MASON A3B RECEIVER: U.S. State Department engineers working for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security needed a receiver in order to find devices subversively transmitting signals to the enemy. The best kind of receiver was one that could be moved from room to room without looking like a radio, and the Mason A3 more than fit the bill. Image: Courtesy Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State
The digital revolution has forced law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor threats such as cyber attacks and stolen computer data using technology that makes most Cold War–era equipment look like it was made from spare parts in someone's garage. But lest these once-innovative tools be forgotten, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security's Countermeasures Directorate today unveiled a public exhibit, entitled "Listening In: Electronic Eavesdropping in the Cold War Era," honoring spy gear used by (and against) the U.S. from the dawn to the end of the Cold War.
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From the end of World War II to East Berlin's opening in 1989, foreign agents penetrated a number of U.S. embassies with listening devices, primarily wired microphones and radio transmitters. To retaliate, the U.S. formed teams of specially trained engineers to hunt for bugs using specialized equipment of their own. In May 1960, for example, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. showed the United Nations Security Council a listening device found inside a wood carving of the Great Seal of the United States that presented to U.S. Embassy Moscow by the Soviet Union in 1945.
Countermeasures Directorate unearthed most of these treasures in its regional centers and satellite offices worldwide; some of the cool gadgets would have ended up on scrap heaps were it not for this permanent exhibit, located in the lobby of a State Department building in Rosslyn, Va. The State Department says it has a lot more devices to add to its trophy case—once they are de-classified.
Interested? While the new exhibit was originally created for viewing only by internal State Department employees, the lobby in which these gadgets are located is publicly accessible, which means they can be viewed by Cold War buffs and other curious onlookers during normal business hours.
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