William E. Colby
William E. Colby
William E. Colby (1920-1996) former CIA director, Colby was thought to have damaged the CIA's reputation by cooperating with congressional investigations and disclosing information many felt should have remained covered, in order to pacify critics of the agency.
William E. Colby was the most controversial director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He became director in 1973, when, for the first time in the agency's history, it had to explain its actions to hostile critics. Hoping to put the agency's problems behind it quickly, Colby decided to cooperate with congressional investigations. For a time he so demoralized the CIA that his harshest critics inside the agency argued that even if he were a Soviet agent he could not have done more harm.
William Egan Colby was born on 4 January 1920 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the son of an army officer. The family moved around a lot and spent three years in China. After graduating from Princeton University in 1940, Colby entered law school at Columbia University. He dropped out to enter the army, becoming a lieutenant in the paratroops. He later joined the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, and participated in commando missions behind German lines in France and Norway in 1944 and 1945. Colby returned to Columbia after the war and entered the law profession in 1947. In 1950, bored by his law practice, he joined the newly created CIA.
Strategic Hamlet Program
Colby's first years in the CIA were spent abroad under the cover of the State Department. He served in Stockholm, Sweden, for two years and in Rome, Italy, for five. In 1959 Colby went to Saigon as head of the CIA's operations in South Vietnam. There results were mixed. He moved South Vietnamese peasants into what were called strategic hamlets in an unsuccessful effort to deprive the Vietcong guerrillas of bases from which to operate. He had better luck recruiting Vietnamese Montagnard tribesmen to fight alongside the United States. In 1962 Colby returned to the United States to become chief of the Far East division of the CIA's plans directorate. He oversaw much of what the CIA was doing in Vietnam.
In 1968 Colby returned to Saigon, technically on leave from the CIA, to direct Operation Phoenix, a State Department-administered "pacification" program developed by the intelligence agency. Supplied with a force of some five thousand American troops, Colby was charged, in what became a famous phrase, with winning the hearts and minds of the people, ostensibly through the establishment of health and social service programs. But it was the counter-terror aspect of the program that made Colby and his sometime boss Robert W. Komer notorious. Designed to destroy the infrastructure of the Vietcong's operations in South Vietnam, the Phoenix counter-terror operation quickly degenerated into a series of massive episodes of destruction, torture, and assassination in which American and South Vietnamese troops killed to fulfill quotas and to settle old scores. Before it was discontinued in 1969, almost 29,000 suspected Vietcong were captured, 18,000 were persuaded to defect, and 21,000 were killed. While the CIA was not directly responsible for the killings, it clearly condoned them.
In 1970 the Phoenix program came to the attention of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the center of congressional opposition to the war. Senator Frank Church, who headed a 1975 investigation into the agency, regarded Phoenix as evidence that the CIA was a rogue elephant on a rampage, "uncontrolled and uncontrollable." Cooler analyses consider Phoenix a well-conceived program clumsily executed. It earned Colby a reputation as a tough, ruthless operator with religious intensity, extremely dedicated, but with too little imagination. After he became CIA director Colby conceded that there had been excesses and many innocent people had been murdered, but most of the deaths —more than 85 percent —came in clashes between American and Vietnamese troops.
CIA Director, 1973
Returning to the United States in 1971, Colby was reassigned to covert operations, where he had spent his entire career except for the Phoenix years. In 1972 he became the CIA's executive director-controller and in March 1973 director for operations, responsible for covert activities. Two months later President Richard M. Nixon chose Colby to succeed James R. Schlesinger as CIA director. At his Senate confirmation hearings that summer, Colby found himself caught in a fire-storm. In the past the CIA had enjoyed a certain immunity on Capitol Hill and rarely underwent close examination. But Congress had heard of various agency misdeeds, and Colby had to answer for them. He agreed that the CIA had no business gathering intelligence in the United States, and that the agency had erred in helping one of the men charged in the Watergate break-in. Moreover he declared he would resign if ordered to engage in anything illegal. He was confirmed as director on 4 September 1973.
CIA Re-organization and Congressional Investigation
As CIA director Colby seemed to experience a major change of heart, what his enemies even called a personality change, caused in part by the attacks he received for Phoenix and in part by the anguish he experienced over the terminal illness of his oldest daughter. He came to believe that if he cooperated with congressional critics and made a clean breast of matters, the easier the CIA could go about its legitimate business. His decision to go public aroused a bitter controversy within the agency; its staff was already demoralized over budget cuts, a reorganization, and firings instituted by Schlesinger. To many Colby's going public was incomprehensible, even if the agency was culpable. Colby's strategy was more clever than it first appeared. Since Congress would learn its secrets anyway, it was better that the agency control how the story got out.
Colby had already ordered an in-house investigation to assemble a list of every CIA operation that had been in violation of its charter. Later known to the press as the "Family Jewels" and within the agency as the "Skeletons," the list filled 693 typed pages. On 22 December 1974 the New York Times broke a major story that the CIA had spied on the antiwar movement, igniting an intense two-year public scrutiny of the CIA. Colby released the Skeletons list in sanitized form. The House and Senate initiated several investigations, and President Gerald R. Ford named Vice-president Nelson A. Rockefeller to head another inquiry.
The dirt was out. The most damaging revelations concerned assassination attempts against various foreign leaders —some were successful. But it was soon clear that while Colby's cooperation was tarnishing the agency, he was doing a better job of tarnishing the reputations of previous presidents, John F. Kennedy especially. Colby admitted that the CIA had erred, but he never confessed that the agency was to blame. It had never been a rogue elephant, and it had always followed presidential orders. Colby's cooperation probably headed off legislation limiting the agency's activities. Though it was demoralized and the scope of its covert activities was strictly curtailed by the political climate, the agency suffered no lasting damage.
Colby's tenure as CIA chief was marked by another development. Disclosure that the CIA had illegally opened mail gave Colby the excuse to fire James J. Angleton, the 20-year head of the agency's counterintelligence efforts who was charged with ferreting out infiltrators. Angleton was brilliant, paranoid according to some, and his suspicions that the CIA had been penetrated by a high-level Soviet agent eventually paralyzed the agency. He suspected everyone. Colby decided the agency would be better off without him and the mail incident was Colby's excuse to let him go.
Failures of CIA Analysis
While the airing of the dirty laundry focused on covert operations, the agency's analytical capabilities were also under attack. The CIA had failed to anticipate developments such as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. In 1975 critics of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) with the Soviet Union charged that the CIA did not possess accurate information of Soviet capabilities, limiting its ability to detect Soviet violations. The dispute had a political dimension. Ronald Reagan, getting ready to challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination, charged that the United States was tolerating Soviet violations as a way to undermine the entire Nixon-Ford foreign policy toward the Soviets. There was also a bureaucratic consideration, for the CIA traditionally issued fewer doomsday scenarios than the Pentagon's analysts. Their estimates usually kept expenses in mind.
Colby responded with the A Team/B Team evaluation of the Soviet Union's capabilities and intentions. The A Team was composed of the CIA's own experts. They were matched against outside experts, all conservative, anti-Soviet hardliners, many of whom would receive positions in the Reagan administration in 1981. The B Team concluded that the Soviets were pursuing a policy of global domination and had a credible first-strike war-winning military capability. Its report helped shape Reagan's defense policies.
Ford fired Colby on 2 November 1975 as part of a general housecleaning of his administration. The firing was regarded as inevitable. It signaled an end to disclosures and investigations. The energy behind the need to reveal and come clean had spent itself. Had Colby chosen not to be so forthcoming or attempted to justify what in retrospect should not have been undertaken, two courses many in the CIA urged upon him, Congress may have responded by curtailing certain operations. Instead, Congress created more oversight committees. Also Ford ordered the agency not to engage in political assassination.
After he left the CIA he worked in the Washington, District of Columbia, office of the New York law firm for which he worked before he joined the CIA. Retired from government duty, Colby diversified his activities. In addition to practicing law, he became active in a campaign against the nuclear arms race of the 1980s, speaking out with former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. He also founded the American Committee for a Free Vietnam, an organization that focused on the development of a democratic Vietnam and the strengthening of human-rights within the country.
Shortly before his death in April of 1996, Colby was marketing a CD-ROM game about espionage and counter-terrorism, a project he developed with former Soviet intelligence officer Oleg Kalogin. Colby died suddenly, apparently of drowning, while on a solo canoe trip on the Wicomoco River. □
"William E. Colby." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 20, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-e-colby
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Colby, William Egan
William Egan Colby, 1920–96, American public official, b. St. Paul, Minn., grad. Princeton, 1940. During World War II he served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and in 1944 was dropped by parachute behind enemy lines in German-occupied France, where he commanded a squad of saboteurs. After obtaining a law degree (Columbia, 1947), he reentered government, joining the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1950 and serving in U.S. embassies in Sweden (1951–53), Italy (1953–58), and South Vietnam (1959–62). In 1962 he was recalled to Washington as chief (1962–67) of the Far East division of the CIA, where he helped direct the controversial Phoenix Intelligence Program, part of the U.S. pacification efforts in South Vietnam.
Colby was appointed director of the CIA by President Nixon in 1973. In 1975 he cooperated with congressional investigations into CIA activities that revealed numerous instances of questionable activities, including involvement in domestic espionage and assassination attempts on foreign leaders. Although many credited him with saving the agency, which was brought under greater governmental control, numerous conservatives criticized him for his candor and cooperation. In Nov., 1975, he was relieved of his position by President Ford, who replaced him with George H. W. Bush. After leaving the CIA, Colby was an active advocate of arms reductions.
See his memoirs (1978, 1989); biography by R. B. Woods (2013); J. Prados, William Colby and the CIA (2009).
"Colby, William Egan." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 20, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/colby-william-egan
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Colby, William Egan
Colby, William Egan
(b. 4 January 1920 in Saint Paul, Minnesota; d. 6 May 1996 near Rock Point, Maryland), covert operations specialist who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the turbulent 1970s.
The only child of Elbridge Colby, a teacher of English literature who became a career U.S. Army officer, and Margaret Mary Egan, William Colby grew up on military posts in Panama, China, and North America. After graduating from high school in Burlington, Vermont, at age sixteen he entered Princeton University. Far from the typical Princeton student of the era, Colby waited tables in the dining hall and served as an altar boy in the Roman Catholic chapel. He graduated in 1940 with a Phi Beta Kappa key and a commission in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Colby then enrolled at Columbia University Law School, hoping to become a labor lawyer with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Concerned about the rise of fascism, he applied for active military duty in August 1941. After completing artillery training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he remained at the post as an instructor at the Field Artillery Officer Candidate School. Anxious to see combat, he volunteered for parachute training. When a recruiter from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) sought qualified parachute officers for a hazardous mission, Colby seized the opportunity to join the wartime intelligence organization.
Colby underwent commando training in Scotland and England during the early months of 1944 and then was assigned to the Jedburgh program. In August 1944, as part of the program, he parachuted into German-occupied France as part of a three-man team to coordinate resistance units. He returned to England at the beginning of 1945 and was given command of the OSS’s Norwegian Special Operations Group. In March he led a group of Norwegian Americans on a ski-parachute mission to disrupt enemy communications in the area south of Trondheim, Norway.
A highly decorated major, Colby returned to the United States after the war ended in Europe, married Barbara Heinzen on 15 September 1945, and reentered Columbia Law School. After receiving his LL.B. in 1947, he accepted the invitation of William Donovan, head of the wartime OSS, to join the Manhattan law firm Donovan, Leisure, Newton, Lombard and Irvine. In 1949 he left the firm for the staff of the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, Colby took up a long-standing invitation to join the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Specializing in covert operations, he was assigned to the Scandinavian Branch in the Western European Division of the Office of Policy Coordination. Based in Stockholm, Sweden, he set up stay-behind networks that would come into being should the Soviet Union overrun Scandinavia. In 1953 the CIA sent him to Rome, where he conducted covert political operations against Italian communists.
A new phase of Colby’s intelligence career began in 1958, when he was assigned to the Far East Division of the Clandestine Service (also known as the Directorate of Plans and, later, the Directorate of Operations). Posted to Saigon in 1959, he acted as liaison between the CIA and Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam. The following year he became chief of the agency’s Saigon station.
Colby returned to Washington in 1962. For the next five years he was centrally involved in the evolution of U.S. policy toward Vietnam as deputy chief, then chief from 1963 on, of the Far East Division in the Directorate of Plans. At the request of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Colby took a leave of absence from the CIA in 1968 and went to Vietnam as head of the U.S. State Department’s Civil Operations and Rural Development Support (CORDS) program. Holding the rank of ambassador, he supervised the Phoenix Intelligence Program, a controversial scheme to expose the Vietcong’s infrastructure throughout South Vietnam. Although largely successful, the program was criticized for its use of torture and assassination.
Concerned about the health of his eldest daughter (one of his five children) who was slowly dying of anorexia nervosa, Colby returned to the United States in 1971, rejoined the CIA, and became the agency’s executive director—comptroller, a position he used to streamline budgetary procedures. In May 1973 after a brief tour as head of the Clandestine Service, he was selected by President Richard Nixon to become director of the CIA.
Colby took over the intelligence agency during a time of troubles. Under attack for its involvement in assassination plots and other alleged misuses of power, the CIA became the target of numerous investigations. Colby spent most of his time responding to official inquiries about the agency’s activities. Criticized by many intelligence officers for his openness, Colby believed that candor was necessary to ensure the survival of the CIA. His forthright cooperation with Congress caused President Gerald Ford to request his resignation late in 1975.
Colby declined an offer to become an ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and instead opened a law office in Washington, D.C. In November 1984 he divorced Heinzen and on 20 November 1984 married Sally Shelton, a high-ranking official at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Still vigorous and active in his senior years, he disappeared on 27 April 1996 while on a solo canoe trip from his weekend home in Rock Point, Maryland. His body was discovered nine days later (the official date of his death); the cause of death was drowning. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Colby joined the CIA during the early years of the cold war, when the agency attracted the “best and the brightest” of the nation in a crusade against communism. He never doubted that the CIA was an organization of honorable men who stood in the forefront of the battle for freedom. An individual of courage and integrity, Colby became a consummate practitioner of covert operations. Although his candor in the 1970s may have inflicted short-term damage on the CIA, his conduct likely saved the agency from being dismantled by an angry Congress.
Colby wrote two books during his retirement: Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA (1978) and Lost Victory: A Firsthand Account of America’s Sixteen-Year Involvement in Vietnam (1989). His obituary is in the New York Times (7 May 1996).
William M. Leary
"Colby, William Egan." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 20, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/colby-william-egan
"Colby, William Egan." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. . Retrieved November 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/colby-william-egan