Imagination + Hard Work = Fun
It was mid-1963 that I met John, who was working at the CIA, and we became friends. He was doing security inspections at embassies worldwide when we discussed the rising threats of audio surveillance and a need to curtail it, especially when telephones were used for eavesdropping. So, we came up with an unusual product we called the TSS-101.
It really was just a printed circuit board loaded with components (transistor, resistors, etc.) that we bought as scrap for a few bucks a bushel because they were defective and to be recycled. The clever part was that they were randomly stuck onto the PC board and made “noise” (each one different) that was “coupled” into a telephone to jam room conversations if the phone was being used to eavesdrop. We awarded a manufacturing contract to my employer’s electronics department, and we sold thousands of these things worldwide for $100 apiece. The only problem came from the Chinese government, who could NOT figure it out, so they returned the destroyed unit and never paid for it.
Some fellows in Congress heard about all this and asked us to write a study, as required by the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, to examine the efficacy of that law. We did this under a 1972 contract. As required, I personally delivered one copy per member (535) and returned the next day to offer follow up. It was then I learned that all books had been shredded; Congress did not want them.
Upon further examination, I found that our work was not copyrighted. So we did it and published and sold thousands of books, The Science of Electronic Surveillance, worldwide. The book, however, contained a few diagrams. One showed how an eavesdropping microphone had been embedded in the wood frame of The Great Seal of the U.S. in the Moscow Embassy (thought to be done by an American snake). This caused the CIA and State Department to get steamed, resulting in running arguments with them for several years. I was sitting in George H.W. Bush’s office at the CIA awaiting chastisement on his first day on that job in 1976.
As a happy note, all this (private) hoopla got the attention of the Jimmy Carter campaign. We were asked to provide “security” at the nominating convention July 12-15, 1976, in New York City. Observing the political crowd in their private quarters was revealing. Kindly old Miz Lillian, Carter’s mother, was a “bad mouth,” and local Congresswoman Bella Abzug was as big, noisy and dangerous as a steam locomotive. Not surprisingly, within a minute of the vote to nominate Carter, the Secret Service stormed into this room and threw me and my crew out.
John and I had opened other businesses along the way and made all kinds of security equipment. Our office was in the basement of an office building across the street from the main entrance of John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif., where we produced everything from electronics to full vehicles that carried “stuff” to remote locations. For example, one truck carried listening devices to mountaintops in South America to monitor Soviet submarine communications traffic.
But I stayed in the east and did some other manufacturing. In the mid-1960s we made some of the first plastic parts used in the aerospace sector, and I was granted a patent for reinforced plastic grain silos in 1967 and proceeded to sell them. It was a wonderful concept because one cheap mold was needed to make multiple orange-peel-shaped segments, and eight segments formed a sphere. Put a hole in the top and bottom, and a storage vessel was formed.
Sheet-metal buildings were used for storage in the U.S., but most of the world sorely needed our cheap way to do it. For example, the relatively prosperous nation (at the time) of Argentina lost 50% of its grain crops due to lack of good storage. So, with three other fellows, my company, Sphilo International, sold a $25 million contract to Argentina. Unfortunately, the government changed within weeks, and my partner became one of the “disappeared” in their war. My Australian partner, selling the same and hearing of this, dropped dead on the street in Perth of a heart attack. So, we stopped the business with no good way of fulfilling our contracts.
All things considered, I can say I’m as lucky a man as ever walked the face of this Earth. Use some imagination, and work hard. What more could any person ask for? And, dang, it was fun!