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Project IKAR
US bugs discovered by the Soviets

Project IKAR (Icarus) 1 was a secret investigation by the Soviet Union (USSR), carried out between 1969 and 1978, in which covert listening devices of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were discovered, analysed and documented. The file was secretly shared with the security services in other Warsaw Pact countries including Poland. It was publicly revealed in September 2022 by Zach Dorfman in an article on The Brush Pass, with scans of the original photographic evidence [1][2]. It is likely that the file was compiled by the KGB — the main intelligence service of the USSR.

The file, which was discovered in the archives of the Polish Ministry of the Interior, contains 23 pages with full-colour images of a wide variety of covert surveillance devices (bugs) that were found in the buildings and even in the vehicles of the Soviet mission in Washington (USA).

According to the Soviets, these devices were all planted by the Americans, and demonstrate the scale at which America eavesdrops on the Soviet Union. Although the American bugging efforts are indeed enormous, it is not unique to the US. The scale at which the Soviet Union has bugged the Americans, it at least as comprehensive. 2
The first two pages of the file (click to read the complete file) - Retrieved from Polish Archives [2].

It is indeed very likely that the devices shown in the Soviet file, were planted by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or by the counter-intelligence unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In fact, some of these devices can be found on the Crypto Museum website. Below we will analyse and describe some of the devices that are revealed in the secret Soviet file in more detail. If you recognise any of the other items listed in the Soviet file, please contact us.

 Read the complete file

  1. IKAR (Icarus) is the Polish name for the project. The original Russian name for the project is currently unknown, but might have been ИКАР (IKAR) as well.
  2. It is known that the old American Embassy in Moscow was ridden with bugs. Not only in the walls, but also inside office equipment. See for example the story about the IBM Selectric Bug.

EASY CHAIR Mark V   page 4 image 5
Image 5 on page 4 shows a device that seems to be made up from two brass pipes that are joined at the centre. Each of the pipes has a length of approx. 10 cm and a tickness of less than 1 cm. According to the description, it was mounted inside one of the white tubes that are also shown. Although we don't know from what material the white tubes were made, it seems likely that it was non-conductive, perhaps some kind of plastic, as otherwise it would have blocked the RF signals.

IKAR page 4, image 5, with translated captions [2]

Although it is not entirely certain, it seems likely that the device shown above, is a variant of the EASY CHAIR Mark V Passive Element (EC V), developed for the CIA between 1962 and 1964 by the Dutch Radar Laboratory (NRP). In particular the Thin PE variant of the EC V resembles the device discovered by the Soviets. If that is the case, it is unlikely that the righmost brass pipe contains a power supply, as the EC V is a passive device, which is remotely powered by a strong RF signal.

The two brass pipes form the arms of an open dipole antenna. At the center is a diode (crystal) that rectifies the RF energy that is beamed at it from a nearby location, and uses it to feed an audio amplifier. The amplifier causes the minute reflected energy from the dipole antenna to be amplitude modulated, with the room audio on a 120 kHz FM subcarrier. The image on the right shows one half of the thin variant of the EC V.

There are however some doubts. The two brass pipes shown in the image are each 10 cm long, which indicates a frequency of approx. 750 MHz.
Thin PE with detector and protective polythene centre part

The EC V devices made by the NRP however, operated at a frequency between 378 and 420 MHz, roughly half the frequency of the device discovered by the Soviets. Although it is possible that the NRP made such devices for 750 MHz, there is no surviving evidence in our archives. It is more likely that they were made by a different CIA subcontractor, using the original NRP design as a base. After all, the NRP was predominantly a research laboratory rather than a manufacturer.

There are also doubts about the Russian caption at the botton of the photograph, which claims that the device was found in the wall of a residential appartment behind a mains outlet. But the device is far too big to be fitted behind a mains outlet, and the presence of power lines in the vicinity of the device would prevent it from working, as it would short out the RF field. Bugs that are fitted behind a mains outlet are generally much smaller and are powered directly from the mains. It is more likely that the white tubes, inside which the device was hidden, were common pieces of furniture, such as curtain rails or a rods for holding down the carpet on the staircase.

 More about the EASYCHAIR Mark V bug

About the NRP

Shortly after WWII, the Dutch Radar Laboratory (NRP) was hired by the CIA to investigate a novel listening device — known as The Thing — that was found inside a wooden carving of the Greal Seal of the United States. The carving was a gift from the Soviets, and the bug was used to eavesdrop on the US Ambassador for no less than seven years. The CIA wanted the NRP to develop similar bugs that could be used by the CIA. It resulted in a research contract between the CIA and the NRP — codenamed EASY CHAIR — that lasted more than 30 years.

It was agreed that the NRP would develop listening devices (bugs) and deliver the baseline documentation to the CIA, so that the actual devices could be manufactured by a third party in the US. In most cases, the NRP produced only a handful of devices (prototypes), but occasionally they also produced the bugs in quantity. What happened to the designs once the documentation had been delivered to the CIA is unknown.

 More about the NRP
 About the EASY CHAIR research contract

SRT-56   page 13 image 21
Image 21 on page 13 shows a device that can be identified unambiguously as the high-band version of the SRT-56, 1 manufactured for the CIA between 1971 and 1973 by the Dutch Radar Laboratory (NRP). It transmits at 1500 MHz and uses a novel modulation technique known as Pulse Position Modulation (PPM), combined with audio masking, that makes it difficult to find.

IKAR page 13, image 21, with translated captions [2]

The image above shows the original photograph with translated captions. According to the Russians, the set was discovered inside the wall of one of the offices of the Soviet mission in Washington. It consists of four pieces (which we have numbered 1 - 4). It is probably the same set (or similar) that was presented by the Soviets during a press conference on 10 April 1987.

The image on the right shows a still from a news item that was broadcast in the US after the press conference. It shows the same four items as the image in the Soviet file, which suggests that the four items were used as part of a single setup.

Item (1) is clearly an SRN-58 coaxial antenna for 1500 MHz, manufacturered by the NRP. The Russians identified it as a microwave antenna for 2 GHZ which a reasonably accurate guess. Item (2) is identified as the modulator which is also correct. It is an SWE-56 video encoder which is responsible for hiding the audio by means of the Rejected Pulse (RP) audio masking scheme.
Click to see more

Item (3) is an SRK-145 transmitter for 1500 MHz. It uses Pulse Position Modulation (PPM) as a result of which it consumes very little power. Due to the nature of PPM, the transmitter produces a large number of sidebands, each with very little energy, which makes it diffcult to discover it in the frequency spectrum. In practice it can hardly be discriminated from the background noise.

 More about the press conference of 10 April 1987

Mystery item
Item (4) is a bit of a mystery. Although it clearly belongs to the same setup, we cannot identify it unambiguously. The Russians have described it as a 10 GHz transmitter, but this seems most unlikely as the device is entirely made of metal. Furthermore, 10 GHz would not be a good choice for a device that is embedded inside a wall, as its signals would have been absorbed by the wall.

It appears to have the same diameter (1 1/8") as the other parts. It is unpainted, which suggest that it was not made by the NRP but rather by the CIA or one of its other contractors. It might be a mains power supply unit like the UWP-56 or (more likely) a stack of mercury batteries. In the latter case, the device would have had a limited life, although it might have lasted for a year.

The image on the right shows a functionally identical setup, created at Crypto Museum from surviving EASY CHAIR parts. In this case, the mysterious item is replaced by a UWP-56 PSU.
High-band version of the SRT-56

Another possibility is that item (4) is a contact microphone like the CIA's SWM-25, along with an audio pre-amplifier/equaliser. Such microphones had been developed by other contract partners and were used by the CIA. They were suitable for listening through concrete walls and offered very good intelligibility; in most cases equal to a microphone present in the actual room. In any case, the Russian assessment that it is a 10 GHz transmitter should be dismissed as a fantasy.

 Full description of the SRT-56 bug

  1. It is possible that instead of an SRT-56 bug, it was an SRT-52, which is nearly identical but uses a different audio masking scheme — Triple Pulse (TP) instead of Rejected Pulse (RP). But as this audio masking scheme was not supported by the later receivers used by the CIA, the SRT-56 seems a more likely candidate.

  1. Zach Dorfman,
    Unearthed File Reveals Huge Cold War-Era US Bugging Operation Against Soviets

    The Brush Pass (website), 22 September 2022.

  2. Covert listening devices exposed in the buildings of Soviet missions in Washington
    Soviet Union, 1974-1990 (in Russian language).
    Retrieved from Polish Archives by [1]. IPN BU 003172/44 t.5.
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Crypto Museum. Created: Tuesday 22 November 2022. Last changed: Friday, 25 November 2022 - 08:29 CET.
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