Mafia Spies: Interview With Author Thomas Maier

Mafia Spies: The Inside Story of the CIA, Gangsters, JFK, and Castro is a tale of deception, outlaw friendship, and government-sanctioned hitmen mixed with a dash of Havana and Tinseltown flair.

Author Thomas Maier gave SPYSCAPE a peek into the world of the Chicago Outfit, Hollywood, and the mobsters recruited by the CIA for a daring international assassination.

Q: What drew you to the world and material of Mafia Spies?

A: My book When Lions Roar contained a chapter about spying in 1940 that involved Winston Churchill and JFK's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, who was then the US ambassador in London. It was a fascinating story and spurred my interest in writing more about espionage... I was aware of the CIA's attempt to kill [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro in the early 1960s but I felt this story - with many characters in South Florida, Chicago, Las Vegas, Hollywood, Havana, Washington D.C. and other locales - was best told through the two gangsters, Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli. I like to compare and contrast two protagonists caught up in a very controversial and secret endeavor. I think Mafia Spies is very timely... from the role of the CIA and FBI to such things as kompromat, Russian spies, and presidential indiscretion.

The characters in Mafia Spies run the gamut from Washington power brokers to Hollywood entertainers and Chicago mafiosos. Why not enjoy a teaser hapter?

Mafia Spies: Interview With Author Thomas Maier

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Mafia Spies: The Inside Story of the CIA, Gangsters, JFK, and Castro is a tale of deception, outlaw friendship, and government-sanctioned hitmen mixed with a dash of Havana and Tinseltown flair.

Author Thomas Maier gave SPYSCAPE a peek into the world of the Chicago Outfit, Hollywood, and the mobsters recruited by the CIA for a daring international assassination.

Q: What drew you to the world and material of Mafia Spies?

A: My book When Lions Roar contained a chapter about spying in 1940 that involved Winston Churchill and JFK's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, who was then the US ambassador in London. It was a fascinating story and spurred my interest in writing more about espionage... I was aware of the CIA's attempt to kill [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro in the early 1960s but I felt this story - with many characters in South Florida, Chicago, Las Vegas, Hollywood, Havana, Washington D.C. and other locales - was best told through the two gangsters, Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli. I like to compare and contrast two protagonists caught up in a very controversial and secret endeavor. I think Mafia Spies is very timely... from the role of the CIA and FBI to such things as kompromat, Russian spies, and presidential indiscretion.

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Mafia Spies: Interview With Author Thomas Maier
Mafia Spies by Thomas Maier


Q:
How do you think deception shaped the story?

A: Deception is a big part of spying and Mafia Spies, with all its twists and turns, has plenty of it. For example, the two main characters used aliases. Giancana used the name 'Sam Gold' when first introduced to the CIA at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. And Johnny Roselli's name was a phony (taken from an Italian painter at the Vatican) that he used his whole adult life. It was his biggest secret. 'Johnny' always feared his real identity would be exposed. And when the FBI learned his secret, it became of the one of the biggest turning points in the book.

Q: What surprised you the most about the world of mafiosos and spies it deals with?

A: Mafia Spies shows how much the world of mobsters and spies depends on sheer violence. The CIA's campaign to kill Castro was America's first state-sanctioned assassination attempt against a foreign leader, and was launched with a cold-blooded calculation that would rival any organized crime family. Like a don who sends out a hitman on a mission, I was struck by how certain CIA officials and their Washington bosses wanted to keep their culpability in these deadly actions from becoming known by sending out underlings to do the dirty work.

Q: Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli, Chicago mobsters and two of the story’s central characters, had an interesting and often dangerous friendship. What was the most interesting part of researching their relationship?

A: I was struck by the uniqueness of this outlaw friendship between Giancana and Roselli. They sort of reminded me of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid buddy movie, only these gangsters rode away on jet planes rather than horses. They were both ambitious and thought 'big picture', none of the penny-ante stuff of most mobsters. To me, they also represented two very different male archetypes in their personal lives. Giancana was a hair-trigger guy who wanted to be the boss of everything and had the classic Madonna/whore view of women. Whereas, Johnny was a very smooth and suave Casanova-type, who dated a number of famous Hollywood actresses and never settled down. In this story, he was a main facilitator with both the CIA and the mob, as well as difficult characters like Frank Sinatra and Howard Hughes.

Mafia Spies: Interview With Author Thomas Maier
Havana, Cuba has embraced Russian-led communism

Q: If you could give your readers one essential takeaway what would you tell them?

A: We are still very much living with the consequences of this blood-filled spy story. Cuba has remained an impoverished third world nation ever since Castro's embrace of Russian-led communism in the early 1960s. And our failed attempts to get rid of Castro became an obsession for the Kennedy administration and made Fidel a boogeyman for every US president since then. To understand the future of US-Cuba relations, you must know this story.

Q: What advice would you give to a writer interested in publishing a book like this?

A: I think the most important thing is to keep a master outline of every little finding and significant detail and make sure it is constantly updated, and is based on verifiable documents or other written proof. It's also important not to get lost in the weeds in the storytelling and try to help the reader understand where the overall story is going. Mafia Spies is about a 1960s murder conspiracy that the CIA didn't acknowledge until 2007 and the question of who killed Giancana and Roselli still remains unsolved. For me, as someone whose books have all dealt with America in our times, the big themes are found in the small details.

The characters in Mafia Spies run the gamut from Washington power brokers to Hollywood entertainers and Chicago mafiosos. Why not enjoy a teaser hapter?

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