Podcast Episode #16 – An NSA Agent Abroad with Dr. Eric Haseltine
One of the most sophisticated technical operations of the Cold War was conducted by the KGB in the heart of the US Embassy in Moscow. After a secret listening post was found inside a blocked-off chimney in the embassy in 1978 (see my previous post from July 17th), Charles Gandy of the National Security Agency embarked on a years-long quest to determine the purpose of the antenna, and to convince the State Department and CIA of the very real, persistent threat of SIGINT collection by the Soviets.
He was met with resistance at every turn as no one believed that the Soviets could create undetectable listening devices, and the most sensitive areas of the embassy were regularly swept by Diplomatic Security Service personnel. This despite the fact that on his own trip to Moscow, Gandy had uncovered very serious security flaws throughout the embassy.
For years his increasingly fervent warnings went unheeded, until he was able to convince a superior to take the matter directly to President Reagan himself. Reagan directed that a new inspection take place, led by Gandy and his team.
What they eventually found after months of searching rocked the intelligence community as they realized the true capabilities of the enemy. The Soviets had managed to intercept many of the State Department’s IBM Selectric typewriters en route to the embassy and modify them with never-before-seen bugs which would be missed by all but the most thorough of searches, and which operated as analog keyloggers, transmitting a weak signal derived from every single keystroke back to the hidden chimney antenna. This tech was beyond even the NSA, and if it hadn’t been found it wouldn’t have been believed.
For episode 16 of the Spycraft 101 podcast, I discussed the search for the hidden bugs at the embassy with Dr. Eric Haseltine. Dr. Haseltine is a former director of research and development at the National Security Agency and was effectively the Chief Technical Officer of the US Intelligence Community. His book, The Spy in Moscow Station tells this must-read story. Get ready for a highly technical and nuanced breakdown of some of the most cutting-edge technology of the Cold War.