It also earned him the undying enmity of hawks in the Ford administration, who mocked Colby’s Catholicism. One official said that if Colby felt a need to confess, he should have gone to a priest.
“I often wondered if Bill was not expiating his sins, starting with the Phoenix Program and whatever had gone wrong in it that he felt responsible for,” Brent Scowcroft, Ford’s national security adviser, says in the film. Perhaps, he speculates, the often-absent CIA man felt guilty about not being more attentive to his daughter, Carl’s sister, who died after a long illness in 1973.
Epithets like “choirboy” and “traitor” stuck to Colby and, for Ford, at least, made his further tenure at the CIA impossible. Replacing him with George H.W. Bush was “almost a mercy killing,” Scowcroft says.
“I think he took on the sins of the agency almost as his own, and if he was destined to be jettisoned, to be hung out to dry, so be it,” Carl says over a hamburger in Georgetown.
He didn’t have much of a choice, The Post’s Bob Woodward says in the film.
“All of a sudden, you’re in this political world as CIA director and you have to establish what’s the authority, moral or otherwise. Congress, under Article 1, has this incredible authority over even the CIA. They had the authority. Colby tried to walk a middle line and finally, really acquiesced to the law.”
Decades later, memories of the Colby era still burned like a hot penny in the pockets of many former Republican officials.
James Baker II, who served in the Ford, Reagan and first Bush administrations, traced the intelligence failures of 9/11 to “when CIA Director William Colby was forced to reveal the CIA’s ‘Family Jewels’ and the CIA’s capacity to engage in covert action was destroyed.”
“I was stunned,” Carl wrote for the Huffington Post in September. “My father had been dead for more than five years, and here he was, still part of the debate.”
His father had had enough long before, Carl says. And, like a Roman centurion, he had decided never to grow old and feeble, “to get the AARP card and take the senior discount.”
Was his death a suicide? “I think he just got tired,” Carl says.
To the very end, he was, Carl says, “a Rubik’s Cube of a man.”
Former Post SpyTalk blogger Jeff Stein, a military intelligence case officer in Vietnam, can be reached at .
The Man Nobody Knew:
In Search of My Father,
CIA Spymaster William Colby
opens Friday at the Landmark E Street Cinema.
opening Friday at the Landmark E Street theater.