A lot of people ask me “what did you learn about your dad that you never knew” while making your film? They expect me to tell them some long-hidden secret or make some profoundly conclusive statement about his life.
But in this graceless age of me, me, me, and self-inflating tweets and Facebook entries, what I came away with in making this film was that I was reintroduced to men and women of another far nobler time, dedicated to “selfless service.”
DIG DEEPER by Carl Colby (Director: ‘The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father CIA Spymaster William Colby’)
My late father, William Colby, former Director of CIA, was vilified for going before the Congress and exposing the CIA’s fabled “Family Jewels”, many incidents of gross misconduct and wrong-doing stretching from 1949 to 1974, including accounts of torture of suspected enemy double agents on American soil, LSD drug and mind-control experiments on unwitting human guinea pigs, repeated attempts to kill Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders, some duly elected, and incidences of domestic spying against American citizens on American soil, all contrary to the law and to the CIA’s original charter. My father believed that these were “bad secrets”, incidents in the past that must be admitted to and addressed, so CIA’s “good secrets,” such as the name of a foreign agent or other critical operational intelligence assets, could be preserved.
“Your Father Was A Murderer!”
As I recall in my film, people I knew would come up to me and say “your father was a murderer,” because of his role as the architect of the controversial Phoenix Program in Vietnam in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that sought to root out the Viet Cong infrastructure and was highly effective at doing so. My dad was compared to Heinrich Himmler, the infamous head of the Nazi SS and exterminator of the Jews. But this Phoenix Program – the counter-insurgency policy against the Viet Cong to “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people – was not his invention. My father was acting under orders expressly approved by President Johnson and funded by the U.S. Congress.
Just Like Our Current Secret Wars…
Of course, the Congress never really had much of a say in the execution of the Vietnam War as Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford never really did “sell” or explain the Vietnam War to the American people; and certainly not effectively. The Phoenix Program – and the entire rationale for going to war in Vietnam – should have been debated, approved or sanctioned by the Congress. Instead, Phoenix and many other programs simply became official U.S. policy by default, just as our current “secret wars” are becoming official policy by default. My father took the blame for the Phoenix Program, but he was really just doing his job, and doing it very well – maybe too well. According to General Vo Nguyen Giap, the former Commander of the Vietnam People’s Army, “Phoenix hurt us.”
Today, CIA and Joint Special Operations Command offensive operations across the globe may well be the most effective and low-cost manner for the U.S. to combat Islamic extremists (Al Qaeda and the Taliban) in terms of blood and treasure, but it is up to the President to explain and “sell” this “secret war” to Congress and the American people. The Congress should subject this policy to vigorous debate; is it right, is it moral or is it necessary? Is it in keeping with American values? As Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and an old friend of my father, said to me, “What are we (Americans) afraid of?”
If we judge a policy or an action to be immoral and not in keeping with our values, then we should not engage in that action and we should suffer the consequences.
For instance, we should openly and honestly and exhaustively debate the legality of employing drones in warfare.
We should debate the merit and legality of mounting operations to kill Al-Awlaki, the American-born Al Qaeda operative and others of his ilk. These legal rulings should not be kept sealed. We need to lay bare the overall rules of engagement for this “secret war.” I am not advocating for the release of operational details or other mission-specific secrets, but as Senator Leahy so bluntly said: “What are we afraid of?” For we Americans have a right to know what kind of war we are fighting, as it is being fought in our good name.
Who Will “Take The Heat?”
In this current murky netherworld of secret operations being ordered up without full and proper Congressional oversight and clear lines of executive legal authority, the CIA’s Director and the Department of Defense and its Secretary will be blamed when the next drone strike or CIA or JSOC operation goes awry. Extremely talented and gifted officers such as General John Allen, General James Mattis, General H.R. McMaster and Admiral William McRaven will be asked to “take the heat” and will be dragged before Congress, but as in my father’s case in the 1970’s, it should be the President who should be blamed, not the Director of the CIA or the Secretary of Defense or any of their senior or junior officers for the President sets the policy and approves all secret “findings” authorizing covert actions and drone attacks, not the CIA or JSOC, who serve the President. My worry is that the successor to former CIA Director David Petraeus and the talented men and women at CIA and JSOC and USSOCOM will become the next “whipping boys,” just as my father was excoriated for his role in Phoenix and other operations, when he was carrying out his Presidents’ orders.
Although my father’s death remains a mystery, his life does not; he served his country honorably. In my film, I come to the sad conclusion that his country, the Congress, and the White House did not serve him honorably. He “fell on his sword” so to speak and willingly became a sacrificial lamb and never uttered a word of protest or complaint. But my worry now is will the Congress, the White House and American people treat former CIA Director David Petraeus or the new CIA Director honorably when the winds shift and the Agency is again blamed for purportedly “illegal activities,” which were actually ordered up by President Obama himself?
My father would likely say, “do the right and honorable thing, act on your conscience and upon the law. After all, we are Americans.”
– DIG DEEPER Written by Carl Colby (‘The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father CIA Spymaster William Colby’), Edited by Adam Paul Smith, Featured Image Source: Linda Davidson / The Washington Post, Images Courtesy ‘TMNK’