The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government

An explosive, headline-making portrait of Allen Dulles, the man who transformed the CIA into the most powerful—and secretive—colossus in Washington, from the founder of and author of the New York Times bestseller Brothers.

America’s greatest untold story: the United States’ rise to world dominance under the guile of Allen Welsh Dulles, the longest-serving director of the CIA. Drawing on revelatory new materials—including newly discovered U.S. government documents, U.S. and European intelligence sources, the personal correspondence and journals of Allen Dulles’s wife and mistress, and exclusive interviews with the children of prominent CIA officials—Talbot reveals the underside of one of America’s most powerful and influential figures.

Dulles’s decade as the director of the CIA—which he used to further his public and private agendas—were dark times in American politics. Calling himself “the secretary of state of unfriendly countries,” Dulles saw himself as above the elected law, manipulating and subverting American presidents in the pursuit of his personal interests and those of the wealthy elite he counted as his friends and clients—colluding with Nazi-controlled cartels, German war criminals, and Mafiosi in the process. Targeting foreign leaders for assassination and overthrowing nationalist governments not in line with his political aims, Dulles employed those same tactics to further his goals at home, Talbot charges, offering shocking new evidence in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

An exposé of American power that is as disturbing as it is timely, The Devil’s Chessboard is a provocative and gripping story of the rise of the national security state—and the battle for America’s soul.

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 6, 2016)

Editorial Reviews


“A Cold War villain of realpolitik whose successes and blunders were unrivaled. As framed by Talbot, Dulles’s extra-legal interventions, coups, slush funds, and ex-Nazi collaborations were as much pro-corporate as anti-Communist, more Cheneyish than Nixonian…. He’d fit right into our globalized, subcontracted, and hypersurveilled era.” (New York Magazine)

“Dulles is unmasked as the backstage manipulator of US policy (foreign and domestic) from the Cold War up to his skillful defense of the highly suspect Warren Commission report. Those who scoff at conspiracy theories might have a change of mind after reading this book.” (Boston Globe, Pick of the Week)

“A frightening biography of power, manipulation, and outright treason…The story of Allen Dulles and the power elite that ran Washington, D.C., following World War II is the stuff of spy fiction…All engaged American citizens should read this book and have their eyes opened.” (Kirkus, starred review)

“A damning biography—of the CIA’s longest standing director—and an exposé of American politics…. One would be hard pressed to find a book that is better at evoking the strange and apocalyptic atmospherics of the early Cold War years in America…. Neither le Carré nor Graham Greene could do any better.” (Daily Beast)

“Offers a portrait of a black-and-white Cold War-era world full of spy games and nuclear brinkmanship.” (Mother Jones)

“This year’s best spy thriller isn’t fiction — it’s history…. By the time ‘The Devil’s Chessboard’ eventually climaxes with the events that unfolded in Dallas in 1963, Talbot’s argument that Dulles had both the power and temperament to execute such a plot is more than believable.” (Salon)

“A chilling psychological depiction…. The vast surveillance system so dramatically revealed to the world by Edward Snowden could never have come to pass without the culture of fanatical secrecy and habitual lawlessness handed down by Dulles and his loyal agents.” (Justyn Dillingham,

“This aptly titled book portrays Allen Dulles as the dark prince of the Cold War who manipulated the media, deceived presidents, helped stir up coups… [and might] have been involved in Kennedy’s assassination. Readers who enjoy espionage’s dark history will have a tough time putting this book down.” (Library Journal)

“Essential reading, especially for readers with even a passing interest in post-WW2 U.S. foreign policy.” (CounterPunch)


Amazon Reviews:

A Groundbreaking Resource, Second Only to “JFK and the Unspeakable”
A Breathtaking Volume guaranteed to change your perception!
As the author of “Mary’s Mosaic,” I believe Talbot’s book will become a defining “must read” journey for the true understanding of the Cold War era in American History. As others have point out, this book, coupled with James Douglas’s “JFK & The Unspeakable,” should be “required reading” for every American citizen. This is as close to the “truth” as we are likely to ever get.

It took me several weeks to finish this book, only because I found myself agitated and enraged to the point of having to put the book down in order to regain my composure. Having a CIA father who was seduced by Allen Dulles (or should I say allowed himself to be seduced by Allen Dulles), my own past demons again rose from the dead for one last dance. Talbot’s interviews with Allen Dulles’s daughter Joan were also deeply poignant. There are so many things Talbot brings to light in this book for the greater good of all.

If I have any criticism, it would be that Talbot’s footnotes are too superficial and structured badly. A book like this needs to be THOROUGHLY documented, sometimes with great detail. A fine example of this would be how Jim Douglas handled his footnotes for “JFK & The Unspeakable.” Douglas left no ambiguity when it came to documenting critical details he presented.

The other shortcoming here is that Talbot never covered one of the most important documents ever revealed by the CIA. That document ( ), signed by my own father who chaired the meeting that took place at the highest levels in the CIA on September 20, 1967, reveals unequivocally the CIA’s involvement in the JFK assassination. As Jim Garrison’s challenge to the Warren Commission emerged into the national foreground in 1967, the public was unaware of what was taking place at CIA headquarters. Present at this meeting was the CIA’s Executive Director, General Counsel, Inspector General, and others, including Raymond Rocca who was James Jesus Angleton’s chief lieutenant in the office of Counterintelligence. Rocca was quoted as stating in the meeting that he felt that “Garrison would indeed obtain a conviction of [Clay] Shaw for conspiring to assassinate President Kennedy.”

That statement was nothing less than prima facie evidence of the CIA’s involvement in the assassination of a sitting U.S. President, which amounted to an open, documented admission by a high level CIA officer – during an internal CIA meeting – that Clay Shaw (as well as the CIA itself) was “indeed” part of the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. Since its release in 1998, few JFK assassination researchers have even mentioned this document, much less understood its true significance. This event, among others, will be thoroughly addressed in a new, forthcoming third edition of “Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace” in September 2016.

Thank you David Talbot for the true understanding of who Allen Dulles really was and the destruction of the republic that he brought about !

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