When you think CIA, one of last words likely to come to mind is “open.” And yet the U.S. spy organization has begun to lift the lid – albeit ever so slightly – in a…
Secret CIA spy gadgets go public
When you think CIA, one of last words likely to come to mind is “open.” And yet the U.S. spy organization has begun to lift the lid – albeit ever so slightly – in a bid to cultivate public opinion. In fact, the agency recently launched a retooled website, complete with YouTube and Flickr channels.
The following slides include some of the mementos that the agency is now sharing with the public for the first time. If you thought James Bond had cool tech toys, get a load of some of this stuff.
A silk escape and evasion map printed printed with waterproof dyes just in case the map ever got wet.
It was the heyday of the Cold War and on May 1, 1960, a U-2 spy plane piloted by one Francis Gary Powers was downed by Soviet fire over the Russian city of Sverdlovsk. After 21 months in a Russian jail cell, Powers was freed in 1962 in exchange for a Soviet intelligence officer. This model of a U-2 was created by the CIA for Powers’ March 1962 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Allied photo interpreters used this stereoscope during World War II to view filmed images of enemy territory in 3-D.
In the 1950s, the CIA had its own semi-submersible. It couldn’t travel very far and needed to be hauled around by a larger mother vessel, but its relatively small size allowed the spy sub to operate undetected in areas that would have proved impossible for larger ships.
Another view of the semi-submersible.
This intrusion detector – powered by tiny power cells and featuring a built-in antenna – could detect movement of people, animals, or objects up to 300 meters away.
Sometimes wonder where your tax dollars go? The accompanying image shows off some of the handicraft of the CIA’s Office of Advanced Technologies and Programs – in this case an “Unmanned Underwater Vehicle” fish to study aquatic robot technology. Why they would want to do that is anybody’s guess, but the CIA did come up with a nifty implementation of different technologies – including a communications system in the body and a propulsion system in the fish’s tail. (An operator on land controlled it by a wireless line-of-sight radio handset.)
A lithium-iodine battery. It’s still unclear what use it saw in action, but the CIA says that it shared its research into lithium-iodine batteries with the medical community in the 1970s.
This Dragonfly “insectothopter,” invented by the CIA’s Office of Research and Development in the 1970s, essentially served as a very tiny Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. One of the first-ever UAVs – long before the acronym entered the popular lexicon – this project pressed forward to test the feasibility of gathering intelligence collection by miniaturized platforms.
Another view of the Dragonfly Insectothopter.
The “Belly Buster” hand-crank audio drill was used in the 1950s and 1960s to put holes in masonry so CIA agents could implant audio devices.
Issued in matching sets of two – one for the encoder and one for the decoder – these one-time pads were used to encode and decode agent communications. Individual sheets included a random key in the form of five-digit groups. “Once a sheet has been used to encode a message, it is torn off the pad and destroyed. If used as designed, encryption by (One-Time Pads) is virtually unbreakable,” according to the CIA.
During the second world war, devices like this one helped agents remove letters from their envelopes without opening the seals. After inserting the device into the unsealed gap at the top of an envelope flap, an agent could wind the letter around the pincers and remove it from the envelope without leaving a tear in the paper.
Agents and their handlers would communicate by filling this hollow spike with documents or film – and then push the spike into the ground.
A modified ladies make-Up compact that doubles as a concealment device. Tilting the mirror at the correct angle reveals the code.
This Eisenhower silver dollar doubled as a concealment device to hide messages or film.
If you were around during the 1960s, then you have to remember Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), and Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum, the super spies in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” television series about the fictitious law-enforcement agency, U.N.C.L.E. These artifacts were donated to the CIA Museum in 2000 by The Spy-Fi Archives.
An Al-Qa’ida training manual found by American intelligence agents searching the ruins of a suspected chemical processing site outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan.
The pneumatic tube system in the CIA’s first headquarters building featured more than 30 miles of 4-inch steel tubing. The system, which had about 150 receiving and dispatching stations throughout the building, operated between 1962 and 1989.
America’s first successful photographic reconnaissance satellite, Corona came into widespread use at the CIA in the 1960s.
A microdot camera facilitated the covert transfer of documents by agents during the Cold War. A piece of film could be embedded into something as tiny as the text of a letter. The recipient would read the microdot with the aid of a special viewer.
The world’s most widely used spy camera, the portable Minox camera fit into the palm of the hand and could take high quality pictures.
You’ve heard of pigeons carrying messages. How about pigeons taking pictures? The CIA invented a small camera that was light enough to attach to pigeons. As the birds flew over a target, the camera would take detailed images of a target area.
A miniature 35mm film camera concealed in a tobacco pouch.
Allen W. Dulles was the longest serving director in CIA’s history. This was his identification card.
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