Friday, January 19, 2007

Spy vesus Spy

As you will see after the next paragraph, government paranoia is at work again.

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Service (DSS), formerly the Defense Investigative Service, is responsible for conducting investigations into the background of individuals applying for a security clearance as part of the employment process for the Defense Department. It also does investigations to update information on employees that have clearances and, under its National Industrial Security Program, advises and assists defense contrators at some 11,000 contractor facilities that work on classified research or production contracts. They are, in other words, part of the Pentagon’s counter-intelligence corps that helps safeguard the nation’s secrets by checking on what employees do and who they do it with. Naturally, they are alert to every possible way that a foreign intelligence service would try in the never-ending game of spy versus spy.

Last June, DSS disclosed that it had uncovered what had to be the latest twist in spying on the U.S. Somebody – no fingers were actually pointed – was embedding nanotechnology, in the form of miniscule radio transmitters, in Canadian coins. They would then get unsuspecting defense contractors who travelled across the border to accept the coins – easily done by giving them change that included doctored coins. (For those who don’t know, the Canadians have the same coin denominations in general circulation as in the U.S. plus a two dollar coin.) In fact, DSS claimed they had actually found these coins being carried by three contractors who possessed security clearances.

Counter-intelligenc and radio spectrum experts outside DSS were baffled by the discovery. Obviously, the intent was to track where the contractors went, presumeably a first step in trying to target who had access to particular sites of interest to a foreign government.

Then last week, DSS suddenly disavowed its June report. No explanation was offered beyond that the report was “unsubstantiated.” One suspects that DSS may have revealed too much of its own capabilities to intercept and track radio transmissions and now, by denying its earlier report, hoped to cover its own security lapse.

“Sly as a fox,” you say?

Not really. More like “loopy as a loon.”

If such transmitters existed, they would have extremely short range and would be blocked by many materials used to construct “safe rooms” for classified meetings and discussions. A person outside would not be able to detect where, in a large facility, an individual had access. Moreover, the metal in the coins would play havoc with the radio signal.

But the most significant obstacle to the success of the alleged scheme was the most obvious: the target spends the coin. That automatically separates the target from the transmitter.

Oh yes. The Canadian dollar is known as the loon – most appropriate for such a loony scheme.

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