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Wednesday, January 13, 1999 Published at 10:12 GMT

World: Americas

Furby toy or Furby spy?

Furbies - their lips aren't sealed

Thousands of families across the United States could be harbouring potentially dangerous double agents - also known as Furbies.

[ image: The NSA - a furby-free zone]
The NSA - a furby-free zone
The Furby, a highly sought-after Christmas toy in 1998, is now a high-ranking public enemy and has been banned from National Security Agency premises in Maryland.

Anyone at the NSA coming across a Furby, or a crack team of Furbies infiltrating the building has been asked to "contact their Staff Security Office for guidance".

Immediate and real danger

An allegedly classified NSA internal memo alerted other agents to the Furby's secret embedded computer chip which allows every Furby to utter 200 words - 100 in English and 100 in "Furbish."

[ image:
"Mee mee boh bay" - Furbish for "very worried"
Because of its ability to repeat what it hears, Security Agency officials were worried "that people would take them home and they'd start talking classified,'' according to one anonymous Capitol Hill source.

Photographic, video and audio recording equipment are all prohibited items for employees at the NSA.

"This includes toys, such as 'Furbys,' with built-in recorders that repeat the audio with synthesized sound to mimic the original signal," the Furby Alert read.

Furbys have ears

A Furby can be recognised immediately by its huge pink ears separated by tufts of hair. It otherwise resembles an owl, with a beak and big, round eyes.

But the furry, cute exterior is merely a shrewd cover for more covert activities.

Thought to have come into circulation in May last year, the elusive creatures dodged thousands of weary parents over Christmas, desperately scouring shop shelves to find one to take home.

Now, the 13-cm gremlin-like operatives are wanted again, this time for spying.

The fate of any Furbys uncovered at the NSA is as yet unknown, presumed top secret.

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