The Size of Their Toys
Well, it finally happened. An unnerving milestone was reached on February 26: a major terrorist strike on U.S. soil. The bombing of a high-profile public building is no longer something that only happens in faraway countries. The faaade of invulnerability has been irrevocably shattered.
Addressing the World Trade Center bombing, President Clinton alluded to the right of every American to feel safe. But when it came time to explain how he planned to back up that statement, Clinton was less comforting. Perhaps that is because, as the rest of the world has long known, no one can guarantee such a right. Were it not for tremendous luck on the part of investigators (or, more to the point, tremendous stupidity on the part of the terrorists), the crime might still be unsolved. And although some suspects have been taken into custody, authorities admit that several others remain at large and probably will continue to pursue their new hobby. While our government can take steps to diminish the threat, the bottom line is that they cannot eliminate it.
We are on our own. And that's where a trade show like COPEX comes in handy. Convened several weeks ago in the Riverfront Exhibition Hall at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami, COPEX (the Covert and Operational Procurement Exhibition) is not just another gun show. It is not open to the general public. You won't find a bunch of tattooed yahoos with beer bellies tromping down the aisles in search of cheap reloads for target practice with their .22s. This is where the big boys shop, where intelligence agents, diplomats, special police groups, and procurement authorities go to check out the latest in low-intensity-conflict and counterinsurgency gear. A visitor profile supplied by English sponsors Osprey Exhibitions Ltd. included all four branches of the U.S. military, the CIA, FBI, DEA, NSA, BATF, and a host of other agencies with equally sinister acronyms.
Attendance is supposed to be by invitation only. As the application for admittance explained, COPEX is open to "certifiable military, federal government, and law enforcement personnel with decision making powers. Tactical commanders, unit O.I.C.s and Intelligence/CO-IN chiefs are especially encouraged to attend. Industrial and private security officers with proper identification are also welcome."
The cop guarding the entrance stood about six-foot-six and had biceps you could paint orange and enter in state fairs as pumpkins. "ATTENDANCE IMPLIES COMPLIANCE WITH SECURITY MEASURES IN FORCE," read the sign on the wall. If the muscled flatfoot at the portal wasn't intimidating enough to ensure said compliance, then maybe the body-armored, automatic-weapon-toting, Robocop-looking security guard patrolling the exhibition would be.
The Riverfront Exhibition Hall is not one of Dade's larger convention sites, but it could have comfortably accommodated 50 percent more booths than the 90 or so COPEX exhibitors in attendance, who paid anywhere from $1750 for a ten-by-ten booth to $6000 for a twenty-by-twenty island display to advertise their wares. Unlike gun shows, there was no admission charge, and plenty of room to maneuver once you made it past the door. Booths were open and uncluttered, well stocked with brochures, and usually staffed by two or more neatly dressed salespersons.
No bartering is done at COPEX exhibitions (another is planned for late May in Baltimore), unless it is discreetly carried out among the merchants themselves. You can't bring in your Walther PPK and trade it for a Smith & Wesson .38 and a couple of hundred rounds of ammo. In fact, unless you are an authorized purchasing agent for some military or law enforcement body in the U.S., you can't legally procure many of the goods and services being presented. Of course, as more than one wholesaler was quick to point out, if you have an office (or a contact with a mailing address) in a foreign country, or a friend in law enforcement, such statutory constraints are easily circumvented.
The Miami expo was, to be charitable, uncrowded. As COPEX organizer Dick Brannon explained, "The emphasis is on quality customers, not necessarily on raw attendance numbers." And a good thing, too, because much of the time exhibitors outnumbered attendees. Most were only too willing to explain arcane details of their products to visitors who expressed even the slightest interest. With the exception of occasional monitors displaying videos that extolled the virtues of various vendors' commodities in action, business was conducted in hushed tones, with a veneer of discretion and a minimum of hucksterism.
The highly professional people from REMOTEC, a world leader in the production of hazardous-duty robots A the fearless little tykes who handle bombs, nuclear waste disposal, and other tasks deemed too dangerous for human folk to undertake A brought along a couple of 'droids from the company's ANDROS series, which resemble miniature remote-control tanks with arms and pincers. The Andros MARK V-A is the preferred robot of U.S. military bomb squad forces, having beaten out sixteen other robots from around the world in an eighteen-month competition. The World Trade Center blast hasn't yet brought the flood of inquiries that the Gulf War did, so you can still get your hands on one for under $66,000.
Robots are about the only product that DEFEX, an exhibitor with offices in Madrid, Singapore, and Dubai, does not retail. Instead they promote and export a wide range of Spanish-made defense products from their roomy, well-lit, self-contained booth that looked more like a modular office suite than a booth at a trade show. They specialize in security installations for public buildings, offices, and factories, encompassing perimeter protection (never let your enemies penetrate your perimeter, but just in case they do, make sure you have protection), interior detection equipment (infrared, microwave, closed-circuit TV), and computerized integrated access control systems. Should these somehow fail, they also market an impressive array of bomb disposal suits, bulletproof clothing, police and military helmets, riot shields and truncheons, handcuffs, leather accessories (bridging that nettlesome gap between S&M and counterinsurgency), and gas masks. Finally, for really persistent invaders (Jehovah's Witnesses, for example), DEFEX can supply you with water cannons, high-speed patrol boats, back-pack commando mortars, portable grenade launchers, assault rifles, hand grenades, demolition bags, and the ever-popular explosive hoses. DEFEX can also help you arrange convenient financing. (This last is important, because traditional lending institutions tend to view people loading up on hand grenades, assault rifles, and mortars as questionable long-term credit risks.)
Big Brother Security and Surveil-lance was on hand with its global monitoring system that enables you to watch, listen to, and communicate with your designated locations around the world via telephone or radio link. If all that monitoring pisses somebody off, they also handle a full line of Zizzo bulletproof fashion garments. Custom fitted, super-discreet, and offering 9mm protection, Zizzo provides the security-conscious fashion plate a wide range of stylish outerware, from leather bomber jackets with ranch mink lining to tuxedo coats and windbreakers. For a mere $80,000 you can turn heads and repel slugs in a Kevlar-lined sable coat.
The Bondurant high-performance driving school people had a booth, but their presence seemed superfluous, as anyone who successfully navigated Miami traffic to get to COPEX is probably already qualified to serve as a Bondurant instructor. A newsletter put out by the school features a cover story written by training director Calvin O. Frye. Entitled "Carjacking Resolved," the article includes the usual tips, such as keeping windows rolled up, doors locked, and valuables hidden, as well as some unexpected pearls of wisdom: "Be particularly alert for people loitering or watching you or other vehicles. If anyone pays specific attention to you and your vehicle, do not avoid eye contact. Demonstrate your vigilance to any would-be assailant. Should you observe an open display of aggression, such as committing movement toward you, then carry out the planned response. As your attacker approaches, drive aggressively toward him. Feign that you intend to run him down. Physiologically and psychologically this forces your assailant into a defensive rather than offensive posture, and helps insure your escape." (Window washers, you've been warned.)
If, for some reason, your Bondurant training does not pay off and your attacker catches up to you, you'll want to make sure you've armored your vehicle. A handful of firms vied for the privilege of bullet- and bomb-proofing your car, truck, or RV. Most of their displays featured squares of glass or armor that looked like they were lifted from the Bonnie and Clyde death car, to graphically demonstrate how effectively they stop a variety of high-caliber bullets. At Executive Armoring Corp., they can armor your Pathfinder against .38 caliber slugs and smaller for $45,000. But you'll probably want to pony up the additional $20,000 and get the deluxe, Level Four protection package, which repels 7.62 NATO rifle fire, and includes steel-reinforced doors, Kevlar upholstery, and ballistic nylon ceiling lining (good for snagging those stray bomb fragments).
Canadian Body Armour, American Body Armor, Dowty Armourshield, Point Blank Body Armor, and Specialty Plastic Products all peddled radically upgraded versions of the hopelessly outmoded bulletproof vest. And should the worst happen, Medical Plastics Laboratory offered a new, improved Victim Injury Set to teach you how to treat those sucking chest wounds. It contains simulated plastic bullet holes, lacerations, and assorted other traumas designed with Velcro for easy application and detachment to their basic array of CPR "manikins." For added realism, plastic blood splats and liquid stage blood are included at no extra charge.
GES Electronics manufactures tie-clip cameras ("She said the man in the gaberdine suit was a spy...") and incredibly sensitive bugs and transmitters to help you keep tabs on your enemies. Their salesman eagerly explained how he can build a virtually undetectable indoor satellite radio receiver for use in countries where access to even primitive radios is proscribed. (As long as you don't have an aluminum roof.) Special Surveillance Products Inc. produces "Midniteyes," which is not a movie starring Tanya Roberts but rather an ultra-low-light color camcorder. Hiatt-Thompson's extended tri-hinge "Big Guys" handcuffs with the fifteen percent larger shackle diameter and the 120mm separation between body and shackles make them ideal for use "where extra leverage is really needed."
Pressed for time? Flummoxed by the wide range of security options available? Unable to decide which ones are right for you? Plenty of security consulting outfits were there to come to your aid. Arthur "Mick" Donahue, president of Security Management International, a personable sort with the look of a man who has seen it all, has been involved in intelligence work for 35 years, and has done tours of duty in Europe, the Far East, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central America. He even worked on the Iranian hostage rescue mission. Some of his co-workers labored in computer security at Los Alamos National Laboratory, or served in the Navy SEALs and U.S. Army Special Forces. Donahue's company helps foreign governments and multinational corporations design security, counterterrorism, crisis management, and border access control systems. They are specialists in the field of exploiting captured computer systems and analyzing seized databases.
Maybe you're made of tougher stuff, and you don't want to just sit around and wait for the bad guys to come after you. The best defense is a good offense. Hide-A-Gun vends an under-the-counter mounting device which keeps a pistol within easy reach yet totally concealed. Ideal for shopkeepers, liquor store clerks, and desk jockeys everywhere. Then there are the Barrett semi-automatic rifles, whose brochure reads like a spiel from an automobile manufacturer: "The rifle's clean lines and functional design display the years of refinement necessary for a mature weapon system. The three-lug rotating bolt offers superb strength, and the high-efficiency muzzle brake reduces felt recoil by 65 percent. Our rugged bipod assembly is fully adjustable and folds either to the front or the rear, and the Sorbothane recoil pad and rear grip aid in maintaining a firm, comfortable shooting position. With confirmed hits out to 1800 meters, the Barrett Model 82A1 is battle proven. Barrett A heavy firepower for light infantry."
"Due to the increased interest in sniping lately..." began the pitch from Accuracy International for their Super Magnum sniper rifle, "designed from the outset as a dedicated sniper's rifle giving guaranteed surgical and reliable accuracy, ease of maintenance, and military robustness. Because of its accuracy and wind bucking ability, it extends serious anti-personnel sniping by at least 35 percent in ranges to beyond 1100 meters, but has the distinct advantage of being able to take on material, armour, armoured glass, and light fires."
The Crane Division of the National Surface Warfare Center also sells sniper rifles, not to mention a full complement of pyrotechnics and demolitions equipment, turret-mounted double-barrel machine guns, silencers, rocket launchers, and armor-piercing shells. Enough firepower, in fact, to either arm or overthrow any number of Central American nations. Gun Gear suggests premium holsters and accessories to eliminate those unsightly bulges when you're carrying, and their brochure included this chestnut: "Firearms are inherently hazardous and can cause injury or death."
Calico designs super-light 9mm weapons that just feel so right in your hands you want to buy a gross of them and try to rout Fidel. Their helix-feed system provides a minimum profile, they eject straight down (ideal for close-quarters combat), and they field-strip in seconds (although not in the hands of New Times reporters) without tools. The guns come with 50- or 100-round magazines, and with the speed loader can unload 50 rounds in fifteen seconds.
Finally, there was the Russian contingent, red-nosed and dressed in ill-fitting suits, hawking surplus KGB paraphernalia. By COPEX standards their display was primitive, a bunch of junk strewn across some tabletops. Crossbows, holsters, bulky body armor and night-vision goggles, helmets, an eavesdropping device that was priced at $300 and brought to mind a glorified stethoscope. Perhaps they just haven't got the hang of this marketing concept yet, but compared to the rest of the wholesalers, their display looked forlorn.
Still, the Russians do know about the hard sell. A representative from a private Miami company with an inventory-pilferage problem had come to COPEX browsing for surveillance equipment A 360-degree cameras, low-light lenses, remote monitors. Clearly, this was one area in which the Russian delegation was lacking, and sales manager Yury Pasternak ("Enterprenership [sic] and person security," according to his business card) admitted as much. But he didn't let it go at that.
"You are not worried about personal security?" inquired Yury.
"No," answered the businessman.
"You should be."
For a mere $80,000 you can turn heads and repel slugs in a Kevlar-lined sable coat.
The deluxe auto package includes ballistic ceiling lining (for snagging stray bomb fragments).
"Designed from the outset as a dedicated sniper's rifle giving guaranteed surgical accuracy.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.