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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 reportsknown as the family jewels”that haunt the agency to this day. Ostracized from the intelligence community, he died under suspicious circumstancesa 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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About 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.
Table of Contents
The Disappearance 1
The Colbys and the Egans 9
A Bridge Too Far 53
The Agency 69
Covert Operations on the Periphery of The Cold War 81
Political Action and La Dolce Vita 95
Cold War Cockpit 115
Fighting A People's War 141
The Military Ascendant 171
Secret Armies 213
Launching The Other War 247
Cords: A Peace Corps With Guns 273
Birds of Peace and Birds of War 307
The Family Jewels 331
Dancing With Henry 409
Death of A Dream 421
Fight For Survival 437
What People are Saying About This
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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 Colbyfrom 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.”