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Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby
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From Publishers Weekly
This highly detailed look at one of the major spymasters of the post-WWII era is another intriguing work by the prolific Prados (Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush). The book focuses on key moments in Colby's career, which spanned from his early days in the office of the OSS in the 1940s to his replacement as head of the CIA by George Bush in 1975. Prados carefully charts Colby's involvement in this attempt to defeat North Vietnam through "arrests, precisely targeted raids or ambushes" as well as conventional assaults that degenerated into a de facto assassination program. Colby is presented as a "lost crusader" who "never lived down [his] second Vietnam tour and his Phoenix stewardship," both of which haunted him as he took over the CIA during the Watergate era. Prados takes a remarkably sympathetic view of Colby's late career, when he was the subject of Senate investigations into illegal espionage: he calls Colby "the man in the middle, required to respond to Congress but inevitably the focus of Ford administration and CIA resentments." Prados's most controversial argument is that Colby's willingness to work with Congress to reform the CIA "saved the agency" by allowing it additional freedom. This is an essential and provocative addition to works on the CIA.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Less a biography than a comprehensive dossier on the espionage career of William Colby, this copiously detailed work comes from an author highly regarded as an intelligence historian. Careful and judicious, Prados never grandstands; instead, he seeks to understand the myriad controversies about CIA activity exposed by congressional investigations in 1975. Then the CIA director, Colby had a hand in unsavory skulduggery such as the so-called Phoenix program in Vietnam, which probably involved assassinations. Because he was a specialist in covert political action (having cut his espionage teeth influencing Italian politics), Colby also had a sense, argues Prados, of the serious political danger posed by the 1975 revelations to the CIA's existence. In the author's view, Colby, by cooperating with the investigations rather than defying them as Henry Kissinger preferred, likely preserved the organization from dismantlement. As a vehicle to larger issues (like CIA involvement in sundry coups), Prados' dispassionate appraisals of Colby's postings and activity will best attract readers with a natural interest in the nitty-gritty details rather than the sensational aspects of intelligence work. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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As an undergraduate at Princeton, starting in the fall of 1936, "Religious Catholic that he was, Bill had a problem with the Princeton rule that first- and second-year students had to attend at least half of Sunday chapel services, as the school was strongly Presbyterian. Colby fulfilled this requirement by becoming an altar boy at the Catholic Chapel." (p. 25). I'm not sure why this would be a problem, unless Presbyterians automatically take attendance, but the priest doesn't look to see who is at mass, wouldn't remember anyway, and only keeps a schedule of who is serving as altar boy. Later, while Colby was working for the CIA in Rome under Ambassador Clare Booth Luce, it is reported that Pope Pius XII had excommunicated all Italian communists in 1949, (p. 55) a sure sign that he didn't want to see them around anymore.
The early part of LOST CRUSADER fills in a lot of information on his OSS activities in France and Norway, where Colby wanted to capture the town of Lierne in Operation "Rype," but was delayed until after the German capitulation in May, 1945, when the Germans "gave up on May 11 without difficulty. Major William E. Colby corralled 10,000 German soldiers." (p. 33). He was not so lucky on his first day in Saigon, where he was assigned as CIA deputy chief of station in February, 1959. Cambodian troops had arrested Cambodian General Dap Chhuon just days after he had been visited by Ed Lansdale and senior U.S. Pacific Theater Commanders who "were traveling on a survey of United States military assistance programs and stopped in Cambodia." (p. 67). Among the items captured by the Cambodian troops on February 21, 1959 was "a CIA radio and its agency operator, Victor M. Matsui." (p. 68). Colby had to explain to the Cambodians what Matsui had been doing there. Richard M. Bissell had ordered some communication with the plotters because "Bissell had wanted to know about Cambodian events as the plot unfolded, perhaps to see how these things worked" (p. 68) purely as a means of gathering intelligence, but Norodom Sihanouk (with Wilfred Burchett) published a book in 1974, MY WAR WITH THE CIA, that bitterly complained, "The CIA was in the forefront (except, when it suited their purposes, to remain concealed) of every plot directed against my life and my country's integrity." (p. 68, see Chapter 6, n. 1, p. 350).
In Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, the links that tied CIA activities in those countries to Bill Colby were so similar in nature that one of the few jokes in the book tying them all together came from Army Colonel Charles Wilson, at Pleiku in 1964, who `described the Ho Chi Minh Trail as the "Averell Harriman Memorial Highway," which must have tickled Colby, who had to deal with Harriman during the Laotian negotiations at Geneva.' (p. 133). Considering that Woodrow Wilson and Bill Colby both attended Princeton, an amazing coincidence is how often each of them disagreed with a Henry Cabot Lodge. The Lodge who became an ambassador to South Vietnam in 1962 was the Junior of the two, but he still had a mind of his own.
Buddhists were expected to be the kind of people who would cause little trouble for either side, but just having demonstrations created a weird scene in which `Madame Nhu spoke sarcastically about bonze "barbeques," while Nhu himself demanded a hard line, resisting concessions.' (p. 110). In Vietnam, the French "had created an indigenous elite using Catholicism as a means of ascription." (p. 111). 70 percent of Vietnamese generals were raised as Catholics and "an additional 16 percent of Vietnamese generals converted to Catholicism after Diem's rise to power. Nguyen Van Thieu stood among them. Most telling of all, only four Vietnamese generals would admit to being Buddhists, out of a cohort of almost a hundred." (p. 110). By early 1965 the CIA was seeking "extension of covert support to key Buddhist leaders." (p. 145). Nguyen Khanh, "himself a Buddhist" (p. 142), who had been a Viet Minh in the August Revolution of 1945, (p. 177) became the South Vietnamese leader in 1964, while Henry Cabot Lodge was Ambassador, but Maxwell Taylor took over as Ambassador in the summer of 1964. (p. 142). On August 25, 1964, a CIA cable to Colby complained that Khanh "has in effect put his government entirely in the hands of Tri Quang." (p. 142). In January, 1965, Colby went to Vietnam with McGeorge Bundy on a trip that included an incident in Pleiku "that killed many Americans in their barracks." (p. 145). "Another feature of Mac's Vietnam trip would be a meeting with the Buddhist Tri Quang. He emerged bewildered." (p. 145). Great!
In many respects, the author seemed more interested in pushing his own political line, which is considerably left of center, than in telling Colby's story. His effort to claim that Colby and CIA provided the Indonesian government with "target lists" for use in Suharto's brutal repression of Indonesian communists (pages 155-156) in spite of the lack of any hard evidence that such lists existed became so convoluted that it gave me a headache.
This book contains an especially egregious allegation that I would be remiss not to point out. On page 245, in his effort to support the discredited claims made in Alfred McCoy's book "The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia" of CIA collusion in narcotics trafficking, the author writes:
"...McCoy received further support from Tran Van Khiem, a former Saigon security chief who had investigated corruption charges for Diem and had kept up his contacts with Saigon intelligence services: 'My security agents...firmly confirm that a few CIA agents in Indochina are involved in opium trafficking.'"
A footnote (fortunately, one is present for this citation) notes that this quotation was from a letter Khiem wrote that was printed in the Washington Star in 1972.
Even the most basic research by the author would have revealed that the letter writer, Tran Van Khiem, was in fact the criminally insane brother of Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu. Khiem was NOT a "former Saigon security chief" (although there were some allegations, principally by Khiem himself, that during the last days of the Diem regiment Madame Nhu appointed Khiem the head of a pro-Diem assassination squad). In the early 1990s Khiem brutally murdered his father and mother in Washington D.C. in a lurid crime that made national headlines and of which the author surely should have been aware. Court-appointed psychiatrists found Khiem to be so deranged that even forcible administration of anti-psychotic drugs failed to render him sufficiently mentally competent to stand trial. If the author wishes to use this quote to support an allegation of such a serious nature as involvement in opium smuggling, he owes it to his readers to let them know that the source of the quote is a mentally incompetent paranoid schizophrenic.