National Security Archive: Finally released – CIA History of DCI William Colby

28 October 2011 — National Security Archive

Finally Qualifies as “Non-Secret”
CIA Director Distinguishes “bad”/”good”/”lesser” and “non-secrets”
Colby Bio-Documentary Opens in Washington October 28

For more information contact: John Prados – 202/994-7000

Washington, D.C., October 28, 2011 – CIA director William Colby rebuffed criticisms from senior Agency operators about disclosure of CIA misdeeds by describing the difference between “bad secrets,” “non-secrets,” “good secrets” and “lesser” secrets, according to a previously SECRET internal CIA history of the Colby tenure, published today on the Web by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (

Colby responded in March 1974 to the head of the CIA’s clandestine service, who claimed that any public discussion would “degrade the fabric of our security” and “lead inevitably to a further exposure of intelligence sources and methods,” by writing:

“There are some ‘bad secrets’ which are properly revealed by an aggressive press. there are some older ‘non-secrets’ which no longer need to be kept secret and which we should gradually surface, but there are some ‘good secrets’ which deserve greater protection than we have been able to give them, in part by reason of their association with ‘secrets’ of lesser importance.”

The latest declassification (in August 2011) from a series of secret studies by the CIA History Staff of the agency’s directors, the volume gains credibility from its authorship by veteran CIA analyst and operative Harold Ford, who courageously presented to the Congress well-documented internal critiques of CIA director-designate Robert Gates during his confirmation hearings in 1991. To win confirmation, Gates had to promise Congress not to fire Ford in retaliation. The history, William Colby as Director of Central Intelligence, 1973-1976, provides detailed accounts of key episodes such as the firing of counterintelligence chief James Angleton, Colby’s role in the revelation of the CIA “family jewels,” and the collapse of South Vietnam, where Colby had spent much of his career.

The posting features an introduction and review written by Archive senior fellow John Prados, author of the widely-praised biography, William Colby and the CIA: The Secret Wars of a Controversial Spymaster (University Press of Kansas, 2009). The favorable Prados review points out some shortcomings as well, including the history’s lack of attention to Colby’s fraught relationships with Presidents Nixon and Ford, and most of all, Henry Kissinger. Declassified Kissinger transcripts show Kissinger fuming about Colby’s airing of the CIA’s dirty laundry, but Prados concludes that Colby in effect saved the CIA from possible abolition as an agency.

Opening in Washington, D.C. on October 28 at the Landmark E Street Theater is a biographic documentary produced by Colby’s son Carl, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby.

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THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.

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