Stranger Than Fiction

CIA Mentored by Magicians

In the midst of Cold War panic, who better for the CIA to turn to than those schooled in the art of deception: magicians. Decades ago, the CIA paid John Mulholland, a famous magician at the time, $3,000 to write a manual on misdirection, concealment, and stagecraft. The results were thought to have been destroyed but are now being republished as The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, which includes tips on shoelace patterns that mean “follow me” as well as tips on how to appear dumb and non-threatening. The manual was reportedly compiled as part of a bigger project known as MK-ULTRA, the aim of which was mind control. MK-ULTRA also led to heavy experimentation with LSD within the organization, and David Hambling wrote that while “unwilling clients at CIA brothels” were slipped the drug, members of the agency itself were also “fair game for secret testing,” resulting in a memo requesting that the punch bowls at CIA Christmas parties remain un-spiked.