How did Cold War-era spies get “the goods”?

Just ask Kristie Macrakis. The Washington Times ran a recent story on a books about spying in the era of the Iron Curtain — both sides, in fact. On the East German side, they discuss Seduced by Secrets.

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Joe Goulden

Meanwhile, a third of the world away, the East German spy agency, STASI – formally the Ministry for State Security, or MfS – put together its own tradecraft treasure chest. It was different from CIA in one cardinal respect: much of STASI’s spying was directed at its own citizens, rather than foreign adversaries. Hard and thorough research by Kristie Macrakis isreflected in Seduced by Secrets (Cambridge University Press, $28, 392 pages). Ms. Macrakis teaches espionage at Michigan State University.

Drawing upon declassified documents seized from STASI files (it is now defunct) and interviews with former officers, Ms. Macrakis has produced a first-rate read. The East Germans, predictably, were especially adept with concealed spy cameras – a carved wooden deer grazing in a field, bird houses, a flowerpot. She gives her book a personalistic twist with portraits of former STASI officers.

Perhaps the most interesting – surely the most colorful – of these characters was Werner Stiller, who defected to West Germany and exposed a raft of STASI spies. He told Ms. Macrakis that CIA paid him $250,000 for a debriefing in which he fingered agents in the United States.

Thereafter, he womanized his way through Europe, working for spells at the banking houses of Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. Ms. Macrakis found him in Hungary, where he ran clothing stores with a girlfriend and drank “a bottle of red wine every night.” He avoids former STASI friends, who consider him still under a death sentence, the demise of East Germany notwithstanding.

Read the full story here!

Ian Fleming and America’s Love Affair with Technology

As the spy world celebrates the birthday the noted author, Ian Fleming of the James Bond series, spy-tech historian Kristie Macrakis reflects on his role in bringing the world of spies and their gadgets to the masses.

With enthusiasm and trepidation I taught a new seminar on the Technology of Bond, James Bond several years ago. While planning the course I imagined my colleagues whispering in the corridors “she’s up to no good again.”

When I started teaching intelligence history as background for my last book, the stodgiest colleagues scoffed, but later relented as the field became more accepted.

But what my students really wanted was a course on James Bond. And so did I. Why not study how James Bond conquered the world and our imagination? Comparing fact with fiction proved to be fun and educational.

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Spy-Tech Monday

Goodness, it’s Monday already. The sky is gray here at Cambridge Americas, and the office is quiet. But I’m in high spirits, because we have some itty-bitty spy toys to showcase today. Kristie Macrakis, what do we have here?

It’s Mini Monday!

Spies can conceal cameras in many places, not just bras.

This is a “microdot” camera with a remote release.

It’s about as big as my thumbnail, you can catch a glimpse of it on the cover of Seduced by Secrets.

Just to fully convey the teensyness, have a look at this:

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What a cool-looking old cigarette case. The brand is “Ernte 23.”

It looks straight out of James Bond. Wait until you see what’s inside of this one:

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This is an exquisitely crafted, and very expensive Swiss-made Tessina Wristwatch Camera. It fits very nicely into that cigarette case, and looks very Dick Tracy! Click the image to zoom in and see the full detail–all of the controls are there.

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Seduced by Secrets chronicles the Stasi, their culture, and the gadgets they produced. Kristie Macrakis is visiting professor at Harvard University and professor at Michigan State University.

Spy-Tech Mondays

We’ve moved! Find all the spy-tech goodness at the new site.

Spy-Tech Mondays

seduced-by-secrets.jpgIt’s that time again. Kristie Macrakis, author of Seduced by Secrets, unveils some more Stasi spy gadgetry.

The Stasi had a way about them. They loved their toys. As Macrakis argues, this obsession was part of their own undoing — rather than performing their duties as an intelligence agency, they focused on hoarding secrets and spy-gear.

This week:

Too bad they don’t conceal the harmful effects of smoking!

ashtrayclosed.jpgDuring the Cold War a lot of spy paraphernalia was related to smoking. When I visited Mr. Regenhardt at the Criminal Evidence Collection, he handed me this ashtray and told me to open it. I twisted and turned and nothing happened. Feeling foolish I handed it back to him and, like a wizard, he took out a pin and pricked a hole and the ashtray popped open to reveal this next image:

…the open ashtray with a Minox camera inside.

Why, what do we have here, Herr Doktor?
Here’s another number, well several numbers in fact. This desktop lighter comes apart, concealing a cypher.

When you translate the cypher, it says “Drink more Ovaltine.”

Come back next Monday for more Stasi gizmos, assuming my computer isn’t wiped clean by rogue agents.

Spy-Tech Mondays

seduced-by-secrets.jpgKristie Macrakis, author of Seduced by Secrets brings us some of the gadgets of the Stasi’s hidden spy-world, one photo at a time.

There are a lot of cool images surrounding the hidden world of espionage, many of them surprising. Hidden in plain sight, in a mind-boggling array of forms, spy gadgets have a clever way of concealing secrets. I think these images of objects of espionage are fascinating visual representations of the shadowy world of spying.

Each Monday, I’ll be opening my own photo-album of spy gadgets to show you the real Stasi espionage. I’ve been in and out of East Germany before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and have recently done a lot of research on the organization.

Here’s the first two:

shelves-containers.jpgThis is a backroom at the German Federal Criminal Police, which houses spy evidence for court cases. It could be your garage, but alongside the seemingly innocuous tennis rackets are rows and rows of leather briefcase containers to hide documents and false documents like forged passports.

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Of course, every spy needs to have a camera handy:

minox-deer.jpgThis carved deer statute has a Minox camera – the workhorse of the Cold War – hidden in the bottom. It is my favorite concealment. The spy inserts a pin in a hole in the bottom to activate the release mechanism.

Kristie Macrakis is author of Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi’s Spy-Tech World, new April 17 from Cambridge.