William Colby on the CIA: Former Director of Central Intelligence (1987)

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Following his first year at Columbia, in 1941 Colby volunteered for active duty with the U.S. Army and served with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)N as a "Jedburgh", or special operator, trained to work with resistance forces in occupied Europe to harass German and Axis forces. During World War II, he parachuted behind enemy lines twice and earned the Silver Star as well as commendations from Norway, France, and Great Britain. (His second flight was piloted by Robert H. Fesmire, uncle of Francis Fesmire, of the 801st/492nd Bombardment Group 8th Air Force). In his first mission he deployed to France as a Jedburgh commanding Team BRUCE, in mid-August 1944, and operated with the Maquis until he joined up with Allied forces later that fall. In April 1945, he led the NORSO Group into Norway on a sabotage mission to destroy railway lines, in an effort to tie down German forces in Norway from reinforcing the final defense of Germany.[3]

After the war, Colby graduated from Columbia Law School and then briefly practiced law in William Joseph Donovan's New York firm. Bored by the practice of law and inspired by his liberal beliefs, he moved to Washington to work for the National Labor Relations Board.

Shortly thereafter, an OSS friend offered him a job at the CIA, and Colby accepted. Colby spent the next 12 years in the field, first in Stockholm, Sweden. There, he helped set up the stay-behind networks of Gladio, a covert paramilitary organization organized by the CIA to make any Soviet occupation more difficult, as he later described in his memoirs.[4]

Colby then spent much of the 1950s based in Rome, under cover as a State Department officer,[3] where he led the Agency's covert political operations campaign to support anti-Communist parties in their electoral contests against left wing, Soviet Union--associated parties. The Christian Democrats and allied parties won several key elections in the 1950s, preventing a takeover by the Communist Party. Colby was a vocal advocate within the CIA and the U.S. Government for engaging the non-Communist left wing parties in order to create broader non-Communist coalitions capable of governing fractious Italy; this position first brought him into conflict with James Angleton.

In 1959 Colby became the CIA's deputy chief and then chief of station in Saigon, Vietnam, where he served until 1962. Tasked by CIA with supporting the Diem government, Colby established a relationship with President Diem's family and with Ngo Dinh Nhu, the president's brother, with whom Colby's family became close.[3] While in Vietnam, Colby focused intensively on building up Vietnamese capabilities to combat the Viet Cong insurgency in the countryside. He argued that "the key to the war in Vietnam was the war in the villages."[5] In 1962 he returned to Washington to become the deputy and then chief of CIA's Far East Division. During these years he was deeply involved in Washington's policies in East Asia, particularly with respect to Vietnam, as well as Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and China. He was deeply critical of the decision to abandon support for Republic of Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem, and he believed this played a material part in the weakening of the South Vietnamese position in the years following.

In 1968, while preparing to take up the post of chief of the Soviet Bloc Division of the Agency, President Johnson instead sent Colby back to Vietnam as deputy to Robert Komer, who had been charged with streamlining the civilian side of the American efforts against the Communists. Shortly after arriving Colby succeeded Komer as head of the U.S./South Vietnamese rural pacification effort. This was an attempt to quell the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam. Part of the effort was the controversial Phoenix Program, an initiative designed to identify and attack the "Viet Cong Infrastructure." There is considerable debate about the merits of the program, which involved assassination and torture, though Colby consistently insisted that such tactics were not permitted in the program as a matter of policy.


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