TEHELKA EXPOSE: Cams That Sting

It
wasn’t what Tehelka’s under-cover sting operators considered an ideal
setting for their exposé, but they didn’t have an alternative. To further
dampen things, a goof-up in the sitting position made it difficult for them to
get enough footage of former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitley. If one
remembers the Tehelka tapes, the ‘Jaitley raid’ had more voice than video
frames. Luckily for Tehelka and the country, however, the Aniruddha Bahal-Mathew
Samuel team had a second spycam hidden on their person. That helped, but the
evidence could have been a lot more conclusive.

The dashing investigative duo would not have been repenting if Bahal, who was
sporting dark glasses and a cap to disguise himself as Alvin D’Souza, the
Indian representative of the fictitious West End International, had used Color
Video Optical GR II. These colored dark glasses have an in-built video camera,
but look no different from any ordinary pair of spectacles. The one Bahal
actually used had a full-color super-micro camera built into the nose frame
portion and shot visuals through a tiny pinhole. It also had a safety cord
attached that carried video signals to a matchbox-sized transmitter that
redirected these images for recording at a remote site. Enter the world of tiny
wireless spycams, or covert video surveillance cameras.

While Tehelka has declined any comment on the type of equipment used, the
investigators accepted that the team was using more than one set of spycams.
According to experts, the now famous briefcase, prominent in all Tehelka
recordings, had an in-built pinhole camera. This is corroborated by one of the
investigators, who accepted that the Jaitley episode did not have much video as
they were asked to leave the briefcase outside the room before meeting her.

Some detective agencies feel that while Tehelka may have used an assembled
optic fiber camera fitted in the briefcase, a second camera could have been the
standard pinhole version carried in person and hidden in a buttonhole, or tie,
watch, pen or even the cap that Bahal used to wear. A stationary camera could
also have been fitted in furniture in hotel rooms where conversation with
politicians and defense personnel took place.

The spycams

While
the camera has been used for covert operations all along, the last ten years
have seen the emergence of microchip-based video cameras as small as a 50-paise
coin. These tiny video cameras are at the cutting edge of spycam technology. In
their ten-year history, they have been emerging better, cheaper and smaller with
more features packed into them. Also, during the evolution process, two types of
image sensing technology standards have emerged–charged coupled device (CCD)
and complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS). However, spycams have
several attachments that come as part of the bundled package in spy shops in
Europe and the US. These essentials include the camera, micro-wireless
transmitter that can send signals from 100 meters to four kilometers away,
battery packs, monitors and different adapters.

Setting up a spycam is child’s play. Though readymade cameras fitted in
clocks, smoke alarms, flower vases and even soft toys are readily available, one
can easily hide the transmitter and camera inside any object that suits the
operation, or the occasion! Once switched on, the hidden camera transmits a
crystal clear signal to a small receiver–whose dimensions are usually 5″
by 3″ by 1″–slightly smaller than a standard VHS cassette. The
receiver then easily connects to a standard VCR that can record up to eight
hours of visual feed.

According to experts, every VCR manufactured in the world today has
additional RCA adapter plugs that will work with most of these units. In fact,
all standard home VCRs, commercial grade VCRs and time-lapse VCRs have an RCA
line-in video input along with an audio input usually located on the rear of the
unit, allowing recording, as well as viewing with or without a TV connected to
the recorder. Line inputs are the female RCA-type jacks at the rear of the VCR.

No spycam unit can ever be complete without the wireless transmitters, which
are small broadcasting stations. These transmitters allow a camera to ‘beam’
its signal (picture and sound) to a receiver for monitoring or recording at a
frequency ranging between 434 MHz to 2.4 GHz. While the 2.4 GHz transmitters
send their signals to a paired receiver, the 434 MHz (UHF) transmitters
broadcast directly to a normal television or VCR generally on channels 58-61 on
‘cable-ready’ TVs and VCRs and just below channel 14 on analog-style and
portable or hand-held televisions. Different frequencies have different ideal
uses. The higher the frequency, the more directional signals become–2.4 GHz
systems are ideal for stationary links. They can certainly be used for mobile
operations–best with a high-gain patch antenna–but there is likely to be
some ‘breakup’ during movement.

Pinhole camera

A
pinhole camera is a miniature CCD image board with a lens (pinhole, 1-3 mm
opening). The camera ranges from sizes as small as 15mm × 15mm to 2" ×
2". A board camera will give a very real video image (real-time) similar to
a camcorder. However, one does need to connect this camera to a viewing or
recording source. The camera merely takes the video image and sends it to
devices like television, monitor, VCR, camcorder or transmitter. Pinhole cameras
are used when a larger security camera is difficult to smuggle in or does not
fit into the environment. The cameras can be placed in objects such as clocks,
radios, tissue boxes or any household or office item. This keeps the camera
covert for surveillance purposes.

CCD
vs CMOS
A CCD camera is
not an optical camera as we think of them. It is more an image-sensing
light processor consisting of thousands of individual pixel elements.
Like tiny windows, these sensors respond to the presence or absence of
light and convert it into signal. These image signals are processed and
‘purged’ up to 60 times per second to produce good quality images.
According to reports, the latest versions have automatic image control
and resolution facility, offering razor-sharp video. Onboard circuitry
provides automatic focus, white balance and iris controls.

The cheaper CMOS cameras, on the other hand, use metal oxide imagers
that require much more light than the CCD (average of 4-6 lux). Also the
average resolution is lower (typically 280-350 horizontal lines), the
camera has narrower fields of view (a maximum of 45-58 degrees) and
needs to be manually focused after a given range.

What’s more, these spycams can be as cheap as Rs 10,000, but the price can
go up to Rs 1 lakh, depending on circuitry, chip quality and the vendor. While
those with Chinese or Taiwanese kits are considered inferior, most reputed spy
stores sell cameras that have high-quality chipsets manufactured by the likes of
Sony, Sharp, Toshiba, Samsung and Panasonic. Most cameras are assembled or made
to order by spy stores. According to a Delhi-based detective agency which
regularly uses these cameras, the assembled cameras or the type believed to have
been planted in the Tehalka.com briefcase
are the smartest ones and may even cost up to Rs 1 lakh. The pinhole camera can
be bought at prices ranging from Rs 13,000 to Rs 40,000.

SHUBHENDU PARTH in New Delhi

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