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5 Spy Tunnels From Around the World

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Spies have more tools at their disposal than bribery, blackmail, and black bag jobs. They’ve also got pickaxes. When going undercover isn’t enough, they go underground to ply their trade. Here are five spy operations that involved digging tunnels to get the job done.

1. Operation SILVER

Post-World War II Vienna was divided into four zones, each controlled by either the British, the Americans, the French, or the Soviets. (A central district was jointly managed, with governance rotating monthly between the four countries.) Put four of the world’s mightiest powers in one city, and you’re going to get some major league espionage.

The Brits ran the best operation. The CIA had only been established in 1947, and was still mismanaged and on the learning curve. (The agency we know today wouldn’t be hammered into form until Walter Bedell Smith took charge in 1950.) MI6 had been fishing around Vienna and eventually discovered the communications lines used by the Soviets to talk to Moscow. Out came the hardhats and jackhammers.

MI6 opened a haberdashery as a front, and from the back room of the shop set about digging a seventy-foot tunnel to the Soviet transmission lines. The wiretap was eventually a success, but so too was the clothing store. (MI6 doesn’t do anything halfway, as James Bond has repeatedly demonstrated.) The store was so successful, in fact, that foot traffic made effective tradecraft all but impossible. The shop soon boarded up its doors.

2. Operation GOLD

The CIA recognized a good thing when they saw it, and wanted in on the wiretapping game. After all, if it worked in Vienna, why not Berlin? While making preparations for the operation, CIA officers uncovered a major defect in their own cryptography equipment. In addition to transmitting coded messages across landlines, American devices transmitted trace echoes of the unencoded messages as well. This problem was quickly solved, but led to a greater discovery: Soviet encryption devices had the same defect, and the Soviets didn’t know it. For signals intelligence specialists, this was like tapping a geyser of crude oil.

Operation GOLD was a joint project between U.S. and British intelligence officers. Much like Vienna, Berlin was divided into zones. Allen Dulles, the master of espionage and 5th Director of Central Intelligence, got a tip on the exact location of the Soviet transmission lines in Berlin. To get at those lines, a storage warehouse was constructed as a front for the operation. A 1,500-foot tunnel was excavated twenty feet beneath the soles of Soviet boots. 500,000 calls were recorded.

What the Americans didn’t know was that British intelligence had a traitor in their midst. Before the tunnel had even been constructed, George Blake alerted the KGB of the CIA’s plans. Notably, however, the KGB never alerted Soviet authorities of the tunnel’s existence for fear of revealing Blake’s identity. (He was far more valuable in British Intelligence than in prison.) Eventually, however, the Soviets “discovered” the tunnel and expressed public outrage and righteous indignation at such an egregious disregard for international law.

(For whatever reason, this project is still classified. Because who knows what might trigger World War 2 ½.)

3. Operation MONOPOLY

In 1977, the Soviet Union began construction on a new embassy complex in Washington D.C. and the FBI had an idea. Since the days of Hoover, penetrating and bugging foreign embassies was an FBI specialty, and this opportunity simply couldn’t be passed up. The plan involved taking advantage of the chaos and cacophony of major construction, and burrowing a tunnel across town and beneath the Soviet embassy. It was, perhaps, the most audacious act of SIGINT-related espionage ever attempted.

Operation MONOPOLY was a joint project between the FBI and National Security Agency. Apartments were purchased to monitor Soviet construction, and another to hide the drill team. Twenty-plus years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the tunnel project was abandoned. If nothing else, there was the question of which rooms, exactly, they would be able to spy on from beneath the embassy. According to the Spy Museum in Washington, a Special Agent with the FBI summed it up like this: “We had the plans [of the embassy], but you don't know what a room is used for. It might end up being a Xerox room or a storage room. What you want is a coffee room where people talk.”

Even had the spy tunnel gone into full operation, it would have been a futile and counterproductive effort. Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent working for the Russians, revealed everything about the tunnel to Russian intelligence. In the end, the only thing MONOPOLY achieved was a massive government expenditure and public humiliation for the U.S. intelligence community.

4. German Tunnels from the Great War

Berlin must have more tunnels under it than that town in Tremors. During the Great War (which would eventually be downgraded to World War I), it is thought that German spies met in subterranean tunnels to exchange information. The tunnels, disused and discovered after the war, had newspapers dated 1918 pasted on the walls.

5. Inter Services Research Bureau Spy Tunnels

In 1940, shelters were constructed beneath the city of London. Tube stations provided access, and tunnels were bored to connect the bombproof shelters. Ultimately, each tunnel facility could accommodate 8,000 people, and were elaborate enough to make even the Vault Dweller from Fallout envious. During the worst of the German assault, even General Eisenhower was once forced to set up shop in one of the shelters.

In 1944, the tunnel shelter at Chancery Lane was allocated for the Inter Services Research Bureau, an arm of MI6. The ISRB initially had intentions of helping the German resistance. Soon, however, it was a hive of 10,000 covert operatives. In 1945, MI6 vanished from the facility, leaving no evidence of its once thriving presence. Questions still remain as to what the massive spy apparatus did beneath the streets of London that year, anyway.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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