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.