Directors of Central Intelligence

William Egan Colby (1920-1996)

DCI, 4 Sep. 1973-30 Jan. 1976

Included here:

1. Personal comment on Colby

2. Material on Colby

3. Colby's Writings/Speeches


1. Personal comment on Colby

I served in the CIA Operations Center during a period that included the last 6 months of Bill Colby's tenure as DCI. In that position, I interacted with Colby on substantive issues on a fairly regular basis, although less frequently than might normally have been the case without his absorption in testifying to Congress. Colby had an eye for the good intelligence story, asked pointed questions, gave clear instructions, and treated underlings distantly but with respect.

Bill Colby also had a sense of humor. About three years before his death, I was in attendance at an academic conference where Colby was the keynote speaker. We had several mini-conversations during the day and evening. On one occasion, I reminded Colby that it had been my name on the "urgent message" handed him at National Airport on 2 November 1975. That message instructed him to call John Marsh, President Ford's counselor, "no matter how late," and preceded his firing by the President. Colby smiled and said, "Isn't it great that we only shoot the messengers."

Colby's actions in dealing with Congress, and specifically his handling of the "family jewels," will remain controversial. I will remember him as a humane individual who cared deeply for his country and the Agency.


2. Material on Colby

Center Magazine. Editors. "Freedom and the Intelligence Function; Symposium." 12 (Mar.-Apr. 1979): 45-60.

Petersen: "Roundtable with DCI Turner, former DCI Colby, CIA critic Morton Halperin, and others."

Fallaci, Oriana. "The CIA's Mr. Colby: An Oriana Fallaci Interview." New Republic, 13 Mar. 1976, 12-21. [Petersen]

Ford, Harold P. "Bill Colby Remembered." Center for the Study of Intelligence Newsletter 5 (Spring 1996): 1-3. Excerpts published in CIRA Newsletter 21, no. 2 (Summer 1996): 18-20. "William Colby: Retrospect." Studies in Intelligence (Semiannual ed., no. 1, 1997): 1-5.

Ford reviews Colby's career in broad terms and without avoiding the contentious aspects.

In a letter to the CIRA Newsletter, Fall 1996, John Warner, CIA General Counsel in the mid-1970s, says that Ford's "is a fine article," but seeks to correct several errors he believes are present. Warner addresses Colby's dealings with James Angleton, with events surrounding the indictment of Richard Helms, and with Colby's decision to cooperate fully with the Congressional committees.

Ford, Harold P. William E. Colby as Director of Central Intelligence. Central Intelligence Agency: CIA History Staff, 1993 [declassified 10 Aug. 2011]. [Available in four parts at: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB362/index.htm]

In an introduction and review accompanying the National Security Archive's publication of Ford's history, John Prados finds some shortcomings in Ford's depiction of Colby's tenure as DCI. Nevertheless, he believes that the work "is especially worth reading for the attention it brings to a number of issues.... Harold Ford has refined our understanding of the precursor events that helped create the modern American intelligence system. These origins throw needed backlight on arrangements for congressional oversight, and the competition between that oversight and presidential control which still drives the U.S. intelligence community today."

Gonzales, Lawrence. "William Colby Interview." Playboy, Jul. 1978, 69 ff.

Petersen: "Ex-DCI discusses covert action, domestic spying charges."

Johnson, Loch K. "A Conversation with Former DCI William E. Colby: Spymaster during the 'Year of the Intelligence Wars.'" Intelligence and National Security 22, no. 2 (Apr. 2007): 250-269.

This "previously unpublished interview ... was conducted in 1991." It is well worth reading.

Lardner, George, Jr., and Walter Pincus. "The Man Who Uncloaked the CIA: William Colby Will Be Remembered for Disclosing the Agency's Most Embarrassing Secrets." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 13-19 May 1996, 30.

Periscope. Editors. "Wiiliam Colby, 76, Chief of CIA in Time of Upheaval and Honored at National Cathedral." 21, no. 4 (1996): 2-3.

Periscope reprints two articles by Tim Weiner in the 7 May and 15 May issues of the New York Times and a 15 May article from the Washington Post by Jeffrey Smith.

Prados, John. Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Click for reviews.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Center for the Study of Intelligence. Ed. Nicholas Dujmovic. "Oral History: Reflections of DCI[s] Colby and Helms on the CIA’s 'Time of Troubles.'" Studies in Intelligence 51, no. 3 (2007): 11-28. [https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol51no3/index.html]

"Colby and Helms were interviewed on 15 March and 2 February 1988, respectively, as part of an effort by the Center for the Study of Intelligence to compile the perspectives of former Agency leaders on what has often been termed the CIA’s 'Time of Troubles' in the 1970s. The perspectives of these two officials, different in several respects, illustrate the dilemmas a secret intelligence agency faces in serving a democracy."

Weiner, Tim. "Ex-Director of C.I.A. Disappears While Canoeing on Choppy River." New York Times, 30 Apr. 1996, A1, A12 (N).

Woods, Randall B. Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA. New York: Basic Books, 2013.

Clark comment: This work has been met with widely divergent opinions.

To Goulden, Washington Times, 10 May 2013, and Intelligencer 20.1 (Spring-Summer 2013), this book "relies heavily upon secondary sources and offers very little fresh information about Colby. Further, Woods drops some conspiratorial hints that should raise eyebrows among persons familiar with the intelligence world."

Coffey, Studies 58.1 (Mar. 2014), also complains that the author "relies heavily on secondary sources -- including the spreading bad habit among spy historians of quoting Tim Weiner's dubious Legacy of Ashes.... Regrettably, Woods's work needed fact-checking; it contained some 30 factual errors, a number of them of the easy-to-know variety.... Other errors required some digging but are more consequential."

Conversely, Klehr, WSJ (13 Apr. 2013), says that the author's "carefully researched biography ... provides a favorable but critical evaluation of a man whose undeniable talents did not prepare him to lead America's most prominent spy agency at its most perilous moment." For Schwab, IJI&C 27.2 (Summer 2014), this is a "richly textured, nuanced, and comprehensive biography." And a Publishers Weekly reviewer (14 Jan. 2013), finds that "Wood's thoroughly entertaining portrait reveals plenty of warts, as well as a thoughtful character, surprisingly liberal and sophisticated about the limitations of CIA derring-do."

Walker, Wilson Quarterly (Spring 2013), calls Shadow Warrior an "excellent and thorough biography" that provides a "subtle and sympathetic analysis.... Woods crafts a fascinating tale of an American life that was shaped by World War II, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War, and the challenge of remaining a decent and liberal human being while fighting these conflicts ruthlessly."

3. Colby's Writings/Speeches

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