Former FBI agent writes about his days in the Detroit Special Operations Group

Status
Not open for further replies.

Hooligan

Member
Joined
May 15, 2002
Messages
1,251
Location
Clark County, Nevada
Thanks to a private radio discussion list, I recently came across this article by a former FBI agent about his days in the Detroit area, assigned to a very special squad:

Retired Ann Arbor FBI agent recalls taking infamous photo of a Mafia meeting in the Dexter area

The above article has some interesting tidbits relating to their communications, and efforts by Detroit mafia to monitor the comms.

In response to the article, here are some of my memories from events *long ago* of surveiling that special surveillance squad via radio & the occasional walk/drive. There are a few redactions, due to this being an open list.

I owe most of my initial FBI radio monitoring prowess to a dear, deceased friend name Mark H (aka "FBI Mark") who started monitoring them a few years before me & though monitoring plus other actions, was able to track down the former "Cave" (we never really heard it called the "Bat-Cave") locations on his own.

I started listening-in on the Detroit
FBI repeaters & simplex starting in the late 1970s while I was in junior high school & living in
Birmingham. Back then of course before cell-phones, there was a lot
of federal radio traffic on a daily basis. Primary FBI Detroit area
repeater back then was 163.8875, with the RAs on 163.925. C-9 repeater
was 163.975 & while they had Datotek analog time-domain encryption, it
was for their mobile radios only, & I guess due to range & voice-quality
plus the fact that their handhelds couldn't decode it, they mostly used
clear-voice. Believe it or not, the only agency using encryption in
the Detroit area full-time was the USPS PIS, who also have a couple
Defense Investigative Service agents using their radios. Listening to
the Detroit area FBI radio comms, it didn't take too long to realize one
group of guys were usually out & about & doing some heavy-duty
surveillance, etc. late at night, talking about their Checker Cab or
Michigan Bell truck surveillance vehicles, etc. while all the other
squads seemed to be tucked into bed for the night. We quickly realized
these guys were special, and paid extra-attention to them, which was
easy because they had their own repeater & simplex channels. I called
the Detroit FO, told them I was doing a report on the FBI for a
high-school class, and asked the then-public affairs agent (John
Anthony) about how many agents the Detroit FO had, and if they all did
the same stuff, or if there were different teams. He fell for my ruse
(I *was* a high school kid at the time, so I'm sure he could tell by my
voice I was 'just a harmless kid') and listed off all the different
Squads the Detroit FO had at the time, and best of all, he did it in the
actual Squad # order, though he didn't specifically say C-3 does white
collar crimes, C-4 does bank robberies, etc. but I was able to piece
that together easily. When he got to the C-9 squad, he referred to them
simply as "the off-site squad, a secretive group that does special
surveillance, & has their own secret office location." I remember at
the time that I wanted to blurt out the C-9 Cave's street address, fake
business name, direct dial phone # & FBI Centrex extension (550) to him,
just to mind-phuck him, but of course I didn't.

Yes, as the article says, the C-9s used code-words for various things,
but most of them were pretty infantile in sophistication & once you knew
where they were, if you had a map in front of you, you could quickly &
easily figure out other street codes as they called-out the streets the
target was on or passing. My favorites were "CONGRESS," which was the
code for Crooks Rd, and "SWEETIE," which was the code for Big Beaver Rd.
Michigan Ave was "THE GLOVE," & somehow, they came up with "TOOTHPICK"
for Woodward Avenue. For direction codes, they used a different
4-letter word each month to translate to N/E/S/W so for example if the
word of the month was CAVE, "Charlie-bound" would mean Northbound,
"Victor-bound" meant Southbound. Not very sophisticated at all &
probably didn't fool anyone who was intelligent enough to be monitoring
the FBI surveillance comms with a scanner.

Back around '79, I think "the Cave" was still in Dearborn. Prior to
that it was Livonia or Redford Twp, but in the early 1980s they moved it
to Rosa Parks Blvd just N of Michigan Ave in Detroit, under the
cover-name of "J K Distrib." J K was Justin Ku****, the Supervisory
Special Agent in Charge of the C-9 squad, aka "off-site squad" &
"special operations group" in that era. They stayed at that Detroit
location for a long time (back then, the Cave was supposed to change
locations every 5 years or so for OPSEC), but the even the greasemonkeys
at an auto parts store directly across the street knew it was some sort
of federal thing. I'll never forget the guys words to me: "Word on the
street is that it's some sort of federal undercover operation" because
there's traffic in & out of the place at all hours of the day & night,
but NEVER on federal holidays!" The FBI had a very acrimonius
relationship with then-Mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young. He thought they
were just out to keep the black-man down, and the FBI thought/knew King
Coleman was a corrupt SOB. One day, some Detroit firefighters on-duty
drove their fire-engine to a bar, got drunk, and promptly smashed into
the side of a building on Rosa Parks Blvd. For obvious reasons, it
was a big local story on TV & in the local newspapers. But what was
never mentioned was that the Rosa Parks Ave Bldg the fire-truck crashed
into was the Detroit FBI Special Operations Group/C-9 Squad "Cave!"
Those of us that recognized the building on the TV news were very
amused, and I'm sure there was a lot of joking around in the Detroit FBI
that what happened was a deliberate attack done at the order of Coleman
Young! That reminds me, Detroit FBI agents not assigned to the C-9
Squad weren't supposed to know where the "Cave" was, but I guess that
was somewhat of a joke because somehow or another, some did (I heard two
agents joking about pretending not to know where it was circa 1984, on
an old 152MHz IMTS telephone call). When the C-9s did finally move
out of the Rosa Parks Blvd location in Detroit to the new cave in Hazel
Park, with the building having the fake name **************** on it, the old Detroit Cave became
the FBI's radio shop. I would not mention any of this, had the C-9s &
radio techs not already moved-out of those locations.

In addition to listening from home & our cars, some friends & I
sometimes actually surveiled them while they were surveiling others,
often catching the RF bugs they placed in target's cars, etc.
Thankfully, we'd usually just do one drive-by & then sit in some parking
lot several blocks away to monitor stuff. -- we didn't want them to spot
us, nor did we want the bad guys to spot us & have the FBI operation burned
because the bad-guys got spooked by us. The one time I heard
their surveillance plane mention the silver van that just pulled into
the subdivision (me!) I made sure that I quickly left & went home.
Because of poor COMSEC/OPSEC on their part, we knew when & where their
annual C-9 family picnics were held, and... :)

I'm trying to remember when the C-9s finally switched to DVP or
DES. I'm thinking it was about 1983. They liked that better than the
Datotek analog scramblers, but the problem they had is their radios
would easily lose code if a handheld battery died, so they'd have to go
back to clear-voice mode. Also, they changed their crypto key monthly,
but didn't have enough KVLs around to get all the C-9 mobile & handheld
radios promptly reprogrammed, the result being they had to again use
clear-voice because some radios had the new code, some still had the old
code...

Some of the C-9s had scanners programmed with the local LEA freqs for
areas they were doing surveilances in, and they'd refer to local PD cars
as "bogies" & not want to be detected by them. When doing a late-night
'black-bag' (covert entry) job at a business, they'd try to park a van
right in front of the business door to block the view of anyone driving
by as their lock expert picked the lock, then they'd quickly get inside
& put up blackout curtains over the windows so they could turn on a
light to plant their bug or whatever. One of the several C-9s watching
out for "Bogies" on the street would monitor the local PD, and his job
also was to do something (drive like he was drunk or ??) to distract any
"Bogie" that otherwise might have noticed & reported the black-back
job/burglary in progress. Sometimes while doing late night
surveillances in Detroit or wherever, they'd actually witness other
crimes going down, but they'd just sit & joke about it on the air,
unless it was a life or death situation (& even then, I wonder...).


I still have many tapes of all this sort of stuff from the early 1980s
& need to digitize them. By writing all the above, I'm not trying to
embarrass the old C-9 guys -- they had a tough job to do (but they
enjoyed it) & I'd like to think they were very successful. Of course
at the time, we didn't know that they knew through their own ELSUR that
the Detroit Mafia was at least trying to monitor FBI comms. That's
scary, because as I've pointed out, not even the somewhat elite C-9s were very good at
communications security or operational security back then, and I'd like
to think that they never knew my little group of radio-geeks -- me in
high school, a friend working for EDS, an attorney, a friend working
the line at an auto plant, and a friend working as an electronics tech (he's
here on RR & might speak-up if he wants to!) were listening, sometimes watching, and yes,
sometimes picking the C-9's trash (like the former C-9 agent, I too will
state the statute of limitations expired about 2 decades ago).


Incidentally, back then, the Detroit FBI had two Counterintelligence
Squads, CI-1 & CI-2. I forget which was which, but one handled Soviet
Bloc cases, and one handled all others, with most of the focus (even
back then...) being on Middle Eastern groups, since Dearborn had the
highest Middle Eastern population in the USA. During the Cold War,
Counter-Intelligence was the most important FBI mission, with at least
half of the total # of agents being assigned to a CI unit. Anyway, the
Detroit CI guys were pretty amazing. They never really seemed to use a
repeater other than for mundane stuff, and usually used *******MHz
non-secure simplex with very low power so we didn't hear them much, but
when we did, they were extremely professional with very little BS'ing on
the radio. It's because as part of their training, they learned that
any hostile intel operations taking place definitely had
counter-surveillance experts looking & listening for FBI surveillance.


Monitoring/trying to monitor & figuring out the codes, etc. of these rather elite secret-squirrels
back long ago when I was in high-school was my equivalent of doing crossword-puzzles,
and the passive & yes, sometimes 'active' methods I used to satisfy my personal
curiousity back then -- as well as monitoring lots of other stuff like Air Force One,
airborne command post radio nets, etc. resulted in a pretty good professional career
involving setting, testing & enforcing COMSEC & OPSEC practices.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Squad10

Member
Joined
Nov 8, 2007
Messages
922
Detroit units came to CG to work with CG SOG Squad 8 surveillances in the 70s. I remember the only frequency they could communicate with each other on was CH4 167.5625. When the Detroit units headed home, they switched to another simplex frequency, I think it was 167.9625 and used rolling code scrambling. I thought it was Controlonics equipment. I was so happy that Squad 8 used simple frequency inversion with tone masking for clear voice over ride.

I've got hundreds of casette tapes of FBI surveillances that I should review, like my Regular and super 8 movies.

Did the Cave in MI have that crazy premisis alarm audio that was transmitted over nationwide common when it triggered?
 

Hooligan

Member
Joined
May 15, 2002
Messages
1,251
Location
Clark County, Nevada
Detroit units came to CG to work with CG SOG Squad 8 surveillances in the 70s. I remember the only frequency they could communicate with each other on was CH4 167.5625. When the Detroit units headed home, they switched to another simplex frequency, I think it was 167.9625 and used rolling code scrambling. I thought it was Controlonics equipment. I was so happy that Squad 8 used simple frequency inversion with tone masking for clear voice over ride.

I've got hundreds of casette tapes of FBI surveillances that I should review, like my Regular and super 8 movies.

Did the Cave in MI have that crazy premisis alarm audio that was transmitted over nationwide common when it triggered?
Cool!!

I'm pretty sure the scramblers they used were made by Datotek. The one member of my old 'crew' that's here on RR ended up buying one of the units years later at some surplus auction or something. Maybe he'll chime-in here & let me know if I'm right or not... Obviously, some people that monitor this sort of stuff want to keep a low-profile. The only reason I'm not doing so is because of the article by Stejskal. He kind of gloats how they trespassed to get a photo of the mafia meeting (sounds like tainted evidence to me), so I in turn wanted to gloat about how the C-9s weren't exactly the secret-squirrels they thought they were.

YES, the DE C-9 Cave had that same weird-sounding alarm, though I recall it doing so one one or more local Detroit repeaters & not one of the nationwide/common channels ! I would never have figured out that noise was an alarm, had it not been for "FBI Mark' telling me, and then sometimes when hearing it go off, the C-9s would get on the air & coordinate who was going to check out why their alarm was sounding. I think it was phased-out about the time numeric or alphanumeric pagers were fielded.


For everyone else reading this, keep in mind that just about every FBI Division/Field Office will have an "off-site" squad like the DE (FBI abbreviation for Detroit) C-9s.
 

Squad10

Member
Joined
Nov 8, 2007
Messages
922
A CG Squad 8 SA or two would respond to the Cave after receiving a call from the District dispatcher regarding the alarm. I'm still in awe how the responding Agents never gave any indication of the Cave's location as they described their approach over the radio using no street names, just their approach direction and drive minutes away from the Cave. The weird alarm audio keep up until a SA reset it. I remember being awakened many times during the middle of the night from that obnoxious alarm audio, but always hoping to hear something a responding SA said that would give me a clue to the Cave's location.

About every two weeks an SA would make a Cave parking lot sweep to collect license plate numbers on vehicles parked in the lot. The numbers were then run to check if they were frequent and not suspicious.

Speaking of running plates, Squad 8 would "mathmatize" a plate to say over the SOG Gold 163.9500 repeater. "A" was mathmatized to "B", "Z" was mathmatized to "A", "1" was mathmatized to "2" etc. When a Squad 8 SA switched over to the Blue 163.9875 repeater to ask the (non scrambled District radio system) dispatcher to run the registration, he read the registration to the dispatcher not mathmatized. Didn't take long for me to figure out the formula.

Listening to T4 conversations was a blast too.

Memories..., thanks for article link.
 

pointman1177

Member
Joined
Oct 13, 2010
Messages
67
Location
Metro Detroit, Mi
I love hearing stories from back when about my home area. Living in Redford but spending most of my time in Dearborn and the surrounding areas it's almost surreal to hear a story like this.

Thank you
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top