Though global espionage remains a going concern in the 21st century, somehow the popular stories we tell about it return again and again to the Cold War. Maybe it has to do with the demand those mostly pre-digital decades made upon the physical ingenuity of spies as well as the tools of spycraft. Take, for instance, one particularly ingenious CIA-issued tool kit on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. “Filled with escape tools,” says the Spy Museum’s web site, “this kit could be stashed inside the body where it would not be found during a search.” Take one guess as to where inside the body, exactly, it could be stashed.
You can get a closer look at the rectal tool kit in the Atlas Obscura video above. This “tightly sealed, pill-shaped container full of tools that could aid an escape from various sticky situations,” as that site’s Lizzie Philip describes it, “was issued to CIA operatives during the height of the Cold War.”
Built to contain a variety of escape tools like “drill bits, saws and knives,” it presented quite an engineering challenge: its materials, one needs hardly add, “could not splinter or create sharp edges that could injure users,” and “it had to seal tightly to not let anything seep in or poke out.” Upon seeing an item like this, which commands so much attention at the Spy Museum, one wonders whether all the spying that went on during Cold War was really so glamorous after all.
Has it crossed the mind of, say, John Le Carré, his writing career a nearly sixty-year-long deflation of the pretensions of spycraft, to write about the ins and outs of rectal tool kits? But then, personal experience has granted him much more knowledge about the tactics of British espionage than those of the American variety. As surely as he knows the MI5’s official motto, “Regnum Defende,” he must also know the unofficial motto that pokes fun at the organization’s aggressive culture of blame avoidance, “Rectum Defende” — words that, in light of the knowledge about just where the agents of Britain’s main ally were storing their tools, take on a whole new meaning.
via Atlas Obscura
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.