Friday, July 6, 2012

6 of the Most Unusual Retro Spy Gadgets

Gadget lovers, wannabe spies and, well, pretty much every guy in existence has pored over the amazing spy gadgets in James Bond films and thought to himself, “I want that!” . From a magnetic Rolex that can deflect bullets (oh, and unzip women’s dresses) to a mobile phone that doubles as a stun gun, it makes you wonder whether these gadgets could ever exist or if they’re all just cool ideas from the imagination of the prop department.

Whilst the real life spy gadgets of the past shown below might not be so high-tech as things you’d see in a Bond film today, all of them have existed and been used at some point...

1.       Bulgarian Umbrella
In 1978, a Bulgarian spy killed someone on the streets of London using a modified umbrella that included a needle in the tip filled with deadly poison, that shot out when a trigger was pressed on the handle. Originally thought to be a unique weapon, a room filled to the brim with these toxic umbrellas was unearthed in Bulgaria in 1991, proving these to be the gadget of choice for any Bulgarian spy worth his salt!

2.       Microdot Camera
I said these weren’t high-tech gadgets, but I think this little camera from the times of the Former Soviet Union definitely rivals modern technology with its ability to shrink highly-classified documents down to the size of a normal full stop, to get past the enemy undetected before being blown up to full size again. Invented by the East German Foreign Intelligence Service, it was eventually discovered by the Americans when a double agent handed over the secret.

3.       Shoe Heel Transmitter
Unfortunately for Western diplomats, many a secret message was intercepted by the Romanians thanks to their penchant for fashionable attire – in the sixties and seventies the diplomats almost unanimously bought their shoes via mail order from Western Europe, which the Romanian secret service was able to intercept and install hidden transmitters in the heels to listen in on their conversations.

4.       Lipstick Gun
It wasn’t just men spying during the Cold War – one femme fatale from the 1960’s was discovered to be in possession of a rather unique little pistol, only big enough for one bullet and shaped like a tube of lipstick, complete with a ring of red colour to fool enemies until it was too late.

5.       Button Camera
Now a staple spy gear item, the pinhole camera was probably first used by the Russian KGB who issued their agents with a mini camera shaped like a standard button, attached to a shutter in the pocket that could surreptitiously be squeezed to take a picture unobserved. I wonder however if the enemy because suspicious when everyone started turning up with the same buttons on their coats...

6.       Tree Stump Transmitter
Designed to look like a simple tree stump, this communications interceptor and transmitter was (almost) perfectly disguised. Powered by solar energy, it secretly intercepted Soviet messages and sent them to a satellite, which directed them on to the United States. Miffed at how their communications were being overheard, the Soviets did eventually discover this unnatural tree stump hidden in a wood just outside of Moscow.

Do you think these gadgets are still in use today? Or is it more likely the invisible car and rocket-powered belt of the popular Bond films are secretly more fact than fiction in today’s high-tech society?

Estelle Page writes for Spy Camera CCTV, one of the leading online retailers of security camera systems ranging from standard CCTV to hidden spy cameras for home.

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