Randall B. Woods – William E. Colby and the CIA

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Event Date: 29 April – 1 May 2011
East Midlands Conference Centre
University of Nottingham  
University Park
Nottingham NG7 2RJ



Landscapes of Secrecy: The CIA in History, Fiction and Memory


Professor Randall B. Woods (University of Arkansas) – William E. Colby and the CIA

During his tenure as DCI Bill Colby was introduced to Leonid Brezhnev. To the Soviet leader’s surprise, America’s chief of intelligence remarked, “The more we know about each other the safer we all are.” The former Jedburgh was in fact no spy though he appreciated espionage. His forte was political action, counterinsurgency, and nation-building.  The only liberal ever to head the CIA according to Richard Helms, Colby embraced every refo6mr movment from the New Deal to the Great Society. An admirer of ancinet Greek culture and raised by a father steeped in Baden-Powell-Kipling romanticism, he believed deeply in the efficacy of an armed, politically aroused citizenry as a means to fight totalitarianism whether it be fascism, communism, or Islamic primitivism. As Jedburgh, political activist in 1950s Italy, Saigon station chief, Far East Division Head, CORDS director, and then DCI, Colby believed the true task of the CIA was to nurture anti-fascist anticommunist revolutionary laborataries around the world. A consistent advocate of openings to the left during the age of containment, he sought to coopt not crush post-colonial revolutions. His vision, at least in Vietnam, crashed on the rocks of ingrained American anti-communism and the instituonal obstacles to U.S.-sponsored revolutions. As DCI, however, through a combination of happenstance and will, he was able to prevent his beloved CIA from being consumed by its counterintelligence culture (fascism in his view) on the one hand and the anti-war movement (anarchism) on the other. My paper will present an overview and interpretation of his career.

Randall B. Woods is John A. Cooper Sr. Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. He is a past president of SHAFR and a former dean of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. Among his books are A Changing of the Guard: Anglo-American Relations, 1941-1946 (University of North Carolina Press, 1990), Fulbright: A Biography (Cambridge University  Press, 1995) and LBJ: Architect of American Ambition (Free Press, 2006). In 2012 Basic Books will publish his America’s Jesuit: William Egan Colby and the CIA.

Contact information: Department of History, University of Arkansas, Old Main 416, Fayetteville, AR 72701 USA.

Email: rwoods@uark.edu

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