During the Cold War the U.S. looked in all directions for new strategies to combat all those threads that could come from the Soviet Union. The CIA started a series of programs that are now known under the designation “MKULTRA”.
The experiments included: the deliberate infection of people with deadly or debilitating diseases, exposure of people to biological and chemical weapons, human radiation experiments, injection of people with toxic and radioactive chemicals, surgical experiments, interrogation/torture experiments, tests involving mind-altering substances, and a wide variety of others. Many of these tests were performed on children, the sick, and mentally disabled individuals, often under the guise of “medical treatment”. In many of the studies, a large portion of the subjects were poor racial minorities or prisoners.
I didn’t make this up. In those ages these things simply happened. Funding for many of the experiments was provided by United States government, especially the Central Intelligence Agency, United States military and federal or military corporations. The human research programs were usually highly secretive, and in many cases information about them was not released until many years after the studies had been performed.
It soon became obvious that all of these resources were functionally useless unless they could actually be used by spies in the field. To clear this hurdle, in 1953 the CIA contracted famous magician John Mulholland to write a manual on the use of sleight of hand to secretly administer pills, powders, and liquids to enemy agents. In the end he did so much more. Most of the gadgets used by spies can be related to these manuals. A lot was done with the same ‘smoke and mirrors’ as the magicians used. The result of this project were 2 manuals thought to be destroyed in 1973. But a couple of preserved copies were later found, and we now have a look into a unique period of magical espionage history. The two manuals Mulholland made for the CIA were reproduced by intelligence historian Melton and retired CIA officer Wallace, complete with clarified illustrations that were present in the originals.
The manuals explain in detail how to place place pills into drinks, steal documents and avoid detection. Mulholland also talks about changing the mindset of agents around things like stage management, misdirection, sleight of hand, disguises, escaping, concealments and other topics. Misdirection when you are trying to plant a bug or drug someone, hiding tools on your body to help with escape, working with partners to establish a cover that will distract the watcher….
If you really want to know about the history of magic, then this manual is something to have on your bookshelf. If you are a business owner and and need of ways to keep certain things secret, then maybe this book should be on your shelf as well….