MARCO ISLAND — Bill Black spent his life gathering secrets. Today, he's fully focused on what others might be hiding.
Black served for 23 years in U.S. Air Force intelligence before turning to the civilian sector. As owner of Emergency Management Technologies, he evaluates and recommends surveillance equipment to government and law enforcement agencies.
On Wednesday, he spoke to the Marco Police Foundation's "Lunch with the Chief" at the Hideaway Beach Club. Black demonstrated his expertise in covert surveillance by pulling a buttonhole camera and listening device out of his shirt. The camera that literally fit into a single hole in a button had been recording attendees for at least 30 minutes, he said.
Covert surveillance is the heart of his work, and the United States is on the "bleeding edge," not just cutting edge, of high-tech equipment, Black said before the luncheon.
Other "show and tell" items included a belt-buckle recording device, a pill bottle satellite tracking unit, hidden recorders in key fobs and cell phones, envelope trackers and Zippo cigarette lighter recorders. The possibilities for miniaturizing surveillance equipment and spying on others are only limited by the imagination and an agency's need to uncover information, he said.
Afghanistan required a particular type of surveillance, Black told attendees. Undetectable listening devices were planted in caves and voice activated. Later the recordings were retrieved and translated for intelligence services.
Once a device was implanted in a hollowed-out portion of a new, shiny AK-57 assault rifle and left where al-Qaeda operatives would pick it up. The ruse worked.
In the Cold War, the United States and the U.S.S.R. were neck and neck in technology development, Black said before the luncheon. The difference was craftsmanship. Russian devices were crudely built but effective, he said.
Black would not name the United States' current greatest competitor, but did applaud the country's collaboration with European allies.
Today, Black is a consultant to the Special Operations Command in Tampa, the CIA and the FBI. For obvious reasons, these agencies are very suspicious of outsiders, he said. Being a known commodity with years in U.S. Air Force intelligence has opened the door for his work as liaison in classified projects involving surveillance.
During the luncheon, police foundation members drew the winning ticket for a scooter donated as a fundraiser to the group by Executive Auto Repair of Marco Island. The scooter, valued at $2,500, was won by Keith Briand, who works at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort. Raffle ticket sales raised $14,510. The money will be used to purchase a motorcycle for the Police Department.