To celebrate all things espionage, Washington, DC's very own International Spy Museum has rounded up their collection of completely wicked spy gadgetry and goodies. Behold the wonders of the pigeon cam!
All captions and images are courtesy of the Spy Museum.
THE BOND CAR, ASTON MARTIN DB5
The Aston Martin DB5 first appeared in the 1964 James Bond thriller Goldfinger. The ultimate spy car came fully loaded with machine guns, tire slashers, bulletproof shield, oil jets, dashboard radar screen, rotating license plate, and ejector seat. The Bond car not only captured the public's imagination, but inspired intelligence agencies to incorporate similar features into high security vehicles used in dangerous areas.
Codename: Ajax refers to the hidden camera concealed in this ordinary looking coat. The lens, tucked behind the right middle button, is perfectly positioned for photographing unsuspecting people. To take a picture, the wearer of the coat would squeeze a shutter cable hidden in the coat pocket. Squeezing the cable caused the fake button to open and snap a picture. This particular image is of Model F-21, issued by the KGB, circa 1970. The F-21 was one of several buttonhole cameras widely used in the Soviet Union, Europe, and North America.
A microdot is a photograph so small, an entire document can be reduced to the size of a punctuation mark in a newspaper.
Originally developed as a parlor trick, microdots became essential tools of the spy craft trade. Nazispies smuggled entire documents by photographically reducing them to the size of a small dot. Unfamiliar with this technology, American counteragents took nearly two years to decode them. J. Edgar Hoover called them "the enemy's masterpiece of espionage."
These tiny images could be embedded on an envelope or postcard, or hidden inside a ring or cufflinks. Reading them required special magnifying viewers (imagery provided). Often, these too were cleverly concealed in a cigarette or a fountain pen (also provided). Agents could make microdots from common household items such as headache powder, vodka and cellophane from packs of cigarettes. Microdots were wildly used Post-WWII and throughout the Cold War; those images provided reflect that time period.
MAKING A MICRODOT
- STEP 1: Take photo of a document and develop the film. Prepare a photo-sensitive plate by pasting a square of wet cellophane onto a glass plate. Coat it with silver nitrate, potassium bromide, and a pyramidone and vodka solution.
- STEP 2: Produce the microdot. The camera setup reduces the text to fit onto the tiny square of cellophane, creating a microdot less than 1 millimeter in size.
- STEP 3: Cut out the microdot. Remove the cellophane from the glass plate and carefully cut around three sides of the microdot. Use a toothpick to anchor the cellophane while cutting the fourth side.
- STEP 4: Hide the microdot. Using a razor blade, slit the edge of a postcard and insert the microdot. Glue the opening shut with egg white or potato starch.
Learning enemy secrets was vital as Britain battled for survival in 1939. British intelligence gathered an eclectic array of mathematicians, linguists, artists, and thinkers at Bletchley Park. Their assignment was simple: break Germany's codes. But with the Nazi's Enigma machine capable of 150,000,000,000,000,000,000 combinations, this task was dauntingly complex.
Originally designed to encode business communications, the Germans adapted the Enigma cipher machine for use in World War II. The machine linked a keyboard to a series of rotors using electric current. The rotors transposed each keystroke multiple times. The message was then sent in Morse code.
Enigma generated millions of combinations. The rotor order, starting positions and plug board connections were reset daily. To decipher a message, Enigma's daily settings key—sometimes encoded in the message itself—was needed. Even more, the machine was easily portable. Thousands were used in army divisions, theater headquarters, SS divisions, Luftwaffe wings, U-boats and other field environments. Given the quality of this fascinating machine, and quantity at their disposal, the Germans believed Enigma provided an unbreakable code.
Deciphering Enigma's trillions of combinations could not be done by hand. A fast, efficient number-crunching machine would be required—and the bombe was that machine. The bombe was a high-speed electro-mechanical device named by its Polist inventors either for its ticking sound or a popular ice cream dessert called a bomba.
With five hundred electrical relays, eleven miles of wiring, and a million soldered joints, the bombe tested guessed plain texts against intercepted cryptograms to see whether any Enigma setting would produce that result. If one were found, it would be the key for all messages sent on that cryptonet for that day.
Led by Alan Turing, a British team was gathered at Bletchley Park to decipher German communications using the bombe, as well as the Colossus, which solved German high command encrypted teletypewriter messages used electronic processing. Like many early attempts at automation, these machines could be programmed to do only one thing; however, they were quite sophisticated for their time. Devices like the original bombe and the Colossus used at Bletchley Park were important milestones in the history of computing.
The first team at Bletchley Park consisted of only 100 code-breakers. Soon, that number mushroomed to 10,000, mostly women. Fifty miles north of London, on the grounds of a peaceful Victorian estate, the Allies quietly won the "brain battle" of World War II behind the secretive walls of Bletchley Park, successfully cracking the Nazi Enigma code. Working day and night, they repeatedly defied the odds. Equally remarkable, they successfully kept Bletchley's secret throughout the war…and for 30 years after.
F-21 CAMERA CONCEALMENT
(Codename: UKOS); Issued by KGB, 1960s -1980s; This F-21 camera is concealed as a camera case with the lens located where the strap attaches to the case.
GEORGE WASHINGTON'S SPY LETTER
This original letter was written on February 4, 1777 by George Washington, America's First Spymaster. He enlisted Mr. Nathaniel Sackett, a New Yorker who had proven himself a valuable spy catcher, as the first member of the network he was initiating. Washington agreed to pay him $50 per month plus $500 to set up his spy network. In celebration of Washington's Birthday and the President's Day Holiday, we have the original artifact on display for the month. The rest of the year, we place an exact replica on display, while the original remains in archival storage for preservation.
BRUSH CONCEALMENT DEVICE
The coins in particular were useful to easily conceal microfilm and microdots. They were opened by inserting a needle into a tiny hole in the front of the coin. The image provided is of a hollow coin issued by the KGB. They were in regular use from the 1950s through the 1990s.
Issued by the KGB, circa 1965; The lipstick pistol, used by KGB operatives during the Cold War, is a 4.5 mm, single shot weapon. It delivered the ultimate "kiss of death."
For 50 years, the Minox was the essential spy camera. It could take 50 pictures without reloading, and its high resolution lens captured a remarkable amount of detail. John Walker, a U.S. naval officer who ran a KGB spy ring in the 1970s, used a Minox camera to document American military secrets. The camera is still made today, though not as widely used as it was during the Cold War.
Since the earliest days of espionage, homing pigeons have been a spy's best friend. Distinguished by their speed and ability to return home in any weather, pigeons carried precious, tiny cargo high above enemy lines. During both world wars, radio communication was often unreliable…but troops could count on the pigeon post. Of the hundreds of thousands of carrier pigeons sent through enemy fire, 95% completed their missions. Pigeons continued brave service worldwide through the 1950s, earning more medals of honor than any other animal. Pigeons carried their cargo in leg canisters. Reduced through microphotography to tiny dots, thousands of messages could be carried by one pigeon. Some pigeons doubled as spies—reconnaissance pigeons carried cameras to photograph enemy activity during World War I.
Used by Romanian Secret Service (Securitate), 1960s–1970s; Secretly obtaining an American diplomat's shoes, the Romanians outfitted them with a hidden microphone and transmitter, thus enabling them to monitor the conversations of the unsuspecting target.
STEINECK ABC WRISTWATCH CAMERA
At first glance it's a stylish wristwatch. But look again—it's really a miniature camera. An agent would carefully aim the camera while pretending to check the time —no easy feat since there was no viewfinder. Pressing a button on the watch snapped the photo. The Steineck, a product of post-war Germany circa 1949, was especially good for photographing secret meetings, private conversations, and other close encounters. Its film disk, about an inch across, could produce eight exposures.