Spies learn the art of magic

With sleight of hand, CIA operatives can unnoticeably spike one’s drink

Back in 1950, the CIA became interested in magic tricks. They tried to teach their agents some hand tricks, like slipping a pill into someone’s drink.

In 1953, a manual detailing tricks of the agency’s trade was published at the height of the Cold War. It was tumultuous times, and the CIA issued its top spooks a beginner’s guide to magic where they learned the art of sleight-of-hand.

This manual was destroyed when the Cold War ended, but in 2007, retired CIA officer Robert Wallace unearthed an extraordinary, archived file of it. It is full of Houdini-like tricks designed to help CIA operatives pull off a number of clandestine operations, such as slipping poison into an enemy’s drink.

I guess Cuba’s Fidel Castro was considered one of those enemies. In 1963, a poison pill was almost slipped into his chocolate milkshake by American mobsters, according to a former Cuban intelligence chief. I’m sure the mission was planned out by the CIA. Something went wrong, though, and the attempt was unsuccessful.

The CIA manual contained once highly classified items that were written in the early 1950s by American magician John Mulholland. CIA spooks learned the details of the art of magic that augmented their skills in the art of espionage. You never know when your job success requires you to hide objects up your sleeve or to spike someone’s drink while you’re pretending to light a cigarette.

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 and espionage rather precarious endeavors.

In the MISSION OF VENGEANCE spy thriller, two 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. Corey 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 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), enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community, and relishes traveling to the Florida Keys and Key West, the Bahamas and Caribbean. He combines both passions in his CoreyPearson- CIA Spymaster series. Check out his latest spy thriller: MISSION OF VENGEANCE