You have gotten to these pages because you may have a concern about your privacy being violated by electronic surveillance. I hope the information presented here will help you understand the matter, and should you decide to hire someone to work with you, give you the information you need to choose an honest and competent service provider.
Terms you will see and hear:
Electronic Countermeasures. TSCM. Also called ‘debugging’ or ‘sweeps’. These refer to the procedure for locating covert surveillance devices in your office, home, on phone lines, etc. Whatever the vernacular, the official technical term is TSCM, or Technical Surveillance CounterMeasures. Generically, I frequently refer to TSCM practitioners as ‘sweepers’ and will do so throughout this discussion.
How do you tell the true experts (of which there are few) from the phonies and wannabees? What questions should you ask and what answers should you get? These are valid questions; ones to which you must receive answers if you are to engage competent, ethical, affordable service.
As with any other professional skill, specialized training and education is mandatory before the skill effectively can be practiced. Ask someone who claims to be an expert at ‘debugging’ about their training. If the answer you receive is: "I trained under Sam Spade, Private Investigator", that may be all well and good if you are shopping for an investigation. But it has nothing at all to do with learning to be a sweeper. Sweeping is a technical specialty, not an investigative one.
The simple fact of the matter is there are very few realistic ways for an individual to obtain the true level of specialized knowledge and training which is required to become a professional, competent sweeper.
About the only option is attendance at one of several U.S. Government run TSCM training courses. Although the U.S. Government does not publicize their schools, they are run under the auspices of the FBI, CIA, NSA, various branches of military intelligence, etc. And understand just because someone had a period of government service does not mean they were trained in clandestine operations. The FBI has hundreds of clerks for every technical support person on their staff. Working for a police department is the same thing. Perhaps one in ten thousand police personnel ever receive any real world exposure to, or training in, technical operations.
Another option, theoretically at least, is the completion of a structured course of TSCM instruction at one of a very limited number of civilian TSCM training schools recognized by the security industry. At this time (Summer 2005) there are no private sector schools of which I am aware who are active or credible. There have been effective schools in the past. There are a number of operations claiming to offer training currently. I do not endorse any of these.
One primary sweeper at SWS Security received his training during his service as a civilian with Naval Intelligence Command. The other received training as a civilian from the Institute For Countermeasures Study at the Technical Services Agency, a good school which I believe no longer is operating. Both technicians receive ongoing training in current threat levels, as well as teach to government and private sector (corporate) personnel, write white papers and magazine articles, etc. Several of these papers and articles are published elsewhere on this website.
How long have you been in the countermeasures business?
In the case of performing sweeps the mere ability to boast of being in the business "for a long time" or "for many years" does not necessarily assure competency or quality of service. Many organizations who profess to offer TSCM inspections do so as a casual effort as only one of the vast number of the other security related services they offer to their clients. They do not have the necessary training or dedication to this narrow specialty to be effective.
As such they well may employ an individual who functionally performs only one or two sweeps a year and then spends the rest of his time conducting investigations, bodyguard work, courier work and the like. In that case the "for a long time" or "for many years" realistically equates to the professed sweeper (and the term sweeper is used loosely here) actually performing fewer sweeps during his entire career then many professional sweepers perform in six months.
Or in many cases the individual who has been doing sweeps for his organization "for many years" has never bothered to partake of any of the available retraining which would have kept him current as to the latest threats, tools, and methods currently used by the bad guys whom it is our mission to defeat. And thus he is deceiving both himself and his clients by seeking out antiquated threats with outdated tools and methods. And sadly, he is doing so at the expense of his client's valuable information. Your dentist does not repair your vehicle nor does your accountant fix your broken water pipes. Again, sweeping is a technical specialty, not an investigative one.
SWS Security has been in business since January 1972 and employs the very latest in technology, equipment and methodology. We have performed hundreds of sweeps. We are not a general investigative firm, security firm, alarm company, etc. We work only in areas involving technical surveillance. A number of private investigators and security firms offer our services to their clients, sometimes under their own name. This is not dishonest, but you need to inquire as to who actually will be doing your work. You may find it is us.
Do you have references?
If the answer you receive to this question is "yes" then by all means check the references which are offered. But be very cautious here. Many organizations often times offer nearly free service to a few select, cooperative clients in exchange for their use as a reference. So stop here just for a minute and think about exactly why you are seeking to employ the services of a sweeper in the first place.
Without a doubt somewhere high on your list of reasons is your desire to insure your confidential information remains confidential. With that thought in mind would you want to have the identity of yourself or your business "put out on the street" to be used by a sweeper as promotional information? Remember now, in essence that single act announces to all of the bad guys out there you not only possess information of substantial value, but you also fear your information is seriously vulnerable. Talk about putting blood in the water to cause the sharks to circle! So quite obviously your answer to allowing yourself or your business to be used as a public relations gimmick for a sweeper would be a resounding "NO"!
And that’s why it’s an unwritten rule in the world of the professional sweeper that the sweeper’s references come only voluntarily and via word of mouth. Thus the measure of a sweeper's competency and reliability is best passed on from client to client, not received from the sweeper himself. For he is in the business of protecting confidentiality, not in the business of public relations. And so, frequently the most a professional sweeper will divulge to a prospective client are some very broad examples of the diverse business and personal arenas in which he/she has operated or passthrough associates such as private investigators and attorneys who have brokered the sweeper's services on behalf of their own unnamed clients.
The sweepers at SWS Security have operated within the corporate atmosphere of Fortune 100 companies, within the entry restricted domain of a multinational defense contractor, within the privacy of personal residences, embassies, offices of Presidential Cabinet members, for some of the best known media and entertainment figures in the country (literally some of the world’s wealthiest people trusting their security to SWS), in a South American palace and within the openness of large manufacturing facilities, just to name a few. Please see the References section of this website for 100% unsolicited, sanitized and generic references numbering in the hundreds.
What is your background, your history?
If he is to be effective at the task of protecting your valuable information, a professional sweeper should have a background which encompasses more than just sweeping. It should be such that it not only reinforces his understanding of the how-tos of the work that he does, but also contributes to his understanding of the why's, the who's, and the how's of both information theft and of those individuals who practice this nefarious trade. Past employment which has fostered an understanding of electronics, security, criminality, building trades, etc. can be an invaluable benefit to both the professional sweeper as well as to those whom he calls upon to assist him. Therefore your gaining an insight as to a prospective sweeper's prior training, past work experience and previous education can go a long way towards assisting you in being able to separate the "wannabees" from the true professionals. As the ratio of wannabees to professionals in this profession is substantial, you must do your homework in order to ensure you select a competent sweeper, not just a good talker. There are very few competent TSCM providers nationwide.
Perhaps the most important factor to consider is, in the practice of looking for surveillance devices, one actually must know what they look like and how they are installed.
Mere possession, let alone installation or use of electronic surveillance devices is a felony at the federal level and most state levels in the United States, unless one is a government agency with a court order. Therefore, private possession of surveillance devices is illegal with the only practical exemption being companies who are under contract with a government agency to manufacture and supply the devices to the government. Private detectives NEVER are allowed to possess audio surveillance devices legally. If we find a device in your facility, it is evidence of a felony.
There are only a small number of original manufacturers of electronic surveillance devices. Most sweepers literally never have seen a genuine electronic surveillance device, though they may have an (illegal) collection of plastic mass produced Pacific Rim toys or hobby kits and try to scare you with photos of them on their website. Most sweepers never will see a genuine bug, much less find one through their own efforts.
However, SWS Security's primary operation has been manufacturing electronic surveillance and intelligence gathering devices for governments worldwide, for 33 years as of 2005. In addition to manufacturing, we train our government clients in how to install the devices, and work directly with them in the field. Enforcement and military agencies come to us requesting us to design the latest technology into surveillance devices and systems. Let that experience work for you.
So -- who is best equipped to locate potential surveillance devices in YOUR facility? Someone who probably never has seen one and doesn't have formal training or experience in how they are installed? Or SWS Security, a manufacturer of surveillance devices who trains governments in how to install them? The choice is obvious. The most competent sweeper will be one who has installed electronic surveillance devices for a living. That company is us. Allow us to bring our resources to bear on your concerns about surveillance.
Simply having worked for a police department or some federal agency does not mean a person had any legitimate access or experience with surveillance. Even large police departments with thousands of sworn personnel may only have 3 to 8 people doing technical surveillance. So a former law enforcement or federal agency career is not an automatic qualification of competence in technical surveillance. For every federal agent on the street, there are a hundred administrative support personnel who never leave their cubicles. Is a sweeper claiming expertise in surveillance technology a trained, experienced field type with direct hands on in electronic surveillance, or was he a beancounter or writing traffic tickets or doing simple street investigations his entire career? Far too many sweepers play up some sort of government service (doing what specifically?) as qualification to perform electronic countermeasures service.
What should you hear when asking about their procedures in TSCM?
Someone tells you, "We will check to see if your room is bugged and test to see if your phone is tapped" is brief, but not really very acceptable. Neither is: "The answers to that question are too technical for the layman to understand", or "We don't divulge our methods for obvious security reasons".
Instead, what you should be hearing is terminology such as:
* We will perform a full spectrum RF scan covering at least from 50 kHz to 6 GHz to detect hidden audio and video radio frequency transmitters;
* We will do a DC line balance test and an AC leakage test of all of the telephone lines and of all of the power lines serving the target area;
* We will conduct a carrier current test of both the telephone lines and the AC power lines covering at least 15 kHz to 1 MHz;
* We will perform a nonvisible light check for IR (infrared) transmitters;
* We will do a UV (ultraviolet) scan of all target room critical surface areas to check for pinhole microphones and cameras or physical disturbances which may indicate the area has been subject to tampering;
* We will perform a very extensive and detailed physical and visual search of all room contents as well as the target area itself;
* We will perform an electronic examination of the telephone lines which entails the conducting of several separate tests in order to detect the presence of telephone taps;
* We will conduct a physical and electronic examination of the telephone instrument(s) itself, again entailing several separate tests designed to detect telephone taps and/or any mechanical/electronic alterations which have been made to the phone instrument itself;
* We will do a target area room audio (acoustic) leakage test covering at least 100 Hz to 15 kHz
And if those are the kinds of answers you actually do receive, don't allow yourself to be intimidated or swayed by technical jargon just because you don't happen to be fluent in "sweepereese". Ask questions. Any competent professional will be proud of his work and well capable of explaining anything he proposes to do, or has done, in layman’s terms. If he can’t answer in terms you can understand, he’s probably memorized some buzzwords but has little if any genuine capability actually to do the work. You were not born knowing this technical discipline. Please do not hesitate to ask any questions about procedure, equipment, threats, etc. and we will answer honestly. Sometimes, an honest answer may be ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out and let you know.’
During a sweep conducted by technicians from SWS Security all of the above listed tests, and more, routinely are performed. Other specialized tests also may be performed as the nature of the assignment warrants or dictates. This may include thermal imaging, X-Ray/fluoroscopy, and others.
What equipment do you use on a sweep?
The precise equipment we use may vary as we upgrade our inventory to stay current with the latest threats, as certain pieces are out for calibration, as dictated by the needs of the job, etc. Generically, we will use as needed: a microwave spectrum analyzer, broadband search receiver, Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR), Nonlinear Junction Detector (NLJD), telephone analyzer, oscilloscope, digital volt/ohmmeter, and various other devices. Our inspectors have received formal training on this equipment.
SWS Security is one of the very few firms who uses modern, latest technology thermal imaging. A thermal imager, costing typically $60,000 and up, are devices which look like a camcorder, but which sense the tiniest amount of heat and display images on a screen by temperature, not light. Any electronic device generates heat while operating. Concealed cameras, microphones, transmitters -- anything which is powered electrically creates some heat, however small. The sensitivity of modern thermal imagers easily sees this heat from any electronic devices through sheetrock, paneling, drop ceiling tiles, from inside furniture, etc. Essentially nothing operating can hide from it. No more concern about devices buried in walls and difficult to find. The thermal imager will find them. You are welcome to look through the screen yourself and see the device's capabilities. If it's there, and it's operating, even in standby mode, the thermal imager in the hands of our trained technicians will find it. A vivid demonstration is to have someone walk across the floor. In broad daylight. Minutes later you still can see the heat from their footprints. You will see the seat of a chair warm for half an hour after it's vacated. Another caveat -- only a current production high end thermal imager is suitable for inspecting for surveillance devices. Many companies wanting to pretend to be big time use inexpensive surplus devices from fire departments or electric utility companies. These are fine for locating human bodies through the smoke at a fire scene, or seeing an overheating insulator at the top of an electric pole, but are not nearly sensitive enough for detecting a micro camera or miniature audio device, especially through walls or above ceilings. And, they're surplus, so someone got rid of them, because they're behind the performance curve or just worn out. To my knowledge, only two firms currently make use of latest generation thermal imaging for countersurveillance. We are one, and the other is Murray Associates, in New Jersey, whom in fact developed the technology of using thermal imaging for surveillance detection. See his site for more information on this silver bullet of eavesdropping detection, or if you would like a second option for a competent, ethical sweep team. Thermal imaging allows us to do a more thorough, more reliable job detecting any potential hostile devices when we sweep your facility.
SWS Security is one of the very few firms who uses modern, latest technology thermal imaging. A thermal imager, costing typically $60,000 and up, are devices which look like a camcorder, but which sense the tiniest amount of heat and display images on a screen by temperature, not light.
Any electronic device generates heat while operating. Concealed cameras, microphones, transmitters -- anything which is powered electrically creates some heat, however small. The sensitivity of modern thermal imagers easily sees this heat from any electronic devices through sheetrock, paneling, drop ceiling tiles, from inside furniture, etc.
Essentially nothing operating can hide from it. No more concern about devices buried in walls and difficult to find. The thermal imager will find them. You are welcome to look through the screen yourself and see the device's capabilities. If it's there, and it's operating, even in standby mode, the thermal imager in the hands of our trained technicians will find it.
A vivid demonstration is to have someone walk across the floor. In broad daylight. Minutes later you still can see the heat from their footprints. You will see the seat of a chair warm for half an hour after it's vacated.
Another caveat -- only a current production high end thermal imager is suitable for inspecting for surveillance devices. Many companies wanting to pretend to be big time use inexpensive surplus devices from fire departments or electric utility companies. These are fine for locating human bodies through the smoke at a fire scene, or seeing an overheating insulator at the top of an electric pole, but are not nearly sensitive enough for detecting a micro camera or miniature audio device, especially through walls or above ceilings. And, they're surplus, so someone got rid of them, because they're behind the performance curve or just worn out.
To my knowledge, only two firms currently make use of latest generation thermal imaging for countersurveillance. We are one, and the other is Murray Associates, in New Jersey, whom in fact developed the technology of using thermal imaging for surveillance detection. See his site for more information on this silver bullet of eavesdropping detection, or if you would like a second option for a competent, ethical sweep team.
Thermal imaging allows us to do a more thorough, more reliable job detecting any potential hostile devices when we sweep your facility.
Why can’t I just buy the equipment and ‘Do it Myself’?
There is nothing you can buy to do-it-yourself and save the cost of a professional sweep. Anyone telling you otherwise is lying to you and simply is after your money. Even professional, task-specific instrumentation, in addition to being extremely expensive, is useless in untrained hands. Owning a violin does not make one a musician.
How much time is involved for a thorough sweep?
Since no two sweep assignments are the same there is no magical formula a sweeper can use to answer this question. With a host of variables such as client need, client requests, everchanging threat levels, covert vs. overt sweep preferences, number and size of target areas involved, local environment, manpower availability, scheduling issues, required travel, and on and on to be considered, this essentially is a trick question.
With equipment setup and cleanup time; equipment operating time; physical search time; evaluation of findings time, pre and post-inspection discussions with the client and everything else under the sun which is connected with a professional sweep all taking place as the minutes on the clock tick by, it simply is impossible to sweep anything larger then a broom closet in the one hour many individuals will attempt to convince you that it will only take them to "thoroughly check” your one entire executive office.
On the other hand it realistically does not take two full days to sweep adequately that same office. And so the following is an industry standard rule of thumb for conducting an average professional sweep taking place in an average room containing one average telephone instrument and one average telephone line: 1 room = 6.0 man-hours; 2 rooms = 8.5 man-hours; and 3 rooms = 12.0 man-hours (this assumes all rooms are in the same general geographic location and/or are contiguous). Obviously by employing the services of a skilled assistant the sweeper can essentially perform the sweep in a bit more than half of the man-hour times listed. Two technicians (at least) work together on virtually all our sweeps.
What should I expect to pay for a professional sweep?
Just as with any other professional service provider a professional sweeper intending to remain in business must base his fee structure upon a number of fixed and variable factors. For the professional sweeper chief among those factors is the cost of the equipment he must purchase and maintain. You might be interested to know the cost of just three of the basic pieces of test equipment required to perform an effective sweep runs well over $65,000.00. Incidentally, this is more than I paid for my house (many years ago). And I had 30 years to pay for my house. I have to pay cash for TSCM equipment. At any given point in time the average professional sweeper may have well over $100,000 invested just in his equipment alone. And most of that equipment must then be updated every few years in order to enable him to keep abreast of changing technology. The amount of time, effort and money which the sweeper invested in his training and education also is a factor. So is overhead, and a fair profit for our services.
We offer three basic levels of sweeps. The first level is a thorough inspection as detailed above with a simple written synopsis of work performed and our findings. The second level is the same electronic inspection, but with a very detailed report generally needed only in corporate matters to demonstrate due diligence or if you anticipate litigation. The highest level is an electronic inspection as detailed above coupled with an exhaustive security analysis and very extensive detailed report discussing weaknesses and recommending solutions. This highest level likely will include photographs and usually will be done in two sessions by two different teams of specialists. If desired and warranted, we can perform penetration studies to determine your vulnerability to determined and well equipped adversaries. Please call to discuss which service is best for you. In most cases, it will be the most basic level.
SWS Security maintains a competitive fee structure which is in line with the contemporary norm of the industry.
And I will be blunt: you CAN NOT get a genuine sweep for $500, or for $1000. These are typical rates charged by private detectives who play at the sweep game with some toy they bought off the Internet. Sweeps in these price ranges are referred to as ‘rain dances’ and are a complete waste of your money as well as basically fraud on the part of the service provider. You are not saving money. Generally, if you price shop, you’ll find someone willing to work for whatever you’re willing to pay, and you will be wasting your money. Many times, a false sense of security from a rain dancer can be dangerous as well.
Paying high rates unfortunately does not guarantee competent service, however. Many of the charlatans have learned they can demand and receive the same rates as professionals. Do your homework and do not be afraid to ask questions. Check references personally.
How will the results of a sweep be made available to me?
You should expect to receive both a verbal and a written report. The verbal report may be as short and as simple as the statement "nothing of any substance or concern was found". Or it may be quite lengthy and educational if any serious security problems were discovered or if an actual eavesdropping penetration attempt or device was detected. The verbal report should normally be given to you, or to your designate, as soon a practicable immediately following the conclusion of the sweep. A brief written summary of the TSCM inspection generally will be provided within a week.
If you are in a business situation or anticipate litigation, you optionally could request a much more extensive and detailed written report documenting exactly what was done during the sweep. That written report will explain fully all of the negative information as well as security related findings observed by the sweeper during his performance of the sweep and also will include any suggested corrective actions which should be taken to address those findings.
As many clients do not have need for a detailed written report, we offer it as an additional cost option. The quality of the sweep is the same regardless of the report.
SWS Security subscribes to the above listed industry standard for reporting.
SWS Security has never, nor will we ever, knowingly or intentionally attempt to deceive a client or a prospective client as to any facet of a TSCM Inspection. We strive to insure our initial discussions with every prospective client are fully informative as to the pros and cons of their contracting for a TSCM Inspection. Additionally, every written report issued by SWS Security upon completion of a TSCM Inspection contains very specific language as to the effectiveness and guarantees associated with the specific sweep which was conducted. At SWS Security it is our firm belief the well informed and knowledgeable TSCM Inspection shopper will choose our services over those offered by many of our competitors/imitators. And so we at SWS Security continually strive truthfully and factually to educate each and every prospective client as to the world of sweeps and sweepers .... Just as we have hopefully done for you with this "Questions to Ask" primer.
By the way, illegally installed eavesdropping devices (and illegal generally means anything installed by anyone, including government agencies, without benefit of a court order) are felonies at the federal level and most state levels. Each day an illegal device is in place is a separate count. As a criminal offense, prosecution of an eavesdropper is done by the government, not you. As an eavesdropping device is evidence of a felony, we are required by law to notify law enforcement immediately if we find any eavesdropping device installed. This is non-negotiable, and is a condition to which you must agree before we can accept you as a client. Neither you nor we keep any devices we find. Devices can not be left in place and fed false information, or watched to see who comes to service them. Such is nothing more than movie fiction. Any legally operating professional sweeper will turn all finds over to law enforcement.
We are available to testify in court and have been accepted as expert witnesses in numerous courts on electronic surveillance matters. If we do locate a device, you have some very potent ammunition to use against your adversary.
Information security is the protection of your information from theft via electronic eavesdropping. This is our job while providing a perspective client with the best information possible. Our educating of you as a TSCM services consumer is our best salesman!
Please call if you have any questions on our services. Please do not call from an area or telephone potentially under suspicion so as not to tip off a potential eavesdropper. And, the fewer who know of your plans to employ us, the better off you will be ultimately due to the sensitive nature of this work.
P.S. – If you are concerned you may have a problem, you probably have good cause. Call us to ensure your privacy and provide peace of mind.
Copyright © SWS Security 2004-05. All rights reserved. This document may not be reproduced