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  • Writer's pictureMichael Chandler

Bug Sweeps and Private Investigators

Why is it that private investigation firms across the world assume that bug sweeping services fall within their remit? It is an interesting situation especially, given that, it really is something that happens on a global scale. You could compare it with shoe repair businesses here in the UK where almost every shop of this nature also provide key cutting services. The two are quite simply, completely different. Their only association being the very fact that this is such a common combination.

Low cost technical surveillance products such as listening devices are not only even more low cost as time goes on, they are now more readily accessible than ever. It could be argued that, as the most likely service provider to plant such devices, private investigators are the best qualified to locate them.

A security company, by contrast, will typically provide services that can be described as 'preventative'. Whether that be security alarm installations, CCTV systems or manned guarding, they are generally considered as countermeasures. Additionally, an investigator merely search for information or data whereas security operative could be tasked with searching for explosive devices with the use of canines or the detection of weapons using x-ray or scanning devices. In other words, it is typically the responsibility of security operatives to search for unauthorised items, not private detectives.

It is questionable as to whether members of the general public perceive bug sweeping as the service that should be fulfilled by a private investigator or a security company however, given that the more formal title of the service contains the word 'countermeasures' (technical surveillance countermeasures), it is far more aligned with that of security service providers. There is no private investigator course in the world, at least to my knowledge, that is inclusive of bug sweeping. Security on the other hand, is far more synonymous with TSCM in terms of training. This is coming from someone who has written four investigative or 'intelligence acquisition' based educational programmes in addition to numerous security courses, one of which being the world's first application only civilian bodyguard training course.

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the increasing amount of so called PI companies providing TSCM services is that, they are simply not qualified to do so. In fact, bug sweeping is not a skill set that is universally taught in the security arena. A statement was recently made on social media by a service provider in Australia that, "Australia's first face to face TSCM course is going to take place in October 2019". (Joey Saab, Active Countermeasures, June 2019).

Unlike a paint job in your house, the detection of covert monitoring devices is not a service that can be deemed 'acceptable' if not done to a very high standard. If it is not done to the highest possible standard, using the correct methodology, capable equipment and appropriate techniques, covert technical surveillance devices are simply not going to be found and the client or principal will continue to be monitored. Technical Surveillance Countermeasures should be taken seriously. Comparing prices in the hope of finding and instructing the cheapest is a bad idea. This does not, of course, deter clients from doing so.

In summary, there are arguments to be considered on both sides as to whether private investigation firms or private security companies are more equipped to provide adequate and competent bug sweeping services. Equipped not only with a respectable standard of kit, but also the relevant and applicable knowledge. Given the general duties of security operatives, it is probably fair to conclude that they are the more appropriate service provider. The third, and probably better option is a dedicated TSCM company.

Both private and corporate clients who seek to engage anyone a company to ensure that either their living, travelling or professional working environments are free from illicit, covert monitoring devices should seriously consider the potential implications of using a cheap service rather than a professional and competent one. The ramifications are, primarily, two fold. Firstly the inadequate service would have been paid for and secondly, private, sensitive conversations will continue to be monitored.

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