Since 2002, the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, has housed the world’s largest collection of actual gadgets, historical items, and memorabilia pertaining to the dangerous world of international espionage.
From lipstick pistols to dog poop listening devices, here’s a look at some of the most bizarre and fascinating items currently on display.
1. Buttonhole camera, model F-21, circa 1970
Known by the codename “Ajax,” this hidden camera was concealed within a regular coat and was widely used in the Soviet Union, Europe, and the US. The camera’s trigger was held in the pocket and, when activated, would snap a picture from a lens that resembled a button.
2. Dog poop transmitter, circa 1970
This hidden transmitter was disguised by the one thing nobody wants to touch: poop. This device was issued by the CIA during the 1970s and transmitted a radio signal to coordinate airstrikes and reconnaissance.
3. Eyeglasses with concealed cyanide pills, circa 1975–1977
Not all covert operations go according to plan. If a mission was compromised, a CIA agent choosing death over torture could remove their eyeglasses and chew on the arm to release a powerful dose of cyanide.
4. Lipstick pistol, circa 1965
This ordinary-looking lipstick was designed and used by the KGB during the Cold War and was capable of firing a deadly .177-caliber round.
5. Tree stump listening device, early 1970s
Designed by the CIA, this tree stump would be placed near a Soviet base and used to intercept secret radio transmissions. The data would be relayed back to the CIA via satellite.
6. Rectal tool kit, 1960s
Utilized by the CIA, this compact tool kit was designed to be hidden inside an agent’s rectum so it would be undetectable during a patdown.
7. Pigeon camera, 1916–1917
This German pigeon camera was used during World War I for reconnaissance of enemy positions. The camera was placed on a timer and the birds were set free to fly over the battleground. When they returned, the film was processed and the data was used in developing real-time combat strategies.
8. Explosive water canteen, 1942–1945
During World War II, some US Army intelligence officials carried this canteen, which contained explosives in the lower portion of the container.
9. Explosive coal and camouflage, circa 1942–1945
This lump of coal was created by the United States OSS during World War II. Within its hollow center was an explosive, and a camouflage kit was also provided to paint the lump in the exact color of the local coal. If unsuspecting enemy personnel were to toss it into a fire, the coal would detonate.
10. Flashlight gun, 1930s
Little is known about which agency developed this tool, which featured a working flashlight and functioning firearm.
11. Hollow coin, 1950s–1990s
Hollow coins are quite prevalent in espionage, offering clandestine storage for microdots and microfilm. The coin is opened by inserting a needle into a tiny hole on its face.
12. Shoe with heel transmitter, 1960s–1970s
This shoe was stolen from a US diplomat by the Romanian Secret Service and outfitted with a hidden microphone and transmitter.
13. Steineck ABC wristwatch camera, circa 1949
Developed in West Germany, this tiny camera was situated on an agent’s wrist and was capable of snapping eight photos. Since the camera didn’t come equipped with a viewfinder, framing a good shot was quite a difficult task.
14. Tessina camera and cigarette case concealment, 1960s
What at first glance looks to be a fancy cigarette case was actually a hidden camera developed by the German Stasi during the 1960s. An operative was able to grab a real smoke and covertly snap pictures at the same time.
15. Glove pistol, 1942–1945
This gun was developed by the US Office of Naval Intelligence and was triggered by pushing the top plunger into the enemy.
16. Tobacco pipe pistol, 1939–1945
Developed by the British Special Forces, this firearm was designed to look like an ordinary pipe but packed a deadly secret.
17. Lockpick pen, 1970s
This pen was issued by US intelligence and contained all the tools necessary to pick a standard door lock.
18. Escape boots, 1939–1945
These clever boots were worn by British MI9 pilots. With their tops cut off, they would help downed pilots blend into the local population.
19. Gas assassination weapon, 1950s
Developed by the KGB, this weapon was used by Soviet agent Bogdan Stashinsky to assassinate two Ukrainian dissidents by disguising it within a rolled-up newspaper.
20. Key casting kit, 1960s
This kit was issued to CIA operatives and was designed to duplicate keys by making an impression in putty and then casting a mold.
21. Time-delay pencils, 1943–1945
Issued by the US Office of Strategic Services during World War II, this gadget disguised as a pack of pencils contained a time-delay incendiary device, which allowed the operator to escape to safety before detonation.
Learn more about the International Spy Museum here.
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