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Russia’s solution to NSA spying? Typewriters

Russian President Vladimir Putin
AP/Alexei Nikolsky
If you want to get a message to the big man, be prepared to tap it out the old-fashioned way.
By Christopher Mims
MoscowPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Russia’s government agencies are already big fans of typewriters, using them mostly for top-secret messages intended for the president or the minister of defense, reports The Moscow News. Now, in response to revelations of US electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency, Russia’s Federal Protection Service, which protects top state officials including president Vladimir Putin, has ordered 20 typewriters, as well as 600 ink cartridges for them.

Of course, even typewriters aren’t completely safe from spying. In 1985, CBS News broke the story that in the US embassy in Moscow, Soviet spies had installed tiny sensing devices in a dozen typewriters. From a declassified NSA report on the project (pdf), code-named GUNMAN:

The devices picked up the contents of documents typed by embassy secretaries and transmitted them by antennas hidden in the embassy walls. The antennas, in turn, relayed the signals to a listening post outside the embassy.

Of course, installing spying devices on typewriters required physical access to them, which is a good deal more involved than simply hoovering up all the internet traffic that passes through the US (which is most of it.)

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