Spying is one of the world’s oldest professions. As long as there has been information to be had, there’s been information to be stolen. There are few places in the world who have once claimed the title of the Spy Capital of the World – and Berlin is one of them.
When Berlin was a little divided on whether it was communist or democratic, only the Berlin Wall held apart two political enemies. It makes sense then that each was trying to learn more about the other and spies were the only way to really go about it. But being a spy is one of the most dangerous professions available. Mata Hari was a well known show girl before she was convicted of espionage during World War I and shot by a firing squad in Paris. People just don’t take any chances when it comes to spies.
That means that spying’s developed into an art – a really complicated one. When I was in Berlin, I stumbled upon the Spy Museum, a new building that showcases just how crazy – and crazy good – these professionals are at their job. It also has a way of making you a little paranoid. When you enter the lobby, you are met by a wall of public surveillance videos recording live. You can watch people from all over Berlin who think no one is watching them pick their noses.
Alongside the enigma machines and cyphers codes, I had a fascinating time trying to figure out where the hidden gadgets were inside a display of ordinary looking objects. Buttons were actually cameras, coins had hidden blades and everything seemed to be a video recorder. Here are some highlights of the museum – I’m off to go check the heels of all my shoes now.
Once quite common, the ordinary looking pipe would fire a small bullet from the mouthpiece. A small twist and push of the tobacco bowl loaded and fired the pistol.
The Bulgarian Umbrella (KGB, 1978)
This spy device was so effective that it was used twice before anyone could figure out what was going on. A regular black umbrella was modified to fire a pin-sized pellet of poison through the tip. The successful use of this umbrella was used to kill Georgi Markov in London.
Glue Stick Camera (KGB, 1990)
This innocuous looking UHU glue stick was found on a member of the Soviet KGB in 1990 in Vienna, Austria. It has a miniature camera hidden in the bottom and could take up to 30 pictures on 6mm narrow film.
Button Camera (All)
These cameras were so widely used in the Soviet Union, Europe and North America that many secret services had them. The KGB were particularly fond of them though, and many pictures have survived of their results. Squeezing a cable inside the coat pocket make the button shutter open and take a photo.
Heel Transmitter (Romanian Secret Service, 1969)
In 1969, security experts at the US embassy in Bucharest discovered a radio transmitter inside the building that belonged to a bugging mechanism. After a thorough search, the bug was found built into the heel of one of the US diplomat’s shoes. The Romanians planted these devices by secretly stealing the diplomat’s shoes, then installing a hidden microphone and transmitter into the heel. The Romanians then monitored their targets by recording and listening to all of their conversations.
Hollowed Coins (KGB, 1930’s-1990’s)
Hollowed out coins were the perfect way to hide microfilms and other small technology. A needle inserted into the coin or a specific pressure point would cause the two halves to separate. There were also hollowed out rings for the same purposes. These coins went completely undetected for over 20 years until a paperboy in Brooklyn dropped a nickel that split in half when it hit the ground.
Lipstick Pistol (KGB, 1965)
Not about to leave their women without a weapon of their own, the KGB developed this lipstick pistol. Known as the “kiss of death”, female KGB spies during the Cold War carried these as single shot weapons. They fired 4.5 mm bullets.
Glove Pistol (US NAVY, 1942-1945)
A gun mounted onto the back of a glove was very effective. Give someone a good punch with the glove on and the contact will fire the bullet. This left both hands free for any hand-to-hand combat.
Cigarette Box Camera (KGB, 1974-1983)
This fake cigarette box was manufactured in Kiev for nearly a decade. The box is actually a camera. Pushing the protruding cigarette takes the photograph.
Cyanide Glasses (CIA, 1975-1977)
If captured, an agent could casually chew on the arm of his glasses, releasing the cyanide pill hidden inside.
Playing Cards (MI9, World War II)
During the war, maps needed to be kept top secret at all times. Paper maps were not a very effective way to store this information, so Christopher Clayton Hutton from the British MI9 invented special playing cards with maps sandwiched between the layers of paper. These maps were revealed when the faces of each card had been dampened and removed. Each card in the deck contained a map segment and the orange number in the middle referred to an identification number. The jokers included the cipher code.
Glass Eye Contacts (All)
How uncomfortable must these have been to wear! How the agents were even able to see with them on is beyond me. I have itchy eyes just thinking about it.