Microdot Camera

Cold War spies used this tiny camera to photograph entire pages of documents. The resulting piece of film would be embedded into the text of a letter, hidden in rings, or stashed in hollow coins.

Matchbox Camera

Kodak manufactured this camera for the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor of the CIA that operated during World War II. It could be disguised as a matchbox by slapping on a label appropriate to whatever country it was used in.

Pigeon Camera

This small, lightweight camera was designed to be carried by a pigeon. The birds could capture photos of a target from only a few hundred feet away, providing much more detailed imagery than other methods of intelligence.

Tobacco Pouch Camera

A miniature camera could be concealed in this modified tobacco pouch.

Cigarette Case Camera

Yet another way spies used the prevalence of tobacco to their advantage: This modified pack of Parliaments held a small camera.

Letter Removal Device

Need to read a letter without breaking the seal on the envelope? Using this World War II-era device, you could wind a folded letter into a tight roll and slip it out of the unsealed gap at the top edge of the envelop flap.

Tire Spike

The caltrop, designed to be thrown on roads or runways, is guaranteed to land with at least one of its four spikes up, puncturing enemy tires (or anything else that rolls over it).

Hollow Dollar

This silver dollar concealed messages or film in its hollow center. Spare change made useful!

Makeup Compact

Tilt the mirror of this compact in the right way, and a secret code is revealed.

Spy Fashion

The CIA calls these outfits "bodywork surveillance equipment." What that means, the agency's photo description leaves up to the imagination, but it certainly calls to mind a few Bond girls.

Co.Design

10 Of The Most Bond-Worthy Spy Toys In The CIA Museum

The CIA's collection of historical artifacts reveals hidden cameras everywhere.

Real-life espionage probably bears little resemblance to the sexy, gadget-laden world of James Bond (we assume) but that doesn't mean CIA operatives don't have a few tricks up their sleeves. At the intelligence agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., CIA operatives and analysts can glimpse into the spy equipment of years past, including hidden cameras, hollow coins, and code-carrying makeup cases. For the non-spies among us, the collection is also viewable online.

Sadly, the archival collection doesn't contain anything as juicy as the poison-tipped shoes the CIA tried to copy directly from the pages of Ian Flemming's 007 series. (The British author reportedly once told CIA director Allen Dulles the agency wasn't doing enough in the way of "special devices," advice Dulles took to heart.) The collection does, however, suggest that the CIA was particularly invested in finding new ways to gather photographic intelligence surreptitiously in the field. Miniature cameras were disguised using everything from cigarette packages and matchboxes to pigeons. One could record images so small that the film could be hidden inside a letter of text.

See some of the most Bond-worthy gadgets in CIA history (that we know of) in the slide show above, and check out the whole online collection here.

[Images: Courtesy of CIA]

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2 Comments

  • Clarissa Olivier

    Thank you this is a very interesting article, I have always loved the gadgets from the bond movies