If there’s an agency best known for having a little too many tricks up its sleeve, it’s none other than the CIA. According to Business Insider, the agency had declassified 600 objects out of the 20,000 that their operatives used throughout history. These gadgets used in their past spy missions are all displayed at the CIA Museum in Washington, DC. As Toni Hiley, the museum director, said, “Revisiting technology is something we always do in the world of espionage. There’s no such thing as technology that’s too old for operations.”

CIA Foundation

Informally known as the “Agency” or the “Company”, the Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian foreign intelligence service of the United States government. Its main task is to gather, process, and analyze national security information from all over the world, mostly through the use of human intelligence and performing actions behind the curtain. It was former-President Harry S. Truman’s initiative to create the Central Intelligence Group out of the Office of Strategic Services on January 22, 1946, which was transformed itself into the Central Intelligence Agency by the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947.

Here are three of the declassified spy gadgets that were designed by the CIA and could be found in their museum:


Developed by the CIA’s Office of Research and Development in the 1970s, this micro Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was the first flight of an insect-sized aerial vehicle (Insectothopter). It was an initiative to explore the concept of intelligence collection by miniaturized platforms. (The Central Intelligence Agency, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

As the name suggests, this micro unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was developed by the CIA’s Office of Research and Development in the 1970s as the first insect-sized vehicle intended to prove the concept of miniaturized platforms for intelligence collection. The Insectothopter was hand-painted and exactly sized to look like a real dragonfly. The original design was disguised as a bumblebee, but the CIA found the dragonfly design to be easier to maneuver since its flight characteristics are said to be the most similar to a helicopter. It worked through the use of a miniature fluidic oscillator to flap the wings up and down, enough to provide the dragonfly with both lift and thrust capabilities. A small amount of gas was used to power up the engine, while the excess was vented out to the rear that enabled it to thrust forward. The head of the dragonfly had a bead-sized microphone, too. Initial tests were impressive, as it can fly 650 feet for 60 seconds via remote control, and the wingspan enables it to take flight easily. In the end, however, the Insectothopter project was abandoned because it was too difficult to control even in crosswinds as light as 5 MPH.

Tobacco Pouch Camera

Tobacco pouches and other everyday items were used to disguise cameras for a covert gathering of intelligence. (Central Intelligence Agency)

How can one collect intelligence all while looking cool and discrete? Perhaps that was the question that was posted when the CIA decided to create the miniature 35-mm Tessina film camera that could easily fit in a pack of modified usual-looking Parliaments. This was manufactured in Switzerland and was one of the smallest and quietest cameras in the 1960s. A spring-wound mechanism was used to advance the film between exposures.

Eisenhower Silver Dollar

Concealment devices allowed CIA officers to transport messages without suspicion. (Central Intelligence Agency)

Check your loose change the next time, as you may never know if it is a concealment device, like the CIA’s. This very normal-looking coin was hollow inside and could be used to hide messages or a film and easily pass it up without being detected or raising suspicions. Sidney Gottlieb, an American chemist and spymaster head of the CIA’s assassination attempts and a mind-control program known as Project MKUltra in the 1950s and 1960s, had once concealed a suicide pin in one of these dollar coins. As HistoryNet wrote,

“Inside the dollar was what appeared to be an ordinary straight pin,” Francis Gary Powers later wrote. “But this too wasn’t what it seemed. Looking at it more closely, we could see the body of the pin to be a sheath not fitting quite tightly against the head. Pulling this off, it became a thin needle, only again not an ordinary needle. Toward the end there were grooves. Inside the grooves was a sticky brown substance.”