Colby, William Egan, 1920–96, American public official, b. St. Paul, Minn., grad. Princeton, 1940. During World War II he served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and in 1944 was dropped by parachute behind enemy lines in German-occupied France, where he commanded a squad of saboteurs. After obtaining a law degree (Columbia, 1947), he reentered government, joining the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1950 and serving in U.S. embassies in Sweden (1951–53), Italy (1953–58), and South Vietnam (1959–62). In 1962 he was recalled to Washington as chief (1962–67) of the Far East division of the CIA, where he helped direct the controversial Phoenix Intelligence Program, part of the U.S. pacification efforts in South Vietnam.
Colby was appointed director of the CIA by President Nixon in 1973. In 1975 he cooperated with congressional investigations into CIA activities that revealed numerous instances of questionable activities, including involvement in domestic espionage and assassination attempts on foreign leaders. Although many credited him with saving the agency, which was brought under greater governmental control, numerous conservatives criticized him for his candor and cooperation. In Nov., 1975, he was relieved of his position by President Ford, who replaced him with George H. W. Bush. After leaving the CIA, Colby was an active advocate of arms reductions.
See his memoirs (1978, 1989); biography by R. B. Woods (2013); J. Prados, William Colby and the CIA (2009).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.