At the height of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency paid $3,000 to renowned magician John Mulholland to write a manual on misdirection, concealment, and stagecraft. All known copies of the document — and a related paper, on conveying hidden signals — were believed to be destroyed in 1973. But recently, the manuals resurfaced, and have now been published as “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.” Topics include working a clandestine partner, slipping a pill into the drink of the unsuspecting, and “surreptitious removal of objects by women.”
This wasn’t the first time a magician worked for a western government. Harry Houdini snooped on the German and the Russian militiaries for Scotland Yard. English illusionist Jasper Maskelyne is reported to created dummy submarines and fake tanks to distract Rommel’s army during World War II. Some reports even credit him with employing flashing lights to “hide” the Suez Canal.
But Mulholland’s contributions were far different, because they were part of a larger CIA effort, called MK-ULTRA, to control people’s minds.