May 9, 2007:
Earlier this year, there were reports
that Canadian coins had been fitted with location monitors, and passed on to
people entering U.S. defense related facilities. This turned out to be a
self-inflicted hoax. An Urban Legend, so to speak. The "spy coin" was actually
a Canadian 25 cent coin with the red image of a poppy inlaid over a maple leaf.
The "suspicious coating" was actually a protective coating applied, during the
manufacture of the coin, to prevent the poppy's red color from rubbing off.
Some 30 million of these commemorative coins were minted in 2004, to honor
Canada's 117,000 war dead.
Late last year, the outlook was quite different. It
was believed than an espionage operation, based in Canada, was planting
location monitors on American defense contractors who were visiting Canada. It
was believed that electronics were hidden in Canadian coins, which the
contractors had passed on to them innocently during some commercial
What kept the story going was the fact that a bugged
coin is actually possible, because of improvements in miniaturizing electronic
components, and the growing use of wireless devices. Each such coin could have
a unique ID. Similar electronics can be placed in just about anything, and
often is, when you want to track someone without being detected. But you can
detect these transmitters with the right equipment, and that's how this kind of
coin could be discovered. In the case of the Canadian coin, it was the red
color inlay, which is an unusual feature in coins, which got imaginations in
the security services going. At the time, it was reported that the U.S.
Department of Defense had earlier (in 2005 and 2006) found American defense
contractors carrying coins with radio frequency transmitters on them. The Department
of Defense now says its earlier warnings were a mistake, but refuses to provide
any additional details. Not exactly a confidence building exercise.