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Preferred penny of espionage

Canadian pennies with transmitters are being implanted on US defence industry workers, reports Pramit P Chaudhuri.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2007 11:21 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Now we know why bad pennies keep turning up. They want to keep an eye on you. Canadian pennies with embedded radio transmitters are being implanted on US defence industry workers, says a Pentagon report on technology espionage.

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Service in its 2006 “Technology Collection Trends in the US Defense Industry” report says there were “at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006” when this occurred. In each case, US defence industry workers with security clearance had one cent coins with transmitters inside them planted on them while they were travelling through Canada.

Canadian media speculated third country intelligence agencies were responsible. The Pentagon declined to provide further details.

The most likely suspect would be China. However, intelligence blogs noted Israel and Japan were active in technology theft in the US. The report noted there was an “across-the-board surge in activity from East Asia and Pacific countries.”

The report records and analyses defence technology spying attempts. It does not name countries. However, it noted that over 31 per cent of such reported cases originated from "East Asia and the Pacific.” West Asia followed with 23 per cent of the cases. Only 13 per cent were from South Asia.

The report gives an insight into what 21st centuries 007s are looking for.

Information systems technologies are the market leaders. More than a fifth of all cases targeted this knowhow. Lasers and optics, aeronautics, sensors and armaments materials were each about 10 per cent.

Information systems include an array of technologies like satellite link technology, software simulation and global positioning systems. The surge in demand for such knowhow began in 2003 and “could reflect an upsurge in weapons development programs in the regions." A third of the attempts were from East Asia.

The only technology where South Asia seemed to be play a major role was in lasers and optics. Just over a fifth of espionage attempts were traced back to the subcontinent.

One sign of Chinese and Japanese interest in space may be that space espionage jumped from tenth position to seventh in terms of case in one year. Nearly 45 per cent of attempts came from East Asia.

The Canadian penny was discounted by intelligence experts as ineffective because it ran the risk of being simply spent in a shop. The report says most espionage attempts are normally carried out in the disguise of legitimate of business activities or requests for information. But traditional methods continue: One female foreigner entangled a US male worker ina “honeytrap,” seducing him and using his computer password to infect a firm’s network with viruses.

First Published: Jan 24, 2007 11:09 IST