Saturday, February 26, 2011

pneumatic spy gadgets

What could be more intriguing that a pneumatic tube network in the headquarters of a spy agency!

The CIA received a bit of press recently for 'going public' with images of spy gadgets from their museum collection (even though these images had been on their flikr page for years).

This particular image is of an amber-coloured carrier which traversed one of the four pneumatic tube systems installed in the late 1950s by the Lamson Corporation (other systems had red, green or metal carriers). The system wound its way through all seven floors of the old CIA building, with 150 receiving and dispatching stations.

In keeping with my interest in all of the tinkering that goes with these systems, I was intrigued to learn that "in order to operate and maintain the pneumatic-tube system, the Agency had to recruit a staff from the Washington Post Office and the Washington Navy Yard".

And like so many pneumatic tube systems, this spy network now remains the stuff of history and museum artefact. Shut down in 1989, the system required too much space, had become too expensive to maintain and was considered redundant in light of email.

Image from CIA's Flikr page, which received has achieved fame in WIRED magazine for being notoriously bad.

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