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Talk to Terrie: Spy Craft During the Cold War

May 10, 2022

May 10, 2022

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Besides the nuclear deterrent that kept us safe during the Cold War, espionage also played a vital role. Keeping our nation’s military secrets secret was so important that people employed at the nuclear weapons facilities had to take a life-time secrecy oath.  If they betrayed that oath, they could be subjected to criminal prosecution.

In researching the material for this blog, I came across some pretty nifty gadgets and other little-known facts about methods used by both sides to gain access to the other side’s secrets.

I think my favorite is the low-tech spy trick. As Vincent Houghton, historian and curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, explained in a 2014 interview with the BBC, the East German intelligence agency was worried about the US listening in on high-level meetings. You can imagine how time consuming that would be. The solution? They had every piece of furniture made from transparent plastic so any listening device would be visible.

The CIA had their own techniques to foil our enemies during the Cold War. According to a 2009 report by ABC News they even employed a magician to help. John Mulholland was contracted by the CIA to write “The Official C.I.A. Manual of Trickery and Deception”. The manual was thought to be destroyed but was eventually found and declassified. The manual “…describes a wide range of Mulholland’s Houdini-like tricks…” including using slight-of-hand, misdirection, disguises, etc.

Even though some of the ideas that were initially developed were off-the-wall, like figuring out how to make Fidel Castro’s beard fall out, spying was serious business. The main goal was to protect and defend the country against enemies and no idea was thought to be too bizarre to explore.

If you are interested in learning more about spy craft and plan to visit Washington, DC, you should check out the International Spy Museum International Spy Museum – Washington DC. There you can find  exhibits to learn more about methods used to steal secrets and decoding them.