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Xerox Helped Win The Cold War

Roy Zoppth
Roy Zoppoth stands over a Xerox 914 copy machine, the world's first, which was used in soviet embassies all over the world. The machine was so complex that the CIA used a tiny camera designed by Zoppoth to capture documents copied on the machine by the soviets and retrieved them using a "Xerox repairman" right under the eyes of soviet security. Photo from edit international courtesy of Roy Zoppoth


Many governments around the world worry that America is now listening into their phone calls as part of the ‘war on terrorism.’ But US intelligence has been stealing everyone’s secrets for decades. Here is the remarkable story of how American spies won the Cold War...

By Ron Laytner
Copyright 2011
Edit International

WASHINGTON - In the worst days of the Cold War – when U2 spy planes overflew Soviet missile bases in Cuba, Russian nuclear bombers probed U.S. and NATO radar defenses, and secret agents slipped through the Iron Curtain in and out of East Berlin – America’s Central Intelligence Agency had the ultimate advantage.

The CIA knew many of the Soviet Union’s deepest secrets.

One of the most successful espionage operations in intelligence history began in 1961, when the CIA analyzed the results of routine surveillance of the Soviet embassy in Washington.

US agents discovered that, while almost everyone else was restricted from entering the Soviet embassy, the Xerox serviceman could come and go almost anytime to maintain the Soviets’ new photocopiers.

Xerox had just revolutionized world business with the invention of the copy machine. Carbon paper was suddenly obsolete and perfect copies were plentiful and cheap.

Inside their tightly guarded embassy Soviet cipher clerks, secretaries and KGB spy masters and other officials were suddenly relieved of the tedious task of hand-copying secret orders and decoded messages from the Kremlin and lists of spies operating in North and South America.

Everything the Soviet embassy staff routinely copied on their new photocopier was of vital intelligence value to the United States. And the CIA set out to get it.

The agency approached Xerox Corporation vice-president John Dessauer to see if something could be devised to record documents copied on the Russians’ copy machine. Perhaps it could be installed and retrieved by the Xerox repairman, who had ease of access to the embassy.

Mr. Dessauer put Donald Carey, who headed a U.S. government programs group at Xerox, in charge of the project.

Four engineers wee brought together and sworn to secrecy. A small bowling alley was acquired near the Rochester, New York Xerox plant. While guards stood watch outside, inside a research laboratory sprang to life. A bathroom was turned into a photographic darkroom.

The team was made up of Roy Zoppoth, a 36-year-old design engineer who had helped develop the Xerox Model 914 – the first push-button copier and the same machine the Russians were using: Douglas Webb, an electronics engineer; Kent Hemphill, an optics engineer; and James Young, an imaging technologist. Mr. Cary was the program manager.

Their mission: Get copies of the copies of Soviet secrets.

No papers could be carried away, no information radioed. The CIA told Mr. Zoppoth and his team that the Soviets had every room in their embassy bugged to capture unauthorized radio transmissions.

Mr. Zoppoth decided a photographic copy system was simplest and safest. He installed a Bell and Howell home movie camera in the big Xerox 914 machine.

A photographic cell circuit was added to the camera so it would shoot several frames of film each times the machine’s copy light went on. A bracket was installed so the movie camera, painted the same color as the rest of the hundreds of parts inside the machine, could be installed within a minute.

Mrs. Zoppoth now 79, retired and living near Dallas, Texas, recalls: “We met with two CIA agents and taught them how to remove a camera placed earlier and filled with secret negative images of anything copied and how to replace it by inserting a new camera filled with fresh film. The agents then taught a Xerox repairman how to do the same thing.”

The repairman’s job was to clean the entire Soviet machine every two weeks and make it perform as well as possible.

“He was very brave because if he was caught inside the Soviet Embassy, he would have been interrogated and tortured. The CIA warned us he would never leave alive,” Mr. Zoppoth said.

“The CIA told us the repairman must be able to exchange cameras right under the eyes of Soviet security agents. This was possible because the early Xerox machine was so big and complex that hardly anyone in the world understood it.

“There was fifty feet of film in the camera, providing room for hundreds of negatives of secret documents. They were very tiny and looked like microfiche.

Mr. Zoppoth made several trips to Washing. The CIA had dozens of buildings containing workshops and laboratories scattered around the US capital, he said.

“It was just like in the James Bond movies. They were developing new and secret weapons, tools and technologies. We used to meet in a building codenamed Disneyland East. After they closed all the doors, blocked off the elevators and cleared the halls, we were allowed inside.”

There were three CIA clearance ratings, Mr. Zoppoth said: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. “Our Xerox camera project was Secret and we all were checked out for security clearances for weeks by the FBI.”

The CIA soon reported the secret camera was such a success it wanted the team to design a very tiny camera to do the same job in its new desktop copier. Mr. Zoppoth designed what he called a ‘slit camera’ and received a secret US patent on it.

“The project was so successful that the CIA ordered dozens more of the cameras, which were assembled in a bunch of CIA shops spread across America so no one knew what was being made,” Mr. Zoppoth said.

“We heard they were placed in every Soviet Embassy in the world with great success from Egypt to England. CIA-trained Xerox repairmen retrieved vital Russian secrets for years.

“From the numbers of cameras ordered, we later realized the CIA had placed secret cameras in every Xerox copy machine in all embassies in the world – friend and foe alike.”

One day a CIA team came in and suddenly picked up all correspondence pertaining to the secret camera, Mr. Zoppoth said.

“They said they would be manufacturing and carrying on the project by themselves. We were told to go back to our regular jobs and to forget what we had ever known or seen about the project. I quietly kept some of the secret camera negatives and went on with my life.”

The project continued until at least 1969, when a chemical company in the United States was caught trying to place a similar spy camera in the Xerox machine of a business rival.

“After that scandal we don’t know how long the CIA continued to use the spy cameras or if they shut down the operation fearing repairmen would be captured. Our team felt the Russians went back to hand copying.”

Mr. Zoppoth retired from Xerox in 1979 and went to work for Texas Instruments, where he was commended by the U.S. navy for his work in radar suppression – earthly stealth technology.

The CIA and Xerox declined to comment on Mr. Zoppoth’s account of the secret camera. For his part, Mr. Zoppoth says he decided to reveal the secret camera project because he wants “history to reflect this great espionage victory.

“I’ve often thought about that first daring unidentified Xerox repairman and the risks he took. He is the man who helped America win the Cold War.”

By Ron Laytner
Copyright 2009
Edit International

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