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F.G. Mason Engineering Inc

F.G. Mason Engineering Inc. was an American manufacturer of technical surveillance and counter­measures equipment (TSCM), known for its fine range of bug-finding receivers. The company was founded on 20 November 1961 by Francis (Frank) G. Mason, who also developed all equipment during the founding years. The company was dissolved in the early 1990s after a bribe scandal.

 Mason products on this website

The F.G. Mason Engineering Inc. company logo as it was used throughout the 1990s

Prior to starting his own company in 1961, Frank Mason worked for an engineering division of Aladdin Industries Inc. 1 of Nashville (Tennessee, US), where he (co)developed electronic parts for radio and television receivers, such as wide-band and multi-band VHF and UHF tuners, that were licenced to manufacturers of domestic equipment. Between 1954 and 1962 no less than 14 patents for such devices were (co)registered in his name, and it seems fair to assume that this is where Mason developed his knownledge about very high frequency receivers and tuners.

After he founded his own company, on 20 November 1961, Mason started the development of a TSCM receiver, or bug-sweeper as it was called at the time, for the US Army. The receiver was named A-1 and was released during the course of 1962. An unknown number of these receivers were built exclusively for the US Army, but so far nobody has ever reported having seen one [2].

The A-1 was followed in 1964 by the A-2, of which a total of 800 units 2 were build, spread over 16 years at a rate of one unit per week [2].

The A-2 was supplied in a leather case and came with a range of pluggable tuners. It was sold in 1966 at a unit price of US$ 5000 but by the time it was taken out of production in 1990, the price had nearly tripled to a staggering US$ 14,950. The image on the right shows the bare A-2 receiver, with a CRT display unit and the yellow-coded 70-295 kHz tuner. It was also available as the A-2CS all-in-one portable case variant.
Mason A-2 with panorama unit, LFB-1 unit and TLF-4 tuner

Despite the success and the long lifespan of the A-2, its successor, the A-3 was introduced in 1971. The A-3 was also supplied in an unobtrusive leather carrying case, but unlike the modular A-2 it was an all-in one unit, making it faster in operation and providing easier maintenance.

The A-3 was for many years the receiver-of-choice of most US Government agencies, and also of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies of many European countries, such as The Netherlands and West Germany (BRD).

In 1980, the range was extended with the introduction of the Mini Probe Receiver MPR-1, the first truely portable TSCM receiver. The slim­line MPR-1 receiver could be expanded with a similar size display unit that had a built-in green phosphor CRT screen. The complete set, with display unit, is shown in the image on the right.
Typical 2-piece MPR-1 unit

The MPR-1 was followed by the rare MPR-3, the even rarer MPR-4 and finally by the US$ 21,000 MPR-5, which could be expanded by an optional frequency counter with LCD readout. The MPR-5 was sometimes used as a complementary tool in combination with the A-3B suitcase receiver.

In 1986, alongside the MPR-5, Mason introduced the first programmable audio countermeasures receiver, the PACMR-1, which offered digital tuning over the entire 2 kHz - 10 GHz frequency range and came with a hi-res LCD screen, a 6" CRT scope, a 3½" floppy disc drive and a printer. With a price tag of US$ 80,000, the PACMR-1 was typically aimed at the US Goverment/Army.

Apart from the TSCM receivers, Mason also developed a series of telephone analyzers, such as the TT-4 and TT-6, that were used to detect bugs and wire tapping on analogue phone lines.

Despite the demise of the company in the early 1990s (see below), much of the equipment had an extremely long lifespan and was used by many investigators and sweep teams all over the world well into the 2000s, in some cases even as late as 2010.

In the early 1990's, after trying to bribe West German Goverment officials, the tide turned against Mason, and both the company and Frank Mason himself were prosecuted for breaking the FCPA [4]. Mason had alledgedly tried to bribe the officials in an attempt to win a large contract with the West German Military Intelligence Service MAD 3, which was reported to the US Government [5].

After a high-profile court case, in which Mason pleaded guilty, both the company and its sole share holder were convicted to a US$ 75,000 fine and five years probation. Furthermore they had to restitute US$ 160,000 to the West German Government [3], for which the necessary funds were not available. Shortly afterwards, Mason Engineering Inc. went under and was finally dissolved.

Despite all this, Frank Mason should be considered one of the pioneers of the TSCM world and his receivers are beautiful examples of clever engineering; way ahead of their time. According to a former Mason employee [7], most of the design and engineering work was carried out by Mason himself, and all electronic and mechanical parts were built in-house at the Fairfield factory.

 Mason products on this website

  1. Aladdin Industries was a well-established US corporation that developed the Aladdin non-smoking kerosine lamp (1912), but became particularly known for their metal lunch boxes (1950-1986). Apart from this, the company also had an engineering and patent licencing division, that developed many critical parts for the production of radio and television sets and other domestic equipment [1].
  2. According to [2] a total of 800 units were built, but according to [3] the total amount was 1800 units.
  3. MAD = Militärischer Abschirmdienst (West German Military Intelligence Service).

Related patents
  1. US Patent 2,826,698, Tuner
    Francis G. Mason. Filed 20 December 1954. 1

  2. US Patent 2,853,882, Fine-tuning mechanism
    Francis G. Mason. Filed 26 September 1957. 1

  3. US Patent 2,868,984, Capacitive contactor tuner for very high radio and television frequencies
    Louis E. Coutermash and Francis G. Mason. Filed 28 February 1955. 1

  4. US Patent 2,883,864, Cam drive for tuners
    Francis G. Mason. Filed 278 March 1957. 1

  5. US Patent 2,942,333, Method of a making a slug tuner
    Francis G. Mason. Filed 26 April 1955. 1

  6. US Patent 2,925,495, Tuner with primary coil on moving sleeve
    Francis G. Mason and Harold T. Lyman. Filed: 6 January 1958. 1

  7. US Patent 2,972,049, Changeover switch arrangement for VHF-UHF tuner
    Francis G. Mason. Filed 17 February 1959. 1

  8. US Patent 2,979,616, Radio frequency tuners
    Francis G. Mason. Filed 20 August 1957. 1

  9. US Patent 2,980,796, Radio frequency tuner
    Francis G. Mason. Filed 18 December 1957. 1

  10. US Patent 2,999,156, Radio frequency tuners having variable tracking and coupling means
    Francis G. Mason and Harold T. Lyman. Filed 14 January 1959. 1

  11. US Patent 3,044,032, Contacting type drum for high radio frequencies
    Francis G. Mason. Filed 11 October 1958. 1

  12. US Patent 3,156,884, Ultra high frequency tuner having rectilinearly sliding plates providing variable inductance and capacitance
    Harold T. Lyman, Francis G. Mason and Jesse C. Jaqua. Filed 30 April 1962. 1

  13. US Patent 3,181,093, Cavity resonator with variable tuning
    Francis G. Mason. Filed 6 October 1961. 1

  14. US Patent 3,204,208, Tuner driving mechanism
    Harold T. Lyman, Francis G. Mason and Frederick D. Bogardus. Filed 12 October 1961. 1
  1. Filed on behalf of Aladdin Industries Inc., Nasville (Tennisee, US).

  1. Alison L. Oswald, Aladdin Industries Inc. Records, 1889-2003
    Revised 3 October 2007. Retrieved February 2016.

  2. Kevin D. Murray, Mason Enigineering Model A-2CS, etc.
    Forum discussion on 16 Jan 2005.

  3. Granite Island Group, Used equipment price index list
    Retrieved January 2009.

  4. USA, Department of Justice, Int'l Agreements Relating to Bribery of Foreign Officials
    Website. Retrieved June 2009.

  5. United State District Court (New Haven), US v. F.G. Mason Engineering Inc.
    Charges against Mason. No. B-90-29. 25 June 1990.

  6. United States vs. F.G. Mason Engineering Inc. and Frank G. Mason
    Mason found guilty of violating the FCPA.
    US v. F.G. Mason Eng'g Inc., No. B-90-29 (D. Conn. 1990). p. B-14.

  7. Personal correspondence with a former Mason employee
    Crypto Museum, January 2009.

  8. United States vs. F.G. Mason Engineering Inc., et al, Related enforcement actions
    Court Docket Number: 90-CR-029. Filed 25 June 1990.
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Crypto Museum. Created: Sunday 21 February 2016. Last changed: Thursday, 21 March 2019 - 06:56 CET.
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