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definition - Thing_(listening_device)

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Thing (listening device)

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Replica of the Great Seal which contained a Soviet bugging device, on display at the NSA's National Cryptologic Museum.

The Thing, also known as the Great Seal bug, was one of the first covert listening devices (or "bugs") to use 'passive' techniques to transmit an audio signal. It is considered a predecessor of current RFID technology, because it was likewise passive, being energized and activated by electromagnetic waves from an outside source.[1]


Operating principles

The Thing designed by Léon Theremin was very simple by today's standards, but ingenious. It consisted of a tiny capacitive membrane connected to a small quarter-wavelength antenna; it had no power supply or active electronic components. The device, a passive cavity resonator, became active only when radio waves of the correct frequency were beamed to the device from an external transmitter. Sound waves caused the membrane to vibrate, which varied the capacitance "seen" by the antenna, which in turn modulated the radio waves that struck and were re-transmitted by "The Thing." A receiver demodulated the signal so the sound that the microphone picked up could be heard, in the same way that an ordinary radio 'decodes' modulated radio waves into sound.

Theremin's design made the listening device very difficult to detect, because it was very small, had no power supply or active components, and did not radiate any signal unless it was actively being irradiated remotely. These same design features plus the overall simplicity of the device made it very reliable and gave a potentially unlimited operational life.

Use in espionage

Theremin's device was used by the USSR to spy on the USA. The device was embedded in a carved wooden plaque of the Great Seal of the United States. On August 4, 1945, Soviet school children presented the bugged carving to U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman, as a "gesture of friendship" to the USSR's World War II ally. It hung in the ambassador’s Moscow residential office until it was exposed in 1952 during the tenure of Ambassador George F. Kennan[2]. The existence of the bug was accidentally discovered by a British radio operator who overheard American conversations on an open radio channel as the Russians were beaming radio waves at the ambassador's office. The CIA found the device in the Great Seal carving after an exhaustive search of the American Embassy, and Peter Wright, a British scientist and former MI5 counterintelligence officer, eventually discovered how it worked.[3][4] Assuming that the device had never been discovered, it could easily have worked for 50 years or more.

United Nations

On the fourth day of meetings in the United Nations Security Council, convened by the Soviet Union over the 1960 U-2 incident where a U.S. spy plane had entered their territory and been shot down, the US ambassador showed off the bugging device in the Great Seal to illustrate that spying incidents between the two nations were mutual and to allege that Nikita Khrushchev had magnified this particular incident under discussion out of all proportion as a pretext to abort the 1960 Paris Summit.[5]

See Also


  1. ^ Hacking Exposed Linux: Linux Security Secrets & Solutions (third ed.). McGraw-Hill Osborne Media. 2008. pp. 298. ISBN 978-0-07-226257-5. 
  2. ^ George F. Kennan, Memoirs, 1950-1963, Volume II (Little, Brown & Co., 1972), pp. 155, 156
  3. ^ Murray, Kevin. "THE GREAT SEAL BUG STORY". http://www.spybusters.com/Great_Seal_Bug.html. Retrieved 2007-03-24. 
  4. ^ Davis, Henry. "Eavesdropping using microwaves - addendum". http://www.audiodesignline.com/howto/173602214. Retrieved 2007-03-24. 
  5. ^ United Nations Security Council Verbatim Report meeting 860 page 15 on 26 May 1960 (retrieved 2008-08-29)


  • Wright, Peter (1987). Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-82055-5. 
  • Kennan, George (1967). Memoirs, 1925-1950. Little, Brown. 
  • Kennan, George (1983). Memoirs: 1950–1963. Pantheon. ISBN 978-0394716268. 

External links

Passive Resonant Cavity & "Spycatcher" Technical Surveillance Devices


All translations of Thing_(listening_device)

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