Allen Dulles Biography

Government Official (1893–1969)
Appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, attorney and intelligence operative Allen Dulles was the head of the CIA from 1953 to 1961.


Allen Dulles, born on April 7, 1893, in Watertown, New York, worked as an overseas intelligence officer and diplomat before practicing law in the United States. He was part of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and eventually came to head the CIA beginning in 1953, with his brother John Foster serving as secretary of state. Both were known for their anti-Communist stance and covert, highly tumultuous Cold War policies. Dulles died on January 29, 1969.

Background and Early Career

Allen Dulles was born on April 7, 1893, in Watertown, New York, to a family with powerful political connections, with both his grandfather and uncle having served as secretary of state. Dulles went on to attend Princeton University, making Phi Beta Kappa. 

During and after World War I, Dulles taught in India and worked as a diplomat and intelligence operative in Europe, subsequently returning stateside to study law at George Washington University. After earning his degree in 1926, Dulles joined the Wall Street law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, where older brother John Foster worked. (Decades later, in 1959, Dulles received a law doctorate.)

Director of the CIA

Allen Dulles was recruited to join the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and came to helm its office in Bern, Switzerland, overseeing a web of spies in Nazi strongholds and negotiating a surrender of the German military in Italy. With the closing of the OSS, Dulles was involved in the 1951 formation of its successor, the CIA, and was made deputy director before being appointed head of the organization in 1953 under Dwight D. Eisenhower. John Foster was simultaneously appointed secretary of state.

Cold War Actions

Both brothers shared rigid anti-Communist sentiments, and as such their policy reflected their stance, often in covert activities that created havoc for governments that they perceived as real or potential Soviet Union allies. With an eye on Cuba, Indonesia and Vietnam as well, Dulles’s reign orchestrated the overthrow of leaders in Iran and Guatemala, with a CIA operative sent to remove Congolese nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba.

After the failed Bay of Pigs operation, and under pressure from President John F. Kennedy, who had a different perspective on the CIA's unchecked power, Dulles resigned from his post in the latter half of 1961. Some conspiracy theorists have presented Dulles's name in connection to Kennedy’s assassination, but no concrete evidence has been presented to substantiate such claims.

Personal Life and Book Biographies

Dulles and his wife, Clover, had been married in 1920, with the two staying together until Dulles’s death. Their union, however, was not seen as amorous. Dulles was known to have had an array of affairs, alluding to them at times in letters to Clover, and was reputably an aloof, emotionally removed father to his children despite his charming public persona.

Allen Dulles died at the age of 75, on January 29, 1969, in Washington, D.C. In 1994, Peter Grose penned the book Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles, and the career of the Dulles siblings has been chronicled in the Stephen Kinzer work The Brothers (2013).

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