History

That time Russia used children to spy on a US embassy

On Aug. 4, 1945, a group of Russian school children from the Vladimir Lenin All-Pioneer Organization presented a two-foot, wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Averell Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.


Harriman believed the Great Seal was a friendly gesture and hung it up in the library of the Spaso House in Moscow.

Little did the ambassador know, the Great Seal was a one-of-a-kind listening device.

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The Soviets embedded a high-frequency "bug" in the decorative seal, which allowed them to eavesdrop on some very confidential conversations.

The listening device inside the Great Seal. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Austin Mills)

This unique bug wasn't battery powered or composed of any electrical circuitry. Instead, the device was activated by radio signal pointed in its direction from a surveillance van parked outside the embassy. Sound waves from the conversations caused vibrations in a membrane built inside the carvings of the Great Seal, which then bounced the signal back to the surveillance van.

The device's simple construction dramatically increased its lifespan and made it nearly impossible to detect. The Great Seal decorated the U.S. Ambassador's wall for years until it was discovered during a security sweep in 1952. After officials found the bug, it was dubbed, "The Thing."

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Its discovery was kept secret for several more years until the U2 spyplane situation occurred in 1960.

As the Soviets were in the middle of accusing the U.S. of spying, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. whipped out "The Thing" during a proceeding with the Russians — undeniable proof of Soviet foul play.

Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. puts "The Thing" on display.

Check out Simple History's video below to get the complete, animated breakdown of how sneaky Russians used school child to spy on the US.

(Simple History | YouTube)