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An interesting peak into espionage techniques that are "magic"...

  • Dec 13, 2009
So what does magic and spycraft have in common? Actually, more than I thought. The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception by H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace take the reader back to the 1950's when the CIA was doing everything possible to counter the Soviet threat to the "American way of life." A program codenamed "Mkultra" included some non-conventional ways to match the Soviets when it came to mind control and covert activities. One of those side projects included the study of how magic techniques could help agents disguise their moves and communications. The CIA called John Mulholland, a very well-known magician of the day, and had him teach agents his ability to create distractions and misdirections. The result of this project was a manual thought to be destroyed in the 1970's. But a couple of preserved copies were later found, and we now have a look into a unique period in espionage history.

The book starts off with the two authors giving some historical background and context to the project and to Mulholland. While the CIA had a vast array of devices and drugs for use in the field, they weren't exact easy to administer and use in a covert fashion. Mulholland then started changing the mindset of agents around things like stage management, misdirection, sleight of hand, disguises, escaping, concealments, and other topics. After the introduction material, the book consists of the actual text of the Mulholland manual, complete with clarified illustrations that were present in the original report.

I found the subject interesting, in that I normally don't connect magic with the type of works a covert agent would employ. But they really are similar in many senses. Misdirection when you're trying to plant a bug or drug someone... Hiding tools on one's person to help with escape... Working with partners to establish a cover that will distract the watcher. It is certainly a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in how to be more "sneaky" if that's something they need to be able to do on a regular basis. It's not the best read in terms of flow (remember, this *was* a classified CIA report initially), but the content stands out.

Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

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Thomas Duff ()
Ranked #43
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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About this book


Intelligence historian Melton and retired CIA officer Wallace (coauthors ofSpycraft) reunite for this unremarkable reproduction of a long-lost cold war–era relic. In 1953, the fledgling CIA hired professional magician John Mulholland to adapt his techniques of stealth and misdirection to the craft of espionage. Mulholland produced two illustrated manuals featuring a range of tricks from placing pills into drinks to stealing documents and avoiding detection. The classified manuals were believed to have been destroyed in 1973, but the authors discovered a copy in 2007 among recently declassified CIA archives. The manuals are reproduced along with enhanced illustrations and an extended introduction by Melton and Wallace. Despite the authors' best efforts to promote their discovery of Mulholland's work as a rare piece of historical evidence of the CIA's legacy of black arts, the manuals, with their earnest, how-to descriptions of surreptitiously spiking drinks, palming documents and signaling colleagues with a feather in a hat band seem more quaintly anachronistic than revealing or sinister.(Nov.)
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ISBN-10: 0061725897
ISBN-13: 978-0061725890
Author: H. Keith Melton
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: William Morrow
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