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CIA Employees and Family Solve 'Mystery' of Colby Portrait


The CIA Museum features a variety of artifacts from the Cold War, operations in Afghanistan, as well as portraits of former directors.  A portrait of former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), William Colby, has long intrigued employees and visitors. Find out why and how the CIA Museum staff recently solved the mystery with help from the CIA workforce.

The Mystery

In the portrait, the late DCI Colby holds two pencils in his right hand in a “V” formation. Colby left no explanation for why he posed this way.  Several months ago, the Museum Staff challenged CIA employees to provide clues to unravel the mystery.  They asked for information based on personal recollections, formal sources, or corroborated research.

The Clues

Four employees confirmed that Colby had a habit of playing with two pencils.  The Museum Staff then set out to discover any symbolism in the way he held the objects, interviewing more Colby family members.  After the staff met with members of the Colby family who had never been interviewed about the portrait, the rest of the story unfolded.

The Answer

Colby had told his family that he wanted the two pencils to represent the two pillars of the CIA: technology and Human Intelligence (HUMINT).  His children recalled that Colby always talked about the importance of technology.  He wanted technical innovation to be as highly regarded at CIA as Human Intelligence.  Historian Harold P. Ford contemporaneously described Colby’s philosophy on the evolution of the intelligence business as, “the computer had displaced the trench coat; operations officers must work more closely with CIA’s analysts and technicians.”


Learn more about DCI Colby:

William Colby: Retrospect

Oral History: Reflections of DCI Colby and Helms on the CIA’s “Time of Troubles”

Directors of Central Intelligence, 1946-2005

Historical Document
Posted: Sep 06, 2012 07:32 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 01:01 PM