Tim Weiner and film director Carl Colby discuss the film The Man Nobody Knew, which uncovers the secret world of a legendary CIA spymaster William Colby.
DAVID JOHNSON: I think we're going -- think we're going to begin.
I'm David Johnson. I'm the producer of the film. Thank you all very much for coming. Thank you also to Dina and Tim for participating and to Barry (ph) and the council of organizing and sponsoring the screening tonight.
I'm very proud of this film, and I'm also proud of those involved. I'd like to give a special thanks to your member, Rubin Jeffrey (ph), who supported the film and also recognize the team who worked on it, especially Carl.
This is a very difficult film to make in that it's highly personal to look at his relationship with his father and his father's relationship to his family and especially his mother, to be both at the same time objective and not objective while making the film and to see all of this in the context of his father's very controversial work.
I think that Carl's been very successful at it. And the critics agree: His work on the film has been recognized very -- with very positive reviews, including the Times' Critics' Pick.
We made the film to underscore the vital importance of understanding, transparency and consensus in determining our policies in respect to covert action. This message, I think, has never been more important than it is today.
But it's the personal side that comes through in the film that gives it its emotional core. And as it turns out, that also is really timely now.
So with that, thank you again for coming. I very appreciate your coming, and I hope you enjoy the film. Thank you.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: I thought I would start by saying I have come to enough council meetings to know that they're always supposed to be exactly on time, and this is one of the things that is really great about a council meeting. And unfortunately, this one I'm moderating is unlikely to be exactly on time, and I apologize for that. If you need to go before we're actually winding up -- we're running about 10 minutes late for various reasons -- I understand.
But welcome to today's meeting with Carl Colby and Tim Weiner. Mr. Colby directed the film that you just saw about his father. And Tim Weiner is the author of "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA" and "Enemies: The History of the FBI," which, incidentally, was just named one of The Washington Post's best book of the year, so congratulations on that. (Applause.)
I'd like to start the meeting by asking you, as we always do, to please turn your phones off, if they aren't already off, and completely off, not on vibrate, because it messes with the sound system here. And I'd like to remind both of you that this meeting is on the record so -- not that that should matter.
TIM WEINER: Everything I do is on the record.
TEMPLE-RASTON: (Chuckles.) Me too. (Chuckles.)
CARL COLBY: Everything you write about is on the record.
So I've seen this film a couple of times, and most recently, actually, this afternoon. And I thought that given recent events, I'd start to talk to you a little bit about the difference between public and private morality at the CIA. And toward the end of the movie, as your father is testifying before the Church Committee, you cut to your mother, who said that your father's moral compass was, quote, "seeing us through." So let's talk a little bit about the internal moral gyroscope of someone who's at the top of the CIA. And Tim, I wanted to start with you, if you could sort of set of table on that a little bit for us.
TIM WEINER: If I can.
An officer in the clandestine service of the Central Intelligence Agency, when he serves abroad or she serves abroad, has to be a species of legal criminal. Espionage is illegal everywhere. An officer in the clandestine service has to lie about whom he or she is and induce people to commit treason against their own country.
And then this (self ?) same officer has to come back to Washington and deal straight with his fellow Americans, whether it's inside CIA headquarters or, God help them, in front of the sworn testimony before Congress.
In order to do this and not go mad, the officer needs not merely a moral compass but a moral gyroscope that can keep them right and keep them straight.
And one of the extraordinary things about Bill Colby is that he did. And that's why this film is possibly the best film ever made about the CIA because it shows you the gyroscope spinning and trying to stay centered.
TEMPLE-RASTON: I wanted to ask you, Carl, if you could take this same theme but bring it down to the personal. And can you share some anecdotes in which you saw this come up with your father, this division between public and private morality?
COLBY: Well, I think some of the members of this audience, if not themselves, like Ambassador Gregg and others who are here, their parents certainly were cut from the same cloth as my father. It wasn't about him. It was about you or others. He always seemed to serve. He wasn't tooting his own horn, so much so that it took me until I was about 25 that I even thought about having any career whatsoever. It was not about you. It was about what someone else is doing, what someone else is saying and what I can glean from them and, inversely, help them.
I mean, this is probably one of the more -- one of the gentlest, gentler warriors that some of us have ever known. This was not the "The Great Santini." He was not physically abusive. He was not pushy and shoved and in your face. If anything, he coaxed you to become honest, to tell you and to trust him. Even as a little boy, people would come to the house, priests in Vietnam, Vietnamese officers, opposition party people that we would go to the -- (inaudible) -- Peak (ph) and dine with.
And you could see him bringing them into the fold. He wasn't going out to some outpost like a McDonald's out in, you know, Rockland County and passing somebody $5,000. He was bringing that person that Tim describes into the house. And that's an act of faith and an act of trust. And I think he (could have ?) operated in that zone all of his life.
And it was really telling at his funeral, because it would never be something he would say; a number of people came up to me and said, I knew your father; you'll never see me again -- (laughter) -- and you don't know who I am, but let me tell you something about your father. And I -- one of them said to me once -- and I think he would do this repeatedly, but -- late '60s, Vietnam, running the pacification program, Phoenix -- et cetera, the whole apparatus; he would get out of Saigon as often as possible. So on a Friday he would take a helicopter and go out to the Central Highlands and drop into some forward operating base and be deposited there. And then the staff and his little retinue and the helicopter would say, well, all right, Ambassador Colby, four-star rank, time to go home. He'd say, go on back to Ton Son Nhut. And they said, well, what about -- leave me here. Come for me in the morning. And one of these officers once told me that he stayed the night and took the midnight to 4:00 a.m. watch, the perimeter watch, with a weapon.
He's a soldier. He's that person that you call on at the pointy edge of the spear when you need him. And maybe the tough part for all of us is when do we need these people? And if we then sign that finding, do we know -- are we following through and supporting and helping this person? It's sort of up to you to sign that finding. And as the American people, I wonder -- and we'll get into this later -- but what are the -- where are the benchmarks? What is the arena that we're operating in? And what should we approve and what should we not approve of? And what is the morality of that?
TEMPLE-RASTON: You know, we were talking earlier today on the phone about whether or not General Petraeus fits into this mold. You know, we were naturally sort of going that way. And Tim, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about this. You were -- you actually made a very good point, which is why he -- General Petraeus doesn't fit into this mold at all, that he's not an agency man, that he's really an Army man.
WEINER: Because he's a four-star general --
WEINER: -- who believes he is descended from Dwight Eisenhower, Napoleon Bonaparte and Zeus, each of whom had their own sexual peccadilloes -- (laughter) -- if you'll recall.
A four-star -- you said your father had four-star rank. A four-star combatant commander in the Army today is a viceroy. He's much more powerful than an ambassador. He is the most powerful American in his part of the world, OK? And he is dealing with the most -- he is using the most powerful force on earth, which is the American military, as a blunt instrument, OK?
Forget about counterinsurgency and the subtleties of the Phoenix Program, which were to gather intelligence. General Petraeus -- you know, his intellectual reputation is as the master of counterinsurgency, right? How could someone that brilliant be this stupid? Let's leave him aside for the moment.
The director of central intelligence, during the period before September 11th, 2001, OK, was trying to command something very powerful and very subtle. And it's very valuable that you had a Jesuit scholar, I think, in your film, because the Jesuits tell us that there's two kinds of ignorance in this world. There is invincible ignorance. God is mysterious. We live in a fallen world. And there are mysteries that cannot be solved. And then there's vincible ignorance. And that's all the stuff that you need to know, but it's too hard, and those are secrets.
And that's why you have an intelligence service, to figure out secrets -- not mysteries, secrets. You need this to run an army. You need this if you're a superpower. You need this if you're going to project your power beyond your borders and over the horizon, so that your soldiers don't get killed. That's why we had an intelligence service before 9/11. After 9/11 -- that's another issue.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Do you want to give us two sentences of what the other issue is?
WEINER: Well, the CIA now has become a second-echelon support service for the Pentagon, whose job is to kill people and let God sort it out.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That was two sentences. (Chuckles.)
I wanted to just --
COLBY: No, I mean, to walk on that -- down that path, I think -- I'm just projecting, but I think my father would be very happy about the ascendancy of the CIA. He certainly would be distressed by this latest little scandal, but he certainly would be gratified that the CIA was, in a sense, in its ascendancy.
But he might question the use of drones, for instance, not so much to take out the top echelon, the -- as my father said in the testimony, or in -- he volunteered that he would have gladly carried the bomb into Hitler's bunker in Poland in 1944. Well, he obviously would have approved of taking out bin Laden with a drone or something else.
But he also is very -- it's not a moral question so much for him, even though that's part of it, but it's really more inefficiency. He wouldn't think of it as very smart to -- if I wanted to take out these three characters here, that we send a drone in here and take out the whole house, and the rest of you will obviously -- and the rest of the staff here, and the whole neighborhood, be very alienated. They know this -- Americans are doing it.
He'd rather capture, interrogate and, best of all, turn one of you. Why kill you? When I kill you, you're useless. As a matter of fact, you might be worse than useless; you're a martyr.
WEINER: You can see this moment in the movie, in the stills of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld in the White House, looking at Bill Colby with contempt on their face, can't you? Anybody recognize that? (Laughter.) When Rumsfeld and Cheney look at Bill Colby with contempt on their face and say, what good is intelligence, what they're saying is, my mind is made up; don't confuse me with the facts. And that is part of the story of the CIA after 9/11.
COLBY: It also might have something to do with the fact that, you know, my father was, in some ways, like an Edwardian schoolboy. You know, he had lived in Army bases all of his life; he never spent more than 2 1/2 years in any one base in the United States. He then went to Tientsin, China, in 1932, goes to a British school, sees the Manchurian -- the threat of the Japanese coming into Manchuria. He lives in a concession. He sees the infantry there, the American infantry, and what are -- what is at play here.
And he takes the longer view. He -- as many in his generation, he was somewhat of an Anglophile, and he understood the British don't commit tens of thousands of boys from Leeds and Manchester to go to Malaysia to fight the Chinese sort of insurrection. They recruit locals. They have other people do their bidding. And as our -- my friend Jonathan Clarke, the -- who's labeled as the senior officer of British intelligence --
WEINER: He's the (Brit ?).
COLBY: I loved that because I called Jonathan -- I was a little uncomfortable. I said, well, I need the title for you. (Laughter.) And I'm being rather subtle -- I mean, I'm being rather reductive of -- and for instance, Tim is labeled "journalist, or Bob Woodward, journalist, Donald Gregg here -- who's here tonight -- (chuckles) -- Ambassador Donald Gregg, but it -- veteran CIA. There are many things that Ambassador Gregg has done. But -- and he said, yeah -- I said, I'd like to say something about British intelligence. He said, you know, how about just "dedicated public servant"? (Laughter.)
And the British, they -- why were they in these countries? Are they spreading altruism? Are they trying to convert you? No, there are markets at play. And I think my father was sort of born and bred really as a young English boy, in a sense, and so he understood the adventuresome of it all, but I think he understood the limits. But he also had a lot more patience than most Americans. And I think he understood that counterinsurgency was a long slog, usually doesn't work out, goes badly. And it's just a way of projecting power and try to -- but try to minimize the losses to us.
TEMPLE-RASTON: I wanted to try and take advantage of the fact that we have a former CIA director's son talking about this and talk a little bit about what that was like. You were 17 when the Vietnam War started. You were 11 when your family left Saigon. What were dinner conversations like? (Laughter.) What was -- what was the conversation -- (inaudible) --
COLBY: Well, dinner conversations and -- (chuckles) -- well, as a friend of the family in the front row here would remember, that my father was an only child. My mother was also an only child. So to have a family full of rambunctious intellects kind of run amok, particularly the young Princetonians here, to come in and discuss Vietnam or discuss the Arab-Israeli War or the -- what's going on in '67, to hear all that, it was open season at the table. And my mother actually went -- after a while, you know, my mother would say, all right -- (inaudible) -- my father in his French would say, you know, doucement, like, quiet down; it's getting out of control. But we felt we were freely able to talk about the world as citizens of the world and as players.
And I think it was very open discussion. He liked being questioned. I remember he said -- I said, you know, why'd you call your book "Honorable Men"? (Scattered laughter.) He said, well, it's -- you know, I think the CIA are mostly made up of honorable men. And, you know, it's from William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." I said, yeah, I know, Dad, but he -- but Shakespeare meant it ironically. He sort of didn't get that. (Laughter.) And he's not silly or dumb. He -- but he had direction.
And as you can see, there's a strong Catholic element, obviously, in the film. He was on a mission. And he might not have shown up to my game. Frankly, he didn't know what sport I was playing. He didn't come to my graduation. But I didn't mind. And I'm not sure that some other friends of the family would acknowledge the other brothers or siblings felt the same way, but he was tasked with something special. He was on a mission. And we supported that in our own small way.
I remember once I said to him, oh, I went hunting with this friend of yours, Mr. X, you know, terrific guy, you know, really great shot and whatever. He goes, terrific, wonderful. He said, never mention his name again. (Scattered laughter.) So I thought, oh, well, he must be deep cover. And so my little part in the family was to protect my father.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And where were you when your father was fired? And do you remember the conversation you had -- (inaudible) -- that happened?
COLBY: It was -- I was in Washington, and I would -- was living there, and I'd come in and out of the house and -- as a young sort of in your 20s guy, taking advantage of the family dinner and the laundry facilities was a great idea. And he was actually quite upset about that period. He -- I remember him saying, I was offered the ambassadorship to Norway, and I'm really -- he didn't say, I was insulted, but he was just peeved about it. He said, oh, they're giving me like a sop, you know, like --
WEINER: Well, that's just what they did to Helms.
COLBY: And then he was offered, though, ambassador to NATO. And I thought, that's a serious job. And he was sort of put off by that as well. And I thought, well, he's out of the club now. And I think it was difficult for him to adjust in some ways afterwards.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And did -- and aside from that, did he talk about -- right after it happened? Did he feel like they had thrown him under the bus?
COLBY: He wasn't -- he never -- he would never blame anyone for anything.
WEINER: The beauty --
COLBY: If anything, I think he felt he was -- I mean, this is my extrapolation, but he did what had to be done. He was the sacrificial lamb. He had -- he said what he said, and I think he knew where it was going.
WEINER: Carl, the beauty of his life, I think, after the CIA, was that he spent 15 years, until he died of drowning, trying to beat swords into plowshares. He worked very hard at this. He worked for nuclear disarmament. He worked for -- this is an old-fashioned term -- peaceful coexistence. He even went on a road show with Oleg Kalugin, of all people. It was a good show. He devoted his life, in the same way that he devoted his work in the agency, to trying -- not to make war, but a just peace. That means something.
TEMPLE-RASTON: What I wanted to do now is, because we're running a little bit late, I wanted to put questions out to the audience now so that you can join our conversation. And if you could wait for the microphone, please, and stand up and give your name and your affiliation And please make your question a question.
COLBY: Maybe start with Ambassador Gregg out there.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And I'd like to start with Ambassador Gregg back there.
QUESTIONER: This is the second time I've seen this film, and it is even more powerful the second time than the first time. The last time I saw David Petraeus, who I think should not have been forced to resign, I told him he ought to see this film because, I said to him, nobody escapes the DCI position with a whole skin. And this film shows more clearly than anything I can think of the terrible mind that a director gets caught in between the demands from Congress for secrets that they cannot keep and the withholding of secrets that must be withheld. So congratulations.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, Carl actually has a story to this.
TEMPLE-RASTON: About the legacy.
COLBY: Which was the -- ?
TEMPLE-RASTON: At the dinner.
COLBY: Oh. Hmm. Yeah, a little bit of gossip. But a couple of weeks ago I was at this OSS dinner because I'm on the board, and a nice way to honor my father. And so I had some friends, Reuben Jeffrey, who's a member here, and John Nagl, who I believe also is a member here, and Richard Fontaine, who is with CNAS, and my son, who is in the Marine Corps, and a few other people.
And at the end of the evening -- it went on way too long. It was in honor of Secretary Bob Gates. And Petraeus spoke. And Ms. Broadwell sort of presented herself. And she said -- leading from the front, so to speak. (Scattered laughter.) And she said, oh, that General Petraeus loved your movie, he's seen it several times, he's recommended it to me and to many others. And I said, oh, that's very good, and I know that he -- we're working our way through the channels at CIA to show it in the bubble to the senior clandestine services, which I did with Admiral McRaven down at SOCOM headquarters in Tampa, which was very interesting.
Anyway, she said, oh, well, that's terrific. But, she said, you know, he had one question when he watched the film.
I said: Really? What's that?
She said: He said to me, what's my legacy going to be?
I thought that was sort of striking because, in contrast to my father, I don't think he ever thought about what's my legacy going to be. He was just doing his job as best he knew how and holding on to whatever rudder was his lodestone.
And I sort of thought not much of it, and then the next morning, 6 a.m., I get emails from the both of them, the general and Paula, sort of talking about the movie and this and that.
And I thought, well, this is a little unusual.
MR. : You're up early. (Laughter.)
COLBY: You're both up early. (Laughter.)
TEMPLE-RASTON: (Inaudible) -- hoping not to go this way.
TEMPLE-RASTON: I thought the legacy was an interesting thing.
MR. : Next question, please.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Next question, please.
COLBY: Thanks, Ambassador. I'm sorry.
TEMPLE-RASTON: This gentleman right here, and then I'll get to you right afterwards.
QUESTIONER: Hi. My name is Gordon Goldstein (sp). This is a question for Mr. Colby, or for Tim Weiner if he has insight into it. I'd like to ask about Vietnam. And I'd like to pose the question by reference to a contemporary colleague of Bill Colby's, and that's McGeorge Bundy. Late in his life, McGeorge Bundy, after 30 years of relative silence about Vietnam, embarked on a retrospective analysis of that war and concluded that in his estimation, the war could not be won, could not be won by virtue of counterinsurgency strategies and it could not be won by virtue of General Westmoreland's 44 battalions either. And I'm wondering if -- late in life, if Bill Colby reflected on Vietnam and how he assessed, retrospectively, the viability of actually winning in that conflict.
COLBY: Well, let me answer the personal part, and then Tim can -- but my father was on the "No Apology Tour" -- (laughter) -- about Vietnam. He -- as my -- one of my siblings says, who works for the Justice Department, I, like -- I sleep the sleep of the just. He did not feel that he had done wrong. He might have had some issues with the legalities, the very American concept of, you know, what's properly legal within that framework. And I think he struggled with that, and I think Senator Bob Kerrey reflects on that in the film as well, because he was very close to my father and actually delivered his eulogy at National Cathedral.
But I think my father felt that he had fought that war the way it had to be fought. It's harsh to say, but I think he almost took some solace in the fact that General Giap -- G-I-A-P, head of the North Vietnamese forces for that whole period, beginning late -- early '50s, whatever -- said Colby and -- Colby and Phoenix hurt us. He actually was quoted as saying all that shooting into the jungle and Westmoreland was ineffectual -- it actually helped them -- but Phoenix hurt us. I think he knew how to fight that war.
The fact that we all -- I'm not going to say "abandoned," but the Vietnam war was lost as much here at home as anywhere else. There was no more political support. And I think my father lived in somewhat of a cocoon as he would travel back in the late '60s, early '70s, thinking, well, I'm doing a terrific -- you know, it's going well -- I know we're not doing a terrific job, but it's going well, and we're making progress.
And he was actually emboldened and almost thought it proved his case that the capture or the taking of Vietnam by the North Vietnamese was achieved by an armored invasion of a tank crashing through the gates. This was not counter -- this was not an insurgency. The insurgency had been defeated. But -- and Jim can -- Tim can reflect on this, obviously -- is that 15 years later, with little or no support from, I would say, either the White House, but certainly from Congress, there was no way it was going to be continued.
And there you go back to what my father perhaps had thought about, you know, how had the British done this effectively. But they take that longer view, and they have other surrogates working for them.
But I'd have to say he was on the "No Apology Tour." He did not feel there was a mea culpa to be delivered at the end of his life about that.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Do you want to add something, Tim?
WEINER: That -- and I beg to differ with Carl -- was a very narrow perspective held within certain quarters of the clandestine service. It was the general consensus of most of the analysts and many of the clandestine service officers who served in Vietnam from the '50s into the '70s that this was a political war that could not be won by military means. They tried to tell President Kennedy this, and they tried to tell President Johnson this, and they tried to tell President Nixon this, and they did an honorable and honest job, the analysts in particular, of trying to deliver a message.
And presidents didn't want to hear it. Their mind was made up. They did not want to be confused with facts from their intelligence service. And more than 50,000 American died and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died because presidents wouldn't listen to the general consensus of the Central Intelligence Agency and, laterally, the American people.
COLBY: I don't disagree with Tim. I -- as he says, I agree that the analysts were very skeptical, and friends of my father's --
WEINER: They were adamant.
COLBY: I mean, Bob Myers, some people who -- some of you would remember Bob Myers, a lot of -- people left in the '60s -- '66, '67, '68. It was -- his old friend, who's in the film, you know, Tom McCoy, he became Eugene McCarthy's campaign finance chairman. (Chuckles.) I mean, the tide had turned. It was -- also wasn't any fun anymore for this crowd. It had been free reign up until then.
But I do think that he felt that he had fought the war the way it had to be fought.
But as Tim says -- and, you know, we could talk about this war and you cover -- I mean, let's bring it back to Dina and what she knows and how she covers the conflicts we have now -- where is the support now? Why do we have John Allen, for instance, that's just to name one, or General Mattis -- why is General Mattis or John Allen or others, why are they the ones who have to, in a sense, sell us on this war? We get no word from the White House almost at all. It was hardly mentioned in the campaign. And yet we have, what, 1 (percent) to 2 percent -- I mean, they're -- two nights from now a lot of us will gather at our homes and it'll be terrific and we'll have a Thanksgiving. And well, what are there, a hundred thousand families that will be missing a person at the table.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Oh, it is remarkable that it didn't come up in the campaign, and there is no question --
COLBY: But why is there no dialogue about -- a larger dialogue about these wars? Are people -- I've asked this on college campuses, and Tim, you've traveled a lot -- is it that it's a post-9/11 generation and they feel that -- sort of a grudging there must be some conflict that we need to engage in, so I'm not going to question it? I mean, how do you feel that?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think there is some weariness. I think that's a lot of it. I think the conversation is -- has lost a -- and we can be regular people without having to worry about the war there. It's not in our faces every single day. You never see it on the news.
WEINER: Why do you have an intelligence service? Why? Why did Sun Tzu write "The Art of War," OK? Sun Tzu tells you everything you need to know about intelligence in three words: Know your enemy. Why do you have an intelligence service? When it succeeds, it can keep you out of war. If you're in a war, it can save lives. If presidents -- and I would cite the disciple of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush -- if presidents already have their minds made up, they don't want the intelligence service to confuse them with facts. And so they go to war.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, sir. Gentleman in the back.
QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Allan Dodds Frank. I'm an old newsman. I do have a question, Carl, but first I have to congratulate you. I thought that was a terrific, terrific piece of work. I have twin 18-year-old daughters, and I'm going to try to have them see it as soon as possible so they have some perspective on the '60s when I was a college student and war protest and then again reporter in Washington covering almost everybody in the film.
My question is about the one omission that struck me. What did your father think of his predecessor, Mr. Helms, and his moral compass?
COLBY: Well, I'm not going to reflect on Helms' moral compass, but it's almost Shakespearean in its tragic implication, something -- Helms was my father's mentor and promoted him every step of the way. I think Helms just did not think that he was beholden to the Congress. And my father even told me once ruefully, he said, you know, I went down to the -- Senator Stennis today and was briefing on him on some of our operations, and -- I don't mean to bore you with my bad southern accent, but he said -- the senator interrupted him and just said, I don't really need to hear a lot of those details about those operations; you, Mr. Colby, just continue on you way and go about your business, and don't --
If as if --
MR. : Those were the days.
COLBY: -- I don't want to hear about it.
And I think -- I think it was actually quite difficult for my father to have to, in a sense, testify against or force Helms into a position of -- where he had to plead no lo contendre and was the only CIA director --
WEINER: Up until now.
COLBY: -- who was convicted of a felony -- or not a -- was it a --
WEINER: It was a misdemeanor, a misdemeanor, violation of failing to testify fully before Congress. He was fined $2,000. They passed the hat at CIA and collected it before lunch. (Scattered laughter.)
COLBY: And he in many ways is much more highly regarded in even the contemporary CIA now, strangely enough, or -- just as a fact, than my father.
WEINER: Richard Helms served Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. God help him. (Scattered laughter.) He didn't serve the Congress.
COLBY: Well, I don't think he was -- I mean, I think now you get into another discussion before I'm not trying -- I am the Jesuit-educated character here, so I'll (play ?) -- (laughter) -- a bit of the contrarian, but this was a man who was -- grew up in the OSS world, like my dad, but who was the paramilitary one, but I think he really felt his charge a bit like -- you would know this -- up to a few years ago it was basically -- was it illegal for you to publish the name of Sir John Scarlett (head ?) of MI6?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, it was. You're exactly right.
COLBY: I think Helms is from that school: I am tasked to brief ever so lightly or brief a few senators on what we're doing, and the -- I work for the president, and the president makes the decisions. And --
WEINER: But Helms also had a moral compass. I talked with him about this once, about assassination. This was way before 9/11. Dick Helms died in 2002. And we're talking about the assassination plots and whether there was a moral justification for the United States to knock off in this case Saddam Hussein. This conversation took place, if I remember correctly, in 1998. And he said, forget about morality. Forget about the brotherhood of man. Let's be practical here. If you kill their leaders, why shouldn't they kill yours?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Actually, let me give -- this'll be the last question. Any other questions?
QUESTIONER: (Off mic.)
QUESTIONER: (Off mic.) What was your father's attitude toward the press, and how did that differ from Helms'?
COLBY: (Chuckles.) Well, you know that very well. But I would think he's just a completely night and day difference.
I -- you know, some would say my father was very naive. I've talked to some Englishmen, for instance, who would say, what was he thinking? You know, you'd draw -- you stretch out this idea of oversight. You start to volunteer things that are -- aren't even being asked of you to clarify.
And there are different ways of looking at my father. I mean, here he is, giving the Church Committee extra things they're not even asking for to clarify. What was he thinking? And I remember telling him, I said -- or yelling at him or whatever about it -- I said, you know, you're just throwing kerosene on the fire. Woodward and Hersh, all they're interested in is another -- let's throw him in there too -- they're all interested in another story, and you're going to burn to death. They're after you.
And he just didn't see it that way. He thought, well, there is good secrets and bad secrets. A bad -- a good secret is the name of a Yemeni -- Saudi Arabian operative in Yemen -- Yemen now --
WEINER: An agent who's working for you.
COLBY: But a bad -- a bad secret that needs to get out is that, oh, God, we made this attempt back in, you know, 1967 on so and so, and that happened. I mean, you wrote the "Enemies" book too, but some people have said that if there was a referendum -- remember, in 1973 or (197)4, when the secret comes out, the "Jewels," -- 697 instances of wrongdoing, all right, all piled into one release -- what if it had been posited to the American people in 1963? You know, maybe we ought to -- you know, we're trying to assassinate Castro. What would the American people say? Some of them might say, good idea.
WEINER: Why didn't you succeed?
COLBY: (Chuckles.) That's probably the better question.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Twenty-eight times.
WEINER: Dick Helms --
COLBY: As Walter Pincus says, nobody in Washington doesn't -- what they don't like is failure, right?
WEINER: Dick Helms, when he was 23 years old, went to Germany. It was 1936. He was a reporter for United Press International. He got a scoop. He interviewed Hitler at the Olympics.
TEMPLE-RASTON: No way.
WEINER: Dick Helms loved newspapermen. And he knew how to use them and abuse them. He saw information and intelligence as one and the same thing. Intelligence is just a billion-dollar word for information. One of the tragedies of Bill Colby is that he got caught in Nixon's web, and that is why he fell, and that is why he suffered.
I would like to close after you guys because I have something that I really, really want to read here.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Is it short?
WEINER: It's real short.
TEMPLE-RASTON: OK. Excellent. Well, why don't you go ahead and do that?
WEINER: You want to do the preamble? This is from your dad's funeral.
COLBY: Well, this was my -- some of you -- some of you in the room, actually, attended my father's service at the National Cathedral, and this was a remark -- remarks made by my niece, Emily Colby, and -- from Ecclesiastes.
WEINER: Yeah, and this is also why this movie is a great movie that will live long after you and I are gone.
This is from Ecclesiastes 44: Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors and their generation. There were those who ruled in their kingdoms and made a name for themselves by their valor, those who gave counsel because they were intelligent, those who spoke in prophetic oracles, those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people's lore. All these were honored in their generations and were the pride of their times. Some of them have left behind a name so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory. They have perished as though they had never existed. They have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Tim Weiner, Carl Colby and I'm Dina Temple-Raston. (Applause.) Thanks -- (inaudible) --
WEINER: Thanks, Dina. It was very good.
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