(c) 1999,2022 Peter McCollum

Miscellaneous Non-radio Items

This section describes some other items that are related to clandestine operations.


Lock Picking Tools

Lock Picking was one of the courses taught in the CIA’s Office of Training (OTR). The author’s father (Oscar, an OTR employee) took the Lock Picking course in the 1950’s. As part of the course, the students made their own tools.

Oscar wrote the following about the course:

“When I took the lock-picking course the final exam was to make a key to my car door (which are very good locks), without reference to my regular key.”

The lock picking tool set made by Oscar while taking the CIA’s lock picking course. The picks are flat spring steel, the handles wrapped with electrical tape. The case is marked from a Chevrolet dealer in Virginia.


Secret Writing

Another course in the Office of Training was “Secret Writing”.

Oscar, the author’s father and an instructor for the Secret Writing course, wrote:

“One of the best secret inks for training purposes is a common substance that might be found in anyone's medicine cabinet.  This is alum [aluminum sulphate], in the form of a powder which is common in the Far East, or as a ‘styptic pencil’ which men often use to stop the bleeding when they cut themselves while shaving.  The ‘secret ink’ is prepared by taking a specific amount of water at room temperature in a glass, submerging one-half inch of the styptic pencil and slowly moving it in the water for six seconds.  This allows just the right amount of alum to dissolve to make an "ink" just strong enough to be clearly seen when it is ‘developed’ by heating.  This heating can also be done with a clothes-pressing iron, and this is much safer.  If too much alum is used the white powder traces can be seen on the paper if it is held just right to the light.  Before writing the paper is prepared by rubbing it carefully and thoroughly with another piece of the same kind of paper, both vertically and horizontally.  This wipes off the loose fragments of paper fiber, which if allowed to remain on the paper would be realigned along the paths of the ‘pen’ strokes and would appear as fine scratches when examined carefully.  These fibers are almost microscopic and are on all paper surfaces.  The writing with secret ink is then done in a pre-determined manner in neat capital letter printing.  The ‘pen’ is a wood toothpick or match stick which has been sharpened, if necessary.  A steel pen cannot be used as tiny fragments of the metal are rubbed off on the paper and can be detected.  The writing should be rapid and continuous as the clear ‘ink’ dries in a few moments and then you cannot see what and where you have written.  After writing the paper is air dried thoroughly and then is rubbed again in both directions to remove any additional fibers that might have been disturbed by the ‘pen’.  Of course, the paper should have previously had an innocent cover message written on it and the secret message written between the lines or at right angles to the visible writing and on the back of the paper.  The purpose of a cover message is obvious.  If no secret message is expected, none will be looked for, and therefore not seen.  A blank sheet under certain conditions will be suspect.”

Styptic pencils.


"Air America" Souvenir Fan

This is a Japanese-style paper fan that was a souvenir of an Air America flight in the late 50's. Air America was a CIA front airline, used primarily for Agency business, but they also ran passenger flights to give the appearance of being a legitimate airline. On this particular flight in the Pacific area, one of these fans was on each passenger's seat.

Front and rear views of the Air America paper fan.



Minox Camera

The Minox model "B" was probably the most commonly-used small camera in the clandestine business. It features a built-in light meter that is self-powered via a selenium photocell. The self-powered meter is a useful feature since the camera can be stored for long periods without worry of the condition of the battery. [Ref. 13]

The successor model "C" requires a battery, but is very similar otherwise. The predecessor models III and III-S do not have a light meter, and are about 3/4" shorter. It was perhaps the next most popular model for these purposes, because of its absolute minimum size.

This Minox model III, made in 1953, was owned by CIA employee Harold Bent. Mr. Bent was in TSD (Technical Services Division), and died in a car accident in 1968. Author’s collection.


The standard Minox B camera, open and ready to take a photograph. Author's collection.


The Minox B with the flash unit attached. Author's collection.


The Minox binocular attachment. The device clamps onto one eyepiece of a binoculars, and positions the camera to shoot through the eyepiece, thus making the binoculars serve as a telephoto lens. The other eyepiece of the binoculars is used for sighting. Image courtesy of the late Bill Howard.


 CIA Survival Manual

This is a page from a survival manual written by the Agency's Office of Training in about 1950. The author's name was Egbert "Bert" Courage. The manual has a series of sections, each one accompanied by a classroom lecture.



Soviet F-21 Camera

The F-21 camera was used by Soviet KGB and police forces in surveillance operations. Its two main features are the small size of the unit, and the spring-driven motor winder, allowing multiple photos to be taken on a single winding. Much more info can be found on the web, and in Keith Melton's books (such as “Ultimate Spy”).

A Soviet F-21 camera. The large knob winds the spring motor. Three shutter speeds can be set via the lever to the right of the knob. Author's collection.

This device is a “button concealment” for the F-21 camera. The camera is mounted behind the assembly on the right. Note the black coat button, which appears to have 4 holes for sewing it on. The unit can be strapped to the wearer's body, with the fake button replacing one of the coat's real buttons. On the other end of the flexible cable is a shutter release, and a lever for adjusting the f-stop of the camera. This part of the device would be inside the coat pocket. Author's collection.

As the shutter release is squeezed, the center of the “button” opens to reveal the lens of the camera.

As the release is fully squeezed, the lens is completely visible, and the shutter on the camera is automatically triggered at this point.


Tear Gas Pen

This is a self-defense tool, designed to resemble a common fountain pen. It fires a .38 caliber tear gas cartridge. The "barrel" unscrews from the "receiver" for loading a cartridge. Shown also is another barrel that can be used instead - it accepts a cartridge the size of a .22 Short. It's uncertain if the .22 cartridge is intended to be gas, or perhaps a blank round for noise-making, or perhaps even a live .22 short round. The .22 barrel is chromed steel, while the standard .38 barrel is aluminum. Although the CIA did have similar devices, this example was probably made for commercial sale. This one actually looks more like a pen than the CIA model. A gas pen of this type is described in U.S. patent #1775178, designed by Peter Von Frantzius.


Gas Pistol

The original owner was with TSD, and reportedly said that it was an 'assassination weapon' acquired from the Nazis, although this is thought to be unlikely, since it has been found to be a mass-produced model.

The maker is "August Schuler in Suhl". The logo on the grips is a stylized "ASS". This maker is known primarily for sporting firearms in the early 20th century.

This model is described in "The German Encyclopedia of Firearms" (translated) as follows:

"Starting and teargas pistol, by August Schuler in Suhl. Selfloading pocket-pistol, for a completely rimless cartridge. The pistol has neither chamber nor extractor. Ejecting the spent case takes place via gas pressure. Usable as a starting pistol with color cartridges or with gas cartridges as a self-protection weapon. Before 1939 built in two versions - 6 or 10 shots. Length 100mm. Weight 270 grams."

Following is a description of the pistol from a friend in Germany, with an English translation. Many thanks to Reinhard Brusdeylins for this information, and the translation:

Hier handelt es sich um die so genannte "Lacrimae-Pistole". Im AKAH-Katalog von 1939 ist die Pistole abgebildet. Hersteller war wahrscheinlich nicht die Firma August Schüler in Suhl, sondern lediglich der Vertreiber. ASS steht übrigens für August Schuler Suhl. Die „Lacrimae"-Pistole war für eine Spezialpatrone eingerichtet, andere Patronen passen nicht! Diese Patronen sind noch bis in die 1950er-Jahre in Katalogen zu finden, die Waffe selbst nicht mehr. Die Lacrimae-Pistole wird geladen, indem man die Patronen von oben ins Magazin drückt. Zugeführt wird sie durch eine Feder, die im Magazin von unten gegen die Patrone drückt. Die Patronen werden durch den Gasdruck seitlich ausgeworfen. Hier handelt es sich um die so genannte "Lacrimae-Pistole".

This is a so-called "Lacrimae pistol" ['Lacrimae' meaning 'tear gas']. In the AKAH Catalogue from 1939 there is a picture of this pistol. Company August Schuler is assumed to be not the manufacturer, but only the distributor. "ASS" stands for August Schuler Suhl. The Lacrimae was made for a special cartridge, other cartridges won't fit. The cartridges were in the catalogs in the 50's, the weapon itself not any more. The Lacrimae pistol is loaded by pushing the cartridges from the top into the magazine. The cartridges are loaded [into the chamber area] by a spring in the magazine below the cartridges. The cartridges are ejected to the side by gas pressure.

It appears that the cartridge for it would be very close to .25 caliber, and the overall length about 1 inch.
I'm guessing this one is a 6-shot version. The action is interesting: pulling the trigger causes the slide to move back. If you pull the trigger far enough, the slide is released and slams forward (rather hard!). The firing pin is *fixed* to the inside of the rear of the slide. There is a 'port' carved into the left side of the inside of the bore, where it would meet the front edge of the cartridge - I suspect this is the ejection mechanism (gas pressure would push the case out sideways to the right). The magazine is fixed in the grip - the pistol loads thru the ejection port at the top. There is a spring-loaded magazine follower. There is a safety lever on the left side, with German markings for 'safe' and 'fire'. When the safety is on, the slide is pushed back slightly, which keeps the firing pin out of the way for loading. There is a plate protruding from the right side, just under the ejection port - presumably to protect the hand while firing.

There is a stamp on the bottom of the grip that is shaped like a shield, and has "SUHL" in it, along with an image of a hammer. This is a standard Suhl marking. Near the stamp is a marking that says "M.33" (perhaps model of 1933 ??). Also near the stamp is a marking "XX". This is possibly an Agency marking, to mean 'experimental'. I have an early-production RS-6 radio set that also has XX markings. A firearms expert in Germany said that the "XX" is not a known marking, and that legitimate German markings are well-documented. An assembly number "35" is found on the underside of the front edge of the barrel, and also on an interior surface of the slide. The grips have the "ASS" logo. No other markings.

Everything is steel, except for the plastic grips, and the trigger, which is made of a non-ferrous metal (aluminum??). The barrel has a smooth bore, roughly 25 caliber. Sighting down it, there is a slight 'contraction' in the middle section of the barrel - that is, it becomes slightly narrower in the middle, by a few thousands of an inch. This contraction may be part of the ejection mechanism: If the cartridge includes a wad, then this restriction in the bore would cause a momentary increase in gas pressure, to aid in ejecting the empty cartridge.

Two or more other variants of this pistol have been described to me (one is pictured on the web site of a European museum).

The August Schuler gas/starter pistol. Author's collection.


Markings on the bottom of the grip. The "XX" is possibly an Agency marking meaning 'experimental'.


Coin Knife

This item was made by the author, based on the "coin knife" that was used in Europe to harass German forces. It was intended primarily for cutting the valve stems on enemy vehicles, but might serve as an escape tool, also. With the blade folded, it may go unnoticed in a pocketful of change. A picture of an authentic example can be found in Keith Melton's books.


Sykes-Fairbairn Fighting Knife

This model of knife was issued to many WWII operatives of the SOE and OSS in Europe. This particular knife was used by a partisan group in Norway. Image courtesy of John Staaland.