Soviet intelligence agency the KGB, an acronym for Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti, Committee for State Security, was around from 1954 till the Soviet Union's collapse in the early 1990s. At that point, the KGB split up into a lot of smaller organisations. Recently, it has been suggested that Vladimir Putin, now President of Russia, is planning to reinstate it. He was a member in his youth and seems to have learned a lot from it. He was in East Germany when the Berlin Wall fell, and burned KGB files to keep protestors from getting them. (That was around the time when the Stasi, the German secret police, were shredding 16,000 sacks of their own documents. Apparently, 250 of those have been reconstructed by hand, but the rest will have to be done by computer technology or it could take 400 years!)
The golden days of KGB versus CIA were during the Cold War era, when both agencies were spying on each other's countries, whether it was wiring a cat for sound(the CIA) or presenting the U.S. embassy with a carved replica of the U.S. Great Seal that was bugged. The CIA's cat plan didn't work, by the way, while the bugged Great Seal remained in place for several years before anyone caught on.
Have you ever seen "Spy Vs Spy" in Mad Magazine? There were two cartoon spies, one wearing a black coat and hat and one in white, constantly tricking each other. That's what I think of when I think of the Cold War spying between USA and USSR. Not to mention "Boris and Natasha", those two Soviet spies who were the villains in the Rocky And Bullwinkle Show. Boris wore the black coat and hat of a cliched spy, Natasha wore a glamorous evening gown at all times(was she meant to be a honey trap?). Cliches, of course, but the idea had to come from somewhere.
Spying is a nasty game - and nobody plays nice. There was one incident in 1985 where Soviet diplomats were kidnapped by Hezbollah and held over a war in Syria where the USSR was on the "wrong" side. At first there were negotiations, but when a hostage was killed, the KGB kidnapped a relative of one of the Hezbollah leaders, dismembered him and sent some of the bits to his family, with a warning along the lines of, "We know who you are and where to find you.". The Soviet hostages were returned unharmed, without further discussion. Message taken.
Gadgets were used as much by the KGB as by the CIA. For example, there was the lipstick gun, mentioned in my post on gadgets, used in about 1965. It did a single shot, which you had to hope was enough.
There was the poison dart umbrella, one of which was used to kill a dissident Bulgarian journalist, Georgy Markov, in a London street in 1978. It was only a few days from when he felt a sting in his leg to when he died of ricin poisoning.
Smuggling microfilm was made easier for KGB agents by hollow coins and cuff links.
What about the KGB's disappearing ink pen, with ink that made a message disappear after a short time? That was developed in the 1950s. Believe it or not, you can buy them now on-line, presumably for kids to send notes in class, or for embroiderers to use for outlines. How has the mighty gadget fallen!
Tomorrow: L is for Hedy Lamarr, glamorous star and inventor of communications technology...