Cold War Bugging of Soviet Facilities

Found documents in Poland detail US spying operations against the former Soviet Union.

The file details a number of bugs found at Soviet diplomatic facilities in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco, as well as in a Russian government-owned vacation compound, apartments used by Russia personnel, and even Russian diplomats’ cars. And the bugs were everywhere: encased in plaster in an apartment closet; behind electrical and television outlets; bored into concrete bricks and threaded into window frames; inside wooden beams and baseboards and stashed within a building’s foundation itself; surreptitiously attached to security cameras; wired into ceiling panels and walls; and secretly implanted into the backseat of cars and in their window panels, instrument panels, and dashboards. It’s an impressive—­ and impressively thorough—­ effort by U.S. counterspies.

We have long read about sophisticated Russian spying operations—bugging the Moscow embassy, bugging Selectric typewriters in the Moscow embassy, bugging the new Moscow embassy. These are the first details I’ve read about the US bugging the Russians’ embassy.

EDITED TO ADD (10/12): How the CIA bugged Xerox copiers.

Posted on September 28, 2022 at 6:19 AM16 Comments

Comments

Robert Larsen September 28, 2022 10:16 AM

This article reminded me of an excellent podcast series from 2020 called “The Service” that Radio New Zealand (RNZ) did on Cold War spying that the Soviets were doing in Wellington, NZ back in the 60s through to the 80s. It’s a very interesting listen, and fascinating to hear about some of the shenanigans that used to go on in the smallest capital of the 5 Eyes countries.

The series is available on Spotify, Google, Apple and Google, but the main page is here:

https://www.rnz.co.nz/programmes/the-service

David September 28, 2022 11:06 AM

I heard a (possibly apocryphal) story that when the Soviets de-loused their brand-new embassy in Ottawa in the 1980s, they found dozens of bugs with “Made in USA” stickers on them.

No idea if that’s true but it’s a fun story.

Nameless Cow September 28, 2022 11:20 AM

@David

… de-loused …

Never seen that usage before. Is that a term of art used by people in the business?

Tatütata September 28, 2022 11:59 AM

re: de-louse

The German term for an electronic bug is “Wanze”, which literally translates to “louse”. This could explain the usage. LeCarré transposed in his novels many expressions directly from that language, e.g., “reptile fund”, which comes from the days of Bismarck, or “treff”.

Is there a better source for the KGB documents? The reproductions shown further down the page are barely readable, and I can mostly only take guesses at what I’m looking at. One image seems to show a bug hidden in an FM/TV antenna splitter. How could one ever manage to get that in place?

vas pup September 28, 2022 4:01 PM

@CMeier
Very good article. Thank you.
The best way to handle was probably have your own service personal trained to the repair of similar equipment just by ordering the parts from manufacturer and check them for bugs before installation. Same applied for cleaning folks, plumbers, electricians you name it.

There are many spies under cover in Embassy, so train them some additional trade for purpose stated above. IT may help them as well when the get burn notice as well.

Now when all copiers are connected to the corporate intranet or even internet, they could just silently send copy to email address set up by hacking and not intended to be recipient.

@all
Do you know how soviets bugged conference room of US Department of State in Washington DC and how very smart guy from US IC or FBI (don’t remember exactly) developed and utilized the method to find and debug it? Amazing story.

Ted September 28, 2022 10:16 PM

The people behind Project Brazen are coming up with some informative journalism projects. I’ll be interested to see what additional posts they release under “The Brush Pass.”

Hans September 29, 2022 1:22 AM

@Tatütata
I have to disagree on the literal translation. It is:
louse – Laus
bug – Wanze
beetle – Käfer

Of course there is always overlap and variation in colloquial language.

Now, I have nothing to say on the topic, so I am out here again.

ResearcherZero October 1, 2022 11:00 PM

The “cornucopia of bugs placed in Russian diplomatic facilities” proved to be very useful in identifying particular individuals responsible for ordering certain covert operations. Other programs were also very helpful for confirming such details, as well as in determining when participants were divulging useful details during discussions, and verifying the authenticity of any information that was supplied.

If there was a need to determine who was responsible for a particular case, who gave the order, it could be determined, or if a Russian source supplied the information it could be verified.

For example if you wanted to look into a specific case such as:

“The test confirmed that I had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) stage zero, but that chemotherapy was not advisable, since I had no symptoms and the cure would be worse than the disease.

…not only had two recent American Ambassadors to Moscow died of cancer (Llewellyn “Tommy” Thompson and Charles Chip” Bohlen), then-Ambassador Walter Stoessel was suffering from a severe blood disorder (Stoessel eventually died of leukemia in 1986).”
https://shoeone.blogspot.com/2013/09/moscow-microwaves.html

…or if information was supplied about who gave the order, those individuals could be investigated.

Of course catching individuals engaged in such activities was helpful. We knew who they were, where they were located, where their equipment was stored, and could observe them engaged in the activities.

More importantly, we could demonstrate the veracity of any claims made by the victims to more senior officials, hence dismissing any of their doubts.

“many individuals who have been treated immediately after an event have improved.”

“directed, pulsed radio frequency energy appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases.”
https://www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/2022_02_01_AHI_Executive_Summary_FINAL_Redacted.pdf

“This weapon is designed to target the living quarters in microwaves, causing numerous physical effects, including a damaged nervous system,”
https://www.npr.org/2021/10/21/1047342593/long-before-havana-syndrome-u-s-reported-microwaves-beamed-at-an-embassy

“poor handling, by the OMS leadership, of the microwave attack on agency officers,”
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/05/business/economy/havana-syndrome-microwave-attack.html

The technology is definitely there – the effect has been demonstrated with 1960’s era transmitters. With sufficient power and a narrow beam antenna, the attackers wouldn’t even need to be in the same room or building as their targets. Power levels high enough to be audible or even cause pain might also cause dizziness, nausea, and even traumatic brain injury.

Frey used several transmitters at different power levels. The transmitters were pulsed, like magnetrons, so while average power was low, peak power was high.
https://hackaday.com/2017/09/25/cuban-embassy-attacks-and-the-microwave-auditory-effect/

1960’s era transmitters pulsedpeak power was high

The cavity magnetron is a high-power vacuum tube used in early radar systems and currently in microwave ovens and linear particle accelerators. It generates microwaves using the interaction of a stream of electrons with a magnetic field while moving past a series of cavity resonators, which are small, open cavities in a metal block.

Electrons pass by the cavities and cause microwaves to oscillate within, similar to the functioning of a whistle producing a tone when excited by an air stream blown past its opening. The resonant frequency of the arrangement is determined by the cavities’ physical dimensions. The out-of-phase electrons moving past the slits give up energy to establish and maintain within the resonant cavities standing electromagnetic waves. …the magnetron serves solely as an oscillator, generating a microwave signal from direct current electricity supplied to the vacuum tube.

Of course you would also need an inverter and a couple of large capacitors. Use of any such device would be (is) highly dangerous and unpleasant to anyone in the target beam. Greatly more so than the discomfort and danger inflicted by taser.

Nick Levinson October 15, 2022 4:00 AM

A Soviet limo of a top leader, I think Brezhnev, was bugged by the U.S. and this was contemporaneously reported by Jack Anderson, then a popular and credible newspaper investigative reporter and columnist. In response, Anderson was reportedly targeted for assassination. From a window in his home’s second floor, he saw a parked car with two unfamiliar men. He sent his daughter, I think then a child, out to photograph the strange men and she went into the street to do so. The assassination did not ensue.

One bug is not as much as what @Bruce described, though. However, I doubt the press in most nations would report most details of their own nations’ contemporary espionage against enemy nations, even when they learn them.

Jeremy October 15, 2022 8:05 AM

“counterspies”

Interesting framing, to describe spying on foreign diplomatic facilities and staff – only some of whom would have themselves been spying – as counter espionage.

steve October 15, 2022 10:09 AM

RE: the camera in the Xerox machine: two things come to mind: Early Xerox machines were massive, like early mainframe computer equipment that had nothing inside, so people would store lot’s of junk in there once they knew a storage space existed. My thought is: modify the xerox control system so that it generates a duplicate xerox copy and stores it in a hidden compartment of the machine, and arrange for the person making the service calls on the machine to pick it up when changing paper.

But what really got me thinking about the above ‘duplicate copy’ was thinking about how one might bug paper shredders. How about putting a magazine of fake paper that gets shredded, and the actual contents that are supposedly shredded just get swallowed and stored in a secret compartment of the shredding machine? Or have I been watching too many re-runs of Mission;Impossible (the TV series, not the movies)?

ResearcherZero October 27, 2022 2:14 AM

@Nick Levinson

And very few the learnt of.

Returning the favour was pretty popular around that time, and bugs seemed to be going around like the seasonal flue.

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