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The Latest Bug: Not An Automobile

The kind of bugs we’re talking about here are those eavesdropping bugs, those transmitting devices that can be secretly hidden someplace in your home or office by someone who wants to find out what you are saying to whom.

Probably you don’t have any bug problem. The vast majority of us can rest easy that our lives are bug free. And even if you are worried you might have some, and if you call someone to come find out for sure, the odds are better than 20 to 1 you won’t have any. Or at least there won’t be any bugs by the time the people you called get there to look for them.

Not cockroaches. If you suspect you have that sort of bug problem in this clime, those odds could be turned right around and probably you do. The kind of bugs we’re talking about here are those eavesdropping bugs, those transmitting devices that can be secretly hidden someplace in your home or office by someone who wants to find out what you are saying to whom.

For every variety…

There are many varieties of such bugs. They can be as small as aspirin tablets slipped into ball point pens or cigarette packs. They can be as simple as those baby-room monitors that are sold in many department stores. And anyone who wanted to tap a phone line could easily buy the necessary devices and materials for doing it at many electronics stores.

Local private eye Rob Kimmons also does a lot of what I suppose might be called private ear work. His investigations and security agency, Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc., has some folks who have been specially trained to detect all sorts of eavesdropping transmitters.

But Rob said more than 95 percent of the times people call for someone to come search for bugs, none are found. Occasionally, on a no-bug visit, the private ears may find where a bug once as on a phone line but has been removed.

Rob said the reason is because when the person who was worried about bugs called to ask for someone to come look, guess which phone he used.

Right. The same line that was suspected of being bugged. So then whoever was monitoring the line took the bug off before the pros arrived with an array of electronic equipment to find it.

Thoroughly sweeping an area to locate transmitting devices — or make sure there are none — requires several complicated and costly machines. A spectrum analyzer, for instance. It finds radio signals being transmitted from the area.

Then there is a frequency counter to lock in on whatever specific frequency is being used. And there is a piece of equipment for locating carrier current transmitters, such as might turn up on the back of a wall plug in a room.

And how about the audio amplifier that searches for open speakers on telephones, because someone could bug your speaker phone to transmit even when the receiver is on the hook.

Another interesting gizmo is the TDR, which stands for time domain reflectometer, and which locates breaks, open wires, junctions and splices on phone lines.

But if most of us have no reason to worry about someone bugging us, then who makes up that small percent that is hiring the private ears, and why are they worried about being bugged?

Keeping strategy under cover

One category is lawyers. Rob said one law firm has had him coming around every month for a couple of years, making routine checks. I guess if you are involved in some big lawsuit, you want to make sure the other side doesn’t tap into your strategy planning.

Certain big corporations, too, worry about bugs. Those involved in particularly competitive areas, especially. Like the computer industry. Rob said one company paid several thousand bucks to have much of a hotel checked for bugs before a big meeting.

And before major executive sessions involving secret plans, companies may have the private ears check out a boardroom and then stick around long enough to make sure no one coming in is wired with a transmitter.

One time a couple of partners in a small business were on the outs and one of them suspected the other of bugging him. The private ears found recorders and activators in the ceiling over the telephone equipment. All four lines were being monitored.

Divorce cases sometimes lead to bug suspicions. One time a woman called the private ears to come on over because she thought her husband might be tapping into her phone calls.

Well, they found a device, all right. But it was on the husband’s phone line. Those private ears that she, herself, had summoned discovered the wife was doing the very thing that she suspected her husband of doing.

Thom Marshall of the Houston Chronicle, April 3, 1998

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