Magicians In The Secret Service

Magicians In The Secret Service

Mystics, magick and stage magicians

In the eight months since this writer began researching the world of intelligence, one of the most revealing discoveries was the close relationship between intelligence and magic. If you look at it a certain way, you'll find numerous, somewhat disquieting parallels. Most of the evidence remains apocryphal however and, as with any good magic tricks, leaves you guessing as to where the hell it came from.

Illusion, sleight of hand, misinformation, disinformation and misdirection, daring escapes from certain death and mystifying disappearing acts are a staple of both.

Think of trick objects concealing secret compartments that hide weapons or code books almost in plain sight, or secret compartments built in cars to smuggle out a wanted defector. Aren't they almost the same as a magician's “coffin” where he seemingly saws a lady in two, or those counters they wheel out upon which they perform some of their tricks. The key word here is deception.

From Dee to Crowley to Maskelyne to Mulholland, magicians have regularly crossed the line of deception from magic to intelligence.
The reverse is also true. William Melville, Sidney Reilly's boss, was the man responsible for badgering Britain's War Office until his requests for a British counter intelligence service was granted and the Secret Service Bureau was created. It had nineteen departments, MI1 to MI19, of which only MI5 and MI6 are still extant. When Harry Houdini came to Britain in 1900 to show off his talent as an escapologist, Melville talked him into teaching him how to pick locks, a skill that is still taught to novice agents today.

John Dee

John Dee engraved by R Cooper, c1800

A founder of Enochian magic and translator of the Enochian language that was taught to him by “angels”, John Dee was a consultant and astrologer to Queen Elisabeth I, and a seeming source of inspiration for James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming. Although he was mainly an alchemist, he also spied for the Crown in many foreign countries under the guise of a visiting scholar. Historically, Dee was straddling the border between science and magic.

This may seem unbelievable, but some sources say that the Queen signed her letters to him as “M” (as in Majesty?) and he in turn used an insignia bearing the number “007” for authentication, the two zeros signifying that Dee was the eyes of the Queen. One of his major works on alchemy may also have been a disguised code book.

Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley

A master of ceremonial magic (or magick, as he would have it), persistent rumors claim that Crowley was called upon by none other than Winston Churchill, that the warlord stole his famous “V” sign from him, and some even have Crowley attending secret staff meetings with Churchill in his underground bunker.

It's no rumor however that Fleming, who was a British intelligence officer during the war, was very keen on using Crowley against the Nazis. Each of his attempts were shot down by his superiors and the ultimate plan, in which Crowley was to exploit Rudolph Hess's credulity in matters pertaining to the occult, fell apart when Hess mysteriously parachuted himself into Britain and was promptly arrested.


Jasper Maskelyne

Jasper Maskelyne came from a family of magicians. During WWII he was in The Magic Gang, part of MI9, an outfit that was tasked with inventing and using all manners of deception against the enemy. He got the job by making a battleship appear seemingly out of the blue for an audience comprised of military officers.

He went on to disguise jeeps as tanks, tanks as trucks, and creating inflatable dummy tanks amongst other remarkable feats of deception. Notably, he created a fake city of Alexandria to disrupt enemy bomber navigation at night, and installed spinning mirrors all over the countryside meant to blind enemy bombers and conceal the Suez canal in the daytime.

What may have been his largest feat of misdirection was to disguise tanks as trucks north of El Alamein, and trucks as tanks south of El Alamein, in an attempt to fool Rommel as to where the Allied attack would come from.

Having had no recognition for his wartime work, he died an embittered man in 1973.

Some dispute the very fact that The Magic Gang ever existed, which seems strangely fitting somehow...


John Mulholland

John Mulholland was renowned internationally as a prominent stage magician, a scholar in the realms of magic who also edited the magic magazine The Sphinx for twenty three years. He then was recruited by Sidney Gottlieb of the CIA to work on the MK-ULTRA project. Misdirection oblige, he claimed health reasons for quitting The Sphinx and then penned at least two secret training manuals for the CIA. He also independently wrote more than a dozen books about the magician's craft.

Now, if the MK-ULTRA  project is involved, you know that it's bound to be mind-blowing, even when nobody's staring at goats. At the CIA, he researched ESP and LSD and God knows what else.

John Mulholland died in 1970. Part of his grave marker reads :
“The greatest magician of all has made John Mulholland disappear from before our eyes.”

A Secret Recipe

A Secret Recipe