In 1945, the Russians gave U.S. Ambassador Harriman a gift of an intricately carved wood replica of the Great Seal of the United States. This goodwill gesture was delivered by school children. The seal was displayed in his office in Moscow for seven years until 1952, when an electronic countermeasures sweep discovered that the seal was bugged. The CIA, which was initially confounded by the workings of the device, dubbed it The Thing. It had no power or active electrical components. Eventually it was determined that a radio signal on the correct frequency would activate the small device, remotely, a technology that made it very difficult to detect. Léon Theremin, a Russian inventor who created this first electronic listening device, was highly awarded by his country for his achievement.
Later in 1960, Ambassador Lodge revealed the device at a session of the United Nations (see picture) to expose Russia’s spy agenda and counter that country’s complaints about U-2 plane espionage.
Whether on a national scale, or in the public or private sectors, eavesdropping can reap huge benefits for the perpetrator. Technological innovation has exploded since The Thing was debuted. Digital media in the form of telephone and data transmissions, email, texting and computer activity make the pond in which eavesdroppers fish more like an ocean. Eavesdropping technology has likewise advanced, rendering spying relatively easy and inexpensive.
I wonder how many of our readers who have commissioned an electronic sweep, actually found a bug? Although the statistics as to how often spying succeeds in catching a big fish, are low, the risks are very high indeed. Just think of the kinds of conversations that take place across the globe in board and conference rooms where strategy is designed and critical decisions taken.
Making cyber and electronic sweeps a part of a comprehensive security system makes sense. It’s not paranoia, it’s prudent.