Monday, May 07, 2007

Canadian coins not used for spying

This has been an interesting week for Canadian coins. First there was the $1 million gold coin, and now we learn that Canadian coins were not used to spy on American contractors.

This bizarre story surfaced about a year ago. U.S. Army contractors returning from Canada between October 2005 and January 2006 found strange looking coins in their pockets. On closer inspection they found that they were Canadian coins. (*rimshot!*) Seriously, though, the contractors thought the coins looked stranger than just a normal Canadian coin. They reported this strangeness to their higher-ups, because they were told to be on the look out for anything that might be a security breach. The first suspicious coin was found in the cup holder of a contractor's rental car. Another was found in another contractor's coat pocket, when he swore that before he left that morning his pockets were empty.

The suspicious coins were submitted as part of a 29 page report on espionage concerns. There was speculation that someone was using RFID tags to record the locations of the contractors. Someone even went so far as to say that the coins used nanotechnology.

It came out today that the coins were... well, just regular 25¢ coins.

Okay, they weren't regular coins. They were special quarters to remember Canada's war dead. In the centre is a red poppy. The poppy was used to commemorate dead soldiers during the First World War. It's been used as a symbol of remembrance in Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth ever since. It comes from a line in the poem "In Flanders Fields" written by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian, on May 3, 1915. British Commonwealth war dead were buried, among other places, in Flanders (in Belgium). Poppies grew in those fields, which prompted the poem's first two lines. I remember memorizing the poem in school, but I don't remember all of it now. Thanks to Wikipedia, here it is:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Anyway, to remember Canada's war dead 90 years after the poem was written, the Canadian mint released a special quarter coin. It has a maple leaf pattern. Inside the pattern is a red poppy. The coin is covered in a special coating so that the red of the poppy doesn't simply wear off. This coating will glow in ultraviolet light.

These were the coins that worried the U.S. Army contractors. No RFID. No nanotech. What worried them was apparently due to Canada's painted metal technology.

Oh, and the coins are exceedingly rare. Only 30 million of them were produced.

The U.S. Defense Department is investigating the security alert that was put out due to the partially red coins.

For an article on the coins, and a picture of one of them, see this article:

The best line is from H. Keith Melton, an intelligence historian. "I thought the whole thing was preposterous, to think you could tag an individual with a coin and think they wouldn't give it away or spend it."


Sara said...

Thank you for the nice post.

Michael said...

I've been to Essex Farm casualty clearing station, where "In Flanders Fields" was written. An intense experience, to say the least. And poppies really do grow in the fields. And the mud really is of some alien species. And the water table is so high that in places it seems to be above the ground.

I really oughta write that book...

Allan Goodall said...

Thank you for the nice post.

You're quite welcome!

Allan Goodall said...

I really oughta write that book...

Yes, you should!

Interesting thing about the poem. I guess I've grown up since I memorized it in school. The third stanza really is a propaganda piece, isn't it? I hadn't noticed that before...