Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Please speak clearly into the coffee cup

Boy, did I get into the wrong business. If I had gone to work for a defense or military contractor, then maybe I could have gotten rich selling millions of dollars in high-tech spy and defense equipment to oil-rich Hugo Chavez.
Earlier this summer, Wikileaks published a memo from Phoenix Worldwide Industries to Venezuelan Brig. Gen. Pedro Ali Barrios Zurita, giving the general a quote for a range of spy and surveillance equipment.
Wikileaks claims the memo is authentic. I can't verify that, but I find the 44-page document to be intriguing nonetheless.
The Feb. 23, 2000, memo, if genuine, sheds some light on ways that Chavez is spending some of his oil riches. It may underscore his concerns for his own safety.
Then again, who knows? The memo could be a fake.
And even if the document is genuine, that doesn't mean Chavez bought any of the equipment.
Or maybe the Venezuelan military bought the equipment and sent at least some of it to their allies in Cuba. Wouldn't that be wild? A nifty way to get around U.S. economic sanctions. 
(In case you doubt the close Venezuela-Cuba ties, check out the poster above, showing Chavez welcoming Cubans to a July 26 celebration in Santiago de Cuba. In the U.S. that would be a little like going to a July 4 bash in New York and being welcomed by the British prime minister).
Whether or not the Phoenix Worldwide memo is real, it does conjure up images of a president who loves high-tech toys and is willing to spend top dollar to get them.

The vehicles and mobile systems listed in the document caught my attention. They included:
* Mobile detection system for weapons of mass destruction, explosives and other hazards - $1,706,650
* Mobile system for jamming and countermeasures - $1,492,650
* Vehicle with ballistic protection - $669,660
* Command and control vehicle - $658,585
* Mobile vehicle for SWAT and assault team - $529,650
* Operations vehicle, 4x4 - $476,685
* Covert pickup with camper top, equipped for tech support - $177,085
Another high-dollar item was the satellite intercept system, which must snatch satellite phone calls out of the air. It was listed at a cool $809,455

Other trinkets included:
* Covert shirt camera, color - $1,065 to $1,707, depending on the model (and you always wondered why Chavez looked a little beefy)
* Coffee cup cam - $1,065 (ideal for those breakfast meetings with foreign dignitaries)
* Pager-cam - $1,065
* VCR-cam - $2,884 (you're watching it, but it's watching you)
* Cell phone cam with audio - $3,419
And here's my favorite: Covert sunglasses with color camera. Price: $1,921. Or $3,205 for wireless model.

Scanning the document, I found it strange to see $315 digital handheld metal detectors and $6,580 secure fax machines listed along with $1.7 million mobile detection systems for WMDs.

I don't have a clue what many of the items are, like the pink noise generator, listed for $177, and the special countermeasures tool kit, a bargain at $423. Sounds like something out of a Spies like Us movie. (Video clip from the 1985 movie here).

But it is an interesting list to examine, particularly if you're in the market for a surveillance system that will capture and record your neighbor's cell phone calls. Price: $101,645. If I could only come up with the cash...