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11 Old and Cold War Spy Gadgets (Declassified)

Published by HireAPrivateEye in Spies & Spying · 14 July 2021
Have you ever wondered what gadgets spies used during the cold war or even further back than that? Well, we have a list of some of the most interesting old spy gadgets used in history. You can see some of the inventiveness of spy agencies of the past and how these out-dated spy tools would have been used. So check out our list of these ancient pieces of equipment including old cold war spy gadgets below.

A Little History of Spy Gadgets and Old Espionage Methods

Spying or espionage has been documented throughout history and its main purpose was, and still is, to obtain information - without permission of course - that was considered confidential or secret. Spying was done by an individual or spy-ring (a group of spies), and usually carried out "officially" for a government.

Part of being in the spy-game, old spies would get to use some of the most sophisticated spy gadgetry available in their time - we're going back some hundreds and even thousands of years. Interestingly, archaic spying methods and crude cloak-and-dagger tools were in use long before any real modern technology existed. The tools used by these old-time spies were not as glamorous as the real spy gadgets we see today, but nevertheless were very effective for their time.

Moving up the time-track, the old Cold War spy agencies such as the American CIA, British Secret Intelligence Services (MI5 and MI6), the East German Stasi and Russian KGB, would use these old "sophisticated" spying devices against each other - in a game of cat and mouse. The result: better intelligence.

Here's our list of some the best vintage spy tools of the many thousands of historic spy gadgets and tools that have been used in the past.

#1. Old Letter Removal Spy Device


Old Letter Removal Spy Device
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

During World War 2 this letter removal real spy device was used to extract the letter from inside, without destroying the envelope seal. The pincer-device was inserted into the small unsealed gap at the top of the envelope. Taking grasp of the letter inside the device was turned, winding the letter around it, and then simply extracted through the gap at the top.

#2. Old Tobacco Pouch Spy Camera


Old Tobacco Pouch Spy Camera
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

Hidden in this modified tobacco pouch was a 35mm spy camera with spring-winding mechanism that advanced the film between exposures.

#3. Modified Lady’s Makeup Compact with Spying Code


 Old Makeup Compact with Hidden Spy Code
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

Here, a secret code is concealed inside the mirror of a lady's makeup compact. By tilting the mirror at the correct angle, the spy code is revealed.
 

#4. Vintage Spy Dead-Drop Spike


Vintage Spy Dead Drop Spike
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

Communication between spies and their handlers would always risky. The dead-drop spike would allow for secure communications through one person leaving material at a prearranged location and the other person picking it up later on. This would eliminate the need for direct contact. This old espionage tool is a spike that could be pushed into the ground. The device is hollow and would contain messages, documents, or reels of photographic film.

#5. Old Spy Compass Concealed in Cufflinks


Old Spy Compass Concealed in Cufflinks
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

Spies going into harm’s way had a variety of clever places to hide miniature compasses for escape and evasion in case they were compromised - in razors or combs, uniform buttons or, as seen here, in cufflinks.

#6. Cold War Cigarette Pack Spy Camera


Cold War Cigarette Pack Spy Camera
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

This old cold war spy camera was built small enough to easily fit inside a modified packet of cigarettes. The 35mm spring-wound miniature camera had a smooth, quiet operation, allowing the intelligence officers using it to remain clandestine.

#7. Cold War Silver Dollar Hollow Spy Coin


Cold War Silver Dollar Hollow Spy Coin
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

More than just a coin, this Eisenhower silver dollar was actually an old spy concealment device used during the Cold War to hide secret messages or small pieces of film.

#8. Cold War Clothing Spy Accessories


Cold War Clothing Spy Accessories
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

To collect intelligence while mingling with Cold War enemies, agents needed spy accessories that worked as well as they did. In some instances, spies were issued clothing and jewelry fitted with tiny cameras or microphones. Embedded in brooch pins or buttons, agents could mingle while recording the action.

#9. Cold War Seismic Intruder Detection Device


Cold War Seismic Intruder Detection Device
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

These Cold War spy intrusion detection devices would be used by agents around sensitive locations to monitor movement. Camouflaged as rocks or sticks, these seismic devices were used to sense the movement of people, vehicles or animals up to a distance of 300 meters away. These old spy gadgets - running on tiny power cells - had built-in radio transmitters that relayed data via coded impulses.

#10. Vintage Smoking Pipe with Concealed Radio Receiver


Vintage Smoking Pipe with Concealed Radio Receiver
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

This vintage pipe is fitted with a micro radio receiver that allowed the undercover agent to hear radio transmitted sound via bone conduction - from the jaw to the ear canal.

#11. Cold War CIA Spy Anal Toolkit


Cold War CIA Spy Anal Toolkit
Image courtesy of CIA Museum

This spy toolkit was used by the CIA during the Cold War era. It was designed to be easily inserted into a spy's rectum shortly before being captured by the enemy. As humorous as it may seem, this would be a life-saver for the CIA operative who could later pop the tool-kit out and use it to attempt an escape.

Old Spy Gadgets Vs New

Old spy equipment used to be esoteric, accessible only to government agents, but that has changed significantly. Today the market is flooded with spy equipment and their use has soared. No longer are these tools reserved for intelligence agencies. If you were to hire a private investigator you can be assured they will have their own PI gear to help in the advancement of their own cases.

The old vintage spy gadgets were more mechanical in nature but with the development of electronics over the years, spying has become very advanced - electronically. Aside from government spy agencies; advanced spy gear is being used by businesses, investigators, law enforcement, and private individuals for a variety of purposes. In the right hands and used correctly and ethically; a spy gadget can be very useful.






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