Chapter 1: The Covert Intimacies of Langley and Dulles
The idea of a permanent headquarters for the CIA drove Director Allen Dulles throughout his career in intelligence.1 The dream finally took physical form at Langley, Virginia. Eight miles from the White House, Langley achieved two things for the agency, according to conventional wisdom. The building's fixed physical footprint ensured the CIA a lasting place in the federal bureaucracy, ushering the agency from seat-of-the-pants agent-handling and improvisational coups to a humdrum round of paper-shuffling, technological eavesdropping and congressional oversight. Tucked in the woods, it gave the CIA security not possible in its many offices scattered around busy 1950s Washington.2
For some, these perilous tensions between bureaucracy and freedom, monumentality and secrecy neatly comprise Langley's public identity, itself still largely classified. Other observers seem unsure as to whether "Langley" is a place or an idea. Just as "Washington" is a synonym for the Executive Branch and Congress, Langley is often the CIA writ large: Langley thinks, Langley acts, Langley feels. But the CIA complex was a three-dimensional place. Its placement and proximities in local and distant space, its architectural form and everyday use were all the result of strategic choices, ones made by some of U.S. empire's major early theorists and activists, who saw Langley as the space necessary to manage a newly sprawling U.S. empire in the days of the Cold War.
At the same time, the CIA complex wasn't only architecture. It was the spatial articulation of how Allen Dulles's philosophies of intimacy, secrecy, security and efficiency could provide a "civilian" foundation for U.S. global management and authority, philosophies that mobilized American political forces within the triumvirate that ran between John Foster Dulles at the State Department, Allen Dulles at CIA and Eisenhower in the White House until 1959. Set at one end of what became the Dulles Corridor, the Langley complex was also part of a key, unrecognized spatial sequence of Dulles family buildings that played crucial roles in U.S. foreign policy, a sequence including the headquarters, the modernist Eleanor Dulles house on Spring Hill Road in McLean and the modernist airport at the endpoint of the corridor, named after John Foster Dulles.
Active makers of place and culture, these structures provided a set of instructions and blueprints for the performance and ethics of imperial management as a way of life domestically. They linked the transformation of modern American architecture and landscape after World War II to the transformation of modern American empire in the same period, magnifying missing relays between key cultural histories of the 1950s. Recovering Langley's spaces thus shifts the texture of the study of the U.S. and the world in this period. Events that unfolded as diplomacy across the river in the halls of the U.S. Capitol and the White House retrieved their naked life as U.S. imperial action in their suburban Virginia home. Both a machine for generating covert action globally and a sonorous invisibility, the secret heart of a covert capital, the CIA complex was a crucial monument of the period. It trapped its social and political agendas in the very grain of its concrete, in the serial length of its corridors.
The move to Virginia
In 1954, the CIA was dispersed across the nation's capital, in more than thirty-nine government buildings and temporary structures huddled around the Washington Mall. The spread was the shambling and somewhat shamefaced result of the hectic and disorganized expansion of the federal bureaucracy during World War II. Headquarters was located in a columned brick building at 2430 E Street, near the State Department. But the "Tempos," as they came to be known, were more famous-perhaps the most legendary federal eyesores of the period. Named blandly for letters of the alphabet, testament to the government's inability to accommodate its staff, the "ghostly white" wooden Tempos froze in winter and grew so sweltering during humid D.C. summers that secretaries had to dash out at lunch, roll up their skirts and pant legs, and douse themselves in the Reflecting Pool to cool off. Agents peeled classified documents off their sweaty forearms. Lunches hung suspended on strings from ceilings to guard them from ant columns, mice and insects. The ramshackle, stinking structures leaked in the rain and saw safes holding classified documents plummeting through rickety upper floors to crash into the offices below. Some had been there since the First World War, while others started as barracks for newly recruited Navy women during the Second World War. The agency paid $3 million a year for secure maintenance and shuttles to connect the offices to E Street. Allen Dulles dubbed the Tempos, with their warped floors and clapboard walls, "a damned pigsty."3
Two events in 1954 dislodged a new headquarters from the realm of ideas into reality. Approaches for the new Roosevelt Bridge across the Potomac promised to pave over some Tempos. Others were to be knocked down by a Department of Interior project to clear obstructions from the Mall. On November 16, Dulles wrote to Office of Defense Mobilization Director Arthur S. Flemming, stating the CIA's case: "Security problems, inefficiency and excessive costs...have long indicated the high desirability of providing space for the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington in one permanent building."
That Flemming, the man charged with shielding D.C. from nuclear attack, was one of the first officials Dulles addressed is important. Dulles needed Flemming's approval to break the dispersion standards drafted to cope with an imagined nuclear threat to the city. Federal regulations mandated that new government buildings locate ten or more miles from the perimeter of an "urban target," that is, D.C. But Dulles needed permission to locate his new complex within the allowable security boundary. "It is essential that the Director be immediately available to the President and the National Security Council," he said.4
Some historians claim the suburbanization of CIA was a Cold War nuclear security move, which it was not. At a more conceptual level, the Dulles-Flemming letter contests the still-implicit idea that the nuclear Cold War and armed Soviet Union were the motive forces guiding Dulles's project for the agency. Even as the Dulles brothers used nuclear threat to frighten the nation into the arms race-and Dulles stressed this in public, claiming before capital planners that Langley could better resist fallout from a hydrogen bomb attack than other sites-Dulles chose to design a home for his agency that, rather than a model of how to spatially reorganize a nation under a nuclear shadow, reorganized space in metropolitan D.C. in a subtler, more covert fashion, one suited to the agency tasked with mediating between the rhetoric of Cold War and the realities of U.S. imperial management on the ground.
As early as 1947, Dulles had expressed his view that post-World War II U.S. power and intelligence would need to be equipped to deal not only with ideological conflicts "between Soviet Russia and the countries of the west," but "in the internal political conflicts within the countries of Europe, Asia, and South America." In the newly aggressive foreign policy blessed by the Eisenhower administration-driven by a feeling that "containment" of communism and leftist national struggles had been too passive-the politics of the U.S. abroad took on a wider mandate, one that could and did reach beyond conventional Cold War and Soviet perimeter defense concerns per se, and in the words of one CIA officer, needed to take into account "the powerful nationalist, racial, religious, and economic forces at work in the world that have little to do with the Soviet confrontation," in order to succeed.5
The CIA, in the words of one who worked there at the time and specialized in Soviet analysis, was becoming an agency that "seeks largely to advance America's self-appointed role as the dominant arbiter of social, economic, and political change in the awakening regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America." Dulles-the son of a Presbyterian pastor and the grandson of the Secretary of State who approved the taking of the Hawaiian Islands-reoriented the CIA toward the Third World at the same time that "the Agency emerged as an integral element in high-level United States policymaking," in the words of a history prepared for Congress, because of "the ways covert operations could advance U.S. policy." The shift to greater power for the CIA and intervention in former European colonies and American dependencies went hand in glove. By November 16, 1954, Dulles and his staff had generated a number of models for the role he saw for the U.S. in the world as a "hands-on nation," none that had to do with all-out nuclear war-the harassment of the democratically elected president of Costa Rica in March 1954; the secret CIA coup against the democratically elected president of Guatemala on June 27; the twelve CIA agents who arrived in Hanoi and Haiphong in North Vietnam to train paramilitary units in July after the French colonial defeat at Dien Bien Phu; the start of the trial of American agent Hugh Redmond for spying against China in September. For the secret wars and "preventative ventures in the third world" overseen by Dulles, an immediate, informal intimacy with those in power was the central thing, a bunkered nuclear defense only marginal.6
The Dulles-Flemming letter also stresses the degree to which Dulles had committed to the Langley site, eight miles from the White House, in 1954. Through the extensive site search and hearings of 1955, many rural and urban locations for the new CIA headquarters were supposedly considered. The CIA received lavish proposals, and most made more obvious sense-cheaper sites in Prince George's County, Maryland, sites more secure from nuclear fallout in Charles County, Maryland, sites more convenient to commuters off Shirley Highway near the new subdivisions of Springfield, Virginia, southwest of the city; sites in Southwest D.C., then being redeveloped; sites in Montgomery County, near the National Institutes of Health and the Naval Hospital; sites in Alexandria, once part of the District, with easy access to existing defense development at National Airport and the Pentagon, in a county where a greater percentage of CIA agents already lived. A staff committee of the National Capital Planning Commission, chaired by Harland Bartholomew, America's most famous city planner, submitted an exhaustive report to the wider commission in May that analyzed twenty-nine possible locations.7 Bartholomew himself, beloved by Eisenhower and then in the dignified twilight of his career, favored a different site, likely a tract in Alexandria.8
Yet by February 1955 CIA officials were already meeting Northern Virginia planning officials. By March, they were in talks with water and utility companies about connecting the Langley site to the grid, and CIA officials were making chart and map presentations to planners about Langley, two months before the Capital Planning Commission, which technically had to approve any choice, even delivered an initial report on the preliminary options, and three months before mandatory appropriations meetings before Congress. By summer, stories leaked to the press headlined, "Allen Dulles Favors Langley." And on October 25, 1955, the CIA's New York consultants, landscape architecture firm Clarke and Rapuano, of whom Dulles's friend Gilmore D. Clarke, former chairman of D.C.'s Fine Arts Commission and frequent Robert Moses collaborator in New York, was principal, delivered not so much a study, as a reverential paean to the wonders of Langley, and the utter insufficiency of all other sites.9
It was common knowledge in those days that the CIA director, in that era of newness and the blush of Eisenhower's patronage, was a minor celebrity, overseeing matters so important that democratic process was a formality at best. He eased these relationships with a legendary social life centered around dinners at his house in Georgetown and after-hours chats over highballs with the power elite of fifties Washington.10 These networks and Allen Dulles's vision of the headquarters, its intended function and strategic possibilities, accounted for the persistence with which Langley rose to the top of CIA wish lists.11
Allen Dulles favored Langley. But the question remains as to why this woody land crossed only by a creek, a former Robert E. Lee family plantation on the Potomac with no major roads or utilities, only "horse and buggy streets," this place surrounded by a centenarian Episcopal church, lonely dairy farms, a shuttered trolley line and a fox-hunting forest, lodged itself so deeply in Dulles's imagination. Langley wasn't even a real village, "simply the name for a fork in the road." It had merged into McLean-itself a mere trolley stop-by 1910, and only retains its discrete identity (and that, only for people who have never been there and seen how little of it exists) because of the headquarters.12
The answer to this question lies in the particular geographical and social features offered by the Langley ecology. From bucolic and rural roots, the area had undergone a distinct gentrification of country homes since the early part of the century. By the 1950s, Langley was seen as an alluring terrain that had "the beauty and charms of the countryside," but could "reflect in modern living the graciousness of the past." The Chicago department store heir, Joseph Leiter, had bought 1,000 acres, built a seventy-two-room mansion called the Glass Palace on a portion of the future CIA site in 1911 and hard-surfaced the area's first major road. Dulles's uncle, Woodrow Wilson Secretary of State Robert Lansing, and his wife, were guests at the Leiter estate, "the scene of brilliant social functions and...a favorite gathering place for those members of society who like to ride and hunt," and a place where Lansing might have expressed his concerns about Wilson's idea of national "self-determination," which he considered "simply loaded with dynamite."Dulles, who was close to his uncle, had first seen the area attending parties there with his wife Clover in Coolidge's Washington, when other ambassadors also began settling its environs.
By the fifties, Langley residents included Trevor Gardner, the Pentagon's top ballistic missile advocate, Supreme Court Justice Byron White, the wealthy magnate Hugh Auchincloss who had been married to, in turn, the mothers of Gore Vidal and Jackie Bouvier, and "the young senator John Kennedy" himself, who had moved into the country mansion of late Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, American prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. Dulles didn't only cultivate an elite, informal social life in Washington to get the headquarters built. Elite, informal social connections were the grounds for his politics. This area was a crucial setting for them.13
Most critically, McLean by the fifties was home to the striking and revered bungalow of Allen Dulles's sister Eleanor, whose gleaming swimming pool became a kind of Round Table for Cold War Washington, watering hole and serene meeting place for the Dulles brothers to make policy-the early site for their presidentially empowered conversations over dry martinis and Overholt rye whisky. The brothers met there at least once every few weeks, frequently on Sunday afternoons, and swam there individually more often. Eleanor herself was an official at the State Department and joined in the conversations, but her role in the family seemed to fall in the realm of consummate politicized suburban hostess.14
The distinct leisure of her estate pool, like the parties of Coolidge's Washington or the air of entitlement and status surrounding the residential landscape of estate-laden McLean, was the constitutive setting for the presumptive derring-do that characterized early CIA interventions across the globe. Even in her autobiography, written nearly forty years later, Eleanor Dulles recalled with nostalgic whimsy the almost uncanny power her personally designed domestic space in Virginia had to influence world affairs in the actual capital of D.C., like an invisible magnet that could somehow change the stuffy, formal city's inherent polarity.
"I think back to the evening when the new German Army was planned in my swimming pool in McLean, Virginia," she wrote in Chances of a Lifetime, her memoir, with an only somewhat acknowledged sense of the absurd. "Jimmy Riddleberger [an official at State] came to me with a request. He said the German generals, in Washington to discuss their military contribution to Europe's defense, were stiff and uncommunicative. Jimmy suggested it might ease matters if I would invite them for supper and a swim in the pool. They came...I pressed them to have a swim before supper. They started to refuse, but I gave each a pair of swimming trunks and before long they were bobbing about in the pool, along with five Americans I had invited. The formality was gone..."15 Understated, and serious about her career, Eleanor was open to the ways in which her gendered access to the category of "hostess" could have a curveball effect on the stiff and gendered masculine regimes of capital foreign policy.
She had bought the land, what was then an acre and a half of cornfield on a former plantation, by 1950 from a Labor Department official and friend, Clara Beyer. She moved out from her house on Chain Bridge Road opposite Kemble Park in D.C., into the new bungalow, on Spring Hill Road in McLean, on Washington's Birthday, 1951. Almost immediately political D.C. followed her. As if to lure them, the swimming pool was completed and used first. Eleanor hired young modernist architect Nicholas Satterlee for the house, because she "expected to have a lot to say about the design," and had balked at the expertise of Jackson Place architect Gertrude Sawyer, who had designed her house in the city. Undoubtedly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and the American modern interpenetrated by nature, she wanted the house "embracing" the pool, creating a social flow between the two spaces. When she signed the contract, anticipating wartime shortages of the Korean War, she immediately directed Satterlee to buy all the materials, down to the kitchen fixtures, which she then stored in Beyer's barn. She regularly drove out dusty Chain Bridge Road to check the progress. From start to finish the work was hers, intentionally created for its final use. "It was the house I had designed," she marveled as it came along, "one floor, open to the sun, a simple structure...There was a space for a garden and some three hundred small trees and bushes, many of which I dug up in the woods and replanted myself."16
Over the next two decades, more than a dozen ambassadors from France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and elsewhere dined there, their motorcycle escorts rattling the quiet suburb. "A principal pleasure in these years came from entertaining," she wrote. She would later claim that John Foster and Republican Senator Jim Duff engineered Eisenhower's presidential campaign poolside in early 1952. Richard Nixon, future CIA clandestine service chief Richard Bissell, Barbara and Covey Oliver (the future ambassador to Colombia) and assistant secretary of state Bob Bowie appeared at the parties, and the Dulles family celebrated Thanksgiving at the house-even while managing the fate of Berlin in 1958-waited on by her "adoring" Austrian servants, Trudy and Relly Rotter, in a dining room divided from the garden by sliding glass panels. The Rotters lived in a detached bedroom on the property, and prepared the Mai Bowle cocktail of white wine and strawberries the ambassadors loved.17
Powerful guests would drift in the swimming pool, mirth fueled by the Scotch, Bourbon and gin Eleanor bought by the gallon, and consume the rolling pastoral view, still uninterrupted by settlement. The secluded house didn't even have an address until 1965, which added a discrete portion of its power-the sense that the Langley-McLean area, unlike almost any other section of Virginia (or Maryland) that close to Washington, remained unlocatable by the fixed grids and circles of D.C. But while the inspiring backdrop, elevated by Eleanor's good graces, could lubricate the intimacies of power and the tasks of decision-making and mutual affirmation, the content of conversations could be quite dark. Eleanor recalled one early visit just after the Korean War began, before the house had been raised. Covey Oliver was just leaving a job with the State Department when Eleanor invited him and his wife Barbara to the pool. They undressed in the car, took a dip and picnicked on a beautiful day. Then the talk turned apocalyptic. Sitting at the pool's edge, they asked, "Is this World War III? Is this going to be the great catastrophe to civilization?" "Everything was so bright...," Eleanor recalled later. "And there was a sharp contrast between this dramatic danger hanging over us and the beauty of the countryside."18
The exurban land beyond the edge of the pool worked as a symbol of a precarious good life that needed defending and could slip away at any moment. It was also a metonym for world-building, for all the underdeveloped landscapes, taking form at home as developable property, that could only be protected and cajoled along under their own wise supervision. The American modernist house alone in the countryside was the nascent first step in a process at times optimistic, at times fearfully possessive, which spread out from its own backyard. At the same time, the isolated social authority of the landscape, like an expanded, outdoor version of what had only formerly been possible in one of Georgetown's elite drawing rooms (and poised in the northeast section of Fairfax County that directly bordered Georgetown and Allen Dulles's house at 2723 Q Street) provided the incubative context for world policy-the pleasant distance from the traditional power centers of D.C. mirroring an ethical distance from the democratic presumptions of American government.
In this regard, the Eleanor Dulles house indicated the wider pattern. At elite CIA homes and dinner parties, "social life and politics were inextricable and indistinguishable." Agents coaxed tipsy political elites to reveal useful information. Their wives did the same at gender-segregated gatherings after dinner. For this reason, the CIA even financed some parties, at $100 a guest, and, at times, staffed them with a "stud detail" charged with "making sure no one was left unattached or was bored or in need of a drink." Fifties McLean added something new to the equation: a break with the proximities and accountabilities of the capital. The strategic move dovetailed with an invigorating social one. At this time, the Georgetown parties were migrating to McLean for a greater novelty and rustic chic, one that, usefully, kept the parties well-attended. CIA "fun couples" like Tom and Joan Braden rented houses in the rural surroundings to tantalize day-trippers with the riches of the countryside, drawing guests like CIA covert action enthusiast Frank Wisner and his wife Polly and Pentagon Cold Warrior Paul Nitze and his wife Phyllis.19
Many attendees arrived from their own Northern Virginia retreats. Desmond FitzGerald, the CIA's millionaire Far East chief, who ran guerrilla operations against communist China, steered attempted coups against Sukarno in Indonesia, and later directed the CIA's sabotage missions against Cuba and attempted assassinations of Fidel Castro, had a farmhouse in Virginia at this time. Lyman Kirkpatrick, Jr., CIA executive director, who had in 1956 trained Fulgencio Batista's political police, the Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities, and helped Batista evaluate the political and military state of the country in 1958, lived in a well-regarded "delightful pink house" in Fairfax, near OSS training center Station S that had first brought many of these people to Northern Virginia in the 1940s.20 Sidney Gottlieb, of the CIA's Technical Services Staff, chief of its brainwashing research, who devised the biotoxins meant to assassinate many postcolonial leaders, including Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, Abdel Karim Qasim in Iraq, and Castro, lived in a cabin on a Vienna farm, where he kept goats, sold Christmas trees at the holidays and rose to prominence in the local folk-dancing culture, hollering into the microphone as a square dance caller. J.C. King, the clandestine officer who directed the agency's Western Hemisphere division and ran many CIA anti-government operations in Guatemala leading up to the 1954 coup, hunted game and socialized with Latin American ambassadors, State Department officials, and fellow coup plotter and Allen Dulles friend William D. Pawley (former ambassador to Peru and Brazil) on Pawley's 800-acre estate, Belvoir, a regular stop on local garden tours.21
James Jesus Angleton, soon the CIA's chief of counterintelligence, lived in a white house that he built in 1949 in North Arlington, near the Langley site. His dinner parties drew Allen Dulles and other CIA neighbors like Alexandria resident Win Scott, Mexico City station chief, and his wife, Paula, and McLean resident Cord Meyer, who ran operations penetrating student groups and the labor movement in Brazil, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, and his wife, Mary.22 Kim Roosevelt, the grandson of Teddy Roosevelt, who directed the coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, had a house in the McLean area with his wife Polly, and helped found the local ski club. Roosevelt boasted longtime family connections to the county, as his grandparents on his mother's side, the Willards, owned one of the most famous estates in Fairfax, Layton Hall, which they had loaned to the OSS for their Virginia training site. Before serving as Wilson's ambassador to Spain, his mother's father, Col. Joseph E. Willard, the son of a Confederate intelligence agent, fought in the Spanish American War, commanding a company of Fairfax troops, and pointing to the understudied imperial family connections that, for individual actors in the CIA like Roosevelt, quite logically and intimately linked the period of U.S. empire at the turn of the 20th century to the one after World War II as a single, sentimental project, one with deep connections to Northern Virginia. "Easily the most influential political figure in Fairfax County," in the words of one history, Willard then played a crucial role in developing the built landscape, financing its roads and first trolleys, and extending the trolley to Fairfax, which generated the foundations of the suburbs CIA officers then came to inhabit.23 President Eisenhower, who encouraged the CIA's move outside D.C., himself knew the area in the earlier period, when he stayed in his brother Milton's Colonial Revival house in Falls Church during World War II, when Milton was designing the national program for Japanese internment.24 This was the social history that hovered behind Dulles's banal pronouncement that Langley was "more accessible to most Agency employees" than other possible sites.25
Like these soirees, but elevated in stature by the family connection to the Dulleses, parties at Spring Hill stirred foreign officials, State Department, military, CIA and international figures in unpredictable combinations, flouting capital protocol. For at least one party, Eleanor pre-circulated typed sheets so the guests could prepare in order to draw the most from their social engagements. A list annotated with capsule biographies of each guest explained breezily: "this information is to make your afternoon more pleasant-Hope you come early and park on the grass."26 Why knowing that Clare Timberlake had been U.S. ambassador to the Congo, or that Seymour Bolton worked for the CIA would make an afternoon more pleasant was not self-evident until one recognized that the ensembles were the entertainment. Slipping into borrowed swimming trunks, undressing in a car, parking on the grass, meeting strangers-these titillating promises that the color-within-the lines norms of the overt capital could be gently violated in an accessible and slightly wild McLean with erotic overtones increased the excitement. But the American officials and "determined interventionists" joining the parade were the most powerful in U.S. government. Leisure and work braided at events meant to be both leisure and work, shared sensory experiences at home providing the setting for the sharing and reaffirming of geopolitical experiences abroad-from tours of duty just ended, or those about to begin.
Brief, alluring violations of social rules in exurban McLean, meanwhile, rehearsed and reflected the brief, alluring violations of political rules that defined the work of the attendees bolstering covert action as a tool of U.S. foreign policy in this same period-their biographies testifying to the degree to which their efforts concentrated against the decolonizing world, rather than the Soviet Union per se. Allen Dulles himself affirmed this view of their work as not relating to proxy wars and communist subversion alone, writing: "Sometimes, I am inclined to believe that a century from now historians will view the Soviet revolution as merely another episode in European history, and find in the emergence of these new states the truly significant development of our age." The Spring Hill house was one powerful space where the Dulleses formulated their attempts to control the fate of those "new states," amidst what one historian describes as the mood of "light-hearted romantic activism" that became the clandestine service's "trademark."27
It is no small thing to say that Dulles liked Langley as home for his headquarters because it, through his sister's powerful intervention, made him feel socially comfortable and allowed him a broad, un-mowed field to explore his social seeding of policy, intelligence and political change. In moving the CIA there, close to D.C. but not in the capital, he was able to spur a redesign of the landscape of power of the capital in his own image, along a countrified suburban axis. This is in notable contrast with the traditional model of the capital city as a stable house of government, a container elected officials pass through but which outlasts each of them as individuals and the policies they bring with them-a framework of government, like the constitution, sealed in monumental architecture. Dulles, an unelected official, made himself a physical capital loosed from the bounds of the old one, immersed in a social and architectural network that echoed back his own values and worldview, in the form of his sister's house, quite literally-a place where the quiet everyday imbrications of social life with an activist geopolitics and often violent international action was the norm, rather than the exception.
That the apparently undeveloped locale of Langley, and particularly the CIA site, once neighbored a free black community called Lincolnsville, and that the apparently empty locale of Spring Hill, and particularly the Eleanor Dulles house, once neighbored a slave plantation and then free black community called Odrick's Corner, suggests a further impulse. By taking the CIA into a Northern Virginia still laced with Confederate nostalgia and Jim Crow modernism, where whites worked for half a century to erase both the history of the local black communities and the intense civil rights struggles over the implantation of segregation on the border of free D.C. after Virginia's 1902 Jim Crow constitution took effect, Dulles and the agency explicitly benefited from the atomized democratic polity and human estrangement created by racial apartheid.28
While white McLean natives recalled slavery in Fairfax County as a paternalistic and friendly affair, disrupted only by "carpet baggers" in the "Tragic Era," who turned "the colored man against his best friends, the white race," in the 1860s, slave patrols had roamed Langley, policing rumors of insurrection at the D.C. border. Northern Virginians recalled the use of particular trees as gibbets on the central road, Route 7, for decades. Upon emancipation, many freedmen resettled their former plantations or bought property from northern arrivals, and the black community in Fairfax County grew throughout Reconstruction-land and work on new trolley and railroad lines opening a route to security. Prominent members of the Falls Church chapter of the NAACP, considered the first rural branch in the U.S. when it started in 1915, arrived to the organization through success in early real estate and property ownership. Blacksmiths, stone masons, sawmill and stone quarry laborers, and farmers also settled the area's black communities, as did early federal workers, lawyers and military veterans.29
As a key transfer point between south and north, Northern Virginia also always served as a flashpoint of racist organizing and civil rights struggle. The fact that the Virginia end of the Key Bridge in Arlington was the place where train and bus riders had to reorganize themselves into Jim Crow seating after leaving D.C. provided a frequent battleground, as did the prominent presence of the local KKK, with its day of featured activities at the annual Fairfax County fair. Virginia was one of the last five states in the country with a poll tax, which lasted until 1963. It was one of the last with a miscegenation law, and rape libels harassed and jailed black men in Fairfax and surrounding counties through and after World War II, as did punitive local curfews and new laws that made buying property more difficult. School desegregation was only ordered in Fairfax County in 1960, and did not fully proceed until 1965. Local residents battled the state during these years, as they had for decades. Jessie Butler, the first black woman to challenge the poll tax in court, brought her case in 1949 Arlington. In 1950, also in Arlington, black parents sued over school segregation. Northern Virginia localities responded with even more Confederate organizing. Arlington had an aggressive unit of "pro-segregation extremists," the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, at this time. The year Eleanor broke ground on her former plantation, the Virginia General Assembly commissioned a new history textbook, which lauded slavery as providing, among other things, "comprehensive social security" for enslaved black people. The next year, Alexandria passed an ordinance to name all North-South streets in that town-with its slave-laid cobblestones-after Confederate generals, just as local highways bear Confederate names to this day.30
At the same time, Northern Virginia congressmen who encouraged and eased the CIA's move to Virginia helped lead the long, bitter fight to keep the federal colony of D.C. from ruling itself or gaining democratic rights, particularly after 1960, when-the year seventeen African nations won independence-Washington became nationally recognized as America's first black majority city. Just as the housing squeeze created by the Pentagon and its disruption of black communities in Arlington in the 1940s soon led to segregated trailer camps for black residents designed by the Farm Security Administration, the pace of suburbanization in Northern Virginia in the fifties and sixties eroded the habitable space and fabric of local black neighborhoods stable since Reconstruction, as white developers low-balled black owners for their property and encroached on their land. As a result, the black population in Fairfax County dropped from 16 to 4 percent from 1940 to 1970. Visiting foreign emissaries not invited to Eleanor's parties, like the poet Kaluta Amri Abedi, the first African mayor of Dar Es Salaam and a close advisor to Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, were denied service at local segregated cafeterias, triggering rearguard public relations apologies from the State Department. Traces of the "racially closed housing market" remained in Northern Virginia until the 1970s, even as black residents found themselves doing local construction work, gathering at Arlington's "Hard Corner" for round-ups that to one participant felt "like the old notion of the slave market," selling manual labor for two-dollar-an-hour jobs clearing land, grading roads and building the new suburban infrastructure across the region. White Langley residents, meanwhile, in the era of the CIA's arrival, continued to see local black and white relationships as based on "mutual respect and admiration, each benefiting from the other," despite the arrival of the civil rights movement, which they saw only as the "present-day attempts to destroy" that presumed closeness.31
These links to the Confederacy and southern racism, on the one hand, and the colonial nature of Virginia's relationship to black D.C., on the other, are not incidental coincidences in the history of the land Allen Dulles chose, but constitutive features. The very availability and emptiness of the CIA site on the river, eight miles from the White House, and owned by that time by the Bureau of Public Roads, was the result of a racist spatiality. Shaped by a plantation economy that reserved river sites, even rocky up-river ones like Langley, for white ownership, Virginia then blocked the powerless city that its congressmen (along with other southerners) dominated and kept it from making the annexations that had expanded the size and resources of most American metropolises, hemming it in and squeezing its tax base. These efforts led directly to the wealth, power and controlled development of northeastern Northern Virginia, most notably expanded with the CIA's arrival.32
To understand the effects of downtown D.C.'s proximity to Langley, one need only recognize that if you stood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the Langley site would be closer than Wall Street. In downtown Los Angeles, Langley would be the Miracle Mile. But in Fairfax County, it was free and clear, in the place where CIA friends at McLean High School in the fifties and sixties would recall "the Dixie-playing, Confederate flag-waving types at the football games." This culture would go on to shape the domesticity of the headquarters once it was built. It underwrote its violent behaviors toward black and brown people abroad by rehearsing them in its own strategic environment, where, until the agency began to target postcolonial nations in Africa in the 1960s and finally hired its first few black officers, its only African American employees drove buses and cleaned out waste-baskets on the night office cleaning crew.33
This landscape provided the context for social life at Eleanor Dulles's house on Spring Hill. To seal it, Eleanor financed the development of the house on the McLean cornfield with the displacement of black residents in Washington. To pay for the house, she engaged in a series of speculative housing ventures, "rebuilding the inner city," as she called it, on the alley of Green's Court in the "new" Foggy Bottom. The gentrification of that neighborhood followed the opening of State in the old War Department digs in 1947. In her memoir, she describes the houses there as "rat-infested, with bad flooring and rotten staircases," before she renovated them for "young professional people and government workers" with "imagination." But she had gone to Green's Court in the first place in 1940 to visit a genteel African American man, called Madison, who had served her grandfather and uncle as a butler in the State Department and who kept in his "little old house" mementos of his contact with international figures, like a photograph of the Duke of Windsor. A black neighborhood's dispossession in the visible capital helped fund the pool in the suburbs where world policy was made to dispossess people of color abroad.34
Even the reasons Allen Dulles often mentioned when selling the idea to local Northern Virginia businessmen-the convenience, privacy and good parking that would appeal to any suburban dreamer-were invoked in his speeches through a concept of family that, in this period of American urban and political struggle, always had a valence of racial protection. At times, he reached out to his audience by casting the CIA as just another concerned white-flight suburbanite leaving the "congested conditions in a metropolitan area" that "do not constitute nowadays an ideal environment for an enterprise that employs office workers any more than they do for one's own family."35
The social and familial favors of the area that Dulles called "that charming locality" and "this fine community in this historic section of Virginia" thus point to more than just a tangle of nepotism and elitism.36 The social echo chamber that defined the all-white parties at Eleanor's and their self-evident guest lists affirmed ideas about who could rule themselves and who could not, who could be invited and who could not, what was beautiful and what was not. These affirmations, and the cultural landscape of Washington and Northern Virginia that surrounded them, influenced the policies and actions that emerged from that landscape. Just as Eleanor-who historians cast as more of an intellectual heavyweight than her younger brother-had exaggerated the gendered pivot of homemaker to design a house that explored her vision of a geopolitical social sphere as an anchor for a series of transnational power relationships that stretched far beyond it, so would Allen for the house he built the CIA less than five miles away.
But Langley's spatiality, and the social and racial buffers offered by these histories, gave Dulles one further, strategic and more practical benefit. The openness and perceived fresh-start of Langley, the ability to carve out spatial relationships on high, open ground within a wider landscape lacking dense development, allowed Dulles to create a building that would, at last, embody his unique vision of the covert. The headquarters expressed in physical space the shifting ideas in which Dulles was shrouding the agency by the mid-1950s, a veil of open secrecy that served its murky, strategic interventions for the rest of the century, and set the course for shaping the covert capital's everyday life.
Dulles's Open Secrets
Many would agree the U.S. has and has had an empire. Few would claim or even be able to describe a kind of lived imperial citizenship. In Northern Virginia at mid-century, Allen Dulles innovated a relationship between empire and secrecy that helps account for why we have such trouble imagining the lived dimensions of empire. His ideas about this open secret took form at CIA. By modeling physical space-the medium through which the everyday is lived-the Langley complex prefabricated a powerful model for the disavowal of U.S. imperialism, as practiced through the motions of everyday life. That this landscape of denial operated in the homefront where the stretched-out political power of U.S. empire was managed-that disavowal was, in a sense, part of the work of managing it-testified to its effectiveness. In a word, the way Allen Dulles hid the CIA headquarters in plain sight mattered.
To get the headquarters built, Dulles appeared in public and gave testimony in open Congressional sessions, a divorce from habit as the agency commonly met Congress in private. His arguments for Langley closely tracked two popular cultural discourses-security and efficiency-making the CIA's case in the era's own vernacular. In public, security took on a conventional sense suited to the 1950s-a bureaucratic, systemic notion of protection for its own sake. Efficiency was the same. Dulles lamented the agency's current quarters with the truth aura of firm statistics. Without a central building, the CIA was losing "20 percent efficiency and a great deal of money." With it, the agency could trim guards from $1,100,000 to $320,000, and reception staff from $110,000 to $30,000. The agency even quantified its "loss of time" under the current arrangement, valued at $607,000 and counted as one of the new building's economies. Langley would shave time-wasting commutes for CIA employees from Northwest Washington and Montgomery County compared to sites farther south. The building itself was to be utilitarian with "no frills" and at the same time a streamlined corporate or academic campus visually representing the scholarly professionalism, civilian coordination, and departmental streamlining that were the CIA's core traits as a "service agency." "Reminds me of Princeton," Dulles would quip to visitors at his E Street office as he showed off early architectural models.37
But the CIA was not only a "secure" but a security organization, extending its authority internationally. Men who built the headquarters had direct knowledge of CIA actions across the globe, and defined priorities among the trees of Langley based on these knowledges and discrepancies. This was true for Dulles. But it held for administrators he appointed to the project. Overseeing it was Colonel Lawrence K. "Red" White, a former clandestine officer who wore a West Point ring and joined CIA after losing the use of one leg in combat in the Philippines during World War II. While White's name appears frequently on the Langley project, it also appears elsewhere: meeting about China operations, designing U-2 plans, knowing which agency documents mentioned the Bay of Pigs, in Lyndon Johnson's office during the Vietnam escalations.38 The idea of security could blend toward the offensive violence of covert action and "national security" as a code for secret war. It could blend back toward half-light, disguise, mystification, and the covert as a means of politics. The CIA's public arguments for the headquarters doubled as stand-ins for the silent content of its work.
The technique that created space for the transitions between the two sides of the agency was the genre of secrecy in which Allen Dulles cloaked CIA as director. Dulles had his own notion of keeping a secret, best articulated in his 1963 book, The Craft of Intelligence. Written in restless forced retirement in the two years after Kennedy dismissed him for the CIA's botched invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, the book is refined propaganda. In it, Dulles saves face for the newly shamed agency he built. He courts the American public in the way he best knew how: by charming them, by opening up to them, by explaining, by welcoming, by revealing. But since his subject is the CIA, the book bursts with contradictions. He writes: "CIA is not an underground operation. It has, of course, a secret side...These functions are not disclosed." In some cases there are outright lies. The exit ceremony where Kennedy appointed Dulles's replacement appears as the time the president came "to say good-bye to me as Director." But it is through the book's contradictions that a vision of Dulles's complex notion of the covert emerges.39
In the "Personal Note" opening the narrative, he lays out the terrain with characteristic convolution: "One of my own guiding principles in intelligence work when I was Director of Central Intelligence was to use every human means to preserve the secrecy and security of those activities, but only those where this was essential, and not to make a mystery of what is a matter of common knowledge or obvious to friend and foe alike." He rails against what he calls "futile secrecy." He claims Eisenhower couldn't even find the CIA Director's office. He mocks the pretentious "Government Printing Office" sign that labeled the E Street headquarters, when tour bus guides would park outside and "harangue the occupants of the bus with information to the effect that behind the barbed wire what they saw was the most secret, the most concealed place in Washington." As Dulles notes, every cab driver knew the location. "As soon as I put up a proper sign at the door, the glamour and mystery disappeared. We were no longer either sinister or mysterious to visitors to the Capital; we became just another government office." The CIA, in this view, is the most normal entity, engaged in the plain bureaucratic work promised by its charter. But on the very next page, Dulles writes, again contradictorily, "Americans are inclined to talk too much about matters which should be classified."40
Dulles never resolves these paradoxes. At best, he leaves the impression that the downside of excessive secrecy is silliness, or an administrative dissipation of effort for an endeavor thriving on efficiency. Unspoken is the implicit flipside, that the truly covert, one to "maintain the security of operations where secrecy is essential," comes with a tactic of strategic openness. Strategic openness is the theme and point of The Craft of Intelligence, but the fullest expression of this idea-that openness has a vital, dialectical relationship to secrecy-appears in the headquarters itself, finished and overseen by Dulles two years earlier.
The first level at which strategic openness operates is relatively transparent. One major problem with the Tempos had been that their clandestine purpose allowed enemy agents to watch people coming and going, marking down license plates. As far back as the 1948 Dulles-Jackson-Correa report that critiqued the early CIA, Dulles suggested the benefits instead of "a building having so many services and visitors that the identification of a secret staff and their visitors would be rendered difficult. Further, the staff could more easily cover the explanation of its work by giving a well-known and relatively innocuous address." So many cars going in and out would inhibit specific identifications. This was certainly Dulles's approach in other areas, such as his appearances before Congressional committees. Social by nature, instead of being reticent or protective before Congress, Dulles was known for inundating representatives with information, with his glamorous "tour d'horizon that tended to blur agency activity and foreign policy," where "members would ask few questions which dealt with internal agency matters or with specific operations." Dulles took a similar approach with Eisenhower, preferring "to present vast amounts of raw intelligence material" that "was usually contradictory, and always terribly bulky." "The President simply did not have time to read it and evaluate it," according to one historian, providing Dulles with discretion "while he directed his agents in their paramilitary activities." In each of these examples, the stream of openness about secrecy, ironically, sweeps the secret into its flow and dilutes it into invisibility. Within the flow of information, it also created rare autonomy for CIA. The publicity surrounding the headquarters, cast in the era's familiar tropes, should be seen as part of the same technique.41
But Dulles's method of establishing the covert is not only publicity and openness. While managing the headquarters project, Dulles kept up a busy schedule lecturing powerful groups of businessmen, think-tanks and social clubs about the place of U.S. power in the world. On the surface, the speeches track the conventional, overt ideas of the period's foreign policy establishment. Through the fifties, one sees Dulles's dismissal of the communist world as a "no man's land of knowledge" shift to a more liberal stance. As American elites across the spectrum tried to answer the question of "what are we for?" on the world stage, vying for the hearts and minds of Third World observers who took a dim view of U.S. racism and its closeness to European colonial powers, Dulles, like many, argued that the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence bestowed upon the United States a natural leadership role among all revolutionary, freedom-loving peoples, who deserved respect for their own "valid claims and aspirations."42
In this regard, he was in sync with what Christina Klein calls the period's "global imaginary of integration," which cast the U.S. and the Third World as natural bedfellows in the cultural sphere in order to ease the argument for observers in the "new nations" for a globe integrated by a reoriented world system, anchored to U.S. political, military and global market power and banded by strategic pacts.43 But the extraordinary thing about Dulles's speeches is the way he adopts this rhetoric, despite the fact that his own CIA was the gray space that mediated between the U.S. as liberal beacon and the U.S. as violent imperial power on the ground. Frequently, Dulles marshals results achieved by his own CIA officers with his direct participation and support as accomplishments for the Free World chosen and put into effect by its oppressed peoples.
"More than a quarter of a million in these recent days have opted to leave Ho Chi Minh's Communist paradise in northern Viet Nam...," Dulles told the Herald Tribune Forum in October 1954. But those people had left only after a relentless propaganda campaign by CIA agents reporting to Col. Edward G. Lansdale, Dulles's personal representative in Vietnam. "There have been successes in Iran and in Guatemala, for example, but over the last decade more people have been lost to freedom than have regained it," Dulles said. The "successes" in Iran and Guatemala were CIA coups Dulles had overseen and planned. Less than a year after he approved and unleashed a coup attempt against Sukarno in Indonesia, Dulles triumphantly informed D.C.'s Women's Forum on National Security that "the doctrines of Jefferson are household words with Asiatic revolutionary leaders such as Sukarno of Indonesia." Days after he returned from a classified "consultation" with Ramon Magsaysay, the chief of state Lansdale had installed in the Philippines after a U.S.-directed counterinsurgency campaign that defined U.S. covert action for years to come, Dulles lauded Magsaysay to the Carabao, a military camaraderie association formed in 1900, during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines that lasted for nearly half a century, as "a real democratic leader in that fine, up-and-coming nation." He trumpeted the jailing and scattering of nationalist Huk rebels, the dedicated result of his own orders, as having occurred "not by any actions of ours but through the determination of the Filipinos' very young government."44
Publicizing CIA actions by relabeling them as autonomous events abroad simultaneously reclassified them, and dared audiences to think differently. In a sense, this was propaganda directed against U.S. citizens. But since Dulles's audiences, packed with federal retirees and personal friends, would have boasted wide knowledge of CIA involvement in these events, the lies are better read as Dulles's open secrets, a kind of ritual performance of group unity. Dulles would advertise these events as one truth, while by their very mention drawing back the curtain on the secret history, affirming the intrapersonal solidarity of those in the know. The open secret as itself a form of covert action could thus encompass fraternity and thrill, the thrill and the pleasure of fleeting revelation blunting the ethical call of the events. Out in the open, with the facts of an action kept at arm's length, laundered or erased, the results of a secret event could become something new. The monument of the endpoint could blur the means of its achievement. The Langley complex concretized this set of ideas.
If Dulles had believed in a mere efficient openness, the CIA could have remained tucked into the web of governmental activities around Foggy Bottom, or flung open its doors to the Mall, to the human trace of the democratic, congregating in front of the Lincoln Memorial that symbolized it. A mere secrecy, on the other hand, as colleagues like OSS veteran Frank Wisner defended, with agents "lurking in scrubby old hideouts, with peeling plaster and toilets stopped up," on what they considered a British model, would have limited the agency and drawn shackling suspicion, not to mention dispersing its institutional authority.45 Dulles's innovation in his seemingly paradoxical celebrations and disavowals of both secrecy and openness was to erase the line: to hide things in plain sight. He knocked the covert off its binary secret/not secret axis, and reconfigured the CIA (much like U.S. empire itself) as America's open secret.
The Langley complex's security thus depended on the site's own secure features but also the openness of its surroundings, transforming that very openness into a kind of security. Langley bonded overt and covert CIA employees into one site, but by no means were there "so many services" there that would forbid identifying employees, particularly when the building opened. Visitors were highly regulated. But on the barren farm roads of 1960s McLean, enemy agents themselves couldn't have remained secret. Any stray car was obvious. At the same time, the four entrances to the complex did make it difficult to track individuals across entries and exits, again dissembling the complex's apparent openness to its surroundings.46
The move to Langley was thus itself a kind of paradox: a gathering that necessitated a series of extreme withdrawals: from the city, from proximity to the State Department, from the grid of accessible roads, and once at Langley, from the main road, and then from its own vast parking lots, and then into the corridors of the structure itself. In this vision of inaccessibility and withdrawal, within a seemingly more easily identifiable consolidation in form at "Langley," Dulles geographically and publicly placed the CIA for decades, while inventing a tiered secrecy, a proliferation of secrets and openness, the open secret of the covert capital's signature suburban institution.47
The document that translated this idea into bricks and mortar was the Clarke and Rapuano report, written by Gilmore Clarke at Dulles's request with information from CIA staff. It offered the first and only detailed public account of how the CIA imagined secrecy as design feature. Essentially, the Langley complex was to model the organizational secrecy of the CIA in stone, encapsulated by the guiding practice of "compartmentation": "Elaborate compartmentation is necessary both for functions and for individuals to a degree far greater than in any other activity, public or private, and yet this compartmentation must not interfere with the free and rapid flow of information to those who have a need for it." This described the CIA's core structure, as one officer explained: "compartmentation is the process of strictly limiting the number of people who are aware of a given intelligence operation. Only personnel with an absolute 'need to know' should be admitted into the compartment. Simply having the requisite clearances is not enough." By the time of the Langley project, the CIA's clandestine service had become, according to a Congressional history, "a highly compartmented structure in which information was limited to small groups of individuals," particularly for "highly sensitive political action and paramilitary operations" but even in "routine practice." But the point of compartmentation was not rigidity. It was, in the words of a former high-ranking CIA official, "flexibility."48 It allowed the agency to retarget its agendas, expand and contract its work abroad on the immediate call of the director, his staff or field agents, unhampered by the restrictions of group, public or Congressional knowledge.
Architecturally, Langley's "compartments" then, would operate on a continuum with design features that promoted strategic coordination and flow. Documents could never be unattended and required room for escort in transit, while "unusual amounts of vault and safe space" tucked secrets literally into the walls and foundation of the building. Originally the agency pondered an "invisible" or windowless building, perhaps buried underground. Langley's (at that time) 140-acre site was the next best thing. Its borders were not only secure but, thanks to geography, rather invisible themselves-the "wooded banks of the Potomac" and National Park Service forest to the north and east, Turkey Run river to the west, private lands to the south, all sunk within 582 acres of federally owned Bureau of Public Roads property providing "a tight screen of security" forever after. This was a major reason Dulles always preferred Langley and its "isolation, topography and heavy forestation," as he told Congress: "I want security. I want this building away from the road...I get a measure of security and protection by being on the Potomac River here. I want to guard this area pretty carefully."49
Langley's native forestland and trees were thus a critical part of the program. In the early days of the acquisition, Dulles and his wife Clover strolled across the hillsides on weekends choosing which old trees would remain. Dulles spoke about the secretive function of the trees in public, stressing, "Not one tree will be cut down that possibly can be spared...In the summer you won't be able to see the building from the road."50 But the secrecy offered by these trees would not position the complex in a mere inside-out relationship with the surrounding world, but be only one feature in an internal, layered secrecy. "Physical security of the entire site and of each component within the site must provide assurance against unauthorized entry," Clarke wrote. The design had to promote secrecy vis-à-vis the outside and in the relationship between the parts of the complex and within the buildings. Yet the headquarters couldn't be a bunker. The architects were to shape the picturesque slopes and hills of Langley into "a dignified setting high above the Potomac," in keeping with Dulles's concerns about "openness" and its uses.51 The challenge for the makers of Langley was that they had to create a physical headquarters both monumental and secret, appealing to CIA's full range of functional contradictions. Most observers agree Dulles micro-managed the project, but, arguably, he maintained the control for this reason: because he wanted Langley to serve the CIA in its broadest range of actions, actions only half-spoken and always incompletely known in their totality by anyone, perhaps even him.
The open secret of Langley bore a similarly complex relationship to the nearby village of McLean. From the building's opening, pilots flying into National Airport used the CIA as beacon and checkpoint. Signs identified it, until Robert Kennedy, who lived nearby after he bought his brother's house at Hickory Hill, forced their removal. Later, the signs returned. Yet those in the surrounding suburbs agreed to deny the complex's existence at the same time, allowing the tree cover to erase its ramifications for the local landscape and the world at large.52
This agreement was visible from the beginning of the complex's life, most starkly in one document: the McLean Central Development Plan, prepared by Fairfax County planners in 1963. Planners drafted the report just after the CIA opened its doors, as it filled with 11,000 employees whose only nearby shopping was in McLean. The planners' task was to "report on the economic future of the McLean commercial district," based on its population, use, landscape and industries. Yet while they found space to acknowledge twelve different gas stations in McLean, they mentioned the mammoth CIA exactly zero times. As on maps at the time, the CIA only appeared in the report as a great void, a known absence contributing to the supposedly pastoral nature of the area. The "dignified" 2.3 million-square-foot building merged into the topography and vanished: "To the north, the Potomac River is bordered by the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Not only is this federally owned land, safe from development, but also the steep terrain, wooded areas, and scenic river lend a truly suburban character to the community."53
It wasn't safe from development. It was the most developed parcel in the suburb. But of course, Fairfax County planners and businessmen knew that. The Chamber of Commerce had been the CIA's major shill before the local Board of Supervisors in securing the agency's place in the county. Dulles repaid them by visiting a well-attended chamber dinner in 1957, where he explained the need for the consolidated headquarters and offered an early account of the global vision the CIA would install in the local landscape-where "any one of a number of possible missteps anywhere in the world could mean sudden and overwhelming disaster." The chamber's executive secretary expressed its immediate interest in the CIA's arrival slightly differently, noting, "The payroll is exceptionally high."54
Local elites also appreciated that CIA, as an elite institution with a "quiet business" and well-heeled staff, could take over a large river site once slated to become a public park. It would now, as Dulles asserted, help "in preserving the character of the community," essentially providing CIA cover for the exclusionary large-lot zoning that made Langley such a desirable security location in the first place. Yet, after an initial burst of interest from a bank, a confectioner, a bookstore and retail stores who lobbied for concessionary space in the building that was then denied, when it came time to publicly plan for the county's space and life, the CIA headquarters again went invisible, as Dulles had always promised, explaining: "You'll hardly know it's there."55
The Makers of Langley
This dialectic of secrecy and openness continued through Dulles's choice of architects for the complex. The modern architect Wallace K. Harrison had led the international team that designed the United Nations buildings, which redefined the cityscape of New York after World War II. With Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Harrison's firm, Harrison and Abramovitz, was one of two outfits "that dominated architectural practice after World War II," with Eero Saarinen a close third. For the public image the CIA wanted to craft, the firm was the perfect choice, as Harrison and Abramovitz had been working in those years to reform and adjust a softer, more expressionistic modernism to appeal to American businessmen, while still crafting fresh iconographic symbols that preserved a sense of its clarity and dynamic forms. The firm's style fell in line with the agency's security, efficiency arguments, as well as its desire to make a memorable visual statement to official Washington.56
For the architects, the CIA project also had serious appeal. Its announcement followed closely that for the home of another creation of the 1947 National Security Act, the Air Force, which contracted its academy in Colorado Springs the year before. "There were hardly any examples of major built work for government bodies or public institutions in America at the time the Academy competition was announced," explains Robert Bruegmann. The CIA was the next project in the pipeline for modernist architects and, in a sense, one with even greater prestige-closer to the federal seat and monumental Washington, meant to house the agency most involved in vital, secret work close to the president, one led by the brother of the secretary of state.57
Furthermore, the CIA headquarters would be a prime early entry into a "brand new typology" of mid-century architecture-the suburban corporate campus or "estate," which garnered significant attention in these years. By 1955, Saarinen and SOM had completed buildings that were inventing the modernist campus for the corporations who were these architects' key clients-Saarinen at the General Motors Technical Center outside Detroit, SOM at the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company outside Hartford. Harrison, known for his metropolitan skyscrapers, had not yet built one. The Langley headquarters was his first-and now lost-contribution to the canon of that mid-century form at the moment of its inception.58
But the overt choice of Harrison for Langley also had a secret side. As with any major federal building, a larger government entity, the Public Buildings Service, had to compile a long list of possible architects for the project, which stretched to fifty-seven firms. Allen Dulles hand-picked Harrison and Abramovitz from the list in August 1955. But why a man named Frederic Rhinelander King rose to the position of associate architect is obscure, not explained or even noted by the CIA's detailed, mostly declassified history.59
Characteristically absent from the record are King's ties to intelligence work. Dulles met King in Europe just after World War I. The genteel New Yorker was an Army Lieutenant serving as a U.S. intelligence agent in Czechoslovakia, reporting on its internal affairs during the Versailles Conference. He filed reports directly to the young Dulles, then an intelligence officer for the State Department, who sat on the Versailles committee redrawing Czech borders. After the war, the pair cemented the friendship. Both were devout members of New York's Council on Foreign Relations, the gentlemen's club of cigar-smoking, port-drinking bankers, lawyers, academics and architects, whose research and government sway began as a liberal internationalism in the era of Lindberghian isolation, and grew through the forties into an anti-communist center of secretive, moneyed influence. Dulles and King frequently socialized, Dulles called him "Freddie," and by the time of the CIA commission, he could write to King warmly, "I am delighted that we are going to be working together again."60
King, a colleague of Harrison's from their days at McKim, Mead and White, brought the idea for the CIA building to Harrison in the first place, according to Victoria Newhouse, Harrison's biographer. Although Harrison and Abramovitz led the design, it stands to reason that the commission began with King. The council bond was strong, and if King had not been there from the start, it is hard to imagine why a studied, but traditional architect most noted for the First National Bank in Greenwich, CT, a chapel at Smith College, mansions on Long Island, and a renovation of the CFR headquarters itself would be involved at all. Harrison and King had become close after the war so it makes sense that King would go to Harrison and Abramovitz when searching for a big firm to take the reins. But Dulles knew Harrison as well. Their summer houses practically neighbored each other on Long Island. When Dulles rented office space for early American intelligence with William Donovan, he did it in the Rockefeller Center towers on Fifth Avenue that Harrison designed and where Harrison headquartered his office at the time.61
Thus, not only had Dulles inhabited a Harrison office building, but Harrison had already designed a building used extensively for covert intelligence (the UN would be a second). Former CIA officers link the intelligence presence at Rockefeller Center after the war to Nelson Rockefeller's use of his chairmanship of the State Department's Commission to Coordinate Inter-American Affairs during World War II to run "a vast intelligence-gathering network for Latin America" that "controlled intelligence units in Latin America from offices in the center," with FBI backing. That Harrison himself had directed that commission's cultural department, charged with undercutting German and Italian activities using what one scholar calls the first U.S. money booked for a propaganda program raises further questions about Harrison's own relationship to intelligence work in these years. But at the very least he knew Dulles, and Dulles paid close attention to Harrison's work in Latin America, praising the architect's "original and inventive mind" and calling him a "life-long friend."62
Even if Dulles didn't first approach Harrison, he felt more than comfortable with the choice, explaining to the General Services Administration: "I have personally known Mr. Wallace K. Harrison for many years and believe that he, as well as his partner, are particularly qualified to deal with certain of the specialized problems involved in a building for CIA." The reference to Abramovitz referred to his background as, in the words of one scholar, a veritable "denizen of the military-industrial complex" at this time, when as a lieutenant colonel in the Army and full colonel in the Air Force he built airfields in southern China used for the bombing of Japan, redesigned the Air Force's internal construction bureaucracy, and worked in a Pentagon office to design buildings to "resist" the H-bomb blast. "I enjoyed the new experience because I was learning something that nobody else of the public could know," he mused later, expressing the covert, and its moral blinders, as a motive force. For the job, the architects received $1,975,150.63
This was one level on which Dulles's reliance on social foundations for politics blended with security at the CIA complex. Social intimacies provided a framework for security. Familiarity limited unpredictable outcomes. Ironically, Public Buildings Service commissioner Peter Strobel's financial ties to architects on the list for the CIA headquarters sparked a scandal in 1955 that led to his resignation. Dulles had as immediate personal ties to the architects commissioned, pointing to the degree to which the cloud of emergency hovering around the CIA's work exempted Dulles from the procedural expectations of the overt capital. But intimacy for Dulles had a strategic function, the engraining of "particular qualifications."64
For the modernists and their romance with mid-century American power, Langley fell within a broader series of projects where architects experimented with and developed a grammar that could speak for, not just the American corporation, but the expansionist postwar American state. The sleek, transparent liberalism, dynamism, progress and abundance seen as adhering to modern architecture not only outfitted U.S. authority with a scenic rhetorical argument for its claims to the future. It adapted its form to the functional necessities of U.S. imperial rule at home and abroad, and was designed by men like Harrison and Abramovitz who themselves emerged from the social and professional circles of intelligence and military work and so knew of those needs intimately.65
Critics interested in the New York modernist study Harrison's superblocks that changed the phenomenology of the urban Manhattan-Rockefeller Center, the United Nations, Lincoln Center. Two buildings his firm did right before Langley were more like the CIA: the U.S. embassies in Rio and Havana for the State Department's Foreign Buildings Office. The buildings bore many formal similarities to Langley, but most importantly, the Havana embassy was perhaps Harrison and Abramovitz's first attempt to model secrecy in one of their buildings, expressing, as historian Jane Loeffler puts it, "the functional division of the embassy in their plan." Consular offices, visa desks and public information outlets occupied the one-story building facing the street; a difficult-to-access tower held "diplomatic offices and others that required security." These "others that required security" included the offices of CIA officers with embassy cover who Loeffler and practically every historian of the agency say "swelled many embassy staffs at the time." The secrecy that the architectural firm promoted in these target cities of the CIA informed the homefront designs they drafted for CIA three years later.66
This secrecy, or masking function, accomplished by the divorce of surface and interior in modern architecture after the war, can be seen as one crucial purpose for it. As American architects allied themselves with state and corporate patrons intent on dominating nationalist independence movements and economies in the Third World, modernism came to articulate the fungible sequences of shapes that linked and made transposable U.S. authority between domestic and foreign spheres, turning them, in a sense, into one continuous landscape, where American power could be exerted, received and masked. Architects provided the consistent setting for agents of American power across national borders, sequencing identical, familiar spaces for new forms of U.S. corporate and state power that needed to be expressed yet linked non-contiguously.
Understandably, Harrison and Abramovitz were daunted by the covert contradictions of Dulles's project. The CIA posted an officer in the firm's New York offices to "safeguard Agency material," and every scrap of working drawings, models and papers had to be returned to the agency after completion. To find out even the most basic uses planned for building sections, Harrison had to insist, and even then received details only in vague organizational charts and a "coded Space Directive." But soon, five or six architects had top secret clearance, and began to design, in some concert with King. Their earliest efforts show a seven-story building, generally rectangular. As with the Havana and Rio embassies, on the lower three floors, in relatively open, large spaces, the architects clustered the CIA's more public activities-map division, cafeteria, shops, printing room, training, security office, medical center and library. As the building rose, the large blocky, adaptable spaces narrowed, divided and specialized, turning the structure into an apparatus to hold corridors. The corridors were the architects' physical response to the covert requirements. "The new building will consist of block-type wings," the CIA told Congress, "readily compartmented from one another, so that specially restricted areas can be established and special security controls maintained in each section."67
The tension between these block-type wings and the need for monumentality guided the design. One 1956 model was the "campus plan." Lower buildings, expressing the architects' vision of a corporate campus, climbed along the topography, carrying the structure into the natural environment. While each building interconnected with at least two others, allowing different compartmented pathways within the complex, the design followed its suburban corporate cousins too closely. The campus plan's dynamic, devolved authority, relaxed efficiency and functional transparency countered the Langley complex's simultaneous need for the monumental, and the fact that the CIA did not really want its functions to be transparent. More expensive, the campus also repeated the problem with the Tempos-accessibility at ground level.68
By early 1958, the architects changed the design. Sited on nine acres overlooking the Potomac, the modular components gathered back into a "large compact" eight-story structure in white reinforced concrete with 1.4 million square feet of usable space. While the long horizontal front and textured fenestration blended the mass into the wooded landscape, the repetitive serial windows in precast concrete frames echoed the architecture of monumental Washington. Monumentality also returned at the first two floors, now a wide oblong pedestal base with curved walls and undulating, amoeba-shaped roof line, which softened the massive geometries. Glass walls and balconies at setbacks in the third and top floors opened views of the landscape. Sculptural touches extended to two structures the architects broke out from the main body-the white-tiled globe of the auditorium to the left of the entrance (a junior cousin to Harrison's Perisphere from the 1939 World's Fair) known as "the Bubble," and the white, bird-in-flight, triple-arched wing span of a cafeteria in back. These three features-the long façade with its uplifting portico, the globe auditorium and the swooping cafeteria-were Langley's own tour d'horizon, visible from its access road and in most photographs of the complex.69 But the modular components now stacked on top of the oblong base to form a long rectangular facade with two T-shaped legs, in keeping with the pressure toward compartmentation, re-segregated the extroverted ensemble into five discrete six-story towers. The squat towers, each maintaining an individual, discrete presence, reprised the architectural "cut-outs" the agency had wanted from the beginning, and stressed the functional relationships and discrepancies between the complex's surface and interior.
This tension between surface and interior goes to the heart of modernist questions over form and function, and the pathways modern architecture took in the U.S. around World War II. Architectural theorist Reinhold Martin's The Organizational Complex gives the provocative account. Purist form-follows-function European modernism translated into the corporate architecture of the U.S. in this period. Two design features catalyzed the shift. Both found their full expression in the hands of Wallace Harrison. The first was the development of flexible, pre-built adaptable office space-and the revelation of rentable, air conditioned, electronically lit "deep space" thanks to technological innovation. This came into being in Rockefeller Center in the thirties. The second was the curtain wall, which freed the wall from its roof-supporting function. The first full height curtain wall appeared at the United Nations in 1950.
These weren't neutral developments. By hollowing out internal space and turning architectural practice toward the manipulation of the skin of institutional buildings, and then marketing raw internal space and its switchability back to people as "choice," "the organizational complex" welded individuals into the mass "system" of postwar society, through their very individuality. People joined the system through personal expression. They acted out belonging in ever more modular, blank and mutable office buildings and the decorated boxes of suburban homes like those of Northern Virginia, meant to represent their freedom.70
The translation between choice and system that Martin describes-the movement "from system, to freedom, and back" as Abramovitz himself put it-was an important mechanism through which the CIA complex processed individuals into agents of empire in Northern Virginia's suburbs.71 The headquarters' organic, expressive surfaces symbolized its absorptive capacities, ushering people into the building. Liberating the curtain wall all together, radicalizing it in the form of the mutable treeline-the complex's most visible "wall"-Langley created and erased itself, defined its presence by its absence. The interior withdrew even further. A capitol for the covert capital that was also a headquarters, it was the architecture of plausible deniability writ large. Yet as Harrison and Abramovitz's hidden entry into the canon of corporate campuses, Langley also opens up effects of that form crucial to understanding the CIA's role in the organizational complex of American power at mid-century.
The corporate campus in an isolated suburban location signed up workers for rhetorical goals in new ways. Like its contemporaries, Langley stepped into the trees, stood at the end of a landscaped drive, and shuffled its parking behind and to the side of the building. It "warmed up" modernism with curves. It explored reinforced concrete for dramatic sculptural tendencies toward the monumental, representing its authority to the world and its own employees. Langley also "laterally integrated" the CIA's dispersed operations through space. It was the reparative and restorative "home office" for the CIA's global chain, and like the Connecticut General campus, the image of protective security itself, which observers had come to associate with the "long free span." It made the CIA seem like a kind of geopolitical insurance company. At the same time, like those corporations, it conceived of its organization through a softer, integrative and familial language of home, accruing the exaggerated domesticity of its surrounding suburb as an organizational, gendering feature of the agency and means of fostering attachment.72
The Langley complex did all these things not merely because it was built in a style applicable across businesses, institutions and contexts in the 1950s, but for two more important reasons. Adopting the common stylistic vocabulary and cultural forms of the period made the CIA appear to be like every other business and institution, which is exactly what Allen Dulles had always wanted, an optimum cover. Even more importantly, Langley so adeptly summarizes broader features of the organizational complex's corporate estate because the CIA was a crucial switching point between the civilian-corporate and government-military that defined the sequences of American power in the period. It was the agency of U.S. imperialism whose work was essentially the "human relations" and "applied knowledge" that were catchphrases across such a broad array of fields. It is no accident that one of the most concise phrases summarizing the CIA's philosophy of its work comes not in an Allen Dulles speech, but from William Whyte, describing a General Electric training program in his book The Organization Man: "they see the manipulative skills as something that in the long run will make other people happy."73
Modernist geometric blocks expressing compartmented, flexible functions in suburban locales were not only useful for their powers of bureaucratic management, information flow and the display of executive hierarchy. The work of the three big modernists at mid-century as they skipped back and forth between projects for large corporations, educational institutions and the U.S. government-be it Harrison and Abramovitz at Langley, Rio and Havana, SOM at Oak Ridge or the Air Force Academy, or Saarinen at his embassies or Dulles International Airport-cemented the visual, spatial conjunctions between corporate and government research and power. They provided the setting and formal structure for the militarizing and geopoliticizing of corporate and campus research and the corporatizing and civilianizing of war-making and its extension into everyday life-a major CIA function.
These themes coalesced in Dulles's efficiency arguments about the need for the headquarters. Efficiency was at its basic level Dulles's appeal to Congress for getting more with less: using the modernist headquarters and its controlled site innovations to produce better analysis more quickly for less money, coating the complex in a civilian, quasi-corporate veneer of expertise. As Dulles explained in 1957 to local businessmen, "No bank would be likely to house each of its departments and some of its money in each of several separate buildings with separate guards for each. The maintenance problems alone would be enough to horrify a good businessman."74 But efficiency, like security, was multivalent. The CIA complex worked on the line between two cultural fantasies of efficiency united in the CIA after 1947-efficiency as bureaucratic management and the orderly processing of information and efficiency as obtaining "results," sometimes deadly, in direct and silent fashion, without the intervention or unwieldiness of democracy or the conventional armies that usually had to answer to democracy.
Scholars in the insular discipline of intelligence history cast the tension between the elephantine bureaucracy of the home office and the lithe, renegade independence of the field agent as the pivot in understanding the CIA. The scholarship is divided up this way-administrative histories on one side, coup autopsies on the other. But the key to CIA as an instrument of global U.S. power is in comprehending how Dulles fused images of the CIA as both a secure, efficient arm of the conventional civil service and as an organization that could exert unconventional forms of power and fill in gaps between public moral rhetoric and the covert demands of U.S. power abroad. Langley institutionalized the CIA within the federal government, but forever with this split, the different faces playing to different audiences. The duality was not a paradox. Powerful U.S. political figures wanted and needed both agencies.
Efficiency summarized them both. "When the agency was organized, I think we had a little different outlook as to what was happening in the world," Dulles told Congress. "Since that time we have been assigned to other functions....I am convinced we can increase our own efficiency and our ability to meet the needs of the country 10 or 20 percent if we have adequate facilities in the form of a building so that we can be together, and I can give proper direction to an enterprise that is not easy to run, but which I can assure you is improving in efficiency year by year." The "other functions" were the CIA's covert action functions, a direct reference to the innocuous phrase "such other functions and duties" in its charter which soon gave the agency its paramilitary mandate. But Dulles's wish for his agency to "be together" was just as important-a final central task of the CIA complex. It wasn't just an office. It was a home.75
As a home, it defined intimacy and solidarity, conscripted emotional allegiance and organized its own domestic labor. Dulles stressed these features at the ceremony where Eisenhower laid the building's cornerstone on November 3, 1959. The cornerstone-laying debuted the newly institutionalized CIA to an audience of powerful observers and the CIA's own officers. Elaborate, "time-consuming and tedious" planning went into the event. Agency elites saw it as an opportunity. Executive Director Lyman Kirkpatrick advised Dulles to assert in his welcoming speech that the building symbolized "that Intelligence has achieved a permanent role in the United States Government." The invite-only guest-list affirmed the event as a family affair, attended by Wallace Harrison's wife, Frederic King, Eleanor Dulles, and Eisenhower intimates and security state developers Charles Hook Tompkins and Edwin Lee Jones, whose construction companies built the CIA. Also in attendance were General Lyman Lemnitzer and his wife, Guatemala coup planner William Pawley and Edward Lansdale, now back from Vietnam and designing counterinsurgency programs from a Pentagon office.76
The gathering emphasized the way Langley could provide a space for domestic reception and reunion. It affirmed at home, to "Ruffles and Flourishes" and "Hail to the Chief," actions conducted by these men abroad without anthems. Packages and audio tapes recounting the event's details were "sent to each overseas station and base" to intentionally link the two spheres. Top brass arrived from the Defense Department, National Security Agency, FBI, State Department, National Security Council, Atomic Energy Commission, and U.S. Information Agency, as though to formally welcome the CIA into the wider family of U.S. governance. Five thousand guests arrived by bus from D.C.77
The crew of laborers that dug and poured the foundation and raised parts of the first two floors, mostly African Americans with a few white workers, stood in rough clothes and hats on a hill of dirt outside the perimeter of the event and watched the formal proceedings of suits, overcoats and military regalia on the bandstand. In an indication of the consistent strategizing of gender that went along with its new home, the agency ordered some women employees, at Dulles's behest, to occupy prominent, visible seats by the bandstand "to highlight the vital role which women play in the Agency." At the same time, the agency deployed "some of the Agency's most attractive young ladies" to usher important guests and leaven the event with a flirtatious air.78
After an invocation by the U.S. Senate chaplain whose length, one agent joked, "far exceeded any staff study the CIA had ever prepared," Dulles spoke. He called the headquarters "a home of our own." But this was a particular kind of home, which would have the capacity to draw toward it accurate "information from the four corners of the earth...," based on the knowledge that "our vital interests are at stake in places as distant as Korea, and Laos, in Central Africa and in the islands of the Pacific as well as in this Hemisphere and in Europe." This imagined geography of an imperial globalism situated the headquarters as local domestic space, and simultaneously as an open cipher where a set of spatial relations stretching far beyond it could enter the domestic sphere. But, like any domestic space, the building would only be animated by the CIA's people, who took over when mere structure and law were not enough. "Laws can create agencies of government; they cannot make them function," Dulles explained. To him, the line testified to his staff's dedication and the CIA as a lived institution. It doubled as a trace of the extra-judicial interpretive space outside the law in which the CIA often labored.79
Eisenhower took the microphone after Dulles. He lauded the "beautiful and useful structure" that would rise from and "endure" on the site. Then, ceremonially claiming the spot, Eisenhower and Dulles spread mortar on the cornerstone box and it was lowered into the ground. The event was pure pageantry. For one, the cornerstone laying did not even take place. The mortar was "damp sand and sugar." The cornerstone was removed after the ceremony and locked away. But Dulles used the event on the newly cleared plain, occupied by the beginnings of a stately complex that still called for the hard, hands-on work of building, to instill a message in the audience members through the drama of raising collective shelter. This was an abiding feeling of the perilous tension between stability-affirmed in words such as "house," "concentrate," and "edifice"-and flux-"change," "cling," "frailties"-that painted a picture of a fragile yet vital world that demanded intervention, and of the CIA's expertise-as a secure, comforting, efficient permanent civil service branch and a dynamic, risk-taking, molder of events-at intervening in that world. The idea of the CIA having a home to build and defend accrued the sentiment of domesticity to the civilian agency charged with fighting the country's secret wars.80
The program, which Harrison kept, narrated Dulles's vision of the headquarters' monumental functions. A wistful painting showed rough grounds behind the complex blending into the plashing, distant Potomac and a gleaming flat horizon line. The overt capital was nowhere in sight. Profuse trees in full flower not only erased evidence of the hectic construction process and graded land, they framed a complex alone in a robust green silence opposite the river from the city, a bulwark stoically watchful on its defensive perimeter facing its challenges alone. The rendering seemed to hitch an invisible Washington's future to the covert agency. But while the exterior had sweep and the symbolic ability to take up such space, the hard work of making a functional home for the CIA's geopolitical labor still lay ahead. This was accomplished by the building's interiors, where the CIA took over the design with their "own draftsmen and personnel with other skills."81
Dulles took a uniquely active role in the interiors, ordering around contractors and movers personally, and, "fearing communist penetration," banning union laborers while internal communications were being installed.82 The lobby introduced his vision, the frequency with which it appears in CIA memoirs speaking not only to its life as one of Langley's more public and overt spaces, but to its key role guiding officers through the headquarters' carefully staged domestic sequences.
CIA staff architects like Harbin S. Chandler, who as a major in the Army helped create National Airport and renovate the White House for Harry Truman, designed the space, a massive gray-and-white Georgia marble cocoon with columns. Its entry was decorated in the "old Federal Dignified style" with gold stars representing officers who died in the field, and the CIA's eagle seal embedded in the floor. The design and material nodded toward the CIA's life within the wider U.S. government. But agents also defined the lobby's solidity and enclosure as the place where they could experience the security originally promised by Dulles to Congress within the architecture of the building itself. "The white marble walls and columns of the gigantic foyer meant the beginnings of security, exclusivity," remembered one officer. "It reminded me that...while I was here I was safe from a hostile world." Another described the lobby's "stillness-cathedral-like, holy, mysterious." It was the building's space of felt security.83
Inscribed on a foyer wall, agents could see Dulles's favorite biblical quote, "And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." Some thought it in "bad taste to cloak the covert operations of the Agency behind the words of Jesus," but the quote was another crucial design feature. It instructed individuals on the interior's use, incorporating the promise of truth into the lobby and suggesting that going deeper the complex would fulfill the promise. But because of compartmentation, truth at Langley became a constantly recessing horizon in a place where truth perhaps existed but could never be completely accessed by any one agent. The quote and the lobby instilled a longing to access that truth-and the individual freedom that was its gift-while making that access individually impossible. The line produced a kind of obsession within the CIA family, the favored epigraph of books about the agency, a key emotional marker for officers arriving for the first time and leaving for the last, even the motto of a CIA front organization. Its simultaneous promise and withholding of revelation granted the CIA a crucial part of its authority and mystique with the public and its own agents. Through its daily intervention, the lobby staged an individual reason to go to work and a collective, sacral and awe-inspiring argument for that work's necessity. "It was always the last thing you saw as you headed off into the world to do the Agency's bidding," recalled one officer, "and often the last thing you remembered once you got there."84
An escalator served the ground and first floor. As in the early designs, more public functions clustered there-travel, medical, credit union, insurance claims, and library, including a library of spy fiction "employees were encouraged to peruse for ideas." After a checkpoint, where guards examined entrants' plastic laminated badges, four color-coded elevator banks rose onto authorized floors in the intersecting sub-rectangles seen from outside and cut out others. They opened into corridors named blandly for letters of the alphabet with varying levels of security. The corridors were arranged along the lines of the globe. The Soviet Union was on the fifth floor; Angola and China on the third; Iran, India, Afghanistan and the Congo on the sixth; Cuba in the basement.85 These geographic divisions provided a critical component of the complex's flexibility, organizing it as a structure "geared to adjust to the world's endless crises." Depending on the CIA's geopolitical targets, "overnight a sleepy little desk...becomes a bustling hub of activity for two dozen people." Bureaucratic spatial similarities across the corridors created a framework for the loose flexibility and swift, predatory re-orientations of the CIA's charge as country projects needed to expand and contract personnel from month to month-with what the clandestine service called "optimum flexibility for moving units within the space assigned"-while providing no obvious, enduring traces in the corridors' setting as to what was occurring where, and no architectural obstructions to these shifts. As the CIA increased its presence in countries and began to alter their built and human spaces, its interior would be able to provide for that work functionally, while bearing no trace of its magnitude and place-specificity domestically.86
To make this functionality possible, the interior was a dream-like meditation on sameness and repetition-making it, according to one agent, "extremely complicated to orient oneself on the inside." Dulles commissioned photography books, with photographs taken by the officer who chose the CIA's U-2 spy plane targets, to emphasize the interiors' serial patterns, what one officer called "their unremitting purity." At one time, the interior was monochrome. Officers worked in small offices in bare off-white corridors with gray vinyl tile without knowing where other officers worked, at times without even knowing each other's names. Repeating snack bars and vending machines kept them working without trips to the cafeteria for coffee. Soon after the opening, a CIA psychiatrist fought to paint the doors primary colors "for the sake of the staff's emotional stability," following a "psychology of color" for the design. The addition of modernist color-field paintings lent by D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery also softened the interior, while, similarly, further aestheticizing and emphasizing the corridors' fungible qualities with the paintings' own interchangeable abstract forms.87
But at every turn compartmentation also tasked the identical interiors with minute systems of division and blocked access. Doors had black combination locks or keypad entries. Some bore small cryptic signs denoting functions; others were signless or marked by number-the institutional preference. Visitors only graduated through the complex with escorts, and colored badges permitted different degrees of access. Inside the rooms, alarms, safes, burn bags and classified trash destined for churning shredders in the basement helped determine the decor. Some entire offices were "vaulted," that is, the offices themselves became the safe, locked down every night. Officers worked inside the safe.88
Even the exterior's most expressive elements housed interiors stressing strategic fragmentation. The cafeteria, that organic swoop on the outside, divided into a secret and open section. To enter the larger, secret side, agents flashed badges to guards; they ate with their families or visitors on the other, "small, dismal" side. The globe auditorium's external connection to the main building via tunnel allowed it to be used as another cut-out, a site of more public events over the years where visitors would not see members of the clandestine service and have no access to the main building while on the grounds.89
The office established for Dulles on the seventh floor somewhat relieved the serial modern environment, a legendary suite given older cultural authority with wood paneling and a mahogany desk. Arrived at by a private key-operated elevator located up a small staircase to the left of the lobby, the office summarized his theories about secrecy and access. Max Abramovitz, in the many interviews he later gave on the building, suggested Dulles designed it himself. A flight of glass opened the room to the east, but only onto a view of the trees. Open doors and easy entrances belied that the multiple doors were originally designed so different visitors would not have to see one another as they entered and exited. A telephone buzzer system was to allow CIA officers to reach Dulles directly without the intervention of a secretary. A small room, eventually known as the "French Room" and decorated with French Empire furniture, adjoined the office. Dulles designed it as a holding area, so he could have mutually secret visitors awaiting him in both rooms. This mirrored the arrangement of his own home on Q Street, where visitors reported waiting "in a little sitting room" while they would hear, beyond closed doors, Dulles and other men speak in a foreign language, and never see the men leave.90
Even the flight of windows overlooking the woods had an operational purpose, impressing visitors with exclusivity and bucolic delight. As those guests included members of many foreign intelligence services whose friendships defined CIA policy abroad-including General Hendrick van den Bergh, head of South Africa's secret police, Manual Contreras, head of Augusto Pinochet's secret police in Chile, Nematollah Nassiri, head of the Shah's secret police SAVAK in Iran, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, Hmong General Vang Pao, and the son of the King of Saudi Arabia-the view imported the idea explored by Eleanor Dulles a decade earlier-that the isolated landscape of Northern Virginia could relax guarded guests into a nonchalance that fostered intelligence gathering and political maneuvering-into Langley itself. Marveling at the "top-floor dining room overlooking a beautiful pastoral scene in northern Virginia," one SAVAK agent recalled fondly feeling that "this was a great privilege for us, as very few foreign citizens were allowed to enter CIA headquarters."91
While the Dulles suite was Langley's most personalized and specified, outfitted with a dining room with a gold and silver table service and "a large and luxurious conference room with a 'view,'" it cued the wider complex on how to imagine interior spaces as both operationally useful and moderately expressive of personal work, affiliation and independence. Higher officials took offices at setbacks in the facade, the glass window walls and private balconies granting better access to the natural views, although the façade had other uses as well. In at least one case, a division leader took an office with a view through his windows into his staff's office, set in a corridor at a right-angle to his own, allowing him to monitor his workers, while organizing his own workspace like a fortress, so no one could stand behind him.92
More importantly, the spies who occupied the complex's eight- by twelve-foot cubicles with standardized desks and movable partitions personalized them by decorating them as microcosms of the countries they worked on penetrating. In such interiors, the complex stressed its role as a transnational imperial space, directly connecting itself to spaces abroad, its ostensibly bland cubicles acting as, in a sense, safely reenacted bits of foreign soil, reminding officers of the places absorbing them. Offices devoted to covert actions directed against specific countries and regions took on mementos, posters, flags, maps, trophies, and visual images of those places. The Soviet-Eastern Europe division was decorated with color photographs of wolves. The Iran office had a Persian rug. The Indonesia office had Indonesian masks. The Afghanistan office had the uniform of a dead Soviet soldier pierced by a bullet-hole. Topographic maps reenacted those countries in all the minutia of their landscapes along the cubicle walls, albeit stripped of their human presence.93
Compartmentation thus constructed Langley as a transnational imperial space that could separate itself off from itself and its own internal continuities. It could then re-connect it with distant parts of the globe with an intimacy that outstripped connections with even the next corridor around the bend. It could do all this while transforming those global projects into the minutia of everyday suburban work. As an Army captain recruited to the agency's covert attacks on Cuba criticized, "The daily decisions of these people caused governments to be overthrown; yet, with bureaucratic anonymity, they ate their lunches out of paper bags and promptly at 5:00 P.M. stopped the war. The incongruity grated on my military sense of immediacy and commitment."94
Langley's bland interiors were frames for its estranged and violated elsewheres. They literally contained those places' politics and landscapes, rehearsing unequal power relationships through diminutive dioramas of interior design. The times of other places defined time at Langley, where, according to one officer, "it is always noon somewhere in the world." Into twenty-four-hour watch centers buried in the complex, the voices and languages of agents and people from those places flowed, streaming across dedicated phone lines. Intimate parts of their bodies entered the complex, the hair, fecal matter and bodily fluids of foreign political figures studied in the CIA's labs for signs of weakness, detaching and dispossessing them from their lived reality. Officers processed inhabitants of those countries and their political futures on a massive electronic "brain" designed for the CIA by IBM. The cartography office reassembled their homes, offices and intimate spaces on its maps, blueprints and globes-some constructed from family photos taken by agents on their holiday trips abroad. The in-house printing plant produced new citizens of those places, issuing their passports, birth certificates and identification documents to the CIA's own officers. Through this interior machinery, Langley ceaselessly worked to reproduce its target countries and cultures, according to its own angle of vision.95
The headquarters was half built by September 1960, the north half ready for occupancy a year later, when the first branches moved in. Immediately the clandestine service, a major audience for the complex, despised it. "Many senior operators objected strongly to being housed in such a public place...," recalled one operative. Some wanted to sever ties with the agency and go underground. In their waning days skulking in their decrepit Tempos, they overflowed with nostalgia for "their very shabbiness and informality" that "gave little room for pomposity or self-promotion, fakery, or bureaucratic intrigue...a healthier base for our business." They viewed dimly Langley memos on blue tinted paper greeting them in Tempo hallways. One prankster fabricated one to mock the whole process, entitled, "Toilet Arrangements for the New Building": "During the transition period there will be insufficient toilet facilities...in case of necessity, personnel are authorized to make use of the shrubbery...to satisfy urgent personal requirements."96
Once the move was complete, agents prolonged their resistance to the very mass of the massive intelligence institution they themselves had created through their global field work and unlimited budgets. They rejected the conveyer belt and pneumatic tube message delivery system built into Langley's walls, seeing it as a security risk. One bought a plate of saucy spaghetti at the cafeteria and shot it through the system, triggering a nightmarish cleanup. Concluding that the belts would make it too easy to deliver bombs through the building, CIA security eventually shut the system down and it was thereafter used mostly to store batteries.97
Officers also frequently turned their training as spies and infiltrators against the CIA building itself. As had the brand new air-conditioning system at Harrison's Havana embassy, the CIA's air conditioning promptly failed in the humid D.C. climate. Secrecy-obsessed CIA planners had refused to tell a subcontractor how many officers would inhabit the building. The subcontractor guessed wrong (it would eventually be some fifteen thousand), and the air conditioning began to fail. The subcontractor installed thermostats, but as agents constantly adjusted them, the problem grew worse. Lawrence White's office sealed the thermostats. Agents used their lock-picking skills to bust them back open. The CIA sued the subcontractor in court and lost, and the heat remained.98
Rejecting the instant traffic jams and 45-minute reverse commutes on exurban roads that made reaching the headquarters "an impossibility" without staggered work hours, some spies took to paddling across the Potomac from Georgetown and Montgomery County, Maryland, then hiking to the office through the trees. To prove the building lacked security, others climbed a nearby hill and snapped photographs of the first director to occupy Dulles's suite, John McCone, which, when blown up, clearly identified him, forcing administrators to acquire neighboring parcels of land for half a million dollars from private owners to secure the site. Clandestine officers reveled in recounting how easy it was for Soviet agents to loiter at Langley entrances noting down license plates, how at one point the cast of the movie Scorpio breached the complex by flashing American Express credit cards to somnolent guards, and how, supposedly, KGB officers could be seen dining in the open side of the cafeteria.99
Further galling them was the fact that the D.C. bus stopped at a modernist concrete stop within the grounds, disgorging dowdy passengers in gray-flannel suits with mundane brown paper lunch bags, summing up the new home office's opposition to the messy "reality" of the "field stations" where case officers and spies could express what they saw as a radical individuality and autonomy. Inside the complex, covert warriors flouted regulations to irritate CIA police-leaving doors ajar, squirreling bottles of cognac and gin in desks and safes, cracking open boxes of contraband Cuban cigars. Once, charged with adding a name to the book that stood in the lobby memorializing officers who died in the field, an employee tired of waiting for the key to a display box simply broke in and stole the book to complete his work. The headquarters' similarities to a corporate office, its name recognition and overt modernity flew in the face of the anonymity, closed social networks and unsupervised freedom abroad through which clandestine operators had come to understand their work. It also revealed the systemic national and managerial functions of their work that they preferred to keep out of sight.100
A significant proportion believed that, as one put it, again linking gender to the core of the agency's project and the male freedoms of the field, "maybe the agency should abandon the Langley headquarters and start all over in a bordello in Pittsburgh." The failure of the complex in their eyes seemed to be summarized by the Bay of Pigs scandal itself, when in the wake of the attack's failure and Kennedy's wavering public support, elected politicians and Congressional observers cast a new public eye on the agency, briefly constricting its independence as never before. This climaxed in the firing of Allen Dulles with hardly any advance notice at a perfunctory goodbye ceremony in November 1961, through which Kennedy visibly nodded off into sleep. As if to insult them further, for several months, the end of the building occupied by the clandestine service was exposed to open air as workmen completed construction. Field mice infested it-the headquarters' first "moles," or illicit spies, chewing through the telephone wires, and, as the cafeteria did not open until February 1962, brazenly eating the bagged lunches of the covert agents.101
But as Dulles suggested during his cornerstone speech, the building only acquired its deeper meaning through habitation. And even some critics came to express an abiding emotional attachment to it, and in doing so, affirmed Dulles's vision. They returned from the field soothed to find that "many of the same people were still around-the Headquarters cadre," and used those reunions to collect and compare operational experiences. They teared up at seventh floor retirement parties that recollected dispersed lives in the field and redeemed those actions through the emotional solidarity of passing time and the touchstone of familiar headquarters spaces, even as the names of close friends in attendance remained classified because of their controversial work: "'Wally,' with whom I had worked in Chile, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic was there, as well as 'Hector' from Guatemala days," one officer recalled. "And 'John,' who had chortled so when we heard the Communist flatulence in Mexico City."102 They jogged Langley's trails, strolled at lunch, relaxed on benches, read and napped in the grass, and used Dulles's "campus" to reproduce and restore their energy for their work abroad-the suburban "home" nourishing them before and after their long-distance commutes.103
This was the complex's final central significance-its incorporative effect-which Dulles saw, and some in the clandestine service missed. At each point in Langley's sequence, individual and system met. CIA people encountered the lobby and its atmosphere of the sacral collective as individuals in awe. When they arrived at their individual desks in personalized offices and worked on projects dependent on their individual labor, they did so for the good and propagation of the system. This feature of the complex takes the CIA to the heart of the organizational impulses of American power at mid-century. It highlights the switching between wider global awareness and absorptive minute everyday labor that explains how people ethically managed the violent work of imperialism in the American suburban domestic context-Langley becoming both an "agency" without agents, and a series of individual tasks that coalesced in covert action but never individually amounted to imperialism. It also further illuminates the way that the idea of the organization at mid-century, and the CIA itself, renovated the idea of the romantic individual-and sent that newly endowed and inspired individual off to serve the systemic forces of an expansionist American power to a degree not seen since the turn of the twentieth century.
This incorporative effect depended on a scale, reach, design and horizontal staging of the material landscape only available to the agency in this newly developing section of Northern Virginia. Some had fretted that the move across the Potomac would isolate the CIA from the "corridors of power." "The physical isolation of the Agency from the policymakers it was created to serve" did occur, but produced quite the opposite effect, perhaps one unimaginable from their historical viewpoint: they created their own corridor of power.104 As the CIA ratcheted up its webs and laces of control, Langley also extended the corridor with an ever-increasing need for more physical, horizontal space. The CIA was like a highway-the more space you gave it, the more it wanted. Over the next decade, the agency that won appropriations from Congress with Allen Dulles and Lawrence White's efficiency-oriented promises that pricey bus drivers and couriers would be rendered obsolete by the consolidation of functions into one building had more buses than ever. They ferried agents to offices all across Northern Virginia.
The CIA soon had half a dozen components in Tysons Corner, forming a "mini-intelligence community for technical work." It took "considerable" office space in Rosslyn. It occupied the Broyhill Building at 1000 North Glebe Road, the Chamber of Commerce Building at 4600 North Fairfax Drive and the Ames Building at 1820 Fort Myer Drive in Arlington. It took offices in Reston. It inhabited rooms at 23rd and 24th streets, 1016 Sixteenth Street, 1717 H Street, and 1750 Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest Washington. It bought safe houses all over Vienna, McLean, Falls Church and Great Falls. It moved into the cryptic "Building 213" in Southeast Washington. "This multiplicity of buildings...reflected the growth of the CIA's operations within the United States."105
But Northern Virginia's suburban corridor of power waited another year for fulfillment, a little more than exactly one year after Allen Dulles was fired in the November ceremony at Langley. On November 17, 1962, the soaring, white, modernist terminal at Dulles International Airport held its opening ceremonies in Chantilly, Virginia, 25 miles from Washington. A daring sculptural icon on a sweeping open landscape, it had been a massive building project, drawing 4,000 laborers to create its sixteen sixty-five foot columns, one-and-a-half acres of glass windows and 11,500 foot runways, all on fifteen square miles of land. The Dulles family had lobbied long and hard to get what had been through early planning known as Washington International Airport named after John Foster Dulles, who in the words of the opening day program kept by Allen "flew more than half a million miles in 60 trips abroad," more than any secretary of state to that point, testifying to the era of U.S. expansion that the airport itself seemed to symbolize. John Foster's wife paid personally for the bronze bust of him that would adorn the airport's interior, and the Dulleses attended the ceremony, to hear speeches by Eisenhower and Kennedy celebrating their family.106
The two Novembers serve as birthdays for the covert capital. Dulles Airport completed and defined the covert capital's skeletal form at a crucial early moment, providing the western pole of the axis conventionally known as the Dulles Corridor. But few pause on the historical basis for the name of this corridor, which literally took its form from three siblings-from the modernist Allen Dulles building at Langley, to the modernist Eleanor Dulles house at the foot of what became the Dulles Access Road, to the modernist John Foster Dulles airport. Through these architectural monuments, the international policies the three helped establish for the expansionist United States were engrained in ritual spatial sequence along the covert capital built to house the shadow side of their work.
Dulles Airport bore direct formal connections to Langley. Like Wallace Harrison, its architect, Eero Saarinen, came directly out of U.S. intelligence circles. From 1942 to 1945, working from a Northern Virginia office near the Pentagon, Saarinen was Chief of the Special Exhibits Division of the OSS's Visual Presentation Department, an early "multidisciplinary, multimedia hothouse" of the organizational complex. For the CIA's predecessor, he created propagandistic dramas to recruit Americans to the war effort, configured secrecy into federal buildings as a design element, and innovated "panoramas of concentrated information" that became the basis for how U.S. global planners understood and explained war, the world and their own work-dynamic, three-dimensional environments of terrain maps, illuminated globes, sliding panels, revolving stages, lights, and graphic displays that technologically enacted an American administrative domain on the world stages arising after World War II, used everywhere from the UN meetings in San Francisco and the Nuremberg Courtroom to the war rooms of the CIA, State Department and Joint Chiefs of Staff.107
With its long façade lifting skyward like a jet or a bird in a "massive gesture of sculptural freedom," the airport is conventionally seen as an exemplar of the expressionistic turn in modernism at mid-century. It followed Langley's own swooping cafeteria in this regard. The airport's divorce between dramatic expressionist exterior and front lobby and bland interiors that then disappear altogether in the form of the mobile lounges carrying passengers to their flights echoes Langley's similar division between outside and inside, between surface symbol and functional labor. The airport's modular horizontality and design for lateral extension also mirrors Langley's horizontality, and further points to the way the drama of taking up land for mid-century modernists arose as a cultural expression of the United States in a dramatic period of its own expansion.
But for the covert capital, Dulles Airport accomplished three more important effects. The first was bound to the idea, propagated by its architects and planners, that Dulles was "a formal entrance to the American republic," "a gateway to the nation's capital." Saarinen considered it "part of the whole complex of buildings that create the image of our nation's capital," and one of his partners dramatized the idea, describing the airport as "in the Virginia fields that stretch west from the Capitol." This was quite a field: it lasted twenty-five miles. But the elision was the point. Announcing itself with a dramatic sculptural gesture on a cleared, flat plane, the airport, if thought of as in Washington, D.C., skillfully and rhetorically erased the twenty-five miles between it and the federal city, fusing them into one. In doing so, John Foster Dulles International Airport erased Allen Dulles's "temple of intelligence" at Langley. One vision of internationalism, by its very stridency, could dissolve the other in space. Meanwhile, thanks to Dulles's location and its surroundings' appearance of emptiness, the U.S. capital it was supposedly attached to seemed to have more, inspiring room to grow.108
This first effect directly connected to the second. Langley's expressionistic gestures did serious metaphorical labor for its denizens, but it largely pitched its address to a closed audience within the CIA, the federal establishment or other cleared observers. Its public face was faceless, a line of trees. Dulles was just the opposite. The airport was the elevated, idealistic gesture of American power and authority at its most visible and optimistic, making its pitch for U.S. global authority through an outward-reaching likeness and inspiration, rather than assertion and violence, one according with John Foster Dulles's own view that, "Our foreign policy is not just a United States foreign policy; it becomes the foreign policy of many nations and many peoples." By putting Dulles Airport in direct interplay with Langley, the covert capital emphasizes in space how the free sculptural leaps of Dulles emerged from the same hands, in the same space, at the same moment, as those of its sibling Langley nearby. They were two faces of the same power. Their dialectical relationship between symbol and political content would go on to shape U.S. power in the world, a relationship mediated by the CIA and the covert capital itself-the paradoxes creating a perpetual unease captured on film soon after the airport's opening, when, in John Frankenheimer's 1964 Seven Days in May, a patriotic colonel flown in to protect the White House from a right-wing Pentagon coup is, one instant, standing before the airport's open glass windows filled with light, and the next, has vanished all together, the oddly placed windows and swooping ceiling instantly transformed to convey, not the soaring promise of humanity and freedom, but the disorienting vertigo of the covert plotters' looking-glass world of bent axes and unfamiliar geometries.109
But perhaps most significantly, Dulles Airport was the space where the transnational imperial relationships of Langley went through their literal changes between the domestic and the foreign. The airport launched spies on their covert missions. Hidden behind the curved modernist walls and a changing public art exhibition of the best objects "made in America" were private offices and interview rooms used by the CIA. The terminal held stages for the arrest of double agents, springboards for agents running clandestine operations in Okinawa and turning back the tide of nationalism in the Congo, eateries indulged in by touring CIA counterinsurgents and their suburban romantic interests. From Dulles's tarmacs, proprietary CIA companies flew arms to its informants and agents in the Third World, flew paramilitary groups home from their covert missions, and landed defectors and agents at two and four in the morning after their own engagements abroad. "At 1:00 P.M. a secretary drove me to Dulles in her Nova," remembered one CIA officer on his way to Angola. "On the way she handed me my worn black diplomatic passport, my tickets, and fifteen hundred dollars...She also handed me a slender notebook which looked at first like an ordinary checkbook. Inside was a pad of edible, water-soluble rice paper, which, supposedly, I could gobble down if I were captured."110
Buildings in this period were both symbol and function. The two Dulleses, Allen's covert and invisible headquarters for the CIA and John Foster's overt and aggressively visible international airport, mark a landscape portrait of global U.S. geopolitics in the postwar period. Between this visibility and invisibility, idealistic democracy and covert threat, the human histories of U.S. empire after World War II grew into three-dimensional space. Between the ensembles of Dulles Airport and the Langley headquarters, and their domestic point of mediation, the Eleanor Dulles house, emerged the homefront for U.S. empire in the second half of the twentieth century.
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