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Spy Dust.

Literature and newspaper accounts of the KGB using a radio-active tracing dust began to appear in the 1980’s, but as far as the 1940’s are concerned, finding any traces of tracing dust needs tracing dust.

We found the following comment on Bruce Schneier’s blog. Schneier is described as a ‘renowned’ security technologist.

“There was early research in the UK in 1940 by Prof F.G.Tryhorn, and possibly by the FBI and NYC Police also in the 1940s.”

Then we found the early research:

Scientific Aides in Criminal Investigation by Professor FG Tryhorn, D.sc. (Liv.), A.I.C. Professor of Chemistry, University College, Hull. Part I.V.  Dust. First published in 1936.

Then a confirmation:

“It (spy dust) originated in England in the 1930s when forensic science originated. They were playing around, actually, with radioactive isotopes to use them as tracer[s] on paper and money and things like that.”

Kristie Macrakis. Science historian at Michigan State University who specializes in 20th century German science. She has just completed a book called Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi’s Spy-Ttech World. One chapter of the book is called “Radioactive Spy Dust.”

Byron’s comment is specific:

“First, SM’s hair contains what could be regarded as normal levels of the nuclear associated elements uranium 238, thorium 232 and lithium 7.”

Could those readings come from the use of a radio-active tracing dust .. ?

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. gordon1552 #

    My understanding is that spy dust was used by the Russians, in particular, to track down suspected double agents. It seems that logically, they would have not sprinkled the dust on their own man but somehow on the potential handler. Thus if the dust were found in close proximity or even on their man it would tend to support their suspicions.

    According to Vassiliev’s notes, Fedosimov was under suspicion of being a double agent and that was the reason for his being recalled to Moscow.

    September 1, 2019
    • Maybe so, but if they dusted their own innocent man he would have led them to his suspected handler. Geordievsky’s account has the KGB powdering almost everyone.

      September 1, 2019
  2. Byron Deveson #

    check out the Wikipedia entry for Nitrophenyl pentadienal. From memory this substance is fluorescent and/or phosphorescent and that was the method used to detect it. It is insoluble in water and probably sticks to stuff (ie. Can’t easily be washed or brushed off). Later the Soviets added luminol to make detection easier.

    IMHO the talk of radioactive isotopes was just miss-information and miss-direction (two ladies often used by the Soviets for a higher cause). Any of the operatives using this “spy dust” would probably pick up the fact that the powder “glows” and the average bear years ago would vaguely associate “glowing in the dark” with radiation. So the identity of the “spy dust” was protected to some degree. The Royal Commission chaired by the commie Doug McClelland seemed to be under the same misapprehension and accepted wild stories of trees glowing the dark.

    September 1, 2019
    • Gordievsky was suspicious that the KGB broke into his Moscow flat and dusted the clothes in his closet, together with his shoes. He didn’t mention anything glowing in the dark.

      September 1, 2019
  3. Byron Deveson #

    Pete,
    it does glow in the dark when it is illuminated with ultraviolet light (non visible). You can see examples if you google fluorecent minerals. The UV light is absorbed and re-emitted at a lower wavelength that is visible.

    September 1, 2019
    • It’s a rough shot to think the Russkis had developed the dust so early .. but a man has to take it.

      September 1, 2019
  4. Byron Deveson #

    Pete,
    In the 1940s the Soviet agent Lord Victor Rothschild (who was a scientist) was in charge of things scientific associated with national defence and particularly with intelligence and counter intelligence. Rothschild would have known about the British research (and any US research) into “spy dust” and would have passed on that information.

    September 2, 2019

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