If you ever dreamed about being a spy when you were younger, it probably had a lot to do with the gadgets.
Whether it’s Sean Connery’s rocket firing cigarette in Thunderball or the bulletproof umbrella gun in Kingsman, everyone has their favourite spy film gadget, but how do they stack up to the tools used by real-life spy agencies?
As former spies from top agencies like the CIA and MI5 have revealed, while some of the gadgets they use are a lot more mundane, there’s still a place for the trickery and disguises we see in the movies.
Creating a gadget that can blend in with its everyday surroundings is a tricky task, even more so when the surroundings in question are in the middle of a jungle.
During the Vietnam War, that’s exactly the challenge that was faced by the CIA, who were tasked with coming up with a way of spying on Viet Cong forces to try and track their notoriously unpredictable movements.
That’s where the poop comes in.
Aware that human spies were no match for the Viet Cong on their own turf, the CIA looked for another way to monitor the North Vietnamese soldiers’ movements and location.
Eventually, they developed the ‘seismic intruder detection device,’ a piece of tracking tech that was able to pick up footsteps and vehicle movements, enabling soldiers to detect when Viet Cong troops were on the move.
But this being the Vietnam jungle, the CIA couldn’t exactly leave the device disguised in a suitcase or hidden under a pile of leaves. So they settled on something the soldiers would leave well alone: poop.
In order to make sure the device blended into its natural surroundings, while also looking like something soldiers wouldn’t try to pick up, the CIA disguised their new device to look like tiger poop, explaining in an article about the invention that ‘since tigers are native to Vietnam and were found in larger numbers 50 years ago, they provided the ideal cover.’
Measuring just 10.3cm in length and 2cm in diameter, the devices were just small enough to be disguised among the tiger droppings that littered the jungle floor, where they were able to pick up movements from as far as 300 metres away.
The poop trackers contained tiny power cells and a mini antenna, with data transmitted back to the US forces allowing them to detect and count the movements being made by the Viet Cong as they travelled through the jungle.
It’s not exactly clear whether the tiger poop trackers were a roaring success – the Vietnam War ended with a humiliating evacuation by US forces, with the country remaining under the control of the Communist Party that seized power following the war to this day.
And while it’s probably not what most people think of when it comes to spy equipment, the ingenious invention just goes to show that gadgets aren’t only for the movies.
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