THE OLD BOYS: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA by Burton Hersh

THE OLD BOYS: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A sprawling chronicle that details how a clutch of Ivy-educated Wall Street attorneys and their associates--the ""Old Boy network""--created the Central Intelligence Agency and influenced the formative decades of the cold war. Hersh (The Mellon Family, 1978, etc.) has performed a prodigious job of research, conducting more than 100 interviews and burrowing through mounds of archives and declassified documents. His narrative runs from the 1919 Versailles conference, where the young Dulles brothers observed uncle Robert Lansing, Woodrow Wilson's secretary of state, to the Bay of Pigs operation and the frustrating retirement years of its principals. Six men occupy the foreground here: sanctimonious John Foster Dulles and his hedonistic younger brother Allen, who before their heyday as Eisenhower cold warriors were well-heeled corporate lawyers who ran interference for German firms instrumental in the Nazis' prewar rearmament; legendary OSS chief ""Wild Bill"" Donovan; Frank Wisner, ultimately CIA operations chief; New Deal diplomat William C. Bullitt; and Carmel Offie, the dandyish assistant to Bullitt and Wisher and a master of diplomatic sleight-of-hand. Hersh hopes to show how these latter-day Wilsonian ""global salvationists,"" aching to roll back the Communist menace, forged an intelligence apparatus intoxicated with the black arts of covert activities--loosely supervised, often amateurish, sometimes harebrained. He sheds light on the frantic wartime operations of Allen Dulles and Wisher in Europe, as well as on how much the Americans benefited from the bulging Soviet files of ex-Nazi intelligence chief Reinhard Gehlen. Yet time and again, Hersh projects his insouciance until it begins to grate (e.g., George Kennan was a ""brilliant, mavericky, neurasthenic cheese-parer""). Dulles & Co. deserve a more straightforward treatment than this arch account that bites off more than it can chew.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1992
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Scribners