the assassination of Kennedy, who they saw as a barrier to that agenda.
Talbot claims that Dulles had multiple meetings with government officials also investigated by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, a Congressional effort begun in 1976 to examine lingering questions about the killings of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
More tellingly, Talbot told Goodman that Dulles spent the entire weekend of Kennedy’s killing at “The Farm,” a secretive CIA enclave in Virginia:
Well, he’s there while Kennedy is killed, after Kennedy is killed, when Jack Ruby then kills Lee Harvey Oswald. That whole fateful weekend, he’s hunkered down in a CIA command post. So, there are many odd circumstances like this.
While the book’s detailed historical research is being lauded in the independent media, not everyone is convinced by the assassination theories. James A. Warren, a visiting scholar at Brown University and military writer for The Daily Beast, praised “The Devil’s Chessboard” while casting doubt on some of Talbot’s conclusions:
That Allen Dulles exercised enormous power and abused that power in myriad ways; that he ordered assassinations of undesirables abroad; that his CIA destabilized foreign governments in the Third World based on grossly exaggerated assessments of Soviet subversion; that he integrated high-level Nazi intelligence agents into CIA and West German intelligence networks—all these allegations are clearly borne out by the facts presented here, and confirmed by the work of many other investigators.
However, Warren was less sure about the JFK assassination ties:
The evidence that Dulles was the ringleader of a network of hardline, Cold War national security types that constituted a secret government, and that that “government” assassinated a president, is brilliantly and alluringly presented—so well presented, in fact, that one could almost believe it. But not quite.
For one thing, Talbot’s defense of these allegations rests far too heavily on hypothetical scenarios and intricately stitched together reconstructions of clandestine schemes, most of which are too heavily larded with innuendo, gossip, and hearsay to be credible.
While the continuing controversy over Kennedy’s death is unlikely to end any time soon, Talbot’s book makes what is perhaps an even more important claim — that Dulles and his allies oversaw a turning point in American history, when the democratic rule of the many became a plutocracy, the rule of the wealthy few. As Russ Baker, publisher of independent media site Who What Why, wrote in his analysis of the book: “Dulles’s job, simply put, was to hijack the US government to benefit the wealthy.”
Underlining the importance of Talbot’s contribution to the understanding of American history, Baker noted:
No one can possibly understand the precarious state of American democracy today without scrutinizing the often secret path the country was taken on by those in power from the 1950s to the present.