Trial By Fire
The Silicon War Triology
Chapter 9 - Bugs
From the first day of the arrest, Gopal had purchased a high end Bug Detector that he used to sweep the areas he was in. He was told that he could remove the bugs but whomever they belonged to would just put another in its place. The current advice was "it would be better to just learn to live with them".
For me, I was aware of most of the bugs in my house as well, and I have to explain something here that became really funny about them. See Gopal had loaned me the detector to sweep my house so I found most of them. However the first night of being bugged became funny in the sickest way.
Consider the following; you have people listening in on everything you are doing. This is not a phone tap that records just your phone conversations. This is you snoring; making love; the fights; and any conversation you have with your wife and kids. And don't bring up what takes place in the bathroom.
Normally each night, Maria and I would just cuddle, have a quickie, and hold each other until we were asleep. However, being bugged, no way! I had to do it as if people were in the room watching, you know, slower, longer, and more passionate. Instead of 5 minutes, it went to 25.
Now, the first night, ok, Maria loved it. The second night well maybe, but by the third night "Bob, no I have to get up and go to work".
What she didn't know, I didn't want the people that were listening to think I was bad in bed. I already thought that, but I didn't want them to find out.
Then of course came my sick sense of humor. If they really wanted to listen to something, then tape record your dog cleaning herself; splice it together over and over again, and put it on auto replay!
All recording devices at this time were Voice-Activated recorders and were intended for dictation use. As soon as people started talking, the recorder would start up. When there was a silence, it turned itself off again. Now, leaving the radio on would do the same thing, but 4 hours of dog cleaning seemed more appropriate! Either way, it would use up their recording tape.
It is one thing to wire someone's house and then it something else to receive that transmission. What made the Gopal Four so interesting is that three of us lived on the same street and within 9 houses of each other. All within transmitter range of each other.
One day my oldest daughter came in and said our neighbor was "such a slut". It seemed that the neighbor across the street and 2 houses to our left had her house for sale/lease after her divorce. What the neighbor kids had noticed were all the men that were coming and going at her house. What they didn't know was she was not living there any longer. She had moved in with boyfriend. So the real question was: Who were these men?
Being a smart ass, I ask one of the neighborhood girls to go over and sell them Girl Scout cookies. The men inside just chased her off.
So that night after everyone went to bed, I went out our back door, over our back neighbor's fence and looped back around to what we started calling the "Center Hub" house to look in. I couldn't see any one and went back home.
Very early in the morning, this guy was dropped off up the street, walks up to the Center Hub and walked in. At noon, there was another one that walked up and again at 5. Somewhere around 11 that night, the last guy would leave. Then the next morning this would start all over.
Boy Scouts had taught me a great deal and the projects we did always seemed to come in handy. One of them was to build an audio transmitter that came from the Boy Scout Electronic Badge project. It was nothing but a basic FM transmitter that could transmit the signal up to 145 yards.
Any sensitive FM radio could pick up the signal up to 100 yards.
This kind of microphone transmitter was also called a "spy microphones" at the time and required a battery bigger than the actual circuit. There were no special parts and the transmission frequency was selected by a coil. Oh, the coil was made up from a 24 AWG wire (thin) and had 5 loops with a diameter of one centimeter or could be easily built by wrapping the wire around a #2 pencil.
For the other seven parts, I obtained them from Radio Shack for $0.08 in parts. I first assembled it on a breadboard and the circuit was tested without problem before I soldered the parts in place. Since the first one worked, I skipped the circuit board and just soldered the parts to each other to make the unit even smaller.
The last step was to adjust the frequency. So with a toothpick, I separated or closed coils until the FM frequency was between 89 MHz to 104 Mhz. Although it took a while to setup and tune up the first one, the other five were simple to get working. Finally, once they were tuned, I hot glue the coil in place so the frequency would not change.
What most people don't know was that the traditional landline telephone system, also known as "plain old telephone service" (POTS), commonly handles both signaling and audio information on the same twisted pair of insulated wires. What they didn't know was that the other pair of telephone line coming into their home was 48 volts source and was a great source of power for any DC power need. No battery was required for my transmitters. I just had to attach the two voltage inputs that normally would go to a battery to these lines and I would have power for my new toys. What was still missing was a microphone and Goodwill had three on sale for $2 each. By removing the plastic housings from the electronics, the microphone electronics size was reduced by 80%. Now I attach the microphone to the transmitter with two feet of thin shielded wire.
After finishing my first one, I conducted the preliminary range tests up in Big Basin State Park because I was worried about transmission interference or something. Anywhere I went, the range was out to 150 yards. Much more than what I would need.
What was scary, my daughter's AM/FM portable radio would pick up my car radio's playing music at 200 yards out and this was even thru the tall redwood trees. As I tested each of the others devices, none transmitted on the same FM channel but they were all on the lower end of the FM dial and had about the same range.
So you know, many of the homes in the Bay Area are built on pier and beam due to the earthquake issues. This creates an 18 inch crawl space under the house that can be accessed by a hatch on the outside of the house. Pop this hatch open and a 200 lb person could easily crawl under every part of a house.
Well, I was 154 lb soaking wet and at 2 am in the morning there was no full moon so putting the "bugs" under the "Center Hub" was easy. More important, I found a hatch going up into the house as well. As I exited and went back over the fence, I was amazed at how easy this was to do. I also wondered how many other homes in the area were being recorded like this.
The next morning, as I was having a cup of coffee on my back porch, my daughter's AM/FM radio explained who these guys were.
After getting another cup of coffee, I took Penny for a walk down passed Gopal's house and was still receiving the transmission. As I went around the corner, I could still hear them. Now this was getting to far and open up the issue of who else could be picking this up. It finally died out at the second block. That was around the 400 yard range in a residential area. Not bad for a beginner.
It also must be said that there were few good moments for Gopal at this time but the note I left him gave him one. It simply stated "Go outside with an AM/FM radio with headphones, set it to 89.1. Voices are coming from 3421 Lemoyne".
The next morning, his walk by my house was one of the funniest sights I have ever seen. Here came Gopal in his dark suit wearing his son's headphones. What was even funnier was when someone in the "Center Hub" house said "I wonder what he's up to now"? Both Gopal and I smiled at the same time.
It was obvious that the "team of eavesdroppers" were private investigators and were getting nowhere. So we would then "slip" and say something important. Then we would giggle quietly to ourselves as they went off with the "golden nugget" of information. Two weeks later, it would prove to be a dead end but we also knew that their billable hours kept building ups. Then Gopal would say something else or have a phone conversation and off they would go again.
Then came the day when one of the Center Hub member said that they were to pack up because of the lack of results. One member said "Yea, we will go in tonight or tomorrow and get the gear back".
"No, leave it in place. Marisol has been talking with a neighbor. We may be able to use his house instead".
"I think it the guy next to Contie, 3442. Seems that he works for a subsidiary of the client and understands the sensitivity of the need. He's also seems to be a greedy bastard".
So on the 6 month anniversary of the start of the bugging, the Center Hub was emptied, and the lady moved back in. Of course there was her disappointment that they didn't extend the lease, but with her boyfriend's current employment problems, the two could live there for now and save money.
As before, wiring next door was simple but it came with some disappointment that Bernie took over. This was our next-door neighbor that we had barbecues with, drank beers and wives went shopping together.
Then the recording from his home was also not something you really wanted to hear. Both the wife and two daughters were subjected to continual verbal abuse and nonstop putdowns. And then there was even more. If I said something about it, Bernie would immediately know that he was bugged. But not saying something would allow the abuse to continue. This is the first moral dilemma that everyone who wires someone else must face. You learn the unspeakable and you learn that you can't say anything about it. That's why it's called "unspeakable"!
What was nice from an information standpoint thought, his wife creates the invoices for him. And it was almost a guarantee that she would read back the information he gave her. This is how we obtained the name and address of the investigation service being used by the law firm hired by NSC.
For me, I was also about to learn a lesson in timing. Now, it is one thing to place bugs in someone's house and then there is another thing about getting them back out.
When the investigators left and before the woman moved back in, I should have gotten off my butt and retrieved my toys. But I didn't. Now sitting in the back yard was their 85 lb dog and no way short of putting it to sleep, could I get in there in one piece. So during the day when everyone was at work, I grabbed our neighbor's cat, walked across the street, opened the gate, and yelled "dinner".
Well, the cat went screaming down the street followed by the braking dog. For me, I was under the house, grabbed my gear, and out faster than I thought possible. Then as a good neighbor, I chased down the dumb dog. He seemed to like the same dog treats as Penny and it was easy for me to walk him back home. He and I became very good friends after that.
Oh, the cat. It was up a tree making more noise than ever. And… for the next month, it wouldn't go near either of us. Then it just walked by and "hissed".