Tag Archives: missions

Great Seal Bug

Great Seal Bug

The Great Seal Bug (also known as the Thing) was a Soviet mission in which a listening device was implanted within a copy of the Great Seal of the United States which was presented as a plaque to the the United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union W. Averell Harriman.

Great Seal Bug - spymuseum.com

Henry Cabot Lodge displays the bug in front of the United Nations.

The plaque was presented On August 4, 1945 by a delegation of the Young Pioneer Organization of the Soviet Union, a youth organization for Soviet youth aged 10 to 15. It was presented in friendship as a peaceful gesture towards the Soviet’s World War II ally. Unbeknownst to the ambassador, the plaque contained a listening device that was hidden in holes drilled under the beak of the eagle in the plaque. The device was extremely thin and powered remotely by an electromagnet energy source making it very difficult to detect. It was designed by Leon Theremin, a famed Russian inventor. The microphone hidden inside was passive and was only activated when the Soviets decided to turn it on. They usually did so from a van parked outside of the ambassador’s house in which they ultra-high frequency beams at the house. Activated, the microphone would transmit any conversations coming from within range of the bug. When they turned the beams off, the bug was virtually undetectable.

It was hung in the Ambassadors’ residential study (in Spasso House) and remained there until 1952. At that point, George Kennan was the ambassador. The bug was detected during a technical surveillance countermeasures inspection when a technician(Joseph Jacob Bezjian) with an untuned video receiver discovered it. A The existence of the bug was accidentally discovered by a British radio operator had overheard American conversations on an open radio channel and the Americans were alerted.


Ambassador Kennan later revealed in his memoirs that the Spasso House had been redecorated under Soviet supervision without and American presence. Surveillance sweeps were done routinely but revealed nothing. He also said that technicians conducting the surveillance asked him to pretend to be working out of the house one evening instead of his office. Great Seal Bug - spymuseum.comHe therefore summoned his secretary to the Spasso House and began dictating a fictitious letter. At one point, one of the technicians encouraged him to continue with the dictation and began sweeping the room quietly. Eventually his sweep led to the Great Seal plaque which e took apart and found the bug.

The Soviets were undeterred and continued planting bugs throughout the rest of the Cold War.



Read More »

Operation Gold

Operation Gold
Media viewing the Berlin Tunnel

Media viewing the Berlin Tunnel

OPERATION GOLD (also known as Operation Stopwatch by the British) was a joint 1950’s American-British operation which was funded by the United States and involved creating a secret tunnel half a kilometer long which entered the Soviet-occupied zone in East Germany. The tunnel was created so as to tap the telephone cables used by the Soviet and East German militaries as well as by civilian governmental personnel.

The idea was passed to the United States by the British who had previously created their own tunnel in Soviet-occupied Austria (code named Operation Silver). The tunnel was approximately one kilometer long and ran from Rudow, West Berlin to Alt-Glenicke in East Berlin. The almost $7 million dollar operation was implemented by the Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6. It was approximately 6 meters deep and was completed between September 2, 1954 and February 25, 1955 and operated for 11 months and 11 days. More than half a million calls were intercepted and the operation produced somewhere in the area of 50,000 tapes.

Unfortunately, the tunnels effectiveness was undercut by the fact that George Blake, a Soviet spy who was working in Berlin as a case officer for MI6, learned of the tunnel during a meeting between British and American officials in December 1953. Blake was the secretary keeping notes of the meeting and he informed his Soviet contacts of the operation’s existence. Rather than  cease using the telephone cables (which may have exposed Blake), the Soviets were alleged to have instead used them to feed disinformation to the Americans for almost two years before “discovering” the tunnel in 1956 (although Blake asserted that 99% of the information gleaned from the taps were authentic).

The United States enjoyed both praise for the achievement and ridicule for the failure of the operation. Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles called it “one of the most valuable and daring projects ever undertaken” by the agency. The CIA was unaware that Blake had betrayed the British by revealing the existence of the tunnel until 1959 when they were made aware of it by the former Head of Polish Intelligence Michael Goleniewski who defected to the United States in 1961.

Details of the operation were kept secret with Dulles ordering that “as little as possible… be reduced to writing.”

Read More »

The U-2 Incident

The U-2 Incident

Photo Credit – Gary Powers, Jr. / Cold War Museum via AP.

The 1960 U-2 Incident occurred at the height of the Cold War when the Soviet Union shot down an American spy plane over Soviet air space. The incident afforded Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev the opportunity to launch a show trial as well as a media propaganda effort against the United States.

Francis Gary Powers - spymuseum.comIn 1957, United States President Dwight Eisenhower received permission from Pakistan to create a secret military installation from which to fly spy planes out of. At first British pilots were used in order to afford Eisenhower the ability to honestly deny that Americans were spying over the Soviet Union. When the initial fights were successful, the United States decided to launch two more missions, this time with American pilots.

The U-2 spy planes being flown were able to reach altitudes beyond the capabilities of Soviet fighter planes and believed to be beyond the range of Soviet missiles. Eisenhower wanted the missions to be completed before the Four Power Paris Summit that was scheduled for May 16, 1960.

On April 9, 1960 U.S. pilot Bob Ericson flew a mission over Soviet air space and was able to photograph four  Soviet military defense locations. Unfortunately, his plane was detected by Soviet Air Defense Forces but avoided being intercepted before landing safely.

On May 1, 1920, U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers set out on a mission with the operation code word GRAND SLAM.  The goal of the mission was to determine the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles that the Soviet Union possessed. Because of the knowledge of Ericson’s flight, Soviet defenses were on red alert awaiting another U-2 flight. When Powers  plane was detected, Soviet fighters were sent to intercept it, ramming it if necessary. Although Powers was able to avoid the Soviet fighter planes, he was shot down by a SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile. Powers bailed out and safely landed in Russian territory. Although he carried with him a poison needle, he did not use it on himself.

The United States attempted to cover up the incident, even going so far as to have NASA issue a press release which stated that a NASA pilot had reportedly lost consciousness resulting in a plane being unaccounted for. They went so far as to paint a U-2 plane with NASA colors. Soviet Premier Khrushchev announced that an United States plane had been shot down over the Soviet Union. Believing that Powers had crashed and was dead, the U.S. continued to claim that the plane was a NASA weather plane and that the pilot had reported that he was  losing oxygen. Thus, the story explained, when the pilot lost consciousness, the plane’s autopilot carried it into Soviet air space.

Khrushchev sprung his trap, revealing that Eisenhower was lying in his denials over spying, revealing that not only had the plane been found intact, but the pilot, Francis Gary Powers was captured alive. On May 7, 1960, Khrushchev announced “I must tell you a secret. When I made my first report I deliberately did not say that the pilot was alive and well… and now just look how many silly things the Americans have said.”

Khrushchev used the Four Power Paris Summit to condemn the United States for spying on the Soviet Union and for lying in trying to cover up the matter. President Eisenhower refused to apologize, saying his actions in dispatching the U-2 planes were defensive in nature. An angry Khrushchev rescinded an invitation that had been given to President Eisenhower to visit the Soviet Union.The summit was deemed a failure and the incident caused an escalation in the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Francis Gary Powers - spymuseum.comHow Powers was shot down was  in dispute. A report from the National Security Agency expressed the belief that Powers had actually descended down from 65,000 feet to 34,000 feet, well within range of both Soviet MIG fighter planes and missiles. Soviet pilot Captain Igor Mentyukov claimed that his Sukhoi Su-9 fighter had been modified by having its weapons removed. It was thus able to break through its 55,000 foot altitude ceiling and reach 65,000 feet where Powers’ U-2 got caught in its slipstream, causing the U-2 to flip over, breaking its wings and causing it to plummet.

Powers version of the story seemed to correspond to the official version given by the Soviets. He said that a missile missed his plane but exploded in the airspace behind his plane. The concussion of the explosion shook the plane with such violence that it ripped on a its long wing off.

Spy SwapPowers was able to eject from the plane and land safely on the ground but was captured. He was put on trial in a clear propaganda campaign in the Soviet Union. He plead guilty to espionage and was sentenced on August 17, 1960 to three years of imprisonment and seven years of hard labor.

On February 10, 1962, he was exchanged, along with American student Frederic Pryor, in a spy swap at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin, Germany. In return the Soviet got KGB Colonel Rudolf Abel.

For more information on the U2 Incident, please visit the Cold War Museum, founded by Francis Gary Powers, Jr.

Read More »