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Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda

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From two men who know better than anyone how espionage really works, an unprecedented historyaheavily illustrated with neverbefore- seen imagesaof the CIAas most secretive operations and the gadgets that made them possible. It is a world where the intrigue of reality exceeds that of fiction. What is an invisible photo used for? What does it take to build a quiet helicopter From two men who know better than anyone how espionage really works, an unprecedented historyaheavily illustrated with neverbefore- seen imagesaof the CIAas most secretive operations and the gadgets that made them possible. It is a world where the intrigue of reality exceeds that of fiction. What is an invisible photo used for? What does it take to build a quiet helicopter? How does one embed a listening device in a cat? If these sound like challenges for Q, James Bondas fictional gadget-master, think again. Theyare all real-life devices created by the CIAas Office of Technical Serviceaan ultrasecretive department that combines the marvels of state-of-the-art technology with the time-proven traditions of classic espionage. And now, in the first book ever written about this office, the former director of OTS teams up with an internationally renowned intelligence historian to take readers into the laboratory of espionage. Spycraft tells amazing life and death stories about this littleknown group, much of it never before revealed. Against the backdrop of some of Americaas most critical periods in recent historyaincluding the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the war on terrorathe authors show the real technical and human story of how the CIA carries out its missions.


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From two men who know better than anyone how espionage really works, an unprecedented historyaheavily illustrated with neverbefore- seen imagesaof the CIAas most secretive operations and the gadgets that made them possible. It is a world where the intrigue of reality exceeds that of fiction. What is an invisible photo used for? What does it take to build a quiet helicopter From two men who know better than anyone how espionage really works, an unprecedented historyaheavily illustrated with neverbefore- seen imagesaof the CIAas most secretive operations and the gadgets that made them possible. It is a world where the intrigue of reality exceeds that of fiction. What is an invisible photo used for? What does it take to build a quiet helicopter? How does one embed a listening device in a cat? If these sound like challenges for Q, James Bondas fictional gadget-master, think again. Theyare all real-life devices created by the CIAas Office of Technical Serviceaan ultrasecretive department that combines the marvels of state-of-the-art technology with the time-proven traditions of classic espionage. And now, in the first book ever written about this office, the former director of OTS teams up with an internationally renowned intelligence historian to take readers into the laboratory of espionage. Spycraft tells amazing life and death stories about this littleknown group, much of it never before revealed. Against the backdrop of some of Americaas most critical periods in recent historyaincluding the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the war on terrorathe authors show the real technical and human story of how the CIA carries out its missions.

30 review for Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Although a bit dry & repetitive at times, this was a fantastic look into the CIA, especially the OTS (Office of Technical Services) by the guy that ran it for a long time. It's pretty pro-CIA, of course. While they have done some pretty awful things, usually they were ordered to & some things were overblown. What's even more surprising is that some of the trade craft is really off the wall & requires seemingly silly solutions, so this is a good balance & an excellent history of the tech side of Although a bit dry & repetitive at times, this was a fantastic look into the CIA, especially the OTS (Office of Technical Services) by the guy that ran it for a long time. It's pretty pro-CIA, of course. While they have done some pretty awful things, usually they were ordered to & some things were overblown. What's even more surprising is that some of the trade craft is really off the wall & requires seemingly silly solutions, so this is a good balance & an excellent history of the tech side of the organization. Q of Bond fame is mentioned more than a few times & seems to be highly regarded. He really is the epitome of an OTS. He comes up with gadgets for the operatives, teaches them how to use them, fixes or installs them on site when needed, & pleads for them to be returned in working order. While the CIA's OTS guys & gals are far more specialized, that's pretty much what they do often coming up with gadgets that fail because the operatives leave out details or the operating environment isn't suitable. There are a lot of operational difficulties. The techs would get orders to create something & it would look good on paper but wouldn't work in the field. For instance, a carbon microphone that works great when it is handled quit working when placed in a situation where it sat for too long & the carbon particles compacted. Batteries are always an issue. More than just the tech side, Wallace described the issues with information. Rumors that the Soviets & others were having good success with psychedelic drugs pushed the CIA to test them longer than they would have. Debunking false information is practically impossible, even when it is laughable. The need to know is a two-edged sword with some people working blindly, but a few moles which got several of our assets killed make paranoia seem reasonable. Time! It often took months to do seemingly simple things. Not only were the stakes high, but a lot of information was required. Some of the information is crazy, too. They couldn't toss out ruined furniture in the USSR, but had to pack it up & ship it back to the US, so the Soviets couldn't gain any information from it. Something as simple as the number of chairs in a set could tell the other side things. I wish I'd read this before reading The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA which is about one of the guys that worked in this department. I gave it a 4 star review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... This book was better. There's a lot more to it & most was really interesting, including how long it took for this book to be published & why. It read like a James Bond novel at times & certainly had moments of humor & horror. It's also an excellent glimpse into the Cold War, although this covers the CIA from its OSS days until 2005 or so. Very well narrated. Highly recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Book

    Spycraft by Robert Wallace and Keith Melton What fun I had reading this book. What made the experience even more rewarding was actually doing so just days before going to the Spy Museum itself. Many of the real-life stories of Spycraft are exhibited at the museum not to mention all the nifty gadgets. Positives: 1. Fascinating topic that is well illustrated throughout the book. 2. History of important CIA missions: Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, and war on terror. 3. Some chapters read out of a Spycraft by Robert Wallace and Keith Melton What fun I had reading this book. What made the experience even more rewarding was actually doing so just days before going to the Spy Museum itself. Many of the real-life stories of Spycraft are exhibited at the museum not to mention all the nifty gadgets. Positives: 1. Fascinating topic that is well illustrated throughout the book. 2. History of important CIA missions: Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, and war on terror. 3. Some chapters read out of a James Bond movie. 4. So many cool gadgets and their real life applications. 5. A thorough book and the authors go as far to tell you about the politics involved in writing the book. 6. Spies, spies and more spies. I love how the authors capture the tension of the missions. 7. In a way this book is about the evolution of the tools of the trade of espionage. 8. Secrets exposed. 9. Very few books of this ilk truly gives you the inside scoop as this has. Negatives: 1. Some chapters or sections of the book can be dry. 2. A ton of acronyms that can be a bit confusing. 3. It's a bit long. In summary, fantastic insight into the real world of espionage with a focus on the gadgets used. Highly recommended to all those who love the history of espionage and the tools and creativity needed to execute some of the most daring missions of the Cold War.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Owen

    Toe knives? Explosive flour you can bake into biscuits and still blow up? I hope they sell some of these things at the Spy Museum gift shop.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rocky

    Not well written, but the content is interesting and easier to retain if you take copious, timeline-focused notes. It reads like someone got drunk and decided to tell you the chronology of unclassified/altered/vague CIA historical details ... out of chronology...repeated the same exact details multiple times, including re-using quotations and re-explaining technical jargon, and threw in a bunch of anecdotes from 'this one time' when some person did some thing and there's a 'punchline' at the end Not well written, but the content is interesting and easier to retain if you take copious, timeline-focused notes. It reads like someone got drunk and decided to tell you the chronology of unclassified/altered/vague CIA historical details ... out of chronology...repeated the same exact details multiple times, including re-using quotations and re-explaining technical jargon, and threw in a bunch of anecdotes from 'this one time' when some person did some thing and there's a 'punchline' at the end. If I made that sound enjoyable, you're thinking too much along the lines of Drunk History and not enough along the lines of That One Uncle (or whatever) who talks everyone's ear off with the same stories every holiday. Uncle has something to contribute, sure, but jeez, would it kill him to learn how to organize his thoughts?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Fascinating book from a historical point of view and also how spycraft has progressed from its early history until now. I'd love to see an updated version but they may require a few more years for declassification. Fascinating book from a historical point of view and also how spycraft has progressed from its early history until now. I'd love to see an updated version but they may require a few more years for declassification.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

    A fascinating look into a world too distorted by public ignorance and glamorized by Hollywood myth-making. "Spycraft" superbly written and exquisitely detailed book, rich in texture illuminating a fascinating recounting of the myriad of ways in which technology has aided case officers to accomplish what practitioners term "impersonal communications" exchanges with their agents (spies.) Fascinating and even humorous at times, the multi-hued stories unveiled in this book pull back the curtain to i A fascinating look into a world too distorted by public ignorance and glamorized by Hollywood myth-making. "Spycraft" superbly written and exquisitely detailed book, rich in texture illuminating a fascinating recounting of the myriad of ways in which technology has aided case officers to accomplish what practitioners term "impersonal communications" exchanges with their agents (spies.) Fascinating and even humorous at times, the multi-hued stories unveiled in this book pull back the curtain to illustrate amazingly creative ways in which gadgetry, both seemingly mundane as well as state of the art operational technology have facilitated the clandestine passage of secrets from spy to case handler. The roles of OTS in both intelligence collection and covert paramilitary operations are covered in detail. The authors' objective was to illustrate the significance of the CIA's Office of Technical Services in the agency's growth, and in some of its more notable successes. This objective is accomplished flawlessly. But again, that's the authors' objective - yours might be different. If you are like me, you are probably more interested in cool spy stories, and a (James Bond) Q style showcasing of advanced tech. On these points, the book is hit and miss. In terms of spy story-telling, there are some fantastic and very well-told stories in the book. However, these stories are strung together very poorly. The organization of the book is likely a reflection of the restrictive CIA editing relationship, and simply put, it doesn't make much sense. A chapter will start in 1950, develop the history and context, and climax in 1970. Then the next chapter will start in 1950, develop the history and context, and climax and 1975. Instead of a chronological separation of topics (which would help greatly with the contextualization), the authors have gone for a technological separation of topics; i.e. surveillance tech, concealment tech, agent/handler communication tech, etc... While theoretically this might have made sense, in practice, the consequence is that there is a lot of redundancy as historical context is explained again and again. Also, I found the the fact that the timeline keeps resetting to the 1950's again and again to be frustrating; I would have much preferred a narrative that moved forwards, rather than in circles. The last section of the book (a more general overview of "spycraft") is particularly frustrating, since it mostly just rehashes topics covered earlier in the book, but this time in less detail. In terms of showcasing cool technology, there are some nuggets of coolness, but they are few and far between. The emphasis is more on the ingenuity of the heroic inventors, then on the tech itself. For the most part, all you'll learn is that stuff got smaller, and more energy efficient, which isn't that exciting - especially since most of the tech in the book is 40+ years old, and is now commercially available. Imagine a Bond movie in which Q shows Bond how to use a handheld video camera, and you'll have a pretty good idea what to expect. See also The Wizards Of Langley: Inside The Cia's Directorate Of Science And Technology by Jeffrey Richelson.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Peach

    Very informative! If you like reading about the history of the U.S. military this book is for you. This book gives you insight on a large variety of CIA operational background like dead drops and the production of these dead drops. Although this was a phenomenal I would recommend reading it in short bursts of 30 minutes to give yourself time to think about and comprehend the book. It's also a very hard read so if you are having a hard time understanding young adult books this book isn't for you. Very informative! If you like reading about the history of the U.S. military this book is for you. This book gives you insight on a large variety of CIA operational background like dead drops and the production of these dead drops. Although this was a phenomenal I would recommend reading it in short bursts of 30 minutes to give yourself time to think about and comprehend the book. It's also a very hard read so if you are having a hard time understanding young adult books this book isn't for you.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul Kobos

    Although this book read a bit like a text book. The insights were helpful, if you like espionage or political nonfiction, you should read this. It give you background on how and why we employ spies, political motivation & of course tales of intrigue from bond like devices (that are real) to the black ops that result in government sanctioned deaths. Also this book doesn't talk about just American espionage but foreign countries as well. Pauliekuz Although this book read a bit like a text book. The insights were helpful, if you like espionage or political nonfiction, you should read this. It give you background on how and why we employ spies, political motivation & of course tales of intrigue from bond like devices (that are real) to the black ops that result in government sanctioned deaths. Also this book doesn't talk about just American espionage but foreign countries as well. Pauliekuz

  9. 5 out of 5

    Hugh Atkins

    This wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't exactly what I was expecting from the description. There was discussion about spy technology, but it was mostly "war stories" from clandestine operations. The book is full of long, complicated acronyms that, after introducing them, are not easily remembered from page to page or chapter to chapter. The book also is quite repetitive, covering much of the information two or three times. The authors write in passive voice so much for it to be annoying. If you a This wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't exactly what I was expecting from the description. There was discussion about spy technology, but it was mostly "war stories" from clandestine operations. The book is full of long, complicated acronyms that, after introducing them, are not easily remembered from page to page or chapter to chapter. The book also is quite repetitive, covering much of the information two or three times. The authors write in passive voice so much for it to be annoying. If you are interested in spyware, then pick up this book and thumb through the photo sections. The captions cover most of the interesting information about the technology. If you want a history of the OTS, then this book might be for you.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    I have been using books like this to shake my general sense of nervousness and anxiety. It has not been very effective, but slowly, but surely, I think that it will work magic. After all, what these authors wrote correlates closely with what else I have seen in this genre, and adds more detail to it, with a few tantalizing pictures. The book reminded me of what I have done with my international friends. Nothing of illicit manner - all exchange of goods was honest and good. But I think that the pro I have been using books like this to shake my general sense of nervousness and anxiety. It has not been very effective, but slowly, but surely, I think that it will work magic. After all, what these authors wrote correlates closely with what else I have seen in this genre, and adds more detail to it, with a few tantalizing pictures. The book reminded me of what I have done with my international friends. Nothing of illicit manner - all exchange of goods was honest and good. But I think that the proposed secrecy of this document, and the fact that x, y, and z wrote a, b, and c parts of it would please more than one colleague. So have at it, if you will, пожалуйста!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Whitehead

    It must be tough to write a book about classified information. Thus my hat’s off to former CIA gadgetmaster Robert Wallace and espionage expert H. Keith Melton for even trying, particularly as they produce reasonably good results. To be sure, the writing is weak in spots. I particularly question the decision to put some of the general summary material in the back of the book. Overall, however, this is a solid mix of history, anecdotes, and just enough technical detail to keep things interesting It must be tough to write a book about classified information. Thus my hat’s off to former CIA gadgetmaster Robert Wallace and espionage expert H. Keith Melton for even trying, particularly as they produce reasonably good results. To be sure, the writing is weak in spots. I particularly question the decision to put some of the general summary material in the back of the book. Overall, however, this is a solid mix of history, anecdotes, and just enough technical detail to keep things interesting and informative. I also enjoyed the chance to actually try decoding a one-time-pad message. Fun stuff.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bill Conrad

    Spycraft is a rather unique book. Typical spy novels follow a fantastic story where "James Bond" does all kinds of amazing things. Robert Wallace gets into the bowels of the spy wold. The technical details of the equipment, trade craft, audio devices, cameras, secret writing, disguises, codes and dead drops. It is a deeply fascinating read and it brought me a new prospective. The real spy world is a lot of hard work with the goal of not getting caught. This is a really good read about the history Spycraft is a rather unique book. Typical spy novels follow a fantastic story where "James Bond" does all kinds of amazing things. Robert Wallace gets into the bowels of the spy wold. The technical details of the equipment, trade craft, audio devices, cameras, secret writing, disguises, codes and dead drops. It is a deeply fascinating read and it brought me a new prospective. The real spy world is a lot of hard work with the goal of not getting caught. This is a really good read about the history and technical details of a vastly secret world. I really enjoyed this work.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Jeckell

    Not just a history or a list of interesting gadgets, but insight into the design requirements & methodology over time as technology evolved. It’s less about the technology and more about how th technology and techniques evolved together to get the job done. Technology in this case covers a broad swath of tools from audio recording to bomb disposal to tradecraft. Fantastic read that provides great insight into how American intelligence services rise to face steep challenges from WWII to the conte Not just a history or a list of interesting gadgets, but insight into the design requirements & methodology over time as technology evolved. It’s less about the technology and more about how th technology and techniques evolved together to get the job done. Technology in this case covers a broad swath of tools from audio recording to bomb disposal to tradecraft. Fantastic read that provides great insight into how American intelligence services rise to face steep challenges from WWII to the contemporary environment with rapidly evolving technology proliferating into public hands.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nikolas Larum

    This history focuses on the development and use of spy equipment from the early days of the OSS to the transition into the digital age. In a time when we wear the internet on our hip and are able to take audio, video, and pictures ad nauseam, it is easy to forget the difficulties of the Cold War era. Spycraft details the ways in which American innovation coupled with the bravery and resourcefulness of case officers and agents won that war. For those writing espionage fiction, the six chapters in This history focuses on the development and use of spy equipment from the early days of the OSS to the transition into the digital age. In a time when we wear the internet on our hip and are able to take audio, video, and pictures ad nauseam, it is easy to forget the difficulties of the Cold War era. Spycraft details the ways in which American innovation coupled with the bravery and resourcefulness of case officers and agents won that war. For those writing espionage fiction, the six chapters in the book provide a great overview of the fundamentals of the game.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bailey H

    *3.5/5 stars* Robert Wallace wrote an excellent story of the history and development of the CIA, and more interestingly, spy gadgets and surveillance. This text read like something out of a James Bond movie with pages filled with diagrams of REAL and AUTHENTIC gadgets and tools that the CIA used. Especially during the 20th century, the CIA had spent millions of dollars and loads of time developing new ways to stay just a few steps ahead of Russia and other enemies of the United States at that ti *3.5/5 stars* Robert Wallace wrote an excellent story of the history and development of the CIA, and more interestingly, spy gadgets and surveillance. This text read like something out of a James Bond movie with pages filled with diagrams of REAL and AUTHENTIC gadgets and tools that the CIA used. Especially during the 20th century, the CIA had spent millions of dollars and loads of time developing new ways to stay just a few steps ahead of Russia and other enemies of the United States at that time. If that is a topic you are interested in, I would highly recommend picking up this novel. It gives a very detailed account of missions of famous spies, as well, that have been uncovered.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Second reading (1st in 2009). A detailed overview of the CIA's technology development and use, with numerous specific stories woven into the historical record. I reread this particularly to review the discussion of MK-ULTRA, after reading the new book about Sidney Gottlieb ("Poisoner in Chief"). As I remembered, althoug Spycraft has far less detail about MK-ULTRA itself, overall the book is the opposite of Poisoner in Chief: an unemotional review of the history, and the geopolitical rationale fo Second reading (1st in 2009). A detailed overview of the CIA's technology development and use, with numerous specific stories woven into the historical record. I reread this particularly to review the discussion of MK-ULTRA, after reading the new book about Sidney Gottlieb ("Poisoner in Chief"). As I remembered, althoug Spycraft has far less detail about MK-ULTRA itself, overall the book is the opposite of Poisoner in Chief: an unemotional review of the history, and the geopolitical rationale for the various agency technology developments, with some serious criticisms but always in the context of the decision-making times.

  17. 5 out of 5

    John Cote

    You feel like you are looking over Q´s shoulder when you read this book. All the great spy gadgets are here.. the best thing is they are all real....Mr. Melton is the worlds foremost authority on spy gear. It was his home collection which helped to furnish the International Spy Museum located in Washington Dc. A wonderful read, you will look at James Bond with different eyes after reading this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Stephan

    Ever wanted to know how the CIA used to operate? Give this book a gander. However, one should realize most of the practices contained within are outdated and shouldn't be thought to be practiced currently. Still a great read. Ever wanted to know how the CIA used to operate? Give this book a gander. However, one should realize most of the practices contained within are outdated and shouldn't be thought to be practiced currently. Still a great read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    CJ Harries

    This was one of the most upbeat CIA histories I've read. It seemed to gloss over a good majority of the CIA's failures, both mission and personnel. Granted, it's about tech, not spycraft (contrary to the title), where the CIA excelled, so those omissions aren't a huge deal. This was one of the most upbeat CIA histories I've read. It seemed to gloss over a good majority of the CIA's failures, both mission and personnel. Granted, it's about tech, not spycraft (contrary to the title), where the CIA excelled, so those omissions aren't a huge deal.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Derek Pankaew

    A fascinating read. A lot of the devices and techniques they talk about are ingenius. For example, firing a microphone out of a gun. And using two motorcycles, starting at the same time, to disguise the sound of the shot.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Phillip Gallegos

    Excellent and engaging read, with lots of trivia and anecdotal info. Also amazing to see how much of our modern tech was developed and used for clandestine activities years -sometimes decades - before it came on the commercial market for public consumption.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Fun book, talked about many of the gadgets and methods of spying and passing along information that the CIA has used throughout their history. Many of these tools and methods are long obsolete due to the digital age. Reminiscent of the James Bond movies and the tools that 'Q' would create. Fun book, talked about many of the gadgets and methods of spying and passing along information that the CIA has used throughout their history. Many of these tools and methods are long obsolete due to the digital age. Reminiscent of the James Bond movies and the tools that 'Q' would create.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Harrison Gerard

    I really liked this book. It was pretty long and there were a few times that one author was just recapping what another had written a few chapters before, but overall I thought this was a fascinating look into spycraft.

  24. 4 out of 5

    DAER

    4 stars for the research, content and structure. I don't mean the writing isn't good though. I mean seriously, it does't take much writing skill to make it interesting. Highly recommended. Paranoia guaranteed and destroy after reading ;) #eyesonly 4 stars for the research, content and structure. I don't mean the writing isn't good though. I mean seriously, it does't take much writing skill to make it interesting. Highly recommended. Paranoia guaranteed and destroy after reading ;) #eyesonly

  25. 5 out of 5

    J Grimsey

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Very pro-USA but an interesting read. Technically good but does not see the contradiction of ethics. US is always right but other countries are always less moral. It probably partly true but bit of the story are missing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Phillip

    3.0 / 5.0 Pretty Straight Forward Non Sophisticated Over view of State of Art. Not much on the electronic age. Some interesting stories. Nice Book, but somewhat bland.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    With any book covering a large time span the different stories were short and lacked some depth, but none were overwhelmingly long.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carl Bystrom

    A rich (although surely not exhaustive), deeply fascinating, and ultimately disturbing accounting of Cold War tradecraft and espionage from WWII through the turn of the millennium.

  29. 4 out of 5

    David

    PRO: Fascinating stories of intrigue and invention. CON: Long dry spells of technical explanations sprinkled liberally with confusing acronyms.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    The words "complete and detailed" should be added to the title. This book is heavy on gadget talk - like an entire chapter about batteries used in bugs. But there were also stories - again, in great detail - that were memorable and almost unbelievable. The words "complete and detailed" should be added to the title. This book is heavy on gadget talk - like an entire chapter about batteries used in bugs. But there were also stories - again, in great detail - that were memorable and almost unbelievable.

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