Spy Tools: 15 Strange Surveillance Devices of the Cold War

Friday, 01 Nov 2013 05:09 PM

By Richard Grigonis

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With government officials the world over panicking that America may have been monitoring the conversations of heads of state — not to mention millions of ordinary people — we forget that the surveillance business has been part of every government since ancient times.

In the Bible, for example, the Book of Numbers, 13:17, reads: "And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain …"

The art and science of surveillance has come a long way since the days of Moses, and some countries just happen to be more adept at it than others.

To put things into perspective, let's take a trip down memory lane and revisit the golden days of spying — the legendary Cold War, with some dandy examples of items the James Bonds of that era kept in their tool kits.

Here are 15 of some of the more interesting spy tools of the Cold War era:

1. Sight Unseen




This F21 'Ammer' spy camera is on exhibit at the Stasi Museum (Stasi is short for Staatssicherheit, or Ministry for State Security), inside the former headquarters of the East German secret police in Berlin, Germany.

During the years of communist dictatorship in East Germany, there were 12 times as many of the hated and feared Stasi secret police per capita than Gestapo during the Nazi occupation of 1933 to 1945. Indeed, there were 35 times more Stasi per each resident of East Germany than the KGB had for its citizens in the USSR.

Urgent: Should the NSA Spy on Americans? Vote Here Now


2. Cold War Fashion Accessory




Made by a special section of the DMZ (Krasnogorsk) factory for the KGB, this Totschka (or Toychka) camera, inspired by the German Minox camera, is displayed next to the tie in which it was hidden.

The camera has a spring motor drive and is held by a special body harness that also has a remote control for the shutter speeds and shutter release. The camera hangs from the agent's neck, behind the tie, with the lens secreted in the middle of a special tie pin.

The agent was equipped with a normal tie pin to use when not taking secret photos. The size of the camera's photo negative was 8.5 x 11 millimeters, according to the Stasi Museum in Berlin.


3. A Bird's Eye View



A birdhouse with a hidden camera inside hangs on display at the Stasi Museum in Berlin.

4. Maxwell Smart's Other Shoe




A visitor examines a Russian spy shoe with a mini camera inside the heel at the "Top Secret" Spy Museum in Oberhausen, Germany. The museum's exhibits explain the work of various secret services and show original gadgets used by the Russian KGB, the CIA, and the East German Stasi during the Cold War.

5. Not Your Average Walking Stick



A spy camera is hidden in a walking stick at the German Photo Museum in Markkleeberg, Germany.

6. Can You Hear Me Now?

A Bodil eavesdropping device, or bug, produced in Germany in the 1980s, on display at the Stasi Museum in Berlin.


7. Not Available on 8-Track



The cassette recorder of an eavesdropping device on display at the Stasi Museum in Berlin. Ironically, compact cassettes were first mass-produced in 1964 in Hanover, Germany.

Be Heard: Should America Spy on its Allies? Vote Here Now

8. Spy Pens



This felt pen is hiding a miniature camera made by Carl Zeiss. A total of 10 were made especially for foreign espionage, but never used because of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Spy camera technology and development had reached its zenith, and production was starting in 1989, but the collapse of the communist system several months later kept companies like Carl Zeiss from making lucrative sales to Warsaw Pact countries. These are on display at the Stasi Museum in Berlin.

9. Photo Overdrive



The door of an East German Trabant automobile holding hidden infrared camera flashes for taking discreet photographs at night is displayed at the Stasi Museum in Berlin.

Four adults could squeeze into the Trabi — its nickname — which was powered by an inefficient, two-cylinder, two-stroke engine. It was manufactured in East Germany without any major design changes for about 30 years. In 2008, Time magazine listed the Trabant among the 50 worst cars ever made.


10. Night Photos To Go



A briefcase concealing an infrared camera and flash for taking photographs at night is on exhibit at the Stasi Museum in Berlin.

11. Microdots



At left are three microdots, enlarged times, found in March 1961 in an envelope in Helen Kroger's possession at a bungalow in Ruislip, Middlesex, England, which she shared with husband Peter. At right is an enlargement of one of the microdots, one of a series typed by Helen Kroger. Both Krogers were sentenced to 20 years in prison for their part in a Russian spy ring in the U.K.

12. Spy Wallet



A camera hidden inside a wallet is displayed at the Stasi Museum in Berlin.


13. Handbag Camera



A handbag with a hidden camera triggered by the spring at the left is seen at the Stasi Museum in Berlin.

Urgent: Should the NSA Spy on Americans? Vote Here Now

14. Louder, Please, My Watch Can't Hear You



A watch used as a microphone and connected to a recorder was produced in Switzerland in the 1960s by the NAGRA company, longtime makers of fine audio equipment for television, radio, motion pictures and, of course, surveillance.

15. American-British Spy Tunnel




This isn't just one device, it's a whole tunnel full of spy tools. Soviet authorities discovered amplifiers and other gizmos used to tap Russian telephone lines inside this long tunnel in Berlin, Germany, during the Cold War.

Russian officials broke into its eastern end on April 21, 1956, and announced the tunnel's existence on April 23, accusing American authorities of digging it from their Berlin sector across the border line. The tunnel's discovery sparked a major propaganda campaign against the West, with about 50,000 East German citizens bused in to see it.

Built in 1955 and code-named "Stopwatch" by the British and "Gold" by the Americans, the $6.7 million construction was operated jointly by the CIA and the British SIS. It ran from Rudow in West Berlin to Alt-Glienicke in East Berlin, which was occupied by the Soviets.

Unfortunately, while it was still on the drawing boards, the tunnel project was leaked to the Soviet KGB by British double agent George Blake. Still, during its brief existence in operation — 11 months and 11 days — American and British intelligence recorded 440,000 phone calls regarding Red Army maneuvers in East Germany.


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