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Espionage history: The Laird’s Lug (the Lord’s Ear)

In the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle, evidence of eavesdropping technique is there for all visitors to witness. The Laird’s Lug (the “lord’s ear”) is what looks like a type of ventilation hole over the fireplace. It was used by the lord of the castle to eavesdrop on his guests when they gathered in the hall below.  A number of other castles have similar features. In 1984 Mikhail Gorbachev asked for it to be bricked up prior to having a meeting scheduled there.

Air ducts and ventilation holes still provide an eavesdropping vantage point for the modern spy.  I was working in an office late one night, and even though I was the only one there, I heard two voices behind me. I knew I was alone, but I had clearly heard two people talking.  I could understand their conversation perfectly.  After putting the paranormal theories out of my mind, I was able to recognize that the voices were coming from the air vent overhead.  They were a cleaning crew working in an office down the hall which belonged to a totally separate company.  

It is worth paying attention to air vents, duct work, and open ceiling areas in your offices. They could be providing an eavesdropping with the clear audio of your private conferences.  

  • Check adjoining rooms and offices for such vulnerabilities.
  • If you are having a confidential meeting, make sure unauthorized people do not have access to those areas.  
  • Listen carefully- if you are hearing sounds from another office, you can be pretty sure they can hear you, too.
  • Physical planning and careful installation of insulation material could help block sound from escaping.
  • Installation of electronic sound masking devices is another technique to be considered that can help stop eavesdropping.
Lairds Lug_Edinburgh Great Hall

The Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle, with the Laird’s Lug in the upper right.

 

Laird's Lug, eavesdropping vent

Laird’s Lug,

 

air-duct-work
Air vents act as a modern day Laird’s Lug

 

 

Some websites to read more about the Laird’s Lug and other castle features:

From www.scotsman.com:

“King James IV was able to spy on his subjects gathered in the Great Hall though a little barred window up and to the right of the fireplace. “We call these ‘laird’s lugs’ (lord’s ears) in Scotland.  “Prior to Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to the castle in 1984, the KGB asked that the ‘lug’ be bricked up on security grounds.

From www.picturebritain.com:

Ancient kings didn’t have to rely on hidden microphones to listen in on their underling’s conversations. King James IV was able to overhear whatever went on in Edinburgh Castle’s great hall just by listening at a little barred window near the fireplace. This type of opening is called a “laird’s lug,” Scots for “lord’s ears,” and also appears in Muchalls Castle. It was obviously effective. In 1984 when Mikhail Gorbachev planned a visit to the castle the Soviet secret service demanded that the lug be plugged up for security reasons.

From www.smashinglists.com

If you happen to visit the Great Hall of the Castle, you will notice a window far above the fireplace. These holes or windows are called Laird’s Lugs in Scotland and that means ‘Lord’s ears’. King James IV would use this hole to eavesdrop on important meetings. When Gorbachev planned to visit the castle in the year 1984, the Soviet national security insisted that the hole should be closed because it was just that effective.

Other castles too:

From “Castle Fraser” www.haunted scotland.co.uk:

The castle has a luggie or “Laird’s Lug” a chamber in the vaulting of the hall that allowed an eavesdropper to go behind a window shutter on the parapet, slip inside, and listen to conversations in the hall, very practical.

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