A Spy’s Eye View

Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,

Most people who work in the intelligence field will tell you that the biggest espionage threats in the U.S. are Chinese and Russian operatives. These two counties will do almost anything to learn our most guarded secrets — primarily our technological advances and military capabilities.

About 10 years ago, the FBI arrested a California man who had been stealing U.S. Navy secrets and providing them to the Chinese government. Chi Mak, who immigrated to the U.S. from China, was convicted of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and exporting U.S. military secrets to China.

While he never admitted guilt (most spies won’t), the FBI believes Mak was a trained Chinese intelligence officer who had been planted in the U.S. in the 1970s.

Keeping an Eye on Things

The investigation into Mak began in 2004 when the FBI received a tip that someone who worked for Power Paragon, a defense contractor, was sharing military secrets regarding power systems developed for the U.S. Navy.

The FBI began surveillance on Mak, who had worked for Power Paragon since 1988. For over a year, the FBI kept tabs on Mak, his wife and other family members. Agents also regularly went through the Mak’s trash to find evidence to build their case. The FBI went so far as to conduct surveillance on the neighbors, even observing their bathroom tendencies during the night.

One evening when FBI agents knew Mak was out of town, a covert entry team went to Mak’s home around midnight. They wanted to make sure none of the neighbors became suspicious, so they arrived driving the exact same vehicle Mak owned to blend in.

Once the entry team gained access to Mak’s home, they photographed anything and everything in plain sight. They wanted all the evidence they could find, but obviously, they didn’t want Mak to know they had been in his home. Based on key pieces of evidence discovered during the covert entry, the FBI was able to bring espionage charges against Mak.

The Eyes Have It

Clearly, the success of this case is owed to the intelligence gained from the FBI’s painstaking surveillance efforts — planting wires, installing cameras, monitoring equipment… spending long days and even longer nights of listening, watching and waiting.

But what if there were a simpler solution? What if we had the technology that allowed an undercover agent to conduct surveillance using a contact lens in their eye?

That would give a whole new meaning to the phrase “keeping your eyes peeled.”

It might sound far-fetched, but multiple technology companies including Google, Samsung and Sony have filed patents for contact lenses with various capabilities, including full imaging technology, storage capacity and the ability to connect to other wireless devices, like smartphones.

These lenses can transmit images, zoom, auto-focus and do most of the things a regular camera can do. To take a picture, all you have to do is blink. The lens can tell the difference between a natural blink and a longer blink, which will take a picture.

In the Eyes of the Law

Can you imagine how this technology would benefit our intelligence and law enforcement community? Think about the time and money it would save if agents had the ability to conduct surveillance or record information through their eyes?

We are continually seeing advancements in wearable technology that are changing the world we live in. A contact lens camera brings up privacy and security concerns. For example, it would be extremely difficult to prevent someone from recording private meetings. Nevertheless, this technology would be a valuable intelligence asset, enabling undercover agents to collect a large amount of information in the blink of an eye.

What do you think? Are these cameras an ingenious invention or a dangerous precedent? Send an email to spy@lfb.org with your thoughts.

Stay safe,

Jason Hanson

Jason Hanson

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