Bernie Spindel

Unless you’re a real die-hard fan of certain obscure technological practices, you’ve probably never heard of Bernie Spindel. He’s not exactly well-known; his only Wikipedia entry is over in the French edition, and it’s been a couple decades since anyone ever published anything about him, except online.

Once upon a time, though, he was – in certain specialized circles – quite famous, as – perhaps – the greatest phone-tap and electronic eavesdropping technician who ever lived. He worked for Jimmy Hoffa, and various Mafia organizations in New York; he may have – if you believe the stories – even bugged Marilyn Monroe’s home, though who he was working for remains a subject of debate.

Most of Spindel’s legend comes from a 1966 article in LIFE Magazine, which is about as audacious a piece of journalism as I’ve ever run across. “Hi, mind if we tag along as you commit a couple felonies, become an accessory to a few more, break into the house of someone who’s probably connected, take pictures all along the way, and publish them in a national magazine? Really? Great!” Perhaps Bernie Spindel wasn’t too concerned about the consequences of his actions – Hoffa, to say nothing of the Mafia, may well have offered a considerable degree of protection. Either way, he appeared in LIFE in 1966 – and the LIFE archive, courtesy of Google, provides some even-more-interesting photos than those shown above, of some of his “tools of the trade”, which may or may not have ever actually been published…

Above, a “bug” in a telephone terminal. Below, one in a wall outlet.

Above, what looks to me like a normal Western Electric handset; below, one that’s pretty obviously been tampered with. 🙂

Google has several more photos of Spindel at work, if that’s the sort of thing that interests you.

French Wikipedia says Spindel died in 1972, but they appear to be wrong. How much of Spindel’s reputation was hype, we’ll probably never know; what can be said is that he was probably something of a pioneer both in the technical surveillance, and what is now called technical surveillance counter-measures fields, at a time when pretty much everything had to be done the hard way, by hand. What he’d have thought of an era where you can buy a wireless bug set for $60, shipped, I have no idea – but I suspect he wouldn’t have liked it.

Published in: Geekiness, General, History, Security | on March 11th, 2009| 2 Comments »

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  1. On 3/11/2009 at 3:01 pm Nemo Said:

    Incidentally, someone really should make an (English-language) Wikipedia page on Mr. Spindel. (hint, hint.)

  2. On 3/28/2014 at 10:36 pm Phil Said:

    The frog is in the pond. 48299922