A Brief History
On May 6, 1996, the body of former CIA director William Colby washed up on a Maryland beach. He had been missing since April 27 from a solo boating trip.
Colby served as the director of the CIA from 1973 to 1976 under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
Colby had worked for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) during World War II, the predecessor of the CIA. He had made parachute jumps behind enemy lines and earned a Silver Star. Helping to form the CIA after the war, he continued to work in the clandestine organization. During the Viet Nam War Colby headed up the Phoenix Program, a clandestine effort to undermine the Viet Cong through various means, notably including torture and assassination.
In spite of Colby’s liberal leanings, he found himself appointed as Director of the CIA in 1973 by Republican Richard Nixon. Colby’s openness with the media, philosophy of rapprochement with the Soviets and tendency toward reform led to conflict with more conservative hawkish politicians and bureaucrats and he was replaced in 1976 before President Ford’s term ended.
Obviously, Colby had his enemies. After leaving the CIA he started a law firm and advocated reduced military spending and reduction in nuclear weapons. He also criticized US lack of support for South Viet Nam after the US pull out and claimed we could have “won” if we had continued to support the South. These factors along with the many unknown deeds and misdeeds of the CIA along the way would give plenty of incentive for various enemies to want revenge or to silence Colby.
On April 27, 1996 Colby went boating and never returned, 9 days later washing up dead on a beach. Friends and family considered suicide unlikely, and the coroner ruled that he had either had a stroke or heart attack and fell overboard and drowned. The basis for this finding was the fact that he had plaque build up in some of his arteries, but of course, most men his age (76) do anyway. No real evidence of heart attack or stroke was offered, which of course led to speculation about the possibility of murder. After all, when a former CIA director dies with no witnesses, there are likely to be some suspicions.
Question for students (and subscribers): Did Colby jump overboard and purposely allow himself to drown? Did he accidentally fall in, perhaps because of a heart attack or stroke? Or was something more sinister at work? Tell us what you think happened in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Prados, John. Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby. Oxford University Press, 2003.
Prados, John. William Colby and the CIA: The Secret Wars of a Controversial Spymaster. University Press of Kansas, 2009.