How the United States Spied on the Soviet Union during the Cold War

April 5, 2021 Topic: Espionage Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: EspionageCold WarRussiaSoviet UnionCIAKGB

How the United States Spied on the Soviet Union during the Cold War

The drive to spy on each other led the U.S. and the USSR to develop some very interesting and unorthodox new technologies.


The Cold War is widely regarded as the “golden age” of spycraft and espionage, and for good reason too. As tensions rose between the United States and the Soviet Union, there was a race to highly advanced technology for the time period. As a result, new technological heights were being reached at an astounding rate. Massive nuclear devices and space travel come to mind but there were new methods of gathering intel and taking out targets being developed as well.

The United States had to get creative (and maybe a little weird) with its gadgets to maintain cover and secrecy. Perhaps the strangest was the Rectal CIA Toolkit.


Many smirk as soon as this tool is mentioned, but the truth of the matter is that it could be a true lifesaver. The purpose was to be a discreet kit that could help agents escape if they were discovered and captured. Inside the capsule was an assortment of tools like miniature saw blades and chisels designed to cut ropes. Many even included drill bits.

On the darker side of things, agents were provided a couple of different ways to terminate their own lives. It must be understood that not only was it a matter of national security, but also a way to avoid the horrors that awaited agents thrown into captivity. The method made most popular by Hollywood was the faux tooth that contained a cyanide capsule. Bite down hard enough and it was all over. Along the same line was a pair of glasses that ended things the same way. A poison pill was hidden in the temple tip. All the agent had to do was casually remove his glasses and bite down on the end.

When going on the offensive agents could keep a blade hidden in the unsuspecting places. Even a trained eye could miss it. A single coin would never draw attention in a pocket full of change, even if the person was patted down and searched. An agent could split a coin revealing a razor-sharp knife ready to use on an unsuspecting target.

As for gathering intel? The CIA had several answers for that too, but two stand out from the rest. Like virtually every tool used in the Cold War, the Shoe Transmitter had the express purpose of being unnoticeable. Inside the heel of the shoe were a transmitter and microphone. Intelligence officials could listen in on everything being said to American diplomats outfitted with the shoe. Some cold war antics became somewhat outlandish as well with a strange device called a pigeon camera. It is exactly what it sounds like too. This camera was strapped to a pigeon to gather intel, its primary function was to obtain aerial footage of locations that were critical to informed espionage.

The United States and the Soviet Union had to think outside the box during the Cold War and from that, we got some fascinating technology and one of the most intriguing eras in American history.

Richard Douglas writes on firearms, defense and security issues. He is the founder and editor of Scopes Field, and a columnist at The National Interest, 1945, Daily Caller and other publications.

Image: Reuters.