THE MAGAZINE

A Trojan Seal

By Ken Stanley

Counterespionage Paradigm Shift

While this was not the first such technical penetration that the U.S. Government had come across, it came about at the beginning of the Cold War with McCarthyism running rampant and anti-communism reaching a pitched fever. This atmosphere amplified the effect of this discovery making it a spark that caused the creation of new security companies and specialized industries to start development. It showed that the use of technology to collect information was not limited to simple operations but that the USSR had applied some of their best scientists to exploit technology in ways that western governments had not anticipated.  

Joe’s discovery led to significant changes in the way the West perceived security. Joe continued searching for intelligence attacks exploiting technology and fulfilled a career in that shadowy world, never revealing his work. Ambassador Kennan was soon declared "persona non grata" by the Soviet government and returned to the U.S. Purportedly, he made statements linking the USSR to Nazi Germany, but it is difficult to not speculate that his link to the discovery of the Great Seal and the cavity resonator contained therein did not play some part in Soviet thinking. He went on to lead the State Department as Undersecretary for Policy and to win two Pulitzer Prizes and teach at Princeton.

Tu Quoque

But the Great Seal story did not stop here. The Great Seal device graced the world stage one more time. Some seven years later, in 1960, the Soviets shot down Gary Powers’ U2 reconnaissance plane after months of trying to hit one of the high-flying spy planes. The Soviets paraded the pieces of the plane and showed the captured pilot to the world. In New York, on the world stage at the U.N., Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko accused the U.S. of:

…bringing mankind to the brink of war. Hour after hour Gromyko pressed his attack charging the U.S. with ‘irresponsibility’ and ‘perfidy’ and with pursuing a ‘piratical’ and ‘provocative policy. (Special Section, TiJng 6 June 1960 32.3, TiJing 32).

After three days of suffering through the Soviet verbal attack, American Ambassador to the U.N., Henry Cabot Lodge counterattacked by holding up the Trojan Great Seal for the world to see:

The world’s more persistent spy, Lodge said, was the Soviet Union. To prove the point Lodge brought out a large wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States…As delegates looked on with intrigued amusement Ambassador lodge opened the wooden carving and pointed out the tiny microphone deftly concealed inside the gift…On the day after Lodge offered his exhibit the Security Council was ready to vote on Gromyko’s resolution [that the Security Council brand the U.S. as an aggressor]. It lost 7-2 with only Poland supporting the Soviet stand. (Time Magazine, 1960, 32)

After its display in the UN general assembly the Great Seal replica led a more prosaic existence. It now adorns the wall of the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service – and it now bears only silent witness to the inner workings of the State Department’s security mission.


♦ Ken Stanley served as the chief technology officer at the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service from 2006 to 2008.

♦ Photo of Great Seal by National Security Agency

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