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Bug Off PUBLIC ACCESS

Or, Maybe You Want to Stop By and See What Engineering has Done for Spies.

[+] Author Notes

Jeffrey Leaf teaches engineering at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Va., and is a past vice president of the ASME Board on Pre-College Education.

Mechanical Engineering 125(10), 56-59 (Oct 01, 2003) (4 pages) doi:10.1115/1.2003-OCT-4

Abstract

This article focuses on innovations done by engineers for spying. If there has been espionage, engineers have been a part of it. In World War II, infiltrators and downed pilots had to be able to find their way behind enemy lines. Compasses were hidden in cufflinks, pencil clips, and buttons. Maps were printed on rice paper so they wouldn't rustle when opened. British pilots wore special flying boots with cutaway tops that, when removed, left normal-looking shoes. Bugging is another method of the spy. The purpose of a bug is to detect sound vibrations in air or in other materials, such as wood, plaster, or metal. A good bug must reject unwanted noise, be easily concealed, and be energy efficient. The United States had an entire listening kit in the 1950s and 1960s with an assortment of accessories like a tie clip and wristwatch microphones.

Article

Everybody Loves a Spy Story

After all, the spies of fiction move through a dark world full of narrow escapes and clever gadgets. Judging from what you can see at the International Spy Museum in Washington, ne., the spies of real life aren't so far behind.

For the spy on the go, a travel kit to detect secret writing.

Grahic Jump LocationFor the spy on the go, a travel kit to detect secret writing.

Decisions, as we know, are based on information, and spies offer critical intelligence to military and political decision- makers. But skullduggery aside, hardware is the attraction most likely to appeal to mechanical engineers gathered in Washington for ASME's Congress next month. As long as there has been espionage, engineers have been a part of it. Is there a better example of deception and infiltration than the Trojan Horse? In the 15th century, Leon Battista Alberti, an Italian mathematician, invented the cipher disc, which made substitution codes harder to crack. Twenty-five separate alphabet discs.

could be rotated to form an enormous number of letter- to-letter switches.

The Enigma machine, used by Hitler's spies in World War II, was capable of 150 x 1018 coding possibilities. Originally designed for securing business correspondence, the machine linked a keyboard to a series of rotors using electric current. The rotors transposed each keystroke multiple times. The encrypted message was sent in Morse code.

A bug in a shoe, perhaps unknown to the wearer.

Grahic Jump LocationA bug in a shoe, perhaps unknown to the wearer.

To decipher a message, Enigma's daily settings key—sometimes encoded in the message itself-was needed. The Germans believed that Enigma provided an unbreakable code. Perhaps it would have stumped the Allies—if the British hadn't known about the machine before the war.

Photography has been a powerful tool for the spy. An agent in the 1960s for the Stasi, the secret police force of the communist-controlled German Democratic Republic, may have actually used the Tessina camera and cigarette case on display at the museum. The man (or woman) from GRU, the foreign intelligence arm of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, might have copied as many as 40 pages on a single film cassette in the Rollover Camera. The KGB operative would have been clicking pictures with the camera hidden in his coat button around 1970. A dozen years earlier, the camera could have been in his necktie.

The Minox Camera, a staple of the spying business, has been used for 50 years to take 50 pictures without a reload and is still used today.

A wristwatch camera to record the sights.

Grahic Jump LocationA wristwatch camera to record the sights.

Once the spy got the picture, he had to get it to the people who could use it. That was a different engineering effort. The KGB was very imaginative in its efforts to conceal film. In the '50s and '60s, Soviet spies used hollow coins, and hollow bolts and nails. Later, film got into statuettes and courier shoes with secret compartments. In the '60s and '70s, the KGB could hide a microdot in headache powder, vodka, or the cellophane on a pack of cigarettes. The HVA, the East German Stasi's foreign intelligence division, used soap cases and umbrel1a handles, while the United States was into hol1ow shaving cream cans.

Cutaway boots to disguise downed fliers.

Grahic Jump LocationCutaway boots to disguise downed fliers.

Combining technology and nature worked well. During World War I, the birdcam was a widely used tool. The U.S. Signal Corps had a flock of 600 pigeons. Fitted with special1y designed chest cameras, homing pigeons were released and took off for their destination, clicking all the way.

A World War I bird-borne camera.

Grahic Jump LocationA World War I bird-borne camera.

The pigeons were also used to carry messages, and one, Cher Ami, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for heroic service. The bird, wounded en route, flew 25 miles to deliver a desperate communication from Maj. Charles Whittlesey's lost battalion. Separated from the rest of the U.S. Army, the starving troops faced heavy enemy fire. Cher Ami landed with a message canister dangling from his mangled leg, a message that saved more than 400 American lives.

Forged currency from Operation Bernhard, a Nazi plot to undermine the British economy.

Grahic Jump LocationForged currency from Operation Bernhard, a Nazi plot to undermine the British economy.

Bugging is another method of the spy. The purpose of a bug is to detect sound vibrations in air or in other materials, such as wood, plaster, or metal. A good bug must reject unwanted noise, be easily concealed, and be energy efficient. The United States had an entire listening kit in the '50s and '60s with an assortment of accessories like a tie clip and wristwatch microphones.

Maxwell Smart wasn't too far off with his shoe phone. (If you don't remember this TV character, look for "Get Smart" on cable.) During the '60s and '70s, the KGB would have a housekeeper acquire a pair of a diplomat's shoes. A cobbler would fit a radio transmitter into one of the heels. When the KGB expected the diplomat to join an important meeting, the housekeeper could pull a pin in the heel, activating the transmitter.

One of the KGB's boldest bugs was placed in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. A small transmitter was put into a carved replica of the Great Seal of the United States presented to the U.S. Ambassador by Soviet schoolchildren. The bug was activated by a high-frequency signal from a van parked nearby.

American ingenuity came up with the Dog Doo Transmitter. This effective camouflage hid a homing beacon to direct aircraft for a strike or reconnaissance.

Today, not only do spies listen to anyone they want, but they can also tell if the information is accurate. Surreptitious listeners can carry voice stress analyzers that detect tremors in a person's voice indicating tension or deception.

There Are More Spies In D.C. Than There Are Anyplace Else On Earth.

How To Get There

The international Spy Museum is located at 800 F Street NW in Washington. It is near several Washington metro stations. (That's D.C. for subway) from the marriott/shoreham go to the woodley park/zoo station on connecticut avenue. Take the red line train toward glenmont four stops to gallery place/chinatown. Go one block west on F Street on the museum.

If you exist the station at the wrong place, Don't worry; you can't go more then one blocked wrong. In that area, D.C. Streets run in numerical order east to west and in alphabetical order south to north.

The museum opens at 10 a.m. and closes one hour after the last admissions, Which is at 5 p.m. in November. General admission tickets are $13 for adults, and $12 for active-duty military personnel and spies who can show ID.

According to the museum, tickets are limited and are most likely to be available for Tuesdays, Wednesdays and thursdays, or daily after 2 p.m. advaced ticket for avilable through ticket master or at the museum's ticket office, located inside the group arrivals Enterance on 9th street.

For more information on the international spy museum, go to WWW.spymuseum.org.

Once a spy acquires his information, he has to protect it. James Bond has his Q, and Qs throughout history worked hard to support their agents. (The "Q " stands for " quartermaster.") In World War II, infiltrators and downed pilots had to be able to find their way behind enemy lines. Compasses were hidden in cufflinks, pencil clips, and buttons. Maps were printed on rice paper so they wouldn't rustle when opened. British pilots wore special flying boots with cutaway tops that, when removed, left normal-looking shoes. Normal RAF boots were a giveaway for the enemy when looking for downed airmen. Another unique tool was the flameless cigarette lighter. It used heat rather than a flame to light a cigarette so as not to give away the smoker's position.

M-209, a World War 11 U.S. Army cipher machine.

Grahic Jump LocationM-209, a World War 11 U.S. Army cipher machine.

Weapons were sometimes used by a spy for both defensive and offensive reasons. A person going through the museum could become paranoid worrying about all the places a gun or gas projector could be hidden. Bullets have been fired from tobacco pipes and cigarettes (British Special Forces, 1939-45), cigarette cases (NKVD, the Communist Secret Police under Stalin and precursor to the KGB, 1939), gloves (U.S. Navy, 1942-45), and a cigarette lighter (origin unknown, 1970s). Oh, yes, we can't forget the KGB's lipstick pistol of the mid-1 960s. This gives new meaning to the term femme fatale.

The Penguin of the '60s TV program, "Batman," used a gas-firing umbrella. In 1978, the KGB used a poison- pellet-firing umbrella for assassinations. Life imitating television?

As you can see, the engineering world has always aided the spy with hardware. But, espionage isn't only about technology. Without the people, there would be no spies. People spy for a variety of reasons. Patriotism is high on the list, but not the only impetus. Greed, ego, blackmail, adventure, and danger all play a part in motivating spies. Spying involves the highest levels. The Lord said to Moses, "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan" (Numbers 13).

The Enigma machine.

Grahic Jump LocationThe Enigma machine.

Ninjas of 12th-century Japan were masters of infiltration and spying. Hannibal had his spies. Giovanni Casanova, known as a lover, showed strong powers of observation that helped him spy for France and Venice. In 1590, Henri IV of France had his Black Chamber that read people's mail.

George Washington was the American Army's first spymaster. A woman still known only as 355 Lady was one of his most effective spies. She may have been the one to uncover Benedict Arnold 's plot to turn over West Point to the British.

During the Civil War, photo journalist Alexander Gardner was appointed a captain in the U.S. Secret Service. He had full access to Confederate camps. He took soldiers' pictures, which Union officers checked to find double agents.

Sarah Emma Edmonds was the first woman given a pension by the U.S. Army. During the Civil War, she enlisted disguised as a man, Frank Thompson, and collected information for the Union. On the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line, Rose O'Neal Greenhow is reported to have spoken what could be the creed of the female spy: "God gave me both a brain and a body, and I shall use them both in the defense of the Confederacy!"

Singer and dancer Josephine Baker used both in spying for France during World War 1. Margaretha Zelle did the same for Germany. She is better known as Mata Hari, but she actually wasn't very successful. The French executed her in 1917. Meanwhile, Julia Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II.

The Kiss of Death, a lipstick pistol from the KGB in the 1960s.

Grahic Jump LocationThe Kiss of Death, a lipstick pistol from the KGB in the 1960s.

The mystique of the spy also spawned a genre of toys. If you were lucky (and old enough), you could have had an 007 electric drawing set with Sean Connery's picture on the box, or a "Man From Uncle" jigsaw puzzle or even an "Our Man Flint" 45 rpm record in Japanese.

Here's a question for you. At the museum, you will find a secret code ashtray and an exploding spoon. One is a toy, and one was actually used for espionage. Which is which?

Besides entertaining, the International Spy Museum highlights the massive amount of effort the world has spent in spying. So, as you sit at your meetings at the 2003 Congress or do your sightseeing, keep this in mind: "There are more spies in Washington, D.C., than any other place on Earth." Who is that person standing next to you?

By the way, the exploding spoon is the toy.

Copyright © 2003 by ASME
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