October 24, 2020

Company Sells Surveillance Cameras Hidden In Tombstones, Threatens Websites For Talking About Its Tombstone Cameras

Thanks to a FOIA request by Open the Government policy analyst Freddy Martinez, we now know someone’s trying to sell cops cameras they can hide in… gravestones?

A surveillance vendor that works with U.S. government agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, and ICE, is marketing spying capabilities to local police departments, including cameras that are hidden inside a tombstone, a baby car seat, and a vacuum cleaner.

The brochure highlights some of the capabilities on offer to law enforcement agencies, from the novel to the sometimes straight-up bizarre.

As Joseph Cox notes, the offerings from Special Services Group run a bit outside the expected assortment of light pole cams and surveillance-in-a-box kits. Starting after 90+ pages [PDF] of webinar announcements from Vigilant, the surveillance tech provider with a logo lifted from American currency, lists a variety of offerings, including this useful item which puts the “family” back in “crime family.”

If the criminals you’re tracking might find it a bit suspicious to see a child seat in car that never had one before, maybe they can be slyly observed by undercover janitors who follow them from room to room with a vacuum they never actually turn on.

And here’s the tombstone camera system, which suggests grave robbing is far more prevalent than I thought it was.

SSG also offers other surreptitious recording devices, like an alarm clock/radio that can be inserted into suspected perps’ hotel rooms and faux utility boxes that can be placed in non-conspicuous areas (provided no one notices the absence of conduit running to/from the mock box).

There’s also scarier stuff in there as well. In addition to a variety of super-small cameras that can be mounted damn near anywhere, there’s communication interception software that can apparently be implanted on suspects’ phones or used by undercover officers who’d rather carry a phone than wear a wire. For whatever reason, SSG recommends using Samsung phones, but notes helpfully that other Android phones may support the software.

Then there’s this: the most inconspicuous mic system yet, but one that looks uncomfortable, if not dangerous, for the person using it.

There’s also a faux registration tag that can be placed over the real registration tag on a vehicle’s license plate to emit trackable infrared pulses for up to 48 hours. If greater access to the vehicle is possible, the same thing can be accomplished by swapping out tail lamp bulbs for IR-flashing bulbs that allow cops to locate a vehicle using infrared or night-vision gear.

It’s all in there: RFID cloning, covert recovery of suspects’ PINs from alarm panels, etc., silent drills, door cutter kits, covert audio and video installation tools, and surveillance all-in-one solutions that can be moved easily from car to car to lower the risk of surveillance vehicles being burned by sitting in one place for too long.

Apparently, the release of this catalog was approved by the Irvine Police Department and its counsel. Despite that, SSG is handing out legal threats to everyone who’s published the document.

When Motherboard asked Special Services Group for comment, the company did not respond. Shortly later though, a lawyer representing the company wrote a strongly worded legal email, demanding Motherboard not report on the brochure. The lawyer claimed that the brochure was protected under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a set of rules that regulates the export of munitions, as well as copyright.

It sent a similar legal threat to MuckRock, claiming the publication of the document would put law enforcement at risk and said “recent world events” (Cox speculates this refers to developments in Iran) justified its obviously-baseless legal threats. Anyway, the document is embedded below and will probably bring about World War III if you start at page 93 and continue scrolling. Enjoy!

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