back to article 'Say hello to my little vacuum cleaner!' US drug squad puts spycams in cleaner's kit

Next time you're closing a big drug deal you may want to watch the cleaner. Or more specifically their vacuum cleaner. That's right, because thanks to publicly available federal acquisition records we now know that America's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has planted cameras in cleaners. Canon cameras in Shop-Vacs appear to be …

  1. vir

    Just move the camera back from the exhaust hole. An inch or so should do. You'll get some windowing of the scene when you're fully zoomed out but at full zoom (the likely case - "why is the shop vac five feet away from us?") you'll be in past the edges. Just hope they don't decide to empty the vacuum.

  2. DarkLordofSurrey

    I can understand this, going by this video:

    1. phuzz Silver badge


  3. JohnFen

    Neat freak as a defense?

    This wouldn't be very effective for neat freaks who keep their shop vacs in a closet when not in use and, more importantly, actually empty them after every use. So, I guess, they won't get many cokeheads with this.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    So we can expect

    A global ban on the use of "shop-vac" brand cleaners in critical infrastructure ?

    Will have to buy Huawei instead ...

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      Re: So we can expect

      No no no, you'll want a device that sucks extra hard to make up for the lack of how badly it blows. That's obviously a Microsoft product! =-D

      *Ducks & runs like hell*

  5. Tom Paine

    Craftsman? Stanley? Pfffffft

    It's all about the Festool!

    Aka "nah mate, that's not an M class dust extractor... THIS is an M class dust extractor"

    Unless you're building a proper general airspace dust extractor, of course, but those can't pass as vacuum cleaners like the Festool can (just).

    I need a new Axminster catalogue, the pages of this one are all stuck together...

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Craftsman? Stanley? Pfffffft

      Festool? Garbage marketed at yuppies.

      About four years ago I received a $3000 xmas gift certificate for Festool products from a well-meaning in-law. The next spring, I decided to build a new mobile chickenhouse (~100 layers), so I acquired a Festool tracksaw, a biscuitdomino joiner, a router, a sander and assorted bits & bobs to make using the four "easier". Halfway through the project, all four tools were unusable. Fortunately I had my Skil 77 and etc. to fall back on ...

      A couple of weeks later, AvE came out with this review.

  6. JustWondering

    Errr ...

    I don't know about anyone else, but if I was in the trade, so to speak,I would be suspicious of any equipment that suddenly showed up. I certainly wouldn't be doing deals in front of the cleaning staff, even if one could make themselves heard over the racket these vacuums make.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Errr ...

      I would be suspicious of any equipment that suddenly showed up.

      The point here is that you simply swap out an existing cleaner for an "enhanced" cleaner, when you are doing this sort of operation then you generally try to stay under cover as much as possible. The public documents indicate that they have been putting cameras in street-lights for a while ... if this is what's been released then what do you think is happening behind the scenes?

      Many years ago I had a job building microphone radio transmitters and fitting them into matchboxes so that they could be just left behind in a room after a meeting ...

      1. Charles Calthrop

        Re: Errr ...

        You must have hated the smoking ban!. Saying that you don't have to be that subtle these days: I was in a conference room once where the owner of the company came in, left her mobile and notepad on the table and left. Unfortunately, she had unlocked it so we could she she had called in from her office line and we were on speaker. my collegue suddenly and uncharacteristically talked in excrutiating detail about his sex life. Completely coincidentally, the owner came in about a minute later, pretended she'd 'forgotten her mobile', and left, not looking at my colleague once.

  7. harmjschoonhoven


    My Nilfisk vacuum cleaners will probably just blow the VB-M50B from their sockets and spit them out.

    BTW The Singaporean government dictators will shortly install surveillance cameras with face recognition sitting atop over 100,000 lampposts in the citystate as part of a broader "Smart Nation" plan.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    The War on Drugs

    It is patently that the “War on Drugs” is lost, it's only function being to maintain the vast budgets and salaries the various agencies have become accustomed to.

    1. VikiAi
      Black Helicopters

      Re: The War on Drugs

      I believe it is called LARPing. With a James Bond theme. On the public dime.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: The War on Drugs

      Given that the CIA is known to have dabbled in the drug trade in order to fund its black projects, the war on drugs was doomed from the start.

      Given that the US had already failed a war on alcohol, you'd think that they'd have got the message, but no.

      So, looking forward to a war on porn ? I'm sure it won't be long.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: The War on Drugs

        "Given that the CIA is known to have dabbled in the drug trade in order to fund its black projects, the war on drugs was doomed from the start."

        People always bring up the CIA and similar in this context, but they're really not relevant. People have been enjoying drugs for as far back in time as it's possible for us to detect that sort of thing. Alcohol is unsurprisingly the biggest, but you just have to look at how almost every culture has some kind of tradition involving some sort of mind altering substance to see just how fundamental this is. And of course, once you start looking at other animals, you find that pretty much all of them will behave in exactly the same way given half a chance; they're mostly limited simply by the inability to produce said substances themselves rather than all being puritanical teetotals.

        The war on drugs was doomed from the start not because of the CIA, but simply because running around shouting at everyone to stop enjoying themselves was just never going to work. Sensible regulations and education are one thing, but trying to enforce a blanket ban on everything is obviously stupid on the face of it. No government black ops required, just basic human animal nature.

        1. TimNevins

          Re: The War on Drugs

          The CIA was known for the longest time as the Cocaine Import Agency.

          As for the tens of thousands affected by drug crime including perpetrators,victims,buyers,sellers I think it is extremely relevant.

          But its is nice of you to deflect attention away from the CIA

    3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: The War on Drugs

      Yes, we've "lost" the War on Drugs but do you think that they ever intended to win it? It rather looks like the idea was to politically profit. These days a large proportion of minority Americans can't vote because they have felony drug convictions and are prohibited from voting - plus the ensuing violence that the War on Drugs generates has shifted a large number of white voters to support the right wing Law And Order politics.

      So for some people in power, the War on Drugs has worked out quite well.

      1. phuzz Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: The War on Drugs

        "So for some people in power, the War on Drugs has worked out quite well."

        Exactly, the War on Drugs hasn't failed, it's succeeded in all the ways it was ever intended to.

        It's made money for 'defence' contractors. It's made money for prison owners. It's got votes for hardline politicians, and not coincidentally, it's locked up a lot of black people.

  9. Frumious Bandersnatch

    Oh, what the hell ...

    And why not some intertrepanation while I'm at it (since I mentioned Pi in a recent post):

  10. cam

    Bit of blow will sort it.

    /gets coat

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      I think it was all doomed when they made LSD illegal.

      There's substance that stops people fighting, gives everyone the feeling that it would be nice to sit in the garden, pick flowers, draw mandalas, and play music ... and they BAN it?

  11. Chozo

    Given the amount of money involved the cartels have probably bugged the DEA & law enforcement in general for years. Alas slim chance of getting any data on that from a FOI request. Whilst at first this appears to be non-story as I have been on fleabay to get cameras that fit inside coat-hooks, shower heads and my shoes.. oh wait However in a paranoid world where the bad-guys are also tech savvy then a listening device that does not broadcast instead having weeks or even months of internal storage capacity makes more sense. The drawback being you need something bulky to hide it in.

    1. IceC0ld

      oh wait However in a paranoid world where the bad-guys are also tech savvy then a listening device that does not broadcast instead having weeks or even months of internal storage capacity makes more sense.

      The drawback being you need something bulky to hide it in.


      Like an industrial cleaner perchance ? ............

  12. redpawn

    It's so they will make a clean bust

    I'll get my coat, but on the way out, I'll make you one for less than $42,000 if you have the cash.

  13. GrapeBunch

    "We examined the device and it was clean."

    "What do you mean by that?"

    "I mean, there was nothing on it."

    "Do you mean you are wasting the time of this court on a case without a shred of proof?"

    "What did you expect? He was using a vacuum cleaner."

  14. Inventor of the Marmite Laser

    That just sucks

  15. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    1984 called and they want their Big Brother back, together with Miniluv, Miniplenty, Minipax and Minitrue.

  16. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    But does it sucks like an Electrolux?

    1. 404

      Electrolux isn't that great... Had an overbearing mother who believed in biological remote controls, i.e kids. I have experience with Electrolux, Rainbow, Hoover, ShopVac, various commercial appliances, and Kirby machines. The Rainbow was best at dust control with it's water filter trap, ShopVac for vacuuming up water, but the Kirby hands-down wins on suction for everyday household cleaning. Own an Ultimate G Kirby now lol ($200 on craigslist)

      I don't know why I wrote that, but it's true.

      1. onefang

        And how many bowling balls will it suck up? We all know how much trouble spilling a load of bowling balls on your carpet is, otherwise why would vacuum cleaner adverts keep demonstrating their ability to pick up bowling balls?

    2. Down not across Silver badge
      IT Angle

      But does it sucks like an Electrolux?

      Nothing sucks like a VAX.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've always looked at that "Henry Vacuum" face with deep suspicion thinking I'm been watched and now I know it's nothing to do with been paranoid after hoovering up a few fat lines myself.

    1. Insert sadsack pun here Silver badge

      You were right all along - and the surveillance footage has just been released!

  18. Woza

    Project code name


  19. ilmari

    For some reason my reading comprehension failed when I read the headline, and I was expecting to find that they have e stuck a chemical analyzer to a vacuum cleaner, looking for for traces of drugs.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No cleaner needed

    I was assuming the cleaner would just be left in a corner, looking innocent.

    It reminds me of a Bill Tidy cartoon of British businessmen in a Moscow restaurant. "When's our dinner going to come? I've been asking this vase of flowers for the last hour."

  21. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    I'm pretty sure..

    I've seen a video of one these suckers before having fun with the blow(setting?) .

    When under cover Henrys go bad


  22. L05ER

    Lock em up!

    Shop-Vac brand is absolute shit, ANYONE supporting such horribly designed products should be locked up...

    also, exhaust port methodology is more flawed than mentioned here... most come with filters and covers that mostly stay in place. As long as you can manage heat... the motor's exhaust slot would be a better bet. Far less chance of someone opening the motor itself, or of it ever being obstructed.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Lock em up!

      I'd always assumed before today that it was a generic name rather than a trademark. It does betray a certain lack of imagination;

      "We're going to sell vacuum cleaners for people to use in their workshops, what shall we name our company?"

      "How about Shop-vac?"

      "Brilliant! Trebles all round!"

  23. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Pah! Amateurs!

    If Q had built this, it would be motorised so it could move, have a pop-out gun, maybe a laser, and a super suck option!

  24. spold Silver badge


    ...does anyone else see it evolving into R2D2?

    May the suction force be with you

  25. Danny 2 Silver badge

    I am not an imaginary number

    In the late '80s I lived in a tiny village, one row of miners' cottages - 102 people, 200ish cats, 50ish dogs.

    The village 'council' proposed a development project which would build two new houses, and a car rally track around us plus a motor sports facility on the local reservoir which was a home to migratory birds.

    The corrupt head of the local village council had been bribed by the developer to push it through with the promise of a free new luxury home. And she nearly managed it except for some pesky kids bothered by the fact it was a SSSI for migratory birds.

    The developer had serious backing, from a Scottish world rally champion plus loads o' money. The turning point was a public meeting when a click in her handbag revealed she was secretly recording everyone on a Walkman.

    The moment I heard that click I realised as an electronics guy with shared loft space I could bug every house in the village, and none of them would ever know.

    And then I thought about having to listen to my neighbours private conversations, and I appalled myself. It was bad enough having to endure their public conversations. The idea of spying on people was even more repugnant than being spied upon by idiots.

    The morality of GCHQ/NSA/Amazon/Google (ad nauseum) employees who feel justified in spying on the rest of us, you are beyond redemption. You are not the same species as the rest of us. You are the one or two percent of psychopaths in our midst, and eventually we will hear your Walkman go click.

  26. shawnfromnh

    Well if I was going to do something illegal the first thing is not at home at a location you choose. The other thing would be if at home it'll be in a Faraday cage, cell phones at the front door or in a sound proof box so they can't be used to listen and nothing in the cage except for you and the person you're talking to and the exchange can take place at a place discussed in the cage. There are to many ways to spy electronically that a Faraday Cage is a must for anything including legal business nowadays.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      "it'll be in a Faraday cage"

      Do you believe drug dealers studied physics? They would ask you what kind of music Faraday plays...

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: "it'll be in a Faraday cage"

        They would ask you what kind of music Faraday plays...

        I assume it's something in the Electronica genre

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "it'll be in a Faraday cage"

        "Do you believe drug dealers studied physics?"

        Mate, I know drug dealers that have studied physics (to PhD level). Why get a bar job when you can make more money with less work?

  27. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Simple countermeasure

    You just stroll through the facility while making the deal. And see if a shop-vac is following you.

  28. big_D Silver badge

    It was a good idea...

    But now that El Reg has reported it, they have cancelled the order and have gone back to the drawing board...

  29. Milton

    The War on Drugs (by idiots, for idiots) was lost long ago, if you believe its purpose is to combat the illegal drugs trade and reduce social harm. It's rather obviously done the exact opposite. But if its real benefits are the maintenace of a large law-enforcement and security apparatus with huge manpower and budgets (also known as 'means of controlling the population') then it's been a huge success. Behind every self-righteous hypocrite bleating in Congress or Parliament about the scourge of drugs, while fondling those distillers' share certificates in his pocket, lies a government bureaucracy and a hundred little Napoleons just loving their budgets and headcount. It's a form of institutional insanity.

    As for the shop-vac, I would guess there was a specific operational environment where (a) significant drug criminality was suspected, and (b) the presence of one or more cleaning devices would have been unremarkable. A large office space, warehouse, institution? This doesn't strike me as a routine procurement of standard issue kit: more like a mission-specific bespoke buy. Look for similar procurements using the same basic idea for different environments. Say ... radio-mics concealed in takeaway food packaging; GPS flares hidden in vapekits; cameras peeking out of innocent-looking wall switches, thermostats, even installed in ceiling lights: your recce team identifies common, harmless looking objects in the operational zone, Q branch ponders awhile, a suit signs off and a procurement request goes out.

    PS Why use an existing orifice? The machine pictured looks like its carapace is a black heavy-duty plastic cylinder. So fit a matt-darkened window into a cut-out occupying maybe 30° of the circumference. Disguise it with an innocuous '2,000 Super Sucker Power' sticker (lower, clear half over the window) and you've not only got an unremarkable exterior feature, you have a decent field of pan. Hell, fit out a small production run with the dressing but no cameras, and even the users won't be surprised to see some new go-faster stripes on the rectnyl-delivered Mk17B... the lovely new filter assembly inside, which apparently needs never be opened, explains itself to the curious ... show people a commonplace in keeping with their expectations, they'll never ask a question. (And an industrial vac is heavy enough for no one to notice the extra 8oz of long-endurance battery concealed in the bottom.)

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I thought that Hoover had retired from the FBI decades ago.

  31. Jay Lenovo

    I just imagine the drug kingpins gathered in a room, discussing their secret plans.

    "Must we use this custodial closet for every confidential conversation?"

    ...Double-agent Shop-Vac sits silently in the corner. Hopefully, Mop and Broom won't blow his cover.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    50% Mark-up

    Clearly the author has never been involved in contracts with the US federal government.

    My guess is for a camera costing $3,400 and a vacuum costing a couple of hundred, that $42,595 represents a single unit. If anything, I’m honestly surprised anyone would have done it that cheap.

  33. Chairman of the Bored

    Feeding time!

    How to feed the LE troll:

    Suppose you happen to know there is a surveillance device in a vac. Get some guys together and start talking about crank.

    'Accidentally' bump the vac out of you line of sight and say "hey, guys, I never did push crank. The real money is in selling radioactive IoT connected butt plugs. See? I call this one the dirty bomb...."

    Remember... any specific claim on your charging document that is demonstrably false makes it easier for your lawyer to argue the rest is BS

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