Alfred Ulmer was born in Jacksonville, Florida on May, 1917. Ulmer graduated from Princeton University in 1939 and joined the US Navy as an intelligence officer during the Second World War. In 1945 he was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and was involved in gathering information in Turkey, Egypt, Italy and Austria.
After the war Ulmer became head of the Strategic Services Unit (SSU) in Austria. In January 1946, a new National Intelligence Authority was established along with a small Central Intelligence Group. On 2nd April the SSU was transferred to the new group as the Office of Special Operations.
In 1947 Ulmer joined the Central Intelligence Agency. He was stationed in Madrid, Athens and Paris. According to Russ Baker: "Ulmer was running things in Greece during the country's vicious civil war, the Athens CIA station was also in charge of most Middle East operations and anti-Soviet-bloc efforts in Yugoslavia."
Ulmer was then based in Washington before running the agency's Far East operations (1955-1958). Ulmer traveled to Taiwan soon after his appointment. He later recalled: "We were dropping Chinese agents into China - two a month - but we weren't getting much." Ulmer quoted Desmond FitzGerald as saying that he "had no use for the Chinese Nationalists... and wanted out."
According to Evan Thomas, the author of The Very Best Men (1995), Ulmer had a meeting with Frank Wisner, the head of the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), the espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the CIA, in 1956, to discuss what they could do if revolution broke out behind the Iron Curtain. After the meeting Wisner told Richard Bissell that they agree to send in "lots of arms" to those resisting the communists. As Ulmer later pointed out: "We went all over the world and we did what we wanted.''
Ulmer's main task was to try and overthrow President Sukarno of Indonesia.The CIA spent a million dollars to try to influence the Indonesian elections in 1955, but much of the money was wasted or stolen and Sukarno became stronger, while the Communist Party polled six million votes. Frank Wisner told Ulmer that "I think it's time we held Sukarno's feet to the fire." Allen Dulles agreed and told Ulmer he would be "given $10 million to back a revolution in the Indonesian archipelago."
In 1956 the CIA began supporting the PRRI-Permesta rebellion in Sulawesi. This ended in failure and President Sukarno became even stronger. The following year the CIA arranged for arms to be supplied to rebels on the island of Sumatra. In February 1958, the rebels felt strong enough to declare the island independent. Within days "Sukarno's navy blockaded the rebels, his air force raided them, and his army began to move on Sumatra". The CIA sent in paramilitary expert Anthony Poshepny to Sumatra.
On 18th May 1958, Allen Lawrence Pope, one of the CIA pilots, was shot down in his B-26 after accidentally bombing a church and killing most of the congregation. Allen Dulles decided to call off the operation. Thomas Powers, the author of The Man Who Kept The Secrets (1979): "The result, of course, was a humiliation for the United States, but it was a quiet humiliation. The Indonesians knew who had been behind the rebels, of course, but they elected to treat the matter calmly... and the American press somehow never got wind of the CIA's role."
Richard Helms asked Sam Halpern to investigate why the operation failed. Ulmer told Halpern that "the rebels were given plenty of rquipment, but they had little stomach for fighting." Halpern reported back to Helms that "everything that could have gone wrong with a paramilitary operation, had gone wrong with this one." The result was that Ulmer lost his job as head of the CIA's Far East operations.
Ulmer retired in in 1962 and received the agency's Intelligence Medal of Merit. Later that year President Sukarno threatened to invade Netherlands New Guinea that he felt believed belonged to Indonesia. On 15th August, 1962, he ordered full mobilisation of his army. Willem Oltmans claimed to have prevented a Dutch war against Indonesia over New Guinea by sending a memo to President John F. Kennedy. Whatever the truth of this statement, Kennedy, against CIA advice, applied pressure on the Dutch government to hand over the territory to a temporary UN administration (UNTEA). On May 1, 1963, Indonesia took control of the country.
After leaving the CIA Ulmer worked for Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos. According to Peter Evans, the author of E, Niarchos london was a CIA propriety.
Alfred Ulmer died at Virginia Beach on 22nd June, 2000.