Somewhere between the cyber espionage that outed the US as Big Brother Inc and the phone-hacking scandal that sank Rupert Murdoch’s British form of journalism, the real news of the world may be Spies ‘R’ Us.

There is now enough equipment available via the internet to turn anybody into their own James and Ja’mie Bonds.

The US/Murdoch shenanigans – plus the report that some embassies are being used to intercept Asian phone calls and data as part of a US-global spying network – came courtesy of high-end, high-tech gear operated by highly experienced pros.

But people can buy lots of devices – mobile phone monitors, listening bugs, night-vision cameras, vehicle tracking equipment, thermal imaging cameras, video cameras hidden in pens, flash light/stun guns and a hundred other pieces of equipment – that are relatively cheap and light years removed from the invisible ink and shortwave radio of the spy craft of yesteryear.

Private detectives say the rise of the spy gear trade came out of the spouse-busting business.

”It was helpful in divorce cases but quickly became evident how useful this sort of equipment is in various situations,” one former NSW Australian police officer said. ”The whole business got a huge kick along after 9/11 when heightened fears made everybody just a little bit scared of things they never once feared.”

The US is taking flak now because of reports its National Security Agency monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. It’s a fine irony. Ms Merkel once recalled her parents were nervous whenever she talked for too long on the phone. ”Hang up! The Stasi is listening and it’s all being recorded,” her mother said, according to one biography.

Coincidentally, as the Merkel revelations raged, Russia was forced to deny Italian reports it had equipped USB flash drives and cables to charge the mobile phones given to foreign delegates to the G20 meeting at St Petersburg in September with technology to retrieve data from computers and telephones.

Meanwhile, whistleblower Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the NSA, told the ABC this week it was alarming that a nation would spy on those it considered an ally.

”Spying on others is considered the world’s second oldest profession and so the idea that nation states would engage in spying on others is no surprise, not at all,” he said.

”I think what’s particularly pernicious here is the fact we’re actually listening on the personal communications of the highest levels of governments in countries that are supposed to be our allies and are actually partnered with us in ensuring that we deal and defend against threats to international order and stability.”

Since humans started building empires and information considered secret or confidential was obtained without permission, people have been calling military intelligence an oxymoron.

But it took the British to turn spying into high romance. At empire high noon, the 1903 novel The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service by Erskine Childers established the spy thriller. Half a century later, as the sun set on empire, John Le Carre’s George Smiley and Ian Fleming’s James Bond kept the Union Jack fluttering.

But Smiley’s pragmatic calculations and Bond’s louche bedroom antics have been replaced in real life by high-tech cloak and dagger and, as WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden prove, the rise of Everyman espionage.

The methods

Hidden cameras
Commercially available, can operate in low light conditions and detect motion.

Hidden camera detector
Scans for power use, transmissions or even low levels of light reflected back from a tiny camera lens.

GPS trackers
Can be attached magnetically to vehicles. Battery powered to operate for weeks.

Directional microphones
Magnifies sound from a long distance away and stores in a digital recording device.

Camera glasses
Minature cameras attached to sunglasses can covertly record anything in line of sight.

blue cam line

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