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Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs from Communism to Al-Qaeda

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  866 Ratings  ·  74 Reviews

An unprecedented history of the CIA's most secretive operations and the gadgets that made them possible.

MP3 Book, 0 pages
Published September 18th 2008 by Tantor Media, Inc. (first published May 29th 2006)
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Jun 24, 2011 Book rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Spycraft by Robert Wallace and Keith Melton
What fun I had reading this book. What made the experience even more rewarding was actually doing so just days before going to the Spy Museum itself. Many of the real-life stories of Spycraft are exhibited at the museum not to mention all the nifty gadgets.


1. Fascinating topic that is well illustrated throughout the book.
2. History of important CIA missions: Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, and war on terror.
3. Some chapters read out of a
Mar 30, 2013 Owen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Toe knives?
Explosive flour you can bake into biscuits and still blow up?
I hope they sell some of these things at the Spy Museum gift shop.
Gabriel Peach
Oct 20, 2016 Gabriel Peach rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very informative! If you like reading about the history of the U.S. military this book is for you. This book gives you insight on a large variety of CIA operational background like dead drops and the production of these dead drops. Although this was a phenomenal I would recommend reading it in short bursts of 30 minutes to give yourself time to think about and comprehend the book. It's also a very hard read so if you are having a hard time understanding young adult books this book isn't for you.
Feb 07, 2013 Jerome rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A fascinating look into a world too distorted by public ignorance and glamorized by Hollywood myth-making. "Spycraft" superbly written and exquisitely detailed book, rich in texture illuminating a fascinating recounting of the myriad of ways in which technology has aided case officers to accomplish what practitioners term "impersonal communications" exchanges with their agents (spies.) Fascinating and even humorous at times, the multi-hued stories unveiled in this book pull back the curtain to i ...more
Paul Kobos
Although this book read a bit like a text book. The insights were helpful, if you like espionage or political nonfiction, you should read this. It give you background on how and why we employ spies, political motivation & of course tales of intrigue from bond like devices (that are real) to the black ops that result in government sanctioned deaths. Also this book doesn't talk about just American espionage but foreign countries as well.
Feb 02, 2011 Jacqui rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: techno-thriller
I enjoyed Spycraft: the Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda. It provides a fascinating look into the history of spywork in the United States, from the days of the Office of Strategic Services in 1942 to the turn of the century. I enjoyed hearing about the clever devices they used--a liquid chemical that when squirted directly on the body or clothing engulfed a person with the odor of fecal matter, powdered explosives that were mixed with wheat flour and safely shippe ...more
Mar 14, 2013 Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating book. It is clearly written with a pro-CIA bias, but I found nothing at all wrong with that; rather, it was a nice balance to much of the negative slant given to information about the "Agency" in the media. The stories are interesting and well-told. It is unfortunate that, in order to work with material that would clear the CIA's censor, there is little that is really current, but it is still a great glimpse at the evolution of intelligence tradecraft and the Agency itself. ...more
May 18, 2013 JP rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 500 non-encrypted pages, the reader learns the basic elements of espionage and the real history of the first 50 years of the CIA's Office of Technical Services. The tools of espionage were always at the cutting edge of technology. Sometimes, commercially-produced electronics were the basis for a CIA device, but more often, the demands of our spies drove the developments that would later give us pagers and miniature digital cameras. James Bond's toys were more realistic than most people ever r ...more
Apr 21, 2014 Erwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very fun read. I've read quite a lot about the CIA, the OSS that it emerged from, and the related agencies, but this was a fresh take. Instead of focusing on the politics or the personalities, this focused on the tactics and the tools.

Of course most (all!) of the techniques here are badly out of date, designed around an analog world, but the ideas are very clever. I've never seen so many very clever ideas that I hadn't heard of before all wrapped up in the same place.

Analog technology
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Aug 23, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting account of spy tech through the ages, which is itself an interesting subject. The book ends with a sort of basic overview of types of spy operations and spy tech - since it doesn't refer back to anything in the book itself, I think I might have appreciated that more if it were at the beginning, but it's fine the way it was.

At one point he seems to indicate that graphology is something other than complete nonsense, which makes me a bit worried about the state of the CIA, but I ho
Jul 14, 2010 Andie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So far, I like this book. I'm about 200 pages in and I read it mostly when I'm in between books. It's a big one. If you're interested in non-fiction, clandestine government endeavors, you'll enjoy this. It's pretty dry and reads more like a history book than a non-fiction novel, but I like it. My favorite part is learning about the CIA operations from years ago. I was really fascinated by the Soviet-era counter-intelligence operations and the technology used to gather intel back then. You just k ...more
Jeff Yoak
I enjoyed this book. I've read other books on intelligence, but they all had an operational focus. This is a history of the technical service guys and the gadgets they make and the impact of their work on intelligence. There are a lot of surprises, such as how long the CIA made do with so little.

One promise the book doesn't deliver on is carrying the narrative through current day. 95% of the book traces through the Cold War and then there is some vague hand-waving. There is probably little help
Jun 21, 2009 Thomas rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Spycraft is a much more favorable account of the CIA than "Legacy of Ashes," but it is more superficial, lacking the deep probing of Weiner's book. The most useful part of the book comes at the end, where Wallace describes the terminology of covert operations. But his stories of the actual operations reads like a laundry list of heroic and clever missions. The author may actually have been hampered by the fact that he is the former director of the CIA's Office of Technical Service, and that he w ...more
Matt Comstock
Pretty good book describing the co-evolution of American espionage and technological gadgets. It's heavy on the acronyms - fyi, there's a cheat sheet at the end of the book. The book alternated in tone quite a bit, from encyclopedic to narrative and back again. I would have liked to read the last couple chapters first as they gave a good overview of the relationship between tech and wet-work. I haven't returned the book to the library yet....there's also a secret message included in the book tha ...more
Sep 26, 2009 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kind of a fun book, interesting at times, dull at others. Clearly neither author is a professional writer (or should be paid much for their writing skills) but I could look past that. All the interesting things are about old-time espionage - Cold War stuff. Obviously they're not going to detail recent technologies and operations. But it was an interesting read. It made me think about the evolution of a scientific discipline when that discipline is required for pragmatic operations. The opening c ...more
Aug 25, 2009 Darrenglass rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is the story of the tech divisions of CIA, all about the development of gadgets and communication devices that have been used in espionage through the 20th century. I thought this book did an excellent job of balancing the big historical picture, anecdotes, and the geeky tech stuff that the cover promises. I initially picked it up to try to learn some things fort the cryptography course I am teaching this fall, and there are many things I will show the students in that class, but mostl ...more
David Munn
I was hoping for a little more "inside scoop" on the inner workings of the CIA and some of their spy-craft techniques that are newer that the 50's. What we got was a highly redacted script approved by the CIA for publication. As a result, there is nothing new or revealing in the book we all haven't either already read about or seen as a product of Hollywood.

If the author had not been a former employee of "The Company", he would have not have needed script approval from the CIA, and could have t
Christine B.
I found this book really boring. I don't think it was the book's fault -- it's definitely well researched. But I think it was just more detail than I really wanted. Despite that, I listened to all of it, and it was about 20 hours long. I kind of became background information while I did other things and only half paid attention. So it's possible that I didn't give it enough of a chance. But I do know a lot about hiding documents and spy gear in poo and dead animals now. So there's that.
AJ Armstrong
A well-researched and apparently accurate history of the CIA's technical services, in particular their support of operations. Somewhat pedantic, but a pleasant read. Hampered by the inability to discuss anything later than about the 1980s in any real detail, so the "to al-Qaeda" part of the title is, frankly, misleading, as there is really no discussion of any classified content from the present century.
Sep 08, 2008 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: folks who love spy gadgets or spy history
Very enjoyable. I took the author's advice and read the last 5 chapters first to learn the basics of spycraft. It made the stories in the first 20 chapters more enjoyable to follow. I recommend this book if you love spy gadgets or spy history. Although it was more of a history of the technology division of the CIA than it was a history of the technological gadgets. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Ramon Francisco
I turned to this book while doing research for a project, but while I did find all sorts of useful information I was also pleasantly surprised by what an engaging read it was. It provides an exciting window into the technical endeavors that supported real CIA operations from the Cold War up to the War on Terror. I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the true tradecraft of espionage.
Kirk Lowery
A fascinating description of both the hardware and "tradecraft" used by the US from the end of WWII to the present. It demonstrates that the hardware was essential in enabling the agent and his handlers to accomplish their tasks. It also showed how the human element could make a technologically brilliant piece of hardware useless. And that "low tech" solutions are often the optimum solution to a situation. All in all, a wonderful read.
Thomas Burky
Jul 10, 2016 Thomas Burky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This factual account is a great way to crack open the technology and technique of spying. Includes great details about how the technical arm of CIA was started and their distinctly American philosophy of operations. Details get thin after the 80's for security reasons, but you will be surprised by the technology breakthroughs that we take for granted now, but originated from tricky technical intelligence operational requirements.
Jul 05, 2009 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting book. It's written from the perspective of a former CIA chief, so the author is cheerily enthusiastic about the CIA's successes with technology, but he also talks a lot about their failures. If you've ever wondered if there's any truth to the gadgets seen in movies, this book explains it all, from installing tiny microphones to breaking into the KGB's lead-encased sewer pipe wires in downtown Moscow.
Michael Denham
I was disappointed in the book ... it became very tedious and boring. I enjoyed the parts that actually told the stories of how agents and officers used the technology, but not so much the stories of the spytechs developing and installing the technology, and not at all the detailed descriptions of each variation of gadget. I actually quit reading it about 3/4 of the way through the book. I'll finish it one day.
Good review of the CIA's technical services division, chock full of interesting tidbits. There is nothing all that recent, which is understandable. The story is also not terribly well edited -- it seems like a pretty dry essay on various forms of tradecraft were appended onto the end of a memoir. But there's quite a bit of content that will interest any sort of reader likely to pick up a book with this title.
Apr 20, 2014 Ali rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is mostly about technical aspects of spying and delivers what it promises. Given the author's past life it is understandable that it is written from an American point of view and contains a certain level of propaganda material. Like, all defected US spies are degenerate drunks and all the other people helped CIA are freedom fighters. Also the assasination attempts to Castro are covered rather lightly as if they were college pranks.
Nov 26, 2014 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is very much like a textbook on CIA tech and technique. The stories are entertaining and some of the spy tech from the Cold War will make you slap your forehead and go "Of course!" or "No way!"

It isn't super exciting on every page, but, all in all, this is a fun resource for any techno-thriller or espionage thriller enthusiast.
I found this book fascinating, if a little dry. You'd expect such a book to paint its protagonists, CIA techies, as go-anywhere, do-anything propeller-heads, and while this is true, I couldn't help but be impressed by their resourcefulness in dire straits. It's also a tacit expose of the depth of CIA activity in the USSR and in third world nations over the past 50-odd years.
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Henley-Putnam Uni...: Trade Craft 1 5 Aug 15, 2013 12:31PM  
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.
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