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International Spy Museum opens its doors

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June 2, 2004

Coat with buttonhole camera

Coat with buttonhole camera

Image Gallery (11 images)

June 3, 2004 There is no richer source of speculation and intrigue than the realm of international espionage. The deadly real-world ingenuity that inspired 007 and an entire genre of literature can now be seen at the International Spy Museum. The museum is the first dedicated to espionage and provides a global perspective on the craft, practice, history, and contemporary role of the espionage profession. The KGB issue Lipstick Pistol, "Through the Wall" surveillance, tracking devices concealed in shoes and overcoats equipped with button cameras form part of the the extensive collection developed over 30 years and housed at the Museum in Washington, D.C.

In bringing together the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display, the International Spy Museum called on the expertise of former CIA and KGB chiefs, and the Museum's Executive Director, E. Peter Earnest, is a veteran of 36 years of service with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The exhibition aims to bring a historical perspective to the shadowy world of espionage, using interactive displays, film and video alongside the actual artifacts to bring an understanding of their role in current and historic events.The "The Kiss of Death" was the name given to the 4.5 mm single shot weapon disguised as a tube of lipstick used by KGB operatives during he mid-60'.

The existence of the weapon was first detected at a border crossing into West Berlin.Lipstick was one of many options for concealing weapons during clandestine operations - torches, pens, tobacco pipes and cigarette packets were also used, but if we had to choose one device NOT to use it would be the KGB's 4.5mm single shot Rectal Pistol which was encased in rubber and hidden exactly where the name suggests, and certainlky not something you would want to go off prematurely.

The collection also explores the history of code making and breaking operations with famous cipher machines like Enigma, used by Germany in World War II and the US field-version from the same period - the M-209 Cipher Machine. The M-209 was widely used by the U.S. Army during ground operations. Tactical communications encrypted by the rotors of the compact M-209 were transmitted by radio and quickly deciphered with another M-209 machine the M-209 cipher machine could be easily transported for use in the field.

Invented in 1923, the Enigma cipher machine was refined during WWII, achieving increased levels of complexity until it was broken by the world's first computing machine, the Colossus I, in 1943.

Other highlights from the Museum collection include:Spy Shoe with Heel Transmitter : Looking like a quirky prop from Get Smart, the 1960's KGB issue Spy Shoe with a radio transmitter concealed in the heel was used to monitor secret conversations.

The shoe's transmitter, microphone, and batteries were imbedded in the heel of a target's shoe. A maid or valet with access to the individual's clothing would be given the job of planting the rigged shoes and activating the transmitter by pulling out a white pin from the heel.

The target would then become a walking radio station, transmitting all conversations to a nearby monitoring post.

Nazi Forged Currency: Operation Bernhard was a plot devised during World War II by the Nazi SD (Sicherheitsdienst) intelligence service to derail the British economy using large amounts of forged currency.

Printed by imprisoned master Jewish engravers, the pound sterling notes were not discovered until the 1950's - causing the British government to change the design of their currency.

Poison Gas Gun: a silent killer created by the KGB that was at the time undetectable at autopsy. This double barrel gun fired cartridges containing glass vials of prussic acid that converted into cyanide gas in the victim's face.

Coat with Buttonhole Camera: The lens of the KGB's lightweight F21 camera was hidden behind a false button on the front of the user's coat and triggered by a remote shutter release.

Tree Stump Listening Device: A solar powered listening device disguised as a tree stump was placed by the CIA in the woods near a Soviet military base to capture secret military radio transmissions.

"Through the Wall" Camera: The Stasi, the East German security service, used this camera in the 1980s to photograph individuals through walls in special hotel suites. The tube of the camera fit perfectly into a "port" built into a hotel room wall and pictures are taken from a remote location.

Steineck ABC Wristwatch Camera (c. 1949, Germany): This cleverly disguised subminiature camera allowed an operative to take photographs while pretending to check his watch for the time of day. It used a circular piece of film with six exposures.

Escape Boots: These English MI9 issue boots were designed for British pilots trying to escape detection in enemy territory. A small pen-knife concealed in the boots was used to cut off the tops so that they looked like civilian walking shoes rather than easily recognisable "flying boots".

Coal Camouflage Kit and Explosive Coal: During the second World War explosive coal was used by the US to sabotage operations - a coal shaped device was packed with explosives was secretly deposited it into coal bins at ship or railroad yards.

John Walker's Electronic Countermeasures Kit (c. 1980s, commercially available): John Walker was the KGB's most important spy in the United States in the 1970s. As a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Navy, Walker had access to naval secrets and decided to spy for the Soviet Union in exchange for money. After retiring, John Walker continued to spy with the help of family members still serving in the Navy until the FBI caught him in 1985. He used the equipment in this briefcase to maintain his cover identity. As a countermeasures specialist, Walker used this equipment to find listening devices for his clients.

Secret Writing Detection Kit (c. 1980s, East Germany, MfS issue): To read secret messages, members of the East German MfS (Ministry for State Security) used the ultraviolet lights of different wavelengths in this kit to search for secret writing. Operatives were given pens containing special ink that would only fluoresce when viewed under UV lights of a specific wavelength - otherwise, the writing remained invisible.

Francis Gary Powers Album (c. 1960, USSR, KGB): Also on display are photographs taken by the KGB, document the personal belongings and secret equipment found in the wreckage of Francis Gary Powers' U-2 spyplane when he was shot down over Soviet territory in 1960.

Powers, dispatched by the CIA to take aerial photographs of key Soviet missile installations, was intercepted and shot down when an anti-aircraft missile exploded near his aircraft. After parachuting to safety, Powers was immediately taken captive by the Soviets and later convicted as a spy. Powers was eventually traded to the U.S. for a captured KGB officer.

Jeffersonian Cipher Device (c. 1790s, U.S.): Thomas Jefferson invented a cylindrical cipher device similar to this in the 1790s. The device proved so successful, the U.S. Army used similar versions to encrypt messages up until the end of World War II.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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