July 21, 2014 at 1:00 am

I spy, you spy

Secret agent video-cam eyeglasses: slight, slick, sly, and yours for only $99

Roger Felsner models the video cam sunglasses he sells at Spy King in Lathrup Village. (Neal Rubin / The Detroit News)

In all the snickering over the two Republican operatives who ineptly infiltrated a Democratic fundraiser, we’re missing something important.

A presumably earnest intern named Kyle Anderson and a Michigan Republican Party staffer named Natalie Collins strolled into a Bloomfield Hills home last month where people were eating hors d’oeuvres and writing checks for gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer.

Collins was wearing fake eyeglasses with a video camera built into the frame.

Somehow, the memory disk commemorating their excursion wound up on the floor of a union hall in Farmington Hills two weeks later, suggesting that they were not only inept, they were clumsy.

It turns out the most revealing thing on the video is that Collins didn’t like having her picture taken while she was eating pineapple.

The Democrats are squawking about dirty tricks anyway, while the Republicans are responding that everyone does it, which is what you say when you’re caught red-handed and you can’t blame it on your little brother or the dog.

Let’s rewind a bit, though. Yes, it’s cheesy to crash a private event, especially without paying for your shrimp. And it was even cheesier for Gov. Rick Snyder’s former videographer to impersonate a CNN reporter at a Schauer event in March.

Whatever the Democrats have done that we don’t know about, that’s cheesy, too. But we’re missing the big picture here:

You can buy fake eyeglasses with a video camera in the frame.

They didn’t have them at my local hardware store last week, so I expanded my search. Sure enough, I found them for as little as $99.99, and you don’t even have to use them to ambush a politician.

The people who sell them say their customers have far loftier goals, like cheating on tests.

Is that a beer, or a safe?

Roger Felsner has been selling covert goods for 18 years: nanny cams, safes disguised as cans of Aqua Net or Old Milwaukee, how-to guides for picking locks.

He’s ready to get out of the business, so if you’d like to buy his store, stop by Spy King in Lathrup Village.

If you’d like to buy a video camera hidden in a pen, an earphone, a key fob or a happy face pin, he’s also the man to see. The pen even writes.

“You get paranoid doing this,” says Felsner, a retired Army sergeant. “When people walk in with glasses, I stare at ’em, just to make sure.”

Spy King is on Southfield Road, just south of I-696. Oddly, there’s another undercover retailer about a hundred yards furthern down called Spy-Ops.

Felsner calls it Spy-Oops. They’re not friends. But he says they don’t spy on each other.

At Spy-Ops, says salesman Mike Rhodes, they’re sold out of the glasses and have three pair already paid in full from the next shipment. The price is $169 for sunglasses or $159 for clear.

“One guy said he’s trying to take an online test,” Rhodes says. His plan is to somehow run through it and record the questions, then look up the answers and take the test for real.

High-tech glasses oddly lightweight

Felsner has heard that, too. He says the problem is that when you record a computer screen, all you see is rolling waves of gibberish.

He carries sunglasses at $99.99, but not regular glasses. The only clear-lens models he could find at that price kept breaking in half, and his clientele doesn’t want to spend bigger money.

The glasses typically have a lens and an audio recorder in the bridge of the frame, with a battery, a slot for the micro SD card and a few simple control buttons in one of the temples. They’re surprisingly lightweight, and not bulky enough to look immediately suspicious.

They’re big with private investigators and mystery shoppers, Felsner says. They might also come in handy during a stern talking-to from a boss, especially in Michigan, where the law says surreptitious recording is OK as long as one party is in the know.

Make sure you practice before you use them, he advises: “You don’t want to be fumbling around.” Also, keep the sun behind yourself, rather than the person you’re filming.

Finally, he says, don’t wear them in his store — “because I’ll catch you.”

nrubin@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-1874
@nealrubin_dn