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Cheesebox Callahan
"King of the underworld's wiremen."

From: Cheesebox, Paul S. Meskil with Gerard M. Callahan, 1974 Prentice-Hall, Inc.



“Gerard Callahan, Sr., is a notorious criminal and has been highly publicized as the electronics expert of the underworld...

“Cheesebox Callahan received his nickname from his innovative ability in maneuvering telephone wires and equipment used for bookmaking calls. A “cheesebox” is a device whereby when a telephone number is called, it is in fact picked up at another location so that the police are thwarted in detecting the recipient of a phone call.”
- THOMAS J. MACKELL, District Attorney, Queens County, New York.

Gerard Callahan, Sr. - Cheesebox - EavesdropperThese words in a brief filed with the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, express one opinion of Cheesebox Callahan. The description is accurate, but the man described is more complex than these words imply.

Cheesebox is a tough, sly, humorous little man who looks and talks as though he had been invented by Damon Runyon. He cheerfully admits to being a conniver, a crook and a cheat, but since he has almost never willingly participated in any violent, or even very vicious crime, he lacks the sinister grandeur of some of the big-time mafiosi. On might be tempted to think of him as a real-life equivalent of some minor character in Guys and Dolls.

But that would be unjust – Cheesebox Callahan is, in fact, a kind of genius. For nearly half a century he has been the acknowledged king of the “wiremen” – the electronic wizards of the underworld. His expert talents have been employed by the Mafia, the police, well-known businessmen and – possibly – even by a President of the United States. (Not, as it happens, Richard Nixon: Cheesebox says contemptuously that if he, rather than the “Whitehouse Plumbers,” had been given the Watergate job, there never would have been a scandal.) Above all, Cheesebox’s talents have been applied – sometimes appallingly, sometimes hilariously – to the illicit lining of his own pockets.

Given a different background, other influences, a different set of experiences, Cheesebox might now be a respected inventor or a famous scientist. Instead, the circumstances of his early life impelled him relentlessly toward a life outside the law. This is not said to excuse him; others have successfully overcome far greater environmental handicaps. But there is about his story an undeniable sense of waste, of great gifts irretrievably lost – both to Cheesebox and to the world at large.

By the time Cheesebox first began to think seriously about going straight, he was already too deeply involved in crime. There were too many powerful people on both sides of the law who had lively personal stakes in keeping Cheesebox just as he was. Until recently Cheesebox was never able to muster the willpower to resist for very long either the pressures or temptations that kept him a crook.

But for the past several years he has been making a valiant effort to reform. Valiant is probably the right word, since some of the counterpressures are, quite literally, lethal.

If he succeeds, he will have reformed without repenting. He was what he was, and it is too late to apologize. Certainly he was “a notorious criminal,” and there is no way that his crimes can be minimized or cosmetized. If he is to repay a debt to society, it can only be done in more practical ways – for example, by alerting honest people to the dangers of electronic surveillance, by instructing them in techniques for fighting it, and where necessary, by providing them with sophisticated, specially designed hardware to make the fight more effective.

He is doing these things and some other, more dangerous things, besides. So perhaps, in some measure, he will succeed in compensating for the old life. But he will never deny it existed. He was the best in his business, and he cannot help but take a kind of rueful pride in the fact. For quite a while he was the top man on the telephone pole.



HOW TO DEFEND YOURSELF AGAINST BUGGING

The citizens of our country are on a fright kick. So much has been written in newspapers and magazines about bugging that many people are afraid to use their phones. All this has created a gigantic market for eavesdropping devices. The fakers who manufacture, advertise and sell these so-called listening devices are a bunch of parasites who palm off a lot of dime-store gadgets that perform haphazardly. These fakers are breaking the buyers as well as the law.

The law, by the way, is the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act of 1968, Title 3, Chapter 2512. It was supposed to protect citizens, but it has been undermined by so many crooks on both sides of the law hat it is now almost worthless. Politicians go on shouting for more protection on the streets, but what about protection for homes and businesses? I personally gave a plan to the late Robert Kennedy that could have been a remedy to invasions of privacy on telephones. That was years ago.

As far as most of the fancy bugging devices now on the market are concerned, really professional wiremen – that doesn’t include the cops – wouldn’t touch them. They don’t need to. It’s know-how, no gadgets, that makes a top wireman.

There are only maybe four or five wiremen in this country, and maybe four in Toronto, who are the real pros. They are all expert burglars, and when they decide to do a job on you, they don’t have any trouble breaking into your house or office. They can disable any burglar alarm system ever made (except a team of attack dogs), and once they are in, they don’t mess around with dime-store gadgets. They just make a few simple adjustments in the transmitter circuit of your telephone so that the mouthpiece becomes “live.” This means that your phone is not only tapped for incoming and outgoing calls, but it is also acting like a microphone that picks up any conversation carried on in its vicinity.

Of course, these pros don’t even have to enter your premises to put their work on. They know how to operate on both fused and nonfused cross-connection terminal boxes, on drop cable pole-mounted distribution terminal boxes, on stand-mounted distribution terminal plastic cable boxes, and so on and on. They also know how to get all the special information they need out of the Cable record Office. If you are a layman, probably none of this means much to you, but you can bet they know what it means.

There isn't’ much you can do to prevent a real pro from tapping your phones, but fortunately there isn’t much likelihood you will ever have to contend with one of the experts. If anyone did decide to tap your phones, he’d probably send along a couple of clowns who wouldn’t even dare to climb a pole to bridge a crossbox.

Say the victim lives in an apartment. The clowns’ usual MO would be to get hold of the apartment-house super. They story him about how they are special investigators and have information that the tenant in 3A is engaged in subversive activities and is a menace to the country. The super eats it up, along with the fifty they slip him, and takes them to the house crossbox.

Since all the other wires in the box are black, you can make book they will string a pair of brand-new white wires. Even though 3A is plainly marked on the terminals, they will louse up at least three other phones in the building. It will take the boys three hours to complete their work, even though Hathaway’s Chimps could have done the job in thirty minutes.

Since by now the tenant in 3A will have figured out what’s going on, he will probably begin his counter-attack by taking his phone off the hook and leaving it off all night long. This will automatically activate the boys’ tape recorder and use up all their tape long before dawn. Alternatively, or as a second ploy, he can go down to the cellar after the boys have left, take the white leads off his pair of terminals and hook them to the pair belonging to the German couple who live in 6B. Finally, and probably best, he can take a short vacation in Miami.

All I am trying to do by telling you this story is to reassure you that if you have reason to think some “expert” is trying to bug your home or place of business, the chances are he won’t know much more about bugging than you do. There are many things you can do to protect yourself. Here are some of them.

You should not have an outside cleaning agency service to do your office chores: They are easy for a “plant” to infiltrate. You should never allow a telephone man to enter your home or office without carefully checking his credentials. Before allowing him to touch your phone or wiring, you should check with the repair service (611) and if you think a bug has been placed, don’t hesitate to call (on an outside phone) the phone company security office.

In dealing with the security office, there are a few things to bear in mind. Always get the name of the person you are speaking to. If the company says they have “tested” your line and that “there is no illegal tap on your phone,” be sure to ask whether there is any tap on your phone, illegal or legal. If their answer is to start double-talking you, you can be pretty sure there is a tap.

That is the time to begin writing (certified mail, return receipt requested) to your local U.S. District Attorney, the Frankie Browns, your congressman, the Public Service Commission, the local newspaper and anyone else in authority you can think of. Even authorized wiretappers usually can’t stand that kind of public static.

One way to protect your phone (I mean the instrument itself; there isn’t much you can do to protect the wiring) is to seal on the screw caps of both the mouthpiece and receiver with any strong adhesive spray such as 3M Brand #77. If this has been done, anyone trying to get at the receiver or transmitter elements in your phone will at least have to break the seal and may wind up breaking the whole handset casing. You can do the same thing to the base: While the handset is off the cradle, turn the base upside down, remove the two threaded screws from the bottom, coat them with “liquid steel” and screw them back in as tightly as possible.

If you think your premises have been bugged, you should obviously go over all your telephone wiring, from the building crossbox (if there is one), to the block screwed to the wall in your room, to the instrument itself. In checking for non-telephonic bugs, you will probably have to move all the furniture and lamps and check the bottoms of everything, as well as base sockets, light switches and any other place some creep might hid his work. Follow any wires you don’t recognize to their source and do what is necessary if that source isn’t legit.

If you find a bug on your phone, immediately loosen a wire. If you find a transmitter planted anywhere, take a straight pin and puncture the diaphragm of the microphone. This will produce a transmitted sound so distorted that your words will sound like someone speaking Chinese through a mouthful of marbles.

But these are only verifications and temporary remedies. The really important thing to do, as I’ve said, is to notify the phone company, the cops, the FBI and everyone else as soon and as noisily as you can. If you were me, you would probably also get a couple of baseball bats and wait around in the dark to see if you could get a shot at the creeps when they come back to look at their work. But this I don’t necessarily recommend.


(Mr. Callahan's views are based on now dated information, and do not reflect the views of Murray Associates.)



Cheesebox / February 16, 1909 - November 11, 2002 / New York, New York
I was advised by a family member that Gerard "Cheesebox" Callahan, Sr. passed away. He had been in a nursing home in New York



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