Operation Tamarisk

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Operation Tamarisk was a Cold War-era operation run by the military intelligence services of the U.S., U.K., and France through their military liaison missions in East Germany, that gathered discarded paper, letters, and garbage from Soviet trash bins and military maneuvers, including used toilet paper.


As described in The Hidden Hand by Richard Aldrich on page 414, Soviet troops were not issued toilet paper in the field. This led them to use official documents as toilet paper. The US, UK and France then used their spies to retrieve the documents as the paper was not soluble and was put into bins. The spies actually complained to their handlers that they had to go through the bins that contained fecal matter and even amputated limbs, in the case of hospital rubbish bins. When the spies told their handlers this, the handlers immediately asked them to bring back the limbs as well so they could study what type of shrapnel the Soviets were using.

According to Tony Geraghty, to tamarisk was BRIXMIS jargon for "sifting through the detritus of military exercises".[1] This included extracting shrapnel from tissue disposal sites at hospitals and salvaging documents used as toilet paper where no actual toilet paper had been issued, but also less disgusting finds such as a discarded personal notebook containing technical drawings.[2]

Leslie Woodhead was told that it was one of the most successful espionage operations in the entire cold war.[3]


  1. ^ Geraghty, T (1996). Beyond the frontline, page 208. HarperCollins.
  2. ^ Geraghty, T (1996). Beyond the frontline, page 209. HarperCollins.
  3. ^ Radio Netherlands mp3 (at 30m50s)