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Remembering CIA’s Heroes: Billy Jack Johnson

This is part of our series about CIA employees who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Here we will look at the lives of the men and women who have died while serving their country.

Currently, there are 125 stars carved into the marble of the CIA Memorial Wall. The wall stands as a silent, simple memorial to those employees “who gave their lives in the service of their country.” The CIA has released the names of 91 employees; the names of the remaining 34 officers must remain secret, even in death.


Billy Jack Johnson, a World War II veteran, was an expert in paramilitary and maritime operations. He was a talented instructor, and he became known throughout the Agency for his skill and expertise in unique specialties, such as sabotage, escape and evasion, fingerprint analysis, and lock picking.

In February 1968, Billy was serving in Southeast Asia when the vehicle he was riding in was struck by an enemy mortar. Billy was killed instantly.

Early Years:

Billy served for nearly 20 years in the US Navy as a Chief Quartermaster, with World War II experience in Japan, Korea, Formosa (now Taiwan), and aboard the USS Mississippi and USS Tangier.

Based on Billy’s Navy operational specialty—Far East maritime supply and support—and his paramilitary training and experiences, he was detailed to the CIA from 1952 through 1956 as a trainer in maritime and paramilitary operations.

Following his honorable discharge from the Navy, Billy joined the CIA in August 1956.

Life at CIA:

Billy’s first CIA assignment was as a training assistant in the Soviet Division of the Deputy Directorate for Plans (DDP), forerunner to today’s Directorate of Operations.

Over the next ten years, he served in a variety of positions – training assistant, training officer, and senior instructor – specializing in paramilitary and maritime operations. Billy was also an expert in agent communications and surveillance training, and his maritime experiences ran the gamut from navigation, piloting, and ship maintenance to amphibious techniques under combat conditions.

By 1965, he was working in the Agency’s special operations division as a senior instructor, and he had added ammunition, sabotage, and demolition to his growing list of specialties. At one point during the late 1960s, Billy was considered by many to be among the Agency’s leading experts in fingerprint identification and escape and evasion. He was also considered one of the Agency’s two best “picks and locks” experts.

His Final Mission:

In the autumn of 1966, Billy was assigned to the Far East Division of the DDP, and was sent to Southeast Asia as an operations officer. He served as the Agency’s advisor to a special police informant program and as the operational advisor to a combined revolutionary development cadre and provincial reconnaissance unit of more than 600 local nationals.

Billy was also responsible for intelligence activities in the region, targeting operations against the enemy infrastructure. By this time, he had advanced from senior instructor to agent handler and intelligence collector.

On February 1, 1968, while performing one of his many rounds to conduct surveys, make payroll disbursements, and meet with local tribal leaders, Billy Jack Johnson was killed when the vehicle in which he was riding in took a direct hit from an enemy mortar.

Billy Johnson was 49 years old. He was survived by his wife and three sons.


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Posted: Feb 22, 2018 08:48 PM
Last Updated: Mar 07, 2018 04:03 PM