Spies usually come in two main types: those that gather intelligence themselves and those who recruit others to gather information for them. The former are typically nurtured and watched over by a handler. The latter typically have worked under cover as diplomats, journalists and foreign businessmen. Spies are associated most with international intelligence gathering. They have traditionally done things like stole missile and bomb designs and military codes for one country and given them to another. Technology and data on radar, computers, machine tools and semiconductors were often sought after. Another thing they did was reveal spies on the other side.

Spies of the type portrayed in movies traditionally adopted a cover identity that was not their own and lived a life of lies. Different things motivated different spies: money, excitement, patriotism. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambition to join the KGB, he said, was sparked by the 1968 film “The Sword and the Shield”, a romanticized view of Soviet intelligence agents in World War II. He also liked to read thrillers about the adventures of KGB agents.

The best spies are often inconspicuous, scholarly types that are comfortable chatting up potential recruits at bars and parties and establishing friendships with them. Good spies also have skills in observation, analysis and surveillance. Double agents are spies who work for both sides, usually pretending to be a spy for one side but actually working for another side. Moles are double agents whose identity is so secret and his access and position are so deep the analogy is made to an underground-living mole,

On Spying today, Joe Sharkey wrote in the New York Times: “Spying has become just another business-travel tool, thanks to cheap, comprehensive technology and to a soaring demand for dependable real-time information about day-to-day conditions in the world.

Spies and James Bond

Real spies are nothing like James Bond. Bond spent his time seducing and assassinating while real spies spend their time recruiting moles and gathering intelligence information. Real spies rarely pick up a gun, let alone kill other spies.

One agent told the Los Angeles Times, "Your James Bond wouldn't do for us at all because we don't think he'd be any good at writing. All he's good at is running around, leaping into cars and shooting from cars. He's more like a superior policeman...but he would be a hopeless intelligence agent...Our kind of spy has to have higher education, be a beautiful writer, be well-read understand that you have to use both official and other sources to cover the country properly."

Some of the gadgets devised by James Bond movies like the dart-firing cigarettes and poison-tipped umbrellas, were reportedly studied by the KGB as potential weapons. A poison-tipped umbrellas was used to kill Bulgarian defector and writer Georgi Markov in London in 1978

SMERSH was the villainously evil Soviet intelligence agency that Goldfinger and Dr. No worked for in the James Bond novels. Especially with a name like SMERSH it had to be a fictional creation. Right? Wrong! SMERSH was a real agency, Smert Shpionam, or “Death to Spies,” that operated for three years during World War II and dueled with the Nazi intelligence services the same way that the KGB battled the CIA. Among the activities that SMERSH was involved in were the recovery of fragments of Hitler’s skull, parachuting agents behind Nazi lines and shooting Russian soldiers that fled the front lines.

KGB Sex Espionage

The KGB was fond of using the "Romeo method," in which handsome Soviet men were sent to the West with false papers to seduce female secretaries with access to information the Communists wanted. The KGB also tried to seducing enemy males with female, and even male agents for or information gathering or blackmail purposes. This method was called the "honey trap." Brothels known as "raspberries" were set up to entrap Westerners.

Pravda reported: “It was the USSR that established one of the most sophisticated special services in the world, which trained female spies to seduce men. There has been a book put out recently about sex spying. A girl named Vera narrated the story about KGB and how they recruited pretty girls, promising them that they would have all kinds of welfare imaginable, if they would agree to fulfil their civil duty and become sex agents. They were trying to deliver them from any shyness or shame, teaching them sex techniques, showing perverted pornographic videos. Girls were supposed to be able to execute any task. A lesbian orgy was one of practical classes, teachers would join that orgy too, the whole event was filmed and then the tape was discussed in detail by the whole group of participants. [Source: Pravda.Ru, July 8, 2002 ^]

“We were told that we were soldiers and that our weapon was our bodies. When the training was finished, we became sexually sophisticated women, we were ready to sleep with any man, if there was such an order for that,” Vera said. The objects of sexual attack were examined thoroughly beforehand, it was requisite to learn their sexual preferences, in order not to miss anyone. The first contact with an object was supposed to be totally incidental, but it was all over with blackmail: they explained to a guy that he had no other way out, but to cooperate with the Soviet intelligence. ^

“However, surprised happened sometimes too, like it was with the notorious case for seducing Indonesian President Ahmed Sukarno. He was known for his sexual passion. That is why KGB sent a group of young girls to him during his visit to Moscow. Those girls got acquainted with Ahmed Sukarno in a plane, under the disguise of air hostesses, then he invited them to his hotel room in Moscow and arranged a grand orgy. The orgy was filmed by two candid cameras that were fixed behind mirrors. It seemed that the operation was just perfect. Before starting the blackmail, KGB invited Sukarno in a small private movie theatre and showed him the pornographic video, in which he was playing the main part. KGB agents were expecting him to get really frightened, that he would agree to cooperate with them at once, but everything happened vice versa: Sukarno fondly decided that it was a gift from the Soviet government, so he asked for more copies to take them back to Indonesia and show them in movie theatres. Sukarno said to flabbergasted agents that the people of Indonesia would be very proud of him, if they could see him doing the nasty with Russian girls. ^

“East-German intelligence progressed in the field of sex spying as well. They developed a plan for seducing lonely secretaries that worked in important state institutions of West Berlin. The first contact was supposed to happen on a bus stop, in a café, or during a lunch break. A guy would start making a conversation, and then there was a game of seduction. For example, a handsome, well-dressed man with a bouquet of flowers rings a bell of a lonely woman, and then he pretends that he knocked on a wrong door. He gallantly apologizes, gives her flowers, and the affair starts. Agents knew every little detail about those women before starting all those operations. However, a male sex spy was not supposed to look like a Hollywood actor, it would be suspicious that he evinced interest in an inexpressive woman. Male sex spies also had a course of education classes with seductive female teachers. It sometimes happened that an agent could fall in love with his object, and those two people could not be controlled any longer. The problem with lonely secretaries that worked in secret institutions of West Berlin was so serious that NATO authorities ordered to hang posters on the walls of their offices, telling them to keep their hearts closed.

“Intelligence services of various countries also used homosexual agents, but it depends on a country, from which an object arrived – on their attitude to unconventional sex. There was an incident, when a KGB agent noticed that one of French diplomats had an eye on a guy from the governmental security. When KGB showed him kinky photographs of himself, the French delegate laughed out loud – it turned out that everybody in the embassy knew about his sexual orientation, and it was not a problem at all.” ^

Interrogation and Torture

Prisoners in the gulags were routinely sent into solitary confinement, exposed to bright lights and deprived of sleep. People were tortured by having water poured on them in the freezing cold and handcuffed in swarms of mosquitos in the summer. Guards played on these fears by subjecting prisoners to strip searches in the freezing cold, sometimes as often as five times a day. Punishments included beatings, torture and stints in “shizo”—a cold nine-foot-wide, wire-covered punishment cell that was entered through a hole only large enough for a an emaciated man or a small dog. Many prisoners were forced to sit on poles and if they fell of they were severely beaten. At Solovetsky prisoners were forced to sit on a pole for 18 hours.

In an effort to secure forced confession prisoners were slashed with knives, burned with cigarettes, beaten savagely, and tortured with ice water. There were even reports of men being chained to a truck that moved at four mph. Either they kept up the pace or were dragged. One former prisoner told the New York Times, "I saw people suspended on iron hooks under their ribs. I saw German shepherd eating living human flesh.”

Describing the torture of a former intelligence leader in 1951, one Russian historian told the Los Angeles Times, “While he was naked they would beat him with whip, and they would keep him in a refrigerator cell. His only food was two pieces of bread and a mug of water. And he was handcuffed 24 hours a day. He had been kept like that for a very long period of time. But he never signed anything.”

The KGB mostly tortured people by not letting them sleep. Those that lost their mind were placed in sound-proof, padded cells. Describing the 1940s, the German spy Markus Wolf wrote: "interrogation was the roughest department within the ministry, and I would not have liked to be exposed to some of the thugs who worked there."

The CIA issued "L pills" (L for lethal) with cyanide that were to be taken by foreign agents with important secrets in the event they were captured and interrogated. They also made eyeglasses with lethal dose of cyanide in the earpieces that could be taken off an bitten without arousing suspicion. One Soviet diplomat working for the United States bit into a cyanide-laden pen when he was picked up by the KGB and was "dead before he hit the floor."

Spy Communications

Steganogrpahy is the method of hiding messages within seemingly harmless documents. This method is especially useful in the Internet Age. In the old days messages were etched into lines on magazines with laser beams that could be read with high-powered magnification. One message left on the border of an ad in a February 1983 copy of National Geographic read: “Wait ten minutes only...our representative will say...” The message was given to an agent in a Soviet intelligence office by U.S. agents. The agent supplied reports on weapons and military plans until he was discovered and executed in 1986, possibly after being turned in by CIA mole Aldrich Ames. .

Many American agents were betrayed by using rust-free American staples. Official Russian documents were stapled together with poor-quality steel staples that left behind rust marks on the pages. "Hundred of agents were caught this way," one agent told AFP.

Spies sometimes used invisible ink. Messages were written on paper or pieces of cloth and exposed with chemicals. When were young we made our own invisible ink with lemon juice. The CIA developed paper that dissolves quickly in water so operatives could read messages and quickly destroy them.

Codes and Codebreaking

Codes have been essential for communication not only between spies but sectors—the military. diplomats, and industry—that needed to keep the content of their communications secret. Breaking codes or getting a source to reveal the secret to a code were some of the biggest coups of spycraft,

The U.S. Venona code-breaking project helped uncover Fuchs and the Rosenbergs. Venona was a Soviet typewriter-like machine that produced code in numbers. American code-breakers broke it by discovering a lot of sixes and going from there.

During World War II, the Nazis sent top secret messages abut submarine locations and defense positions on the Enigma machine,a special encrypting device that looked like a wired up typewriter which could transmit messages 200 trillion different ways through a system of mechanical and electronic switches. The British cracked the code machine by using clues left behind by human error and The Allies were able to read messages sent on it.

The Germans thought the enigma machine code was unbreakable and they freely sent radio messages which the Allies were able to monitor instead of on phone lines and communication cables, which are harder to track. Allied merchant losses were reduced from 432,000 tons in June 1941 to 121,00 tons in July after the British broke the German Enigma code and radio intelligence was used to reroute convoys to avoid U-boats.

Disinformation and Sabotage

Disinformation is the process of placing false information in the media with the intention of damaging one's enemies. Both the CIA and the KGB put a lot of energy into planting false stories during the Cold War. Explaining how the process worked one former intelligence officer told Reuters, "You would try and recruit a journalist and he could become an agent of influence." The foreign journalist was paid or acted on his hatred for a regime "and he would plant stories which were favorable to your side."

The KGB planted stories that the CIA was involved in selling body parts and conducted secret experiments with the HIV virus that caused the AIDS epidemic in Africa. The CIA for their part ran advertisements in Kabul newspapers during the Afghanistan war with Soviet military seal announcing invasion day celebrations.

In the early 2000s, it was revealed that the United States sold the Soviet Union software with bugs intended to cause economic and technological sabotage. Software used to run a Siberian natural gas pipeline caused a huge explosion in the summer of 1982. The goal was to undermine the Soviet economy and hasten the collapse of the Soviet regime

In his book “At the Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War”, former U.S. Air Force officer Thomas Reed wrote: “In order to disrupt the Soviet gas supply, its hard currency earnings from the West, and the internal Russian economy, the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines and valves was programed to go haywire, after a decent interval, to set pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds...The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.”

Drop Zones and Meetings

Spies have traditionally communicated with their handlers through "dead drops" or "dead letter boxes"—places where stolen materials were dropped off and instructions or cash were picked up. Drop zones have included trash cans, trees or bridges in parks. Handlers were notified with things like a pieces of tape on tree to go to a trash can to pick up materials. The curator at a spy museum told Smithsonian "Dead drops are a way of separating the spy and the handler, by time not space.”

James MacGibbons, an intelligence officer and German spy in Churchill’s War Office, wrote in an affidavit that he worked with a handler he knew only as Natasha who he met near Tesbourne Terrace n East London. “We exchanged passwords and walked along together, introducing each other,” he wrote. “I passed on my first note on the German units facing the Soviet armies. The first cache was arranged, this was usually under a bush in a front garden of the terraced houses, my typed notes including a matchbox; the caches were changed each time. In each one I left an empty box, which was marked with a cross by Natasha before I left the new box with my notes.”

MacGibbons said: “This became a regular routine once or twice a month with occasional meeting, always taking care that we were not being watched as we walked along chatting. ‘We became friends, although I never met her in daylight.”

Spy Technology

Concealment devices are clever items used to get materials across borders. Over the years these have included hollowed out glass eyes; a plastics dish that opens with a hidden switch triggered with a magnet; and a candlestick that is opened by applying an electric charge to a special spot in the base.

Other devises have included tire spikes, igniters used for detonating explosives concealed in fountain pens, rectal concealment containers shaped like a cigarettes lighter, lenses used for viewing microdots, lock-picking devices and shoe transmitters.

The CIA developed a realistic robot catfish named “Charlie” in 2000. The CIA would not reveal its mission but it is believed to be to used to collect water samples near nuclear plants. The fish was outfit with a pectoral fin that was larger than normal so it wouldn’t be eaten by predators.

The CIA developed a remote-controlled dragonfly that was developed to plant listening devises outside of windows. Powered by a small engine built by a watchmaker, it proved to be unreliable because it couldn’t fly straight in winds.

Spy Cameras

Spy cameras have been developed that are small enough to fit in buttons and long enough to pear through walls. Ones that could be concealed in a person's body—a vest camera with a lens in a buttonhole— were used as early 1885. In World War I, cameras were mounted on carrier pigeons. The CIA used cameras strapped to pigeons into the 1970s.

Spy cameras have been placed in cigarette lighters, walking sticks, matchboxes, cigarette boxes, eyeglass cases, cigarette packs, opera glasses, cravat pins, books, pocket watches, black lace garters and fountain pens. The KGB developed a spy camera with a lens inside of a ring. Minox was the largest manufacturer of spy camera. A key-chain camera was capable of taking 44 photographs.

The first microdots (photographed documents reduced to the size of less than a millimeter) were first used in 1852. They are produced by special cameras that take the pictures and were particularly popular in World War II. They were small and contained lots of information and could be hidden almost anywhere, even on the inside of an individual’s teeth.

Today, former KGB and CIA agents have discussed using spy technology to detect tiny cancer lumps in women's breasts.

Spy Listening Devises

Sophisticated listening devices were places in ashtrays, globes and phones. In 1945, the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow was given a gift: a seal of the United States outfit with an ingenious listening device that required no batteries or wires. The device, a half-dollar-size passive cavity resonator acted like an ear, allowing conversations in the room to be heard by bouncing radio waves off the resonators antenna, a brass rod imbedded behind the bald eagle on the seal. The device wasn't discovered for seven years and American scientists couldn't figure out how it worked.

The Soviets learned how to listen to conversations within a room by reflecting infrared waves off glass windows at precise points. They were able to listen to voices that caused slight vibrations on the windowpanes. The Soviets also attached vibro-acoustic sensors to iron bars embedded in reinforced concrete used in the load-bearing columns of buildings. The sensors in the columns acted like giant omnidirectional microphones. The Russians used the technology in the new American Embassy in Moscow.

A typical bug has a listening device and transmitter and wire that serves as an antennae. Over time listening devise and transmitter have gotten smaller and smaller. In the 1940s they were about the size small film canister. By the 1980s they were size of an M&M. Modern ones are comprised of a millimeter square microchip with a two-inch attached wire.

The KGB outfit shoes with a transmitter, microphone and battery in the heel that was used to listen to diplomats. The shoes could be worn or activated by a valet or maid who would pull a tiny pin. The CIA developed listening devices placed by a submarine on a Soviet telephone cable Sometimes agents climbed into overhead ducts to listen to conversations.

Spy Weapons and Violence

The CIA developed a “High Standard” pistol that was so quiet that legendary CIA founder William “Wild Bill” Donovan fired off 10 rounds into a bag of sand in the Oval Office of the White House while U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was on the phone without the President realizing anything had happened.

Single-shot pistols were disguised as lipstick case or pens. Describing their purpose, one former CIA agent told Reuters, "If you were captured, it would allow you to sneak up on a sentry and use that one round to kill the sentry and get the sentry’s weapon and that way you could fight your way out."

U.S. Naval Intelligence developed a glove pistol that fired when the wearer punched somebody. "Liberator pistols (guns dropped to resistance fighters in World War I) were mass produced at a cost of $1.72 a piece.

Describing what he had been taught about violence in the KGB, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: "There is no need to meddle into anything without extreme necessity, but as it happened, you must proceed from the assumption that there is no way back, and must fight until the end." "Another simple rule they taught me in the KGB was that you don't pull your weapon unless you are ready to use it. Don't try to scare anyone."

The East Russian spy Markus Wolf said that he much prefered blackmailing sources than threatening them with violence of murder, which he said was "a sign of weakness...a primitive and unproductive solution." Such dirty jobs were best left to Bulgarians he said.

Spy Satellites

The technology of the KGB and other Soviet and eastern Bloc intelligence services was considered less sophisticated than that of the United States intelligence services. Spy satellites have traditionally been very important to the United States. They are outfit with a variety of cameras—some with incredibly high resolution—and various listening devises that can pick up military signals and telephone and computer transmissions.

The 560 acre complex of satellite dishes on Menwith Hill, England may be the largest surveillance station in the world. Run by the National Security Agency, it is believed to be widely involved in intercepting telephone and computer transmissions from around the world. Using a computer program called Echelo, supercomputers at the facility can reportedly scan billions of phone calls and e-mails an hour.

One of the first spy satellites was the Corona reconnaissance satellite. It was successfully launched in the 1960s after many failures.. Among those who worked on the early satellite programs were Edward Land of Polaroid, Richard Lehrn of Eastman Kodak and aviation designer Kelly Johnson of Lockheed.

Cameras in spy satellites have to be able to survive the intense vibrations of a launch, the freezing temperatures in space and deliver photographs of license plates 80 kilometers up in space.

Book: “Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIS and the Hidden Story of America’s Space Espionage” by Philip Taubman (Simon & Schuster)

Spy Aircraft

Before spy satellites there were U-2 planes. First flown over the Soviet Union in July 1956, they were built like a glider and could soar above 70,000 feet, beyond the range of missiles that could shoot them down. They took clear pictures of air strips, secret cites and missile sites on 24 flights over four years until Gary Power was shot out of the sky, abruptly ending the program. See Gary Powers and The U-2, History

More sophisticated than the U-2 was the D-21 “Tagboard” unmanned jet, which was kept secret until the late 1970s. It was launched from the back of the ultra-fast SR-71 aircraft and cruised ay a speed of 2,200 mph at an altitude of 17 miles.

The development of advanced aircraft began after World War II when the U.S. military became concerned that for all intents and purposes it didn’t have a clue about the size and capability of the Soviet armed forces: how many aircraft, submarines and rockets they had, and what they were planning to do with them. Memories of Pearl Harbor were still fresh; and concerns about a surprise attack were on the minds of military strategists.

Early renaissance was in the form of planes—first modified World War II bombers and later low-flying jets that flew along the Soviet border in the Baltic and the Pacific. The Russians were not pleased as the United States would have been if Soviet planes regularly flew along its border. Several American planes were shot down by the Soviets.

Air reconnaissance was invaluable but dangerous. From 1950 to 1970 at least 252 crew members of spy flights—most directed at the Soviet Union—were involved in crashes. Only 90 of them survived.

See Separate Article DRONES AND THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM factsanddetails.com Under Terrorism

ESP and Psychic Experiments

Both the Soviets and the Americans did research in extrasensory perception (ESP) and other psychic phenomena. For 10 years a small group in the technical Services Division of the CIA studied hypnosis and telepathy but concluded the these methods were too unreliable to have practical applications and the programs should be axed. The person who pushed most of its continuance was future CIA director Richard Helms. In a memo he argued that the that the Soviet pursuit of “cybernetics, telepathy, hypnosis and related subjected” needed to addressed and “recent reported advances...may indicate more potential than were believed existed.”

The CIA-run Operation Stargate used clairvoyants and psychics to "visualize" the identities of KGB agents and designs of Soviet weapons. Used primarily in the 1970s and 80s at Fort Meade, Maryland, the psychics reportedly drew clear diagrams of secret Soviet submarine and helped locate a kidnaped American general in Italy. The budget was $20 million a year for 16 psychics involved in 250 projects involving thousands of missions.

In the early 1970s Stanford Research Institute was give $50,000 to investigate “remote viewing.” One psychic was given the geographical coordinates for Semipalatinsk, a secret site in Kazakhstan. The psychic designed a cluster of buildings and an underground storage site for missiles and drew of picture of “damned big crane.” Satellite photography later backed up his descriptions. The pictures of the crane he drew was remarkably similar to a crane that was photographed at the site.

The CIA also developed an ESP teaching machine and gave employees an ESP test along with a standard personality test. The U.S. military looked for “talent,” one reacher told U.S. News and World Report, by checking out people with “certain odd proclivities, like a creative pursuit in music or art, an interest or aptitude in foreign languages. They were also looking for people who didn’t report any ESP experiences.”

The CIA and KGB also experiment with various kinds of drugs. The CIA gave LSD and other hallucinogenic to unwitting human guinea pigs.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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