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.:: Can You Find Out If Your Telephone Is Tapped? ::.

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Current issue : #23 | Release date : 1989-01-25 | Editor : Knight Lightning
Phrack Inc. XXIII IndexTaran King & Knight Lightning
Phrack Prophile XXIII Featuring The MentorTaran King
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Utopia; Chapter One of FTSagaKnight Lightning
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Future Trancendent Saga Index A from the Bitnet Services Libraryunknown
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Getting Serious About VMS HackingVaxBuster
Can You Find Out If Your Telephone Is Tapped?Fred P. Graham & VaxCat
Big Brother OnlineThumpr
Phrack World News XXIII Part 1Knight Lightning
Phrack World News XXIII Part 2Knight Lightning
Title : Can You Find Out If Your Telephone Is Tapped?
Author : Fred P. Graham & VaxCat
                                ==Phrack Inc.==

                      Volume Two, Issue 23, File 9 of 12

           <|>                                                  <|>
           <|>   Can You Find Out If Your Telephone Is Tapped?  <|>
           <|>                 by Fred P. Graham                <|>
           <|>                                                  <|>
           <|>            "It Depends On Who You Ask"           <|>
           <|>                                                  <|>
           <|>               Transcribed by VaxCat              <|>
           <|>                                                  <|>
           <|>                 December 30, 1988                <|>
           <|>                                                  <|>

Unlike most Americans, who suspect it, Sarah Bartlett at least knows she was
overheard by an F.B.I. wiretap in the computer room of the Internal Revenue
Service Building in Washington, across the street from the Justice Department.
On April 25, as she sat at her card-punch machine, the postman handed her a
registered letter containing a document known in police circles as a "wiretap
notice."  It told her that the Government had been given permission to
intercept wire communications "to and from" two Washington telephones for a
period of fifteen days after January 13, and that during this period her own
voice had been heard talking to the parties on those phones.  Miss Bartlett
said nothing to the other girls in the computer room, but she must have been
stunned.  A few weeks later, federal agents came to the computer room and took
her away, to face a variety of charges that amounted to being a runner for a
numbers game.

There are no figures to disclose how many Americans have received such wiretap
messages, and few people who have gotten them have spoken out.  But the number
could be over 50,000 by now.  When Congress enacted the requirement in 1968
that notice of wiretap be given, it intended to sweep away the growing sense of
national paranoia about electronic snoopery.  But there seems to be an unabated
national suspicion that almost everybody who is anybody is being tapped or
bugged by somebody else. Herman Schwartz, a Buffalo, New York, law professor
who is the American Civil Liberties Union's expert on Governmental
eavesdropping, estimates that since 1968 between 150,000 and 250,000 Americans
have been overheard by the Big Ear of the Federal Government or local police.
"If you have anything to do with gambling or drugs, or if you're a public
official involved in any hanky-panky and if you're a Democrat, or if you or
your friends are involved in radical politics or black activism, you've
probably been bugged," Professor Schwartz says.

Henry Kissinger wisecracks to friends that he won't have to write his memoirs,
he'll just publish the F.B.I.'s transcripts of his telephone calls.  Richard G.
Kleindienst has had his Justice Department office "swept."  Secretary of State
William P. Rogers once shied away from discussing China policy over a liberal
newspaper columnist's line.  High-ranking officials in New York, Washington and
Albany have been notified by the New York District Attorney's office that they
may become targets of blackmailers because their visits to a swanky Manhattan
whorehouse were recorded on hidden bugs.  The technician who regularly sweeps
the office of Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel, checking the Civil Defense
hot-line telephone he had been instructed not to touch, recently found it was
wired to bug the room while resting on the hook.  Democratic officials waxed
indignant over the five characters with Republican connections who were caught
attempting to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the
Watergate hotel, but when they had earlier found less conclusive proof of the
same kind of activity, they let it pass without public comment.  The Omnibus
Crime Control Act of 1968 makes it a crime, punishable by five years in jail
and a $10,000 fine, to eavesdrop on a telephone call or a private conversation
without a court order.  Only federal law-enforcement officials and local
prosecutors in states that have adopted similar wiretap legislation can get
court permission to wiretap, and the law requires that within ninety days after
a listening device is unplugged, wiretap notices must be sent to everyone whose
phones or premises were bugged, plus anyone else (like Sarah Bartlett) who was
overheard and might later be prosecuted because of it.

However, because of some private investigators and snoopy individuals nobody
knows how many are ignoring the law against eavesdropping and getting away with
it, and because none of the rules governing court-approved wiretapping in
ordinary criminal investigations applies to the Federal Government's
warrantless wiretapping in the name of "national security," no one can be
certain his phone is safe.  Before the Supreme Court ruled, 8 to 0, last June
that the Government must get warrants for its wiretapping of domestic radicals
in national-security cases, the F.B.I. wiretapped both homegrown and foreign
"subversives" without court orders.  The best estimates were that this
accounted for between 54,000 and 162,000 of the 150,000 to 250,000 people who
were overheard since 1968.

With warrantless wiretapping of domestic radicals now outlawed, the number of
persons overheard on warrantless devices is expected to be reduced by about one
fourth.  But even with the courts requiring that more Government bugging be
reported to the victims, paranoia is fed by improved technology.  Bugging has
now developed to the point that it is extremely difficult to detect, and even
harder to trace to the eavesdropper.  The hottest item these days is the
telephone "hook-switch bypass," which circumvents the cutoff switch on a phone
and turns it into a sensitive bug, soaking up all the sounds in the room while
the telephone is sitting on its cradle.  In its most simple form, a little
colored wire is added to the jumble of wires inside a telephone and it is about
as easy to detect as an additional strand in a plate of spaghetti.  Even if it
is found, the eavesdropper probably won't be.  A check of the telephone line
would most likely turn up a tiny transmitter in a terminal box elsewhere in the
building or somewhere down the street on a pole.  This would probably be
broadcasting to a voice-activated tape recorder locked in the trunk of a car
parked somewhere in the neighborhood.  It would be impossible to tell which one
it was.

My wife happened to learn about this at the time last year when The New York
Times locked horns with the Justice Department over the Pentagon Papers, and I
was covering the story for The Times.  She became convinced that John Mitchell
would stop at nothing and that the telephone in our bedroom was hot as a poker.
After that, whenever a wifely chewing-out or amorous doings were brewing, I was
always forewarned.  If anything was about to happen in the bedroom too
sensitive for the outside world to hear, my wife would first rise from the bed,
cross the room, and ceremoniously unplug the telephone. "When someone finds out
somebody else learned something they didn't want them to know, they usually
jump to the conclusion they've been bugged," says Allan D. Bell Jr., president
of Dektor Counterintelligence and Security Inc., in Springfield, Virginia,
outside Washington.  "If they thought about it, there was probably some other,
easier way it got out."

Bell's point is that most people get information in the easiest, cheapest and
most legal way, and that the person whose secrets have been compromised should
consider first if he's thrown away carbons, left his files unlocked, hired a
secretary who could be bribed, or just talked too much.  There's an important
exception, however, that many people don't know about.  A party to a
conversation can secretly record it, without violating any law.  A person on
one end of a telephone call can quietly record the conversation (the old legal
requirement of a periodic warning beep is gone).  Also, one party to a
face-to-face conversation can secret a hidden recorder in his clothing.  James
R. Robinson, the Justice Department lawyer in charge of prosecuting those who
get caught violating the anti-bugging law, insists that it is relatively rarely
broken.  He debunks the notion that most private eavesdropping is done in the
executive suites of big business.  Sex, not corporate intrigue, is behind
ninety percent of the complaints he gets.  After giving the snoopy spouse or
lover a good scare, the Government doesn't even bother to prosecute
do-it-yourself wiretappers.  If a private investigator did the bugging, they
throw the book at him.

Cost is the reason why experts insist there's less wiretapping than most people
think.  Private investigators who use electronic surveillance don't quote their
prices these days, but people in the de-bugging business say the cost can range
from $10,000 per month for a first-rate industrial job to $150 per day for the
average private detective.

High costs also limit Government wiretapping.  Last year the average F.B.I. tap
cost $600 per day, including installing the device, leasing telephone lines to
connect the bugs to F.B.I. offices, monitoring the conversations and typing the
transcripts.  Considering the informative quality of most persons'
conversations, it isn't worth it.  Court records of the F.B.I.'s surveillances
have demonstrated that when unguarded conversations are recorded, the result is
most likely to be a transcript that is uninformative, inane or

The folklore of what to do to thwart electronic surveillance is almost
uniformly misguided or wrong.  Robert F. Kennedy, when he was Senator, was said
to have startled a visitor by springing into the air and banging his heels down
onto his office floor.  He explained this was to jar loose any bug J. Edgar
Hoover might have planted.  Whether he was teasing or not, experts say it
wouldn't have done anything except bruise Senator Kennedy's heels.  Former
Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas used to complain that, as each election
season approached, the reception in his office phone would fade as the current
was sapped by the multiple wiretaps installed by his political enemies.  Those
people who think poor reception and clicking on the line are due to wiretapping
are giving wiretappers less credit and AT&T more, than either deserves.
Present-day wiretaps are frequently powered by their own batteries, or they
drain so little current that the larger normal power fluctuations make them
undetectable, even with sensitive current meters.

Clicks on the line can be caused by loose connections in the phone, cables, or
central office equipment, wet cables, defective switches in the central office,
and power surges when batteries in the central office are charged.  A
sophisticated wiretap records conversations on a machine that turns itself
silently on and off as you speak.  The tap is designed to work without
extraneous noises; your telephone isn't.  If things you say in private or on
the telephone seem to be coming back to you from unlikely sources, your first
step should be to make a careful check of the room or rooms that might be

If the Federal Government is doing the eavesdropping, neither you nor any but
the most experienced antibugging experts will detect it.  Nobody has discovered
a Justice Department wiretap for years, because the telephone company itself
often taps the line and connects it to an FBI listening post.  FBI bugs have
become so sophisticated that the normal sweep techniques won't detect them,
either.  But the kind of eavesdropping that is being done by many private
investigators is often so crude that even another amateur can find it. Room
bugs come in two types:  tiny microphones that send their interceptions to the
outside by wire, and little radio transmitters that radio their overhearings to
the outside.

Both are likely to be installed in electrical fixtures, because their power can
be borrowed, their wires can be used to transmit the conversations to the
listening post, and the fixtures' electrical innards serve as camouflage for
the electric bugs.  Your telephone has all these attributes, plus three
built-in amplifiers the eavesdropper can borrow.  You should first remove the
plastic cover from your telephone's body and check inside for a wire of odd
size or shape that seems to cut across the normal flow of the circuits.  A bug
or radio transmitter that feeds on your telephone's power and amplifiers will
be a thimble-sized cylinder or cube, usually encased in black epoxy and wired
into the circuit terminals.

Also check for the same devices along the telephone lines in the room or in the
jack or box where the phone is attached to the baseboard.  You should also
unscrew the mouthpiece and earpiece to check for suspicious wires or objects.
Even an expert would not detect a new item that's being sold illegally, a
bugged mouthpiece that looks just like the one now in your telephone, and which
can be switched with yours in a few seconds.  After the phone check, look for
suspicious little black forms wired into television sets, radios, lamps and

Also check heating and air-conditioning ducts for mikes with wires running back
into the ducts.  Radio transmitter bugs that have their own batteries can be
quickly installed, but they can also be easier to find.  Check under tables and
chairs, and between sofa cushions.  Remember they need to be near the point of
likely conversations to assure good reception.  Sometimes radio bugs are so
cleverly concealed they are almost impossible to detect.  A German manufacturer
advertises bugged fountain pens that actually write, table cigarette lighters
that actually light, and briefcases that actually carry briefs.

Noting that the owner of such items can absent himself from delicate
negotiations and leave his electronic ear behind, the company observes that
"obviously, a microphone of this type opens untold opportunities during
conferences, negotiations, talks, etc."  If you suspect that your telephone has
been tapped and your own visual inspection shows nothing, you can request the
telephone company to check the line.  The American Telephone and Telegraph
Company estimates it gets about ten thousand requests from customers per year
to check out their lines.  These checks, plus routine repair service, turn up
evidence of about two hundred fifty listening devices each year.  When evidence
of a tap is found, the company checks with the FBI and with local police in
states where the laws permit police wiretapping with court orders.  Until
recently, if the tap was a court-approved job, the subscriber was assured that
"no illegal device" was on the line.  This proved so unsettling to the persons
who requested the checks that now the telephone company says it tells all
subscribers about any taps found.  If this includes premature tidings of a
court-approved FBI tap, that's a hassle that AT&T is content to leave to the
Government and its suspect.

For those who have done the above and are still suspicious, the next step up in
defensive measures is to employ an expert to de-bug your premises.  A thorough
job involves a minute inspection of the premises, including X-ray pictures of
desk ornaments and other items that might contain hidden radio transmitters,
the use of metal detectors to search out hidden microphones, checks of the
electrical wiring for signs of unusual currents, and the use of a sensitive
radio-wave detector to find any stray transmissions that a hidden bug might be
giving out, plus employment of a radio field-strength meter to locate the bug.

With so much expertise required to do a sound detection job, and with no
licensing requirements in most states to bar anybody from clapping on earphones
and proclaiming himself an expert de-bugger, it is not surprising that the
field abounds with quacks.  A Pennsylvania construction company that had lost a
series of close bids hired a local private detective last year to sweep its
boardroom for bugs.  The company's security chief, taking a dim view of the
outside hotshot, took an ordinary walkie-talkie, taped its on-button down for
steady transmission, and hid it behind the books on a shelf.  He sat in a room
down the hall and listened as the detective clumped into the room, swept around
with his electronic devices, and pronounced the room clean.

Sometimes bogus de-buggers will give clients something extra for their money by
planting a device and finding it during their sweep.  One "expert" tried this
twice in Las Vegas with organized-crime figures, who later compared notes and
concluded they'd been taken.  "Boy, was he sorry," chortled the Justice
Department attorney who related the story.  If you nevertheless want to have
your place swept, things are complicated by the telephone company's ban on
advertising by de-buggers.

As the Missouri Public Service Commission put it when it upheld the telephone
company's refusal to include "de-bugging" in a detective's yellow-page ad,
"advertising the ability to detect and remove electrical devices was, in fact,
also advertising the ability to place those same devices.  Anyone can be pretty
certain of a reliable job by trying one of the major national detective
agencies, Burns, Pinkerton or Wackenhut.  They charge $40 to $60 per man-hour,
for a job that will probably take two men a half day at least.  They specialize
in industrial work and shy away from domestic-relations matters.  So if that's
your problem, ask a lawyer or police official which private investigator in
town is the most reliable de-bugger around.

It may seem too obvious to bear mentioning, but don't discuss your suspicions
about eavesdropping in the presence of the suspected bug.  W. R. Moseley,
director of the Burns agency's investigations operations, say in probably a
majority of the cases, a bugging victim tips off the eavesdropper that he's
going to call in a de-bugger, thus giving the eavesdropper an opportunity to
cover his tracks.

For the person who wants to have as much privacy as money can buy, the Dektor
company is marketing a console about the size of a Manhattan telephone book
which, for only $3,500, you can purchase to sit on your office desk and run a
constant check on the various things that might be done to your telephone and
electric lines to overhear your conversations.  It will block out any effort to
turn your phone into a bug, will detect any harmonica bug, smother out any
telephone tap using a transmitter to broadcast overheard conversations, detect
any use of the electric lines for bugging purposes, and give off a frantic
beep-beep! if anyone picks up an extension phone.

As sophisticated as this device is, there is one thing its promoters won't say
it will do, detect a wiretap by the FBI.  With the connection made in a place
where no de-bugger will be allowed to check, and the G-men monitoring it on
equipment no meter will detect, you can simply never know if the Government is
listening.  So if you're a businessman and think you're bugged by competitors,
you're probably wrong.  If you're a spouse or lover whose amours have gone
public, the listening device can be found but probably nothing will be done
about it.  And if you're being listened to by the Biggest Ear of all, the
Government, you'll never really know until you get your "wiretap notice."

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