For someone like myself, a former police officer and licensed private investigator, the Brian Burke bugging revelations are the stuff of every day private investigation. My company, Lyonswood Investigations and Forensic Group, regularly carries out counter measures (detection) of electronic devices and other surveillance techniques on behalf of politicians, political parties, corporate leaders and members of the public. 

We don’t plant bugs – in all states of Australia this is illegal – but if you don’t know how law enforcement agencies and unscrupulous operators go about the installation of listening devices, you can hardly detect them and differentiate between the two. Detection is what Lyonswood is about. You have to have a little bit of villain in you to catch a villain. We don’t break the law but sometimes we teeter close to the edge.

Bugging is getting easier and less expensive. The most powerful of all listening devices is the humble mobile phone. So what would I do if I were asked to lawfully bug Mr Burke’s home?

First, I’d identify and verify his place of residence with the use of a surveillance team using vehicles that appeared to be service vehicles like Telstra trucks, pool cleaner vans or courier vehicles. During the surveillance process I’d identify all occupants/keyholders to the house and regular attendees such as servants and maintenance persons.

The movements of the immediate neighbours are just as important. Many an operation has been blown by a nosy neighbour. Once the comings and goings of the occupants and neighbors has been studied, we determine the best time to enter the house undetected. We’re talking serious money here. This involves a skilled team of operatives and electronics technicians, people with nerves of steel.

Once the time is determined, surveillance operatives keep all the occupants who’ve departed the house under surveillance while the team of technicians enter the house via a skilled law enforcement locksmith and alarm technician.

The lock is picked, the alarm bypassed and the technicians (armed with two way dedicated-line headsets connected to the same frequency as the surveillance operatives) set about their business. They install listening devices, transmitters and cameras while being advised of the every movement of the surveillance targets.

If the occupants of the house look like they might be headed back to the house and the technicians need more time, a decision will be made instantly as to whether to try to delay the returning target or vacate the premises without trace and return another time to complete the operation.

The bugging devices themselves can look like a normal power point double adaptor or a wall switch – even a soft toy can be used. They can be as small as a pea or as large as a wall clock. It all depends upon the premises and the awareness of the target.

Some devices have been recovered from light fittings, televisions sets, bed heads, kitchen appliances, sofa pillows, potted plants… even the budgie in the cage isn’t safe! One counter surveillance operation carried out by my company found a device stuck to the underside of the cage. Bed heads are favorite places because many a confidential matter is discussed in bed. This is all part of the seduction process, “I’ll impress her with what I got up to today and maybe she won’t have a headache…”

Vehicles are also bugged and tracked. Generally the car is fitted with a tracking device disguised as a vehicle component such as a bumper bar bracket. The listening device is more difficult to install. Some tracking devices are also listening devices and have the components of a digital phone so as to transmit any conversation within the vehicle upon an open dedicated telephone line back to a recording device.

These are the devices that law enforcement agencies use, but how do they get inside your car? Again – surveillance. Most cars these days have remote locking, which is activated by an electronic signal. Most law enforcement agencies have a device that allows surveillance operatives to capture the electronic code of the alarm remotely. This then allows the operative to unlock the vehicle when the driver has parked it, then hotwire it and remove it to a location to install the listening device, tracking device and video cameras. Video cameras can also be installed in the car to capture the identities of all occupants and transactions of cash and drugs.

If the electronic alarm intercept fails then an operative can gain access to the vehicle by slipping the door locks or even breaking the side window. If this window approach is taken, the car when fitted with the devices is generally taken away and parked somewhere on a suburban street. When the target of the surveillance returns, they believe their car has been stolen and report it to whom? The very agency that stole it in the first place.

The owner is then advised some time later that the vehicle has been recovered in a suburban street and the owner collects it being none the wiser. One of the first questions I ask a client who believes they’re being bugged is “has your car recently been stolen and recovered?”

Public places present a much more difficult task when it comes to recording conversations. Restaurants are places where much business is discussed but how would I know which table an individual was going to be seated at? How would I know whether there’d be seats available for me to sit close by and overhear the conversation?

I might have this information from the house or car bugs, but restaurants are noisy places; sometimes it’s difficult to hear the people you’re talking with let alone someone on a nearby table. There is another way.

If video from a hidden lapel or clutch bag camera can be trained upon the individuals involved in the conversation then a lip reader can decipher the conversation from viewing the footage, a technique the CCC may have employed to eavesdrop on Burke’s juicy table talk over many a lunch at Perugino’s…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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