Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA

Randall B. Woods. Basic, $29.99 (560p) ISBN 978-0-465-02194-9
A lifelong CIA counterinsurgency specialist, William Egan Colby (1920–1996) was a central figure in America’s post-WWII clandestine operations. University of Arkansas history professor Woods (LBJ: Architect of American Ambition) delivers an engrossing account of Colby’s contentious life and career, from early intelligence recruit during the Second World War to his suspicious demise in the Chesapeake Bay. As CIA station chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War (where “he had been the only high-ranking official to move about at night without an armed escort”), Colby was skeptical of the efficacy of conventional strategies in fighting communism, and eventually oversaw the controversial and brutal Phoenix Program, which sought to systematically cripple the Viet Cong. Later, he served as director of the CIA under presidents Nixon and Ford at a time when it was roundly criticized as “an Agency run amok,” though he did his best to usher in “a new sense of openness.” Those efforts enraged many colleagues, and led some (including Colby’s son Carl) to suggest his death was politically motivated. Scathingly critical of both the CIA and the government it served, 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. 35 b&w images. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/14/2013
Release date: 04/01/2013
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