The United States and the Soviet Union saw the end of the Second World War as a time of recovery and rebuilding. That said, the chess pieces on the global realpolitik chessboard were being moved about and it was clear to many that the United States and the Soviet Union would have many points of friction. On August 4, 1946, the Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization (school children) gifted the U.S. Ambassador a wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States. Within the seal was another gift from the Soviet Union, a listening device (aka bug), which was a Resonance Cavity Microphone Retro-Reflector. The device was nicknamed, “The Thing.”

Discovery of The Thing

According to a short history of the discovery of the bug, in September 1952, Joseph Bezjian, a U.S. Department of State technical countermeasures inspector, is credited with finding the device during a sweep of the Ambassador’s Moscow residence, Spaso House. Spaso House, located within a mile of the Kremlin, has been the residence of the Ambassador since 1938.

Bezjian, working with the consent and involvement of Ambassador George Kennan, set up his UHF listening equipment. Kennan summoned an aide from the Embassy to dictate a “classified” communication to Washington. The Ambassador began dictating and Bezjian who had set up his equipment in the attic immediately picked up the Ambassador speaking from the second-floor library. A note was sent into Kennan with Sam Janey, the Embassy’s personnel officer, informing the Ambassador that he was “on-the-air” and to continue to dictate (he did have a reputation for long telegrams), as Bezjian came into the room, and he and Janey began systematically eliminating objects from the room – decorative items off tables and credenzas. They finally arrived at the conclusion that the transmitter was located in the Great Seal. Total elapsed time: four minutes since Bezjian entered the room.

Sophisticated technology

What was discovered was the Resonance Cavity Microphone Retro-Reflector. The device was sent back to the United States in the diplomatic pouch and at the President’s direction, the FBI was asked to conduct a formal espionage investigation. The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) was asked to determine how the device functioned, as the technology used was more advanced than anything encountered up to that date.

The FBI conducted a technical analysis of the device, now nicknamed, “The Thing” which they delivered to the Department of State in December 1952, all 35-pages which included the NRL’s findings. The Soviet’s would go on to create countermeasures to thwart the West from duplicating their technology, and indeed the West did just that. Remembering that the discovery occurred in 1952 and the device was Trojan Horsed in a gift to the U.S. Ambassador in 1946, by any measure, it was a successful technical espionage operation of six-plus years of surreptitious audio success by the Soviet Union against the United States.


Related News

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of