Writing Spies–How the Pros Bug a Room

 By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

The basic function spooks serve is to spy on people and organizations. Technology makes that task easier. One major segment of that technology revolves around “bugs.”

 

James Bond checking the telephone for a bug. Of course, he finds one. Image from "From Russia with Love."

James Bond checking the telephone for a bug.
Of course, he finds one.
Image from “From Russia with Love.”

 

In spy parlance and crime stories, the term “bug” refers to electronic devices for clandestinely monitoring targeted spaces. We’ve all seen and read about fictional spooks locating bugs in homes, offices, and hotel rooms. The characters usually find them in a few seconds on lampshades, behind pictures, and inside desk phones. It’s cute and convenient, but it’s far from the truth.

After the Soviets successfully bugged the US Ambassador’s residential office in the US Embassy in Moscow from 1945 – 1952 with a gift of a carving of the US Great Seal, the US Central Intelligence Agency invested heavily in developing better bugging and bug-detection technology. They developed “audio teams,” whose specialty it was to bug targeted spaces. The term predates video surveillance. Modern intelligence services around the world now all field such specialty teams.

Bugging technology has improved tremendously since audio teams were first formed, but they still use some of the basic practices and principals developed prior to 1960. While other types of intelligence operatives partake in bugging activities as opportunities allow, when time and opportunity permit, a specialized team can do a better and less detectible installation of bugs.

Canstock 2014 Surveillance Word Collective

How an operative or a specialty team bugs a location depends on several factors.

  • Time—How soon do they need the information?

If critical information is needed quickly there may not be time for an audio team to show up and do a thorough job. In that case, field operatives would do the job, and they have varying degrees of training and expertise in basic bugging techniques.

  • Time—How long will they have to plant the bugs?

If a team or operative has only a few minutes, then they will use the simplest installations of disguised bugs. If a specialty team has as much as twenty minutes to work, they consider it a luxury. With less time, they will be less thorough.

  • Time—How sophisticated is the target?

In twenty minutes, a six-man team can install a high quality eavesdropping system that will be difficult for a sophisticated opponent such as a Russian or Communist Chinese embassy to detect. With a less sophisticated target, such as a drug gang or a third world military or diplomatic installation, a good team can do a great job in as little as five minutes.

  • Time—How long must the power source for the bug last? (Are you seeing a theme?)

Transmitters—bugs—need a power source. They are now smaller than a dime, and in the smallest devices, battery power is limited. However, technology allows for bugs to use external power sources, such as the target’s own electrical system, without a direct tap into the electrical system.

The bug’s transmission need not be powerful. In fact, if a bug transmits too strong a signal, the target can too easily detect it.

  • Location—Where can the operative or audio team monitor the bugs?

If the operative or team can’t safely monitor the installed bug from a nearby location, such as an apartment or business in an adjoining building, then larger (but still compact) relays can be installed nearby to receive and retransmit the bug’s weak signal. They can also install monitoring equipment in a vehicle. A car’s trunk can contain equipment that can trigger a relay to quickly transmit information and recordings picked up by the bug in a matter of seconds when the car drives past the relay.

  • Alternative Installation Methods

Sometimes, the operative doesn’t need to access the space. Many a bug has been placed by sending a nice gift to a target, such as a heavy desk clock, a lovely antique lamp, or the US Great Seal carving referenced above. The trick in these cases is to have a viable source for the gift. A contractor trying to do business with a foreign embassy might serve as such a source if the contractor is in the employ of the folks doing the bugging. Unfortunately, most of the premier targets, such as a Russian Embassy, will not be easily duped into accepting gifts and placing them in secured areas.

 

1945 Great Seal Exibit Replica of bugged gift to US Ambassador Harriman Image from NSA Cryptologic Museum

1945 Great Seal Exibit
Replica of bugged gift to US Ambassador Harriman
Image from NSA Cryptologic Museum

 

In the most ideal case, a targeted building can be bugged during construction. These windfalls are infrequent, but they provide the best opportunity for placing the most sophisticated, long acting bugs.

A more frequent event would be gaining access when repair work is being done. If you can intercept a delivery of new furniture or appliances, then you have a great opportunity to place the highest quality bugs with well-disguised installations without setting foot on the premises.

  • The Field Spook’s Bugging Kit

Once an operative gains access by way of bribery or burglary, his bugging kit need not be any larger than a paperback novel. A basic bugging kit would include bugs that can be programmed to record and/or transmit on preset schedules. The bugs can also be turned on and off remotely to foil bug sweepers. The kit would also contain a small hand drill, a minimal paint kit, and epoxies for patching minute holes in walls. The paint is odor free and fast drying. For the finishing touch, the kit would contain a “puffer” for adding a layer of ambient dust to a painted area. The entire kit may be disguised in something such as a travel-size chess set or built into real cosmetic containers for a female spy.

  • How a Field Spook Plants a Bug in a Wall

The operative first selects an advantageous location—often just above a baseboard. She begins by drilling a small hole, catching the dust on a little piece of plastic. She then selects a bug from her assortment, pops it in the hole, and seals the hole with epoxy. She empties the wall dust from the hole into a baggie and then uses the plastic as a palette to mix dabs of paint to match the color of the wall. With a small brush, she paints over the epoxy and then collects all of her materials to take with her. As a finishing touch, she sucks up ambient dust from against the baseboard with the puffer and puffs it onto the freshly painted wall until it looks like the surrounding area.

In short, your characters’ bugging efforts will be believable if you consider the full nature of the opportunities they have for surveillance and plan their bug installations accordingly. Where are they? How much time do they have? Who is the target? What equipment do they have? Work logically with your space, time, and tools, and your characters will bug like the pros.

Do you have any questions about bugging? What kinds of surveillance equipment do you see or use in books?

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Cliffside Rose Flash Fiction Contest — Vote Now!

By Piper Bayard

Last week, I challenged readers to a contest telling us how a rose would end up atop a desert cliff in the middle of nowhere. Their stories had to include the words “Dixie,” “witness protection,” and “cheese grater.”

See The Cliffside Rose–Flash Fiction Contest

The Cliffside Valentine

The Cliffside Valentine

This week, we ask you to vote on these outstanding entries. Voting will take place here and at our sister site, Bayard & Holmes, and we will combine the totals. The top three will receive copies of USA Today Bestseller Vicki Hinze‘s clever tale of death and romance, Down and Dead in Dixie.

Down and Dead in Dixie Cover

And the entries are . . .

Olympic Romance image from Ebay.com

Olympic Ring Espionage
image from Ebay.com

BrickHouseChick:

Dixie was conflicted about being on The Bachelor, but she wanted the chance to meet her Prince. And that she did. Thor was very CALIENTE and had cheese-grater abs. The problem was, that he was a spy in Russia during the Olympics and they were ‘on’ to him. Putin blamed Thor for the 5th ring not lighting up during the opening ceremonies and was not happy. Thor was about to give Dixie the FINAL ROSE. If she accepted the rose, she would enter the program with him (no TVs allowed in the witness protection program), if she didn’t, she would have to let him go, forever. After much pondering, Dixie decided that she could NOT miss the Oscars, and opted for the RED CARPET rather than the RED ROSE. She kissed him goodbye and ran home to watch the E channel. Thor was devastated and jumped off the cliff.

Death by Margarita image by Zalmac, wikimedia commons

Death by Margarita
image by Zalmac, wikimedia commons

Shawna Coronado:

Naked, bleeding, trembling, and frightened-out-of-her mind; Dixie teetered at the cliff’s edge with a pitcher of margaritas in one hand and a single red rose in the other. Behind her stands 350 pounds of hate, the stranger who had been stalking her for the last 9 years and who dragged her out of witness protection to bring her here. He says, “One last drink, my sweet, before we fly over this cliff together and crash like cheese grater at the bottom.” As he lunges for her throat she swings the margarita pitcher smacking him hard on his temple. Arms wheeling, he falls screaming over the side, landing with a deafening crunch. She drops the rose and falls to her knees, happy to be alive and rid of her torment. Death by margarita.

Motorcycle or Death image from Canstock

Motorcycle or Death?
image from Canstock

Gry Ranfelt:

“You said it didn’t matter.”
Tom flexed his jaw and refused to look away.
“The court cares. Think of our daughter. What life will she lead if you refuse witness protection?”
Dixie swallowed the dry mountain air. Had he brought her to these uncomfortable heights just to tell her to do what she’d refused four times?
She slammed the roses into his chest. They fell to the ground, petals still intact.
“The entire evening was an act so I’d warm up and give in.”
“No, I –“
She turned away. “Take us home.” She hated the thought of wrapping her arms around him on his motorcycle.
His sigh trickled her neck. She stiffened.
“I can’t.”
He grabbed and pulled her towards a waiting car. “Sorry. I’m not letting you get the fucking mafia on us.”
She screamed. She struggled. The cliffs scraped her skin bloody like a cheese grater.

Tire Iron Freedom Maneuver image from ebay.com

Tire Iron Freedom Maneuver
image from ebay.com

Melissa Borgioli:

THE TIRE IRON FREEDOM MANEUVER

“Shut up, Carol Ann!”
She kept talking. “I can’t believe you got us lost and broken down in the desert! ”
“Shut up, Carol Ann!”
Still talking. “What did you say was busted? MacGyver could have fixed it with a cheese grater!”
“Shut up, Carol Ann!”
“My Mama said not to go to the desert on vacation. She said we’d be all alone out here like we were in the witness protection program. And I said, ” You ain’t just whistling Dixie, Mama! ”
“Shut up, Carol Ann!”
Of course, she didn’t shut up. She never did. A nice whack with the tire iron would do the trick, he thought. He’d bring a rose to this very spot every year on the anniversary of the tire iron freedom manuever.
“Well? Is it fixed? ” Carol Ann screeched in his ear.
His fingers tightened around the tire iron, then relaxed.
“Yes! Now get in the damn car, and for God’s sake, shut up, Carol Ann!”

Valentine Cheese Grater image from houzz.com

Valentine Cheese Grater Surprise
image from houzz.com

MrMeanGenes:

O Cliffside Rose,
My Valentine
Stands here before me:
Hear her whine ?

She dreamt of roses-
But not much later
Wound up with a used
Cheese grater.

Ol’ Dixie made a poor selection:
Orlando’s not a happ’ning Dude-
He’s just a Witness in Protection–
A Baby Daddy-truly crude.

Our Cliffside Rose
Thinks he might shtup her:
Instead, he merely wants
His supper.

Desert Dejection image via Canstock

Desert Dejection
image via Canstock

Kathleenjanzanderson:

The morning sun crept over the distant mountains as Dixie sat next to a tent sipping coffee & dabbing her swollen eyes. Beyond the fire a lizard poked its head over a paper plate and nibbled on a stale cheese grater. A vase of red Valentine roses looked out of place next to the cactus and endless grays & browns of sand & rocks: the only green was on its leaves & the body of her jeep. Ever since she’d entered the witness protection program this was Tim’s & her favorite spot, where they had planned to wed.

“Damn you Timothy Boon for not showing up!”

She leaned and yanked the flowers from the vase, bolted to her feet and to the cliff, stems dropping all the way. Raising her arm she was ready to heave what was left when she noticed a black car winding up the narrow road.

Victim No. 6 image via Canstock

Victim No. 6
image via Canstock

Kay:
Looking over the edge of the cliff at victim number 6, Detective Bayard thought to himself “I have no choice now! I must convince Dixie to go into witness protection before she is the next victim.” His partner, Detective Holmes was busy scaling down the cliff to get what little evidence was on the ledge. Seriously? Another cheese grater? What is the significance of a cheese grater? Just like the last 5, all Holmes finds is a single red rose, a dead female and a cheese grater.
You want to WHAT? image via Canstock

You Want To WHAT?
image via Canstock

Michelle Morrison:

After six years in witness protection, Diane was free. She moved home and reconnected with loved ones. She rescued a dog and named her Dixie, and they had lovely walks by the cliff near her house.

Diane met Peter. It was love. Peter seemed smitten also. “You’re special,” he told her.

She smiled. “So are you.”

Diane and Peter went for walks by the cliff. They watched the sun go down and threw sticks for Dixie. Peter gave Diane a rose each month.

At the fourth month, Peter gave Diane four roses and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve met someone else.”

“What is this?” Diane asked. “You’re unhappy?”

“It’s not you, it’s me; we can still be friends.” Peter said.

Diane beat Peter to death with the cheese grater she always carried. She left the roses by the body. The judge ruled justifiable homicide and she got probation.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

A huge THANK YOU to all of our participants!

The choice is a tough one. I’m so glad it’s yours, readers, and not mine. Please show your appreciation for these creative powerhouses and vote between now and midnight on Tuesday, March 11. All votes will be tallied at that time, and winners will be announced next Wednesday.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR VOTE!

MyPhotos Dixie watching sunset in desert Feb 15, 2014

Everything I Know About Writing Sci Fi I Learned from Star Trek

By Piper Bayard

There are dozens of books out there that will teach you to write, but I learned everything I need to know about writing Sci Fi from Star Trek: The Original Series. Star Trek has it all.

Star Trek Original Series

Great Structure

The typical episode starts with some kind of “normal world” setting. Spock is irritating Bones, or Kirk is settling into his bridge chair after a strenuous night seducing an alien. The ship or crew is attacked by a mysterious force that’s set on complete domination or destruction of the future world as we know it. The struggle ensues. The Starfleet crew responds by learning and growing in a way that makes them capable of being the heroes they were hired to act like. It all culminates in a grand battle and the enemy’s defeat, followed by a denouement consisting of a pensive thought or a humorous exchange. The hero’s journey in an hour, minus commercials.

Regardless of what kind of novels we are writing, they need structure. Look to Star Trek.

Cool Gadgets

Star Trek has the lock on cool gadgets. Warp engines, communicators, motion sensor doors, etc., and Bones McCoy always has some sort of scanner in his hand that makes surgery unnecessary. But as with all great Sci Fi, each of these enterprising gadgets is a logical extension of existing scientific theory.

Star Trek Kirk Pregnant Meme

Science fiction definitely needs some science in it, and it’s okay if we indulge our imaginations to the limit. But we need to stay rooted in reality so that people will quickly relate to our worlds without being distracted by objects that have no frame of reference.

When we pull pie in the sky technology out of the air, our stories become about the gadgets. Readers may get a kick out of gadgets, but they don’t relate to gadgets. We must always remember that the meat of our stories is our people. Transporter beams and food replicators are only side dishes.

BTW, Bones’ scanning instruments are mostly salt & pepper shakers acquired from garage sales and the like. And the motion sensor doors?  People standing behind the wall waiting for cues to pull them back when someone approaches. The Shat cracked his nose more than once when the “door men” weren’t paying attention. But today those and so many other Star Trek gadgets are part of our current reality because they were based on science in the first place.

Hot Babes

Spock Vulcan of Love Meme

James T. Kirk was Da Bomb back in the day. Always passionate, always taking the go-for-broke gamble and winning, and always getting either the girl or the alien. Even if we prefer the cool, emotionally unavailable guys, we girls have Spock and plenty of material for Pon Farr fantasies. And for the guys, there’s a limitless selection from the beautiful, competent Uhura, to pixie-like, mute empaths, to an occasional dominatrix.

Lesson to be learned? Every good Sci Fi story needs a babe to build a dream on.

Extra Crew Members

Somewhere between our third and fifth episodes of Star Trek, we all catch on that whenever there is an extra crew member present, someone is going to die a horrible death. This has both Do This and Don’t Do This lessons.

Most Interesting Man Star Trek Red Shirt

DO put in extra crew members (characters) to murder, mutilate, torture, blow up, starve, kidnap, feed to monsters, and take back to the pod for a slow blood drain, etc. But DON’T broadcast which characters those are by giving them all red shirts. Treat them with just as much attention as your regular crew so that we (the readers) are surprised when they die, and we mourn them.

High Concept Parable

The most important element of great writing, including Sci Fi, is an idealistic integrity. That can be anything from a halcyon future worth fighting for to a post-apocalyptic world where at least some humans retain their humanity. Star Trek: The Original Series is penultimate in this respect.

Star Trek takes on themes such as racism, class warfare, human rights, feminism, and the role of technology in society, but it never comes out and tells us that. Instead, it speaks to us in parables.

Let’s take racism, for example, which was a violently charged issue during the 1960s, as it has become once again. Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, makes the radical move of casting a racially diverse crew, and then making their racial diversity irrelevant. Instead, he uses alien races to teach his lessons about racism.

Star Trek Half Black Half White

Each of these alien races behaves in very human ways and represents some human race or culture. That allows us to relate to them, even if we do not consciously identify them. Klingons at the time represented the Soviets, our sworn enemies. Romulans were the Chinese behind their Bamboo Curtain. And Spock was the minority outsider within our own American society.

In Star Trek, these alien races and their interactions with humans reveal our fears and small-mindedness to us, as well as show us what is possible when we all work together with respect and good will to solve our problems. In doing so, it calls us to be better people.

The fascination of Science Fiction is its ability to show us dreamers and romantics what is possible. To remind us that there is reason for our struggles, and that no matter how grim our reality might be, there is always hope for a better day. When we write Sci Fi, that hope is the gift we give to our readers. The gift I received from Star Trek.

Write well and prosper. 🙂