The Spy technology we are all using today

On August 4, 1945, after the end of second world war both Russia and US were trying to focus on their future relationship. A group of young boys belongs to a young pioneer Organization went to the US ambessy and present a gift to the US ambesder as a sign of friendship among the both countries.

It was called “The thing”  and The Thing, also known as the Great Seal bug, was one of the first covert listening devices (or “bugs”) to use passive techniques to transmit an audio signal. It was concealed inside a gift given by the Soviet Union to W. Averell Harriman, the United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union, on August 4, 1945.

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Because it was passive, needing electromagnetic energy from an outside source to become energized and activate, it is considered a predecessor of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.

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The Thing was designed by Soviet Russian inventor Leon Theremin, best known for his invention of the theremin, an electronic musical instrument.

The device, embedded in a carved wooden plaque of the Great Seal of the United States, was used by the Soviets to spy on the US. On August 4, 1945, several weeks before the end of World War II, a delegation from the Young Pioneer organization of the Soviet Union presented the bugged carving to Ambassador Harriman, as a “gesture of friendship” to the USSR’s war ally.

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It hung in the ambassador’s Moscow residential study for seven years, until it was exposed in 1952 during the tenure of Ambassador George F. Kennan.

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The man Behind:

The creation of Leon Theremin’s bug can be attributed to the success of his instrument. Theremin, the man, was a scientist by training. Theremin, the instrument, uses the player’s hand proximity to a pair of antennas to generate electronic sound. As a young student, Theremin was an aspiring physicist.

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World War One saw him enter military engineering school for radio operations. After the war, he worked on experiments as diverse as a device to measure the dielectric constant of gases and hypnosis.  Léon even did work in Ivan Pavlov’s lab.

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The way to Operate:

The Thing consisted of a tiny capacities membrane connected to a small quarter-wavelength antenna; it had no power supply or active electronic components; the device, a passive cavity resonator, became active only when a radio signal of the correct frequency was sent to the device from an external transmitter.

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This is referred to in NSA parlance as “illuminating” a passive device. Sound waves (from voices inside the ambassador’s office) passed through the thin wood case, striking the membrane and causing it to vibrate; the movement of the membrane varied the capacitance “seen” by the antenna, which in turn modulated the radio waves that struck and were re-transmitted by the Thing.

A receiver demodulated the signal so that sound picked up by the microphone could be heard, just as an ordinary radio receiver demodulates radio signals and outputs sound.

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The discovery of the great seal listening device is an interesting one. British broadcasters reported hearing American voices on the their radios in the vicinity of the American embassy. No Americans were transmitting though, which meant there had to be a bug. Numerous sweeps were performed, all of which turned up nothing. Joseph Bezjian had a hunch though.

He stayed at the embassy pretending to be a house guest. His equipment was shipped in separately, disguised from Russian eyes. Powering up his equipment, Bezjian began a sweep of the building. With his receiver tuned to 1.6 GHz, he heard the bug’s audio, and quickly isolated the source in the great seal.

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Close inspection of the carving found it had been hollowed out, and a strange device placed behind the eagle’s beak. No batteries or wires were evident, and the device was not powered through the nail which had been hanging the seal.

Bezjian removed the device from the great seal and was so cautious the he slept with it under his pillow that night for safe keeping. The next day he sent it back to Washington for analysis.

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