Spy Dust

Used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War:

A defecting agent revealed that powder containing both luminol and a substance called nitrophenyl pentadien (NPPD) had been applied to doorknobs, the floor mats of cars, and other surfaces that Americans living in Moscow had touched. They would then track or smear the substance over every surface they subsequently touched.

Posted on May 20, 2015 at 8:06 AM • 21 Comments

Comments

ZenzeroMay 20, 2015 9:04 AM

The reagan administration made wide proclamations about how the stuff was carcinogenic until a report in 1986, 2 years after they got their sample that said it was harmless.

"We have conducted extensive tests on this tracking agent. Test results indicate that it has not been used indiscriminately against American personnel but has been employed by Soviet authorities against a specifically targeted, relatively small percentage of official American employees.

Fortunately, the results of those tests show that exposure to the quantities of NPPD found does not pose a health hazard".

http://www.nytimes.com/1986/02/15/world/us-says-spy-dust-used-by-the-russians-is-no-health-hazard.html

Z.LozinskiMay 20, 2015 9:38 AM

The original article is massively oversimplified ...

The program used by the East German Ministry for Security (MfS or popularly "Stasi") for both radioactive tracking and odour tracking is described in depth in the 2008 book "Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi's Spy-Tech World" by Kristie Macrakis, based on access to the MfS files in Germany after unification.

The MfS used the terms "marking material" for the actual stuff, and the code name "Cloud" for the radioactive tracking program.

There was early research in the UK in 1940 by Prof F.G.Tryhorn, and possibly by the FBI and NYC Police also in the 1940s. The next phase seems to be in West Germany where chemical tags were developed from the 1950s to the 1970s. The Austrian police service first experimented with radioactive tags in 1966 using 198 Au - a radioactive gold isotope - to identify thefts of wallets.

In East German, Dr. Franz Leuteritz, a nuclear physicist was recruited by the MfS in 1967 and joined the Technical Operations Sector. He developed the Cloud program.

There were 28 different radioactive markers developed for the Cloud program, depending on how the marker was to be applied to the target: needles, liquid spray, paper, ink, car magnets and air gun. (Shoot the airgun at a car tyre and it could be tracked for 100 days - used against diplomats and Brixmis vehicles).

The program seems to have started its operational phase in 1973, and was in decline by the late 1980s. In 1975 there were 100 uses of radioactive markers, but only 58 cases between 1982 and 1988.

Obviously there was a need for portable detectors and a source of radioisotopes and these were developed by the Central Institute for Nuclear Research in Rossendorf.

The key lesson is that a state with no oversight is capable of developing and deploying some fairly sophisticated technology with consideration of the effect on the subject population.

JaysonMay 20, 2015 9:47 AM

Seems like an excellent way to determine which spies washed their hands after using the restroom. The most hygienic were untraceable.

Jim Van ZandtMay 20, 2015 11:01 AM

"198 Au - a radioactive gold isotope - to identify thefts of wallets". Interesting. I see that 198 Au has a half-life of 2.7 days, so you have to use it pretty quickly. It's produced by neutron activation. I envision the officials irradiating a gold coin and waiting for the culprit to trigger detectors as he left the facility. It would not work well for money today, since it doesn't contain gold. However, all our portable electronics have gold plated contacts. We could use this to discover who's stealing iPods.

Slime Mold with MustardMay 20, 2015 11:21 AM

In Peter Wright's "Spy Catcher", he writes of a case where using radioactive dust to catch a fellow removing documents from the Naval Ministry was considered by MI-5 circa 1970 - the idea abandon because of the number of exits and the likely reaction of Naval employees should they become aware of their exposure (even today, there are people who think "radiation" and "you've got cancer" are identical terms).

A far more interesting prospect is that, should the object of such tracing become aware of it, they could use it against their watchers in myriad devastating ways; Throw a little on to the tires of lead missile researcher, put a bit where that Central Committee member often has lunch, sprinkle some in that café just off Dzerzshinski Square...
If this sounds like a mere prank, please recall Beria and the Red Army Purge of 1941.

Z.LozinskiMay 20, 2015 12:54 PM

@Jim Van Zandt,

The case involved someone stealing clothes and wallets from the University of Vienna's pathological institute in 1965-66. Money marked with a radioactive gold wire placed in a coat pocket, and a simple Geiger counter outside the facility was used to trigger an alarm. In the Vienna case, the low half life was specifically chosen by Dr. Ronnai so as not to endanger anyone's health.

Vulnerability ResearcherMay 20, 2015 12:56 PM

@Andrew Wallace

The "Cyber Cold War" has been going on since the Cold War, the eighties. eg, 'Cuckoo's Egg". Before then sci tech espionage was going on all along, eg, Russia would implant or hire people at IBM in Europe a long ways back to try and get information about computing systems and steal the technology.

From the 90s on it was very much hot.

Manhattan Project for Cyber Security, 1995:
https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=hKRSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=m28DAAAAIBAJ&pg=6819,244612&dq=clinton+manhattan-project+computer+cyber&hl=en

This was not just Russia and the US, however, it also engaged China and other countries.

In the 2000s, it became very hot, with China attacking the US WhiteHouse with the Code Red virus. (This was attributed to Chinese non-government, however it happened at the same time China was beginning to ramp up attacks on US Government and Corporations. China often used plausibly deniable actors, including hackers whom they hired, and plausibly deniable attack code. Eventually this got bad enough that counterintelligence in the US went forward with disclosing details and encouraging some businesses to make public disclosures on the attacks.)

Right now, many countries are hacking each other regularly, and this has been increasingly intense since the 2000s. It was regularly big news, however, even ten years ago.

Vulnerability ResearcherMay 20, 2015 12:57 PM

"Safe for use"... the Russians have also used radioactive material for "spy dust". So, spy dust is not always "safe for use".

Z.LozinskiMay 20, 2015 2:16 PM

@Vunerability Researcher,

"Russia would implant or hire people at IBM in Europe a long ways back to try and get information about computing systems and steal the technology."

The published evidence suggests that it was East Germany and Japan that conducted operations against IBM in the 1980s.

The East German MfS operations against DEC, IBM and Siemens are described in Kristie Macrakis' book.

Lt. Col. P. Stewart's "Role of the US Government in Industrial Espionage" from the National Defence University in 1994 describes the 1981 Adirondack Workbook case involving the FBI, IBM and various Japanese interests. There is also a discussion in the US Congressional Record (House of Representatives - July 12, 1989).

Vulnerability ResearcherMay 20, 2015 3:35 PM

@Z.Lozinski

The published evidence suggests that it was East Germany and Japan that conducted operations against IBM in the 1980s.

The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the ...
https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0465003125
Christopher Andrew, ‎Vasili Mitrokhin - 2000 - ‎History
The KGB's main source of computer S&T was, almost certainly, IBM, which manufactured over half the computers in use around the world in the mid-1960s.

Google search: "Sword and the Shield" IBM

Google search: Mitrokihn IBM would likely reveal even more documentation. As 'the Sword and the Shield' series was three massive volumes, and, if I recall, there was documentation about S&T operations through them all.

I am not saying Japan and East Germany did not. I am not surprised they were engaged in these activities. At the time East Germany was a satellite country of Russia, they took orders, shared intelligence, and were funded.

An enlightening return can be found by the following search: "Sword and Shield" East Germany.

Military intelligence and "civilian" intelligence often do not cross wires. They do tend to have some very interesting cases, however. But I do not consider them anywhere near as effective as CIA. CIA has more resources and a strong game plan of operating agent/informant networks, which tends to be a highly effective means of operation though prone to high "false positive" rates due to the 'double agent' problem... and especially the problem of relying on sources working for money. Paid testimony is very often suspect. Though there will always be those with clear political and religious beliefs that run contrary to their mothering regime, and relatively, these are easy to find out and difficult to fake.

Russia did rely extensively on S&T espionage. The reasons for this are obvious: their system was extremely poor for being conducive for innovation. Many of their great advances were simply clones from the US and European sources. They were frequently far behind the times, however. It took a long time for them to process the intelligence product they achieved. So they were very often ten and more years behind, even if their intelligence was often fresh.


Vulnerability ResearcherMay 20, 2015 3:42 PM

@Z.Lozinski

Thanks for the tip, btw, looks like an interesting book.

Vulnerability ResearcherMay 20, 2015 3:55 PM

@Slime Mold with Mustard

A far more interesting prospect is that, should the object of such tracing become aware of it, they could use it against their watchers in myriad devastating ways; Throw a little on to the tires of lead missile researcher, put a bit where that Central Committee member often has lunch, sprinkle some in that café just off Dzerzshinski Square...If this sounds like a mere prank, please recall Beria and the Red Army Purge of 1941.

It seems it would be invaluable to protect an asset where their cover was considered blown but they were allowed to walk around. At least one case this happened, and the Brits were intent on getting them out of Moscow. They were aware of the possibility of spy dust being applied to the individual. How interesting it would have been had they been able to dust a wide variety of people around where he had foot traffic, to throw them off.

Moscow showtrials did not require much evidence, but yes, planting evidence can be very serious and making moles where there are none is an excellent tactic to use.

Entirely necessary, at times, to protect real moles.

Very good for exhausting resources of counterintelligence.

In tyrannical regimes, the more isolated and tyrannical they are, the more rabid they are in tracking down traitors... and the more willing they are in persecuting innocents, loyal members of their own team.

They are also very eager to blame anything and everything on their enemy, so getting them to attribute blame where there is none is a highly effective strategy for loosening the screws that connect their mind to their body. :-)

Good examples, I think my favorite is when some nations were saying the US has an 'earthquake ray gun', publicly.

Lol, they could not have more severely undermined what little credibility they had left on the world stage. :-)

Mossad, Shin Bet, and US intelligence forces especially profit from these sorts of endeavors because their worst enemies are so inclined, naturally, to the most absurd sort of conspiracy theories. While that sort of slander typically is negative and destructive, in the end game, it works against the slanderers more then they could ever possibly imagine.


Z.LozinskiMay 20, 2015 4:54 PM

@Vulnerability Researcher,

Thank-you for the reference and the links. Looking at the bookmark, seems I got interrupted when reading Mitrokihn. Time to re-read it ... thanks for the prompt

"Russia did rely extensively on S&T espionage. ... Many of their great advances were simply clones from the US and European sources. .."

Yes you are right, but I think the truth is more complex. If you look at the design of nuclear weapons Kharilton and Sakharov had clearly worked it our for themselves, but Joe-I was a copy of the Manhattan Project Fat-Man design for political reasons. For computing, we are now seeing publications on early computing behind the Iron Curtain. Some of the early designers did their own thing before the ES EVM clones of the IBM 360/370 range

If we go back to the 60s/70s the TAB (later International Computers Limited or ICL) exported computers to Eastern Europe (I don't know about the USSR). That was the same British Tabulating Machine Company who also built the Bletchley Park Bombes in WW2.

Vulnerability ResearcherMay 20, 2015 5:15 PM

@Z.Lozinski

Thank-you for the reference and the links. Looking at the bookmark, seems I got interrupted when reading Mitrokihn. Time to re-read it ... thanks for the prompt

Aye, and thank you, again. Picked up that Stasi book. Was especially interesting to read from you that opened archives helped comprise a lot of that content.

Yes you are right, but I think the truth is more complex. If you look at the design of nuclear weapons Kharilton and Sakharov had clearly worked it our for themselves, but Joe-I was a copy of the Manhattan Project Fat-Man design for political reasons. For computing, we are now seeing publications on early computing behind the Iron Curtain. Some of the early designers did their own thing before the ES EVM clones of the IBM 360/370 range

Yes, I am aware they were making independent research into that area, and were, for instance, far more along already then the Germans were.

I should note: my perception of Russian culture is - for whatever reason - highly conducive to significant intellectual accomplishments. But, like China, they have been in a mire for centuries due to poor government.

Russian hackers tend to be among the most sophisticated, from their vulnerability analysts to those who actually break into systems. Their intelligence services have a multi-century record of really scary activity. In many ways they were far more advanced then any of the other Western intelligence services.

From my reading on the nuclear project, the consensus of the sources cited seems to have been it was a consistent, neck and neck race. The successful Russian penetration of the Manhattan Project is one of the most daring and successful espionage programs ever enacted.

I am not too much up on Russian technological advances, but one of my favorite examples, is the work performed in some eavesdropping devices, especially the one employed in the great seal of the US at the Moscow embassy.

That was a staggering advance in technology, and has an interesting back story.

There are, though, many points of failure through it all. But, to be fair, they attempted and achieved staggering results through the Cold War. And up to this day.

Not so impressed with the implementation of their Directorate S program. Asians have been far more successful at implementing those manner of programs. eg, Vietnam and China.

But it is the only western example which is known of even attempting to do anything like that. :-) And, from a respect level, one must give them a hat tip for at least trying.

milkshakeMay 20, 2015 9:09 PM

The actual chemical name of NPPD spy dust is 5-(4-nitrophenyl)-2,4-pentadienal, it got garbled by repeated use by law enforcement folks. The analytical chemistry paper is here, apparently you have to use a wet swab with a specific detection solution (containing naphtoresorscinol) - the produced pink - red color reaction is exquisitely sensitive, capable of detecting sub-microgram quantities of NPPD; on its own NPPD traces are invisible, it is pale yellow and does not fluoresce under UV

O'PrometheusMay 21, 2015 10:12 AM

.. So someone should tell the guy who thought he invented cookies there is prior art.

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