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Espionage cases
Espionage and covert operations

The are many forms of espionage. In the case of nations spying on each other, an intelligence officer commonly operates in the hostile country from the embassy, under the legal cover of diplomatic immunity. In some cases however, the officer lives in the hostile country under an assumed identity, sometimes even with a complete family, in which case he is called an illegal.

The actual task of gathering information from the enemy is rarely carried out by the intelligence officer himself, but rather by an agent who has better access to the required information. In such cases the intelligence officer becomes the case officer, or case handler, or simply the handler. Potential agents are commonly motivated by the factors that are described in Keith Melton's excellent book Ultimate Spy, by the acronym MICE: Money, Ideology, Compromise and Ego [1].

There are other forms of espionage in which people, organisations or companies are spying on each other. This sometimes involves infiltration. Examples are industrial espionage and political espionage, which are sometimes even carried out with help from national intelligence agencies.

Espionage stories on this website
John Anhony Walker / 1967-1985
Richard Osborne / 1982-1983
Ana Bélen Montes / 1985-2001
Guy Binet / 1986-1988
The Great Seal Bug, a.k.a. 'The Thing' / 1945-1952
Secret deal between Hagelin and the NSA / 1951-?
Operation Easy Chair: bugging of the Russian Embassy in The Hague (Netherlands) 1958/1959
Pueblo Incident / 1968
The Watergate Scandal / 1971-1972
Operation Gunman / 1976-1984
Counter Observation Team
Operation RUBICON (also: THESAURUS)
This page contains a number of references to famous spy cases and equipment that are described in some detail on this website. The cases are shown in chronological order and the period of their activity (when known) is shown behind their name. Further down the page is a list of spy events.

John Walker   1967-1985
Navy Chief Warrant Officer John Anthony Walker (28 July 1937-28 August 2014) was working for the US Navy as a communications specialist when he started spying for the Soviet Union.

In the nearly 17 years that he worked for the Soviets, he passed thousands of classified documents to them, compromising US cipher machines like the KL-7, KL-47 and KW-7, and allowing the Russians to decrypt at least one million confidential documents. The Russians issued him a Minox C camera for photographing secret documents and key material.

He build up a spy ring that included his son Michael, his brother Arthur and senior chief petty officer Jerry Whitworth.

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 Minox C camera
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Richard Osborne   1982-1983
On 7 March 1983, Richard Osborne, who had just been appointed First Secretary at the US Embassy in Moscow, was caught red handed by the Russian secret service KGB when operating the sophisticated RS-804 satellite spy radio set in a park in Moscow.

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Ana Belén Montes   1985-2001
Senior Cuban analyst Ana Belén Montes (28 February 1957) worked for the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) when she got arrested in 2001 after spying for the Cubans for 16 years. In her possession the FBI found a Sony ICF-2001D receiver, a Toshiba laptop and evidence of the use of OTP ciphers.

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Guy Binet   1986-1988
Belgian colonel Guy Binet (1934-2000), also known as The Red Colonel, had been passing confidential NATO documents to the Russian GRU for more than two years before he was arrested. In his possession the police found a Sony ICF-2001D receiver, a Minox EC camera and several OTP cipher tables.

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The Thing   1945-1952
In 1960, during UN talks about the U-2 spy plane incident, the Americans showed the world how the Russians had been bugging the office of the US Ambassador in Moscow for nearly eight years with a bug hidden inside a wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States.

The mysterious bug did not contain any electronic components and didn't require batteries or any other source of electricity. Consequently, it became known as The Thing.

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Hagelin   1951-?
Ever since WWII, Boris Hagelin and his company Crypto AG had a good relationship with the USA, and especially with the AFSA (later: NSA).

From 1951 onwards, Hagelin and the NSA had a secret gentleman's agreement to weaken the cryptographic security of the company's cipher machines when they were sold to certain adversary countries.

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Removing the pin-wheels from a CX-52

Easy Chair   1958-1959
In 1958, in a joint operation of the American CIA and the Dutch BVD, a covert listening device (bug) was placed in a piece of furniture that was ordered by the Russian Embassy in The Hague.

The device was of a passive nature, which means that it was powered by a very strong RF signal beamed at it from more than 100 metres away.

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Pueblo Incident   1968
On 23 January 1968, the American information gathering ship (a.k.a. spy ship) USS Pueblo was attacked by North Korean forces, whilst on an Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) mission off the North Korean coast.

Aboard the ship was a wealth of intercept radios, cipher machines and code material, most of which fell into North Korean hands (and, hence, Russian hands as well) relatively undamaged.

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Watergate   1971-1972
In 1972, the Watergate scandal lead to the resignation of US President Richard Nixon. It revealed that a secret group, known as The Plummers had the task to uncover sources information leaking to the media, but branched into illegal activities whilst working for the Committee to Re-elect President Nixon.

Five people were arrested for breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at the Watergate complex in Washington.

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Operation GUNMAN   1976-1984
For no less than eight years, the Soviet Union spied on the US by bugging the IBM Selectric typewriters of their Moscow enbassy. The bug collected the text typed on the machine and sent short radio bursts to a nearby listening post.

The bugs were really sophisticated and could neither be detected by regular TSCM methods nor by visual inspection.

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IBM Selectric II

Operation RUBICON   1970-2018
There were always rumours that the equipment of the Swiss crypto-manufacturer Crypto AG — founded in 1952 by the Swedish inventor Boris Hagelin — contained backdoors for the NSA, but the actual story is even more unbelievable.

In 1970, in a secret covert operation named THESAURUS (later: RUBICON), the German BND and the American CIA actually purchased the company and ran it for nearly 50 years. This enabled them to read nearly all diplomatic traffic of the entire world for many years.

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Counter Observation Team   1980-1995
The Counter Observation Team (COT), was a group of Dutch scanner listeners, hobbyists, hackers and enthusiasts, who – in the 1980s and 1990s – observed and monitored the modus operandi and movements of serveillance teams of the Dutch police and intelligence service BVD.

For their hobby, a wide variety of high-tech spy gadgets was developed, some of which landed in the hands of criminals, who made good use of it.

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Henny and his partner observing the police during the Gerrit-Jan Heijn case in 1987 or 1988

  1. H. Keith Melton, Ultimate Spy
    ISBN 978-0-2411-8991-7. pp. 8-9.
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© Crypto Museum. Created: Tuesday 08 September 2015. Last changed: Monday, 10 February 2020 - 16:16 CET.
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