Resistance Isn't Futile: Explosive Edible Flour, Cigarette Guns and Other WWII OSS Tricks

To kick off our CIA gadget series, I'm starting with something from the beginning, well, before the beginning: covert weaponry sent to resistance fighters behind enemy lines during WWII. They thought of all kinds of disruptive technologies, including exploding edible flour, cigarette-shaped single-use guns and other discrete but explodey gadgets.

The Firefly was a "pocketable" explosive cylinder that came with its own time delay fuse, designed for dropping into gas tanks. (If used improperly, it would have given new meaning to the word "hotpants.") The Limpet was a submersible explosive that latched onto the hull of a boat and blew a 25-square-foot hole. Best of all, its timer could be set for not just hours, but days.

The OSS .22 caliber cigarette pistol above was for close ranges and single uses. One of Spycraft's authors, Keith Melton, explains that it might have been best used as a distraction, if not a lethal weapon. "Say you're caught by Gestapo," he says. Engage the weapon and "there's a deafening noise in a confined space—disorder, confusion. Remember, any chance you might escape is better than no chance."

Resistance Isn't Futile: Explosive Edible Flour, Cigarette Guns and Other WWII OSS Tricks

As a guy who's baked a loaf of bread or two in his day, my favorite resistance weapon was the edible explosive flour dubbed "Aunt Jemima." You could eat it. Let me repeat that: You could eat it. It tasted a little gritty, but hey, there was a war on. Baking wasn't a big deal, because, according to Melton, it needed an accelerant and a small detonator before it would go boom.

The OSS had a different mission than the CIA, as Spytech's authors tell us. Back then during WWII, it was imperative to disrupt the enemy in any possible way, and covert weaponry was paramount. After a bit of organizational confusion in the 1940s and early 1950s, the CIA realized that its primary goal was to steal information alone, without leaving a trace—or any dead bodies. Hence the disappearance of cigarette guns, and the appearance of Zippo cameras. [Spytech Book Review]