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SpyCatchers

H. Keith Melton

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (Class of 1966), H. Keith Melton is a renowned intelligence historian, and specialist in clandestine technology, and counter-terrorism. Recognized internationally as an authority on spy technology, Mr. Melton has assembled an unparalleled collection of over 7,500 spy devices, books, and papers of eminent spies. He is the author of four highly respected books, CIA SPECIAL WEAPONS AND EQUIPMENT (1994), OSS SPECIAL WEAPONS AND EQUIPMENT (1992), CLANDESTINE WARFARE (1988), and THE ULTIMATE SPY BOOK (1996). THE ULTIMATE SPY BOOK, expanded and updated in 2002, has been re-released as ULTIMATE SPY and remains the largest selling reference book of the last ten years with more than 280,000 copies in print worldwide. It is currently used as an introductory manual for many newly hired employees embarking on intelligence careers. Mr. Melton is also a member of the board of directors for the new International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., and director of a private museum (The Spy Museum) in Boca Raton, Florida. The majority of the artifacts on display in the International Spy Museum originated from his personal collection. He was an editor-at-large and columnist for the intelligence quarterly SURVEILLANT, and has worked for years as a historical consultant to the Central Intelligence Agency.

What are some of the gadgets and spywear that agents use in the field?

"Spy gadgets" continue to capture the public's fascination, but their real purpose is usually misunderstood. To understand how "spy gadgetry" is utilized, we have to first differentiate between the role of the spy (also called the agent) and that of the intelligence officer, or handler.

The popular perception of the spy in movies, television, and novels often focuses on their roles in assassination and seduction. In reality, however, espionage is about identifying a person with information needed by your country and getting him to secretly provide it to you.

The work of spotting, assessing, developing, and recruiting individuals (usually foreign nationals) who have access to secret information is conducted by an intelligence officer, such as an employee of the CIA who is stationed abroad. The person being recruited is the actual spy. Employees of the CIA working abroad to gather information are intelligence officers, not spies.

Spies are primarily spotted (selected) and recruited because they have access to secret information. The greatest vulnerability for the spy is not when the information is being stolen, but rather when it is being communicated to the intelligence officer or handler. The secret handover or process of passing the information is called agent communication. Counterintelligence services (spy catchers) such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) understand that if they can intercept the act of agent communication, they can sometimes arrest the spy and expel the intelligence officer or handler. Without agent communication, espionage doesn't exist!

In the real world of espionage, "spy gadgets" aren't created to kill people, but rather to facilitate the process of agent communication. The organization within the CIA that creates these specialized gadgets is called the Office of Technical Service, or OTS. The variety of gadgets OTS creates includes tiny cameras, audio eavesdropping devices, batteries that can operate for years, secret writing techniques, disguise apparatus, and fake rocks and hollow logs for concealment and passing the secrets. OTS uses the latest technology to create gadgets that appear to be almost magical since they can accomplish what appears to be impossible!

Spies usually avoid special clothing. A spy wants to blend in with others around him, and not to stand out. Since spies (or agents) are citizens of a foreign country they usually look like others around them with similar jobs and education. Standing out in any way, such as wearing expensive clothing, could increase the chances of the spy being identified. In 1994, the excessive spending habits of CIA officer Aldrich (Rick) Ames and his wife Rosario resulted in their arrest as moles for the Russian intelligence service (SVR). The Ames's lived in a luxurious house, drove an expensive car, and had extravagant personal tastes. Rosario's shoe closet contained more than 300 pairs of shoes, many of which had never been worn. All of these expenses could not be justified with Rick's modest salary as a CIA intelligence officer.

Intelligence officers also don't want to be identified by their clothing. During the Cold War, for example, the KGB (Soviet intelligence service) ordered its officers stationed in Western countries not to wear sunglasses or trench coats since both were popularly associated in popular culture with espionage.

So, forget the popular image of a spy dressed in a tuxedo and courting beautiful women while he secretly manipulates amazing gadgets. In the "real world," James Bond wouldn't last five minutes!


What is the best way for an individual interested in a career in intelligence to begin? What sort of educational background do the CIA and FBI require from potential employees? Is there an advantage to any particular course of study (political science vs. computer engineering or humanities)? Do you need to know a foreign language before entering the field, or do the FBI and CIA have training programs for their new recruits?

The best way to begin a career in intelligence is to get the very best education possible. Intelligence officers have to be very smart to do their work. At CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, there are more employees with doctorate degrees than in any university in the world! In fact, the headquarters complex for the CIA has the academic feel of a university campus.

Degrees in international relations are always helpful, but the CIA hires individuals with a variety of technical skills and backgrounds for positions including:
  • Central Office Technician
  • Clinical Psychologist
  • College Students
  • Desktop Technology Consultant
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Engineering Specialist
  • IT Project Manager
  • Materials Engineer
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Network Design and Management
  • Network Engineer Program Management Engineer
  • Science, Technology, and Weapons Analyst
  • Software & Applications Development
  • Software Specialist
  • Systems Engineer
  • Technical Operations Officer
  • Textile Designer
Foreign languages are helpful and the CIA rewards its employees as they become skillful in speaking, reading, and writing different languages. However, foreign language skills are not necessarily a requirement for employment.

For more employment information visit the:
CIA website: http://www.cia.gov/employment/set.html
FBI website: https://www.fbijobs.com/
NSA web site: http://www.nsa.gov/programs/employ/homepage.cfm


I am interested in knowing more about the technology used in the FBI's cultural training program -- specifically, the computer program that they use to teach Middle Eastern culture to their operatives. Where can I find out more about this computer program? Who produced it? Who else besides the FBI is using it?

The break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s has left a destabilized world with "hot spots" scattered around the globe. The attacks of September 11, 2001, and the emergence of radical Islamic fundamentalism and state sponsored terrorism, have created a new priority in Middle Eastern studies.

The mission of the International Training Section, located in Quantico, Virginia, is to administer and coordinate all international mission-oriented training for the FBI. Through coordination with other FBI operational divisions, the International Relations Section, Department of Justice -- Office of International Programs, the Department of State, and affected United States' embassies overseas, prioritized training is provided in support of the FBI's international investigative responsibilities.

International training initiatives fall into seven basic categories:
  1. International country assessments/evaluations and/or needs analysis
  2. International in-country (outside the 50 states) training
  3. International training conducted in the United States
  4. FBI instructor development and cultural awareness
  5. International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEA), Budapest, Hungary and Bangkok, Thailand
  6. Mexican/American Law Enforcement Training (MALET) initiative
  7. The Pacific Rim Training Initiative (PTI)
Training programs utilized by the FBI are often proprietary and designed exclusively for their needs. As such, they are not available to the public.



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