Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to Al-Qaeda
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  476 ratings  ·  61 reviews
Who's spying on you? And how are they doing it?

Spycraftoffers anunprecedented look at the CIA's most secretive operations and the devices that made them possible.

Written by the former director of the CIA's Office of Technical Service, Robert Wallace (a real-life Q, straight out of the James Bond films), and internationally renowned intelligence historian H. Keith Melton,...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published May 26th 2009 by Plume (first published May 29th 2006)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Spycraft, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Spycraft

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,461)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
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.
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...more
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.
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
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.
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
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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...more
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...more
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
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...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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 4 of 5 stars  ·  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.
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.
What a great book. I enjoy hearing about the mechanics, trade craft and most importantly the evolution of technology behind the CIA. The did a great job of mixing stories and technology without losing the readers attention. At the end of the book he does repeat some material he covered earlier which was a little annoying but not enough to knock off a star.
Pamela (slytherpuff)
Jan 31, 2013 Pamela (slytherpuff) marked it as dnf  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Pamela (slytherpuff) by: Brent
See more of my reviews at Bettering Me Up.

You would think that a book that details super-secret spy stuff would be exciting! And thrilling! And nail-biting!

Yeah. No.

I tried really hard to like this book, but it was so dry that I found myself falling asleep.
Lynn Pribus
Amazing information. Such as the fact that the CIA was in contact with our POWs in Vietnam through Jim and Sibyl Stockdale with dry carbon paper. Lots of information and pictures such as the tiny parts of a camera that all spread out would hardly cover a dime. I'm a sucker for subterfuge and this was very meaty!
Just started this after reading into James Bamford's second book and then realizing someone had given me his first book; which I proceeded to start and then read some reviews of both and decided on this which same said person had given me. I am practicing a bit of evasion techniques with the books themselves.
Jan 02, 2010 Craig rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Gadget geeks
A historical account of the gadgets created by the CIA's Technical Service Division. If you are even mildly intrigued by the gadgets that Q creates in the Bond movies, you will enjoy this book. It discusses the development and use of clandestine gadgets from WWII to the War on Terror.
Michael David Cobb
Rather formulaic filler for people who have read more than five such books, but several interesting morsels with regard to gadget tech. The meat of the book circles around the story of 3 spytechs caught in a Cuban prison and their struggles - a story I never heard before.
Alex H
Fascinating. The ingenuity of Technical Services Division (TSD) engineers from the Cold War days through the turn of the century is mind blowing. If your favorite part of the James Bond films is less "shaken, not stirred" and more Q, then this book is for you.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 48 49 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Henley-Putnam Uni...: Trade Craft 1 5 Aug 15, 2013 12:31PM  
  • The Secret History of MI6
  • The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA
  • The Sword & the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive & the Secret History of the KGB
  • Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War Through the Dawn of a New Century
  • The Art of Intelligence
  • The Craft of Intelligence: America's Legendary Spy Master on the Fundamentals of Intelligence Gathering for a Free World
  • Sisterhood of Spies
  • The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB
  • By Way of Deception: The Making of a Mossad Officer
  • Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy
  • The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception
  • Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent
  • At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA
  • Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer
  • The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA
  • Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer: The True Story of the Man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames
  • Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander
  • Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.
See this thread for more information.
More about Robert Wallace...
The Miners (The Old West) Italian Campaign (World War II) Writing Poems Rise of Russia (Great Ages of Man) The Grand Canyon (The American Wilderness/Time-Life Books)

Share This Book