Son makes film to dive into his father, William Colby’s, life as CIA director

Olivia Arena

Carl Colby grew up as the son of a spy, not necessarily a father. Shrouded in mystery, William Colby spent nearly 30 years serving the United States as both CIA director and Spymaster. In Colby’s self-directed film, “The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby,” he attempts to delve into the complex life his father led all the while exploring the turbulent political scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The film was screened Tuesday during election night at the A.C.E.S. building.

“This occurred when the executive branch under [Richard] Nixon was under fire. There was a lot of hostility between the Democratic Congress and the Republican administration, Watergate and Vietnam,” Bartholomew Sparrow, a government professor acquainted with Carl Colby who coordinated the event, said. “So because of this it doesn’t give [William] Colby much room to be an innovator or an entrepreneur or a big leader.”

The movie serves as a combination of history and Carl Colby’s personal experiences. Infusing the historical events of the ‘60s and ‘70s with his own father’s struggles and ambitions, Carl Colby finds a balance between informational and personal.

Colby’s mother gave the most insightful interviews. Married to William Colby for nearly 30 years, she lived a life that at times she did not even understand. Changing identities daily, she lived life undercover and on a need-to-know basis.

“This is not my story. It’s my father’s story. I was trying to make you be me,” Carl Colby said. “My mother is charming and very articulate, but the privilege that you get is that she’s talking to me. She isn’t talking for the ages as much, so you get this intimacy in her interviews.”

Carl Colby’s personal commentary evolves as the story of his father progresses. The beginning of the film shows a naive Carl Colby childishly admiring his father, the spy. But as he comes of age in the late Vietnam era, Carl Colby begins to question the morality and motives of his father.

“I always adored him. He was a god figure. He was the boss. He ran the house. What he said goes. He picks everything, and my mother went along with it,” Colby said. “But I had always respected him, and then I started to question what he was doing. And as I became a teenager and the Vietnam era came around, I started to question these things. ‘Well, who was he, and is he really guilty of these things?’ It makes you wonder.”

William Colby was appointed director of the CIA under Nixon and later served under Gerald Ford. In the mid-seventies, William Colby was brought before Congress first to testify on the Phoenix Program, a controversial village-based approach to combat in Vietnam, and then to justify the existence of the CIA. Revealing too much information, William Colby was promptly removed as head of the CIA in late 1975.

“I think he was a dedicated soldier who took on every tough assignment until he was asked to lie to Congress. I think he was unsettled by being thrown out of the CIA, by the whole experience of having to go before Congress, and then being cast off like a sacrificial lamb by the administration,” Colby said. “He had very little respect for Ford, [Donald] Rumsfeld, [Henry] Kissinger and {Dick] Cheney, the whole crowd. He felt like they were politically expedient.”

After he left the CIA, William Colby became a shadow of his former self or as his son describes him, a ghost.

“There are lots of successes: people who had hoped for the best, promoted to this, promoted to that. It’s the ambition, its palpable. You can feel it,” Colby said. “Washington is full of ghosts, men walking around who were somebody.”