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 AM27 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:

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


… 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

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.

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

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).”

…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.”

“This weapon is designed to target the living quarters in microwaves, causing numerous physical effects, including a damaged nervous system,”

“poor handling, by the OMS leadership, of the microwave attack on agency officers,”

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.

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


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.

ResearcherZero March 7, 2023 6:36 AM


ResearcherZero April 10, 2023 3:14 AM


^ Specifically lawyers who refuse to disclose details of their meetings with Russian intelligence officers.

ResearcherZero May 6, 2023 8:38 AM


“The revelation raises questions about whether the US and its European allies should have been more prepared for the 2014 attack, when Russia annexed Crimea and attacked the Donbas.”

We knew Putin would attack Ukraine back in the 1990’s, to be exact.

ResearcherZero May 12, 2023 10:34 AM


“We assess that they plan to conduct a significant strategic attack on Ukraine from multiple directions simultaneously.”

“We got hold of actual copies of some of the invasion plans that some of the Russian military units had, which showed them expecting to race toward Kyiv within hours of invading. Russian military leaders didn’t think they’d need any reinforcements.” (those plans were drawn up at Putin’s request decades ago)

Russia will be left as an isolated and bitter country through it’s leaders’ actions.

“Buckshot Yankee was a seminal event because we understood that we weren’t as protected as we thought we were. And we weren’t paying attention as well as we should’ve been.”

We could of been better prepared for SVR 100th. But then that requires good leadership…. It’s hard enough warning people while keeping secrets.

…the warnings fall on deaf ears. It makes it even more difficult when they are less than cooperative, and more than a little combative.


“Narcissists have high levels of self-deception rather than intentional dishonesty. They speak to create an impression, rather than to communicate.”

“The world should revolve around them in their eyes, so focusing on anything else is taken as a direct attack. One way of avoiding responsibility is to deny they have any. Even when it is written down, the narcissist will make excuses and rewrite history.”

ResearcherZero May 12, 2023 10:51 AM

Managing humans and their emotional responses can be the most difficult task. People imagine it’s just a simple matter of informing someone, but individuals respond in a variety of ways, sometimes erratically.

“It risks disclosures, because every time additional people know about activities, there is a greater risk of leaks.

Can you get this approval in the field any more? No, you have to come home. You have to come to headquarters. Does headquarters want to… be put in a position where they have to make these tough judgment calls? Not really.

…when we look back at what happened, we will find that there are nuggets of information scattered around various U.S. agencies, perhaps information in the hands of foreign intelligence services, that had we been able to pull it together, would have given us warning. That is a very serious issue that needs to be examined.”

And occasionally you get no response, repeatedly.

ResearcherZero May 26, 2023 3:08 AM


After three decades Putin’s regime achieved it’s goal.

ResearcherZero June 10, 2023 7:47 AM

‘The Value of Science is in the Foresight’

This denial policy must be considered a clear success. If Russia were to attack a member of NATO—say, one of the Baltic states—Moscow would undoubtedly mount a similar, but likely more intense, denial campaign to at least slow down the invocation of NATO’s Article 5 commitment to mutual self-defense, and to isolate and demoralize the government and population of the target country.

The proponents of NGW recognize that occupation is insufficient for achieving a fait accompli; an alternative government must be installed, however manufactured its legitimacy may be. Political targets were of primary importance. The Crimean parliament building was occupied on February 27, 2014, effectively ending local decision making.

For 30 years, rolling the frontier back westward has been one of Russia’s top strategic priorities.

Putin’s strategy was one of unclarity, of blurry, gray movements in a fog of ambiguity, none of them rising to the level of war.

“The emphasis in methods of struggle,” Gerasimov observed, is on “widespread use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other non-military matters … Overt use of force,” he advises, “often under the guise of peacekeeping and crisis management, occurs only at a certain stage, primarily to achieve definitive success in the conflict.” That “certain stage” arrived on February 24.

“known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf”

Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov – head of the Kremlin-funded Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia

Ionov used the organization to target political groups in the U.S. and other countries, including Ukraine, Spain, the U.K. and Ireland. The organization reached out to group leaders and paid for them to attend conferences in Russia.

just how far oligarchs have sunk their teeth into the West

establishing a potential toehold over policy decisions in Washington

Gaining and maintaining popular support, military mobilization, refinement of nonlinear approaches to war and preparation for future unconventional conflicts.

“using proxies, or surrogates, to not only exploit vulnerabilities in low intensity conflict, but to also prepare for future operations, which may involve high intensity conflict”

Russia has studied nonlinear war since the Cold War (called Active Measures) and Afghanistan through the 1980s, and continued these studies with interventions in Moldova and Lithuania in the early 1990s. Furthermore, from 1994 to 2009, Russia double majored in nonlinear war during the First and Second Chechen Wars.

…engaging Georgia with espionage in 2006, conducting cyber attacks against Estonia in 2007, and completing “counterterrorism” campaigns in Chechnya in 2009.

The Russo-Georgian War in 2008, however, is an exemplary case first, of the evolution of nonlinear or hybrid capabilities; secondly, of the application of indirect instruments in order to destabilize a country; and thirdly, of the volatile effects of such tactics that persist until today. Moreover, during and after this conflict, Russian tactics also combined cyber warfare with both informational and conventional means.

Russia’s Annexation of Crimea: An Analysis Under the Principles of Jus ad Bellum

ResearcherZero June 14, 2023 12:55 AM


Are the people nice, and are the beaches good?

“willful ignorance”

The problem has existed since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, the intelligence officials say, and for a time they tried to respond to the President’s behavior in briefings with dark humor.

Two intelligence officers even reported that they have been warned to avoid giving the President intelligence assessments that contradict stances he has taken in public.

“It is clear that the recent decisions by the president have caused a lot of consternation in the intelligence community,” another former official said. “I’m not aware of any kind of planned response, but a lot of people are concerned about the role of the oversight committees going forward in this situation.”

The basic idea of Russian interference is to hand candidates just enough rope.

ResearcherZero June 20, 2023 12:51 AM


I’ve watched the development of the situation we find ourselves in today over the last thirty years. There were a number of defections from the former Soviet Union back then. A lot of intel. Yet we have landed in what seemed the likely position. Some did take the assessments seriously, but others did not, even though the assessments were rated high confidence.

Winter July 12, 2023 8:27 AM


Adversaries are amplifying the voter fraud claims with the objective “to undermine public confidence in our democratic processes.”

No “foreign” adversaries needed. The Republicans have claimed for decades that there was widespread voter fraud. They did this to press for voter-suppressing laws in the name of “suppressing voter fraud”. The (intended) effect was always to deny non-white Americans their right to vote.


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