The The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception is an actual CIA manual written in the 1950's that is of course now declassified. I'm not quite sure how I stumbled on this book in the first place, but how could one see the title and not be at least a little interested? The library had a copy, so I rented it.
It doesn't take many pages of reading to realize that maybe they got a bit carried away with the naming of this manual. Rather than being a vast discussion on spy craft, and CIA maneuvers, it's really a guide for three activities: secretly depositing stuff (mainly pills, powders and liquids - and mostly into drinks and food), secretly withdrawing stuff (paper, widgets from a factory floor, etc.) and secretly communicating with a partner to help do these actions. It's probably this relatively narrow scope, and audacious title, that is responsible for the relatively low rating on Amazon.
Even with these shortcomings, I very much like the book.
First off, the book is a wonderful view into the world of magic. That's because the manual was authored by a famous magician, John Mulholland, with the intention of teaching CIA agents how to use magic accomplish the 3 tasks described above. Rather than emphasize specific tricks, Mulholland teaches the philosophy of the magician. His main lesson being that a trick is not about complexity or speed, but about using a perfectly natural action (say, lighting a cigarette) to mask a your hidden goal (say, dropping a pill in someone's drink). Whether or not this is considered the best way to teach magic these days or not, it was wonderfully insightful to a non-magic person like me.
Mulholland's writing is clearly from another era. Many of his examples are nonsensical now, and his specific tips outlined for how the different genders should approach a trick would no doubt land him in a sexual-harassment seminar. Though, to be fair, Mulholland never once doubt's a woman's ability to perform in the field - just that she can draw straight or explain a map (actually, his point is more frequently that a woman can't explain a map to a man, because that would not appear natural).
Mulholland's writing is wonderfully optimistic. There seems to be no act of taking or leaving an object that can't be done in a simple way. One only needs to be creative enough to see how it can be done.
The other part text that I thoroughly enjoyed was how all the techniques, especially the signaling topics, required so little technology to get their job done. Where a special device was required, instructions on how to make it from dime store parts is provided. I can just imagine a CIA agent hollowing out a pencil in his Russian hotel room for delivery of some clandestine drug. Signaling can be accomplished through the simplest of acts - wearing a lapel pin in a specific location, wrapping a rubber band a particular way around a package, adding dots to a buttons on a jacket. The list goes on, and on.
As we bulk up security at airports and train stations, I think we often forget this lesson of technical simplicity.
If you can rent the book from the library - I definitely recommend it. It's a view into the world of magic from a most interesting context.