Ralph Thomas is well known to ArtChix Magazine fans. He has graced the cover countless times, more than any Hollywood celebrity and for no other reason than he is a living legend as far as spymasters go. But the Thomas legend goes far beyond the private spy industry. There is a depth of character, abundant patriotism and a love for people that transcends his business. Quite simply, Ralph Thomas is all about people. He could climb atop his throne and perch there and not a single individual could say he hasn’t earned that right. But he shares his throne with others, especially youthful, aspiring entrepreneurs and private spies who want to know how to be the best at what they do. Thomas also has a sense of history. As he takes so many young spies under his wing, he also gives them history to use to their advantage. His private spy museum is one example of his love for history for the business Of private spycraft. His collection is vast and his knowledge is comprehensive.

Legendary Spymaster Ralph Thomas (center) with Spy Chics Blakely & Stephanie

Thomas is a spymaster, but he’s also a talent scout when it comes to spycraft and art. When he sees innovation and talent, he doesn’t just cheer from the sidelines. He gets into the trenches and becomes involved. He’s a doer, not a talker. He is a legend of his craft and admired by a whole litany of private spies and entrepreneurs who rely on him for advice and treasure his support.

We had a chance to ask Thomas a few questions and, of course, having fallen in love with him and what he does, we took that opportunity and picked his brain about the spy museum, the National Association of Investigative Specialists and his legacy.

Here is what we learned:

Q; Mr. Thomas, tell us how the Spy Museum was born?

Well it sort of developed slowly. We have been selling equipment since the 1970’s. I have always had a sort of passion for collecting gadgets and never could throw anything away and would never sell the last piece of anything we had. I started collecting older spy gear in the 1970’s because I have always had a fascination with the history of it all. It’s basically my own private collection. My wife Barbara tends to think I’m a pack-rat with some of this stuff but she puts up with it. Some of the pieces in our little museum was stuff I actually used in various investigations and some of it dates back to the mid 1800’s during the time of Allen Pinkerton. I got to the point in which a had quite of lot of it so we look at room and the Spy exchange and opened a display.

Jay Armes Jr. , JJ Armes, Ralph Thomas And Cody Woods inside the
Spy And Private-Eye Museum in Austin

Q: You have become quite a legendary figure, and nothing short of a mentor to so many new and young investigative and intelligence entrepreneurs. I heard a quote from Kayla Cohen, who is a deputy director at GCIS and she said “Ralph Thomas is probably the last spymaster from the old school who has embraced technology and remains relative to the way the security and spy business has evolved. He has taken so many of us under his wing. He has great vision”. I also read a Facebook quote from private spy chief W. Edward Griffith where he wrote “Ralph Thomas is nothing short of a visionary”. How do you react to such statements and how do you see your legacy?

Well street knowledge is important and always has been. The problem with modern technology as I see it when it comes to the spy and private-eye business is that there are way way too many people out there with what I call keyboard mentality. If they can not solve a problem with a keyboard, they are lost. They need to get out on the street and need to develop people skills. I have to admit that I am a computer geek. But you have to balance that with having people in your life and having them in person, not on a computer screen. By combining street knowledge and people skills with modern digital technology I think you can see the future coming and it’s always in a flux, always changing and you have to stay ahead of the game. There is to many people that see things today or try something today and it works for them. What they fail to realize is that it’s all timing. What works right now, might not work in a year or two. Things run in cycles. The trick is to identify the cycle by being a well read person and you can do that by combining people skills with modern technology. There is always a train coming down the track. Some people can see the train coming and come do not. The trick is to make sure you get on the train when it comes in. I like to help people, I think that is what God put us on this earth to do. We all do that in our own way I guess. In the end and in a life in the hereafter no one is ever going to be judged by how much wealth they where able obtain. I believe that people will be judged by the deeds they did and whether they left the place called earth a better place than when they found it. Another favorite camera of mine is the Tica camera which was a camera from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that looked like a pocket watch. Completely covert and really state of the art for it’s time period.

Q: You offer an online tour of the museum as well. What are your favorite online exhibits at the Spy Museum?

One of my favorite old time spy gadgets is the old lever activated button camera which you can view off of

I think it has a lot to do with his much things have changed in such a short period of time. You know, sort of a symbol of the analog age to the digital age. These button cameras where big, bulky and lever activated by placing the trigger in your pocket. You had to have a trench coat on to use them and the button with the actual camera lens has to be placed on the coat. Today we have all kinds of digital video button cameras that record to a tiny pocket sized DVR.
(see (see:

Q: Do you believe that the Pinkertons and the spies of old are inspirations for today’s new generation of private spies?

Very much so! One has to remember that they didn’t have much technology to use like we do today. A pair of binoculars and a gun was about all they had. Telegraph was the main method of communication. In those days, you either had street knowledge when it came to investigations or you did not. We can learn a great deal from them because the techniques and people skills used then are highly lacking in the modern world we live in today.

Q: You are also Director of the National Association of Investigative Specialists. Private spy entrepreneurs have credited the NAIS with being a premier trade association in this business. Why do you think the NAIS has become so effective as a trade association?

Most associations today lack a vision and can not seem to see the train coming down the track that I talked about in a previous question. NAIS was built on a concept of networking and learning from other people in the professional, identifying trends, and helping people in the business become established and successful. Most associations seem to lose track of their purpose. That is, they just go through the motions of throwing an online membership directory online and throwing together a newsletter. The focus needs to be on membership benefits, not on marketing new members. When you have the first one, the second one will come.

Q: You have your favorites in the business. Who do you think stand out as innovators and up and comers in the private spy industry?

I like people with vision! Kelly Riddle is one! Kelly is the newly elected president of the Texas Association Of Licensed Investigators. Steve Rambam is one and as a hobby he brings to justice war crime criminals. Tiffany Bond has a vision and just started a new online service called “Spouse Check” (check it out off of: ) I am wondering who will be the first American to try this. Buddy Bombet is one of my heroes in the private investigative industry. Buddy is from Louisiana and he more than anyone else can be credited for bringing the private investigative profession in his state into the modern world by getting state licensing done and by starting a state association. He is also the father of what can be called the Super Investigative Conference where several groups and/or associations combine their efforts to put on a trade show and seminar. Joseph Seanor is one as it was really his vision with the PIMall that brought investigators into the computer age. We had the PIMall up and running, thanks to Joe; before must people even knew what the Internet was. Bobbi Bacha of Bluemoom Investigations is another great one. Bobbi combines her own personal experiences to help people using old and new investigative methods. She certainly has a vision. I also see Alysyn Bourgue and W. Edward Griffith as visionaries. They are really forging a new frontier on may fronts. I mean, a lot of people do not even understand what a private intelligence agency does and do not understand that trend but they do! Many do not see the train coming down the track when it comes to things like Internet TV but they do. Many people do not see the train coming that will convert printed newspapers and printed magazines to an online digital version but they do. They are my kind of people and can see the same vision that I see and that is one of the reasons I love them so much!

Q: If you determine your legacy, what would you want your legacy to be long after you’re gone?

Just to be that I left things better than how I found them.

Q: So, if we got into our cars and drove to Austin to visit the Spy Museum, what would we see?

You would see old spy cameras, old tape recorders, old movie cameras, old lie detection gear, paper collections of old investigative cases, some old computers, relics from famous spies and private-eyes. Old and rare badges,
and a whole lot more.

Q: Thank you Ralph for sharing with us today.



-Feature article and interview by Dallas Bianchi, ArtChix Magazine

About securityteknews
Ralph Thomas is author of over 32 books on various aspects of conducting investigations, founder and director of The National Association Of Investigative Specialists,CEO of Thomas Investigative Publications, Inc, The Spy Exchange And Security Center and SpyTek Wholesale Imports. Thomas is a member of the Executive Security Council of Griffith Colson Intelligence Service, a private intelligence agency. Thomas's latest project is NAIStv on the Griffith Media TV Network. He has also developed A Native American Store in Georgetown Texas called Tribal Impressions. You can review his person home page off of:

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