Magazine article Newsweek

The Reluctant Spymaster

Magazine article Newsweek

The Reluctant Spymaster

Article excerpt

THE MORNING AFTER FORMER CIA director William Colby vanished, a fisherman found his empty canoe, swamped and drifting along the Potomac River. In his weekend home nearby, the former spymaster's computer was still running, and a glass of wine sat by the sink in the kitchen. The river had been rough the day before, with a two-foot chop, but sometime after 7 p.m. Colby, a hale 76-year-old, apparently set out for an evening paddle. Last week, as frogmen searched the murky waters, the conspiracy theorists began to spin their tales.

One theory held that Colby had been the ultimate Soviet double agent, and had disappeared--or been snuffed--before the CIA's mole hunters could expose him. Another fantasy suggested that he had been eliminated by Vietnamese gangs who never forgave his role in the Phoenix Program, the pacification effort that eliminated 20,000 Vietnamese in the late 1960s and early '70s. Yet another revenge plot made him the victim of his fellow spies, still angry at Colby for his decision, as CIA director in 1975, to publicly reveal the "family jewels," a 650-page list of the CIA's dirtiest tricks.

To the spies who really knew Colby, however, the mystery was not his presumed death but why he ever became a spook in the first place. "He didn't like spying at all," said Sam Halpern, his former executive assistant. How, then, did Colby justify handing over millions to Italian politicians, priests and reporters, as he did while serving as an operative in Rome in the 1950s? …

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