Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby
After extensive research and interviews John Prados celebrated the launch of his latest book Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby. The event was co-sponsored by the Cold War International History Project and the National Security Archive. Robert Litwak, director of the International Studies Division at the Woodrow Wilson Center, chaired the session.
Following a short introduction by Robert Litwak, John Prados began the presentation with a commentary on the crises and controversy facing current CIA director, George Tenet. In comparing Tenet with former CIA director William Colby, Prados drew important similarities. Like Colby, Tenet possesses an important understanding of the job as CIA director. According to Prados, the problems facing the Tenet were the same problems Colby encountered in 1973. The difficulties of the CIA director include meeting the expectations of the White House, Congress and the national intelligence community. Colby, Prados assessed, was well equipped to face these problems because of his experience in Vietnam and Washington prior to his appointment as DCI. Colby's role as director of the CIA's Far East division, his involvement in the Phoenix "neutralization" program in South Vietnam, and his public position at CIA during the Watergate investigation prepared Colby for the political aspects of the CIA directorship.
Prados would refer to William Colby's background throughout the presentation, citing Colby's experience as the key factor for his success. According to Prados, timing also contributed to Colby's rise in the CIA. When Colby returned from Vietnam in 1971, the US was in a more favorable position in Vietnam than it had ever been. Colby's return Washington prompted DCI Richard Helms to create the position of Executive Director-Comptroller for Colby. It was in this position that William Colby served from 1972-1973 as the CIA's point man for Watergate, answering press question as well as testifying before Congress and impeachment committees.
Colby assumed the Office of the Director in September of 1973 and by the end of 1974 the CIA came under attack from Congress and the public after an article in the New York Post charged that the CIA was conducting illegal investigation on US territory. Prados' debunked the myth that William Colby had been "selling out" the CIA, forcefully arguing that it was Colby's actions during the ‘75 "year of intelligence" that would keep the CIA intact. Answering charges that the national intelligence community reviled Colby for his conduct in the face of the Church and Pike Committees, Prados suggested that had Colby not been so adept at damage control, the CIA, as we know it, would not exist today. Colby's limited release of information—which included some details on covert operations—saved the agency, Prados concluded.
John Prados also answered questions concerning the current role of the Office of the Director, stating that the office has evolved into a media oriented, as well as diplomatic role. Though despite the changes in the office, the same problems have faced current and past CIA directors and experience has determined those who can address those problems and those who cannot.
For more information contact:
Christian Ostermann, Director, CWIHP
Report drafted By Carmina Sicangco, Research Assistant, CWIHP