What better cover for a government spy than to claim retirement and run a museum? E. Peter Earnest, a 36-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, couldn’t think of one, so he teamed up with the International Spy Museum, which opened in Washington, D.C., in July. Visitors adopt a cover, go to spy school, break codes, identify operatives, fall under covert surveillance, and learn about the lives of secret agents. The museum also boasts the largest collection of spy gadgets ever assembled for public display-more than 600 in all. Here’s a sampling of the more intriguing curios.
-Brian J. Fortner
1. Pigeon-Powered Surveillance
Before the age of drones, pigeons provided the best aerial surveillance around. During World War II, the Germans strapped cameras to the birds’ bellies and sent them over enemy lines.
2. Lipstick Pistol
Known as “The Kiss of Death,” this pistol was discovered at a West Berlin border crossing in 1965. KGB operatives used the 4.5-mm single-shot weapon as a last resort.
3. Tree-Stump Listening Device
The CIA planted this fake stump near a Soviet airbase in the early 1970s. A solar-power battery and transmitter kept U.S. agents within earshot at all times.
4. Buttonhole Camera
Clandestine photography leapt forward in the 1970s when the KGB introduced this covert camera. The false button hid a lens that was connected by thin cable to a shutter release stuffed in a pocket. More advanced models are still in use.
5. Explosive Coal
This World War II chunk of coal contained a hollow center with explosives. U.S. operatives painted it to match local shipyard
or railroad varieties. It detonated in locomotive furnaces or
6. Heel Transmitter
KGB agents planted this device in the heel of a U.S. ambassador’s shoe in Moscow in the 1960s. The concealed transmitter, microphone, and batteries turned him into a walking radio station.
7. Poison Gas Gun
Created by the KGB in the 1950s, this double-barrel gun contained vials of prussic acid. When fired in the victim’s face, the vials were crushed and the acid converted into fatal