5 Attempts at Espionage That Seem Too Dumb to Be Real

#2. Secret Agent Caught Carrying His Secret Spy Notebook

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In 2007, an explosion suddenly rocked the local European Union headquarters in Kosovo, destroying the building in their perhaps optimistically named capital city of Pristina. The BND, Germany's version of the CIA, sent out three agents to survey the damage. For obvious reasons, nearby intelligence agencies had a vested interest in any kind of attack in contested areas like Kosovo, but they didn't want to upset the delicate political relations there by publicly poking their noses around. So even though they weren't in direct conflict with the country, the Germans still needed to do some good old-fashioned skulking. The only problem was that a trio of mysterious men sneaking about the site of a bomb blast tends to attract attention. U.N. workers quickly showed up and detained the agents, then brought them in for questioning.

Wikipedia
Even after asking if perhaps they would rather speak to Herr Gauss.

Unfortunately, the leader of the German spy team, a man named Andreas, was carrying a notebook filled with all his spy contacts and top secret information at the time. It wasn't written in an unbreakable code -- not even a little lock and key like a tween girl's diary -- just a plain language notebook that presumably said "NOT spy stuff" on the cover. In an age where most intelligence work is conducted via microchips full of encrypted files, or microwave beams, or nanobots living in our toothpaste, or whatever the hell DARPA is working on next, Andreas just wrote all his spywork down like a fifth grader taking notes at space camp. And then he carried it with him to sneak around a bomb site.

#1. The CIA Accidentally Gives Nuclear Plans to Iran

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In 2000, the CIA reportedly hatched a devious plot called Operation Merlin whose aim was to set Iranian nuclear weapons research back years. They had recruited a defected Russian nuclear physicist and arranged to slip him the blueprints for the firing set of a nuclear missile, a key component supposed to be kept top secret. The Russian was then to turn the received blueprints over to the Iranians.

This wasn't just an exercise in reverse psychology or some kind of really ballsy nuclear dare. Unbeknownst to anyone but the CIA, the blueprints had been altered to render the device totally useless. They had a better chance of producing a working time machine out of it than a nuclear missile. The Iranians would waste years trying to reverse engineer the technology, only to discover that it didn't work. Plus, by watching how the Iranians reacted to getting the plans, the CIA would gain valuable information about the scope of their nuclear ambitions. Genius!

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We're no experts in espionage, but we have to imagine that the Iranian's reaction would have been best described as "pissed."

At least that's how it should have worked. Unfortunately, the Russian scientist was familiar with the missile type in question and noticed that the blueprints were flawed. He actually pointed this out to his CIA handlers, who presumably shushed him and told him, "It's cool -- totally cool. Don't be weird about it." The scientist, being nothing if not helpful, thought he'd do everybody a favor and fix the little mistakes he saw, so he included a note telling the Iranians which parts were wrong. To clarify, what he wound up giving the Iranian government was most of an actual, working blueprint for the most important parts of a nuclear weapon, with all the non-working bits helpfully pointed out.

Maybe he was hedging his bets in case the Iranians found him out. Or maybe he was just trying to be neighborly. The end results are the same -- the CIA straight up gave the blueprints for the firing set of a nuclear missile to people they really did not want to have them.

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Things were not improved by the Russian scientist insisting that there was no need to thank him.

The CIA denied the entire story when a book about the incident came out, telling the press that its author, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist James Risen, should know better than to believe absurd tales from anonymous sources who might as well be crazy homeless people. But then the CIA quietly charged a former officer, Jeff Sterling, with disclosing the story to Risen, which seems like a pretty random way to discipline a crazy hobo.


Evan V. Symon is a moderator in the Cracked Workshop. When he isn't trying to find evil in every famous person ever, he can be found on Facebook, and be sure to bookshelf and vote for his new book, The End of the Line.

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Related Reading: Spies act like they're all mysterious, but that's some bullshit. Thankfully Cracked has the inside scoop. We also have the scoop on Aldrich Ames, the CIA agent who got caught sleeping on the job. If you'd like to see some spies even ballsier than James Bond, click here and read on.

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