Thursday, January 11, 2007


U.S. says coins used to spy on contractors By TED BRIDIS
In a U.S. government report, it said the mysterious [Canadian] coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada. It discovered Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside.

The report doesn't suggest who might be tracking American defense contractors or why. It also doesn't describe how the Pentagon discovered the coins, how the transmitters might function or even which Canadian coins contained them.

Further details are secret, according to the U.S. Defense Security Service, which issued the warning to the Pentagon's classified contractors. The government insists that the incidents happened and that the risk is genuine.

Top suspects, according to intelligence and technology experts: China, Russia or even France -- all said to actively run espionage operations inside Canada with enough sophistication to produce such technology.

Experts were astonished about the disclosure and the novel tracking technique, but they quickly rejected suggestions that Canada's government might be spying on American contractors. The intelligence services of the two countries are extraordinarily close and routinely share sensitive secrets.

Harris said likely candidates include foreign spies who targeted Americans abroad or businesses engaged in corporate espionage. "There are certainly a lot of mysterious aspects to this," Harris said.

Experts said such tiny transmitters would almost certainly have limited range and could communicate with sensors no more than a few feet away, such as ones hidden inside a doorway.

Experts said hiding tracking technology inside coins is fraught with risks because the spy's target might spend it buying coffee or a newspaper. They agreed, however, that a coin with a hidden tracking device might not arouse suspicion if it were discovered loose in a pocket or briefcase.

"It wouldn't seem to be the best place to put something like that; you'd want to put it in something that wouldn't be left behind or spent," said Jeff Richelson, a researcher and author of books about the CIA and its gadgets. Canada's physically largest coins include its $2 "Toonie," which is more than 1 inch across and thick enough to hide a tiny transmitter. The CIA has acknowledged that its own spies have used hollow U.S. dollar coins to hide messages and film.


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