Freesteel Blog » The Thing (listening device)

The Thing (listening device)

Friday, August 29th, 2008 at 3:04 pm Written by:

As some people can tell by my funny accent, I spent some years of my childhood in America where I watched a lot of TV and soaked up plenty of that old 1970s Cold War American propaganda. It was interminable. Even my elementary school had these strange fallout-shelter symbols all around the basement cafeteria, so no eight year old with any curiosity could fail to notice that the Cold War was real and that at any time those evil Russians were going to nuke American children with their 50 Megatonne hydrogen bombs because they hated our freedom.

You had all these serious espionage programs, between the World War II documentaries in which the United States single-handedly fought and won the war, where they showed off those devious Ruskies and their bugging technology smuggled into the ambassador’s office in a carved wooden plaque of the Great Seal of the United States (that ugly bald eagle thingie) presented as a gift from Soviet schoolchildren in 1945.

Here’s the story of the device, known as The Thing, as told for the National Cryptologic Museum. As you will note, it contains lots of photos of a smiling Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr showing it off from his desk in the United Nations Security Council in 1960 like an early day Colin Powell waving around his fake non-existent vial of anthrax. The TV shows I watched probably had movie footage of this.

So that’s something that sank into back of my memory from childhood 30 years ago.

Today I am continuing my scatter-gun approach of trying to drum up some interest in, and was referencing some old transcripts from Security Council into a wikipedia article about the 1989 US invasion of Panama which involved lots of shooting and killing and liberating the country from its own self-governance.

As used to happen in those days, violations of the UN Charter (eg military invasions) were debated in Security Council, and the American ambassador cited Article 51 of the Charter to explain that the operation in Panama was legal because it was an act of self-defence against an armed attack against his nation.

To quote:

Last Friday Noriega declared his military dictatorship to be in a state of war with the United States and publicly threatened the lives of Americans in Panama. The very next day forces under his command shot and killed an unarmed American serviceman, wounded another, arrested and brutally beat a third American serviceman and then brutally interrogated his wife, threatening her with sexual abuse. That was enough.

That’s it. That is the entire allegation that there was an “armed attack” against the United States. Noriega was right, of course. Panama was in a state of war with the United States, but it wasn’t because there were any Panamanian forces storming the beaches at Coney Island. This kind of nonsense makes you want to laugh. Or cry. I mean, at the very least we ought to require closure on these kinds of things. Whenever a country cites an event under Article 51 (the right of self-defence) there has got to be an account produced of the threat and an official ruling as to what steps a reasonable government would have taken to respond to the alleged armed attack.

But, we don’t. These things get forgotten, even when it’s on the scale of Weapons of Mass Destruction lie. The issue at the core of international law is that the five permanent members of the Security Council are judge, jury and executioner on any question brought to them, and can quite crudely veto any draft resolution that finds against them.

Security Council transcripts are scanned and on-line back to meeting 2601 of 26 July 1986. Earlier numbers return “no document”. This is unfortunate because I have always been interested in what the excuses for the Vietnam War atrocities were going to be. United States citizens don’t understand the implications and purpose of the UN Charter — at least as far as their media is concerned. The Charter says that all military aggression is illegal under international law, except when it is sanctioned by the Security Council or it is an act of self-defence. As mentioned earlier, the system doesn’t work because the same Security Council is called upon to condemn acts of military aggression as illegal when they do not conform to one of these two categories.

I just happened last night to try and scrape meeting number 1000, and discovered it was there. That was about 10pm, and I realized I was going to have a very late night pulling all these transcripts out and looking for the jokes. The set spans from meeting 687 in 1955 to meeting 1021 in 1962, thus missing a large parts of the Vietnam escalation. Bit it does include the 1961 US invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the Commies took wholly unreasonable steps towards arming their territories with nuclear missiles against future invasions. The crisis, it turned out, very nearly caused a nuclear war when a US destroyer began depth charging a Soviet submarine that was armed with nuclear missiles. You have to understand that submarines don’t have communication with the outside world, and Vasiliy Arkhipov saved us from nuclear holocaust by being only one of three commanders of the sub who was against firing the weapons when such an order required unanimous agreement.

So that was fun and games, which no one would ever have known. The Cuban Missile Crisis resulted in a secret deal to de-escalate the Cold War slightly, and sign an agreement of no invasion of Cuba. All the other nations of Latin America were not so lucky during that era and somehow wound up living under US-backed dictators which the US media explained to the US people were not bad chaps at all until the next one needed to be imposed.

Digging back earlier, I stumbled on the Council meeting about the U-2 crisis of 1960 when — pre-spy satellites — the US was flying these high altitude jets all over the place for the purpose of strategic reconnaissance over Soviet territory from basis in Pakistan. I don’t know if the Russians had similar programmes spying on US territory, but their job would have been much more difficult due to the fact that all suitable sites for airstrips within flying range of the US border were either ocean or without of Russian strategic interests.

Anyways, as it turned out, and as happened several times in the Cold War, there was going to be this big summit in Paris in 1960 which everyone was looking forward to to bring an end to this ridiculous, dangerous and expensive Cold War. As part of the confidence building measures, the US tactlessly continued to fly their spy planes all over the place, until one of these planes was captured in Soviet territory with its pilot alive. The Americans didn’t know this, and started rolling out the lies about how it was all a mistake, the plane was a weather research craft whose pilot had passed out at the controls due to problems with the oxygen equipment, and it had continued to fly in a straight line right through Soviet airspace, blah blah blah.

Then the Russians said: Fooled you. We have the guy here and all his spy photographs, etc. etc. And you know that big Paris Summit you were all looking forward to? Well, it’s cancelled, you son of a bitches.

They brought a draft resolution to the Security Council condemning violations of airspace and requesting the US government to stop them. The judge, jury and executioner voted against it, because international law at this level is just a game of votes by immoral actors.

As part of his defence case the US ambassador brought in The Thing as exposed in 1952 and explained:

Well, it so happens that I have here today a concrete example of Soviet espionage so that you can see for yourselves… [The Thing]…

We submit that the Soviet Union, for reasons which remain undisclosed, has deliberately seized on the U-2 incident, magnifying it out of all proportion, and has used it as a pretext to abort the Summit Conference to which so many have looked with hope or serious discussion of international problems.

The whole meeting, and the other ones, are really interesting to read and give lots of different side of the story. Now, from my childhood memories, the US kept showing to its people footage filmed in the serious forum of a Security Council incidents of the dastardly Russians and their dastardly ways, without ever explaining that this, yes this cruddy bit of wood and metal, this basic listening device that would have been an embarrassment had it got past even an airport security screening, was their best answer to the issue of U-2 flights over Russian military installations.

I mean, really.

I submit that one of the greatest problems in countering what appears to me to be absolutely laughable quality propaganda is an objective understanding of equivalences and magnitudes of actions.

This is just from reading the allegations — let alone whether they are true or not. A lucky attempt at getting a listening device into the ambassador’s office is not equivalent to flying uninvited spy planes over enemy territory days before an important peace conference. One American being shot in the streets of Panama after months of international provocation is not equivalent to a full scale invasion of the capitol city and abduction of the head of state.

It seems to be a systematic pattern where an official can equate two incidents that are several orders of magnitude different in scale, and not get laughed at. What is it with these pesky humans and their ridiculous system of nation-states? It shouldn’t be happening to any species which appears to have rational thoughts and a sense of humour.

If only the threshold for propaganda to work was a little higher than the evidence shows it is. Then it would be easier for politicians to do the right thing than get away with this absolute crap. It’s like a child who discovers that they can get anything they want by starting to cry. It’s got to stop. There has to be some standards.

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