Shadow Warrior

William Egan Colby and the CIA


By Randall B. Woods

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World War II commando, Cold War spy, and CIA director under presidents Nixon and Ford, William Egan Colby played a critical role in some of the most pivotal events of the twentieth century. A quintessential member of the greatest generation, Colby embodied the moral and strategic ambiguities of the postwar world, and first confronted many of the dilemmas about power and secrecy that America still grapples with today.

In Shadow Warrior, eminent historian Randall B. Woods presents a riveting biography of Colby, revealing that this crusader for global democracy was also drawn to the darker side of American power. Aiming to help reverse the spread of totalitarianism in Europe and Asia, Colby joined the U.S. Army in 1941, just as America entered World War II. He served with distinction in France and Norway, and at the end of the war transitioned into America’s first peacetime intelligence agency: the CIA. Fresh from the fight against fascism, Colby zealously redirected his efforts against international communism. He insisted on the importance of fighting communism on the ground, doggedly applying guerilla tactics for counterinsurgency, sabotage, surveillance, and information-gathering on the new battlefields of the Cold War. Over time, these strategies became increasingly ruthless; as head of the CIA’s Far East Division, Colby oversaw an endless succession of assassination attempts, coups, secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, and the Phoenix Program, in which 20,000 civilian supporters of the Vietcong were killed. Colby ultimately came clean about many of the CIA’s illegal activities, making public a set of internal reports — known as the “family jewels” — that haunt the agency to this day. Ostracized from the intelligence community, he died under suspicious circumstances — a murky ending to a life lived in the shadows.

Drawing on multiple new sources, including interviews with members of Colby’s family, Woods has crafted a gripping biography of one of the most fascinating and controversial figures of the twentieth century.
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On Sale
Oct 7, 2014
Page Count
576 pages
Basic Books

Randall B. Woods

About the Author

Randall B. Woods is John A. Cooper Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. He is the author or co-author of ten books, including Shadow Warrior and the award-winning biographies LBJ: Architect of American Ambition and Fulbright: A Biography. A former dean of Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and a past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, he has served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in both Germany and Argentina and as the Mellon Visiting Scholar at Cambridge in the spring of 2012.

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