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The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception Hardcover – November 3, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 111 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Intelligence historian Melton and retired CIA officer Wallace (coauthors of Spycraft) 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“An enchanting account of espionage and wizardry at their blackest.” (Peter Earnest, Executive Director of the International Spy Museum)

“Melton and Wallace have achieved the ultimate mastery of the shadow world where CIA’s smoke and mirrors meet Hollywood’s art of magic, deception and illusion. Like any good stage show, the never-before-disclosed techniques are spellbinding. The history of espionage is expanded by this factual, fascinating account.” (Tony and Jonna Mendez, Masters of Disguise)

“A legendary ‘lost’ piece of magic history…It’s James Bond meets Harry Houdini!” (Lance Burton, Master Magician)

“Entrancing! I was amazed to see how the magician’s trade can be twisted to aid in the dark arts of espionage.” (Jeff McBride, Creator of The Magic and Mystery School)

“Espionage and magic! A special thrill to read the once-classified CIA magician’s manual.” (Danny Biederman, author of The Incredible World of SPY-Fi)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (November 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061725897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061725890
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #401,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. M. Van Court VINE VOICE on November 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
During the height of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employed an American sleight of hand artist, a magician by the name of John Mulholland to provide instruction on illusion and deception as part of the sinister and shadowy MKULTRA program. Two of his texts have survived and been declassified, and are reproduced here, along with a brief history of some of the CIA's spookiest programs.

The history portion; "The Legacy of MKULTRA and the Missing Magic Manuals" will entertain, delight, and provoke conspiracy theorists everywhere. This section touches on operations of the Cold War, formerly classified experimentation, and gadgets from the sublime to ridiculous. It also discusses the long-standing relationship between magicians and intelligence operations going back to WW I. There are some super vignettes about Harry Houdini and his stagecraft in there too.

The first text by Mulholland is mostly about covert (covert; "An operation that is so planned and executed as to conceal the identity of or permit plausible denial by the sponsor.") administration of liquids or pills, and petty theft. The first section, however, is a superb discussion of the mechanics and psychology of sleight of hand, with a special emphasis on dispelling myths.

The second text is about clandestine (clandestine; "An operation sponsored or conducted by governmental departments or agencies in such a way as to assure secrecy or concealment.") signals between operators. Again, this is based on performance magic, like the cues an assistant will give the magician during a mind reading act. Again, worth while reading for aspiring sleight of hand artists.
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Format: Paperback
Question: Are the tricks and deceptions described by John Mulholland in his CIA manual of magic for spies more James Bondesque or Maxwell Smartish? Answer: Definitely the latter.

Many of the hocus-pocus methods described in this CIA manual require sleight-of-hand. I say "hocus-pocus" lovingly, speaking from my vantage as an amateur magician who enjoys reading books about trickery and deception, always on the lookout for tricks that I can add to a future act.

In this book you will find descriptions of skills that require practice and lots of it. It will take more than a careful reading of this manual to teach a novice, spy or not, how to master deceptive moves that will fool an audience. Magic is a performing art, not a science.

For example, Mulholland devotes 22 pages to the handling of tablets -- poison pills ranging in size from one-sixteenth of an inch in diameter to a pill as large as three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter, bigger pills requiring different handling described elsewhere in the manual. Here the CIA agent-in-training will find detailed instructions for concealing, stealing, palming, and surreptitiously dropping a poison pill into an enemy's drink under her nose. Method One, where the tablet is concealed in a matchbook, works with smokers. Method Two, where the tablet is concealed by a piece of paper, works with smokers and non-smokers alike. Both methods require patter, a smooth and plausible line of gab designed to misdirect the victim's attention to something other than your real intentions.

Without the necessary commitment to oft-repeated dry runs, this trick along with many other tricks in this manual are arrant setups for flubs, goofs, and pratfalls in the manner of Maxwell Smart.
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Format: Hardcover
Stage magician John Mulholland wrote this pair of manuals for the CIA in the early 1950s. All copies were believed to have been destroyed, though stories of the sleight of hand and secret communication documents have carried down through the decades. One copy of each manual were discovered though, and now declassified, appear here in print. It's an interesting book for both the stage magic and the history of CIA spycraft folks. Though the cover makes it clear that they figure the market will be from those interested in the CIA "trickery and deception."

It's not as exciting as a James Bond version would be, unless you can put the movies and fiction aside and feel the thrill of the real deal. These manuals were written to help CIA case officers pass documents to agents without notice, or to hold-out hide small objects. The real nuts and bolts of espionage. Makes sense to go to the magicians who do that sort of thing daily, though with lower consequences of failure.

Anyway, it's an odd glimpse into the CIA's past, before electronics and email intercepts, before senate investigations, and with the looming threat of the Cold War a very real part of the story. I enjoyed it.
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Format: Hardcover
In 2007 the authors discovered a long-lost CIA file, once top secret, created by magician John Mulholl while employed as the agency's first magician. The intent was to guide CIA officers on how to use magicians' craft in clandestine operations. That lost file comprises the material in "The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception." Readers get the lowdown on 'flash paper' that burst into flame when touched by a lit cigarette, water-soluble paper, disguises, switching clothes and persons, an agent impersonating a 180-lb. large dog, how the sawing a woman in half trick works, sleight of hand in dropping pills in someone else's drink etc. Nice, but it gets old after awhile, and one doubts how useful the lessons learned were in practice.
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