An affable scion of the Northeastern establishment, a committed interventionist in foreign affairs, and fervent disciple of American exceptionalism, Allen Welsh Dulles served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1953 to 1961.
International affairs were the Dulles family business. Allen’s maternal grandfather, John W. Foster, was secretary of state under Benjamin Harrison. His uncle, Robert Lansing, held the same office under Woodrow Wilson. John Foster Dulles, his elder brother, served as secretary of state in the Eisenhower administration, and Allen reputedly wanted the job for himself. Yet, when Allen ran the CIA and his brother was ensconced as head of State, there was little of the usual friction between the two agencies of government. The brothers worked together like a well-oiled team. Critics have argued ever since that the country and the world would have been better off had this not been the case.
After graduating from Princeton Phi Beta Kappa, Dulles joined the Foreign Service, where he served with distinction from 1916 to 1926, and developed a taste for intelligence work that lasted all his life. He then went on to join his brother’s Wall Street law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, with a view to making real money. The firm represented some of the most powerful corporations in the world, and Dulles succeeded in his objective, but he sorely missed the excitement of cloak-and-dagger work.