CIA spies learn the art of magic

In the 1950s the CIA worked with American magician John Mulholland to develop a manual full of tricks that could be useful to CIA agents. They learned sleight of hand maneuvers, advice on dressing to blend in, and methods of passing secret messages unnoticed.

Then came along two former CIA historians, Bob Wallace and Keith Melton, who were heavy into researching Cold War spy-gadget stuff. In their studies, they uncovered a CIA “magic” journal written by John Mulholland; it supposedly had been incinerated and was believed to have been lost forever. It wasn’t. They analyzed the contents and published a book from it: The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception. It shares the (declassified) history of CIA trickery from the very beginning.

The Cold War made for strange partners; no one could imagine the CIA teaming up with a well-known magician, but, in 1953, Mulholland was hired by the Agency to adapt his craft for its agents.

Yes, a guy who’d made his living pulling a rabbit out of a hat showed CIA operatives how to do their jobs better. The spooks learned the art of sleight of hand maneuvers, advice on dressing to blend in, and methods of passing secret messages. Much sleight of hand, apparently, could be used for dosing drinks, passing pills, and exchanging messages without anyone noticing. And then there were the covert signals that magicians used, such as tying your shoelaces in special patterns that conveyed different messages.

Former deputy CIA director John McLaughlin was correct when he said, “magic and espionage are kindred spirits. Mulholland’s writing on delivery of pills, potions and powders was just one example of research carried out back then in fields as diverse as brainwashing and paranormal psychology.”

Yes, the height of the Cold War made spying, espionage, and magic rather precarious endeavors …and strange bedfellows. In the MISSION OF VENGEANCE spy thriller, CIA women were trained in the art of sleight of hand, and they slipped a drug into a Russian assassin’s drink at a disco.

Here’s a snippet: It happened quickly. CIA spymaster Corey Pearson let his plan unfold. The two Dominican Republic ladies, actually low-level CIA assets, walked down Dr. Rosen Street onto Calle Pedro Clisante and passed Whistle Blower, whose table was next to the sidewalk. One toted the luxurious Haumea handbag that the Russian KGB defector Yury Bocharov bought for her at the Blue Mall in Santo Domingo. It hung low and was opened. Whistle Blower was well trained in the art of sleight of hand. She furtively dropped a small package into it, while simultaneously lifting a forkful of her trifle to her mouth. The packet contained a vial of some sort and a Bluetooth microphone disguised as a ballpoint pen.

Minutes later, Corey walked at a fast pace across the street and entered the disco, then strolled to the men’s room. The noise and lights engulfed the senses; no one would remember seeing him. He swung open the restroom door, then placed a rubber door stopper under it so no one could enter. The killer was peeing up a storm into the urinal. The Furosemide diuretic that the girls imperceptibly slipped into his drink worked quickly. End of Snippet

Robert Morton is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community. He authors the Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Check out his latest spy thriller: MISSION OF VENGEANCE.

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