Saturday, July 03, 2010

reading entrails: or how how reading used toilet paper helped win the cold war

Just caught the end of the Radio Netherlands World, story Spy vs Spy* on The State We're In.

At the end of an insightful interview with Leslie Woodhead, about his time working in British Intelligence during the Cold War, he disclosed a little known story about the time.

"(I felt) more like a trainspotter than any kind of sexy spy"

While he admitted his job was rather boring, listening to the conversations of Russian pilots as they few in and out of East Germany, he'd recently learnt what some of his more glamorous colleagues back at Whitehall were doing. One of the most useful covert operations turned out to be the collection and decoding of used toilet paper, discarded by Russian soldiers. It transpired that loo paper was not standard issue, so the troops tore up whatever was at hand from classified documents to instruction manuals. Little did they know that spies on the ground were scooping up the used, highly sensitive documents and spiriting them back to linguists in London who'd translate the source material.

Operation Tamarisk was one of the most succesfull espionage operations of the entire Cold War.

So you think you have a shit job?


* The whole interview is fascinating but for those who want to hear Woodhead talk about Operation Tamarisk forward to 29 minutes into the show.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Helen said...

Classic. Maybe it should have been called Operation Kopi Luwak. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak

10:31 pm  
Blogger SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Spiriting loads of used lavatory back to London ..... How , exactly ? And in what ... carry-on luggage ?

7:45 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

I think I'd prefer the civet predigested coffee Helen than collecting or analysing the loo paper :)

S&S if you listen to the program (or skip to 29 1/2 minutes in, he talks about how it was spirited from latrine to Whitehall in 24hours. I'm guessing diplomatic dispatch!

10:02 pm  

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