Homebrew CIA OTS Pencil
"These field mentors also provided valuable unofficial training. Junior techs learned how to economize on space while taking the necessary tools for jobs that were never completely predicatable. One tech always carried four types of tape wrapped around a No. 2 lead pencil. Individual rolls of tape added weight, required space, and contained far more tape than was ever needed on most jobs. Duct tape, double-sided tape, electrical tape, and copper foil tape were standards. Duct tape held devices in place while the epoxy dried, double-sided tape was used to stick components to walls or ceilings in temporary configurations for testing, electrical tape insulated and repaired wiring, and the copper foil tape with sticky backing made good practice or emergency test antennas. There was always room on the pencil to wind several loops of solder wire and utility wire as well."
Excerpt from Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA'a Spytechs from Communism to Al-Qaeda by Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton. (www.ciaspycraft.com)
The above is a quote from a book which documents the history of what is known today as the CIA's Office of Technical Services (OTS). These are the people who actually create and help deploy the technical devices used to collect foreign intelligence by the CIA. These devices range from very sophisticated induction-based telephone taps to pencils with tape wrapped around them. We'll stick to just making the tape pencils... for now.
This little trick is not just for the amateur intelligence gatherer, it is also a handy addition to one's toolbox. Construction of this device is quite simple and, in fact, you could probably make a tape dispensing pencil like this for free if you really scrounge. The project here will revolve around a "Paper Mate TopNotch Grip" mechanical pencil instead of a normal "number 2" lead pencil. The reason for this is that in certain "situations" you don't want to leave around any shavings if you need to re-sharpen the pencil. Fill the pencil with as many spare leads as it will hold, then epoxy the eraser into place. This will keep the leads from falling out during any rough handling.
You may also wish to pick up a Weller BP645 battery powered soldering iron. Unlike the infamous "ColdHeat" brand, these actually work! While it doesn't have the wattage or battery life to handle heavy soldering jobs, it is perfect for quickly soldering wires in cramped areas. They take less then 30 seconds to heat up and run off three standard "AA" size alkaline batteries. You'll want to avoid using low-cost zinc-carbon batteries, as their high internal resistance will lower the output current, which reduces the soldering iron's tip temperature. Try to use small-diameter rosin-core flux solder with this soldering iron to avoid any unnecessary loading. You should also try to prep the connection beforehand with a flux pen. The pencil's eraser can be used to clean any oxidation off the wires or surface before soldering. Use a piece of tape to clean up any eraser "crumbs," if your job requires stealth.
Construction Notes & Pictures
Overview of the parts needed.
Along the bottom is the Paper Mate TopNotch Grip mechanical pencil and the Weller BP645 battery powered soldering iron.
Above that are samples of different types of tape to use. You can even try "art tape," which comes pre-cut in reduced widths from 1/4 to 1/16 inch and in different colors.
A surplus source of double-sided adhesive mounting tape can be found in window insulation kits.
Adhesive-backed copper foil tape can be found in the glass making section of most big hobby stores. You can solder to this tape, if you are careful. Copper foil tape can also be used to reduce any stray RF leakage in computers or radio equipment by covering cracks or seams. This is sorta like a poor-man's TEMPEST program. Copper foil is also very useful for making fairly "stealthy" mobile dipole antennas by applying it to vehicle windows. Roll the window down for quick concealment.
For the electrical tape, 3M Scotch Super 88 is the best brand to use. The tape will stay strechy and sticky even in cold weather, it won't breakdown in sunlight (ultraviolet), and it is a little thicker than normal electrical tape. Remember to wrap the tape up the connection if it needs to be waterproof. This will help prevent the tape from "wicking" the moisture down into the wrapped connection.
Closeup of the Weller BP645 battery powered soldering iron.
The iron's plastic protection cap has space to hold a little roll of solder and a piece of solder wick. Add a drop of liquid rosin flux to the solder wick if it ever dries out.
Use good alkaline batteries in the soldering iron for maximum performance, not the crappy ones shown above.
Soldering iron cap with the little roll of solder and solder wick.
Completed tape dispensing pen overview.
From bottom to top is the double-sided tape, copper foil tape, electrical tape, and a few wraps of some enameled wire. Peel off a little bit of each tape's adhesive protective backing to help secure them to the pencil.
Enameled wire is easier to carry than regular wire as it doesn't have bulky insulation. It will need to be scraped a little bit before soldering though. A good source of enameled wire is from old telephones with a mechanical ringer.
On this style of Paper Mate pencil, the pocket clip has a little hole in it which the wire can pass though. This helps secure the wire and will prevent it from unraveling.