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Lee Tracey

Harold 'Lee' Tracey is a former RAF engineer and MI6 operative. In 1962, whilst working for MI6, Tracey invented the so-called staircase receiver, also known as the harmonic receiver, that later became known as the Scanlock bug tracer. The device was marketed through Technical Security Ltd. in London — at the time an MI6 front operation — and later by Audiotel International Ltd.

The first Scanlock receiver was sold at a price of GBP 940 and was announced in an article about boardroom electronic warfare in New Scientist of July 1975 [1], together with the RFD-1 detector.

The Scanlock Mark 1 was followed by the Mark 2, the Scanlock Mark 3 and eventually the Mark 4. In 1978, Tracey left MI6 and founded his own company Audiotel International Ltd., with the initial address at City Road in London. Here, he developed the next generation: the Scanlock Mark VB. It was an immediate hit and became popular in the UK and continental Europe.

For a long time, the Scanlock Mark VB was the most successful bug tracer, even in the US, where his products were marketed by Glenn Whidden of TSA. After a while it became clear that Tracey was more of an engineer than a business man. In order to attract new capital and to get rid of his unwanted management duties, he sold 70% of the company shares to investor Lansing Bagnall.

At the same time, he gave his long-term friend and WWII veteran Charles Bovill a platform to further develop his invention: the Broom, a non-linear junction detector that was able to find bugs — or in fact any electronic parts — even when they are switched off. Bovill's gatgets were later sold through the shop of Allen International in Westminster (London), another MI6 front.

In the early 1980s, Tracey further developed the Scanlock receiver and introduced the Scanlock 2000. He also helped his American friend and former CIA technician Glenn Whidden, with the development of the COMPUSCAN, a computer controlled add-on to the original Scanlock.

In the mid-1980s, Tracey gradually lost interest in Audiotel. Being a dedicated engineer, he felt that the majority shareholder – Lansing Bagnall – was investing too little money in development, and way too much in management. Eventually, after a huge conflict, Tracey decided to leave.
Lee Tracey demonstrating the ScanLock. Channel 4 documentary 1999 [1].

After Lee Tracey had left Audiotel Ltd., the majority shareholder, Lansing Bagnall, decided to sell the company, but did this in such a way that Tracey, who still owned 30% of the company, was left empty handed. Audiotel was sold to Andrew Martin, who moved the company to Corby (Northhampshire, UK) in 1987 and would lead the company until his untimely death in 1997.

In the following years, Tracey became a self-employed engineer and was involved in several startup companies. In 2013, way past his retirement age, Lee Tracey was still developing gadgets and other electronic devices and was actively trying to market them.

Early companies
In the early 1970s, whilst working for MI6, Lee Tracey operated a series of companies that were actually front covers of MI6, through which the agency was able to buy and sell equipment without attracting too much attention. The diagram below shows the situation in 1974:

Allen International was a company that specialized in spy gadgets. It had an office and a showroom above a bedding shop in Westminster (London) and even supplied the Q-type gadget for the James Bond movies. Since 1972, Allen International was run by Tracey's colleague and friend Charles Bovill. After the company went bankrupt in 1974, he moved to Security Research Ltd. in Guildford (UK) [4]. The assetts of that company (i.e. the Broom) were later acquired by Audiotel International Ltd. who further developed the Broom and its successors.

Technical Security Ltd. was Tracey's 'own' company through which he marketed his bug tracing receivers and detectors. Above the three companies was CDI Holdings, which was also run by Lee Tracey. CDI probably stands for Cray Defence International. After Tracey left MI6 in 1978, he founded Audiotel International, who took over the development and sales of his products.

The following inventions of Lee Tracey are featured on this website:

Audiotel Scanlock Mark 3 Audiotel Scanlock Mark VB Audiotel Scanlock 2000 Delta-V hand-held differential RF detector
  1. Dr. Joseph Hanlon, Boardroom electronic warfare
    New Scientist (Magazine), 10 July 1975. p. 65-69.

  2. Channel 4, The Walls Have Ears
    Fascinating Channel 4 documentary about The Spying Game - The Walls have Ears.
    1999. Via YouTube. Interviews Glenn Whidden, Lee Tracey, Charles Bovill and others.

  3. Lee Tracey, Interview and personal correspondence
    Crypto Museum. 23 May 2013.

  4. Technology review, Pocket tape recorders for the executive spy
    New Scientist (Magazine), 4 April 1974. p. 25.
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Crypto Museum. Last changed: Friday, 05 January 2018 - 13:23 CET.
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