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Bugged Canadian Coins? 354

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the time-for-the-tin-foil-pants dept.
tundra_man writes "CBC has an article about RFID type devices in Canadian coins found on US Contractors. From the article: 'Canadian coins containing tiny transmitters have mysteriously turned up in the pockets of at least three American contractors who visited Canada, says a branch of the U.S. Department of Defense.' The report did not indicate what kinds of coins were involved."
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Bugged Canadian Coins?

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  • Motive??? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lecithin (745575) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:26PM (#17544206)
    For the life of me, I can't figure a reason that somebody would do this. Coins change hands quickly and RFID has a pretty limited range.

    Aside from:

    "Passing the coin to an unwitting contractor, particularly in strife-torn countries, could mark the person for kidnapping or assassination"

    But that doesn't seem practical in this case.

    Anybody make sense of this?
    • I can't think that bugging money will track a person for very long. Either you only want to track that person for a very short amount of time, or you're really interested in tracking the money itself.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by paeanblack (191171)
        Apparently the name of this project is "Where's Betty?"
      • Re:Motive??? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by HTH NE1 (675604) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @05:52PM (#17546960)
        Either you only want to track that person for a very short amount of time, or you're really interested in tracking the money itself.

        I doubt this is intended as a coinage solution for Where's Willy [whereswilly.com], the Canadian currency form of Where's George [wheresgeorge.com]. And the duration of the track of an individual depends on when the subject is expected to make another purchase. And it doesn't have to be very long to get useful, potentially compromising information, or just get the subject close enough to a reader wired to an explosive device.

        Scarier is the thought that such RF trackers are just the test run, gathering distribution data to see what will happen when they replace the RFID chips with tiny samples of Polonium-210 [wikipedia.org] or other more deadly toxins.
    • by batquux (323697) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:30PM (#17544280)
      Makes ripping off Canadian vending machines just a little bit tougher?
    • For the life of me, I can't figure a reason that somebody would do this. Coins change hands quickly and RFID has a pretty limited range.

      Maybe they suspected the contractors would sneak into a facility that day (spies) and wanted to be able to track them?

      They could also be useful for setting off a weapon as somebody walked by, if you knew where the person was going and wanted deniability.
    • Re:Motive??? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:40PM (#17544506) Homepage Journal
      I also read the article and thought WTF.

      I seriously doubt anyone managed to mung currency and insert a real RFID unit.
      What I do think however is that in a small percentage of coins they resonate at the same frequency as an RFID which would appear as though they were magical.

      If you did infact hollow out a bit of a coin and replace some of the metal with an electronic bug the weight and bounce (striking against a piezo sensor) would cause such a difference any coin mech you inserted it into would reject it.
      • Re:Motive??? (Score:5, Informative)

        by archen (447353) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:59PM (#17545922)
        Although it doesn't say what kind of coin was involved, I would guess it's almost certainly the two dollar [wikipedia.org] coin. Mainly because I'd guess it's easy to pop out the center part of it that is a different metal. Even if you put plastic in there, the metal frame around it would make it feel pretty similar to a normal coin. There is also an advantage that when you cross the border you can't unload $1 and $2 coins. You can try to pawn off the small change to people who aren't paying attention (a problem in itself for northern states), but no one is going to take the big change - some won't take American dollar coins for that matter. Anyway that means they are more likely to keep the coin at least until they return to Canada.

        Also it's better if vending machines reject the coin. If you can't spend it in a soda machine you're going to just keep the coin, and probably try another.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        >What I do think however is that in a small percentage of coins they resonate at the same frequency as an RFID which would appear as though they were magical.

        The Cryptic Article just says "transmitter" and goes on to speculate that it might be RFID. To look like an RFID without being one, the coin would not only have to resonate but also transmit a 128 bit number. Another problem is that the usual RFID wavelengths are way bigger than a coin.

        And yes, RFID in a metal object doesn't make sense. Inside, it's
    • Two reasons they might not change hands quickly:
      1) Canadian coins don't get unloaded as quickly in the US since not everyone is happy to accept them, so often those coins are the last you attempt to spend. (a minor factor, I admit).
      2) Everyone seems to end up with a pocketful of change at the end of the day that gets dumped in a pile. The pile just grows.

      Still doesn't answer the why ... unless some Canadian is trying to find American stashes of loose change.
    • Extortion? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The coins may have been given in some immoral/illegal situation by Canada's equivalent of the CIA. Perhaps by one posing as a prostitute? Perhaps perhaps at the scene of a bribe (no, I'm not saying the coin itself is the bribe; but perhaps the bartender gave the bugged coins at the scene)? If the coins showed up on the person in a meeting with the contractor the next day you'd guess which members of the contractors team were present during the immoral activity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by inviolet (797804)

      For the life of me, I can't figure a reason that somebody would do this. Coins change hands quickly and RFID has a pretty limited range.

      ForEx traders have a motive: they can position themselves to make a LOT of money based on small changes in the exchange rates between currencies.

      1. Spend $100 hacking RFID chips into Canadian coins.
      2. Go long on the currency of Canada's neighbors.
      3. Pass the coins around and wait for the headlines to appear.
      4. Profit !!!
    • It's probably just some engineering nerd's Social Experiment. Maybe see if he can get the coins back at some point.
    • by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:08PM (#17545002) Homepage Journal

      • 0700 In Harry's Pocket
      • 0734 Tim Horton's for Coffee and Apple Fritter
      • 0756 Change for Mary's purchase of Coffee and Scone
      • 0810 Given to sad looking homeless man to buy food with
      • 0812 In Beer Store register
      • 1217 Change for Robert's purchase of something to drink with lunch
      • 1259 In the till at Tim Horton's for coffee and donut
      • 1349 Change for Alice's purchase of coffee
      • 1412 Given to sad looking homeless man to buy food with
      • 1425 Placed on two dollar bet for Murray's Little Girl to show in the 3rd race
      • 1446 Paid out to Harry for bet on Mum's De Woid to win in the 3rd race

      i see a trend here, eh.

    • Re:Motive??? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lawpoop (604919) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:15PM (#17545112) Homepage Journal
      The only conclusion that I can come to is that someone is tracking these contractors to figure out who they are.

      These can't be general circulation coins. It's too expensive to put RFID in a coin, and there's no use for it. If the government was minting RFID coins, even as a test-run, there would be *some* mention of it *somewhere. If the government were doing it for legit purposes, they would own up to it after these reports. These coins must be being specially made.

      Why would you want to make them? I don't think you're really worried about the coin itself; you are worried about the person carrying the coins. You don't need to know where they are at any moment -- there is no infrastructure to track a single coin. You just want to correlate a person carrying these tagged coins on a regular basis with the source of the tagged coins. It's a kind of 'swarming' identification. If the person regularly has a number of tagged coins in their pocket 3 days out of the week, you know they must be one of the people interacting directly with the source. This person is part of the group of people you are trying to identify.

      Imagine a customs checkpoint on the border with thousands of people passing by every day. Suppose you know that there are some 50 contractors passing by there every day on their way to work in Canada. For whatever reason, you can't figure out who they are in any other way. But suppose you have access to the Canadian money supply inside the vending machines of the worksite. So you make sure that all of the Canadian money coming into the vending machine is tagged. You have a scanner inside the customs booth. Everyday, there are a number of cars where the driver has anywhere from 0-3 tagged coins. You know these guys must be getting tagged coins from the vending machine you control.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by StikyPad (445176)
        My guess is that it was just a proof-of-concept for one of the vendors looking to sell the technology to someone (although obviously not to the contractors involved), therefore it was irrelevant as to whether the coins were disposed of shortly, or ever. If someone had developed a method of tracking the RFID tags over distances of 10s or 100s of meters, it would make tagging and following someone much easier. Additionally, if the tags could fit in a coin, it's great evidence that they can be implanted in s
    • If you give a canadian coin to an american, they're not going to spend it once they leave the country.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by paganizer (566360)
      I haven't been a high energy microwave tech actively for quite a while, but i'm pretty certain thst with some $$ and an actual interest, I could read a passive rfid tag at about 100m. Might screw up some nearby cell phones, though.
    • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @05:02PM (#17545998) Journal
      For the life of me, I can't figure a reason that somebody would do this. Coins change hands quickly and RFID has a pretty limited range.

      If you RTFA article closely you'll see that the souce told the press that transmitters were found in coins.

      Then (in paragraph 11) reporter notes that the type of transmitter was not disclosed. In paragraph 12 he starts speculating about RFID. The rest of the article (and possibly part of the preceeding section - along with the Slashdot headline) is based on the unfounded assumption that the transmitter IS an RFID-type device.

      Which strikes me as totally bogus.

      IMHO it's more likely that the "transmitter" found is a remotely-powered area audio bug, like "The Great Seal Bug", the martini fake olive bug, or the "diodes in the wall" bugs. Planted on a person it would bug his conversations and those around him until he spent it - hours or days later. (As you can imagine from the martini-olive bug, which is only useful while the spy is toting the martini, in some situations long-term bugging is an unnecessary bonus.)

      Such bugs can be simple: A shaped cavity with a flexible membrane over it is one way to do it - the cavity resonates, giving a strong reflection, while the sound modulates the cavity's effectiveness, AMing the reflection. Another is just to fasten a diode to something that can be vibrated by sound. The diode frequency-doubles the reflected signal or mixes two of them to produce the sum and difference frequencies (sorting the diode's reflection from most ordinary reflections) and the vibration of it along the line between the bug and the monitor phase-modulates the return with the local audio. No fancy circuitry or local power supplies necessary.

      I presume this one did involve at least a diode, or some semiconductor circuitry, since it was found in a radio scan - which is often done by looking for the frequency-multiplying and/or frequency mixing effect of diodes / semiconductor junctions. Finding a pure cavity resonator bug - or even identifying what it is when you have it - is a bitch.

      Bugging the audio at a conference, or the conversations of a contractor at work on classified projects, would be worth planting a bug on him and having it there for only a few hours. After that, if he "spends" it, so what? (At least until they are noticed and a way found to identify them BEFORE the conversations to be monitored.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GWBasic (900357)
        My guess is that the bug was "planted" by the coin being placed directly in the contractor's pocket. This could occur when someone casually bumps into the contractor. As a result, the bug is hard to detect. Let's face it, if you found a coin in a random pocket, would you suspect that it's a bug?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by pla (258480)
          Let's face it, if you found a coin in a random pocket, would you suspect that it's a bug?

          If you had a pocket-full of US currency and suddently a twonie appeared mixed in? Yeah, I think that could raise some eyebrows...
  • by EXMSFT (935404) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:26PM (#17544212)
    coins track YOU!
    • ITYM (pace, Pat Buchanan): "In Soviet Canuckistan... coins track YOU!"
    • by gad_zuki! (70830)
      In Socialist Canada, coins collect you!
  • by 8127972 (73495) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:28PM (#17544240)
    At least this Globe and Mail report thinks so:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM .20070110.wspycoin0110/BNStory/National/home [theglobeandmail.com]
    • by u19925 (613350)
      why would they use canadian coins to track americans? actually, these coins were made by US govt to track canadians. now that the story is out, they are denying that such coins exist.
    • by brian0918 (638904)
      From the article:

      "There is no story there," the official told The Globe and Mail.

      In other words... "These aren't the loons you're looking for."
    • from that article:

      But the item about the Canadian coins item appeared to be the result of only partial intelligence.

      Defence contractors had apparently been give certain special-issue Canadian coins, the unfamiliar look of which caused them to be concerned about the money, a source said. That led to an investigation once the contractors returned to the United States .

      But a U.S. agency that investigated the complaint found no evidence of any secret transmitters, or of any other tampering.

  • RFID chips (Score:4, Funny)

    by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:29PM (#17544252) Homepage
    Canadian coins containing tiny transmitters have mysteriously turned up in the pockets of at least three American contractors who visited Canada

    With RFID chips costing a fraction of a cent apiece, the addition of such a chip must at least triple the value of whatever canadian currency you add it to.
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:30PM (#17544284) Homepage Journal
    screaming about how the birds are spying on him makes a bit more sense now.....
  • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:32PM (#17544338) Homepage Journal
    Wow, and I thought I was on the cutting edge by stamping bills and entering them into Where's George? [wheresgeorge.com]

    In fact, a April Fool's joke I recall was that WG had developed a way to track US dollar coins, with a machine that would emboss a unique serial number into the coin's smooth edge. The new project would be "Where's Sackie [usmint.gov]?"

    Looks like the Canadian government is way ahead of the curve on that one. Better alert the folks at Where's Willy? [whereswilly.com], the northern branch of Where's George?.
  • Canada is changing from the "Looney" to the "Buggy" !

  • Well, it's like that old British saying: "If the pennies look after you, the lookers will get themselves pounded."

    Wait...
  • by KingNaught (718536)
    Just pop your loose change in the microwave for 15sec problem solved ...
  • by uber_geek9 (879433) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:47PM (#17544616)
    These RFID coins are clearly the work of Canadian Terrorists trying to harm the American people.
  • hmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dheera (1003686) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:47PM (#17544626) Homepage
    well, for sure, it would make creating coin vending machines much easier to implement, mechanically. once i was in canada and received a coin that looked like this [members.shaw.ca] which i initially thought was fake, but believed later after reading online.
    • Re:hmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:11PM (#17545050) Journal
      That is a commemorative coin marking the 60th anniversary of D-Day, and the 90th anniversary of WWI. The poppy became the symbol of remembrance of our war dead through the poem In Flander's Fields, written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian battlefield doctor in World War One.
  • Is this even true? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mr 44 (180750) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:48PM (#17544636)
    From the article:
    "The report, which first came to light in a U.S. newspaper, has since been posted on the website of the Federation of American Scientists, an organization that tracks the intelligence world and promotes government openness."

    Well, I don't see it on fas.org (search [google.com]), and if its in a "american newspaper", its one that google news [google.com] doesn't search.

    Something just doesn't sound right about this whole story.... It makes no sense, and there's no other cites for it.
  • Common Cents (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196)
    Hey, we fingerprint all Canadians entering the US, soon to demand (RFID) passports from all of them, while our NSA is tapping their phones and email. Who knows what our CIA does up there.

    Since Americans are allergic to Canadian pennies now worth almost as much as ours, and dump them whenever we see them on our side of the border, these RFID trackers are relatively pretty benign.

    Maybe if we just all wound down the BS simcurity that pretends to protect us, and instead actually just destroyed us some Qaeda rec
    • No, Canadian entering the US are not fingerprinted. At least not yet, and from what I have read, its not planned to go in with the mandatory passports when entering the US via plane or boat.
    • by ckd (72611)
      It's better than that; the US is already issuing RFID passports of its own, and started doing so just a few months before the new passport requirements go into effect. Hmm, a new tracking technology and a mandate for more people to get a passport, at the same time? Why should they worry about coins, when they're making it easier to track their own folks already?
  • The polar bear, it watches me!

    Unlike your own president, we're not inspecting your post, just pocket lint. :)
  • by gwn (594936) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:01PM (#17544890)
    As the world knows it is cold up here in the Great White North eh! There is usually lots of snow too, eh! Well I can tell you from experience that with all our socialist programs we pay lots of taxes and as a result we don't often end up with folding money, eh! So when your coins go missing it really hurts, eh! Like when you lose a handful of coins in the deep snow, eh! So with RFID coins you just get the portable reader out and scan for the coins to find them, eh! Or, you scan your couch to see if you can afford to order in a pizza with back bacon, eh! You walk in to Harvey's (like McDonald's but much better) and they scan you on the way in and let you know what you can afford, eh!
  • Accidental Perhaps? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HighOrbit (631451) * on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:01PM (#17544892)
    The article didn't specify if the RFID chips were adhered to the surface of the coin or somehow implanted in the coin itself. An internally implanted chip would be nefarious, but a surface adhesion could be accidental. In the case of an internal implant, since the reading would be local, they would most likely be used to figure out the coming-and-goings of a few locations (i.e. stake out a building and see how many readings you get during certain hours), or perhaps to tell when somebody is NOT in their hotel room, so the place could be searched or laptop with sensitive information pilfered.

    Assuming that it was adhered, I could conceive how it could be accidental.
    1. spill coffee on pants on way to conferece
    2. stop at chain store to buy new pants
    3. chain store uses RFID to track inventory, puts small tag in pants pockets of stock
    4. tag seperates from cloths and adhers to pocket contents
  • Defence? (Score:2, Troll)

    by RingDev (879105)
    Is this some odd Canadian spelling of Defense? At first I just thought it was a type-o or a missed spell check, but ever place in the article that the word is used, it is spelled with a 'c'.

    -Rick
    • by etherlad (410990)
      Yes, "defence [wiktionary.org]" is an odd Canadian spelling of "defense," if by that, you mean "is defense [wiktionary.org] an odd American spelling of 'defence'?"

      Defence-with-a-c is far more common worldwide and precedes the usage of defense-with-an-s.
    • Is this some odd Canadian spelling of Defense?

      They use British spelling, like "colour", "humour", and "motour". Apologies to Dave Barry.

      • My favourite part is that Canadian spelling actually dictates that you can mix and match. I typically keep the 'u' in unless I'm writing specifically to an American (no point in being different for the sake of being different, usually).

        mandelbr0t
    • by danpat (119101)
      Canada, being part of the British Commonwealth, tends to use British spelling for stuff. Defence vs Defense, Licence vs License, Colour vs Color, Cheque vs Check, Tyre vs Tire, etc....

      Extensive further references available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_English [wikipedia.org]

      Note: I am Australian, we spell much like the Canadians.
  • The metal based aliens simply made a mistake and implanted their tracking devices in what they thought was the dominant life form on the planet. OTOH, maybe money is the dominant life form....
  • ... W has found a basis for invading Canada. ;-)

    Just joking... /ducks.
  • RMS seen with foil wallet.

    Black books: "These books sir, are they real leather? I have to have real leather to go with the sofa. I'll give you 20 pounds for them."
    "Are they leather-bound pounds? I want leather-bound pounds to go with my wallet."
  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:07PM (#17544990) Homepage
    Can anyone here imagine a better way to make an RFID useless than putting it in the middle of a coin? And then after making these magical coins, apparently the same super-spies went all over the US and installed readers at every sensitive plant. Without anyone noticing. Wow, with spies like that, who needs bugged money?

    The sad part about this is that someone believed it.

    Maury
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      The sad part about this is that someone believed it.

            Bush certainly did, which is why the US will soon launch a surprise attack on us Canadians. Admit it - he's been wanting to do this for a very long time, at least since his proposal to militarize the US/Canada border. About time the US teaches Canada a lesson, eh?
  • There after the President's analyst!
  • Anybody find more info on the claims a certain Slashdotter made about a TREAD act a few months ago? Basically he claimed that all tires sold in the US get tracked with an RFID chip and that tire companies report back to the govt so they know which tires to match to which cars.

    Also part of his claim was that there are imbedded RFID readers in certain NY turnpike locatations.

    I think it's easy enough to verify those claims, anybody got an RFID detector? Just scan tires and see if any return a code. In the s
  • ...a penny for your thoughts.
  • Tracking (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Aneurysm (680045) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @05:10PM (#17546152)
    Maybe its just something simple like they added chips to a small sample of coins in order to track them round the mint.

    Adding them to any processes after other coins are struck might allow them to see any bottlenecks in the factory line and therefore improve the flow of coins.

    Just an idea, seems more sensible than being used to track a person, because the chips probably had a low detection range, and coins change hands so quickly as other people have pointed out.

"The medium is the message." -- Marshall McLuhan

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