Spy shops feature a James Bond arsenal for business security
The CCS Counter Spy Shop looks ordinary enough. Customers enter a large office building, go through an impressive green marble hall, and take the elevator to the fifth floor showroom - a series of little white cubicles lined with shelves where handsome leather briefcases are displayed. Nothing about this place is ordinary, however, and you may never look at a briefcase in the same way again. CCS offers countersurveillance and antiterrorist equipment. This is one of the places people come to buy a telephone scrambler, an inconspicuous video camera, or something good looking in the way of a bulletproof vest.Skip to next paragraph
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``We specialize in the protection of privacy,'' says Jairo Cuenca, a pleasant dark-haired man who is a security consultant for the shop. CCS has six stores in the United States, as well as stores in Paris, London, and Tel Aviv. People's privacy needs vary, but in the US, CCS's specialty is protecting business information.
``Information is power,'' explains Mr. Cuenca.
It's not easy to quantify a subject like industrial espionage, or the usefulness of these devices. According to Kerry Lydon, editor of Security magazine, the usual hazards facing companies are commonplace but hard to control: employees who chat too freely about business secrets, or who casually toss vital information into the trash to be discovered by the enterprising competitor.
And although places like CCS seem to have an enduring fascination for reporters, this kind of equipment represents only a minuscule part of the whole $5 billion a year security industry (a Security Equipment Industry Association figure for 1986 that includes all kinds of security: guards, equipment, and so on; about 90 percent is for protection of businesses).
But interest in countersurveillance and protective devices is growing in its own way. In response to terrorism, for example, a competitor of CCS, Law Enforcement Associates of Medford, N.J., is redoing its catalog to emphasize self-protective equipment such as bomb detectors, according to Margaret Vaccaro, a spokesman for the company.
There is something intriguing as well as disturbing about the items sold here at the Counter Spy Shop. In one of the cubicles, Mr. Cuenca pulls out a little device called a body wire. It consists of a small, narrow black box with a thick wire coming from it. The wearer puts the box in his back pocket, wraps the wire under a sweater, and, voil`a! - a human transmitter.
``Let's say there is a union negotiation and that I'm going to send my negotiators wired. That means that whatever is discussed, I have immediate feedback,'' says Cuenca, who calls this sort of thing as ``an everyday occurrence.''
Cuenca emphasizes that CCS sells defensive not offensive equipment, although the distinction is not always clear cut. He pulls out another flat black box, this one smaller than a deck of cards, which vibrates when it detects a transmission from a body wire.
Then there are telephone scramblers, which are contained in a briefcase. Inside is a telephone handset and a cradle for a regular phone. A computer scrambles the speaker's voice, which can be understood only by the person who has a scrambler that is the mate. The code changes at random, 600 times a minute, says Cuenca. ``If someone records your conversation and tries to unscramble it, it could be done. But it would probably take 17 years'' with a high-speed computer.
Devices like this come as an eye-opener to someone who doesn't watch ``Miami Vice'' and who figured it was just a movie whenever James Bond pulled out a gadget. Actually, CCS is a consultant to ``Miami Vice,'' and some of its devices are referred to in the James Bond books. ``The olive-in-the-martini transmitter - it exists,'' says Cuenca in his hushed voice.
Another unit can be plugged into a telephone to show if someone is listening or has put a bug on the line. It's a small box that could sit on a night table. There's a bigger multi-line version for an office; it fits in a briefcase. ``If you do a lot of bidding this unit becomes part of the phone system,'' says Cuenca.
Business plans, he says, should be guarded ``the same way you protect your money. We're talking about things that are very hard to recover. If you spend five years on an idea that may revolutionize your industry and then lose that idea in its final stages, you may not recover from it.''
In addition to privacy protection, CCS also sells rather startling equipment that enables people to gather information unobtrusively. Cuenca hoists what appears to be a massive leather-bound dictionary and points out a peep hole smaller than a pencil eraser. Inside is a video camera.
A variation is a wireless video system, which, in effect, is a miniaturized television station contained in a briefcase ($10,000). The briefcase also has a tiny peep hole on one side. The person carrying it can transmit live video.
Another briefcase is really a tape recorder ($2,400). The microphone is in the latch and is turned on by laying the handle to one side. A pre-amplifier magnifies the sound 30 times, so that it distinctly picks up a whisper at 35 feet.
In the last cubicle, along one side, is a rack of fairly ordinary-looking, though well made, men's outdoor clothing - jogging shirts, parkas, khaki jackets. It's all bulletproof, though when selecting here one has to bear in mind what kind of bullet he or she might be facing.
``This is the only thing that would stop a bullet from a rifle,'' says Cuenca, banging the back of one jacket with his knuckles. They weigh a lot and make the wearer look sort of dumpy.
He pulls out an enormous flashlight with huge strange bulbs. It can be shined in an attacker's face to temporarily blind and disorient him - ``30 seconds to four minutes, depending on the person's eyes,'' he says.
Cuenca says these devices are in common use among world leaders, businessmen, even rock stars. ``This is mandatory,'' he says. ``It's the cost of doing business. It's the cost of being important.''