A Game of Tag
Implants and electronic
tracking device using electronic technology to locate objects, animals – or
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
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
“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
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
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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