Poppy quarter led to U.S. distrust

WASHINGTON — How much does the U.S. government really trust Canada? Maybe less than you think.

WASHINGTON — How much does the U.S. government really trust Canada? Maybe less than you think.

Espionage warnings from the Defence Department caused an international sensation a few years ago over reports of mysterious coins with radio frequency transmitters, until they were debunked. The culprit turned out to be a commemorative quarter.

But at the height of the mystery, senior Pentagon officials speculated whether Canadians were involved in the spy caper, according to emails marked “Secret/NoForn” and obtained this week by The Associated Press under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

In the emails, released to The AP with names blacked out but job titles disclosed, Pentagon officials question whether they should warn military officers in the U.S. Northern Command, who regularly met Canadian counterparts about classified subjects inside bug-proof, government meeting rooms. The rooms are known as secure compartmentalized information facilities, or SKIFs.

“Isn’t the Canadian piece something that should be briefed to Northcom since the Canadians sit in their SKIFs?” asked the Pentagon’s deputy director for counterintelligence oversight.

“Good point,” replied the Pentagon’s acting director for counterintelligence. “It is possible that DSS (the U.S. Defence Security Service) sent their report to Northcom. Then again, I don’t think it is an issue of the Canadians being the bad guys, but then again, who knows.”

In sensational warnings that circulated publicly in late 2006 and early 2007, the Pentagon’s Defence Security Service said coins with radio transmitters were found planted on U.S. army contractors with classified security clearances on at least three occasions between October 2005 and January 2006.

In January 2007, the government abruptly reversed itself and said the warnings were not true. But the case remained a mystery until months later, when AP learned that the flap had been caused by suspicions over the Canadian “poppy” quarter.

What suspicious contractors believed to be “nanotechnology” on the coins actually was a protective coating applied to prevent the poppy’s red colour from rubbing off.

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