Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA

Overview


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 secrecy that America still grapples with today.

In Shadow Warrior, eminent historian Randall B. Woods ...

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Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA

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Overview


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 secrecy that America still grapples with today.

In Shadow Warrior, eminent historian Randall B. Woods presents a riveting biography of Colby, revealing that this crusader for global democracy was also drawn to the darker side of American power. Aiming to help reverse the spread of totalitarianism in Europe and Asia, Colby joined the U.S. Army in 1941, just as America entered World War II. He served with distinction in France and Norway, and at the end of the war transitioned into America’s first peacetime intelligence agency: the CIA. Fresh from the fight against fascism, Colby zealously redirected his efforts against international communism. He insisted on the importance of fighting communism on the ground, doggedly applying guerilla tactics for counterinsurgency, sabotage, surveillance, and information-gathering on the new battlefields of the Cold War. Over time, these strategies became increasingly ruthless; as head of the CIA’s Far East Division, Colby oversaw an endless succession of assassination attempts, coups, secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, and the Phoenix Program, in which 20,000 civilian supporters of the Vietcong were killed. Colby ultimately came clean about many of the CIA’s illegal activities, making public a set of internal reports—known as the “family jewels”—that haunt the agency to this day. Ostracized from the intelligence community, he died under suspicious circumstances—a murky ending to a life lived in the shadows.

Drawing on multiple new sources, including interviews with members of Colby’s family, Woods has crafted a gripping biography of one of the most fascinating and controversial figures of the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Evan Thomas
…[a] well-written, thoroughly researched and disarming biography.
Publishers Weekly
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.)
From the Publisher

Evan Thomas, New York Times Book Review
“[A] well-written, thoroughly researched and disarming biography. What was Colby really thinking and feeling all those years as he performed morally questionable acts for noble causes? We cannot know for sure, and Wood, perhaps wisely, does not guess. Colby's inner motivations were well hidden, perhaps even to Colby.”

Wall Street Journal
“In this carefully researched biography, Mr. Woods 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.”

New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice
“This artful biography of the onetime director of central intelligence reveals a spy who could blend in anywhere.”

Dallas Morning News
“[A] richly researched, juicy history of a quiet, unassuming man’s rise through the ranks of America’s elite intelligence service, from midlevel officer in the nascent spy agency in 1950 to his eventual appointment as CIA director amid the erupting scandals of the 1970s. The book is part spy novel and part autopsy on the spy agency’s near-demise.”

Pittsburgh Tribune Review
“[Shadow Warrior] aims to provide insight into Colby the man – something of a loner, who never really fit with the Beltway crowd but prided himself on being able to blend in anywhere. Colby’s life is one that raises hard questions, including at what point adopting an enemy’s tactics drags one to that enemy’s level; this book illuminates that life but doesn’t pretend there are easy answers.”

New York Journal of Books
“An entertaining and fact-filled biography.... Anyone interested in either political biographies and/or the recent history of America’s foreign policy [should read] this very interesting and informative book.”

Choice
“In this deeply researched work, Woods illuminates the world Colby operated in and the worldview he espoused.... Colby became a scapegoat in a climate of recriminations and died reviled by the political Left and Right. Wood does him justice. Highly recommended.”

Roanoke Times
“Woods raises questions about Colby’s death, making this story a mystery worthy of a man who led our government’s most mysterious government agency.”

Asbury Park Press
“[An] in-depth biography, which explores Colby’s life beginning with his Army service in 1941 to his 1996 death in a boating accident that is still shrouded in the mystery and secrecy beloved by Colby himself.”

VVA Veteran
Shadow Warrior is a big book – a deeply researched, well-written, warts-and-all biography.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review
“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.... Scathingly critical of both the CIA and the government it served, Woods’ thoroughly entertaining portrait reveals plenty of warts, as well as a thoughtful character, surprisingly liberal and sophisticated about the limitations of CIA derring-do.”

Kirkus Reviews
“A thorough biography of ‘the ultimate subversive’ that probes the shadowy U.S. intelligence efforts through the Vietnam War.... Woods looks at a complicated individual who was at heart a liberal activist, schooled in the ideas of unconventional warfare championed by his father, a military man and instructor.... A nuanced treatment.”

Library Journal
“Woods has crafted an excellent biography based on the usual primary sources and buttressed by interviews with Colby’s family and associates.... Well written and researched, this solid biography by an established historian is worthy of recommendation to all interested readers.”

American History
“Colby was a man nobody, not even his wives and children, really knew. A warrior who survived World War II battlefields to fight the Cold War and mastermind ‘pacification’ in Vietnam, eventually becoming CIA chief, he mysteriously disappeared after stepping down. Thorough, revealing and rewarding.”

Hugh Wilford, author of The Mighty Wurlitzer
“Randall Woods has turned his formidable skills as a biographer to one of the most controversial and enigmatic personalities of the Cold War. The result is a prodigiously researched, richly revealing portrayal of William Colby’s life and times in all their contradictions: political, personal, and moral.”

Jeremi Suri, Author of Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama
“This is one of the best books written on the CIA. Randall Woods investigates the life of William Colby—from World War II to Vietnam to the end of the Cold War. Woods describes the vital work of America’s covert operatives, and he also analyzes the dangers and difficulties for our democracy. Woods brings the world of spies and spooks to life, tells us why they matter, and shows the many dimensions of Colby’s life at the center of this world.”

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, author of In Spies We Trust: The Story of Western Intelligence
“This is a superbly crafted biography-cum-history. The evidential standards are exemplary. The interviews, especially the interviews with Colby family members, combine with the author’s fluent literacy to make the book a readable account of the life of an official whose career summed up the best and the worst of CIA history.”

Wesley Wark, author of Secret Intelligence: A Reader, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
“Randall Woods’s biography of Bill Colby takes us deep into the secretive world of US intelligence. As a historical figure Colby’s importance is clear, but readers will also be drawn to Colby by the mysteries of his personality: one part romantic, one part bureaucratic warrior, one part covert operations fighter, one part unlikely crusader for a candid relationship between the US public, Congress and the CIA. Randall Woods, a distinguished American diplomatic historian and biographer, tells both the public and private story of Colby with aplomb and great skill. Shadow Warrior deserves to be read by anyone interested in the history of the CIA and its involvement in the key moments of US policy in the crucial years between World War Two and the 1970s.”

Richard H. Immerman, Professor and Edward J. Buthusiem Family Distinguished Faculty Fellow in History, Temple University
“Randall Woods has written the biography that William Colby deserves. Colby, whose 30-year career in US intelligence began as a Jedburgh in the OSS, ended as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and featured the Phoenix program and the Family Jewels, lived and died a mystery. Woods’s prodigious research and engaging exposition provide a textured portrait of a means-justify-the-ends patriot whose beliefs and behavior complicate the narrative of America from the origins to the height of the Cold War.”

Library Journal
William Colby's mysterious death in 1996 ended a life of public service that stretched from his time in the OSS in World War II to his termination as CIA director in 1975. He served as an intelligence officer in Rome in the 1950s, then, during the 1960s, as a CIA station chief in Vietnam. When he returned to Washington, DC, after the war, President Nixon appointed him CIA director. Although a trained undercover agent, Colby believed in openness in government, and thus, under pressure from a post-Watergate Congress, he made public the CIA's "Family Jewels," documents that outlined that agency's various clandestine activities. Colby sought to reform the CIA, but his willingness to share agency secrets led to increased opposition to him within the government; President Ford fired him in November 1975. Woods (history, Univ. of Arkansas; LBJ: Architect of American Ambition) has crafted an excellent biography based on the usual primary sources and buttressed by interviews with Colby's family and associates. Although John Prados's Lost Crusader (2003) covers much of the same ground, Colby's life and career deserve more than one biographical approach. VERDICT Well written and researched, this solid biography by an established historian is worthy of recommendation to all interested readers.—Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Kirkus Reviews
A thorough biography of "the ultimate subversive" that probes the shadowy U.S. intelligence efforts through the Vietnam War. Arguably part of the problem or part of the fix, CIA operative William Colby (1920–1996) was intimately involved in the questionable clandestine practices of the U.S. intelligence service in Southeast Asia, as well as instrumental in the reforms stemming from the "family jewels" revelations of 1974-1975, when he was ultimately forced out as director. Woods (History/Univ. of Arkansas; LBJ: Architect of American Ambition, 2006, etc.) looks at a complicated individual who was at heart a liberal activist, schooled in the ideas of unconventional warfare championed by his father, a military man and instructor. An only child in a deeply Catholic family, Colby also gravitated toward the Army. From key training in World War II's Jedburgh Operation, Colby became part of the newly minted CIA, swept up in the "mortal danger" presented in Soviet communism, and sent first to Scandinavia, Italy, then Vietnam by 1959, when the "people's war" was heating up. Covert action against North Vietnam was approved by President John F. Kennedy and carried out enthusiastically by Colby and others in a "counterinsurgency think-tank" in Saigon, ultimately undermined by the military ascendancy in Washington. An increased compartmentalization of the CIA led to clandestine operations around the world, encouraging a rogue atmosphere within the agency. Woods carefully sifts through Colby's involvement in the Phoenix Program and his short-lived tenure as DCI, where he implemented reforms that would ultimately get him fired by Henry Kissinger. A nuanced treatment spirals through the crucial years of CIA operations.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465021949
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/9/2013
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 320,998
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Randall B. Woods is John A. Cooper Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. Author or coauthor of ten books, including LBJ: Architect of American Ambition and Fulbright: A Biography, which won the Robert D. Ferrell Prize, Woods lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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