AUDIO: Robert Scheer and David Talbot Explore the Origins of America’s Secret Government

AUDIO: Robert Scheer and David Talbot Explore the Origins of America’s Secret Government


Read the transcript below.

In the second episode of "Scheer Intelligence”—Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer’s new KCRW podcast— founding Editor David Talbot tells how former CIA chief Allen Dulles defied Franklin Roosevelt to conscript former Nazi leaders in preparation for war with the Soviet Union -- one of many deviations from official history that are recounted in Talbot's new book, "The Devil's Chessboard."

Talbot describes how Dulles assisted efforts to overthrow foreign governments in defiance of American authority, and alludes to new information he says supports the idea that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in a conspiracy that may have involved Dulles.

Talbot says several mainstream media publications have refused to review his book.

Like Talbot’s book, the conversation dwells on the particulars of obscure and obscured U.S. history. But its relevance to our understanding of how the U.S. government operates in the present is clear. Below is one of the interview’s choice moments.

Scheer: You describe Allen Dulles’, basically his plot to keep the Soviets out [of] Italy and to find good Germans and good Italians, even if they were with Mussolini, to then help us. And he expects, right or wrong, that there’s going to be a war with the Soviet Union.

Talbot: Absolutely. Well, that was his secret plan, called “Operation Sunrise,” in direct defiance, by the way, of Roosevelt policy, again this policy of unconditional surrender. He’s busy trying to cut a separate deal in violation of this policy with the Nazis, primarily in Italy at the end of the war. And he succeeds. And they do surrender, just in a matter of a few days before the general surrender in Italy. As I say, [it] had no real strategic value. It didn’t really save any lives, except the lives of the Nazis whose necks were saved by dealing with Dulles. But this begins this policy of Dulles’ incorporating elements of the Third Reich into post-war Germany. And as I say in the book, in some ways the Third Reich was not defeated or crushed, the [way] FDR wanted, so much as repurposed for the Cold War. There were key people in Nazi leadership who were rehabilitated by Dulles and others.

Listen to Talbot speak at the Peace Center in Los Angeles at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Listen to the conversation on iTunes here.

-- Adapted from KCRW by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Transcript follows:

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer in the second edition of our podcast, “Scheer Intelligence.” And I’m really excited to talk to somebody I consider an American original—which is the subtitle of this series—people who in their life came out of this crazy-quilt mixture of American culture and somehow or other are interesting in a way that defines America, or at least America at its best. And David Talbot is certainly such a person, probably best known for being the founding editor of Salon magazine, one of the people who really showed that the Internet was not going to be a lot of little noise and uninformed opinion, and actually took the idea of a salon and said you could have intelligent discussion and you could have diverse points of view, and you could actually learn something. And the big surprise for me in reading this book, “The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government,” is that although I’d read other things by David, this is a particularly well-written book. And by that I mean it makes American history accessible—and actually, world history since World War II—accessible in a way that I found compelling. It’s a big, fat, 500-page book; believe it or not, I read it as an e-book; I find that convenient. But it was a page-turner. But I read on your site that the major—what remains of the major book publishing—Washington Post, The New York Times—that they chose not to review it.

David Talbot: Well, that’s what I’ve been told so far by publicity people—that the gatekeepers are not embracing the book. I did slip an op-ed piece into The Washington Post yesterday [laughs]; you know, you have to do it yourself if you’re going to get acknowledged by the mainstream media, with books like this that challenge conventional history. And of course this is a provocative book in suggesting that there is even a secret government, a parallel government to our own democracy.

RS: You really got, ah, got a grasp on it in a way where the, you know, these are not stereotypical figures. And the person you’re writing about, Allen Dulles—for people who don’t know that name, he and his brother really were the major figures in American foreign policy. John Foster Dulles was secretary of state for a very long period; Allen Dulles was a spy who ended up being the director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and the Dulles brothers, with roots in Wall Street, a firm called Sullivan & Cromwell that sent a lot of people into foreign policy; foreign policy, as your book is particularly strong in showing its connection to business interests. It was a refresher course on the business interests that were involved in Germany and actually collaborated in the rise of the Nazi movement. That, I think, it’s not new, but it’s certainly new to start out front and center with that.

DT: Well, I think more and more of this is coming out. There was a law passed under Clinton in 1998, the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. And there’s been a flood of documents as a result of that law that scholars are now beginning to use. And a number of books are starting to come out. I think I’d take it a bit further, though, in arguing that this collaboration between the U.S. security apparatus and the Nazi regime, certainly after the war, during the Cold War, was much more extensive than I think the American people have been led to believe. But even in the case of the Dulles brothers, they were doing business with Nazi business interests before the war, representing companies like IG Farben, the notorious chemical company that produced Zyklon B, which was used to exterminate the Jews in the concentration camps. And they were exchanging Christmas cards up into the early days of the war with the CEO of IG Farben. During the war, Dulles gets himself sent to Switzerland, not London. Why? Because he’s virtually cut off from any supervision there. The Nazis have encircled Switzerland. He gets across the border with a surprising ease because they expect him; they know Dulles, they’re not displeased to have him there. And instead of really enforcing FDR’s policy of unconditional surrender with Hitler, he’s doing business with emissaries from the Third Reich throughout the war, and finally concludes a deal with Nazi forces in Italy, in the final days of the war, that saves only the necks of many of the Nazis that he’s doing business with.

RS: Reading your book, it’s a reminder of how deeply entrenched respectable German business interests—some of them owned by United States companies, by England, and you know, and the people who not only used the slave labor of Jews, Gypsies and others, but also that supplied the chemicals that killed them, built the gas chambers and so forth. I’ve been through the Holocaust museums and so forth; I’ve been back to Germany many times. But this is a view of the greatest crime in modern history. It’s a crime that goes against a lot of our conventional thinking now. These are not people living in caves in Afghanistan, they’re not Muslims. No, it’s a product of basically a Christian society, [a] large number of Catholics; you go into the complicity of the Vatican and the Catholic Church. You have a society—and a strong Protestant base—a society that was probably, arguably, the best-educated, most law-abiding, greatest music, highest level of civilization—

DT: Well, it’s culturally enlightened in many ways.

RS: Yes, and you capture that in the book. This madness comes to the people we least expected, if we think education makes you civilized. So the most uncivilized behavior is conducted by the best-educated people, and you capture them. You have these profiles, and then you insert Allen Dulles into this and he’s one of them! You know, he’s not running the camps, but he’s not shocked the way he should be.

DT: Not at all.

RS: Maybe you should go into that.

DT: Well, yeah, and in fact, you know, one of the great historical dramas of that period, of course, is what FDR is going to do about the Final Solution. Is he going to take action? Does he know in full about the camps, as Hitler’s regime decides in 1943 to pursue the Final Solution? And so there’s great drama around this. To what extent will FDR and the Allies intervene in this? And so information from behind the sort of wall of the Third Reich was essential; information about the camps as they were being built, and as the Final Solution, as it’s being implemented. And Dulles was in a very key position, not only when he was in Switzerland but even before, when he was serving in OSS headquarters in New York. And he was sending spies into Nazi-controlled Europe who were starting to bring back, at great risk to their own lives, these reports about this horrible, this horror that was about to occur. When he was in Switzerland, there was a Schindler-type figure—an industrialist, a German industrialist name Eduard Schulte—who saw Auschwitz just as it was about to be constructed and opened up. He came with documents across the border into Switzerland, [gave] them to Dulles; Dulles didn’t act on them. It didn’t strike him as important enough. What he was focused on was the German people themselves, the political situation in Germany. Was Germany going to emerge from the war as a strong counterweight to the Soviet Union? What was, was the left, the underground left in Germany—were they prepared to come take power after the war? Those were all the things he was focused on, not the plight of the Jews. So again and again, he would be told by these Germans, who were heroes, about the Holocaust that was being constructed, and he did nothing to bring it to FDR’s attention or to make it an urgent issue.

RS: There was also a sickness to this, that they—in the midst of this horror, the slaughter of innocents—they’re still looking for good Germans that they’ll be able to work with after the war. There’s an assumption, ‘Oh yes, they’ll be defeated;’ it’d be better if they could knock off the Soviets first, and you know, and then be defeated. But, you know, they’re going to be defeated. Then there’s, very early on, something very quite explosive in your book: There’s a plan to save Italy [laughs] and make a—

DT: From the left. [laughs]

RS: —yeah, from the left—make a separate deal. And the great contradiction, of course, is that much of the partisan activity was led by Socialists and Communists, particularly in Italy; that’s why the Italian Communist Party emerged from the war as probably the strongest political force. And in your book, in better detail than I’ve seen elsewhere, you describe Allen Dulles’, basically his plot to keep the Soviets out of Italy and to find good Germans and good Italians, even if they were with Mussolini, to then help us in what he expects right along is going to be a war with the Soviet Union, right?

DT: Absolutely. Well, that was his secret plan, called Operation Sunrise. In direct defiance, by the way, of Roosevelt policy—again, this policy of unconditional surrender—he’s busy trying to cut a separate deal in violation of this policy with the Nazis, primarily in Italy at the end of the war. And he succeeds, and they do surrender, just in a matter of a few days before the general surrender in Italy. As I say, it had no real strategic value; it didn’t really save any lives, except the lives of the Nazis whose necks were saved by dealing with Dulles. But this begins this policy of Dulles’ of incorporating elements of the Third Reich into postwar Germany. And as I say in the book, in some ways the Third Reich was not defeated or crushed the way that FDR wanted, so much as repurposed for the Cold War. There were key people in Nazi leadership who were rehabilitated by Dulles and others. One of the main ones I focus on is a fellow named Reinhard Gehlen, who was [Hitler’s] top spy master on the Eastern front. And as you know, that was the probably most gory front theater in the war. He got his intelligence, of course, by torturing countless numbers of people who fell into his clutches. So Gehlen was a cunning fellow, and he knew that the Cold War was going to break out between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. And he sold himself, basically, to Dulles and others on the U.S. side as an expert on Soviet military strength. And they needed him, he said. And they bought it. So he is installed by Dulles as the top spy official in postwar, democratic West Germany. He’s even wined and dined by Dulles; he’s brought to the U.S. in 1951, he’s given tickets because … his aide … —another Nazi, ex-Nazi—turns out to be an American baseball fan. So they get tickets from the CIA to the World Series game, the final game of the World Series in 1951, where Joe DiMaggio plays his last game of his career. So they were coddled, they were rehabilitated; they were incorporated into the West German power structure by Dulles for very expedient reasons. You know, he said, look, you don’t have to take these fellows to your club; but he did, in fact. He invited them not only to the World Series, but to his private clubs whenever they visited the U.S. It was way too cozy and sinister a pact.

RS: This is Robert Scheer, doing a podcast, the second podcast with David Talbot who’s written an incredible book, “The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles”—for those of you who don’t know Allen Dulles, he was the head of the CIA and his brother was the secretary of state and they were very instrumental in the whole shaping of the whole Cold War—ah, “Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government.” And I think the brilliance—and I use that word advisedly—of your book is you have a novelist’s approach. These become human beings, and then you say, wow! That guy seems like he’s charming and he’s interesting; I’d like to have dinner with him. No wonder Allen Dulles wanted to have dinner with him. Ah, but wait a minute. He killed all of these people. And then suddenly you’ve got what the crimes were. Was that your goal in writing it, or—?

DT: Well, I spent a lot of time on the writing, Bob, not just the research. Because I do believe at the end of the day, this is a war of ideas, and the best story wins. So I invested an enormous amount of energy. I think this is the best book I’ve written; I think you were right when you said that earlier. And I did want to write it as an epic spy yarn, because that’s the way you pull people in. And in some ways, it’s an anti-spy-yarn. You know, Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, was actually a contemporary, of course, of Allen Dulles, and in some ways was at odds with him in the run-up to World War II, because the British, of course, were determined to get the U.S. into the war on their side, and were taking actually ruthless measures, including “license to kill,” to use the Bondian term, against Nazi spies on U.S. soil. There was a fascinating sort of underworld spy-versus-spy battle happening within the U.S. during those critical days leading up to World War II. So Dulles comes out of that ruthless culture, that espionage culture where there is no morality in that culture. And as you say, he was on the surface very charming, liked to have people come over, sit by the fireside with him, drink Scotch, fine Scotch; he loved to tell stories. On the surface, very charming and amiable fellow. But, as his own daughter, who I interviewed for the book—who became a Jungian therapist and an Obama supporter and drives a Prius at the age of 90; I interviewed her, she’s retired in Santa Fe—you know, she basically described her father as regarding his own children with a kind of cold detachment, as if they were guests in his own house. He did unspeakable things to people he was close to, including his wife; including his son, Allen Jr., who came back from the Korean War with a war wound, a head wound. And he put him at one point in the hands of one of the more infamous CIA scientists who was operating under the notorious program MKUltra, which was a CIA-funded mind control program; they did unspeakable human experimentation on people at institutes and hospitals throughout the U.S. and in Canada. So, you know, he was basically capable of anything, and certainly when it came to dealing with the enemy, there just were no rules at all. You know, those who fell into the CIA’s clutches during the Cold War were subjected to many of the horrors that we’re reading about today and post 9/11, but none of these kind of practices that have become so controversial today—whether it’s torture, extraordinary rendition, CIA black sites, assassination, mind control experimentation—none of these were new in post 9/11 terms; they all had their origins in the Allen Dulles era in the CIA.

RS: Yeah, but I do want to get across to people: This is a study of human depravity that is actually not depressing. I don’t want people to avoid reading this book [laughs] because it’s, you know, it’s going to be a bummer—it is not a bummer! It is a great insight into a cast of characters that are fascinating. One of them I’ve thought about a lot is James Jesus Angleton, who sort of runs right through your whole book. And it’s interesting. I’m interviewing David Talbot, this is Robert Scheer, and we’re doing it at a place called Sports Byline on Broadway and Sansome in San Francisco that happens to be across the street from a place where Ramparts magazine, that I once edited—just like David Talbot was the editor of Salon much later—but I was an editor across the street. And while I was there, I was a target—not only I was, but the other folks at Ramparts—of this very same James Jesus Angleton. And I’ve actually gotten, through the Freedom of Information Act, documents where J. Edgar Hoover is arguing with James Jesus Angleton about whether the FBI is doing enough to destroy Ramparts and particularly to destroy me! [laughter] And Hoover comes to my aid and finally tells James Jesus Angleton to back off; that they feel I’m not an agent of something—

DT: Well, when J. Edgar Hoover is a restraining force, you know that you’re up against some kind of dangerous person.

RS: —yeah. So tell us about him, because he is this, you know, sinister but well educated, again, Ivy League, prep-school character that runs through the whole book.

DT: Yeah, well, James Jesus Angleton does come from this interesting background, as you say. He’s, you know, a literati in a way; he runs a very well-respected literary magazine when he’s in school at Yale; he’s educated at British prep schools; he’s kind of an Anglophilic character, even though his mother is Mexican. So in the CIA sort of cultural terms, he’s not completely one of them, this elite, very white, very WASP-y, elite Ivy League background. But he has enough credentials to fit into that world. But what he becomes is the head of counterintelligence, and that’s the kind of spy-versus-spy “wilderness of mirrors,” to use T.S. Eliot’s term, that is really sort of the top echelon of the CIA. And the period you alluded to, of course, was he was in charge of the CIA’s culture war during the Cold War. And so any kind of journal, or any intellectual or artist who emerged as a threat to sort of the U.S. Cold War hegemony—and Ramparts magazine, certainly when you were editing it back in the ’60s—

RS: Well, we exposed, also, their infiltration of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and all that sort of thing, and that—

DT: Which was part of their culture.

RS: —yeah, which T.S. Eliot refused to participate in it, right? Yes.

DT: That’s right, that’s right. And people like Allen Ginsberg—because we’re close to City Lights bookstore—he of course spoke out against the CIA’s control of American culture.

RS: Yeah, you have a great scene in your book where Allen Ginsberg is imagining a conversation with, I guess with Allen Dulles, right?

DT: Yeah, with Angleton, I think, yeah—

RS: Oh, with Angleton, yeah.

DT: —on a boat. [laughs]

RS: Yeah, he imagines they’re on a boat, and it’s a fascinating—where did you get that idea from, for Ginsberg?

DT: Yeah, no, there was—I came across that somewhere in Ginsberg’s literature. And, but it just shows that the Beat movement was very aware of how the American culture had been compromised by the CIA through these massive payments to various cultural front organizations and to writers and artists. So there are heroes in the book. You said, Bob, you know, don’t be afraid, it’s not too dark a book, it’s not too depressing. You know, I had “Game of Thrones” in my head while I was working on this, and I don’t know if you’re a fan of “Game of Thrones,” but to me it was, you know, that’s kind of a model for what I was trying to do. Because it is a very dark look at power, of course, and the kind of ruthless and amoral ways that power operates. But there are heroes, of course, that stand up to this in “Game of Thrones,” and I have heroes all through my book as well, from the Roosevelt period up through the Kennedy period. It wasn’t just a case of Dulles and his circle completely controlling America without any pushback; in fact, during the Roosevelt years they were on the defensive, and in some ways during the early Kennedy years as well. So I—it’s an epic struggle for the American soul.

RS: I came away from the book with increased respect for Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And I, you know, I was alive and I cried when Roosevelt died, as everyone in the Bronx did, and I’ll never forget that day. And you can slam Roosevelt; yeah, the ship with refugees was turned away; and yeah, they didn’t open the second front early enough; and yeah, why was Allen Dulles or John Foster Dulles even in these positions. But at the end of the day, you get the idea that Franklin Delano Roosevelt—in your book, and I think it’s accurate—represented the best of our elite education. And not just on domestic issues; he wanted peace. And what you get from people like Dulles—both Dulles, Allen and John—they kind of hijacked that good feeling of World War II and then carried it on right through the Bay of Pigs, and Allen Dulles gets basically booted by John Kennedy because of the utter failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. And in your book, John Kennedy emerges as a complex figure. John Kennedy is somebody who understood why Castro would have appeal; he understood the need for revolution in Algeria and Latin America. And where your book runs into trouble with the establishment there, suggesting you have something of a conspiracy theory here, right? I didn’t read the book that way, but why don’t you tell us what you’re really saying in this book, the thing that caused all this controversy about the killing of Kennedy.

DT: Well, I think there was a split within the government, within the Kennedy administration, over national security and particularly over Cuba. And that starts with the Bay of Pigs, when JFK is basically sandbagged into supporting the CIA invasion of Cuba. I believe that initial invasion—with a motley sort of brigade of Cuban exiles, 1,100 men—was intended to fail. The CIA knew it was going to fail, and they felt Kennedy could then be manipulated and pushed into sending in the full power of the U.S. military. Kennedy shocks the hard-liners like Dulles by standing his ground and saying, no, I’m not going to escalate this into an all-out war. And that’s the beginning of the split, a very bitter split between Kennedy and the hard-liners in the CIA and in the Pentagon. Dulles is forced out by Kennedy shortly thereafter and the top deputies, his two top deputies; he vows—in fact, at one point, Kennedy is so furious at the CIA—to shatter the agency into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds. He assigns Arthur Schlesinger, one of his top aides, the Harvard historian who had been on the OSS himself—he assigns him the task of actually radically reforming the CIA. And Schlesinger presents a plan that would have completely dismantled the CIA, given it a new name and so on, and put it under much firmer democratic controls. That never happens because of major pushback. But there’s a war going on within the Kennedy presidency, and for many years historians rejected this. I presented this revisionist view for the first time in my book, “Brothers.” You know, Chris Matthews, Robert Dallek, a number of people [who] have written about the Kennedy period say, oh, this is ridiculous, he was a macho Cold Warrior, JFK. Well, now they’re even coming around to the position that yeah, there was a split. And it was a very, a very sharp split within the Kennedy presidency. Now, I do take the next step and I present a lot of evidence. I don’t believe in theories, I believe in history. I present what I feel is a compelling case that Allen Dulles was connected to the assassination of President Kennedy and certainly to its cover-up. Because Allen Dulles played a key role on the Warren Commission; that’s a historical fact. In fact, many observers at the time thought it should have been called the Dulles Commission because of how active he was in the investigation. Well, that was a strange thing on its face: A guy who was fired by Kennedy under bitter circumstances suddenly emerges as the top investigator into his death. There are many such strange coincidences in this case, and we can talk about it further if you’d like. But yeah, as I say, this is a discussion, a debate that, you know, Oliver Stone’s film brought up many years ago, and then it has been put to sleep ever since. You know, the final word on the Kennedy assassination, by the way—I should remind your listeners—is not the Warren report back in 1964; it was the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s that released a report after reopening the investigation, and they concluded that Kennedy was indeed killed as a result of a conspiracy. They weren’t able to name names, because they didn’t have the funding and the resources and the political support to take their investigation all the way, but they did get far enough to knock down the Warren report and this lone-gunman idea, which is in some ways the looniest theory of all about JFK.

RS: Well, this is Robert Scheer. I’m talking to David Talbot, the author of “The Devil’s Chessboard,” a fascinating look at the secret government of the United States. I think it’s naive to suggest there isn’t a secret government; it’s cloaked in secrecy. And I think the power of your book is to describe a world of manipulation that is so devious and yet so powerful; you just wonder, well, what are our elections about? What is democracy about? And I think the case of Kennedy is interesting. I personally have argued with Oliver Stone about the view of Kennedy, but when you just talked now and when I read your book, there was again something that maybe I shouldn’t have ignored. I think Kennedy, yes, he wanted to intervene; he wanted to do something. But he thought it could be kept limited. And I think the way they suckered him into this, is the same thing—

DT: In Cuba.

RS: —in Cuba and in Vietnam!—[that] was where, after all, he sent flood-control advisors; that was the cover in Vietnam. That became a half million troops eventually, and in your book, you make a very strong case that this was the trick Allen Dulles was playing on Kennedy when Dulles was still head of the CIA. You know, sure, we’ll back this ragtag gang of Cuban refugees; of course they’re going to be defeated; Kennedy doesn’t know that, but then he’s going to lose face if he doesn’t send the Marines.

DT: In fact, the CIA’s own internal documents said that Allen Dulles stocked that invasion, the planners, the CIA planners, with the C-level people within the agency. He had no intention to have that initial invasion succeed. But, right, he was depending on Kennedy caving, basically, and sending in the Marines and the Air Force. But you know, Bob, I think what’s interesting—you’ve raised an interesting point about Americans, many Americans, particularly the media—let’s start with the media—not willing to believe some of the dark things that I write about in the book. And to me, what’s naive is to think that you can have a national security state that’s all but invisible from the American people, that’s heavily cloaked, and is going around the world doing all the things that we later learn they were doing, and now we’re just beginning to learn about the war on terror—killing people who get in our way, building assassination machinery, subverting governments—even subverting friendly governments. I go into an amazing story that I’d never heard about before I started doing research on the book. On the heels of the Bay of Pigs disaster in April 1961, suddenly President Kennedy, who’s wrestling with that CIA crisis, is getting outraged phone calls and messages from Paris from the government of Charles de Gaulle, who’s our ally, saying the CIA is backing a military coup against him and is trying to overthrow him!

RS: Why don’t you just give the short version of what happened, because until I read your book, I really had not actually considered this whole thing in that way.

DT: What happens is de Gaulle falls afoul of the CIA and the hard-liners in Washington—

RS: De Gaulle is the president of France.

DT: —the president of France, the World War II hero, an iconic figure in the 20th century, Charles de Gaulle. And he irritates the hard-liners in Washington because he’s trying to settle this brutal, bloody colonial war in Algeria that Kennedy actually, as a senator, had spoken out against, saying it was time for France to settle this terrible war and allow Algeria to have its independence. Well, de Gaulle finally realizes he has to do this, even though he’s a conservative, he’s a military man, and he’s trying to come to terms with the Algerian independence movement. This provokes, though, a backlash from his right-wing military officers in Algeria, who then organize this coup against him in April 1961, apparently with the encouragement of the CIA, which is very concerned about Algeria and northern Africa falling into Soviet hands with its oil resources and so on. He’s also, you know, a stubborn nationalist, de Gaulle, and he’s pursuing a very independent policy. He wants his own nuclear force in France, and so on; he’s moving away from NATO. This all antagonizes the Dulles crowd in Washington. So there is evidence that the CIA was indeed supporting this coup attempt.

RS: So I’m talking to a very respected journalist, David Talbot, who was the founding editor of Salon, one of the really important journalistic ventures in the short history of the Internet. But a highly respected figure. Your work has been received in, you know, glowing terms previously. What happened? Suddenly you write a book, which I find to be your most interesting, incredibly well researched, you’ve interviewed lots of people, you’ve done your homework; why are you being rejected by the establishment media that previously liked you?

DT: Well, they’re, I think, not pleased with what I have to say about this powerful force in American life, in part because the CIA under Allen Dulles was so good at manipulating the media.

RS: You do go after The New York Times in particular.

DT: And The Washington Post and CBS and Newsweek.

RS: By the way, this is The Washington Post before Amazon owned it? [Laughter] Now you wonder how much more independent it’ll be when Amazon’s keeping a whole cloud with the CIA and actually are in partnership.

DT: The CIA is one of Amazon’s major clients, you’re right.

RS: We’re going to discuss that in another podcast with you, but—

DT: Well, the point is that there’s an official history and then there’s real history. And whenever real history, I think, raises its snout, it tends to get slapped down by the media gatekeepers. This book is no different. In fact, if I hadn’t provoked a strong reaction from the media gatekeepers, I would believe I hadn’t done my job. So look, this is what’s happened with this book: So far, none of the mainstream newspapers are touching it. I was told by The Washington Post that they would—or I wasn’t told personally, but my publicist—that The Washington Post would not review it. I was in a car in New York being driven to Al-Jazeera America—which you’d think would have some independence from U.S. corporate media—I was all set to go on a talk show there, and suddenly my publicist got an email saying it’s been canceled, the show’s off. And he was startled, and he said, “Why?” And got a one-word response back, an email: “Politics.” Politico bumped me at the last minute after I was lined up to write something for them. But, look. It’s also not monolithic, American media, thank god. There are shows like yours, Bob; there are publications like Salon, which I started; there’s Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!”

RS: Amy Goodman is the best place to sell books.

DT: She’s a hero, she’s a hero.

RS: It’s just amazing to me! And I had the same experience at The Washington Post with my latest book, “They Know Everything About You.” And you know, it deals with Amazon taking over The Washington Post, but I was told, no, they’re reviewing it, it’s going to be this Sunday, it’s already been written—and then I picked up the paper, and there [were] two other books, but I wasn’t part of the package. And it was dropped. You don’t want to get nutty about it, but I gather from your website, from your Facebook page, that you made The New York Times’ bestseller list, at least this last—

DT: So they don’t control everything. As Leonard Cohen sang, “There are cracks in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

RS: “That’s how the light gets in.” That’s a good point on which to end it. David Talbot, the book is called “The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government.” Read it; it is compelling, incredibly well researched; I think it is actually the best study on the subject that we’ve had of the whole role of our secret agencies and the creation and the continuance of the Cold War. And, it should be pointed out, it’s spot-on for what’s going on now, where we have the NSA, the CIA, and all these other organizations. So thank you, David, for taking the time.

DT: Thank you, Bob, it’s been a pleasure.

RS: That’s it for “Scheer Intelligence.” My guest has been David Talbot, founder of and author of “The Devil’s Chessboard.” The producers of “Scheer Intelligence” are Josh Scheer and Rebecca Mooney. The engineer is Kat Yore. Check out for more information. I’m Robert Scheer. See you next time.

Robert Scheer

Editor in Chief
Robert Scheer, editor in chief of Truthdig, has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. His columns appear in newspapers across the country, and his in-depth interviews have made headlines. He conducted the famous Playboy magazine interview in which Jimmy Carter confessed to the lust in his heart and he went on to do many in read more
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