Film looks at life of late spymaster William Colby

Fri Oct 14, 2011 8:43pm EDT
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By Jordan Riefe

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When the body of former CIA director William Colby was found underwater near his vacation home in Rockpoint, Maryland 15 years ago, no one suspected murder, but his son Carl Colby has never ruled it out.

Carl Colby's new film documentary, "The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby" opens in major U.S. cities this month and takes audiences on a journey through the life of a complicated man who helped shape Vietnam war strategy and was partly responsible for a major shake-up at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

In May 1996, Colby went missing for eight days. He had gone canoeing, and is believed to have fallen into the water and drowned or suffered hypothermia. The cause of death was always thought to be a heart attack, but there can be little doubt Colby made plenty of enemies over the years.

"You could say the best way to get rid of a body is to throw it in the water because you can't see any signs of abuse or injury," Carl told Reuters. "Everybody in our family always wore a life vest, so why would he not wear a life vest?"

In fact, Carl is not certain what to make of his father's death -- murder, suicide, accident or fate. Nor does he know what to make of his father's life -- hero, victim or villain.

But he went looking and the result is his documentary, for which he interviewed former U.S. government officials such as Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates and James Schlesinger, along with journalists like Seymour Hirsch and Bob Woodward.

In the 1960s William Colby, a CIA operative since World War II, oversaw the coup d'etat against Vietnamese President Diem and masterminded an anti-incursion strategy called the Phoenix Program to root out the Viet Cong in towns and villages.

Thousands of people were killed, but the program was singled out after the war by Viet Cong Commander Vo Nguyen Giap as being most effective. Today, Phoenix is a blueprint for other anti-insurgency campaigns.   Continued...

<p>William Colby (R) and President Gerald Ford and his Cabinet and Colby Family are pictured in the Oval Office at the White House as Colby receives the National Security Medal in this 1976 handout photograph. REUTERS/First Run Features/Handout</p>