RE/Search interviewed an electronic technician employed by an unidentified Federal Agency. His duties have included the design, engineering and operation of many electronic devices and communication systems that are employed in the surveillance of individuals and their contracts with others.
Q: Though we agreed not to mention the actual agency you work for, can you mention anything about your employer?
A: I can’t and won’t. Let’s just say it’s a very large organization—you would recognize it as a household word.
Q: In the course of your work do you ever publicly identify yourself as an employee of such-and-such an agency? Do you ever have to?
A: We try not to. In a pinch I sometimes have to “pull rank” on someone like a Telco (Telephone Company) rep. This is something that happens very rarely. There are people here and there who are kind of accustomed to working with us, and know what’s going on. In the specific instance of placing an electronic interception (tap) on a private residence, one could identify oneself as a private detective, or carry local law enforcement credentials, or think fast when the neighbors give you the wrong look. Or (and this gets done all the time) just run in there, do your business, and run right out. I remember back in the sixties when the operational load was very heavy we used to have someone hanging out at Radio (San Francisco police radio room) screening all calls that might bring a car around to the address where we were working. The neighbors called and called, but the slips never got out over the air.
Q: Interception is an expensive business, isn’t it?
A: I’d refer you to that very interesting book you just showed me (Study of Vulnerability of Electronic Communication Systems to Electronic Interception) which presents some facts and figures. You can add them up yourself. The little trick devices you hear about cost a lot of money, but most of the time we stay away from those. The main expense turns out to be the manpower to run a bug and keep on top of it.
Over the past few years the office here has had a harder and harder time justifying spending that kind of money. It runs in a fashionable way. One year it’s the SLA and we’ll bug them and their people, people suspected to be their contacts. If narcotics are a political problem and heads might roll in certain places we’ll put a lot of equipment and time into narcotics enforcement instead of, say, organized crime, Italian-style. But if you read the papers you can see that’s been getting some play out here lately, as has the union area, also.
Q: How close an eye does Washington keep on this sort of thing?
A: For intercepts, you have to get courst orders, and in many cases clear specific operations (that might or might not be subject to court orders) with Washington. The orders are usually a snap-there are AUSA’s (Assistant US Attorneys) who specialize in drafting them. Most of the time they read pretty much the same, except for names and dates. There’s also an Inventory of “specialized devices,” which could include your mikes, miniature transmitters, scanners, hot little receivers for sensitive work, and the rest. This iventory is supposed to be maintained locally and Washington gets a copy, and the Inspector Generals come around to check this stuff out every year on their annual tours.