Former CIA Director William Colby, who played a significant role in U.S. Vietnam War policy-making, was founded dead in 1996, eight days after going missing on a solo canoe trip near his Maryland home. The new documentary, The Man Nobody Knew , produced by the spymaster’s son Carl Colby, looks at the odd circumstances surrounding his father’s death, as well as his long career in intelligence.
The Vietnam War played a central role in William Colby’s life and work. The World War II OSS agent first went to Vietnam in 1956 as a young CIA agent. He was CIA station chief in Saigon from 1959-62, was deputy director of the CORDS program in 1968, and—most famously (or infamously)—ran the controversial Phoenix program in 1969. Colby headed the CIA’s Far East Division until he was named CIA director in 1973, a position he held until retiring in November of 1976.
In his 1989 book, Lost Victory: A First-Hand Account of America’s Sixteen-Year Involvement in the Vietnam War , Colby argued that the way to defeat the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese in Vietnam was not to send in large numbers of U.S. troops, but to help make the government of South Vietnam responsive to the needs of its people, thereby making the government an attractive alternative to the communists.
Among those interviewed in the film are former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, the journalists Seymour Hersh (who broke the My Lai story) and Bob Woodward, and former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld.
“In some ways, The Man Nobody Knew is a quintessential Washington spook story, ” Michael O’Sullivan said in his Washington Post review of the film, “told by a globe-trotting CIA brat who thought, for the longest time, that his father worked for the State Department.”