Movies depict a spying reality that is often not far from reality, thanks to technology
From shoe phones to umbrella guns, gadgets are an integral part of espionage thrillers. Let’s see with tech tricks are real!
Do you ever pretend to be a spy? We all had fun sneaking around the backyard, gathering intelligence on strangers, such as neighbor’s… Spies need to be smart. Spies also must be creative and able to adapt to situations that change quickly. When faced with a unique problem, spies must make good decisions under pressure. Part of being prepared for anything includes making sure you have the right gadgets with you on every mission.
Spying is almost as old as human civilization. Both the ancient Babylonian law called Hammurabi’s Code and the Bible’s Old Testament described espionage as a way to gain an edge on adversaries. The rise of modern nations, however, caused espionage gadgets to flourish.
While television shows and movies about spies may make it seem like spies have gadgets that can do just about anything, not all of what you see on television or the movie screen is realistic. Spies can and do use a wide variety of gadgets to make their lives easier, though.
Let’s take a look at some of those gadgets – some do really exist! – that spies use and which of them are actually real.
Ethan Hunt’s electro-adhesion gloves
Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) death-defying stunts are legendary but sometimes it’s the gadg ets that make Mission Impossible possible. The exploding chewing gum, scanner contact lenses, and MI masks are renowned, but Hunt’s ‘blue is glue, red is dead’ electro-adhesion glove climb in Ghost Protocol was pure movie magic. Every moment counted during filming. Cruise’s circulation was being cut off by the harness and the helicopters shooting the scene had a 30-minute flight time, so filming was a precision operation. As for the gloves, scientists at Stanford University are actually working on real-life prototypes!
Colin Firth’s Umbrella Pistol
Colin Firth’s Kingsman: The Secret Service umbrella is the epitome of British style. The umbrella walking stick-come-pistol opens into a bullet-proof canopy. The polished chestnut handle can be set to ‘smoke’ or ‘stun gun’ modes. While the Swaine Adeney Brigg umbrella is clearly a standout, we also rank the Kingsman signet ring that delivers a 50,000-volt shock and poisoned fountain pen. Firth described his style as a combo of James Bond, Harry Palmer, and The Avengers, with a dash of Sherlock Holmes. Nailed it!
Austin Power’s Shaguar
Austin Powers’ iconic red, white, and blue ‘Shaguar’ convertible is the shagadelic showstopper of the film franchise complete with autopilot and a bulletproof screen – but let’s not forget his father’s Mini Cooper also transforms into a submarine, and the helicopter Austin Powers carried in his backpack as a student. Oh yeah, baby.
A Stasi tool for collecting odor
Eavesdropping equipment and bugging devices are an integral part of Oscar winner The Lives of Others (2006). The tech represents the eyes and ears of the oppressive East German regime and Stasi spies. Set before the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Lives of Others is as surreal as it is disturbing, with memorable and oppressive gadgets ranging from a letter-opening machine to a tool for collecting the odor of an interrogation subject. All real, actually.
Inception’s Pasiv Device
Leonardo di Caprio stars in Inception (2010), a corporate espionage thriller about a dream thief who extracts secrets from the deepest parts of the target’s mind. The ‘gadget’ at the heart of the classic film is the Pasiv device, a briefcase that uses wires and sedatives to connect human beings into a shared dream space. How realistic is the plot? Terrifyingly so. MIT scientists have developed their ‘Dormio’ machine, a real-life dream-control gadget that may give some people nightmares.
The Buddypack Jetpack
Spy Kids has the awesome gadgets we all wanted growing up from the electric whip to the electroshock gumballs, and instant cement. The BuddyPack jetpack has to be the most iconic gadget, however. Who doesn’t want to zing through space at top speed, dip into caves and chase bad guys? Back in 2001, then 12-year-old Alexa Vega said she couldn’t wait to strap on her jet-pack – despite flying smack into the wall in one scene.
We’ve got serious Bat-gadget envy from the Tumbler to the Grappling hook gun, Batarang, ultrasonic bat boot beacon, and The Bat aerial flying machine in the Dark Knight trilogy. Perhaps the most personal of all of Batman’s gadgets is his suit – specifically the memory cloth cape from Batman Begins. When electric currents pulse from his gloves through the cape’s high-tech cloth, the molecules realign. The material transforms into rigid bat wings so Bruce Wayne can glide through Gotham. We are not there, yet.
James Bond’s DB5
When it comes to 007 and gadgets, nobody does it better. Bond’s gadgets are in a class of their own, from his deadly briefcase and cyanide cigarette to jet-propelled scuba tank, explosive toothpaste, pen gun, and laser beam Rolex wristwatch.
There’s no denying the allure of 007’s gadget-laden sports cars, however, like the Aston Martin DB5 so meorably raced by Pierce Brosnan in Golden Eye and the Goldfinger DB5 stolen from a Florida airport hangar in 1997 which has never been seen again.
6 Spy Technologies that are real
Killer umbrellas, stick-on fingerprints and lock-picking cellphones — James Bond and his nemeses certainly used their share of bizarre spy gadgets over the years.
But many of the most far-out devices seen in old movies have been made obsolete by incredible leaps in today’s consumer technology. A modern smartphone does more than most people could do 10 years ago on 10 different things. For instance, nowadays, wires, like those used to catch mobsters plotting on tape, are now entirely wireless, and they’re so tiny that they can be concealed in earrings, buttons and even patches under the skin.
And although most of today’s cutting-edge spy technology is classified, knowledge of a few bizarre techniques does get leaked. From eavesdropping techniques to programmed kitties, here are some of the most incredible real-world spy technologies.
1. Cold War-era gadgets
During the Cold War, the golden era of James Bond’s spy gadgets, a real-life Bulgarian assassin used an umbrella to fire a toxic pellet of the poison ricin into a Soviet defector in London. The Soviets also developed a lipstick gun known as the “kiss of death”, which fired a single bullet at close range.
2. Kitty kitty
During the Cold War era, a few outlandish ideas made it past the drawing board. Unlike animals, which have cochleae in their ears that filter out noise, listening devices were historically bad at filtering out background noise. So, in the 1950s and 1960s, U.S. spies got the bright idea to use an animal’s cochlea to spy on the Soviets. They implanted a microphone into a cat’s ear canal, a radio transmitter next to the skull, and a battery into its abdomen, and turned its tail into an antenna. Then, they spent hours training it to hop through obstacle courses. Unfortunately for the spies, the high-tech kitty often wandered off in search of food.
So the team went back to the drawing board, retrained the cat to ignore its hunger signals and plopped it down in a park across from the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. As soon as it tried to cross the street, it got run over by a taxi. For decades, the CIA also spent millions to fund Operation Stargate, which aimed to use psychics to reveal Soviet secrets. The program was disbanded during the Clinton administration.
3. Visual microphone
The government doesn’t develop all the strangest spy technologies. Scientists at the University of Texas created a way to reconstruct conversations simply by taking pictures of the environment in which the words were spoken, according to a presentation at the 2014 SIGGRAPH conference. The sound spying system takes advantage of the fact that sound waves produce minute, invisible-to-the-naked-eye vibrations that can still be caught on camera. These vibrations can then be analyzed to recreate the original sounds. The new technique now means that, theoretically, anyone who can snap photos or video of a room could recreate conversations that occurred there — without having to bug the place or put their ear to the door.
4. Hacked medical implants
It’s not just a plot point on Showtime’s “Homeland”; medical devices that can be wirelessly controlled and battery operated — such as insulin pumps, implantable defibrillators and pacemakers — can be hacked. At a 2011 Black Hat Security Conference in Las Vegas, hacker Jerome Radcliffe showed that it was possible to hack his own insulin pump. A few years earlier, hackers raised the possibility that wirelessly controlled pacemakers could also be hacked. So far, no one has documented a case where malicious forces have fiddled with someone’s implanted medical device — at least that we know of. But the risk has spurred the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a watchdog agency within the government, to urge to require the companies that make such medical devices to eliminate these vulnerabilities.
5. I see you
International spies aren’t the only ones who have an interest in watching other people. Companies that want to know more about the people who buy their products could one day use a creepy combination of tailored marketing and surveillance. The company Almax has developed a bionic mannequin called EyeSee that could be placed in clothing stores. Behind the mannequin’s dead eyes hides a camera that uses facial-recognition software that can identify a shopper’s age, race and gender. The idea is to deduce what kinds of consumers buy certain products.
6. Unbreakable codes?
Ultimately, the goal of most espionage organizations around the world is to create perfectly secure communications. Some think that quantum encryption — which uses the principles of particle physics to ensure that a message is readable only to its intended recipient — may be the key to creating codes that can’t be broken. At this point, secret services can listen to anything they want to, regardless of what encryption is used. Quantum encryption would be the first time you could create a completely unbreakable code.
Today, quantum encryption is still in the proof-of-concept phase, as far as we know. However, the technology is now getting practical enough that governments are probably very interested.
Souce: SpyScape I NBC
cover image: Sergiu Nista via Unsplash
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