William Colby was the Director of Central Intelligence at the CIA between 1973 and 1976. He introduced many reforms and also released many secrets during his term. He died in 1996 in mysterious circumstances, which have produced many theories.

Early Life

William Colby was born on Janurary 4 1920. He was born into a military family, his father having seen action in WWI and becoming a lieutenant not long after William was born. For many years he had nowhere to really call home, as the army moved his father all across the globe on assignment, such as China, as well as many different states right across the USA. William still managed to attend high school, despite the constant travel, and graduated at age 16.

William Colby longed to follow in the footsteps of his father, however, he was too young to apply for the army at West Point, so instead he applied for Princeton University. The next year he applied for the academy, but was turned down due to problems with his vision (he was near sighted). While studying, he joined the Army ROTC (special army college designed to produce army officers), where he attained the rank of Cadet Captain. During his junior year at University, William spent the summer in France, where he learned the language and fell in love with the people. He would later return to France to carry out secret missions behind German lines.

In The Army

He graduated from University (with an A.B. (being Australian, i am unsure exactly what that is, please /msg me if you know)) in 1940 and the next year joined the army. By 1942 he had reached the rank of Second Lieutenant and began attending Jump School at Fort Benning. However, on just his second jump, Colby broke his ankle, which delayed his wish to go to war.

In 1943 he received an assignment which he believed would ultimately keep him out of the war. Instead he applied and was accepted into the Office of Strategic Services. There he was trained how to perform special and secret operations behind enemy lines. Shortly after he flew to England for training at the hands of British Commandos, where he and his group received orders to carry out missions behind the German lines in Norway and France. His first mission was to locate the leader of the french resistance and arrange for weapons and ammo. With the resistance, they harassed the germans anyway they could, ranging from ambushing enemy patrols to destroying valuable german communications outposts. Together with the army that was pressing the germans, Colby and the resistance forced the germans out of the Yonne region of France.

After this successful mission, the 2 other men in Colby's team were sent home. Colby, however, was sent to Norway, to work with the resistance there to destroy bridges, slowing the advancing german troops. The bridge they were ordered to destroy was too heavily guarded for the small group, so instead they chose another close by bridge. Following this, they were ordered to keep destroying bridges and railways to disrupt the german movements.


After the war ended, Colby returned home, where he married and had 4 children. He studied for a law degree at Columbia University, which he obtained in 1947. It was also in that year that the CIA was formed. In 1949, Colby gave up his job at a small law firm to join the agency. Between 1951 and 1958, he worked in Stockholm and then Rome, where his chief mission was to ensure communist political parties never won elections. This was done by heavy subsidization of center and slightly left aligend political parties. This was, of course, completely secret.

In 1959 he was posted to Siagon, a posting which lasted until 1962, where he then became the head of the CIA's Far East Division. This lasted until 1967. 1 year later he became the director of Operation Phoenix, which was designed to identify and eliminate communist activity in South Vietnam. Colby believed this was better than straight military force, which only served to alienate the Vietnamese people. By the time to project was ended in 1971, it was estimated that as many as 60,000 people had died in relation to the project, with many believed to have been killed in cold blood. Colby maintained the number was much closer to 21,000, with most of the deaths occuring due to combat between CIA and enemy forces. Anti war protestors used the project as a main point in their movement, labeling it an assassination program and a crime against humanity. In this period, Colby also helped in securing large parts of South Vietnam, with only around 3% of villages considered as "contested" by the end of 1971. To go with this, a program was in place known as Chieu Hoi, which Colby believed brought in around 17,000 guerilla defectors.

He returned to the US when Operation Phoenix was stopped, where he rose through the ranks of the CIA until President Richard Nixon appointed him as director of the CIA. Almost immediately, Congress turned against the CIA, accusing it of everything from assassination to espionage against the American people on their own soil. In 1975 both houses of congress launched investigations into the CIA, where Colby agreed to cooperate, handing over documents relating to, among other things, the agencys role in the uprising and overthrow of the Chilean democracy. Some never forgave him for this cooperation, as it had exposed top secret operations, that were never meant to be known outside the CIA, and especially not by Congress.

By 1976, morale at the CIA was very low, and everyone from journalists and Vietnam War critics to government legislators and conservatives were against Colby and how he ran the CIA. This ultimately ended with President Gerald Ford replacing him as director with George W. Bush (Senior). Colbys career in the field of intelligence was over, but not before he had carried out many successful operations around the world, and introduced reforms to the CIA, to root out things he viewed as deplorable. This included the banning assassinations by CIA staff and operative, regardless of the interest they held to the country.

Life after the CIA

2 years after being replaced as head of the CIA, William Colby published his memoirs, in which he defended Project Phoenix and also "clearing the air" while CIA director, as well as disclosing previously secret details of some operations conducted by the CIA. One such operation discussed was the American efforts to retreive secret codes from a Sovient submarine that had been sunk. This landed him in court in 1982, where the US government attempted to prosecute him for unauthorized disclosure of national secrets. The case was later settled out of court for a realitivly small fine of $10,000

In 1984, Colby married a former diplomat after divorcing his first wife. He resumed his legal career and also began a career in lecturing. He also took up a new cause, which many of his lectures focused on: the freezing of nuclear arms development.


On May 6 1996, William Colby's body was pulled from the muddy waters of the Wicomico River. 8 days earlier, investigators had found his capsized, half-submerged canoe 20 yards from where his body was found. The circumstances surrounding his death are strange, to say the least. On April 27, his wife, reported him missing. It is alleged that earlier in the day he had phoned her, letting her know that he was going to go home, eat dinner, shower then head to bed. She said he never mentioned anything about going canoeing.

The official explanation for Willam Colby's death is this: He went out in his canoe, on a stormy night, on a rough river and without a lifejacket. There he had either a heart attack or stroke. His canoe tipped over, pushing him underwater where he then drowned. Many people see this explanation as inadequate, and that it conflicts with statements made by his wife. Some people also believe that Colby was killed by the US government to prevent him from spilling anymore national secrets.

Was William Colby murdered? Or did he just get forgetful in his old age and make a poor decision? Whichever the case, authorities aren't budging from their official explanation and conspiracy theories will no doubt continue to abound.

BrooksMarlin informs me that William Colby also appeared alongside ex-KGB general Oleg Kaluginin, in a game called Spycraft, made in 1996. Yet another high point of Colbys life.

Noung also chipped in with some useful information.

  • http://members.tripod.com/~cbn2/d80.html
  • http://www.arlingtoncemetery.com/wcolby.htm
  • http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/aia/cyberspokesman/99-04/history.htm
  • http://www.cnn.com/US/9605/06/colby.found/
  • http://www.newsmax.com/articles/?a=1996/5/07/153650

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