Beginner TSCM advice

3 posts in this topic

During a private message chat with one of the users on DDP, he indicted to me that he was interested in TSCM. The following article came off the TSCM-L list a few years back, and was written by Steve Uhrig of SWS Security http://www.swssec.com/. It was also reprinted in the March/April, 2002 issue of Cybertech. I'm forwarding it to the board for the perusal of the general membership.



Hello all,

Following is a sanitized excerpt from a message exchanged with a gentleman

starting in the field. Since it might be general interest, I am copying some here.

No sales pitch intended; frankly I couldn't care less if anyone here buys anything from me or not, especially my precious extremely limited supply of unblocked receivers.

My initial advice to the gentleman was not to spend any money on anything, merely do a lot of homework and research and learn for free before dropping a penny into hardware. This is my universal advice to newcomers. All the used equipment I have originally was purchased new by someone, then sold to me usually at a large loss for many reasons.

Much of the stuff comes from new enthusiasts who get carried away, from their widows or former spouses, or former employers who have a bunch of crap some idiot in security bought from a spy shop then left to get a job more suited to his

abilities, like flipping burgers. If you do want to make an tinvestment, first put the money into something that goes between your ears, like training, basic electricity and electronics courses, or textbooks like the one described below if schooling is not practical or you aren't serious enough to make the commitment. You can always get your money back out of a used receiver if you lose interest. This is not true of most sweep equipment bought new or used. Sweep equipment is much like new cars in a way. The instant you unpack it you have cut its value by a third, permanently. If it lays around and gets dust and fingerprints on it, there goes another third. Then your ex sells it to me for 10% of what you paid for it, and I clean it up, replace the batteries, calibrate it and resell it for twice that, and someone gets a great deal because you spent money you shouldn't. You lose and everyone else wins. Don't buy hardware until you know what you will do with it and can justify it. Unless you are a professional, and if you are you don't need my advice, dream about the equipment if

you want to, but don't buy it.

Very, very few persons will ever earn enough sweeping to pay for their equipment. BUYING EQUIPMENT IS AN EXPENSE, NOT AN INVESTMENT, FOR MOST PEOPLE, AND

THAT PROBABLY INCLUDES YOU. Don't fool yourself.

Yes, I'm shouting.

When a guy who sells equipment tells you not to buy it, maybe he's actually telling you the truth.


Once upon a midnight dreary, a@b.c pondered, weak and weary:

I have an XXX background and a pretty good set of ears and was just wondering if it was still a bad idea to maybe tinker around with an RF transmitter sweeper to get my

ears used to combing through the key frequencies you specified in your articles; and if you do have a good, reliable used unit, i wouldn't mind having a new toy to play with!

The best universal tool for you, in my opinion, would be a decent general coverage shortwave/VHF/UHF receiver.

You can manually tune the spectrum and every practical bug frequency up to 2 gigs. This does not include the high threat 2.4 gig video stuff, but there are cheap ways to

sniff them with separate equipment. You will read about them if you go through all the archives for this list, as I recommended.

You very likely would have a lot of fun doing some shortwave listening as well as learning in the process. And if you have kids, it's something you can do together and actually will drag many kids away from the web or the teevee. Have you ever spent

an evening listening to Radio Moscow, or Radio Nederlands, or HCJB (Heralding Christ Jesus' Blessings, as they have been saying for at least 35 years) in Quito,

Ecuador or Radio Havana? Fascinating. They still play music from the 40s and 50s, and you can still find Green Hornet and Fibber McGee and Mollie shows. And a

very different view of international news, especially during a crisis.

Manual tuning was the way it all was done until maybe 25 years ago when stuff like the Scanlock was introduced. Most of the government guys trained on and swear by Mason A2 or A3 receivers which were $30K to the government 30 years ago, and today a modern $2000 receiver is much better.

An ICOM R8500 would be a good choice. I have them full coverage (meaning they will receive U.S. cellular telephone frequencies; illegal to sell for about the last 15 years) for $1850, or 'blocked' meaning cannot receive cell freqs, for $1250, used in perfect condition. Read more about frequency coverage elsewhere before buying. Scanner newsgroups like rec.radio.scanner is worth the noise level from the

education you will pick up.

Full coverage is important for sweeping. Listening to cellular calls is interesting for perhaps 30 seconds, then boring to most. Probably illegal to listen. Not illegal to

sell the equipment secondhand or to possess it.

You can get by with real simple antennas, perhaps even make a simple 'coat hanger groundplane' as a learning experience out of a connector and some coat hangers

which will work perfectly fine for casual listening and cost under $5. Or you can buy a discone antenna which would work well and is what many/most of us use. I think I get $125 for them. They ship in a reusable cardboard tube where you can disassemble and transport the thing. You would need some feedline

which would be something you could assemble yourself also as a learning experience. I would talk you through it.

If you buy anything from me, remind me to throw in a toy you can take apart to see how transmitters are built, or fire up to see how it works. It will not transmit audio so it is not a bug and not illegal. It is a telemetry (data) transmitter which reads

various weather conditions and transmits them down from a balloon. Good to use to teach kids about too. More description of them on my used equipment page http://


I would recommend any issue in the last 10 years of 'The Radio Amateur's Handbook' published by the American Radio Relay League aka ARRL. www.arrl.org. This is a universal handbook covering everything about communications theory

from the very beginning to the most modern. Virtually everyone has one

around for reference, formulas, charts, etc. Since theory doesn't change, yet they publish the thing annually, it doesn't much matter which issue you get. I think my

newest one is a 1972 and I have one which belonged to my dad from 1942 which was before I was born.

The later editions have more about microwave and satellites and modern stuff, and older ones have more about stuff like teletype, vacuum tubes and earlier theory. Ideally you would want an older and a newer one, but for now anything you can

find will be adequate. Check ebay for older ones. Don't pay collector's prices, though. You don't want an antique, you want a beat up reference book with coffee stains on it, for a decent price (like $20-$25 max). A new one from ARRL is $35

softcover for a 2002, and $32 for 2001 if they have any left. Either would be fine. You want the hard copy edition, NOT the CD. Nothing beats being able to carry the book to your bench, or photocopy a chart, or read it sitting on the potty.


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Great post!! I should probably go find my copy of the ARRL book I downloaded sometime ago.



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