It comes as no surprise that, throughout history, spies all over the world have employed all sorts of secret skills, tools, and training to complete their missions. And though the most famous secret agent of them all—James Bond—might have been a fictional character, his preferred methods and devices aren’t totally out of the realm of possibility.

One trick that CIA agents had in their arsenal during the Cold War, however, might surprise even Bond himself. In order to pass messages to one another in the most discreet means possible, they cleverly made use of some everyday items.

Just what did these masters of espionage use to coordinate their secret messages? You’re probably wearing it right now…

Even during the Cold War, CIA agents who were deep undercover had to tie their shoes in the morning just like everyone else. Only, when they did it, they would often tie them in specific ways that acted as coded messages to other agents.


This information comes from “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception,” a guide that the agency commissioned from magician John Mulholland during the height of the Cold War. They wanted him to teach them sleight-of-hand tricks so they could communicate more secretively in the field. Thus, shoelaces became secret messages.

For example, if an agent were to approach another and glance down at his shoes to see this design, he would immediately know that the shoelaces signaled “I have information.” Simple as that!

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While James Bond might have owned aquatic cars and exploding pens and things of that nature, an everyday pair of shoelaces tied like so would signal to a fellow agent, “Follow me.”

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The ability to communicate without actually speaking or making any suspicious movements could be invaluable to agents in precarious situations. One final example: this would tell an agent, “I brought someone with me.” Intriguing!

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It’s remarkable the myriad ways that intelligence agencies have managed to weave vast espionage networks without arousing suspicion. Evidently, even shoelaces were weapons in the Cold War!

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