Bill Kelly's review of David Talbot's new book "The Devil's Chessboard"
David Talbot’s “The Devil’s Chessboard – Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government” (Harper-Collins, NY, 2015)
A Preview of the New Political Landscape
By Bill Kelly
David Talbot’s “The Devil’s Chessboard” turns the tables on the traditional journalists and historians who have uniformly portrayed Allen Dulles as the pipe smoking gentleman spy who fought for America’s righteous causes through two world wars and the Cold War and helped calm America’s anxiety in the wake of the Kennedy assassination by honorably serving on the Warren Commission.
Not so fast. By focusing on one man at the epicenter of both World War II and the Cold War – Allen Welsh Dulles, Talbot puts his
finger on the pulse of power, and without promoting any conspiracy theory in regards to the assassination, he sets the stage for rational discussion and historic acceptance of such theories, for certainly one of them must be true.
Rather than the crusading knight, in retrospect we can now see Dulles for what he actually was – a shrewd lawyer who looked after the interests of his family, friends and corporate clients, a man who harnessed the secrets of the black arts and helped establish the secret intelligence state that has pretty much run things since the end of World War II.
The chessboard is a fitting matrix model that can help make complex issues simple or easier to understand and some of the main characters – E. Howard Hunt and David Atlee Phillips considered themselves Knights and Bishops, major players in the Great Game that Dulles played, though Dulles himself was not so much a player on the board but one of the masters who moved the pieces around.
From representing German industrial giants before the war and supporting a separate peace with the Nazis against the president’s stated policy to instigating coups against democratically elected governments in Guatemala and Iran, Talbot portrays Allen Dulles as a man who not only made his own foreign policy, but was often at odds with the presidents he served – Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kenned and Johnson.
With his brother John Foster Dulles as Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, as head of the then relatively unknown Central Intelligence Agency Allen Dulles was a king maker in a strategic position to design and call the plays and make the moves that made American and world history for over a decade.
Dulles’ downfall – the Bay of Pigs, was a major blunder, conceived during the Eisenhower administration and carried out shortly after Kennedy took office. While JFK approved the relocation of the invasion beach, refused to permit a second and necessary air strike, and took responsibility for the failure of the operation, he privately blamed Dulles for conceiving, approving and convincing him such a harebrained scheme would work.
Talbot correctly assumes the contemporary general consensus that the Bay of Pigs operation was designed to fail and force the president to order a large scale American military intervention, as LBJ would do in the Dominican Republic shortly after assuming office, but JFK balked and refused to do what the CIA and military leaders assumed he would do.
A genuine story teller with a narrative flair, Talbot begins with Allen Dulles walking around his Georgetown neighborhood past Dumbarton Oaks, the Harvard Research Center with the editor of Harpers Magazine, trying to explain his side of the Bay of Pigs debacle. Dulles would write an article on the subject for Harpers that was never published, but it was found and read by Talbot among the Dulles’ papers at Princeton.
In reading this book I found that Talbot presents the basic facts but leaves a lot of supporting details out, details that will come out and fill some of the missing pieces of the puzzle, such as the fact that the Harvard Research Center at Dumbarton Oaks was run for many years by a Harvard Russian associate who just happened to be present in the American Embassy office in Moscow when former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald presented his passport and announced his “defection.”
On the Devil’s Chessboard Oswald is a mere pawn whose movements were closely monitored by the CIA as well as the Soviets, but Talbot doesn’t give him credit for the dastardly deed most mainstream historians say he did – kill JFK all by himself. Rather, Talbot portrays Oswald as a political pawn in Dulles’ orbit and caught up in the intelligence network that was responsible for the Dealey Plaza operation and was famed for the crime.
In a real game of chess, it is highly unlikely if not impossible for a pawn to take out a King, but that’s exactly what Oswald is supposed to have done, and he was certainly maneuvered into position to do so.
“In the months leading up to the Kennedy assassination, Oswald was moved here and there with the calculation of a master chess player,” writes Talbot, and noting that “He staged public scenes in New Orleans and Mexico City that called attention to himself as a hotheaded militant, as he had done at the embassy in Moscow. There were invisible wires attached to Oswald – and some of the more intriguing ones led to Allen Dulles.”
In all of the two thousand and some books that have been written about the assassination few call attention to certain key facts about the assassination JFK’s bitter enemy Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay was a close personal friend of D. H. Byrd, owner of the Texas School Book Depository, from where Oswald is supposed to have fired the shots that killed Kennedy, and Dulles’ mistress and agent Mary Bancroft was a close friend and overseas traveling companion of Michael Paine’s mother Ruth Forbes Paine Young.
While Talbot doesn’t mention her name, he refers to her as “Ruth Paine’s mother-in-law,” reporting that: “It was another striking ‘coincidence’ in the endlessly enigmatic Oswald story. The housewife who took the Oswald’s under her wing had married into a family whose foibles and weaknesses were well known to Dulles and his mistress. Ruth Paine was aware of her mother-in-law’s connection to Bancroft and Dulles. Her mother-in-law, in fact, had told her that she invited the couple to enjoy a get-away on the family island. But with typical obstinacy, Ruth refused to see any particular significance to this Dulles link to her family.”
“Dulles himself,” writes Talbot, “acknowledged that the flat-out weirdness of these curious facts and, in his own characteristic fashion, simply laughed it off. The conspiracy-minded would have a field day, he chuckled, if they knew that he had visited Dallas three weeks before the assassination and that he had a personal connection to the women whom he identified as Marina Oswald’s ‘landlady.’”
As Talbot points out, Ruth and Michael Paine were more than Marina Oswald’s “landlady,” who charged no rent, they were Oswald’s benefactors and sponsors, giving him rides, providing food and clothing for his family and obtaining him the job at the Byrd’s Texas School Book Depository, from where shots were certainly fired at the president.
“In their immaculate innocence, the Paines played right into the hands of those who were manipulating Oswald,” Talbot concludes.
That the mother of the accused assassin’s chief sponsor was a close personal friend and European traveling companion of Allen Dulles’ mistress and agent is not six degrees of separation but two, and not a coincidence any more than the fact that the mistress – Mary Bancroft, was Dulles’ intermediary with Hans Bernd Gisevius, the Nazi officer and principle agent in the July 1944 Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler. Talbot mentions this, but doesn’t mention that in late September 1963 CIA officer Desmond Fitzgerald briefed the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the CIA’s attempt to adapt aspects of the Valkyrie plot to use against Castro in Cuba.
There was a lot of movement of the chessboard that day as the CIA briefed the Joint Chiefs, temporarily chaired by Gen. LeMay, JFK signed an National Security Action Memo authorizing “Project Four Leaves,” a military communication order, and left on a Conservation tour of the mid-west, when the details of the November visit to Texas was officially announced, and Lee Harvey Oswald slipped out of New Orleans for Mexico City.
The day before, the Oswald’s main benefactor Ruth Paine, had picked up the pregnant Marina and baby and their belongings, including the rifle said to have been used to kill JFK, and drove them to Texas after staying at the Forbes family’s Naushon island off Massachusetts and visiting her husband’s mother – Mary Bancrofts’s good friend in Philadelphia.
As Talbot notes, “Bancroft reminded Dulles that she had known Michael’s mother ‘extremely well’ for over forty years and had spent summers with her on Naushon Island,” so Bancroft recognized the significance of their relationship and conveyed it to Dulles.
Unlke John Wilkes Booth’s landlady, who was executed, and those who assist assassins and terrorists today, who are violently interrogated and vigorously prosecuted, Ruth and Michael Paine were treated with kid’s gloves by the Warren Commission, who was never informed that Michael’s mom was a friend and agent of the former head of the CIA and Warren Commissioner Dulles.
This book will spark and put to rest many debates, such as the fable that RFK asked LBJ to appoint Dulles and John J. McCloy to the Warren Commission, whether the CIA engaged in a cover-up of the truth behind the assassination and the veracity of some of the sources of information. To his credit, Talbot resurrects Col. Fletcher Prouty, who worked in the Pentagon at the time of the assassination, and weathered attempts to discredit him for his beliefs, and David Lifton, who had an interesting one to one conversation with Dulles about the assassination at a public event.
At the time of the Bay of Pigs Allen Dulles was on an unrelated trip to South America. At the time of the assassination, D. H. Byrd, the owner of the Texas School Book Depository, was on a safari in Africa with a German Barron whose father was an assassination expert who supported the Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler.
In the two months before the assassination Dulles met with top CIA officials including Desmond Fitzgerald, the CIA officer who briefed the Joint Chiefs on the adaption of the Valkyrie Plot, David Atlee Philips, who met with Oswald before he went to Mexico City, and Cord Meyer, James J. Angleton and Thomas Karamessines, all bishops, knights and rooks who made key moves and played major roles in the assassination drama.
Other previous biographies of Dulles say that at the time of the assassination he was in New York at the venerable Council on Foreign Relations, but Talbot places him back in D.C. at his Georgetown home and then moving to the CIA’s special training camp near Quantico, Virginia known as “The Farm.”
After the failure of the Valkyrie plot Dulles and Bancroft assisted Hans B. Gisevious in getting out of the country by providing fake credentials, and after the war, Bancroft translated Gisevious’ manuscript to English while Dulles brought him to Washington as a CIA consultant. In Washington Gisevious lived at the home of Dulles’ chief assistants Tom Braden, who interviewed Dulles for the JFK Library.
As Talbot writes, “While serving on the Warren Commission, Dulles told Braden, he had the opportunity to examine the assassination in exquisite detail. He talked about the events of that day as if he were inspecting the intricate meshing of synchronicities that had to occur in order for Kennedy to die that day. His description made it sound like the operation of a lifetime.”
“If the employees of the Book Depository had eaten their lunch in a little different place,” said Dulles, “if somebody had been at one place where he might easily have been instead of another at one particular time – the ‘ifs’ just stand out all over it. And if any one of these ‘ifs’ been changed, it might have been prevented…It was so tantalizing to go over the record [of events], as we did, trying to find out every fact connected with the assassination, and then to say if any one of the chess pieces that were entered into the game had been moved differently, at any one time, the whole thing might have been different.”
Indeed, instead of an accident of history, in which a deranged lone gunman kills the President seemingly on a whim, it has become increasingly apparent that regardless of the role Oswald played, what occurred at Dealey Plaza was a well planned and executed covert intelligence operation that was timed to the second, and without endorsing any particular conspiracy, David Talbot’s “The Devil’s Chessboard” lays out the stage for this to be understood and generally believed.
While this book is important on many levels, it is the first to call attention to the significance of the Valkyrie Plot to kill Hitler and its numerous connections to the Dealey Plaza operation that resulted in the death of the President. So now we can look forward to the development of more information on this as Washington D.C. attorney Jim Lesar has already filed an FOIA request for the records related to the CIA’s adaption of that plot to get rid of Castro.
The associations between the CIA plots to kill Castro and the assassination of JFK, known to Dulles but kept from the other Warren Commissioners, have previously focused almost exclusively on the CIA-Mafia plots, and it has been surmised that one of those plots to kill Castro was redirected to kill JFK. The Valkyrie plot is now in the forefront of assassination plans that were on the CIA’s drawing board, and as we learn more about it, and how it was adapted to be used against Castro, we can also see how it was possibly redirected to kill JFK at Dallas.
One of the key elements of the German military’s Valkyrie Plot to kill Hitler was to blame the assassination on the SS, just as there was and still is a functioning psychological war campaign to blame the Dealey Plaza operation on Oswald and Castro.
As we await the CIA’s response to Lesar’s FOIA request for the Valkyrie Plot documents, Lesar has said that Talbot’s book might “change the political landscape” of America, and in exposing new facts, presenting a more honest portrait of Dulles and a new perspective of the Cold War, David Talbot flips the game board table and opens the door to a more honest and accurate assessment of what happened at Dealey Plaza and that the probability that the President was killed not by a deranged loner but by his powerful political enemies.
Without endorsing any particular conspiracy theory the “new political landscape” allows for the assassination of the President to be viewed more honestly and clearly and not as it was previously presented, and elevates the discussions and debates to a new level, one that requires the national security state to give up its assassination secrets so it can be more fully understood.