Covert affairs

In one he wrote of a night out with "an attractive (not beautiful) Irish-French female whom I took to Scheherazade, where we stayed until the early hours." In another, the subject was a "rather good-looking" English woman with whom he "danced and drank champagne until quite late." As if to pour salt in her emotional wounds, Dulles wrote in another letter that he didn't "deserve as good a wife as I have, as I am rather too fond of the company of other ladies."

During World War II, Dulles ran American espionage operations in neutral Switzerland. Soon after arriving in Bern, he found a mistress, Mary Bancroft, a dynamic woman of the world who had grown up on Beacon Hill in Boston under the wing of her doting step-grandfather, C. W. Barron, publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Dulles hired Bancroft to write political analysis, but there was little doubt where his interest lay. By her own account, Bancroft developed "overwhelming admiration for his abilities" and fell "completely in love" with him.

Dulles was 60 years old when he took over the CIA, and had slowed down a bit. Nonetheless, he was rumoured to have become familiar with one of the highest-profile women of the era, Clare Booth Luce, the wife of Henry R. Luce, the publisher of Time and Life.

Dulles's behaviour was well known in Washington and elsewhere, but never publicly reported. By the journalistic codes of the 1950s, it was not newsworthy. The same code applied to Dulles's superiors. Presidents Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy entrusted the security of the US to him. What Dulles did in his private life, even when it intersected with his public role, was considered none of their business. Allen Dulles, who died in 1969, may have been, as one biographer claimed, "the greatest intelligence officer who ever lived." Yet by today's standards, this master spy would not have been allowed even to join the CIA, much less lead it.

... contd.

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