John Mulholland (1898-1970) was a highly successful performing magician who entertained “New York City society circles.” In 1953, the CIA paid him to write a manual on deception and misdirection. Copies of the document were said to have been destroyed in 1973 by CIA Director Richard Helms; however, it later resurfaced and was published as “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.” The full text is available here.
His impact on the art of magic was enormous. He predicted an aspect that is surely in play a half century after his passing — specifically, that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
John Mulholland instructed operatives that their success — as opposed to that of magicians — depended upon the fact that they are not known to be — or even suspected of being — tricksters. This points to the media as being a large factor and culpable in the stagecraft in the age of deception we are witnessing today.
The other aspect that the public doesn’t see is that tradecraft is practiced by a supranational entity, which Winter Watch refers to as the Crime Syndicate. The gullible pajama people can’t conceive of this, thus making deception a fait accompli.
Multiple elements of the magician’s craft can be seen throughout the world of espionage and deception, most notably in stage management, sleight of hand, disguise, identity transfer, escapology and special concealment devices.
Awareness and “management” of the potentially hostile environment, where audiences are culturally diverse, uncontrolled and sometimes unseen, is as critical to a operative’s success as his special devices. Similarly, a successful stage magician understands that the execution of a trick may not produce an effective illusion unless the stage and audience are consciously managed.
Sight lines, limiting what the audience is allowed to see, are arranged so that the magician’s trick may be executed without exposing secret equipment or maneuvers. Mulholland advises to carefully select each operational site for visibility. In the manual, he focuses a lot on angles and moving at right angles.
He offers that illusion is only a means to divert attention from a clandestine act. To be successful, the espionage illusion must withstand both the direct observation of onlookers (casuals) and the scrutiny of professional counterintelligence officers (hostile surveillance) without exposing either the participation or identification of the agent.