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  • Summer, 1945, and after shedding blood  together for many years to defeat the Nazis,  

  • the United States and the Soviet Union embrace  each other fondly and prepare to carve out a  

  • bright, hopeful future for all humanity. Just  kidding, as the second world war wound down,  

  • both sides prepared for the inevitable  third world war- against each other

  • It started with children, which should have  been the first tip off to US intelligence  

  • services because children are terrible. As the  US ambassador to the Soviet Union was moving  

  • into his fresh new digs in Moscow, a group of  children arrived with a gift. The Vladimir Lenin  

  • All-Union Pioneer Organization 1, an organization  kind of like the Boy Scouts but with a million  

  • names because it was Soviet, had hand-delivered  a present to the ambassador as a sign of  

  • their nation's gratitude for critical US aid  during the fight against Hitler. The gift was  

  • impressive, a hand-carved wooden replica  of the Great Seal of the United States,  

  • and the ambassador was overwhelmed with gratitude. Turns out though, the gift was sort of a self-gift  

  • for the Soviets. Kind of like when you surprise  your girlfriend with dinner out on the town-  

  • at the place you want to go. US Ambassador Averell Harriman  

  • promptly hung up the wooden seal inside of his  private study, where conveniently he'd end up  

  • doing most of his official ambassadorial worklike sharing juicy state secrets with visitors  

  • or making sensitive phone calls back home to  the United States. Without even knowing it,  

  • Harriman had just given the Soviets a means to  spy on every single one of his conversations,  

  • and it wouldn't be discovered for seven years. The Soviet Union spying on people wasn't exactly a  

  • new concept even in 1945, the nation had after all  run a massively successful intelligence network  

  • even before the second world war. When you move  your ambassador into a home built by Soviets  

  • on Soviet soil, you can expect that it's going  to come with more than a few listening devices.  

  • Thus the ambassador's home was searched carefully  for any bugs planted in the walls, floors,  

  • ceilings, vents, etc., and yet discovered nothingEven sweeping the home for tell-tale radio signals  

  • revealed no planted listening devices, putting  the ambassador at ease and dropping his guard

  • But how did the US miss this very  obvious listening device planted  

  • right in the middle of the ambassador's study? The 'thing', as it would go on to be called,  

  • was devised by Russian inventor Leon Theremin. If  that name sounds familiar it's probably because  

  • you're a huge nerd and either own or have played  with the musical instrument known as the theremin.  

  • Created in the 1920s while Theremin, the person  not the musical instrument, was working for the  

  • Soviet military, the theremin- this time yes, the  instrument, not the human- works by generating  

  • electromagnetic fields around two antennas. One  antenna, straight and vertical, controls pitch,  

  • the second antenna, positioned horizontally and  looped, controls the volume. By manipulating the  

  • electromagnetic fields with their hands, a skilled  operator can create beautiful musical harmonies

  • Shockingly, Theremin- now the person again, not  the instrument- had not in fact been hired by  

  • the Soviet military to create whimsical musical  instruments, but rather to design radios and  

  • other electronic communications and listening  devices. Eventually, Theremin was thrown into  

  • a gulag as part of Stalin's grand strategy of  murdering every brilliant scientist, engineer,  

  • or military officer the Soviet Union had to offer. Then the 1940s came, and the Germans began being  

  • awfully rude neighbors who insisted on visiting  Mother Russia and overstaying their welcome.  

  • Realizing that perhaps the best way  to be a powerful nation was to not  

  • in fact imprison everyone smarter than youthe Soviets let Theremin and thousands of other  

  • engineers and scientists out of their prison  camps. Theremin was quickly apologized to by  

  • the Soviet authorities who kindly offered himchoice of a job developing eavesdropping devices  

  • or taking an early retirement fifty feet  below the surface of the Volga river

  • Theremin would go on to create what would be  the world's most sophisticated listening device,  

  • something truly decades ahead of its time. The Great Seal gifted to ambassador Harriman,  

  • was much like a Russian nesting doll, withhidden cavity inside the wooden seal itself.  

  • The cavity worked to catch and trap sound wavesand a small quarter-wavelength antenna would  

  • act as a microphone. The most brilliant bit  however was the fact that the device ran on  

  • absolutely no electricity- the 'thing' had  no batteries, wires, or even a transmitter.  

  • There was no electromagnetic activity that would  be easily found by US spies looking for bugs.  

  • In fact, without outside interferencethe device was completely inert

  • The truly brilliant bit was how the thing  would allow Soviet spies to listen on  

  • Ambassador Harriman's every conversation. The thing only worked when a radio signal  

  • of a very specific frequency was transmitted  to it from nearby. Sound waves from inside  

  • the ambassador's office would pass through the  wooden case and strike the interior membrane,  

  • causing it to vibrate. This vibration caused  the electric charge of the antenna to vary,  

  • which would modulate the radio waves being  broadcast towards it before re-transmitting  

  • them. Then, KGB agents on the receiving end  could demodulate the signal and listen in  

  • with startling clarity to the conversations  going on inside the ambassador's office

  • Because it had no moving or powered parts, the  thing could potentially sit in place forever,  

  • which eliminated the need for KGB agents to  covertly enter the apartment and change out  

  • batteries on their planted bug, potentially  exposing themselves in the process. The device  

  • could also be operated at great distance, with KGB  spies sitting in a van a block away, completely  

  • undetected by the ambassador or any of his staff. To this day it's not known what intelligence the  

  • Soviets were able to glean from the thing. As a  'non-active' listening device, its range would  

  • have been extremely limited- the thing could only  clearly pick up conversations that happened near  

  • it. Luckily for the Soviets, the ambassador had  placed the thing in the place that made most sense  

  • inside his home- his private study where he would  have handled many sensitive details of his work.  

  • With regular sweeps for bugs, it's likely the  American ambassador felt very secure inside  

  • his own home, and the thing was likely  an intelligence gold mine for the KGB

  • The thing would happily operate undetected  for six years before people started to  

  • realize something strange was going on. The British were the first to become  

  • suspicious while doing their own bit of  espionage. In 1951, a British agent was  

  • monitoring radio communications from the Soviet  Air Force inside the British embassy. Suddenly,  

  • he began to overhear an American and  British voice carrying on a conversation  

  • on an open radio channel- unknowingly the British  had happened to tune in to the right frequency  

  • as nearby KGB agents beamed radiowaves into the US  ambassador's home in order to activate the thing.  

  • The radio operator immediately recognized the  voice as belonging to the British Air Attache'. 

  • A year later, an American radio operator  - also snooping in on Soviet military  

  • chatter - happened to pick up a conversation  with voices that sounded distinctly American.  

  • Triangulating the signal revealed it to be coming  from the direction of the Ambassador's home.  

  • Immediately the US launched  several sweeps for bugs,  

  • but because the thing would only transmit when  illuminated by a specific range of frequencies,  

  • and emitted no electromagnetic energy otherwisenothing was discovered. A few months later,  

  • a new set of sweeps was undertaken, with  the Americans aware that the KGB often  

  • liked to plant bugs and then remove them, only  to replant them again when the heat died down

  • The US State Department dispatched some of its  best minds to Moscow, confident that not only  

  • was the US ambassador's home bugged, but so was  both the British and Canadian embassy buildings.  

  • Using a signal generator that allowed them  to broadcast various radio frequencies and  

  • listen for a return, the State Department  team stumbled upon the thing, which they  

  • realized to their horror had laid undetected  in the Ambassador's study for almost a decade

  • With the thing discovered, the last thing the US  wanted was for the Soviets to remove it before  

  • they had a chance to analyze its technologyThus that night the incoming ambassador George  

  • F. Kennan slept with the thing securely under his  pillow, flying it back to Washington the next day

  • The device was analyzed by both the Americans and  their British allies, with the British eventually  

  • improving upon the technology in order to create  their own breakthrough listening devices codenamed  

  • SATYR. These devices, which would be  used by the British, American, Canadian,  

  • and Australian militaries, had a much greater  operating distance than the thing, and far greater  

  • acoustic sensitivity. The improved SATYR devices  built on existing Soviet tech to make bugs that  

  • could be operated from greater distance and  could better listen in on their targets

  • The US never confronted the Soviet Union about  the thing, until May 1960. After four days of  

  • meetings by the UN Security Council to discuss  the shooting down of an American U-2 spy plane  

  • inside the Soviet Union, the US brought out the  thing for the security council members to inspect.  

  • In a global game of fingerpointing with nuclear  implications, the US justified its overflights  

  • of the Soviet Union by pointing out that  the Soviets had also been spying on the US

  • For seven years the US had been outfoxed by  the Soviets, resulting in an intelligence  

  • coup for the Soviet Union. But in the  70s, the US had more than its revenge

  • In summer of 1972, the United  States nuclear submarine Halibut  

  • silently slunk within just miles of one of the  Soviet Union's most important naval bases in  

  • the Sea of Okhotsk. There, under 400 feet of  water, ran vital communication cables that  

  • linked straight back to the KremlinAs the Halibut approached the cables,  

  • it released an anchor that would keep it  floating directly above the cables. Then,  

  • divers emerged from the belly of the submarinecarrying wiretapping equipment that looped CIA  

  • operatives inside the Halibut directly into  the most secret of Soviet naval communications

  • The Halibut would sit in position for daysdutifully recording Soviet communications onto  

  • hard tapes, which would then be shipped  back to the US for analysis. From this  

  • incredible wiretapping, the US recorded  everything from Soviet nuclear strategy,  

  • to Soviet fleet deployments, to even conversations  between Soviet admirals and their mistresses

  • For their part, the Soviet military didn't  even dream that such an operation against  

  • them could be possible. For one, the cables  were only several inches in diameter, leaving  

  • the US with over 600,000 square miles to search  for a bunch of cables as thick as your wrist.  

  • Then there was the trouble of accessing the cables  so close to hordes of Soviet warships and military  

  • installations- the Soviets had no idea how truly  stealthy US subs had become. Lastly, the Soviets  

  • did not realize that the US had developed deep  diving techniques that allowed human divers to  

  • operate at an incredible depth of 400 feet. But the Halibut managed to overcome these  

  • challenges, and despite having taken place 50  years ago today, the methods employed to tap into  

  • the Soviet communication cables and decipher their  conversations remains secret. The wiretapping  

  • operation proved to be an intelligence gold  mine for the US, and is widely believed to have  

  • directly led to the end of the Cold War itselfUnfortunately, an American traitor would go on  

  • to reveal the wiretapping secrets to the Soviets  in 1980, when he sold the information for $5,000. 

  • Now go watch CIA vs KGB, or  click this other video instead!

Summer, 1945, and after shedding blood  together for many years to defeat the Nazis,  

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How the Soviet Union Gifted a Hidden Spy Device That Took US 7 Years to Find

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    Summer posted on 2021/07/09
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