MINOX cameras and spying

An article from Detlev Vreisleben. Read more about him ...

Spies use cameras to copy documents and also to shoot buildings, plants or people. During the second world war Kodak developed a matchbox camera for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the predecessor of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). In the OSS Catalog of 1944 “OSS WEAPONS, SPECIAL WEAPONS AND DEVICES“ the “Minox Miniature Camera“ - the Riga Minox with daylight developing tank and enlarger - is already listed alongside this matchbox camera.

When the war was over agents of the East German foreign intelligence service HVA (headed for many years by Markus Wolf) operating in the West were equipped with “Mikrat” cameras and 8mm film cameras to make copies of documents on film. The “Mikrat” method reduces a page in DIN A4 format by the factor 150 to measure 1.4 x 2 mm. The Minox was used as well, and had the cover name “Jupiter”. Usually agents took the documents home with them where they could take photographs of them undisturbed. They kept their cameras hidden in containers. Photographing at the workplace was only carried out when documents were top secret and could not be taken out. This was done by the HVA top spy, Rainer Rupp, for example, who used a “Venus Z” - a camera in Minox format – for copying documents at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, and also by the KGB agent, Margarete H., in the Office of the German Federal President, who used a lipstick camera. For men, this KGB camera was built into a glue stick or into a cigarette lighter.

The East German foreign intelligence service HVA used the entire range of Minox products, even the Minox EC. The Federal Criminal Office BKA (West Germany) found this camera on an agent and shot a film with it. All of the pictures taken were out of focus. After opening the camera they found that the camera had been converted using an intermediate ring for shooting documents.
And agents from the West used the Minox as well, as revealed by exhibits found at the East German Ministry for State Security.

CIA and KGB also put Minox cameras to use outside of Germany. They were employed by the double agent, Oleg Penkovsky, in Moscow, for instance, who was later executed after being exposed, and the American, John Walker, who spied for the KGB in the US Navy. He received a sentence of life imprisonment.
The Minox cassette is excellently suited for inconspicuous transport, as only the half containing the exposed film has to be hidden. There were also self-destructive containers in which the exposed film was transported without external cover. If this container was incorrectly opened (a needle had to be inserted into an opening) the film was exposed a second time by a built-in flash. This made it impossible to see the images that had been taken and the spy was left undisclosed.

These advantages offered by the Minox cassette initiated intelligence services to develop cameras that used the Minox cassette and that were hardly larger that the cassette itself.

I would like to recommend two books for those who are interested in this topic: “The Ultimate Spy” by Keith Melton and its new second edition, as well as “Spycraft” by Robert Wallace and Keith Melton.