FBI Bugging You?
When you call repair service to report noise on your telephone line, the man who shows up could be an FBI agent wearing a telephone company uniform. Sure enough, he will fix your line, but he will leave a tiny bug inside the phone to pick up all your conversations.
That is one small trick revealed in my book The Secrets of the FBI about how secret teams of FBI agents plant bugs in the homes and offices of terrorists, Mafia figures, spies, corrupt politicians, and foreign intelligence officers without getting caught and shot as burglars. All authorized by court order, of course.
The teams, called Tactical Operations, consist of 10 agents each. There are seven such teams based at an undercover site in Virginia.
When conducting covert entries, TacOps agents tranquilize guard dogs and may stage fake traffic accidents, traffic stops, or utility breakdowns to waylay occupants and security personnel. To conceal agents as they defeat locks and alarm systems, TacOps creates false fronts to houses and fake bushes that hide agents.
In conducting surveillance of a target, TacOps agents employ a range of ruses. “One day we will be Joe’s Plumbing, complete with a white work truck, company label, uniforms, and telephone number,” says Louis E. Grever, who until recently was the FBI’s executive assistant director and was on the TacOps teams for 12 years. “If called, FBI personnel will say, ‘Joe’s Plumbing, can I help you?’”
A full wardrobe of about 50 assorted uniforms hangs on racks at the TacOps Support Center near the FBI’s Engineering Research Facility at Quantico, Virginia. There, the FBI makes custom-designed bugging devices, tracking devices, sensors, and surveillance cameras to watch and record the bad guys.
When breaking into homes, offices, and even embassies to plant bugging devices, TacOps agents try to avoid using rear doors. Since they are rarely used, rear doors could be booby-trapped. So when tasked with planting bugs in a Philadelphia electronics supply company that was a front for an organized crime drug gang’s hangout, TacOps agents decided to walk in through the front door. The only problem was that across the street was a bar with outside seating. Patrons of the bar would spot the FBI team defeating the locks and disarming the alarm system at night.
So TacOps agents borrowed a city bus and rode to the electronics supply company. They parked the bus at the front door and pretended that the bus had broken down. As the FBI agent who was driving the bus lifted the hood, agents scrambled out to work on the locks and break in. Onlookers across the street could not see them behind the bus.
Once the agents were in the target building, the bus drove off. When the agents had finished installing electronic bugs, the bus returned to pick them up. But the bus whizzed past two inebriated customers from the bar who were waiting at a nearby bus stop. When the bus stopped in front of the business, the two angry patrons ran for the bus and jumped in. Since the agents on the bus were from different offices, they thought at first that the two men were part of the operation.
“We get a couple blocks away, we start peeling off our equipment,” says Grever. “We’ve all got weapons on and radio gear, and these two guys are kind of sitting there going, ‘What the hell?’ They start ringing the bell. Ding, ding! They want to get off. Now the bus driver, who was from the local office, was not a very good bus driver. I think he practiced for like 20 minutes driving this bus. He was knocking over garbage cans when he made turns. He yells back, ‘Hey, quit playing with the bell! I’m having a hard enough time driving the bus!’”
Other agents on the bus began to realize that the two men ringing to get off were not with the FBI after all.
“One of our guys got up, and he just happened to have a shotgun hanging on the strap on his back,” Grever says. “He walks over to them and goes, ‘Do we know you?’”
Now, Grever says, “They’re really ringing that bell. And we realize these guys are not with us. So we yell up, ‘Hey Phil, stop the bus! We’ve got a couple of riders here!’”
The driver turned around, took one look at the patrons, and realized they were not agents. Swearing, he pulled over and opened the doors.
“They get out, and we never hear a word from them,” Grever says. “They had no clue what was going on. They just happened to get on the wrong bus.”
Ronald Kessler is The New York Times bestselling author of The Secrets of the FBI and In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect.