Dis­play re­veals spy gad­gets

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Paris

Lip­stick pis­tols, poi­son pens, ex­plo­sive rats — a new Paris ex­hibit re­veals real-life spy gad­gets and tells the story of how se­cret agents around the world were re­cruited, trained and equipped dur­ing clan­des­tine mis­sions from World War I to the end of the Cold War.

“Se­cret Wars”, which opened last month at Les In­valides, of­fers a chance to re­live the days be­fore es­pi­onage went on­line, dis­play­ing about 400 ob­jects, de­vices and ar­chives from French, Bri­tish, Amer­i­can and Ger­man col­lec­tions, most of which have never been shown be­fore.

Far from James Bond’s glam­orous life, it tells the story of men and women who risked their lives to gather in­tel­li­gence and carry out clan­des­tine op­er­a­tions.

Vis­i­tors can dis­cover the spies’ dis­guise kits, in­clud­ing wigs and fake mus­taches, and their equip­ment, like minia­ture cam­eras and dis­creet au­dio recorders.

They can also see rare doc­u­ments, such as the first men­tion of Adolf Hitler in French files in 1923: “not an id­iot but a very skilled dem­a­gogue,” the agent wrote.

Spies also used var­i­ous tech­niques of cam­ou­flage for ob­jects, from a let­ter­box in a tree branch to a pis­tol look­ing like lip­stick.

A dead rat stuffed with ex­plo­sives could be placed by a sabo­teur in a coal pile in the boiler of a lo­co­mo­tive so when the rat goes into the fire, the en­gine ex­plodes.

Since the cre­ation of per­ma­nent in­tel­li­gence ser­vices at the end of the 19th cen­tury, sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal progress en­abled ex­perts to make spy de­vices and weapons ever smaller, more si­lent and less vis­i­ble.

Among spec­tac­u­lar pieces are the fa­mous Enigma ma­chine, which was used to code com­mu­ni­ca­tions of the Ger­mans through a com­plex en­cryp­tion process dur­ing World War II, and a real sub­ma­rine used by the French se­cret agents in the 1970.

But the ex­hi­bi­tion also shows the risks of a life in the shad­ows.

Dur­ing times of war, agents could be con­sid­ered as war pris­on­ers and face trial and po­ten­tially a death sen­tence. Some agents wore rings hid­ing cyanide pills they could swal­low in case of ar­rest and tor­ture.

“In peace­time, it’s even more sim­ple. They have no sta­tus at all,” said Fran­cois La­grange, one of the ex­hibit’s cu­ra­tors.

The ex­hibit is open un­til Jan 29 with com­men­tary in French and English.

FRAN­COIS MORI / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Se­cret agents’ gad­gets and weapons are dis­played as part of the “Se­cret Wars” ex­hi­bi­tion at Les In­valides Mu­seum in Paris.

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