How Did Feds Listen In on Blagojevich?

Investigators normally use wiretaps, "surreptitious entry" to listen to targets.

ByABC News
December 10, 2008, 5:23 PM

Dec. 11, 2008— -- Court records from the investigation into Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are filled with recorded conversations of the governor allegedly offering to sell an appointment to President-elect Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat. How did the government find out what he was saying?

Federal investigators tapped Blagojevich's home phone and bugged his personal office and a conference room in the Friends of Blagojevich campaign headquarters. Officials began listening to conversations in late October, the court documents say.

Former law enforcement officials and security experts, who were not familiar with the details of the investigation, said it may be easier than one would think to listen in on private conversations, even those of a governor.

Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on corruption charges. He was released on bond and has denied any wrongdoing.

While it was not immediately clear how the FBI and federal prosecutors accessed Blagojevich's campaign offices, law enforcement officers have at times gone to extraordinary lengths to spy on the targets of their investigations.

"It's not something you do overnight. You have plenty of time to develop probable cause. You do a survey, figure out how to get in," said Lee Flosi, a former FBI agent who headed the Chicago Organized Crime Task Force.

In order to get a federal wiretap, investigators must get approval from the Department of Justice and a federal judge. They must have probable cause that the wiretap will detect ongoing criminal activity, according to former law enforcement officials.

With a court order, investigators could listen to conversations on Blagojevich's home phone by working through the phone company and without having to enter his home.

The bugs in the campaign offices would be more difficult, former investigators say, and might have required investigators to make stealth entries to plant the listening devices.

"Typically what they will do is surreptitious entries," said Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent and ABC News consultant.

Though every situation is different, Flosi said agents will often pose as repairmen or try to get a job with a night cleaning crew. On other occasions, agents have broken into buildings.

"You might have to pick the lock and disable the alarm," said Garrett. "The key is to get in and out, and nobody knows that you've done it."