Polish Secret Service Artefacts

Monika Komaniecka-Łyp

Polish Secret Service Artefacts. People’s Republic of Poland Secret Service equipment: its kinds and way of their presentation


Secret Service of People’s Republic of Poland (Służba Bezpieczeństwa) used special kind of equipment to keep Polish society under surveillance in the years 1956–1989. It was used in daily operations mainly by the operatives of technical departments who were trained for that: observation (Office „B”), operational technique (Office „T”/ Technical Department), correspondence inspection (Office „W”). Officers in those departments took orders from other cells, like counter-intelligence, called Department II and Departments III and IV.  

Kinds of equipment

Office „B” provided surveillance of people and places. The operations performed were recorded in photos and on video tapes. Photos and films could be made overtly, when an officer pretended to be a Central Photographic Agency photo-reporter and had the legal papers to prove it, or covertly: from covered points. The officers used East German Praktica and Pentacon Super cameras and Japanese Canon or Nikon cameras. The equipment had very good technical qualities. Also miniature camera models were used, allowing officers to hide the cameras in coats, jackets, handbags, umbrellas or wallets. Kinds of camouflage were worked out by technicians in the Ministry of Internal affairs. For the camouflaged photos The Secret Service used Russian Ajax (F-21) cameras, West-German Robot and Minox cameras and Tessina L (Switzerland).

Surveillance of conversations was among the responsibilities of Technical Department officers. For this purpose, telephone line tapping and audio room surveillance (both wired and wireless) were used. For telephone line tapping devices commonly used for controlling and recording conversations were used, for all types of calls. Eavesdropped signal reception and its recording was done in a so called receipt point, which usually was another apartment situated in some distance from the wire. Such an apartment hosted specialised, sound-recording devices. In the 1980s the officers used for that purpose a so called switchboard-signalling station SDS-P produced by Polish Unitra-Unima Workshop. In case of an urgent need to record from a room microphone, the operator pressed the record button, thus turning on a tape recorder on its stand and registering the signal to a magnetic cassette tape. The main use of this device was to listen on-line to the eavesdropped room signals. Such stations were used, among other places, in the central receipt point in the Technical Department and serviced over forty surveillance lines each, placed, for instance, in hotels. For wireless tapping in 1970s and 1980s battery transmitters and network transmitters were used.

How to exhibit intelligence equipment?

            Presently, with gadgetmania growing ever stronger, the most interesting part for the audience is presenting the intelligence equipment in a photo in a situation from the times when it was originally used. A good example here could be temporary exhibition “Bugs in the hotel, a shadow on the street” prepared by Tomasz Maniewski and Monika Komaniecka-Lyp in The Museum of Cursed Soldiers and Political Prisoners of the Polish People’s Republic in Warsaw, opened on 13.12.2017. The exhibition tour starts with a setup of a Polish town street from 60s and 70s, arranged with street photographies showing passers by and city buses. Display cabinets present camouflaged cameras (hidden in bags, umbrellas, books). There are pictures of officers on the walls, communicating with their own special sign system. Operational photos made by them are accessible in multimedia stands. We learn what a film lab of the Secret Service or a covert observation point looked like. 

In order to envisage the scale of invigilation in the years, a flat from the period was arranged, with a cross section of a hotel room next to it and across the wall in a rented flat,   Secret Service receipt point where the officers watch camera feed on monitors and register the conversations heard thanks to the bugs in the hotel room. The receipt point is equipped with switchboard-signalling station SDS-P to register surveillance signals with a tape recorder stand.

The exhibition would not be complete without photos and films about spy activities of the Secret Service aimed not only at the diplomats and foreigners, but also, most of all, towards a regular citizen of the People’s Republic of Poland. 


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1994–1999:  M. A. degree in History, Jagiellonian University


2005 – 2012: Ph. D. degree, Jagiellonian University  –  16 III 2012



II 2006 – now: Institute of National Remembrance in Cracow, Poland, Scientific Research Department


I 2001 – II 2006: Institute of National Remembrance in Cracow, Poland, Archive


1999 – I 2001: Cracow Regional Board of Education



Research interests      

·      modern history of Poland, Secret Services of People’s Republic of Poland,  history of diplomacy


·      activity of technical and operational departments of the Secret Service, operation of their registry and archive, invigilation of the “Solidarity” structures, history of diplomatic posts in France and Poland, especially the Cracow French Consulate



·      1 – 31 October 2015: French Government Scholarship (research conducted in French Foreign Affairs Ministry Archive in La Courneuve)


·      Nomination in the contest “History Book of the Year” (2014) and the contest of Prof. Tomasz Strzembosz (2015) for the book: M. Komaniecka, Pod obserwacją i na podsłuchu. Rzeczowe środki pracy operacyjnej aparatu bezpieczeństwa w województwie krakowskim w latach 1945–1990, Cracow 2014


·      2 IV – 27 VI 2003: French Government Scholarship (International Archival Training in Paris)



The most important books published:

·      Komaniecka M., Instrukcje pracy pionów pomocniczych Urzędu Bezpieczeństwa i Służby Bezpieczeństwa (1945–1989), Cracow 2010.


·      Komaniecka-Łyp M., Ewidencja i archiwum organów bezpieczeństwa PRL. Zbiór normatywów, Cracow 2018 (in print).


·      M. Komaniecka, Pod obserwacją i na podsłuchu. Rzeczowe środki pracy operacyjnej aparatu bezpieczeństwa w województwie krakowskim w latach 1945–1990, Cracow 2014.


·      M. Komaniecka (z Robertem Ciupą) Szpiegowski arsenał bezpieki. Obserwacja, technika operacyjna, kontrola korespondencji jako środki pracy Służby Bezpieczeństwa PRL , Katowice-Cracow 2011.


Tina Andersen