The Silicon War Trilogy

Theft of Trade Secrets

Chapter 7

When the Russians attempted to copy American semiconductor chips, it was considered a threat to national security. All intelligence assets on all continents were mobilized to stop it. CIA, DIA, NSA and FBI are alerted to the threat.

Theft of Trade Secrets: The Silicon War Trilogy: Book 1

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Theft Of Trade Secrets

The Silicon War Triology

Chapter 7 - Gentlemen



"Ok gentlemen, let's get started. Now that we have lost it, I have one question for you clowns. What happens if someone else finds it? What can they do? Could someone copy the systems"? Finally, the question of project damage control was asked by Commander Charles Keating, USN Intelligence.

For two weeks, the US Navy conducted sweeps of the area with everything they had attempting to fine Tango 13 but with no luck. Both Air Force and Navy senior personnel conducted debriefing sessions. Films were reviewed, tracking information was gone over, and nothing was found.

Raytheon engineers stated that reverse engineering of the system would be impossible. Motorola engineers stated that the chips could not be reverse engineered.

However, a Hughes Aircraft's project manager said "Well that's not exactly true, during one of those projects that no one talks about, it seemed that a Navy sub just happened to 'find' a French Exocet missile that had crashed during a test. As you know, with all 'found toys', it was disassembled and reviewed. However, in the control module, they discovered three custom semiconductors and this lead to the questions: What were their functions? What was the logic? Where were they made? As a result of these questions, one of these chips was sent to us at Hughes Aircraft Newport Beach, CA for review."






It was two years earlier, when Dr. Mei Yaochen Hoe, a small Chinese American in charge of the Hughes Newport Beach division, had assembled some of the most talented engineers and technicians at the Newport Beach facility. As the management considered different methods of reverse engineering the chip, a small team was assembled with 2 design engineers, 3 packaging engineer, 1 process engineer, and one of their top mask designer, me.

We reviewed the chip. It was easy to open it up to see the wire bonds attaching to the silicon chip. However, none of the microscopes could take a clear picture of it. There were many discussions, many arguments and finally the project manager told Dr. Hoe that he didn't think it could be done.

As the meeting adjourned, I stayed behind to ask Dr. Hoe a simple question. "Sir, I don't think it is impossible and I would like permission to use a program that I'm not supposed to know anything about. You see, my ex boss is working on a program to enlarge satellite images for some DOD program. And I know if I can see the chip's details, I can copy it. May I approach him and see what we can do"?

Hoe stated "You may contact him but you cannot discuss this chip in any way, shape or form. Take a dummy chip along instead. I want you to just lay the foundation for the Proof of Concept only and do this quietly. Don't even tell Dick or Norm what you're doing."

Earl L'Casse was one of the engineers in Southern California who gained attention for his ability to build cameras, very big cameras, very accurate cameras. In fact, he had worked on the first U2 cameras, SR71 cameras and finally Hughes' prototype "not to be ever talked about" KH 11 satellite that utilized an electro-optical digital imaging system (i.e. Digital Camera). He was now funded by a DOD program to build a camera that would enlarge a 7-inch square image to an 80 inch by 80-inch film print and at the same time, keep the quality and linear accuracy to 0.0001 inch.

His current project was to build "Clare," the first, full color frequency, high-resolution digital camera. Bach & Lomb had built the lens or optics 7 years before. The project in its self was dumb and was cancelled but the "scrapped" $417,000 lens was still one of the best ever made. L'Casse acquired it and now it is at the heart of CLARE. Mounted to it was one of only four CCD arrays that were manufactured by Hughes Aircraft for some Black Ops Satellites Imaging project. At 2,048 pixels by 2,048 pixels by 256 bit, Earl had created the first high resolution, true color camera for a mere $1,730,000. However, what made CLARE special; each pixel location could contain the complete full frequency color bit map representing the Ultra Violet (UV), Infra Read (IR), and normal, 24-bit color downloaded from the satellites.

Each image was captured and stored on a custom Digital Equipment (DEC) VAX computer that contained a custom graphics processor created by Lexidata just for this project.

Some of the design obstacles that needed to be overcome were how to house the four thousand, 16K by 1 Dynamic RAM memory chips required to hold the high-resolution image.

The graphic processor functions were handled by software designed by Lexidata engineers using the new Borland C language software compiler. As always, Earl had found a software way to get around the size of the memory hardware problem.

When I called him, it was just like old home week. See, when I worked for him before, he had taken me with him to Washington DC for a system training class he was giving on one of his new systems when the Yom Kippur war broke out. Somehow, we were "volunteered" to help process the early war film on the training and back up processing systems that was there for the training class. That was four 24-hour days of "don't open your eyes or even think about talking about this!!!" When we could sleep, we slept under desks so that we wouldn't be stepped on.

By the second day, all security formalities were resolved and I was allowed to look at the satellite images of southern Israel as we searched for places to land aircraft with supplies. It had become obvious that Israel was losing because of the lack of supplies at the front.

Since most of the estimated 800 tanks lost by Israel were to the Egyptian Sagger anti-tank missiles, Earl and the other two analysts were assigned to find a location that we, [the US] could drop our TOW anti tank missiles to them.

In practice, Hughes Aircraft designed and Raytheon built the TOW. It was really a great weapon system. However, during battle the guidance system was directly linked to the firing platform by a thin communication wire. This required that the target be kept in the shooter's line of sight until the missile impacts. It was quickly learned by both sides to "shoot the shooter" to interrupt the flight's guidance. Earl said it was a poorly thought out design and should be redesigned with the new micro computer chip technology to eliminate the wire.

Because of this, I started my career transition from computer imaging and software development to microelectronics. And again, there was no better place to go for this than Hughes Aircraft. Earl was also my first real technology boss, and became a close friend. Although he didn't want me to leave, his reference letter to Hughes Aircraft was what got me in the front door and the job.

For me to now come back and ask for advice -- "Ah, priceless."

"Earl, I cannot discuss this with you but I need to take a picture of a 150 mil by 180 mil chip and enlarge it to 400 time size. And consider this a 'Total DOD Black Ops' project."

"Well, Clare will take anything that is, let's say 10x (10 time's it's normal size) and enlarge it to 400x easily. So that's done. Now, the task before us is to go from 1x to 10x. I take it that the linier accuracy must be kept? Will it be back-lighted or front lighted"?

"Front light, it is a semiconductor chip."

Earl was also the world greatest storyteller. As we worked together four years ago, he would tell me about his days in the Army, then, his working for Naval Intelligence or the CIA. Most people blew him off as a bull shitter, but I liked the stories and with his Einstein hair, he looked like some absent-minded professor out of the movies. However, in the two years that I worked for him, I never learned more. It really wasn't the information learned but the way it was obtain. "The methods of thinking" he would say.

There we would be; working on something and from out of nowhere, he would say "You know when I was working for the CIA…" This was used to get your attention "the segue." And then would come the question; "Do you think the dinosaurs died off because when the meteor hit, it slowed down the earth's rotation"? That was it! Off we would go on a conversation that would last the rest of the day as he described his theory of gravity. It became very apparent he didn't like silence where I did. He needed noise to block out distractions to concentrate, I needed all noise removed to concentrate.

Anyway, there in a back room of the Clare facility, under a ton of junk was "Harriet," a 2 foot by 3 foot piece of granite that was 6 inches thick. "This should do," he said. "I used it to enlarge microdots for the CIA back when you were still in grade school."

"What? No what is it" I responded?

"Oh, it's an experimental true color optical scanner sitting on top of a wide angle microscope that didn't work as I designed. But in a gray scale mode, well… let's just say it works beyond belief."

As I helped him move it out to where we could work with it, I asked "Earl, dumb question. Why do you name these things after girls"?

"First, there is no such thing as a dumb question. Simple, I named them after my wives."

"But there must be what, 20 cameras here"?

"Well… ok, some were my girlfriends."

As he dusted it off, I explained what my formal charter was and ask him when he could have these set up, tested, and calibrated. Then what would be the costs, etc.

The next morning, I stopped by Dr. Hoe's office and ask his admin, the real boss of our company, to set up a time for us to talk. "Just tell him I found a solution."

Around 10:30 am, he stopped by my work area and motioned to meet outside. With him was Colonel, Martin (Mac) McKinney and he was in charge of "special procurement" for many of the projects Hughes worked on.

"Sir" I explained "I believe we can enlarge the chip thru photo imaging and enlarge it to 400 time size. By placing the enlarged image on transparent black and white photo Mylar like we used to do in satellite imaging, I then can trace the required masks onto our existing design Mylar we are using now."

"How sure are you on this son" McKinney asked?

"Well Sir, it's never been done before, so I don't know what I will run into. But I'm willing to try and put in the needed time to do it. Right now I really don't see any real obstacles."

Dr. Hoe asked "Who is the company you're planning to use."

"It's Clare Imaging Systems here in Santa Ana."

McKinney responded "You mean L'Casse's company? He and I go way back. Good man, crazy as hell, but a good man. You know, we worked on the Blackbird together. Good work. We'll get back with you son. Thank you. Dismissed!"

Two weeks passed when I received a note stating that Dr Hoe wanted to meet me at the Balboa Bay Club for lunch on Thursday. The note said:


"Dress in a suit. 11:30 sharp. Get a haircut!"


Although Dr Hoe would allow us to still be surfers [the long hair], where I was going, wouldn't.

Bob Christens, Program Manager at General Dynamics, Corona was sitting with Dr. Hoe when I walked in. Introductions were made as well as small talk. After lunch was served, Dr Hoe stated "Robert, I'm going to assign you to Christens for a special project. No one is to know, not even your wife. I want you to go back to work, turn in your notice, and quit today. Keep everything positive but just tell them that you have obtained a better offer and leave it at that. Everything else will be taken care of for you. Any questions"?

"No sir. Not really."

Christens said "Fine, then here's the location you should report to on Monday and when you enter, ask Security to call Bob Christens."

With the exchange of handshakes, I went back to Hughes.

As I got back to work, I found Norm my boss and said "Hey Norm, may I talk with you? I have accepted an offer with another company and I would like to turn in my notice. Would it be possible if I could leave today"?

I couldn't believe how dumb I just was. I just sandbagged my boss of two years and a good friend.

"Was it money" he asked? "Was it something I said? What was it"? How do you tell someone you really like that you must leave and not hurt their feelings? Norm went to HR, who went to Dr Hoe, who said "Just let him go today if he wishes and wish him the best from me. We will give him an excellent reference."

At 3:26 pm, I was escorted out of the Hughes Aircraft Newport Beach Facility. It wasn't until Monday that my leaving was announced.

Although Hughes had security guards, General Dynamics was a secure facility with badges that restricted and recorded entrances everywhere, including the bathrooms. And I mean they can tell if it's #1 or #2.

I was assigned to a secure vault type office that had a light table, desk, and on three of the walls, Earl's enlargements were taped on it. The clarity of the images was unbelievable and that would make my task extremely easy.

I don't really believe anyone thought I would succeed. I saw Bob from time to time when I got coffee. But there wasn't anyone around to even talk to. Lunch was in the cafeteria, which in its self was a shock since fast food was what I lived on in those days. Although no one believed the progress, at the 3-week mark my work was being review by two very sharp engineer types. They were really very funny. They would talk quietly between each other and one would put a simple piece of masking tape on the drawing with a number. Then used a sheet of paper to write out the question, advice or an error they wanted to discuss with me. My "concentration" to them was the concern.

At the 4-week mark, the primary drawing had been completed. The chip was divided into sections or quadrants and each of my drawings matched one of the four corners of the chip. If there was a question, a new photos would showed up that would show an area in question in even more detail.

One of the outstanding areas of concern was an invisible mask or layer called the Implement or Depletion Mask. As usual, Earl came up with the solution. He applied power to the chip, and as the transistors heated up, those transistors that had this Implant mask on them seemed to glow brighter when he applied an infrared filter. Earl just supplied me a negative with a bunch of black spots on it. Where there was a black spot on top of a transistor, that's was a transistor that needed the implant mask. We had used the same concept when we needed to look for a tank on a battlefield; it was called something like a "Heat Signature" or "Thermal Imaging."

At the 5-week mark, I got the first "Shit, he's going to do it." And after the final review by the engineers, I got the "Damn, he did it."

There are times when you can hear someone coming from far away and McKinney was one of them. He was walking with Bob Christens toward me.

"Damn, son, Earl said you were good. And Bob says you have done it. Let's look. Therefore, you went from these pictures here on the wall, placed them under this Mylar and just copied or interpreted the design. Do you think anyone could do this to"?

"Yes Sir I do. But Clare is the gating item. Without that level of quality of photographs, I wouldn't be able to have done this. Everything else was just basic drafting or mask design skills. Any of our design team members at Hughes could have easily done this."

"Well then great, I have a couple of more people I would like you to talk with, but this project is completed. Damn son, great job" McKinney said.

It may sound stupid, but with a leader like that, I could have done anything.

As Mac turn to leave, he turned back and said "Oh, what are you doing for dinner tonight? Why don't you meet me at Jenner's bar around 6:00 pm and we can talk about what's next for you."

"Sir, yes sir." Damn, looks like I was going for dinner and drinks with the Colonel.

The people he wanted me to talk with were just brain pickers doing a standard technical debriefing and we finished around 3:30 pm. Bob walked in and said my paper work was complete and I should pack up everything. As I walked with Bob back to the Security office, it was amazing, I didn't get to know anyone, go out to lunch with anyone, and there wasn't even anyone to say good-bye to. The security officer took my badge, inspected my personal property, handed me a release form to signed and that was that. Bob shook my hand, turned around, and walked away. Not even a verbal "thank you" or "good bye".

It was one of those drives' home where the radio was turned off and your mind started racing over the six-week event. I had just walked into a facility, did something, walk out and I can't tell anyone. It just didn't exist; it will just be a "6 week memory loss."

I got home to clean up and as always there was no one was there. Maria, my wife and kids must have gone somewhere, so I left a note and headed out to "meet Mac."

At Jenner's that evening, there was the usual Friday night Hughes crowd there. Many had just found out that I had left. As the evening went on and the awkwardness increased, I finally was saved. There was Mac's voice again. With him was Dr. Hoe and Dick Blaradi, section head of my old department.

With a slap on the back, Blaradi said "That was real chicken shit of you to quit and not even come to me first."

"Dick, it was a good offer," I said.

"But, you do miss us don't you. You know you can come back anytime. No hard feelings. Anyway, Kristin and your wife have been out shopping and you will find that you don't have a choice."

Right on cue, in came the girls. Kristin, Dick's wife of 11 years and mine. Hair done, dressed to the 9s, and with a big kiss hello, Maria said "You're going back!"

Dick said "Great!"

However, it was Mac's eyes that I noticed first. Then came a brief heads down nod and a smile. Yes, I now knew he was controlling everything for me, my exit, my project, and now my re-entrance. Everything was taken care of.

"Sir" I asked Blaradi, "If I come back, what else can I get? How about an airplane"?

"Bobby my boy" Blaradi said, "Remember, it's not the money that's important, it's the excitement. Now, come on my bride" as he pulled his wife out on the dance floor, "let's dance. Maria, drag his butt out here."


And that's how it started up again.




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