Home/ Resources / Projects / CIA Cryptonyms / cryptonym: EASY_CHAIR

Cryptonym: EASY_CHAIR

Definition:
A CIA program used to spy on the Soviets beginning in the 1950s. The operation relied on a surveillance device that used a laser beam to detect sound vibrations in a distant object.
Status:
Documented
Discussion:
Wikipedia: A laser microphone is a surveillance device that uses a laser beam to detect sound vibrations in a distant object. It can be used to eavesdrop with minimal chance of exposure. The object is typically inside a room where a conversation is taking place and can be anything that can vibrate (for example, a picture on a wall) in response to the pressure waves created by noises present in the room.
Sources:

Crypto Museum - Operation Easy Chair:https://www.cryptomuseum.com/covert/cases/nl/ra1958.htm

Operation Easy Chair Bugging the Russian Embassy in The Hague 1958-1959 In 1958, in a joint covert operation of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Dutch Internal Security Service (BVD) and the Dutch Radar Laboratory (NRP), an attempt was made to place a covert listening device (bug) in the office of the Russian Ambassador in The Hague (Netherlands). In the early days of the Cold War, both the Dutch Security Service (BVD) and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), regularly mounted operations against members of the Soviet Union and its satellites, operating on Dutch territory. As the CIA was secretly operating in a guest country, it was agreed that they would seek the BVD's permission for each covert operation. 1 In late September 1958, the BVD was informed 2 that the Russians had ordered new furniture for their embassy in The Hague, via the National Procurement Office (Rijksinkoopbureau, or RIB). The Russian Embassy in Villa Demangan at the Andries Bickerweg 2 in The Hague around 1946 (author unknown). As this offered the possibility to plant bugging devices in some of the furniture, the Dutch BVD developed plans to install an EASY CHAIR device (EC) in one or more pieces of furniture [1]. The EC devices were made by the Dutch Radar Laboratory (NRP) in Noordwijk (Netherlands), and had been developed as part of a top secret project for the CIA. As the devices were technically owned by the CIA, the BVD had to seek their permission first, but given the fact that the CIA was always keen on monitoring any Russian activity, this was no problem and permission was granted.

1993.07.23.15:50:31:340280: UNKNOWN SUBJECT: B. R. FOX - EXTORTION AND A ARTICLE FROM PENTHOUSE MA

One extraordinary example is the tiny laser-beam transmitter embedded in the wall of the Oval Office at the White House. This transmitter picked up and relayed to a remote recording center every conversation between Richard M. Nixon and his aides, friends, and visitors during at least several months in 1970, the year the former president launched his secret domestic intelligence program. Presidential telephone conversations, including those conducted over "secure" scrambler lines, were also picked up by the laser transmitter. The existence in the presidential office of this highly sophisticated device, known by the code name "Easy Chair," remains one of the most sensitive, closely guarded, and intriguing secrets of the Nixon period. This knowledge is restricted to about a dozen key past and present officials of the Intelligence Community. But the precise purpose of the operation, the exact identity of those who ordered the installation of the laser device under a coat of fresh paint on the Oval Office wall, and the ultimate disposition of the instrument remain unclear. Nor do we know if tapes were made of these transmissions — which is perhaps, the most crucial question. It is also not known if Nixon himself was aware of and consented to the installation. If he did, the laser system complemented his hidden recording devices that produced the famous White House tapes. (In any event, the laser device picked up with infinitely more clarity every word uttered in the Oval Office, eliminating the "unintelligible" gaps that affected the tapes. In addition, the laser system permits, unlike a tape recorder, the identification of every individual voice in a room and the separation of several simultaneous conversations.) It is not known where the laser beam signal was received, but technical experts believe that such a device has a transmission range of under a half mile along a clear line of sight. The laser beam must be aimed out a window — it would be deflected by a wall.

1993.07.23.15:50:31:340280 UNKNOWN SUBJECT: B. R. FOX - EXTORTION AND A ARTICLE FROM PENTHOUSE MA (continued)

"...in the case of the Oval Office it had to go through the panes of the French doors leading to the Rose Garden. Highly reliable sources told Penthouse that one or more senior officials of the Secret Service and the Central Intelligence Agency are familiar with the 'Easy Chair' situation in the White House, although they could not say whether they learned of it only when the laser device was discovered and removed early in August 1970, or whether they knew at some earlier date. The sources would not rule out that J. Edgar Hoover, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was also privy to 'Easy Chair'."

https://Joseph Cannon, Cannonfire website, 2017: cannonfire.blogspot.com/2017/06/white-house-tapes-heres-news-you-wont.html

In 1975, New York Times foreign affairs correspondent Tad Szulc -- one of the most-respected journalists in American history -- published a lengthy article in Penthouse on electronic eavesdropping in Washington. (Back then, both Penthouse and Playboy paid big bucks for "quality" articles by big-name writers.) His work was summarized by the Washington Post and republished in the report of a congressional committee (here). After that, the whole thing went down the memory hole.

Jim Hougan, Secret Agenda

As H. R. Haldeman has written: "Were there CIA 'plants' in the White House? On July 10, 1975, Chairman Lucien Nedzi of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee released an Inspector-General's Report in which the CIA admitted there was a 'practice of detailing CIA employees to the White House and various government agencies.' The IG Report revealed there were CIA agents in 'intimate components of the Office of the President.'...Haldeman then goes on to speculate about the identities of the CIA men in the White House. His main suspect is Alexander Butterfield, the former Air Force officer whose White House responsibilities included overall supervision of the presidential taping system. That system consisted of some two dozen room microphones and telephone taps that Wong's Secret Service detachment had installed in the White House and at Camp David; voice-activated by the Presidential Locator System or manually by Butterfield, the microphones and taps fed into a set of concealed Sony tape recorders. Haldeman's suspicions about Butterfield -- who denies that he was a CIA asset -- were shared by Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon's personal secretary. Together they criticize Butterfield for voluntarily revealing the existence of the taping system; they point with suspicion to Butterfield's early service as a military aide to GOP nemesis Joseph Califano, and make much of the fact that the circumstances of Butterfield's White House appointment are disputed. Haldeman and Woods are not alone in their suspicions of Butterfield, or...concern over the Inspector General's report. If Bill McMahon is correct, McCord's seconding of CIA personnel in undercover assignments at the White House amounted to the calculated infiltration of a uniquely sensitive Secret Service unit: the staff responsible for maintaining and servicing the presidential taping system, and for storing its product..."

Jim Hougan, Secret Agenda (continued)

Moreover, unless both Haldeman and McMahon are mistaken-about Butterfield's secret allegiance and McCord's loan of personnel to Wong-then the CIA would seem to have had unrivaled access to the President's private conversations and thoughts. Charles Colson, among others, believes that this is precisely what occurred. "The CIA had tapes of every­ thing relating to the White House," Colson told me. "And they destroyed them two days after [Senator Mike] Mansfield asked them to save all of their tapes."

157-10014-10005: [No Title]

Angleton believed Tad Szulc had a good source within the White House because of his recent article. "Easy Chair was the most sanctified word in the Agency...it was called Easy Chair for the simple reason that if the Soviets were blocked, people abroad were moving into this house or this office."

Contributors:
Bill Simpich

Search Cryptonyms

 

Search tips and techniques

© Mary Ferrell Foundation. All Rights Reserved. |Press Room |MFF Policies |Contact Us |Site Map