Following World War II, there was a period of difficult international ties among erstwhile allies. Although relations between the Soviet Union and the United States were worked together to defeat the Nazis , they swiftly deteriorated once hostilities ceased. However, the two nations maintained diplomatic ties continually during this time, hosting ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives in each other’s capitals. This provided numerous opportunities for espionage, and the Soviet Union was able to get information in one of the biggest breaches of national security of the entire time.
In 1945, as the war was coming to an end, Russian schoolchildren with gifts visited the residence of the American ambassador in Moscow. One of them included a sizable carving of the American flag. The ambassador put it on the wall behind his desk as a token of his gratitude and left it there for seven years. The Soviets were able to hear every word said in that office without the need for energy or transmitters because to a device hidden behind the seal, which the Americans were unaware of. The secret listening gadget that became known as “The Thing” was made up of a tiny membrane attached to a quarter-wavelength antenna. When the right frequency radio wave is directed at the gadget, a signal is sent back that makes every conversation possible with stunning clarity (via Mental Floss ).
There was a period when smoking wasn’t considered to be so taboo, or almost half of all adults smoked . This provided spies with several possibilities to conceal their equipment inside typical cigarette packets. Nobody would have given it a second thought if they were carrying a pack of Lucky Strikes at the height of the Cold War. In 1949, the U.S. Army created the first camera that was concealed in this way.
For its day, this tiny camera was quite innovative. A light meter was hidden in a carton of matches, while it was housed in a real Lucky Strike container. Fair enough, it was never developed past the prototype stage, but it was created and was completely operational. The compact camera has a four-speed shutter, a four-position aperture, and a high-quality Sonnar lens. The Drive claimed that it could capture 18 images on 16mm film.
This camera system is still in use. It is extremely uncommon to find a surviving sample because there were only a few prototypes manufactured. In 2015, one set was put up for sale. The estimated value ranged from $41,000 to $64,000, according to The auction was hosted by Bonham’s . The sale’s ultimate price was kept confidential.
STIRN’S BUTTONHOLE CAMERA, images 3 through 5
Since photography had been around for about 60 years by 1886, the technology had had time to develop, and creative people had come up with ways to customize it for various uses. Stirn’s buttonhole camera was one of these ingenious cameras. Even while it wasn’t developed expressly for military or government use, it may nevertheless be used to sneakily take pictures. After purchasing the rights to the camera in 1886 from the Western Electric Co. of New York, C.P. Stirn successfully commercialized it, selling 15,000 units in just two years (via Exibart Street ).
The camera was a shallow, cylindrical, flat cylinder that held a disc of film and had a tiny lens sticking out of it. It was intended to be worn around the neck, with the lens sticking out through the buttonhole of the vest that most men wore at the time. The only camera that could snap six images of subjects while they were fully oblivious, according to advertisements from the period. It’s possible that it was more of a novelty than a real espionage weapon, but it’s not crazy to think that some brave investigator may utilize it to find proof of a crime.
INSECTOTHOPTER Although the insectothopter was never actually put to use in the field, it is nonetheless fascinating and inventive enough to warrant a deeper examination. This is how the CIA has officially designated it, despite the name being a little corny. According to the CIA, it was first used in the 1970s as a means of concealingly conveying a listening device in the form of a dragonfly. The agency discovered that bumblebee flight patterns were too unpredictable, thus the dragonfly was chosen in place of the original plan’s bumblebee. It was propelled by a miniature fluidic oscillator and received extra thrust from the motor’s gas discharge. It used a laser at the back for both guidance and data transmission from the listening device. While it did work—the agency’s website features a video of it in use—crosswinds might too easily cause it to veer off track, so it was put on hold.
Although the CIA did develop this miniature UAV, it was never put into use. It’s interesting to note that Russian intelligence tried to imitate it in the 1990s. The worked together to defeat the Nazis 0 website features numerous images of it. It is obvious that the Russians stole the idea, but they had less difficulty concealing it because of the design’s obviously mechanical appearance and use of metal and clear acrylic.