Skip to main content

‘Black Book’ suggests the feds have some unexpected surveillance tools, including a gravestone camera

‘Black Book’ suggests the feds have some unexpected surveillance tools, including a gravestone camera


And a spying vacuum cleaner

Share this story

Jonathan McIntosh / Creative Commons

Today, Vice published an article about some, um, unconventional spying products marketed by a surveillance vendor that works with US government agencies. The vendor, the Special Services Group, offers many surveillance products that look like everyday items, but are actually equipped to be surveillance tools.

Here are just a few of the products marketed in a Special Services Group brochure (ominously called the “Black Book”):

  • A child’s carseat that has “everything you need to quickly and covertly deploy a drop car for video surveillance”
  • The Tombstone Cam, which has the ability to “conduct remote surveillance operations from cemeteries”
  • Small rubber rock and tree lookalikes that can conceal cameras
  • A microphone and speaker system that you can put entirely in your mouth that connects to a Bluetooth device such as a mobile phone or a recorder
  • The Shop-Vac Covert DVR Recording System, which houses a camera, DVR, and battery in a Shop Vac vacuum cleaner
  • A clock radio that can capture and record audio and video and transmit that audio and video over a secure Wi-Fi signal (apparently, “up to 10 investigators” can watch and listen to the live audio and video recorded by the clock by connecting to its Wi-Fi signal)

The Black Book was obtained as part of a public records request filed with the Irvine Police Department, and you can read the brochure here starting on page 93. (The rest of the documents at this link are part of the records request.)

You probably won’t be able to buy any of the equipment for yourself, as Special Services Group says on its barebones website that it “supplies technical solutions for law enforcement, military, government, and select clients.” The company says it doesn’t put product information on its website “due to the critical missions of our customers.”

Special Services Group threatened Vice with legal action before it published its story

Special Services Group seemingly wants to keep its product information as secret as possible, as Vice says that Special Services Group threatened both it and MuckRock (a group that had obtained the brochure) with legal action before Vice published its story.

According to Vice, in one statement, Special Services Group’s lawyer “claimed that the brochure was protected under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.” In an email to MuckRock, the lawyer apparently said that “the release of the information could result in very serious jeopardy to the lives of law enforcement and military users of the technology RIGHT NOW IN PARTICULAR DUE TO RECENT WORLD EVENTS.”

Vice is likely in the clear, though: Before the whole tranche of documents made its way into the world, a law firm hired by the Irvine Police Department apparently found that the Special Services Group’s Black Book was safe to be released to the public.