By Arthur I. Cyr
“Here is a book you should have, Mr. Director,” and with that Jacqueline Kennedy handed CIA director Allen Dulles a copy of “From Russia with Love” by Ian Fleming, the latest novel in the series featuring lethal British agent James Bond. Their 1957 encounter in Palm Beach bears on continuing controversies, and too many recent embarrassments, involving U.S. government intelligence.
The conversation is recounted by Peter Grose in his important book “Gentleman Spy,” a comprehensive biography of Dulles, who was a world-class networker. That skill was important to his rise to the top of the highly competitive world of intelligence. Mrs. Kennedy’s husband had emerged as a serious contender for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination. President John F. Kennedy’s fondness for Bond novels sparked the durable movie franchise. The movie Bond’s fetish for high-tech equipment, however, contrasts with the Bond of Fleming’s novels. On Aug. 16, The New York Times revealed in a front-page story that telecom giant AT&T has been cooperating intimately with the top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) in routinely reviewing the electronic communication records of millions of Americans and others. Both Dulles and Fleming served as intelligence officers during World War II, when close cooperation between American and British intelligence began. Agent Fleming recommended in detail the sort of American who should head a new office in New York. Dulles fit Fleming’s description precisely, and was hired. Dulles later managed operations in Switzerland, a neutral operating ground for agents of the Allies and Nazis. A vast cast of characters in between encompassed fanatics, fools, fraudsters and geniuses. Electronic surveillance existed, but the working environment and challenges were overwhelmingly human.
Allen Dulles handled an overwhelming job skillfully, contributed to ultimate Allied victory and was picked by Dwight Eisenhower to run the CIA. The agency’s generally effective combination of human and tech intelligence nevertheless did not prevent the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion early in JFK’s administration.