British Spy Secrets Still Much Cooler Than American Spy Secrets

Recently declassified CIA documents tell secrets the government no longer cares about

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Do you like real life spy secrets, declassified documents and Ian Fleming novels? Then you might be tempted to bookmark this page at the CIA's Electronic Reading Room. In a fairly recent bow to transparency, the nation's most opaque government agency is throwing some bones at the curious American public and posting documents to their website under a FOIA banner. Unfortunately, they only do this about twice a year.

Yesterday, the CIA posted six pages of near century-old military intelligence detailing then high-tech methods for creating invisible ink. The World War I-era papers bear handwritten footnotes, step-by-step instructions, "CONFIDENTIAL" stamps and everything. German invisible ink is more sophisticated that the lemon juice trick you can learn on YouTube. But it's still a bit bland as is the other spy secret about how open envelopes undetected. CIA Director Leon Panetta explained that technology has made the techniques obsolete, hence the public release. If you're still interested in experimenting, the Daily Mail provides shorthand instructions. Here's an excerpt form the long version:

The real takeaway from the document leak is two-fold. One, the CIA website is not nearly as cool as it could be. The FOIA Electronic Reading Room feels like a trick as there's so little there, and what's there seems kind of arcane. There's also a kids' section with some rather dry games.

Two--and this is related--British spy documents are much cooler than American spy documents. While we got some instructions on how to make invisible ink, MI5 recently declassified a bundle of files detailing how Nazis planned to infiltrate and undermine American society by using a whole host of frightening, interesting assassination devices. The list includes sort of silly-sounding items like compact mirrors loaded with bacteriological weapons and a swastika belt buckle that could be used as two-barreled pistol. Then there are the really horrifying-sounding things like headache-inducing cigarettes that invited Nazi agents to offer poison pills disguised as Bayer aspirin and small pellets that released a poisonous gas when burned that were to be hidden in ash trays.

Similarly, another set of documents released in 2009 outlined a Nazi sabotage plot that nearly changed the course of the war. The Germans evidently paid a Portuguese wireless operator for information regarding a fleet of Allied ships, including an American ship carrying General George S. Patton. With a volley of false intelligence and double agents that's fit for James Bond--from the Sean Connery era, of course--Germany was days away from intercepting the fleet when the Allies discovered the plot and arrested the Portuguese operator.

The British Security Service portal for MI-5 offers thousands more declassified documents. Highlights include sprawling narratives about people like double agent Eddie Chapman, a member of something called the "jelly gang" and a double agent during World War II, and a well-organized dossier on Klaus Fuchs, the infamous scientist who attempted to sell nuclear secrets to the Soviets during the Cold War. This tree of links to the rest of the archive should keep conspiracy theorists busy for years to come.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.