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6 Real World Spy Gadgets Straight Out of the Movies

#3. Compass Buttons

If one of your soldiers is captured and placed in a POW camp, you want to make sure he's as well-prepared for escape as possible. After all, breaking out of prison is just the first step: He still has to find his way to safety deep inside hostile enemy territory, and for that, he's going to need a map and a compass.

Compass Museum

What you're looking at above is the latter: A functional compass cleverly hidden inside a button, which flips open with the reversal of a screw. But as clever as that is, it still leaves something to find if you have diligent or OCD-suffering guards doing the patdowns.

These buttons solve that problem by actually being the compass.

International Spy Museum
Above: Something no one born in the smartphone era will know how to use.

A POW simply removes both buttons, balances one atop the other, and then the free-standing button swivels to point north. They also glowed in the dark, which uh ... seems like it takes a bit away from that whole covert "just an ordinary button" thing, no?

Paratrooper.be
"Is your crotch glowing, or are you just happy to be a POW?"

#2. U.S. Embassy Seal

Presented to the U.S. Ambassador by Soviet schoolchildren, this Great Seal of the United States hung proudly in the man's office in Spaso House from 1946 to 1952. Well, after a good bug scan, of course, which turned up nothing.

Forensic Genealogy
Nothing but a robotic beak that played a Russian translation of "Suspicious Minds" at the top of every hour.

The ambassador wasn't a fool: He knew the Soviets were desperately trying to bug everything they could get their hands on. Eavesdropping was so rampant, in fact, that the Americans eventually adopted a kind of fatalist attitude about it. When guests stayed at Spaso House, they were given cards that read:

"Every room is monitored by the KGB and all of the staff are employees of the KGB. We believe the garden also may be monitored. Your luggage may be searched two or three times a day. Nothing is ever stolen and they hardly disturb things."

Getty
"Sometimes we fill our suitcases with dildos, just to fuck with them."

Which, we admit, does make Russian espionage sound rather harmless and adorable, like a Soviet version of The Littles. But regardless, the seal came up clean. And so there it sat, on the ambassador's wall, right over the heads of the most important Americans operating in the Soviet Union, during their private meetings. When somebody finally thought to retest it, however, they pulled a tiny scrap of metal about the length and shape of a pencil tube out of there, which they initially thought nothing of, because it didn't have a single wire or battery running from it.

In fact, the device had no electronics at all: It was simply wood and metal designed in such a way that sound waves changed the dimensions of the interior space, which an ultra-high frequency signal could pick up on.

Spybusters
This guy seems awfully happy about the fact that the Russians just won six years of American secrets.

This Amish microphone could be turned on at whim from a remote location, but stayed an inert metal rod inside a piece of wood when not. It was an invention so cunning, simple and effective that only one man, the feared Soviet master of sound, could have invented it: Lev Termen.

When he eventually came West, he would change his name to Leon Theremin. That's right: The guy who invented that laser-sounding instrument heard in state fair haunted houses everywhere was actually an elite Soviet spymaster.

Getty
Leon Theremin, winner of the Most Unsettling Mustache Award from 1948 to 1953.

#1. Hidden Guns

You knew this entry was coming. It's the most obvious spy gadget of them all: A gun that doesn't look like a gun. But while you've probably seen the odd shotgun cane or rifle umbrella (hopefully before it was too late), the sheer depth and breadth of tiny guns hidden in mundane objects might surprise you. This here is a 4.5mm single-shot pistol fired by pointing the lipstick end at your target and twisting it about a centimeter. You know, exactly what you would do to apply real lipstick. To your own mouth.

Gizmag
That's why it's important to label your hidden guns very carefully.

This pipegun was also fired by placing the barrel in your mouth. But surely, there was some sort of secret triggering method that wouldn't be set off by unsuspecting friends just jonesing for a sweet cherry vanilla fix, right? Nope: It was fired by holding a lighter or lit match to the trigger -- which was, of course, inside the barrel. How many pretentious collegiate arguments ended in needless accidental bloodshed because of it?

For my Hour

And here's a watch pistol fired by -- yep -- winding a watch:

Funcram
If you ever need to assassinate a hipster, this article is just full of ideas.

It's like life during the Cold War was a nonstop slapstick parade of exploding cigars, only instead of leaving you with a charred mug and a dopey expression, like in the cartoons, you got shot in the goddamn face.

By far the most common type of hidden pistol, however, was the pen gun:

Wacky Owl

The Firearm Blog

The Firearm Blog

Wacky Owl

Used by KGB and CIA alike, the pen gun was practically a staple of early spy work. And it's still around, too. Many gangs in Britain have taken to using small pistols concealed in pens, and it's become such a problem that Scotland Yard has even started a little collection of their own pen guns, for use as a reference guide in training police to spot them. So that was what life was like for your grandparents: If you touched anything remotely cylindrical and tubelike to your mouth or hands, it stood a good chance of exploding and killing you.

And you wonder why they were so sexually repressed.

Now that you understand why Eric Axt will have to be killed, you can pay your respects by visiting the webcomic/slash blog he runs with his brother.

For toys you'll want for the holidays, check out 7 Items You Won't Believe Are Actually Legal and The 13 Most Irresponsible Self Defense Gadgets Money Can Buy.

And stop by LinkSTORM to see what happens when James Bond and Ethan Hunt play checkers.

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