- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2001

The death-defying stunts, gizmos and infamous eye candy that make James Bond a fictional catharsis for millions will likely be forever out of reach for the general public.
Technological advances, though, mean that many can taste the life led by the silver-screen superagent without breaking their banks.
Americans are doing just that to protect business interests, catch philandering spouses canoodling in the dark or spy on that nanny who might do more snoozing than actual work.
Readily available spy-style technology, from miniature cameras to wiretap-detecting devices, can be found at the local gadget shop.
In the District, that means a visit to the Counter Spy Shop on Connecticut Avenue NW.
Its shelves hold innocuous items such as faux soda cans with empty interiors where valuables can be hidden, but the shop also sells mantle clocks with tiny hidden cameras wedged within them, plus devices that can tell not only if your phone is being tapped, but which telephone pole the bug works through.
"A lot of the technology has been around for 20, 30 years," says Arielle Jamil, director of public and media relations with CCS International, based in New Rochelle, N.Y. Her group runs the local Counter Spy Shop, along with other locations in Beverly Hills, Miami, New York and London.
"In the '70s, we were lugging around huge suitcases. Now, we have tiny microsystems and cameras literally the size of a head of a pin," Ms. Jamil says.
Costs, too, have shrunk. A desktop timepiece with a hidden camera might have cost $3,600 a decade ago, but today it clocks in at about $495. Chip-integration advances allow for smaller and smaller camera devices to serve the public's voyeuristic needs.
Customers range from "mom and pop" types with concerns over their spouses' fidelity to law enforcers looking for an edge against criminals, she says. Others simply want the latest gadgets with which to tinker.
Many seek to prevent themselves from being snooped upon. "A lot of people are concerned about being wiretapped," she says.
Stockbrokers make up a sizable chunk of this market because one overheard item could be worth a cool fortune in the wrong hands.
Telephone-tap detectors range in price from $795 to $40,000, she says, and the expensive models are able to track exactly from which telephone pole a tap originates.
The wiretap detectors operate, in part, by measuring the radio frequencies emitted by telephones. Normal phone conversations emit in the range of 1800 to 1900 megahertz, while bugs emit 700 to 900 megahertz, a range for which the bug detectors look.
Bugs also change other electrical parameters, says Brady Jeril, vice president of product management for CCS International. The higher-end detectors can measure changes to the speed and frequency of the electrical signals, among other indicators.
Without such a device, a person has little or no chance of knowing if a phone line has been tapped, Mr. Jeril says. "Some people think clicks or other noises mean the line is bugged. It may be, but it may not be," he says.
Another hot seller is the portable voice-stress analyzer. It uses a microphone to pick up microtremors in a person's voice that can't be heard by human ears. When a person is under stress answering a particular question, his or her larynx trembles slightly, which can be recorded by the devices. The CCS International's portable model costs $3,900, a price some companies are willing to pay to check on potential business deals.
Kelly Fromm, chief executive officer of Counter Intelligence Technologies of Daytona Beach, Fla., says his company deals mostly with businesses seeking bug-detection devices, voice-stress analyzers and covert camera equipment to prevent theft from competing companies.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, the bug-detector sweeps come up empty, Mr. Fromm says, noting that a portable $500 wiretap-detector model is his best seller.
Sometimes, a silly daytime chat fest can spark interest in the investigative arts.
A "Sally Jessy Raphael" show two years ago featured a comely undercover investigator seducing married men. Tom Sneva, an office manager with Ward Investigations of Annapolis, says his office received about 20 calls the next day from women hoping to trap their men with similar chicanery.
"I think that's shady. I wouldn't do it," says Mr. Sneva, whose office deals chiefly with domestic situations involving wayward spouses.
Sales of various spy-type items also fluctuate depending upon the headlines. Sales of nanny-spotting video cameras shot up after the case of British au pair Louise Woodward, who was convicted in 1997 of killing an 8-month-old boy by shaking him.
Other high-profile cases highlight the potential legal dangers of playing spy at home.
In 1999, a grand jury indicted White House employee Linda Tripp on two counts of violating Maryland's wiretap charges for recording conversations she held with intern Monica Lewinsky, tapes that sparked the investigation into President Clinton's affair with Miss Lewinsky. The punishment could have carried up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if Mrs. Tripp had been convicted.
But her act of either betrayal or career preservation, depending upon one's beliefs, would have been legal across most of the country. The mercurial wiretapping laws sound as mysterious as a double agent's nom de plume. (See our sidebar.)
Perhaps news of Mrs. Tripp's conundrum fuels the sense of mystery, and skepticism, swirling around the field.
Repeated inquiries to Seattle-based X10.com, the company that peddles a tiny, $80 wireless camera all over the Web through an aggressive pop-up advertisement campaign, were ignored.
The social stigmas regarding snooping may remain, but that doesn't limit the imagination of those weaned on salacious TV programming, Mr. Sneva says.
"They watch TV, they see the guys come in and put microbugs in. They want cameras on the head of a pin," he says.
That high-end technology doesn't come cheap.
"All that stuff is available," Mr. Sneva says, but often at a price out of the reach of the average consumer. "If you want something that's truly high-tech, that shoots in the dark, it's going to cost in the thousands," he says.
The Internet provides would-be investigators with a less expensive way to snoop on others, says Charles Pinck, president of the Georgetown Group, an investigative firm.
A wealth of information on people can be found online, as long as one knows where to look, says Mr. Pinck, who does corporate investigations and fraud/embezzlement cases for his clients.
The Internet can help uncover whether a person has made headlines in the past (www.newslink.org), unearth public documents on friends and foes alike (www.knowx.com) and explore how much someone has donated to a political campaign (www.campaignfinance.org).
Want to find a missing person? Mr. Pinck recommends www.peoplesearch.com. Some online resources demand payments; others are free.
"It requires a certain expertise to find it," says Mr. Pinck, who calls the Internet perhaps the greatest investigative tool ever invented. "In some respects, there's almost too much information" to sift through, he says.
"Just because something is on the Internet by no means is it true," he adds. "I try to find the actual documents to what it refers to."
Despite the new gadgets, the intrepid investigator isn't in danger of losing his or her job anytime soon.
A licensed investigator can follow anybody's trail, and do it legally. Try that without a license, and poof, you're a stalker.
Part of Mr. Sneva's trade is chasing the occasional wild goose. Perhaps too many spy movies have created a public ripe for paranoia. He often helps determine whether a bug may be in a house or office.
"Most of the time, we don't find anything," he says.
But investigators themselves may be skittish about the outgrowth of this technology. Many queries to area investigators went unanswered.
Mr. Fromm says some investigators think their skills are being replaced.
"The general P.I. doesn't like the tools being available to the masses, but the masses are going to buy them anyway," he says.

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