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The Spy who came in from the mall

The gap between real and make-believe spies often seemed to be in their cool gadgets. But no more, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

There are few men who haven’t nurtured James Bond fantasies, and I don’t mean their dreams of spies who love them. It is the stuff of childhood fantasies, when we played games like cowboys and crooks and spies and villains. And a little air guitar, of course.

That last one could later always be consummated with a credit card, even if ownership of a guitar didn’t automatically make us rock stars. But the world of derring-do and labs filled with spy gadgets receded ever further beyond our reach.

Until now.

The Bond-type gadgets we tend to covet the most, like spy-cameras and spy-camera detectors, are suddenly available in shops, in malls and even online. And the prices no longer demand CIA- or MI6-type budgets.

And these gadgets don’t even look like spy gadgets.

As a result, when Etienne Labuschagne from a company called Spycatcheronline opens his briefcase on my desk, I have no idea what I’m seeing. Cigarette lighters? Pens? Flash drives? Watches? Wall plug adaptors, for goodness sake? How am I going to feel like an international man of mystery with such mundane objects?

Aah, but this is no ordinary watch. Yes, it looks like a diver’s watch, with half a dozen buttons and information overload on the dial. But a couple of those buttons are controls for a video camera built into the watch, and one of them hides a jack for connecting the phone to a computer and transferring the videos. The oversupply of moving parts and displays disguises a little eye that is really a 2 Megapixel camera for still photos and up to 90 minutes recording time. Hold your wrist in the direction of the scene you wish to capture, press a button, and you are 007.

“See anything strange about my tie?”” Etienne asks. The pattern of red triangles makes me dizzy if I stare too long, but then who am I to judge someone else’s fashion choices? I see nothing strange. Etienne points at the corner of one of the triangles. There’s a kink in the pattern.

“”Camera. It transmits to a small receiver in my pocket, and it saves the images on a micro SD card.””

One by one the true nature of the devices is exposed. The pen is a sound recording and transmitting device.

“”Leave it on a boardroom table while you take a bathroom break, and you can use the receiver to listen to what people say about you while you’re out.””

Just the thing if you’re a paranoid boss. But it gets more interesting. The Bic-type lighter is a sound recorder. So is the flash drive ¬®C with the added advantage that it really is a flash drive, so it automatically stores whatever it records.

The plug adaptor fits into a normal wall socket, which is useful, as that powers an audio recording device that will pick up any sound in a room. It’s illegal to use in some countries, so don’t say I sent you.

“”We know some things are illegal to supply to the public, and they’re intended for law enforcement agencies,”” Etienne confirms. “”For example, we have a button camera that can be strapped to a pistol, with a viewer on the arm, so that a police officer can aim around a corner.””

Devices like camera-locators that detect spying devices in a room, handheld bug locators, shred-proof jackets and bullet proof business suits, emphasise the personal protection nature of your modern over-the-counter spy supplies. Most of the objects will set you back between R1000 and R10 000. But then, what’s a few thousand bucks between enemies?

* Arthur Goldstuck heads up the World Wide Worx market research organisation and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. You can follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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