Fascinating but grim analysis by journalist Tom Stevenson of A Study of Assassination, an anonymously authored CIA handbook for covert political murder written in 1953 and declassified in 1997. The handbook was produced as a “training file” for operation PBSUCCESS, the codename of a CIA plot launched by the Eisenhower administration to topple the Guatemalan government.
It is, says Stevenson, “not only a practical guide. It is also a thorough exploration of assassination with a scholarly, if macabre, sensibility in which the author spends nineteen pages contemplating the finer points of murder.”
The figure of the lone assassin, it turns out, is not purely a creation of fiction.
Ideally an assassin ought to act alone to reduce the chances of the plot being uncovered. Different circumstances call for different kinds of assassin. They all require courage, determination and resourcefulness, but in cases where the killer won’t be slipping away to safety a fanatic is needed.
Stevenson reports that in 2007 the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a survey of assassination attempts on national leaders since 1875. The results suggest that assassination is not a terribly efficient business, which I suppose is good news.
In 298 cases it found only fifty-nine resulted in the target being killed. Firearms and explosives were overwhelmingly the most popular methods, used in more than 85 per cent of attempts. The firearms had a success rate of just 30 per cent and explosives a dismal 7 percent. After all, the CIA analyst says, “the obviously lethal machine gun failed to kill Trotsky where an item of sporting goods [an ice-axe] succeeded”.
Macabre, but fascinating.