Intelligent Listening for Beginners …


The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick. 
The invisible worm, 
That flies in the night 
In the howling storm: 

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

William Blake

The Duke of Wellington once observed, “All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill’.”

Back then, some 200 odd years ago, the paucity of information available to a battlefield commander defined the fog of war.

Today, that fog may be defined by the sheer weight of information available to listeners, courtesy of human and signals intelligence.

If the powers that be have developed intelligent listening systems to sift, categorise and prioritise the information acquired both in real time and to tangible ends, say, the prevention of a terrorist attack; the murder of a public servant or to predict the time it may take a capital city to fall then it is a development they are keeping very closely guarded.

Intriguingly, Soviet Embassy staff in London believed during the Cold War that MI5 followed each and every one of them during any trip they made out from the Embassy.

“Paranoia is born of propaganda, ignorance, secrecy and fear. The KGB’s London station in 1982 was one of the most profoundly paranoid places on earth, an organization imbued with a siege mentality largely based on fantasy. Since the KGB devoted enormous time and effort to spying on foreign diplomats in Moscow, it assumed MI5 and MI6 must be doing the same in London. In reality, although the Security Service certainly monitored and shadowed suspected KGB operatives, the surveillance was nothing like as intensive as the Russians imagined.

The KGB, however, was convinced that the entire Soviet embassy was the target of a gigantic and sustained eavesdropping campaign, and the fact that this snooping was invisible confirmed that the British must be very good at it. The Nepalese and Egyptian embassies next door were assumed to be ‘listening posts’, and officers were banned from speaking near the adjoining walls; unseen spies with telephoto lenses were thought to be tracking everyone entering or leaving the building; the British, it was said, had built a special tunnel under Kensington Palace Gardens in order to install bugging equipment beneath the embassy; electric typewriters were banned, on the grounds that the sound of tapping might be picked up and deciphered, and even manual typewriters were discouraged in case the keystrokes gave something away; there were notices on every wall warning: ‘DON’T SAY NAMES OR DATES OUT LOUD’; the windows were all bricked up, except in Guk’s office, where miniature radio speakers pumped canned Russian music into the space between the panes of the double glazing, emitting a peculiar muffled warble that added to the surreal atmosphere. All secret conversations took place in a metal-lined, windowless room in the basement, which was dank all year round and roasting in summer. Ambassador Popov, with his offices on the middle floor, believed (probably rightly) that the KGB had inserted bugging devices through his ceiling to listen in on his conversations. Guk’s personal obsession was the London Underground system, which he never entered since he was convinced that certain advertising panels in Tube stations contained two-way mirrors, through which MI5 was tracking the KGB’s every move. Guk went everywhere in his ivory-coloured Mercedes.”

The Spy and the Traitor, Ben MacIntyre

MI5 even in 1982 did not have the human resources to routinely tail all of the staff of the Soviet Embassy in London, all of the time.

However, odds on, all of the Soviet Embassy’s staff were on at least one UK Government watch list.

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