Someone Spying? So are the Teddy Bear and the Potted Plant
See the cuddly teddy bear over on the shelf? Well, it sees you too. “Right here in the camera, behind the left eye.” said Marvin Badler, the owner of The Spy Mart a Monmouth County company dedicated to the proposition that what you don’t know can hurt you and what you do know can protect you from being caught off guard.
“There’s a wireless camera transmitter in here.” Mr. Badler said, holding the teddy bear in his arms and pointing to it’s furry little head. ” It can send a signal up to 300 feet away , so you don’t even need a wire to attach it to a VCR.
Mr. Badler a licensed Private investigator since 1961 and former chief investigator for the New York City Department of Correction, was demonstrating some of the item he sells from The Spy Mart’s showroom.
“See that planter over there.” Mr. Badler said, pointing in the direction of an ordinary-looking potted plant. “There’s a camera in the pot. We build it last week. I was shopping with my wife, I saw the planter and came up with the idea.”
Mr. Badler’s business is answer to a challenge: how do you find out what someone is up to without his finding out what are you up to first?
“Most of my customers are law enforcement types.” Mr. Badler said, referring to police, private detectives and prosecutors investigators. Investigators who come to avail themselves of the latest in clandestine surveillance technology. But we also have a lot of private-sector people and businessman who come in because they want to record their own telephone conversation or because they’re afraid of their business are being bugged.”
The Spy Mart, which Mr. Badler opened about two years ago, is on the second floor of an office building in Marlboro, New Jersey. Mr. Badler, a tall, burly man with a penchant for 10-gallon hats, also runs his private investigation and security business from the location. The atmosphere is decisively paramilitary, with a secretary and an assistant calling Mr. Badler “sir” in terse formal exchanges.
He instructed the secretary to call him on a telephone atop one of glass display cases that line the walls of the showroom. The phone rang , and Mr. Badler lifted the receiver. “This is a prototype.” he said, telling his assistant to pick up an extension in another room. A red light on the phone blinked on. “See? The phone went dead.” Mr. Badler said holding the receiver our for a visitor to verify that the phone was quite dead.” “What happened was, if I’m talking and somebody gets on the line with a listening device or comes in the room with a transmitter , the light goes on and the phone automatically disconnects the conversation.”
He intends to market the new telephone to other spy shop around the country. The price? About $750.00. Many of the devices in The Spy Mart showroom, including the phone that goes dead, are items Mr. Badler designed himself and then built out of components available at any well – stocked electronics store.
“This is a microphone in a button.” he said, holding out for inspection what appeared to be, well, a button with wire attached to it. “You can put it on a selves of your shirt and attached it to any tape recorder.” he said. “It’s battery powered, and you can change the actual button so it matches the buttons on your shirt.”
He then showed me a pen that, he said, has a tiny microphone inside. Even upon close inspection, nothing about the pen appeared unusual. “The microphone is behind that hole,” he said, indication a hold bout the size of a period at the end of this sentence. “It’s supersensitive, too.”he said, asserting that the tiny microphone is about 10 times more sensitive then the microphones built into microcassettee recorders now on the market.
“See the calculator?” he said, pointing to a credit-card-size calculator.
“That’s a transmitter. But it’s not for public use, only law enforcement. It’s not FCC approved”.
Mr. Badler’s clandestine eavesdropping devices fall into two general t for public use: hard-wired, like the shirt button microphone, which plugs into a microcassettee recorder, and wireless, like the calculator that transmits to an FM receiver some distance away.
Behind the Picture Frame
Some of the wireless transmitters, like the one that replaces an ordinary electric wall socket, can transmit up to a half mile away, drawing power from the house current. Others, which use tiny batteries for power and are about the same size as a sugar cube, transmit for a less distance but are handy for surreptitious placement in vases, behind picture frames and attached under tables and other furniture.
“Again,” Mr. Badler said, “these are for law enforcement, not for public use. It’s illegal to record audio unless you are a party to the conversation.”
But if that’s’ the case, who might use the teddy bear camera with a video camera for a brain? “Anybody,” Mr. Badler replied. It’s not illegal to videotape.”
In fact, he said, the teddy bear was designed for clients who wanted to be able to keep track of how a child’s nanny was treating the child when the parents weren’t home. The teddy bear was set on a high shelf in the chid’s room and connected to a video recorder locked in the parents room. The cost? “Around $1,000.00, not including the ,VCR.” Mr. Badler said. “And there are ways we can make them work in total darkness.” Mr. Badler pointed to what looked like a clock hung on a wall. He instructed his visitor to look at the a video monitor just underneath the clock. On the screen was an image of a confused reporter looking at himself looking at a video monitor. “Now watch this,” Mr. Badler said, switching off the office lights, The image on the video monitor dimmed slightly but remained clear and distinct. “All we do is introduce a small infrared light source – we can hide it anywhere in the room – and it will bounce around and illuminate the room like it was daylight.”
A regular customer of The Spy Mart, a private investigator who declined to give his name, described yet another product that make use on infrared light. “I bought infrared filters for the headlights on my car.” the investigator said, explaining that he used the filters while staking out errant spouses for divorce clients. “I sit in my car with a video camera , aim the headlights at the house or motel and wait. The infrared filters light up the place like it was daytime. I can see them, but they can’t see me.”
The investigator said The Spy Mart was more then a high-the toy store for real-life Sam Spades and amateur spies.
Marvin doesn’t just sell you things and send you out the door,” the man said. “He tells you how to use what you buy. He gives suggestions. You tell him what you want to do and he’ll figure out how to do it.”
And for those new to the business of espionage and counterespionage, Mr. Badler also offers a small library of arcane books with such titles as “How to Disappear Completely and Never be Found.” “Get Even: The Complete Book of Dirty Tricks,” “How the Underdog Gets Justice” and “Methods of Disguise.”
Though The Spy Mart caters to law enforcement officials, Mr. Badler said, a growing segment of his business involves executive and business manages concerned about employee theft and corporate espionage.
“We have a lot of small businesses installing hidden video systems,” he said, adding that it is illegal to install such equipment in areas where people are entitled to expect privacy, like dressing rooms and bathrooms.
Worries About Wiretapping
“We also sell lot of systems to people who think their businesses or home items he showed his offices are being bugged or wiretapped by the competition,” he said. “And we help people who want to record their telephone conversation. A lot of insurance brokers are now recording customer conversation, which is legal.”
Though the market for surveillance devices for law enforcement never seems to dry up, he said, the market among business customers tracks the economy.
“When things are bad out there for business, then business is good for me.” Mr. Badler said. “When the economy is bad, people are stealing more, and there are ad thins going on.”
One of the last items he showed his visitor was is personal favorite. “This is a bug detector,” he said, opening a case that contained a small electronic control panel. He took a small wand with a wire attached to it of the case and pointed the wand at the calculator, which really a hidden transmitter and was supposed to be virtually undetectable. The bug detector flashed and beeped and electronic warning.
“It’s one of my most popular items,”he said.
THE NEW YORK TIMES, JANUARY 30, 1994