U.S. warns about Canadian
spy coins By TED BRIDIS, Associated
Thu Jan 11, 4:16 AM ET
In a U.S. government warning high
on the creepiness scale, the Defense Department cautioned
its American contractors over what it described as a
new espionage threat: Canadian coins with tiny radio
frequency transmitters hidden inside.
The government said the mysterious
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.
Intelligence and technology experts
said such transmitters, if they exist, could be used
to surreptitiously track the movements of people carrying
the spy coins.
The U.S. report
doesn't suggest who might be tracking American defense
contractors or why. It also doesn't describe how the
Pentagon discovered the ruse, how the transmitters might
function or even which Canadian currency contained them.
This photo released
by the Central Intelligence Agency shows a hollow container,
fashioned to look like an Eisenhower silver dollar,
which is still used to hide and send messages, or film,
without being detected.
Because it resembles ordinary pocket change, it is virtually
undetectable as a concealment device. (AP Photo/CIA)
details were secret, according to the U.S. Defense Security
Service, which issued the warning to the Pentagon's classified
contractors. The government insists the incidents happened,
and the risk was genuine.
"What's in the report
is true," said Martha Deutscher, a spokeswoman for the
security service. "This is indeed a sanitized version,
which leaves a lot of questions."
Top suspects, according to
outside experts: China, Russia or even France — all
said to actively run espionage operations inside Canada with
enough sophistication to produce such technology.
The Canadian Security Intelligence
Service said it knew nothing about the coins.
"This issue has just
come to our attention," CSIS spokeswoman Barbara Campion
said. "At this point, we don't know of any basis for
these claims." She said Canada's intelligence service
works closely with its U.S. counterparts and will seek more
information if necessary.
Experts were astonished about the disclosure and the novel
tracking technique, but they rejected suggestions Canada's
government might be spying on American contractors. The intelligence
services of the two countries are extraordinarily close and
routinely share sensitive secrets.
"It would seem unthinkable," said
David Harris, former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian
Security Intelligence Service. "I wouldn't expect to
see any offensive operation against the Americans."
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 to communicate with sensors
no more than a few feet away, such as ones hidden inside a
doorway. The metal in the coins also could interfere with
any signals emitted.
"I'm not aware of any (transmitter)
that would fit inside a coin and broadcast for kilometers,"
said Katherine Albrecht, an activist who believes such technology
carries serious privacy risks. "Whoever did this obviously
has access to some pretty advanced technology."
Experts said hiding tracking technology inside
coins is fraught with risks because the spy's target might
inadvertently give away the coin or 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
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.
"It doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense."
Canada's 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 its own spies
have used hollow, U.S. silver-dollar coins to hide messages
The government's 29-page report was filled
with other espionage warnings. It described unrelated hacker
attacks, eavesdropping with miniature pen recorders and the
case of a female foreign spy who seduced her American boyfriend
to steal his computer passwords.
In another case, a film processing company
called the FBI after it developed pictures for a contractor
that contained classified images of U.S. satellites and their
blueprints. The photo was taken from an adjoining office window.