jump to navigation
  • The Spy Who Loved Me? Semen and Espionage April 13, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    invisible ink

    By WW2 Britain had the best spy and espionage service in the world: one that helped end the war in 1945 rather than 1946 or 1947. However, in WW1 it was still amateur hour. MI6 was just five years old when the guns of August thundered and there was a great deal of improvisation by ‘our men’ in the lowlands and Scandinavia (the two main theatres for spying against Imperial Germany). One of the biggest problems was how to get messages back to ‘M’ in London. Today it is a question of coded emails or some form of electronic communication. But in a period when there was not even efficient radio to rely on then invisible ink was everything. Now attempts have been made to write in secret since, well, the invention of writing. My own favourite from the antique world is the shave-a-slave’s-head, tattoo-the-message-on-his-scalp, then let-the-hair-grow-back method.

    But in WW1 slavery was gone from Europe and had been gone for the most part of a thousand years and no one, in any case, had time to let two centimetres of hair grow before the Hun attacked British trenches in this or that sector. Imagine Cumming’s delight then – Cumming was believe it or not the head of Britain’s secret services at this time – when it was discovered that semen made fine invisible ink. It fulfilled two of the most important criteria for any such substance: it was easily available and it did not appear when exposed to iodine vapour. There was one serious drawback though, the stench: ‘our man in Copenhagen… evidently stocked it in a bottle – for his letters stank to high heaven and we had to tell him that a fresh operation was necessary for each letter.’ Nor was this the only problem faced by our intrepid spies. In ‘Q’’s department there was strife over the semen breakthrough. Indeed, the inventor of the semen solution was ragged so mercilessly for his masturbatory habits that he had to be moved out of his office.

    The Germans, needless to say were streets ahead of the poor Brits. They soaked their agents’ clothes in an invisible ink chemical and this chemical could be reconstituted from the clothes by a washing process. Better than carrying an incrimatory bottle around. Perhaps the British caught on a little later. A Belgian patriot, who was expected to sleep with the enemy, had invisible ink placed in her underwear.

    Any other unusual invisible inks: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com or any other good spy or espionage stories in general. This looks like a fertile field for bizarrists.

    24 April 2014: LTM writes Semen is not the best thing to use. It’s often too shiny when dried.  The best is urine.  I know a prison where the inmates used urine to write messages and simply heated the paper over light bulbs for the words to appear.  Finding a proper instrument to write with is probably the most difficult part.  The inmates were all in solitary but devised a method of checking out books from the library.  The page in code would contain the next book to get from the library with the next message. The message could be written on the blank end or beginning pages, or margins. Worked like a charm as the authorities never caught on to how inmates in solitary were “talking” to each other.  I’d bet the method is still in use.’ Thanks LTM!