Kenneth Conboy


Conboy, Kenneth. The Cambodian Wars: Clashing Armies and CIA Covert Operations. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2013.

From publisher: The author "chronicles the violence that plagued Cambodia from World War II until the end of the twentieth century and peels back the layers of secrecy that surrounded the CIA's covert assistance to anticommunist forces in Cambodia during that span."


Conboy, Kenneth. Intel: Inside Indonesia's Intelligence Service. Jakarta, Indonesia: Equinox, 2003.

King, NIPQ 21.3 (Sep. 2005), finds that this book provides "a well-documented view of Indonesia's role during the Cold War years.... [This] is a groundbreaking work of research that fills in gaps in our knowledge of the secret services of Indonesia and provides a framework for further work in this area."


 Conboy, Kenneth, and Dale Andrade. Spies & Commandos: How America Lost the Secret War in North Vietnam. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

Beede, JMH 64.3, sees this work as an "important study of U.S.-sponsored intelligence operations[] and guerrilla and psychological warfare efforts against North Vietnam.... Spies & Commandos attributes the failure of these efforts to the unwillingness of the United States to commit itself to the overthrow of North Vietnam; an overly complicated command structure; and severe limitations placed on the nature of these operations, among other factors."

Comparing this work to Shultz' The Secret War Against Hanoi (1999), Leary, I&NS 15.4, concludes that Shultz is better for understanding "the complex relationships between Saigon and Washington, the nature of high level policy-making, and the political infighting over covert operations." But "[f]or the details of failed special operations or for descriptions of the marvelous toys used by the covert warriors..., Spies & Commandos is best."

Gole, Parameters, Autumn 2001, says that the authors provide "a thoroughly researched and comprehensive account of America's failed clandestine war in North Vietnam." The reviewer notes, however, that "the book is very detailed, making it valuable to specialists in covert operations and to scholars, but perhaps a bit overwhelming to the general reader."


Conboy, Kenneth, and James Morrison. The CIA's Secret War in Tibet. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002.

According to Jonkers, AFIO WIN 16-02, 22 Apr. 2002, this book "contains stories and details of the operations by the CIA principals as well as Tibetan, Nepalese and Chinese (Taiwan) agents, and by Indian intelligence officers.... Reading will provide not only enlightenment about this part of the world and its peoples and cultures, but a view of the difficulty of resisting an occupying force, and the complexities of such an effort both internally and externally."

Rupert, Washington Post, 15 Sep. 2002, says that this "book is alive with the sitcom-style mishaps (and minor characters) that bedeviled the CIA as it tried to run a covert war in a land where its officers had almost never set foot." A reviewer in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Autumn 2002, calls this "a clear, well written, fascinating text, accompanied by many useful photographs and maps." Haines, Diplomatic History 28.3, finds this work "[d]ense with detail, dates, organizations, and people.... There is much useful information here on U.S.-Indian relations."

For Morgan, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews, Jun. 2002, "one of the greatest strengths" of this book is its "detailed account of CIA collaboration with the Indian intelligence services in training and equipping Tibetan agents and special forces troops and in forming joint aerial and intelligence units.... This collaboration continued well into the 1970s and some of the programs that it sponsored ... continue into the present." Although the book "clearly describes the organization and execution of CIA operations," it "provides less detail about the higher level policy decisions affecting the CIA program."


Conboy, Ken, and James Morrison. "Early Covert Action on the Ho Chi Minh Trail." Vietnam. []

"In 1961 and 1962 the CIA-trained and -sponsored 1st Observation Group was formed to counter Communist operations along the [Ho Chi Minh] trail."


Conboy, Kenneth, and James Morrison. Feet to the Fire: Covert Operations in Indonesia, 1957-1958. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1999.

To Gardner, Journal of Cold War Studies 3 (2001), "no earlier study [of this subject] is based on as many firsthand reports or as little speculation" as this volume. However, "[r]eaders who are not well acquainted with the region will find themselves frequently consulting the maps placed somewhat inconveniently at the back of the book." Until the CIA opens its files on this operation, "this book should remain the most authoritative source on the operational aspects of the American intervention in Indonesia's PRRI-Permesta rebellion."

Seamon, Proceedings 126.1 (Jan. 2000), says that the authors' "brisk, easy style" helps them "navigate through a minefield of religious antagonisms, rebellions, and unpronounceable Indonesian names with admirable agility." McBeth, Far Eastern Economic Review, 27 Apr. 2000, calls this "the most detailed and dispassionate account to date of the CIA's efforts in 1957-58 to foster rebellions in Sumatra and Suluwesi."

For Unsinger, NIPQ, Spring 2000, Feet to the Fire is "good reading," with well told individual stories. The authors provide both details in and context for their narrative. Bolton, IJI&C 14.1, agrees, commenting that the authors "have done an outstanding job of storytelling" and produced "an engrossing and dramatic narrative." Berger, I&NS 17.2, supplies another perspective, opining that the authors "appear to be more concerned with colourful characters and anecdotes than sustained analysis.... For readers interested in a deeper understanding of CIA activity in Indonesia in the late 1950s Conboy and Morrison's book has little to offer."

Calling Feet to the Fire an "impressive and important work ... based on thorough research," McMahon, JMH 64.3, finds one of the book's "great strengths" in its "richness of detail." This work "presents as expert and as objective a recounting of a covert operation as we are ever likely to get." Nonetheless, focused as they are on the operational side, the "authors shed no new light on the upper-level policy calculations that lay behind this high-risk operation."


Conboy, Kenneth, with James Morrison. Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1995.

Tovar, IJI&C 8.4, believes that the ground war in Laos "has rarely been understood and never explained adequately.... Shadow War represents an enormous step toward redressing that situation.... Conboy and Morrison provide a wealth of detail and perspective beyond anything produced to date." The book's "glossary of terms unique to the Laos war is the best of its kind in existence." Conboy "does not appear to be trying to prove anything.... His aim is simply to 'tell it like it was.'" For Surveillant 4.4/5, Conboy and Morrison "reveal the real face of war through a grunt's-eye view as opposed to a big picture, foreign policy approach.... Highly recommended."

Prados, Journal of Conflict Studies 18.1 (Spring 1998), comments that this work is "chronological to a fault," and the authors' "recounting of the to-ing and fro-ing of various military formations sometimes becomes too much.... Shadow War is ... relatively sparse on political aspects of the Laotian conflict, which is unfortunate since politics proved so important in that war."  It "is also weak on strategic planning and the machinations of bureaucrats, diplomats, and secret warriors higher up in the chain of command.... [T]he weak treatment of strategy and politics is a significant drawback."


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