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A Spy’s Eye View

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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.

The digital eye

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? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Stay safe!

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15 Comments

  • As with any intelligence gathering technique, the issue is not about the acquisition method but how the intelligence gathered is used.

    We all gather intelligence daily. Often, we do not use such intelligence about our partners, friends or colleagues for personal gain. However, sometimes, we might use a piece of intelligence for career advancement, seduction or influence. Its use is the issue and not the process.

  • Steve says:

    No technology, technique, capability ever stays limited to being used on ‘the bad guys’. It is always – ALWAYS abused by those in power!

  • Marie says:

    Just because you can do something does not mean you should do it. We have all become bugs under a microscope to the government. This isn’t just going to be used to catch spies, it’s going to be used on everybody here and everywhere.

  • N. J. W. says:

    That is very interesting! Yes, it would be very helpful for the FBI or CIA. It could also be misused by criminals, as well unless the purchase of that technology was limited or licensed some how. Those of us who read “Dick Tracy” as kids couldn’t imagine some day having an Apple Watch. But here we are! Talk about being “the Apple of His eye!”

  • Average Joe says:

    In these days of an all but lawless government where the worst penalty handed out, to those in government who violate the law, is a Congressional hearing and a bit of public embarrassment, this is a really, really bad development. Will the new administration change it? Unless and until you see prosecutions of current and past government employees, both elected and unelected, then nothing is changed and this is just another tool in the police state arsenal waiting for utilization to further suppress the God given rights of the citizens.

  • Wes Stewart says:

    One can’t put the genie back into the bottle. Also, if you don’t let the genie out someone else will. We have to deal with the new technologies.

  • Joel Altman says:

    The Untied States government has become more like a totalitarian regime starting with the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001. Computer repair shops like Best Buy’s Geek Squad routinely check the hard drive of any computer brought in for repair for any file which might get them the $500 government reward for information of possible illegal activities.

    Then there is civil asset forfeiture where the police can seize personal property without a court order and all they have to say is it’s in furtherance of criminal activity. In this case the victim has to prove his property was not involved in a crime instead of the other way around. And banks do not have to allow you to withdraw cash under the assumption that you are laundering money.

    Our government has become the enemy of the people & the public isn’t yet outraged.

  • Bob Parsons says:

    Re the contact lens, it depends on how, on whom it is used. Every piece of technology can, and has, been used (abused) by our government to spy on our citizens. Some are criminals, but many are not. Having been in law enforcement, I know what it’s like to simply “troll,” hoping you might catch someone doing something wrong. In an honest, responsible government, technology can be the edge needed to keep us safe (which by the way is the ONLY constitutional job of our government.) however, we don’t have an honest, constitutional government! We have “Big Brother” taking care of itself, whatever it takes. As stated long ago, those who sacrifice freedoms for a little security will deserve and get neither.

  • Terrence Flynn says:

    It really doesn’t matter if they are a good idea or not, they are coming and will be used. Just be aware and try to mitigate your exposure as best you can. There is no expectation of privacy anymore. Sad world we live in now.

  • Howard Wolf says:

    It doesn’t matter whether it’s a dangerous technology or not. We must have it and exploit i, with a judge’s warrant of course. If we have said technology, eventually our enemies will have it too. I say get it and use it.

  • Elisabeth says:

    Camera’s are safe and ingenious inventions in the right hands. But, in the wrong hands it can be a very dangerous weapon. I think that camera’s can capture what paper and ink can’t capture. And it can play a vital role in the future spy work.

  • Karl Beil says:

    Wow!! For the intelligence and LEO world the contacts would be great. For LEO, they would be far better than a body or dash cam. For civilians, they would be problematic in that they could allow people to covertly record things they shouldn’t be recording. Perhaps civilian versions could be colored so it is easier to see someone is wearing one.

  • Ben Gagliano says:

    There really isn’t much more to say. All the comments before me made valid points. It’s just like everything else in this world. Something that should be good will turn out to be used against us in the end, either by bad people or good people with misguided intentions. As who mentioned in previous writings Jason about Alexa and Google Chrome devices. Great Idea put to bad use by Big Brother.

  • Sarah says:

    The contact lens is a real entity and a threat in every way. The CIA, FBI, OIG, Police forces of all kinds at every level, the military, Homeland Security, etc., all have real live criminals working in them, if they aren’t pretty well illegal from the origin. We see the news routinely reporting on one criminal or another working in police forces to the point that honest citizens are never sure if they get pulled over by a cop if they are being pulled over by an “honest” person or a criminal in a legal authorized uniform. The undercover people, personal opinion, are pretty well all crooks and engage in illegal activity under the guise of “catching the bad guy.” Doesn’t make their conduct any more legal. Yet the typical US citizen has been brainwashed to believe that criminal minded and behaving police forces are required to keep the citizenry safe. Safe from one means invasion and crime by the other, are we really safe? I say, NO. The person who tries to claim they are our safety net has also become the person who is also our biggest danger. The contact lens business is one more means of sneaking, stealing and accruing evidence illegally, even by breaking and entering homes and businesses to get what they want. They have no problems making a case against anyone, dishonest as most people are, both the cop type and the citizen, and many a person has gone to prison and even been killed who was innocent to protect the criminals amongst the police agencies. And we’re suppose to think this new way of being a crook is good in any way for any reason? I don’t speak lightly, too many news stories and “public” records prove it true. So the question becomes, “Is what is wrong going to be twisted and muddied enough to try and make it look right?” The answer will always be “NO” from my household. I’m not saying all people in all police/military groups are crooks, they are not. The problem is there are so many “legal crooks” among these groups no one can ever be sure who is honest and safe and who is not. I have to assume every cop/agent etc., is a potential enemy just as they have to assume the same of every citizen. Problem is, one never knows. In some states, CA is one, theft by law officers of people’s personal property and/or money is something the illegal law has deemed they never have to return even if the victim they stole from is proved innocent. Sound just? No, it isn’t. But is it legal even though it is a crime. Is this a country lived by and run by the law of love? NOPE!!! It’s a country run by the love of law and justice has nothing to do with what is legal.

  • S says:

    The average American or Westerner does not have anything specific to be concerned about with government agents wearing contact lenses, for example. Clearly the target of this tech is hostile foreign governments, terrorists and other hostile non-state actors (sometimes working together). Instead of everybody complaining about how we shouldn’t let “our team” (i.e. our intelligence and other agencies) have the right to use this stuff, let’s consider that if we don’t use it, hostile governments and other unfriendly actors will. Let’s get real and start supporting our own side!

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