Cold War Devices of Deception
I n light of the many and varied amazing spy “gadgets” that have appeared in popular films and television shows about espionage—cue Oddjob’s razor-edged hat in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger —anyone can be forgiven for thinking that such over-the-top contraptions are merely the brainchildren of imaginative screenwriters. The truth might surprise you.
The International Spy Museum (SPY) in Washington, D.C. provides visitors with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the dark world of global espionage. Boasting a vast array of incredible artifacts in its collection which shed light on “spycraft,” the museum has shared a selection of the most devious devices in its collection with Military History Quarterly which span decades of the Cold War—the complex global political struggle between the Soviet Union, the United States, and nations allied with both.
This underhanded “war” had peaks and valleys as tensions between East and West waxed and waned. The Cold War nominally ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, some historians argue that the conflict never truly ended.
This rectal tool kit was issued to CIA agents during the 1960s at the height of the Cold War. The pill-shaped container was designed to be neatly stored in the body cavity where it could remain undetected during searches and possibly prove useful to agents needing to escape. The tools inside included saws, drill bits and knives. Ostensibly the Great Seal of the United States, this is a modern replica of a so-called 1945 “gift” in the style of the Trojan Horse from Soviet children to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow which contained a sophisticated eavesdropping device. Known as “The Thing” to American intelligence operatives, the transmitter, which had no batteries or circuits, was eventually removed from the ambassador’s office in 1952. During the Cold War, gutted dead rats, similar to this 2016 reproduction from France, were used as “dead drops” by the CIA to pass hidden messages, money and film to other agents. According to the museum, the rats were doused with pepper sauce to deter scavenging cats—demonstrating that even animals were caught up in spy games during the secretive struggle. These scent jars, dating from the 1970s-1980s, were used by the Stasi secret police of East Germany and stored in the thousands. The Stasi collected the scents of “suspicious” people to allow trained dogs to track them down. In 1978, Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov was assassinated in London by a communist agent wielding an umbrella gun, like this replica, which fired a poison capsule into his leg. The Steineck wristwatch produced in Germany in 1945 was sophisticated for its time in its ability to snap secret photos and contained a film disk with eight exposures. What about designing a spying device that nobody wanted to touch? The so-called “tiger dung transmitter” would do the trick. This 1970 CIA transmitter was used to direct airstrikes in Vietnam. This silver bar, given by the Soviets to infamous spy John Walker, embodies a different type of espionage tool used for centuries to deadly effect to steal state secrets and corrupt those in positions of power or responsibility—the lure of money. Although it might remind you of the 1960s TV show “Get Smart,” this shoe transmitter is real, having been planted in the heel of an American diplomat’s shoe by local secret police when he sent his shoes out to be repaired in an Eastern European country. Women’s fashion throughout the Cold War didn’t exactly lend itself well to surveillance gadgets, especially not if the said lady spies were wearing summer dresses. So four female Stasi operatives came up with this solution in 1985. Codenamed “Meadow,” this “wonder bra” contains a mini camera that could be controlled by a pocket-held remote. This lipstick pistol, dating from 1960, was used by the KGB. A small but deadly 4.5 mm weapon, it could fire a single shot when its user pressed the “lipstick” barrel into an intended victim. Disguised as a cosmetic, it was unlikely to attract attention. Hiding Minox cameras in ordinary accessories was a trend in the Cold War among Soviet and East German spies during the 1960s and 1970s. This particular camera is concealed in a humble hairbrush. This is no ordinary coin. This KGB device was used to conceal microfilm and microdots, and could be opened by inserting a needle into a tiny hole on the face of the coin. Soviet agents used these devices from the 1950s to the 1990s. This is a piece of the U-2 “Dragon Lady” spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers when he was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, resulting in an international scandal. This piece of the wreckage is marked with small rivets, which were added by the Soviets when they attempted to reassemble the fragments of the downed plane.