Happy Book Birthday to Murder, Inc.

Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a books life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to Murder, Inc.: The CIA under John F. Kennedy (Potomac Books, 2019) by James H. Johnston

About the Book

Late in his life, former president Lyndon B. Johnson told a reporter that he didn’t believe the Warren Commission’s finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President John F. Kennedy. Johnson thought Cuban president Fidel Castro was behind it. After all, Johnson said, Kennedy was running “a damned Murder, Inc., in the Caribbean,” giving Castro reason to retaliate. 

Murder, Inc., tells the story of the CIA’s assassination operations under Kennedy up to his own assassination and beyond. James H. Johnston was a lawyer for the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1975, which investigated and first reported on the Castro assassination plots and their relation to Kennedy’s murder. Johnston examines how the CIA steered the Warren Commission and later investigations away from connecting its own assassination operations to Kennedy’s murder. He also looks at the effect this strategy had on the Warren Commission’s conclusions that assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that there was no foreign conspiracy.

Sourced from in-depth research into the “secret files” declassified by the JFK Records Act and now stored in the National Archives and Records Administration, Murder, Inc. is the first book to narrate in detail the CIA’s plots against Castro and to delve into the question of why retaliation by Castro against Kennedy was not investigated.

Reviews and Interviews

“Many books touching on the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy have an agenda, jumping through a series of conspiratorial hoops to bolster a conclusion already arrived at. James Johnston’s Murder, Inc. is different: He dispassionately sifts through the evidence regarding the CIA’s activities during the Kennedy administration and the president’s keen interest in overthrowing Fidel Castro, and comes up not so much with answers as with some very intriguing questions.”—Star Tribune

“Johnson is not just another conspiracy theorist. A lawyer for the Senate committee that investigated the CIA in 1975, Johnson recalls the disingenuous testimony and, sifting through the trove of recently declassified Kennedy assassination documents, finds missing pieces.”—Shepherd Express

“To be clear, James H. Johnston’s Murder, Inc.: The CIA Under John F. Kennedy is far from a fervid rebuke of established history on the shocking events in Dallas of almost 60 years ago. Indeed, the author debunks some mainstays of the Kennedy conspiracy-theory industry.”—Washington Independent Review of Books

“Murder, Inc. is an outstanding, well-researched probe that holds many questions, unexpected findings, and evidence-based examination of not just JFK’s operations, but the CIA’s involvements overseas. It should be in collections strong in JFK and political history alike.”—Donovan’s Bookshelf

“Clearly, I concluded, there was a huge gap between what the intelligence agencies knew about the assassination and what the Warren Report said . . . The book also discusses the relationship of the assassination plots against Castro to Kennedy’s own assassination. I expected others would write about this, but every major history of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations glides over the subject. Therefore, I decided to write about it myself.”—From an author interview with Deborah Kalb

On the Blog

On Goodreads

A Word From the Author

“As Time Goes By and the Morality of Assassination”

I write histories. Still, two things surprised me after publication of Murder, Inc., The CIA under John F. Kennedy, which is about assassination plots against Cuba’s Fidel Castro. First is how little most people today know about John Kennedy. Thus, after having to provide background on Kennedy in the book and in talks, I found it refreshing to speak to a senior citizen group to whom I could say: “Well, thankfully, I don’t have to tell you who John Kennedy was.” 

Second is how assassination has become acceptable since the Kennedy era. The CIA’s plots to kill Fidel Castro in the 1960s appalled President Lyndon Johnson who called them “Murder, Inc.”  They were kept secret from almost everyone in government including the Warren Commission, which investigated Kennedy’s assassination. When CIA Director Richard Helms ordered an investigation and report at Johnson’s insistence, he gave instructions for the investigators’ notes to be destroyed and only one copy of the report kept. When the dirty little secrets came out in a 1975 Senate investigation, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order prohibiting government employees from engaging in assassinations.  

Yet the many “Wars on Terror” dulled the public’s moral sense. Republicans and Democrats alike discovered that by calling someone a “terrorist,” the public didn’t object to his being assassinated, that is, the victim of an extra-judicial, targeted killing. In January 2020, five months after my book was published explaining that the United States had always thought assassination was immoral, a U.S. drone pilot fired a rocket and killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani who was visiting Iraq.  Rather than seek the protection of plausible denial for authorizing assassination, as Kennedy did, the president of the United States publicly claimed credit for the deed. Times have changed—although the morality of assassination may not have.

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