The official “C.I.A. Manual of Trickery and Deception“, by H. Keith Melton and Robert Wallace (248 pages), is a book based on a manual prepared by the former magician John Mulholland (1898-1970) and commissioned by the C.I.A. during the Cold War to equip its agents with undercover communication and deception techniques they might need in operations against the Soviet adversaries.
I received this manual as a gift from a close friend about two years ago. The first thing that one learns in it is the common and incorrect belief that “the hand is quicker than the eye“. As the magician explains:
“In fact, the hand is much slower than the eye, and for deceptive purposes, neither should move quickly. An illusion is primarily mental, not visual; when magicians and spies fool the minds of the audiences, eyes observe only what the performer intends.”
We should replace quick and clumsy movements that would attract attention by employing psychology, misdirection, and a natural sequence of steps to create an illusion.
A thing about the book that struck me was that, after some chapters explaining several tricks, the manual dedicates two chapters for special aspects of deception for women. That isn’t intended because women cannot perform certain tricks, but because performing some tricks in the same way a man would perform them might be suspicious and attract attention in some cases. I’ll share one example.
One of the tricks to pour some powder into another cup is by emptying the back of wooden pencil (where usually there is the small rubber) and fill it with powder. The pencil is kept in some pocket and brought into the scene with the excuse of scribbling anything or making some sketch in order to help yourself with an explanation. I found this very natural in me. Anytime I want to explain something I take a paper and a pen and draw something.
The book included a provision for women employing this trick. A woman would need to carry two pencils. One with the little hole with powder and another one untouched, apart from that the pencils shall be identical. Why is that? Not because the woman cannot draw a sketch or because she would need two pencils, but because if the woman was to be facing a man and she would use a pencil to sketch something as part of her explanation, it is very likely that the man would ask for that pencil in order to amend the woman’s sketch!! So the woman would need to have a second pencil to replace the first one before the man takes on the pencil with the little hole in order to avoid that he notices the trick.
Allow me not to explain more tricks in this post, otherwise I’ll lose the edge I currently have over you in our encounters, an edge that clearly you’ve failed to notice .
Finally, you may wonder why this friend chose this book as a gift. Me too.