Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: The Spy Edition

The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and DeceptionThe Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception by H Keith Melton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In terms of entertainment, the very lengthy introduction in this book is better than the declassified MKULTRA era manuscript it headlines. Many interesting details about the CIA during the MKULTRA years are discussed, including strange ones, such as the CIA use of prostitutes to lure Johns into motel rooms under surveillence so agents could record the Johns' reaction to various mind altering drugs like LSD. The introduction alone is a must-read for any spy, CIA, or conspiracy geek. Although, a short internet search on the subject of MKULTRA would reveal a far more sinister, and disturbing look into the CIA than this book would ever hint at.

That's the main trouble with this book. I didn't think it could be at all possible to sanitize and neuter the very idea of the MKULTRA project, which included disturbing studies of brainwashing on unwilling and unwitting subjects, some experimented on in mental hospitals, and taken from their own families. This book has done just that. By touting the glaring "declassfied" badge on its front cover, and breathlessly declaring how the manuscript within was one of the very few to escape the massive destruction of documents that almost erased the MKULTRA project, one is drawn easily into reading it with a racing pulse and shaking hands.

The declassified manuscript is a how-to manual commissioned by the CIA from a successful and well written magician named John Mullholland. In sterile courier font, and as clearly as it possibly can, it painstakingly covers various sleight of hand tricks an undercover agent can do to pass along notes, steal small objects, and drug unsuspecting enemies drinks. They're pretty fun ideas for a party trick nowadays, or a pretty terrifying how-to manual on how to slip a gal a roofie. There is even a special section for the ladies! A giggle or two was spent on reading the passages Mullholland pens, almost apologetic in noting that a female agent can probably go undetected easier than a man because a man won't expect much from a woman anyway. At least try to tackle those passages with a bit of humor and you should get through it.

All in all, I found this an enjoyable read, not particularly a great read, and I was very disappointed in having such a bland payoff for all the hype. I am a sucker for books that reflect the flavor of their times, however, and in fact, this was not much of a different read than say, a good manners manual from the 1930's.

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