New Scientist is highlighting the online CIA Museum that features “spook kit” from a bygone age.
Paul Marks picks up the story:
Anyone who read Peter Wright’s book Spycatcher will be familiar with the tricks he and his MI5 colleagues used as they “bugged and burgled” their way around London in the 1950s and 1960s, listening and watching for signs of the Red Menace. Drilling silently into walls to plant bugs, they eavesdropped on suspected Soviet sympathisers. Their kit enabled them to hear the rotors being set on Soviet-bloc encryption machines, and so duplicate the settings on their own machines. You can see how they did this in the CIA Museum in Langley, Virginia, where some of the tools of 20th century western spycraft are on show.
For instance, the hand-cranked bug-planting drill came in a fast-assembly package of drill bits, wires and microphones. The drill would only gain purchase on solid masonry through having its base pushed hard – often against the spy’s stomach. The pain induced gave the drill its nickname: the belly buster.
Meanwhile, what looks like an innocent letter-opening knife is in fact a pair of ultra thin pincers. Inserted in the unsealed gap at the top of a sealed envelope, the letter inside could be grasped and wound around the pincers – allowing it to be extracted, read, copied and replaced, with the recipient none the wiser.
While digital cameras today can be smaller than a watch face, the 1950s marvel of micromechanical engineering was a cigarette-pack-sized spy camera, using 35-millimetre film and designed for ultra-quiet operation and concealability. And where would a spy hide a picture taken on it? In pocket change like this hollowed-out Eisenhower silver dollar, of course.
What is in the CIA museum, first suggested back in 1972 by its then Executive Director, William E. Colby? Well, all the objects have obviously been declassified now, but they include: “clothing, equipment, weapons, insignia and other memorabilia”.
From its modest beginning, the CIA Museum is now the preeminent national archive for the collection, preservation, documentation and exhibition of intelligence artifacts, culture, and history.
Do check it out. There are loads of good pictures on there.