The Ultimate Spy Book

Title: The Ultimate Spy Book
Author: H. Keith Melton
Published: 1996 by DK Publishing, Inc.
ISBN: 0-7894-0443-5

Just over 2 weeks ago my local PBS affiliate, Idaho Public TV, started running a BBC show titled Spy. It's a reality show about 8 regular Brits who are going through spy training. Their instructors are former CIA and MI6 officers. So far it's been a really great show and I highly recommend you check your local listings.

So, I got really curious about how to be a spy. Not like I'm thinking of actually becoming a spy or anything, but I'm insatiably curious. And I want to be a spy. Oops, I hope the feds didn't hear that...

This book is a great birds eye overview of the history of espionage. It begins with spying in European courts, the proceeds through the Civil War, World War 1 & 2, and the great Cold War. It contains in pretty good detail the tools of the trade and is rife with photographs.

One particularly interesting spy operation was a phone tap that the CIA and MI6 placed on German phone lines in East Berlin. They tunneled 450 meters beneath the border and into enemy territory. The Germans had placed the phone lines inside a sealed tubed pressurized with nitrogen in order to detect taps. The CIA had to create another pressurized chamber underneath it in order to avoid detection. The scheme worked well for about a year until repairmen discovered it.

I was also amazed to discover that early satellites had regular film cameras on board. In order to see the pictures, the satellites had to drop the film canisters back through the atmosphere where they could be collected and developed. Often news of whatever event was being photograph would arrive before the satellites pictures were ready. Digital cameras were a great boon when they arrived.

It was great to see that a lot of the spy gadgets that you might see in a James Bond movie actually existed. Things like gas assassination devices hidden in rolled up newspapers, cameras hidden behind coat buttons, guns disguised as pens, etc. Sometimes it's funny how they managed to fit the device into its costume compared to what is possible today. I'm sure 20 years from now we'll all laugh at the stuff we've got now too.

I highly recommend this book.


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