Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby And The CIA

Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby And The CIA

World War II commando, Cold War spy, and CIA director under presidents Nixon and Ford, William Egan Colby played a critical role in some of the most pivotal events of the twentieth century. A quintessential member of the greatest generation, Colby embodied the moral and strategic ambiguities of the postwar world, and first confronted many of the dilemmas about power and se...

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Title:Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby And The CIA
Author:Randall B. Woods
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Edition Language:English

Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby And The CIA Reviews

  • Phil

    Colby is a fascinating figure: he fought behind enemy lines in WWII and went on to become one of the CIA's foremost practitioners of covert operations, including heading up the notorious Phoenix program in South Vietnam. Yet, Colby was also a liberal and as head of the CIA in the 1970s he helped reform the agency to overcome past abuses and make it more open and accountable. In many ways Colby is metaphor for Cold War liberalism, with its successes and failures, its lofty principles and its expe

    Colby is a fascinating figure: he fought behind enemy lines in WWII and went on to become one of the CIA's foremost practitioners of covert operations, including heading up the notorious Phoenix program in South Vietnam. Yet, Colby was also a liberal and as head of the CIA in the 1970s he helped reform the agency to overcome past abuses and make it more open and accountable. In many ways Colby is metaphor for Cold War liberalism, with its successes and failures, its lofty principles and its expedient compromises.

  • Jacob Frank

    Engrossing and eyeopening, this book provides a lot of insight into the subtler dynamics of the Vietnam War and of the interplay of the various personalities involved in the Nixon and Ford administrations. It makes a good complement to the Operation Gladio book I read about the CIA-trained "stay-behind" units in Europe, in which Colby was somewhat involved. I would like to now read a book about CIA Director William Casey, who comes in toward the end of the book, and presided over an re-invigorat

    Engrossing and eyeopening, this book provides a lot of insight into the subtler dynamics of the Vietnam War and of the interplay of the various personalities involved in the Nixon and Ford administrations. It makes a good complement to the Operation Gladio book I read about the CIA-trained "stay-behind" units in Europe, in which Colby was somewhat involved. I would like to now read a book about CIA Director William Casey, who comes in toward the end of the book, and presided over an re-invigoration of covert operations during the Reagan administration.

  • Chris Miller

    This is a fact filled biography of William Colby that brings back a lot of bad memories from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Woods gives a balanced portrayal of the times and the man, but it still comes across as faintly “eww.” Part of the problem is that there are no good guys. They are all “true believers”, on the make, power hungry or stupid. Reading about investigations of anti-war protesters in the 70s at the same time 82 Senators are asking that pipeline protesters should be treated as terrorists

    This is a fact filled biography of William Colby that brings back a lot of bad memories from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Woods gives a balanced portrayal of the times and the man, but it still comes across as faintly “eww.” Part of the problem is that there are no good guys. They are all “true believers”, on the make, power hungry or stupid. Reading about investigations of anti-war protesters in the 70s at the same time 82 Senators are asking that pipeline protesters should be treated as terrorists in 2017 is just scary. One of the reasons to study history is to not make the same mistakes over and over.

  • Jerome

    A strong, favorable but critical and nuanced biography of Colby. The parts on his private life, childhood, etc. are relatively brief. The vast majority of the book deals with Colby’s intelligence career, and I felt that Woods gave all aspects of it excellent treatment.

    Although the CIA is, I think, mainly identified with its mission of collecting intelligence, it was always intended to be a covert-operations outfit. The 1947 National Security Act assigned the CIA to advise the National Security C

    A strong, favorable but critical and nuanced biography of Colby. The parts on his private life, childhood, etc. are relatively brief. The vast majority of the book deals with Colby’s intelligence career, and I felt that Woods gave all aspects of it excellent treatment.

    Although the CIA is, I think, mainly identified with its mission of collecting intelligence, it was always intended to be a covert-operations outfit. The 1947 National Security Act assigned the CIA to advise the National Security Council on intelligence, make recommendations on such matters, produce intelligence estimates and reports, and to perform “such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct.” This vague language would be used as as the rationale for the legality of the Agency’s subsequent covert operations, few of which were related to intelligence and almost all of which brought up controversy, leaked to outsiders, and called the Agency’s mission into question. Every president since Truman has utilized covert action, always with mixed results. I don’t think covert action is a substitute for policy, nor should policymakers view it as such. If successful, covert operations have short-term impacts; if they are failures their impact is long-term. Viewing such action as an automatic component of overt policy is quite perilous, as history has shown. No covert operations the CIA ever undertook caused vibrant pro-American democracies to bloom, despite illusions that they do.

    With this background in mind, Colby’s time with the CIA was associated mostly with covert operations as opposed to intelligence collection (which is as iffy as covert operations). Woods shows how covert operations actually comprised most of Colby’s career. He served in the OSS performing such operations in World War Two, and went on to do so at the CIA. His time at the Agency confronted him with a dilemma that every Cold Warrior confronted: if you try to fight the enemy with his own weapons, do you become as “bad” as him? It doesn’t seem like Colby was troubled by this dilemma very much. Many of his CIA colleagues went down in flames trying to resolve it: James Jesus Angleton (whom Colby fired) was driven to paranoia in his quest to root out supposed KGB moles, and the fiercely driven covert-action cowboy Frank Wisner suffered a breakdown and eventually committed suicide. Colby, on the other hand, seemed to remain a sort of Boy Scout, and seemed remarkably able to retain his own sanity and grasp of reality.

    Woods also shows how Cold War policies changed over time. Our policy interests were not rooted in broadly agreed doctrine. Our thinking, rationale, policies, and strategies changed over time, as did the CIA’s relation to them. Some were simply the result of shifting political power among the advocates of different Cold War strategies. Woods occasionally shifts from a straightforward presentation of Mr. Colby’s views on these subjects and those with whom he agreed or disagreed to what appears to be the author’s own endorsement of one or another of those views. A careful reading of the sources cited on those few occasions suggests some bias, but I doubt it was intentional, and does not hamper an excellent book.

    Woods also writes of the suspicious circumstances surrounding Colby’s death, and seems to advocate conspiracy theories that Colby was murdered. This part was a little tedious and his theories were, in my opinion, baseless.

    A few errors: Colby's father was involved with the 24th Infantry Regiment not "division." President Nixon and Henry Kissinger had the Office of National Estimates (ONE) and its Board of National Estimates disestablished to be replaced by the politically controlled National Intelligence Council (NIC). Colby did create the positions of National Intelligence Officers (NIO), but not as a replacement for the ONE.

    However, Woods does a good job casting light into the secretive, shadowy atmosphere of the early Cold War CIA, provides us with an excellent portrait of Colby, and, in all, has written an excellent book on both subjects.

  • Liam

    At the end of this book, the author credits

    , and specifically the latter's earlier biography of the same subject,

    , with "pav[ing] the way for this book. His superb research allowed me to start the project at a much more advanced stage than would otherwise have been possible.". This did not surprise me, since it was quite obvious throughout this book that Mr. Woods was relying heavily on the work of Mr. Prados. Mr. Woods may

    At the end of this book, the author credits

    , and specifically the latter's earlier biography of the same subject,

    , with "pav[ing] the way for this book. His superb research allowed me to start the project at a much more advanced stage than would otherwise have been possible.". This did not surprise me, since it was quite obvious throughout this book that Mr. Woods was relying heavily on the work of Mr. Prados. Mr. Woods may well be an excellent professor; I wouldn't know, having never attended a class he taught or, in fact, even heard of him at all prior to the publication of this book. It is made abundantly clear, throughout this book, that Mr. Woods both disagrees with many of the late Mr. Colby's choices and decisions during his career in government service, and also apparently dislikes him as an individual. Mr. Woods frequently takes the liberty of making disparaging comments about Mr. Colby at various points in the narrative. I don't know if the two men ever met, but I very much doubt it. In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to state for the record that I do not share this author's obvious disapproval & dislike of his subject. As a matter of fact,

    was a childhood hero of mine, and now that I am well into middle age he remains one of the very few public figures of the last half-century for whom I still have the utmost respect. Indeed, it was in emulation of Mr. Colby that I decided, roughly twenty years ago, to develop a secondary area of specialisation in the politico-military history of the Middle East, concentrating on the Levant (in addition to Indo-China, my primary area of study & interest, which has necessarily included a great deal of reading also in the areas of general military history since WWII, the wars of colonisation & decolonisation, insurgency/counter-insurgency, etc.).

    I certainly don't expect, much less require, that the authors of books I read share my opinions and/or outlook on political or historical questions and/or the world in general. I do, however, expect that anyone qualified to hold the honorable title of "Professor" will adhere to the highest possible standards of scholarship. I have been forced in recent years to relax my level of intolerance for typographical & spelling errors due to a general decline in the competence of editors and proof-readers; in an era when even the front page of the New York Times is on occasion riddled with such errors, it would be ridiculous to hold anyone to a higher standard. Any individual who would do so is both a pedant and most likely an insufferable prick as well. Having said that, however, I absolutely refuse to lower my standards to the point which would render admissible actual errors of fact. This book is not by any means riddled with such errors, but even one is too much and inevitably calls into question the entire work. As a general rule, if I recognise in a scholarly work an error of fact off the top of my head, even before I check other sources, the author in question has fucked up pretty badly. I am for all intents and purposes a true auto-didact, with practically no formal education. To be quite blunt, the only reason I even possess a high school diploma is that a sympathetic school administrator at the last of the three high schools I attended made the decision to interpret my school records in a somewhat creative, though technically legal way. In the case of this particular book, the author's carelessness (or perhaps intellectual arrogance) is compounded by his using the notorious lunatic conspiracy theorist L. Fletcher Prouty as a source without indicating that there are very serious doubts about both his credibility and his integrity. This is made even worse by the fact that Prouty's name only appears in the notes at the end of the book. I have met very few individuals who scrupulously check foot-notes, much less end-notes, as a matter of course while reading a book, and cases like this tend to leave the impression that the author hopes no-one will notice that there are any difficulties with cited sources.

    The main issue I have with this book is not even the sloppy scholarship, but rather the distinct impression I had while reading it that Mr. Woods considers Mr. Colby to have been at best an amoral, cold-blooded and callous bureaucrat who was blinded by patriotism and his own moral failings (very much like the "Alden Pyle" character in

    's

    ; a charge which has also often been leveled at his contemporary and occasional colleague,

    ), and at worst a war criminal & abettor of murder. I adamantly and vehemently disagree with both characterisations, and I do not believe either one to be supported by the historical record.

    I cannot, for the reasons stated above, whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone. It is worth reading (at least as much as, perhaps even more than, the earlier work by Mr. Prados), but I would suggest that it is advisable to read both Mr. Colby's own memoirs (

    &

    ) and also to at least develop a general understanding of the history of the cold war era, particularly as pertaining to the role of the C.I.A., and even more importantly the history of U.S. involvement in the countries of former French Indo-China specifically, and South-East Asia generally after the Second World War. If that is not possible beforehand, one might simply wish to take the facts and conclusions stated in this work with, as the saying goes, a grain of salt...

    In case anyone is interested, I am personally of the opinion that the circumstances of Mr. Colby's death were extremely suspicious. There are far too many unanswered questions and unexplained discrepancies surrounding both his death and the ensuing investigation thereof, and I tend to agree with the conclusions, limited though they are, reached by

    . Mr. Grant was a longtime friendly acquaintance of Mr. Colby, and carried out his own quite thorough investigation of the latter's mysterious demise, which you can read about here: (

    ).

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