Top 10 Real Life Spy Gadgets

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Top 10 Real Life Spy Gadgets

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio WRITTEN BY: Andy Hammersmith
These are the tools that a real James Bond might've used on a mission. For this list, we'll be looking at actual equipment that was designed for spies and intelligence agencies. Our countdown includes Lipstick Gun, Exploding Chocolate, Poison Umbrella, and more!
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Top 10 Real Life Spy Gadgets


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Real Life Spy Gadgets.

For this list, we’ll be looking at actual equipment that was designed for spies and intelligence agencies. These are the tools that a real James Bond might’ve used on a mission. While not all of them were used in the field, they were tested and designed for real world situations.

Which of these would you like to own? Let us know in the comments.

#10: Dragonfly Insectothopter

This listening device had a lot of potential, but it was too ambitious for its day. The CIA's project mimicked the design and flight of an actual dragonfly. If that wasn't impressive enough, the original design resembled a bumblebee. Created as an unmanned aerial vehicle, the reconnaissance equipment was cutting edge for the 1970s. In a world before drones, this object flapped its wings using a gas-powered engine. While the concept showed promise, the sneaky insect never took flight in the field. Packing so much into a tiny package, the device wasn't able to handle the effects of a crosswind. Despite its flaws, the Insectothopter was one of the most ingenious would-be gadgets the agency ever attempted.


#9: Pipe Radio Receiver

Back when pipe smokers were common, this spy gadget was a crafty alternative to the traditional radio. Equipped with a tiny receiver, the device allowed agents to pick up transmissions out in the field. Best of all, the signal could be heard without a hearing attachment. The agent’s jawbone conducted the radio waves, making the transmission audible without the need for an earpiece. It would be best not to light up the pipe though, as that would damage the delicate interior. Ahead of its time, the pipe was a unique and cunning gadget.

#8: Lipstick Gun

Don’t let James Bond and Jason Bourne fool you, spying was very much a woman's game. Female spies had some of the coolest secret gadgets around. Consider this gadget for KGB operatives, which looks like regular lipstick to the untrained eye. Contained within the base was a gun mechanism, which could fire a single 4.5 mm bullet. It’s a one-use only gadget, but one that could’ve saved a life in a pinch. Traditional firearms aren’t suitable for every location, so the lipstick allowed spies to sneak in a lethal replacement. Ultimately, the ingenuity of this gadget comes down to its compact and discreet nature.

#7: Compass Cufflinks

If you’re a stylish suit wearer, you might as well have a compass on hand. This subtle and effective gadget aided American agents in need of a little direction. If a spy happened to get lost in their favorite suit, all they would need to do is look at their cufflinks. Housed inside the hollow body was a little compass, ready to guide any spy to their intended destination. While compasses were often hidden in everyday items, none of them could compete with this fashion statement. This idea really poses the question, "why not add compasses to all cufflinks?"

#6: Exploding Chocolate

As World War II raged on, spies planned assassinations of rival nation's leaders. Just as the Allies contemplated killing Hitler, the Axis powers wanted the likes of Winston Churchill gone. This apparently led the desperate members of German intelligence to an unusual idea: death by chocolate. Specifically, they wanted to leave an explosive device disguised as chocolate in the British War Cabinet, hoping it would kill Churchill. The plan was thwarted by British intelligence, leaving the deadly delicacy on the cutting room floor. Thankfully for England and the Allied Powers, the chocolate never made it into Churchill's hands.

#5: Cigarette Pack Camera

This inventive alternative to smoking from the CIA takes special 35mm film. Instead of a normal pack of cigarettes, the container was specially fitted for a small spy camera. The only problem would be if someone asked for a cigarette, since there isn’t any room in the pack for them. With the need for secret photographs of files and documents, this contraption is a clever alternative for larger, traditional cameras. After returning from the field, the photos could be developed for their respective intelligence agencies. In the days before smartphones, the cigarette pack camera was a sneaky substitute for stealthy photography.

#4: Spy Code Compact

Another gadget designed for female agents, this CIA-issued compact was as useful as it was innocuous. The bottom functions as any makeup compact would, but the top mirror hides secret spy codes. They can only be read if you’re looking at the mirror at a specific angle. An undercover spy could casually pull out the compact and read the mirror while pretending to apply makeup. Considering that these codes were top secret, it was only fitting that they could be surreptitiously read. As long as it didn’t fall into the wrong hands, this genius idea was a useful tool for field agents.

#3: Charlie the Robot Fish

Don’t let the cute exterior fool you, Charlie the Robot Fish wasn’t a child’s toy. It was actually built as a remote controlled vehicle to collect water samples. The CIA developed it as a precursor for further unmanned underwater projects. Another major feature of Charlie was that it could operate without being detected by the enemy. While it might not look like much, Charlie was meant to blend in with other fish. Unfortunately for the novel concept and design, it was never used in the field.

#2: Poison Umbrella

Not just for a rainy day, this umbrella held a killer secret. Hidden inside, there was a pellet with the toxin ricin. The operator could inject the pellet into an unsuspecting victim. Famously, this gadget was used against Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov. In 1978, Markov felt a sudden pain in his thigh while waiting for a bus. Apparently, he’d been jabbed by a man with this particular umbrella. Four days later, Markov died at a London hospital. Due to the secrecy of the gadget, there's no telling how many other mysterious deaths might've happened because of it. One of the more sinister gadgets ever created, the poison umbrella remains an infamous chapter in spy history.


#1: Letter Removal Device

Looking like a long pair of thin pincers, this handheld device snatches a letter out of a sealed envelope. The device slides into the gap at the end of the flap. The letter is then spun into a tiny scroll around it, before being pulled out. The letter could be placed back into the envelope with no one the wiser. The simple, yet effective design puts a whole new spin on reading someone else’s mail. There’s no telling how much this device helped spies during the Second World War. With the advent of email and data encryption, this gadget doesn’t get the same mileage it once did. Still, it was ingenious for its time.
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