The Cold War Spies Who Gathered Soviet Poop

By Michael Van Duisen on Friday, September 20, 2013
soviets
“We do not want a single foot of foreign territory; but of our territory we shall not surrender a single inch to anyone.” —Joseph Stalin

In A Nutshell

Operation Tamarisk was a joint espionage operation undertaken by the UK, US, and France. The plan called for the secret gathering of Soviet documents by going through their trash cans, as well as their toilet systems. Due to embargoes, the Soviets began using discarded official documents as toilet paper. In addition to papers, the spies also retrieved amputated Soviet limbs from the same containers.

The Whole Bushel

As the Cold War really began to take shape, the military intelligence branches of the UK, the US, and France banded together to come up with a way to uncover Soviet secrets. One of their plans was known as Operation Tamarisk and consisted of having undercover spies rummage through trash cans, dumpsters, landfills, and anywhere else that might contain discarded Soviet documents.

An unintended effect of the embargo on toilet paper for the Soviets was that they began using official documents as toilet paper. Once the agents reported this back to their handlers, they were instructed to begin sifting through the Soviet sewage systems, so as not to miss any vital information. However, they discovered that the documents were not water-soluble, so the Soviets were throwing them away in special bins.

Unfortunately, these bins also served as the disposal method for amputated limbs as well. Disgusted, the agents wanted to stop the practice, but the government officials insisted they continue. In addition, they were told to bring back the amputated limbs, so they could be studied and the style of shrapnel used by the Soviets could be uncovered.

The documents were retrieved and returned to West Berlin, where they were sanitized by a group of operatives permanently stationed there. Richard Aldrich, speaking to Leslie Woodhead in his book, My Life As A Spy, was quoted as saying: “Operation Tamarisk was perhaps the most productive intelligence operation run by the British during the Cold War. Those used pieces of Russian toilet paper were absolute gold.”

Show Me The Proof

Black Ops: The Rise of Special Forces in the C.I.A., the S.A.S., and Mossad
My Life As A Spy