"What follows," David Talbot boasts in the prologue to his new book The Devil's Chessboard, "is an espionage adventure that is far more action-packed and momentous than any spy tale with which readers are familiar." Talbot, the founder of Salon.com and author of the Kennedy clan study Brothers, doesn't deal in subtlety in his biography of Allen Dulles, the CIA director under presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, the younger brother of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and the architect of a secretive national security apparatus that functioned as essentially an autonomous branch of government. Talbot offers a portrait of a black-and-white Cold War-era world full of spy games and nuclear brinkmanship, in which everyone is either a good guy or a bad guy. Dulles—who deceived American elected leaders and overthrew foreign ones, who backed ex-Nazis and thwarted left-leaning democrats—falls firmly in the latter camp.
Mother Jones chatted with Talbot about the reporting that went into his 704-page doorstop, the controversy he invited with his discussion of Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theories, and the parallels he sees in today's government intelligence overreach.