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Shadowland

June 2024
1min read

CIA Special Weapons & Equipment: Spy Devices of the Cold War

by H. Keith Melton, Sterling, 128 pages, $10.95 soft cover . CODE: STG -1

In the classic James Bond films, the most greedily anticipated moment isn’t when 007 rendezvous with the beautiful female agent or when the enemy’s island fortress erupts into an orgy of flame. It is when Q unveils his laboratory of new spy gadgets: exploding pens, camera Geiger counters, an Aston Martin with retractable machine guns. Actual Cold War espionage may not have quite equaled Hollywood in technology, but it was very much playing the game, as H. Keith Melton’s quirky new book, CIA Special Weapons & Equipment , shows.

Melton has assembled a collection of excerpts from CIA equipment manuals from between 1947 and 1970, with the help of the Freedom of Information Act. In 1952 the spy world was rocked by the discovery of a bug the size of a quarter in the wooden great seal above the American ambassador’s desk in Moscow; this first-known “passive cavity transmitter” spurred extensive American intelligence research and development in the same way the Sputnik scare later spurred our space program. The result was the array of Cold War tools represented here. While not exactly a Bond jet pack, the cigarette pistol is still an impressive “escape and evasion” device. The “dog doo”-camouflaged radio transmitter (circa 1970)—a little unsuave for movie spying—is shown here life-size. There is also explosive flour, which can be used in baking or ceramics or detonated dry; a rubber airplane that an agent can supposedly assemble in six minutes; a wristwatch camera “as natural, and unobtrusive, as checking the time”; a “blister weapon” disguised as a felt-tip pen; and, for prison escapes, a lock-picking set in a suppository.

This book uses cartoonish CIA artwork demonstrating correct espionage technique and includes a short glossary of agency terms. The foreword, by the former director of central intelligence Richard Helms, gives it a shadowy authority the Bond movies never had.

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