As mobsters grew more sophisticated throughout the 20th century, so did FBI agents. By the mid-1970s, the FBI turned high-level mobsters into secret informants and used long-term undercover operations to penetrate organized crime groups.
When the mafia proved difficult to infiltrate, the FBI turned to listening devices. Listening devices—or bugs—record and transmit sounds. FBI agents hid bugs in mobsters’ homes, cars, and businesses—and even parking meters and telephone booths—so they could listen to their conversations.
FBI agents must secure a warrant before hiding a bug in a person’s car or house or any other private or public location. During the period specified in a warrant, agents can plant or remove bugs and retrieve recordings. They can hide bugs in household staples like lamps, pictures, and telephones—or toys.
This statuette of Alvin, a chipmunk in a fictional band called Alvin and the Chipmunks, was once used by FBI agents—they placed a bug inside this toy during an organized crime case.