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  • Even the best of us have moments of weakness.

  • Maybe you secretly enjoy listening to Justin Bieber, you can't stop eating cookies, or

  • you're a jealous lover who dreams of tracking every movement of your partner.

  • You know the feeling.

  • First your boyfriend liked a photo of Kendall Jenner on Instagram, then he had a late-night

  • phone call with a coworker that he claimed was about a new company deck, and now he's

  • started to come back home late from work a few times a week.

  • You've weighed up the evidence and you can only come to one conclusion: he must be cheating

  • on you.

  • Probably with someone who doesn't eat cookies or listen to Justin Bieber.

  • So, you did what any self-respecting female would do.

  • You went through his phone whilst he was sleeping.

  • You consulted your horoscope.

  • You even asked the opinion of a Tarot card reader.

  • You found nothing.

  • But still, you can't shake that feeling from the back of your mind.

  • If only there was some kind of solution, some way to verify what was really going on

  • Then one day, as you were walking down the street, some bald old guy with sunglasses

  • and his hood up approached you and muttered something that sounded like: “want some

  • spy dust?”

  • Spy dust, huh,” you think to yourself; “is that what the kids are calling it these

  • days?”

  • You shake your head and move on quickly.

  • This area has really gone downhill recently

  • Are you sure you don't want any?

  • You can use it to track the movements of anyone and see everythingor everyonethey've

  • touched.”

  • Wait, what?

  • You stop and turn your head.

  • Dust that can track people?

  • It sounds like a dream come trueexcept he's probably talking a load of rubbish.

  • Maybe he's inhaled some of this spy dust himself and is now hallucinating.

  • But stillyou can't help but feel intrigued.

  • That's what I thought,” the man smirks at you.

  • He pulls a small bag out from the inside of his coat.

  • What is it?” you ask him.

  • Spy dust is the name of a chemical marking material.

  • As far as we know, it was invented in England back in the 1930s.

  • A bunch of forensic scientists were playing around with radioactive isotopes one day and

  • trying to use them as tracers on paper and money.

  • Obviously, the idea was that anyone who stole money could be traced.

  • It was then brought into common use by the KGB.

  • Yepthe Russian secret police from back in the Soviet era.

  • They used it to track their officers and keep an eye on whether they were up to any monkey

  • business.

  • KGB officers would stealthily place it on the doorknob or steering wheel of the person

  • they wanted to track so the dust would rub on to them and everything they touched.

  • In one famous case, an agent placed the dust on his umbrella and prodded the victim with

  • it on the street.

  • Sometimes users would dissolve the dust in methanol so they could spray it in liquid

  • form, which was slightly more practical than sprinkling powder.

  • So, technically it's not dustbut, hey, spy dust sounds way cooler than spy liquid.

  • You pause for a moment.

  • This guy might be delusional, but somehow, he's starting to convince you.

  • And what about if he is telling the truth?

  • Is he really suggesting that you, a respectable woman and lawful citizen, would want to use

  • a chemical popularized by the KGB to check on what your partner is up to?

  • Still, you want to find out more.

  • So, it tracks a person by sticking to them?”

  • Yes, exactly.

  • When you touch someone with the dust, it leaves a trace and means they can be identified.”

  • But how is that even possible?”

  • Well, the technical name for spy dust is nitrophenyl pentadiene.

  • Sorry, I had to show off that I can pronounce nitrophenyl pentadienemost people just

  • call it NPPD.

  • NPPD is what's known as an invisible tracking agent, which means it can't be seen by the

  • naked eye unless it's used in very large quantities.

  • But it becomes visible under ultraviolet rays.

  • Basically, it's perfect for spying on people.

  • For example, the KGB used it to check that members of the US Embassy in Moscow and journalists

  • weren't in contact with dissidents.

  • If anyone had been in contact, the dust would leave a very obvious trace and the officers

  • would know they were conspiring against the Soviet regime.

  • Clever, right?

  • To make this plan completely foolproof, the dust was sometimes mixed with luminol too.

  • You might have seen luminol sprayed in forensic investigations on crime dramasit makes

  • blood stains magically appear on a seemingly clean surface in a neon blue and green color

  • once the lights are switched off.

  • How?

  • A chemical reaction between the luminol and the haemoglobin in blood makes the molecules

  • break down and the atoms rearrange.

  • It's kind of complicated, but basically the luminol helps ensure the dust remains

  • visible.

  • Even if it's been cleaned or brushed off, a trace will remain.

  • Okay, you have to admit itif you were a fish, you'd have eaten the bait.

  • Hook, line, and sinker.

  • You can't help but think that a handful of this stuff could solve all your problems.

  • You'd just need to spray a tiny bit on your boyfriend whilst he was asleep, and you could

  • trace his every movement.

  • All you'd need would be an ultraviolet light and you could go around town identifying everyone

  • he'd ever made contact with by shining it at them.

  • Hmm, yeah, hang on a minutesuddenly this isn't sounding very practical at all.

  • How on earth do people use this stuff?

  • Has anyone ever managed to use it successfully?

  • I don't see how you'd be able to find out anything useful from this spy dust if

  • you have to carry a UV light everywhere,” you point out.

  • But the man just smirks.

  • He knows he's starting to break you

  • Don't worry, that's not the only way you can track people.

  • For example, the Stasi, the secret police from East Germany, got pretty creative with

  • the stuff.

  • In the 1970s, a physicist called Franz Laederisch ended up using spy dust to create a type of

  • air gun.

  • Instead of shooting bullets to kill, it would shoot a radioactive bullet that could track

  • something, typically used to track car tires.

  • The car would then be traced using emitters.

  • If you remember anything from your high school science classes, you'll know that a Geiger

  • Counter is used for detecting and measuring ionizing radiation, so it can be used to track

  • anyone who has the bullet or the dust on them.

  • Of course, gamma and beta emitters are stronger and more penetrating than alpha emitters.

  • If you use an alpha emitter, the tracker is going to be so weak that you can stop it with

  • a piece of paper.

  • So, yeah, it's basically useless.

  • But if you use a gamma or beta emitter, you can actually track people from quite far away.

  • You could even get a device you can place under your armpits or place in your hand,

  • so that if you pass anyone who has the dust on them, it will start vibrating and you'll

  • know about it.

  • This was sometimes used to find people who had stolen things.

  • If that's not your style, the KGB used a sniffer dog to do the tracing.

  • One of the most famous cases of the use of spy dust was when a Russian mole was identified.

  • There was a guy called Colonel Popov, a Soviet military intelligence officer, who began contact

  • with the CIA whilst stationed abroad in Vienna.

  • Even when Popov returned to Russia, he continued to pass information on to the CIA through

  • another intelligence officer posing as a diplomat.

  • The Russians were understandably worried about the existence of any double agents who might

  • be passing on their secrets and threatening nationals security, but it was difficult to

  • prove who was communicating with the other side.

  • Until the introduction of spy dust.

  • In 1959 poor Popov got caught out.

  • Allegedly, a maid working for the CIA officer Popov was passing information on to sprinkled

  • his shoes with the dust, so his movements and everyone he came into contact with could

  • be tracked.

  • A sniffer dog managed to track down Popov's mailbox after the agent passed on a letter

  • to Popov, which proved the two of them had been in contact.

  • Clever, right?

  • As a result, the KGB caught the sneaky pair exchanging a note on a bus one day.

  • They were both swiftly arrested and Popov was later executed.

  • It took a while for the West to figure out how this discovery had been possible.

  • They suspected some kind of tracking agent had been responsible and that maybe spy dust

  • had been involved, but couldn't prove anything.

  • We found out in 1964 through a defector that it was indeed the dust that was used, but

  • it took another twenty years for the US to actually get their hands on a sample of the

  • stuff.

  • Then, in 1986, the term spy dust was finally coined.

  • Obviously, you're not going to be able to trace people who are miles away, even if you

  • use Gamma emitter.

  • But still, it's pretty impressive.

  • Wait a minute, did you hear that right?

  • Did he just say something about ionizing radiation?

  • Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all.

  • You confront the man, who seems happy to hold the bag of dust in his hands and keep it in

  • his pocket.

  • Well, it depends who you ask.

  • When the news first got out that the KGB were using this stuff against some Americans, the

  • American government freaked out at the thought it might cause cancer, but they later decided

  • it wasn't dangerous.

  • Since then, some people have argued it is carcinogenic after all.

  • NPPD is a mutagenthat's a chemical agent that alters living cells.

  • So, it's possibly radioactive and might be linked to cancer.

  • Many dissidents of the Soviet regime, who were likely to have been previously tracked,

  • ended up getting cancer.

  • But hey, we can't prove anything

  • What!

  • Get that stuff away from me!

  • I can't believe you almost made me touch it.”

  • Surely there must be a better solution in this day and agesomething that can track

  • people without needing an ultraviolet light, sniffer dog, or Geiger counter.

  • Something that doesn't cause cancer.

  • Well, you might just be in luck.

  • Now there's a new guy on the block, RFID, or radio-frequency identification.

  • This uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags to objectsso, no need

  • for sniffer dogs, Geiger counters, or UV lights.

  • RFID basically uses intelligent bar codes that talk to a networked system.

  • It was originally used to track cattle but has since come to be used for everything from

  • vehicles, airlines, and Alzheimer's patients.

  • Of course, you need to have a bar code placed on you to be tracked.

  • But come on, that's probably not so difficult.

  • RFID is a game changer because it's far easier to scan.

  • If you've ever tried to scan a QR code that's not quite too big or too small, or a bar code

  • of a carton that's been squished, you'll know how annoying this can be.

  • But RFID scanners don't need to be in line with the code to scan itthey can scan

  • the code from a few feet away, or even 20 feet high in the air.

  • The code can even be embedded inside an object or person.

  • This means a person could be completely clueless they're even being scanned.

  • Even though RFID has been around for at least fifty years, use of the technology is still

  • in its early dayswe're not even using it for store products yet, let alone people.

  • Industry regulation needs to be in place first, and there are still some technical issues

  • like overlapping systems.

  • Of course, there are also some serious privacy concerns.

  • At least, that's what they want us to think

  • So, it's probably a bit extreme to use spy dust to check on what your significant other

  • is up to, unless you want to end up exposing hundreds or thousands of unwitting people

  • to potential radiation poisoning.

  • You'll also be pleased to know that there's no evidence of NPPD being used in modern times

  • there's no way to know what the government is up to for sure, but it seems like this

  • invention has been left firmly behind in the modern times.

  • But let's get real here.

  • Who needs spy dust when Google knows your deepest fears, darkest fantasies, where you

  • had lunch today, and was probably listening in on your conversation with your best friend

  • yesterday.

  • Unless you're living off-grid with no technology, you're probably being tracked already.

  • And once RFID becomes mainstream, even living offgrid won't save you.

  • Does this freak you out a little?

  • Good, that's our job.

  • If you want to feel even more uneasy about your lack of privacy, why not watch our video

  • about US secret underwater spy technology or whether the CIA or KGB were better during

  • the Cold War?

Even the best of us have moments of weakness.

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B1 dust spy kgb track rfid trace

Is Your Every Move Being Monitored By Russian Spy Dust?

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    Summer posted on 2020/07/30
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