IMPLANTS AND ELECTRONIC HARASSMENT. A GAME OF TAG + VIDEO J.WALBERT ON SECRET RFID IMPLANTS AND HARASSMENT
Features: Fortean Bureau of Investigation
A Game of Tag.
Implants and electronic harrassment
By David Hambling May 2011
A tiny tracking device using electronic technology to locate objects, animals – or people.
Getty Images/China Photos
James Walbert is the victim of a new type of harassment. An electronic device embedded in his shoulder not only tracks his every move, it also causes painful muscle contractions. Walbert believes the device was covertly implanted to locate and torture him by remote control. There is no shortage of stories like this on the Internet, but what makes Walbert different from thousands of alleged victims of ‘gang stalking’ (FT228:18–19; 272:23) and electronic harassment is the hard evidence backing up his claims. His may be the case which finally pushes issues of unauthorised electronic implants into the mainstream.
Mr Walbert is not especially rich, famous or influential. He lives in the comparative obscurity of Wichita, Kansas, in the heart of rural America. He is not in conflict with drug cartels, multinational corporations or government agencies. This might make him an unlikely target for high-tech harassment. However, Walbert has an array of supporters from scientific, medical and political circles who suggest otherwise.
The initial response to this sort of claim might be to question Walbert’s sanity, but he has proven himself to be sane enough. A letter from Dr Jacque Blackman of the Wichita Clinic certifies that Walbert “has no mental problems”. Dr Blackman states that while Walbert’s claims might sound like paranoia, there is no mental illness involved. He seems sympathetic but baffled by the case; perhaps because the problem is outside the field of medicine.
Investigator William J Taylor has many years of experience in dealing with bugging technology, and is a recognised expert in the field of technical surveillance. He has been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including that of Karen Silkwood, the nuclear whistleblower who died in a car crash under mysterious circumstances in 1974. As part of his investigation into Walbert’s claim, Taylor scanned him with two portable radio-frequency detection devices to pick up any emissions from implants.
Taylor’s scans found “a low signal coming from Mr Walbert’s right upper back area” according to his report. After further checking, this was confirmed to be a low-bandwidth but constant signal at around 288MHz. This is in the VHF band, used for commercial television, radio and other transmissions. There are plenty of portable devices which use this band, such as the micro-transmitters which let you listen to your MP3 player or your car radio. However, 288Mhz is in a wavelength reserved for military use in the US. It is employed for secure air-to-air and air-to-ground communications such as the HAVE QUICK system, which is almost universal in US military aircraft.
“I have seen similar signals in the past and just as recently as last month,” Taylor told me. “I believe it can be used for both location, transmission and surveillance purposes.”
The exact source of the transmission was identified with the aid of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, commonly used for getting very detailed images of a patient’s body.
Dr John Hall of the Spine and Joint Institute in Texas has dealt with many patients who believe they are the victims of electronic harassment, from hearing voices to more obviously physical effects. He is in no doubt about Walbert’s case, having studied the MRI scan, which in his view is “clearly showing a capsule-shaped foreign body in his right trapezius muscle”.
How did Walbert come to be the victim of this type of harassment? Apparently, it started with an invention that Walbert patented in 2005. This was not a revolutionary power source that threatened the oil companies, but the ‘Can-Kleen’ – a vacuum-sealed covering that ensures the lid of a soft drink can stays clean and hygienic in spite of handling. Over a hundred billion cans of beverage are sold each year in the US alone, a nation that takes its hygiene very seriously. If the Can-Kleen took off, a royalty of a tenth of a cent per drink can, on a fraction of the cans sold, would be worth millions of dollars a year – forever.
Walbert got into a dispute over the Can-Kleen rights with a colleague. Such disputes sometimes escalate into lawsuits or even physical violence. Walbert believes this row led to his being drugged and illegally implanted with a device intended to force him to hand over his interest in the invention.
At first sight, this looks like a paranoid fantasy. The chips that are currently in use, like those implanted in pets (facing page; see ‘Rover Come Home’) do not emit signals themselves and can only be read from about a metre away, using a special scanner. Similar Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips are used for all sorts of commercial and industrial purposes, from tagging DVDs in the supermarket to pallets in a warehouse for stock control (FT206:14).
Commercial devices for tracking individuals are much bigger. The tagging of offenders is becoming more sophisticated: a satellite tracking scheme to monitor the movements of violent offenders with mental health problems is currently being tested with psychiatric patients on leave from Bethlem Royal Hospital, a secure hospital in south-east London. Newspaper articles might imply that the system allows minders to gaze down on their charges from spy satellites, in line with Hollywood’s preferred way of depicting high-tech surveillance. In fact, the ankle tag works much more like a typical smart phone. It uses the satellite-based GPS system to establish its own location, and then contacts a central base via the mobile phone network and transmits this information. This way the location of the patient can be monitored continuously.
“It gives us confidence about the patient’s whereabouts, that they’re complying with their leave conditions,” Professor Fahy, clinical director of forensic services at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, told the BBC . Orwellian as this type of tagging may sound, these are violent offenders with mental health problems, and there have been few objections.
SMARTWATER AND SPIKED SHAMPOO
An ankle tag is far larger that the implant in the Walbert case, but means of tagging a subject without them being aware are real enough. Security company SmartWater has a range of products used to mark property for later identification, and also for tagging people. According to their website, “The SmartWater Index Spray System will spray intruders with a water-based solution, which contains a unique ‘forensic code’. This creates an irrefutable link between the criminal and the crime scene”.
The spray is invisible but glows under ultraviolet light. According to the manufacturers, it cannot easily be washed off and will remain on hair, clothing and skin for weeks. The clever part is that the spray contains an identification code: any given spray can be uniquely traced back to a particular site, so the suspect cannot deny having been there. It’s a great solution for dealing with armed robbers or burglars. The Index Spray could also be used in any situation where you wanted to covertly tag someone, say attendees at a demonstration, a political rally or other event. If the authorities want to track you without your knowledge, they have the technology.
This approach is being adopted by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency, set up to safeguard America from potential weapons of mass destruction. A recent report on technology being developed by the DTRA described an initiative to develop “Novel materials that could be applied to human hair, skin or other materials, via special lotions, soaps, or shampoos, to provide a persistent signature, and their corresponding detectors.”
The intention here appears to be to spike the suspect’s shampoo with something akin to SmartWater’s Index Spray, and use long-range sensors to track them. This might, for example, be based on an ultraviolet (UV) laser that produced very short pulses. These would cause the tagging material to respond with a flash which would be too faint for the human eye to detect but which could be easily visible to special cameras.
There is also a market in military and intelligence circles for radio frequency tagging devices – something much closer to what we see in the Walbert case. An idea of the current state of the art is suggested by reports from Afghanistan, where locals in the employ of the CIA have allegedly marked targets for drone strikes by placing tiny ‘beacons’, small enough to fit in the bottom of a cigarette packet. Such beacons can be left inconspicuously at the houses of insurgent leaders, allowing the CIA to pinpoint them.
The device is probably something very like the ‘Bigfoot Smart RF Tag’ produced by EWA Government Systems Inc (company motto: “Enabling a More Secure Future”). This is a miniature radio beacon, little larger than an AA battery, and is marketed for “high value target tagging missions” by intelligence agencies. Leave one of these in your target’s room, and the CIA will have no trouble hitting the spot with a Hellfire missile from one of their fleet of Predator drones.
While the implant in James Walbert’s shoulder appears to have a tracking function, it also seems to be affecting his nervous system. Toxicologist Dr Hildegarde Staninger says that Walbert’s implant is “interfering with his normal muscle stimulation and causing severe over-stimulation of site-specific muscle contractions, which interferes with his normal life and work activities”.
Walbert himself puts it more succinctly. “It feels like I’m being electrocuted all the time,” he told me. It also means he permanently has a metallic taste in his mouth. “It sucks.”
Electrodes with external power sources feature in pacemakers and devices to treat various brain conditions. But Dr Staninger suggests that this device might be self-powered. He refers to work on tiny generators which harvest energy from the motion around them, based on materials which generate an electric potential in response to force. A 2009 project with these piezoelectric materials carried out at Case Western Reserve University showed that an implantable device could be inserted in the quadriceps of a rabbit, which could harvest enough energy for nerve stimulation. By stimulating the muscles to keep them moving, and so charge itself, such a device could keep going indefinitely. Such technology could be used to power implanted medical devices.
It turns out that there is a government project to do something very much like what Walbert claims has happened to him. In a programme called HI-MEMS, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) aims to create remote-controlled cyborgs by the use of multifunctional implanted microchips.
Bizarrely enough, HI-MEMS research is not looking at humans or even mammals: the aim is to produce modified insects which will be directed to covertly sniff out chemical weapons or carry a microphone, giving a whole new meaning to the term “bugging device”. The technology will be based on an implant which would harvest energy via a “biological fuel cell”. As well as powering communications, this energy would be used to steer the insect towards a target, either by direct stimulation of muscles, nerve stimulation or some other approach. As the DARPA site puts it: “The HI-MEMS program is aimed to develop technology that provides more control over insect locomotion, just as saddles and horseshoes are needed for horse locomotion control.” Because of the size of the hosts, the system will necessarily be miniaturised to chip scale right from the start.
The work on cyborg insects is still in its early days (as far as we know). When mature, it could in principle be used to track and control all sorts of other animals. Including, perhaps, human beings.
Walbert has no idea where his device came from, but suspects that there may be government or military involvement. It’s hard to imagine anyone else having the technology; quite how and why it came to be used against him are difficult questions to answer, but FT readers will be aware of precedents.
Having accumulated a sufficient amount of expert testimony, Walbert has also gained some political backing. State Representative Jim Guest has sent him letters of support, and has spoken out in support of other victims of electronic harassment. Guest introduced a Bill into the Missouri legislature to make “coerced subcutaneous implantation of an identification device” an offence.
The next move is for Walbert to have the implant removed, though at present he finds that doctors are hesitant to do so. This may not be a matter of conspiracy so much as an understandable reluctance to deal with a case outside their experience. Surgery can be a very litigious business in the US. The safe removal of self-powered piezoelectric devices is not routine surgery. Even if the chip does not have an anti-tamper device, there’s a risk the operation might leave significant damage.
If the implant can be successfully removed, proving where it came from is another matter. Walbert believes he must have been drugged when it was implanted and has no memory of the event. There is no way of linking it to an individual. And Walbert believes he may have other implants too.
The only way to maintain our comfortable view of a world where these things simply cannot happen, is to challenge some of the expert testimony. Isn’t Walbert just crazy? Mental health experts don’t think so. Is there really an implant? The MRI shows it in place. Is it really affecting or tracking him? It’s producing a detectable output, and something is causing those muscle spasms.
You could dismiss any or all of the experts and insist on a second opinion from others. But are you simply going to ask different people until they give you the ‘right’ answer and confirm your preconception? It’s a case which challenges our standards of proof. Perhaps we need to turn the question around: what does James Walbert need to do to prove he really is the victim of an illegal implant?
The mainstream media will not be covering this sort of story for a while. It smacks too much of the lunatic fringe and tinfoil hats for any news editor to go near it. But there is a gradual convergence here. The technology of MRI scans and radiofrequency detectors means that the presence of implants is becoming easier to verify. And the technology of implantable chips is a growing medical speciality, not a science fiction fantasy. The day may be coming when the mainstream accepts that the sort of harassment Walbert reports is a genuine possibility.
However, by that time we will be living in a world where you can be tracked by your shampoo, medical implants will be monitoring your health, and wired-up insects will be able to listen in to your conversations. And Walbert’s story will go from being too wildly speculative to being too routine to be worth reporting.
PANEL: CHIP SHOT
How do you get your subject to accept a chip implant in the first place? One proposed solution was the “ID Sniper Rifle”, a special weapon from Danish outfit Empire North which fires a tracking chip into the target. The makers claim that it feels like a mosquito bite, and enables the tagged individual to be tracked thereafter. The device was unveiled at a police show in China in 2002, and received considerable media attention before anyone realised it was a hoax; or Art Project, depending on your point of view.
The ID Sniper Rifle concept was created by artist Jakob Boeskov and industrial designer Kristian von Bengtssons. as a satirical comment on our surveillance society. However, these things take on a life of their own. Having announced the hoax in 2004, gadget technology site Engadget ran another story about the weapon in 2007. And out there on the Internet, conspiracy theorists accept the ID Sniper Rifle as absolutely real!
PANEL: ROVER COME HOME
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips track everything from shipping containers to car parts to DVDs in shops (FT206:14). They are also now routinely implanted into pets. A central database means that if your Staffie or Bengal cat goes missing, it can easily be identified by a vet with a chip scanner, and swiftly returned.
This is good news for forteans – at last – there is a way of validating that old staple, a pet which finds its way back home after travelling hundreds or thousands of miles. Previously, such returnees might simply have been lookalikes with an eye for free accommodation.
It also gives rise to a completely new class of tale: the wandering pet that ends up a ridiculous distance away from where it is supposed to be. These include Lucy the collie who disappeared in Cornwall and showed up in East Lothian over 500 miles (800km) away, Kitty the black-and white cat who seems to have teleported (or hitchhiked?) from Lancashire to Enfield, and Henry, who went from Swansea to Coventry.
The downside with this technology is that it can lead to disputes between the original owner and the new owner, who may have had the animal for months or even years before the microchip was found.
To track your pet in real-time, miniature GPS tracking devices like the PAT micro are now becoming available. Like ankle tags for prisoners, these use GPS and mobile phone tech to send updates on the animal’s location. When implantable tracking chips are available, pets will probably be among the first recipients.
PANEL: ALIEN IMPLANTS?
This isn’t the first time that people have claimed that they are the unwilling victims of implants. Many readers will remember the great days of the 1990s when contactees claimed that extraterrestrials had surgically implanted devices inside them for tracking or communication. There was a wave of excitement over the possibility that these implants would provide hard evidence of alien technology; they were even featured in The X-Files television series.
However, the implants themselves proved elusive. Some seemed to evaporate on removal from the body. Analysis tended to show normal biological origin – bits of the patient’s own body. In one case, the ‘implant’ analysed by Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston was found to be connective tissue, collagen, and some external cotton fibres. Such calcified tissue can be produced in reaction to a foreign body such as a splinter; here the tissue included fibres, apparently from the victim’s underwear.
Metallic implants may also have more prosaic origins than Zeta Reticuli. When Dr Susan Blackmore was given a 2mm x 3mm “implant” from an abductee’s mouth to study, she took it to various colleagues in the physical sciences who submitted it to a battery of tests. The conclusion was that its composition – mercury 40 per cent, tin 30 per cent and silver 16 per cent – was a close match for dental amalgam. The ‘implant’ was a bit of tooth filling which had come loose.
Dr Roger Leir has removed at least 14 objects alleged to be alien implants from patients; he says that some of them have emitted radio signals, or moved to avoid being extracted, and that lab analysis suggests they may be extraterrestrial. However, Dr Leir has not had any success in persuading others of his beliefs. Some of the published analyses describe mysterious irregular nanoscale structures, fibres and crystals, and anomalous isotope distributions. To some, these suggest an alien technology beyond our comprehension; but they might equally be mundane fragments of Earth material subjected to overly hopeful scrutiny. Of course, alien implants might be too advanced for us to make sense of, but the lack of anything that looks convincingly like manufactured objects has meant that implants have failed to make it as more than a footnote in ufology.
However, there is now a possibility that there will be a revival of the implant idea, perhaps with the new twist that the implanting was not carried out by aliens, but by secret military/intelligence organisations.
SmartWater can tag products – and people.
MRI scans of James Walbert.
The ‘ID Sniper Rifle’.
Jakob Boeskov/Kristian von Bengtssons
A real “bugging” device – a DARPA HI-MEMS cyborg beetle.
Courtesy UC Berkeley
Implanting a tracking chip in a pet dog.
Getty Images/China Photos
David Hambling is a freelance journalist and a regular FT contributor. He is the author of ‘Weapons Grade: Revealing the Links Between Modern Warfare and Our High-Tech World’ (Constable, 2005).