1.19.2007

empty your pockets

This is so bizarre, I hesitated to blog about it, thinking it might be a hoax. There appears to be some validity to it - but I still have no idea what to make of it.

From an AP Story, via Lawyers, Guns and Money, sent to me by fellow political expatriate Diamond Jim.
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.

Further 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.
When I asked my Chief Researcher for some corroboration, he found this US retraction:
Reversing itself, the Defense Department says an espionage report it produced that warned about Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters was not true.

The Defense Security Service said it never could substantiate its own published claims about the mysterious coins. It has begun an internal review to determine how the false information was included in a 29-page report about espionage concerns.

The service had contended since late June that such 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.

"The allegations, however, were found later to be unsubstantiated following an investigation into the matter," the agency said in a statement published on its Web site last week.

Intelligence and technology experts were flabbergasted over the initial report, which suggested such transmitters could be used to surreptitiously track the movements of people carrying the coins.

Experts said such tiny transmitters almost certainly would have limited range to communicate with sensors no more than a few feet away, such as ones hidden inside a doorway. The metal coins also would interfere with any signals emitted, they said.

Experts warned that hiding tracking technology inside coins would be fraught with risks because the spy's target might inadvertently give away the coin or spend it buying coffee or a newspaper.
Whenever the US retracts something, I am very suspicious.

14 comments:

M@ said...

I dunno, it seemed pretty far-fetched to begin with. The idea that RFID chips could transmit while being encased in metal... the idea that coins, of all things, would stay on someone's person for any time at all...

Frankly, until someone actually finds one of these transmitters inside a Canadian coin, I'll remain skeptical.

L-girl said...

The idea that RFID chips could transmit while being encased in metal... the idea that coins, of all things, would stay on someone's person for any time at all...

That's what the articles say, along with other reasons why it's implausible.

I just wonder what the purpose of the story is.

impudent strumpet said...

I don't know what to think about it as a spy theory, but I think it would make for a brilliant piece of art. Put a transmitter in a coin, track the coin's journey through the economy, set up a website with streaming where you can listen to what the coin "hears"...

L-girl said...

That's a very cool idea, Imp Strump. It's a wonder it hasn't already been done. (Do we know it hasn't?)

When you were in grade school, did you see a movie about a miniature wooden kayak with a little carved in it? A boy puts it in a stream, or maybe in some snow melt on a mountain...?

Anyone know what I'm talking about?

lindsey starr said...

When you were in grade school, did you see a movie about a miniature wooden kayak with a little carved in it? A boy puts it in a stream, or maybe in some snow melt on a mountain...?

I have a vague memory of something like that... but can't remember much else. will have to think about it and maybe ask my siblings....

L-girl said...

I've been Googling, but haven't come up with anything.

Here's what I remember. Someone carves a little man in a canoe or kayak, and sets it in a stream or maybe some snow melt. The movie follows the toy canoe as it journeys over all kinds of water to the sea.

As the viewer, you forget that it's a wooden toy - and when it's in trouble, or turns over, or is stuck somewhere, it's exciting or scary.

I remember teachers telling us to remember it's not a real man.

I'm pretty sure I saw this in 6th grade - or Grade Six, as you say here. :)

impudent strumpet said...

I know exactly the movie you're talking about! I have no idea what it's called or where it's from though. I have this idea that I saw it on Sesame Street or in one of those little NFB movies that they showed in between Mr. Dressup and Fred Penner or something. I threw a lot of sticks into rivers after I saw that thing.

James said...

Here's what I remember. Someone carves a little man in a canoe or kayak, and sets it in a stream or maybe some snow melt. The movie follows the toy canoe as it journeys over all kinds of water to the sea.

I remember that as an NFB film, though that may just be the style. It always reminded me a little of The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen.

Here we go! It was NFB after all.

Virtually every Canadian child has seen Paddle to the Sea, one of Mason’s earliest National Film Board short features. It’s about a young aboriginal boy who carves a toy canoe and sets it on a snowbank. When the spring thaw comes, the canoe is swept into a tiny stream that leads to a river and eventually the ocean. In 1958, the film was nominated for an Academy Award and Queen Elizabeth enjoyed the film so much she showed it at Princess Anne’s birthday party.

Found via this article.

L-girl said...

Wait a second. As you know, I grew up in New York State. You're telling me this movie we all saw... is Canadian???

I cannot believe it.

This is the weirdest "everyone is Canadian" experience yet.

* * * *

From the link you sent, I'm almost positive it's the same film. Even the title "Paddle To The Sea" rings a bell. I can't believe I remembered it was snow melt.

Thanks, James!! :-D

L-girl said...

Paddle To The Sea on IMDB.

"I am Paddle-to-the-Sea. Please put me back in the water."

I am absolutely stunned. This is such a cool memory. And it's Canadian. It's friggin Canadian.

L-girl said...

Towards the middle of this post I explain my "everyone is Canadian" experience.

Idealistic Pragmatist has a funny riff on this. "What do you call...?" Maybe she'll show up and enlighten us. :)

Wrye said...

Aw, I'm too late to yell "Paddle to the sea" at you (thanks, internet clampdown at work!). But yes, we loved that in school. I remember it being shown a few times. There are a few NFB classics like that--another one consists on a man, walking out of the ocean in Nova scotia, getting on a railroad scooter, and setting off across the entire country, non-stop, without a word, Mr. Bean style. When he gets to Vancouver and gets off to look at the ocean, of couse, he doesn't notice the Asian gentleman walking up out of the Pacific, who gets on the scooter and starts off back the other way. Genius!

And speaking of everyone being Canadian. I just stunned a Briton over on Making Light with the news that Hammy the Hamster was actually Canadian.

Ah, to be as Canadian as hamsters...

James said...

Wait a second. As you know, I grew up in New York State. You're telling me this movie we all saw... is Canadian???

Of course it is. Most of the great public-broadcasting type short films are Canadian, didn't you know? ;)

The NFB is one of Canada's great treasures.

L-girl said...

Most of the great public-broadcasting type short films are Canadian, didn't you know? ;)

:-)

True as this may (or may not) be, I wouldn't have known it was a short, or a PBS-type film. Most sixth graders don't think about such things - I certainly didn't back then.