Remote Snooping 169

It is nine years since I published in Murder in Samarkand that the security services can listen to you through your mobile telephone, even when it is apparently switched off. You could only prevent this by removing the battery. Shortly thereafter many mobile phone manufacturers started producing sealed phones from which you could not easily remove the battery. That was not especially a result of my publication. But I know for certain that the western security services had cooperated with the mobile phone companies in securing the software backdoor which enabled them to switch on the microphone when the phone appeared to be off. I am therefore inclined to believe the development of phones where it was hard to take the battery out was also encouraged by the security services.

Knowledge of the remote switch on was disseminated more widely after I met Richard Stallman, a hero of mine, and was able to tell him about it. He publicised it to the tech-savvy community. Eventually Edward Snowden released precisely the same information, and the mainstream media finally started reporting it, seven years after I first published it. Now, the security services themselves have admitted to having this capability, rather to the horror of extreme right wing commentators.

I learnt that the security services can bug you through your mobile phone, even if it appears to you switched off, in the course of my official duties. I was among those allowed to know, and could tell it with 100% certainty.

I have now been told something new for which I cannot give a 100% guarantee of truth, though I have no reason to doubt the good faith of the person who gave me the information, and I can say for sure they would have the access to know this officially. I am told by a good source that the security services can now activate the microphone, even if the battery has been removed and there is no power source in the phone.

To a non-technological person like me, that sounds impossible. How do you remotely power something? If it is true, will I not need a cable for my television one day? I find the notion fascinating. I have taken on board that removing the battery may not be enough, but would welcome thoughts on the plausibility of this information.

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169 thoughts on “Remote Snooping

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  • John Spencer-Davis

    Oh, and what’s this from the same source?

    “And in the general hardening of outlook…practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years – imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages, and the deportation of whole populations – not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive.”

    Nothing new under the sun, is there.

    Kind regards,


  • Jives

    Oh gosh!

    Im being tag teaned by Uphill AND Habbabkuk…i definitely must be doing something right…-)

    Uphill you are spectactularly naive and of touch.

    You havent a clue about how far advanced the tech is.

    But but but…you say you aint gonna communicate with me FOREVER!

    Oh the melodrama Uphill!Th e absolute claritybof your position duoy humbles me,

    FOREVER eh?

    Oh woe is me Uphill,how will i ever cope?

    Im devastated Uphill,devastated i tell ye!

  • Charlie

    Just read your post to my husband who wrote his PhD on antenna systems and he’s not at all surprised by that claim. As he pointed out to me and someone also mentioned in a previous comment, both backup batteries and/or capacitors can provide electricity even with the main battery removed. For how long and how much of it depends on the actual model, but microphones that need next to no power have been in use for many years now. So according to this electrical engineer at least, it’s not just entirely plausible, but has most likely been in use already for a while.

    Maybe the other way (and I’m speculating here) is simply easier and therefore much better known about, but from what my DH says this became a valid way to listen in to somebody as soon as the power requirements of the microphones were low enough.

  • Roderick Russell

    Habakkuk @ 5 March 2016 – 6.32 AM. You asked me to comment on “Why you should have been a victim” and “Can you share your thoughts as to why?” My response:

    I left Vancouver-based Grosvenor International, where I had been Group Controller, and was effectively blacklisted so that I never again found permanent employment in Canada. Years later I was told by a head-hunter that I had “a big problem with Grosvenor” and that related negative commentary had “come from all angles” so that “it had to be believed”. “It had to be believed” they say, but nobody bothered to check the facts with me, and indeed I didn’t expect it as I had done a first class job for Grosvenor and can prove it. But that’s how Zersetzen works. As Victor Santoro noted in his book, Gaslighting – “The essence of defaming your target with rumors is it that it not get back to him.”

    Indeed not only had I done a first class job for Grosvenor (and previous companies’ as well), but I was twice asked by them to withdraw my resignation. Indeed Grosvenor, who were using “The Caldwell Partners” as their head-hunter for my position (the actual head-hunters involved subsequently joined Korn Ferry in Vancouver) turned down the first short list interviewed on the grounds that none of the candidates measured up to me (I was told this by the then Executive Vice President who also provided me with an excellent written reference which I still have today).

    So why was I blacklisted? I don’t know; there was certainly no logic to it. I do know that Grosvenor had blacklisted at least one other, and I wrote about it on this blog some years ago. I also know that Grosvenor had Spy agency connections. I have no idea why I was blacklisted. My wife thinks it was about petty jealousies. An HR consultant whom I met with suggested that it was because they saw my leaving as a rejection, and decided to reject me. So I don’t know why I was blacklisted but I bloody well know that I was.

    Why did it eventually move on to threats, harassment, and intimidation? Well blacklisting in many ways is the worst part of Zersetzen since it ostracises you from the community, and runs you out of money. You can only die once, but you can starve for years. A top Canadian political strategist (of Conservative persuasion – the then governing party) tried to help some years ago. He told me that as it only took 30 second call to blacklist me, people were very annoyed that I have made such an issue of it. So in a sense I have become a fairly major whistleblower, describing Zersetzen and itemizing, with huge proof, this illegal persecutory behaviour by the very security agencies that are supposed to be protecting us. Whistleblowers, particularly those who demonstrate the illegal gestapo side of our security agencies are seen as a threat by these same agencies.

    It is estimated that in the UK alone there are approximately 5, 000 victims of Zersetzen, but only a handful of us ever speak out. As the United States Senate Church Committee on Cointelpro reported: “The victim may never suspect that his misfortunes are the intended result of activities undertaken by his government” (i.e. secret agencies gone rogue). You are not expected to fight back.

    Incidentally the Caldwell Partners had rather boastfully advertised the job as “Worldwide Controller …. Likely the most senior Controllership role in Canada”.
    There is no logic to this persecution. Zersetzen is about throwing power around, not logic.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    “I am told by a good source that the security services can now activate the microphone, even if the battery has been removed and there is no power source in the phone.” Craig

    This is really creepy.


    Roderick Russell is a solid commentator and whistleblower for whom I have immense respect (as I have for Craig).

  • fwl

    Surely it is acceptable for intelligence to do snoop. the difficulty is ensuring that they have the ethos and discipline to justify such power.

    The police (but not community officers) should have some snooping abilities perhaps via special branch who in turn should be required to apply for a warrant.

    Council officers and others – never.

  • YouKnowMyName

    The current generation of Smartphones use Lithium-ion batteries. These are sensitive, potentially explosive batteries that can stop working when they are overcharged or completely discharged. To avoid these extremes, the batteries have their own microprocessor, CPU, real-time OS, memory, code; this wonderful design allows upwards of a hundred of charge/discharge cycles. It also means that the battery when “discharged” is never actually discharged – just managed and the battery CPU is discussing with the phoneOS the need to get charged, and the phone simulates being off. An actual ‘dead’ iPhone that still worked was recorded here in 2010:

    World intelligence agencies with their trillions of dollars in resources have already hacked , amongst other things, the tiny CPUs inside Hard-disk-drives, owning the HDD firmware, it is reasonable to assume that the Smartphone battery CPUs and firmware have similarly been compromised.

    The question that follows is is this technology used in ‘capture everything’ surveillance, or the rarely used highly targeted proportional cyber-stalking of specific targets? I guess it is the latter, but I’ll devise an experiment to check the battery CPU/OS of my Smartphone library and see how easy the hooks could be.

    Remember the GCHQ angle-grinder attacks on the Guardian MacBook motherboards, many small sub CPUs were turned to dust, why?

  • Je

    YouKnowMyName – “The current generation of Smartphones use Lithium-ion batteries. These are sensitive, potentially explosive batteries ”

    Wow! Yeah… mind eavesdropping could be the least of it. I was even thinging those electrodes… maybe thought control, Pavlov’s dog, subliminal messages. But you’re suggesting MI5 could maybe remotely blow off half your head with one of these things! That could like any call right… if yer say something they don’t like!

  • YouKnowMyName

    In all experiments that I’ve made with Lithium it fizzles more than deflagrates; the British expert agencies co-incidentally would presumably have to fill in too much paperwork to detonate a phone, so we have to look to January 5th 1996 for the first really effective use of an RDX enhanced Li-ion!

  • Je

    YouKnowMyName – right but there’s what’s under wraps, what we don’t know, spooks, security clearance etc. We could be talking a day X… some point in the future… every known terrorist the world over, dissident, every awkward person the authorities don’t like – receive a simultaneous call. World head-splat day…

  • Kevan

    I know some Mobiles have RTC/CMOS Battery’s on the main circuit boards. RTC/CMOS Batteries are more commonly identified with use in laptops the batteries are rechargeable.

    RTC/CMOS battery maintains the time, date, hard disk and other configuration settings in the memory even when the main battery is removed.

    RTC/CMOS batteries are small and are attached directly to the motherboard. Smartphones such as blackberry have them.

    So some Mobiles do have independent internal power, how it’s used and if it would have the power to do what you imply would have to be checked to be honest.

  • chuteh

    Remotely power a comm device:

    Read original ed of Peter wright’s autobio Spycatcher. Reference “reradiation” as one source of remote powering and action of remotely injected carrierwave being influenced by local oscillations [e.g. voice or other signa pickup.

    Almost forgot—ordinary LED lamps will transmit voice, etc simply[!] by addition of [microminiature] mic in the lamp that impresses the signal onto the LED output which then becomes a carrier wave. This is easily demonstrated [and can even be found on Youtube].

    Tech marches onward as money, tailored rewards and subterfuge can manipulate the very best minds to do R&D of other very best minds’ choosing; for most techs and scientists, any R&D is better than no R&D.

    Was not it Napoleon’s (?) observation that his troops will do anything for the promise of medals (and other tokens of recognition}.

  • YouKnowMyName

    One obvious way to avoid the vagaries of the western intelligence agencies bloc, their strongarm tactics against (nearly) all phone manufacturers, the innumerate backdoors and weaknesses inherent is of course to use an out-of-band device such as :

    It has the minor disadvantage that it’ll be rooted to hell by the KGB, but is a decent phone!
    by the way “” has recently overtaken Yandex in Russia to become their largest capex media corporation, so using a [email protected] address pretty much follows the above logic for the Yota, it’s buying in to an alternative and growing service provider

    Within two years time GSM will start to be deprecated as a waveform/technology – being switched-off first in Washington DC, a very long and glorious history coming to an end due to the fact that hobbyists now have similar access to the TLAs. After that it’s just a terminal for packet handling, where do they all go? Where do they all come from? Cyberpathogens!

  • DLachlan

    I’m an electronic engineer. Reading the above comments I see a mixture of very naive non-tech-savvy comments, and some good ones. Glenn_uk, Jonny and Clark and security stackexchange are good ones. I’d also re-emphasise that transmitting in real time is both detectable and energy intensive (it could quickly drain the smaller secondary energy source, whether that’s a secondary battery or a super-capacitor). So the logical way the security services would do this is by recording locally onto memory using the lowest possible amount of energy and transmitting the recording later once the main battery is reinstalled and the phone is back in constant communication with the nearest base station.

  • Alexandre Oliva

    [mods: caught in spam filter. Timestamp updated from 20:30]

    I recall watching a speech a couple of years ago by someone involved in reverse engineering efforts who mentioned that some X-raying of cell-phone chips had found very significant areas whose patterns looked very much like those of batteries. Scary!

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    I have very strange calls only on my landline where callers will not identified themselves when I pick up, my television telling me that the source of the ringing telephone is not available, and often when I am calling out on it, it suddenly goes dead.

    Could it all have much to do with the spooks converting the phone into a microphone?

  • David

    In theory its possible Craig. The USA (cia) used a non powered microphone a long long time ago to bug the Russian embassy ( if memory serves me correctly) I don’t know if its a special microphone or just a simple mod to an ordinary one.

    Whilst they maybe able to use the microphone to listen to you, they would only be able to do this at short ranges. Without the battery the phone lacks the physical ability to transmit over any distance

    The funny bit is we rejected out of hand identity cards, but now most of carry round a government accessed GPS transmitter that can send pics video and sound without your permission. Oh and we pay through the nose for the privilege !

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