Superior Spying – Tools for the Job

To celebrate my forthcoming release of The Plotting Shed and the start of a new series, I thought it would be a great time to write a post about Spies. But no Spy would be complete without gadgets, so here’s some real-life gadgets that have actually been developed and used.

No spy, whether in the movies or in real life, would be successful without tools to aid his mission. Some of these are pretty simple, everyday things, while others are strangely complex items hidden inside them. Either way, a master spy should never put himself in a position where he won’t be able to take care of business due to a lack of tools.


Compass Buttons

These buttons originated during war times, as a way for those captured by the enemy to find their way back to less dangerous territory if they were able to escape. When they were first made, the compass was hidden inside the button and would be revealed by flipping a screw. The military recognised the possibility of their discovery posing additional risk to a POW’s life if they were given a detailed search. The design was upgraded to include two buttons which became the compass when put together. The captive, or escapee, would take the two buttons off and balance one on top of the other causing the free standing button to point north. Spies who were likely to find themselves in the same type of situation copied the idea and made their own.

Cleverly Disguised Weapons

Spies have to plan for unexpected attacks, as well as the possibility that they made be required to assassinate an enemy. A variety of different weapons have been created and hidden within items that wouldn’t attract a second glance normally.


Under the Weather

An umbrella dart-gun was used to kill a controversial writer, George Marlov, who was becoming a thorn in the side of communist Bulgaria. The day before his death Marlov was walking to his car when he felt a sharp sting in his thigh. His evaluation of his surroundings revealed nothing out of the ordinary, as there was only a man with an umbrella passing by. Within 24 hours Marlov had died.

After investigations, both at the time and after, it was realised that the author had been killed using ricin, a relatively new poison. A 1.52mm jeweller’s bearing, normally used in watches, had been made into a dart and shot out of the top of the modified umbrella. The dart had been coated with wax designed to melt at body temperature, releasing the deadly poison into the target’s bloodstream.

Deadly Make-over

This weapon has been used by female spies since before WWII. A 4.5mm shot would be hidden within a lipstick case. The gun would be pointed toward the target and the lid twisted in order to fire it. The container can only accommodate one shot, so the attacker’s aim always had to be perfect.

A Timely Death

A watch is part of most people’s daily attire. Spies having been known to hide bullets within them, and firing a deadly shot by pretending to wind it up.

pengun-300x169Written in Stone

By far the most popular hidden weapon in history, different types of pen guns have been designed over a period of several decades. They are normally shot by twisting the bottom of the pen, and bring a literal meaning to the phrase, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword!’ as they have sent many unsuspecting men to their graves.

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