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William Colby and the CIA: The Secret Wars of a Controversial Spymaster Paperback – October 8, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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"Gripping, revealing, and timely." -- Kai Bird

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"An important contribution to intelligence literature."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas; First Edition edition (October 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 070061690X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700616909
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael S. Peredney on August 9, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very detailed text. Author John Prados is a wealth of knowledge in his field. A bit difficult to read because of all the facts therein. Each chapter could be a study in itself. If you have an interest in the "workings" of the CIA and its "poltics" during Colby's tenure, this is the book to read. If you are a former CIA agent with a photoraphic memory, you'll will work it to the hilt. Reads slowly if you are trying to ansorb all the "stuff" within. Well written and lots of info.
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This book is aptly titled in that it is not so much a biography of William E. Colby as it is a sliver of CIA history as revealed by Colby's CIA career. As such it provides an excellent window on the halcyon days of the now somewhat tarnished agency. The book also provides a marvelous explanation of the notorious `Phoenix' program and other pacification programs as part of discussing Colby's long (1958-1973) involvement with Vietnam.

According to its original 1947 charter, CIA was originally set up as a center were intelligence information collected from a variety of sources could be analyzed and vetted, in the current parlance it was the place were all the dots were to be connected. There was a loophole however that would permit CIA "to perform other missions" as directed by the National Security Council (or the president). As CIA struggled to develop a viable institutional mission, "other missions" was interpreted as covert political actions or various types of `support' (including military) to various pro-West movements in selected foreign countries. Clandestine collection of human intelligence through the use suborned foreign nationals (agents) also was assumed under this loophole. (See Creating the Secret State, University of Kansas 2000).

Prior to CIA, during WWII, the U.S. created the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as a semi-military force to conduct special operations, often in cooperation with resistance fighters in occupied countries. OSS also had an analytic group to provide intelligence support to it operation units. Although the operations side of OSS did not engage in systematic intelligence collection, its officers developed a good deal of experience operating in foreign countries often under difficult and dangerous conditions.
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This is the third work by author Prados that I have read, the other two being "Combined Fleet, Decoded" and "Valley of Decision" (Khe Sanh), and all three have been excellent works. I wondered how Prados would treat Colby, due to two life-altering episodes in his career; the first as the head of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, and the second when he stripped the veil of secrecy from the CIA while facing congressional inquiries in 1975. In essence, the left hated him for the Phoenix Program while the intelligence community felt betrayed by his caving in to the pressures of serving in a democratic country. Well, the answer is, "with sympathy."

Author Prados comes down on the side that Colby was correct to share secrets with congressional committees as proper in a democracy, and indeed, it was the only action possible if the Agency was to survive. There are those who disagree, and they would include yours truly, President Eisenhower, and a long line of people who have produced effective intelligence or used it adroitly.

Before going in to this specific issue, allow me to say the book is extremely well-written and informative. However, I suggest the reader compare it to "Honorable Men My Life in the CIA" by William Colby and Peter Forbath. Between the two books the reader should obtain a good understanding of covert actions and HUMINT gathering under official and semi-official cover.

There is also a theme that the Agency's heyday was from its inception to the sixties when it could pretty well do what it wanted (the Bay of Pigs notwithstanding), but in actuality the primary successes during that time were due to walk-ins (like Penkovskiy) or case officers willing to take substantial risks like Bill Harvey.
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This really is an excellent book an insiders view of the inside. I would have been dissapointed had the author not been a little defensive of Bill Colby who I personally saw as a man who took a viewpoint evaluated it made a decision to act and then carried it through with only slight regard to Opinion. If his lifes work had been in the service of Great Britain he would have retired with a Knighthood for services rendered .From his World War Two experiences in OSS he was always going to be the Man from langley who moved with a great conviction based morality tempered with only necessary ammounts of policy :and the author has managed to serve up a correct and worthwhile assessment of his work and value to the U.S the Government and the Agency . This really is an important book in terms of the contribution it makes to the student of Intelligence and the shaping of policy in volatile times. His leadership was unquestionably from the bottom up and based on experience. Greatly recommend this book to any reader wishing to examine the Anatomy of US Foreign Policy as applied to intelligence ,war and the people who made the hard decisions. A great book about a great American.
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