CIA Spy Cameras

Thanks to the CIA Flickr group, we are able to see some of the secret cameras that they used to use. It is quite a neat collection including cameras used by pigeons and cameras disguised as everyday items. See the description for each camera after the break.

Microdot Camera

Agents relied on the microdot camera to photograph and reduce whole pages of information onto a single tiny piece of film. This piece of film could be embedded into the text of a letter as small as a period at the end of this sentence. Microdots were also hidden in other things such as rings, hollow coins, or other mailed items. The recipient would read the microdot with the aid of a special viewer, often cleverly concealed as well.

Minox Camera

Walter Zapp, a Latvian engineer, developed a portable camera that would fit easily into the palm of the hand and yet take high quality, spontaneous pictures. The Minox subminiature camera, in its various models, was the world’s most widely used spy camera. When it first became available, the camera was considered a marvel of technology; it was originally made from steel in Riga from 1937-1944.

Pigeon Camera

CIA’s Office of Research and Development developed a camera small and light enough to be carried by a pigeon. It would be released, and on its return home the bird would fly over a target. Being a common species, its role as an intelligence collection platform was concealed in the activities of thousands of other birds. Pigeon imagery was taken within hundreds of feet of the target so it was much more detailed than other collection platforms.

Subminiature “Dual Use” Camera

This subminiature camera isn’t much larger than its film cassette. It could be used to photograph both documents at close range and building sites at a distance.

Tobacco Pouch Camera

A miniature 35mm film camera manufactured in Switzerland is concealed in this modified tobacco pouch. A spring-wound mechanism advances the film between exposures.

“Matchbox” Camera

The Eastman Kodak Company developed and manufactured this camera for use by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). It was made in the shape of a matchbox of that era. It could be disguised by adding a matchbox label appropriate for the country in which it was to be used.

Bodyworn Surveillance Equipment

An intelligence officer’s clothing, accessories, and behavior must be as unremarkable as possible — their lives (and others’) may depend on it. This is a responsibility that operational artisans, technicians, and engineers of the Office of Technical Readiness (OTR) take seriously. America’s intelligence officers can safely collect intelligence in hostile environments because they know that quality and craftsmanship have been “built in” to their appearances, leaving no traces to alert the enemy.


Link: CIA Museum on Flickr

[Petapixel via Photoxels]



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