Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Assignment: Pair a cocktail and a cigar with a fictional PI

Subject: Joe Mannix

Quote: "If you're not gonna pull that trigger immediately, mind if I have a cigarette?" From the episode, "To the Swiftest Death"

Joe Mannix paved the way for all of the TV private eyes we grew up with. He was tough, bull-headed, good-looking, and had a flair for cool cars and fantastic sports coats. We can see traces of Mannix in Rockford (think bright plaid and patterned sports jackets). Magnum took the cool car theme to a whole new level, but it was Mannix who first pulled surveillance in a hey-look-at-me-stand-out-in-a-crowd car.

A Korean War veteran, Mannix knew how to maintain a level head. Whether he was careening down a dirt road in a snazzy convertible or engaged in gun-play with mobsters in ill-fitting, wide-collared, poly-blend suits, Mannix was solid. He’d readily throw a punch, rely on a hunch, and more often than not eschew technology and gadgets for a good old confrontation.

This rough-and-tumble Armenian-American detective was, in short, what every woman in the early seventies wanted, needed. And yet, despite the passel of hot polyester-clad babes that strolled in and out of his life, Mannix, it seemed, was a bachelor’s bachelor, doomed to fly solo. Sharing his most intimate moments with his trusty and (as the website puts it) “oft-kidnapped” secretary Peggy.

Mannix put a modern face on the private eye of the postwar-noir era, bringing the fictional detective into the seventies with a clear nod to the genre. Mike Connors, the actor who brought Mannix to life, once said that somewhere out there "Mannix is still working...There was a decency and a dignity about the man."

Assignment: The Cigar

Operative: Scott Partridge, General Manager

Uptown's Smoke Shop

4001 Hillsboro Road

Nashville, TN 37215

Pairing: After giving the matter a lot of thought, our cigar expert Scott Partridge said, “I would pair him up with a CAO GOLD VINTAGE.” Partridge, general manager of Uptown’s Smoke Shop in Green Hills, argues that the CAO Gold Vintage is possibly one of the best “smooth, medium-bodied cigars” on the market. Like Mannix, the Gold Vintage is dressed to attract, but built tough. Partridge describes the Gold Vintage as having “a silky wrapper that entices with a leathery pre-light nose. Each pull delivers layers of buttery notes backed by a definitive spicy core, attributed to the Habano seed-filler tobaccos from Honduras and Nicaragua.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m on my way over to Uptown’s to pick up my CAO Gold Vintage this afternoon. Maybe, we’ll run into each other. Or maybe I’ll see you, and you’ll never even know I was in the room.

Assignment: The Cocktail

Operative: Josh Habiger, Manager

The Patterson House

1711 Division Street

Nashville, TN 37203

Pairing: Josh Habiger has earned his chef chops in venerable eateries around the world. Prior to taking the reins at The Patterson House, he worked the kitchen at The Fat Duck in London, cooked at Craft in New York, and refined his skills in molecular gastronomy at Alinea in Chicago. He’s a chef, a scholar, and knows his way around a bar. Habiger says, “I believe that Mr. Mannix should be paired with a Rusty Nail cocktail.” He describes the concoction as, “a simple drink containing a blended scotch that is sweetened with just a touch of Drambuie.” Habiger goes on to say that, “Mannix is known for his appreciation of drinking scotch neat, but this little elixir will round out the corners of the whisky and demonstrate the beauty of balance in a cocktail.” Nicely said.

Habiger’s Recipe: Mix 2 oz of your favorite blended scotch with 1/2 oz of Drambuie in a large mixing glass. Stir for about 20 seconds to get the drink cold, then pour into a chilled glass. If you prefer it on the rocks, just build the drink in the glass. Either way, garnish it with a lemon twist and enjoy it while reading your favorite spy novel.

Get yourself to The Patterson House sometime in the next two weeks. We know a guy there, name of Josh. Tell him [FIND] Investigations sent you.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Due Diligence and Deep Research

An article in this month’s PI Magazine called, “Evolving Background Checks into a Reputational Due Diligence Model,” while severely over-titled, is a fairly comprehensive outline of how to start a standard background investigation.

The very idea of trying to market something called a Reputational Due Diligence Model to clients is preposterous, and, I believe, even redundant. In the context of business intelligence, a background investigation should be included in the due diligence process.

[FIND] Lexicon

due diligence - noun 1 : the care that a reasonable person exercises under the circumstances to avoid harm to other persons or their property; 2 : research and analysis of a company or organization done in preparation for a business transaction (as a corporate merger or purchase of securities)

Now that we have the phrase defined, let’s break it down. Note the words I’ve highlighted: first, we’re defining the term based on what a “reasonable person” would do under “…the circumstances.” Second is the “research and analysis” component -- not just a gathering of facts, but analysis of the information.

My problem with simple due diligence as defined here is the idea that we have to limit ourselves to the research and analysis and level of care that a reasonable person would exercise. I, personally, like the idea of research and analysis being conducted by an unreasonably anal person who pays attention to detail in approximately the same infuriating manner that my tenth-grade English teacher graded my essays. A background investigation should be at least thorough, if not exhaustive. That said, common sense must be employed. You don’t want to spend valuable time chasing down obviously erroneous tangents.

Many investigators think a background investigation is simply a reporting of facts, when it should always include thorough and thoughtful analysis of the information. Granted, any licensed professional investigator with a basic level of competency can query the various databases available to him or her and get a quick list of criminal, civil, and other publically available records. But a worthy investigator should always dig deeper.

Deep Research

One standard we that must employ as a matter of practice is Deep Research. The objective of deep research is discerning observation and smart analysis. Discernment in observation calls to mind the notion of not just sensitivity, but also intelligent, wise, and judicious thought. Smart connotes sharp, shrewd, and clever, with a touch of brash and sass for good measure. The entire premise of this method is based on investigators being astute, which comes from the Latin astus, which has both the positive sense of adroitness or dexterity and the… more ambiguous, shall we say, concept of craft or cunning.

Once the initial database inquiries have been made, the basic information is compiled for further study. At this point, look to some proprietary data services that offer more information. Sources like LexusNexis and Westlaw allow natural language and Boolean queries and gather more data from a broader set of sources. This is the second phase of deep research and it involves discernment. Again don’t waste valuable investigative time chasing useless tangents.

Once the basic information and more extensive details available through various data providers are compiled, it’s time to be astute: adroit, dexterous. A dose of cunning is often useful as well. Now we’re down to…craft, or as it’s known in our circles, tradecraft.

Initial Probe

An investigator places a call, either direct or under pretext, to all references. Verify as much information as possible from the subject’s own character witnesses. Confirm all employment, education, and associations. Any claims of advanced degrees, professional designations, and awards should be authenticated. Create a synopsis of the universities attended, professional organizations, and sources of awards. If the subject attended Phoenix University and earned that MBA via the post office, let the client know. If the Association of Bank Managers is made up of four guys and a poker table, the association is most likely of no real value. If the Frank Stevens Award for Legal Letters was conferred by the next-door neighbor, your subject has been creating fiction. Investigate the veracity of all claims.

Digging Deeper

A thorough and exhaustive background investigation should include, but should not be limited to, on-site courthouse research, visits to colleges, interviews with professors, chats with neighbors and old friends, and other methods of tradecraft. The last two methods of gathering primary reference materials are straight out of the world of spycraft and almost always yield valuable insights.

It is almost always useful to place the subject under surveillance for a period of time. Get an idea of lifestyle, character, and habits. This is a chance to expand the list of associates and friends. Often an investigator can identify the subject’s true associates and check this list against the references listed. Actual physical surveillance affords the investigator a chance to get to know the subject, to study his daily routines. With physical surveillance, the investigator can develop a more intimate and realistic picture of the subject’s lifestyle.

The last piece of tradecraft discussed is arguably one of the most underhanded methods available to the field operative. Trash Cover, refuse audit, pulling trash, dumpster diving…whatever an investigator chooses to call it, it’s a messy job, but almost always produces results. The legality of this method is fairly well established. In most states, once a person has placed their rubbish in the bin and rolled it to a publically accessible place, the trash is fair game. One month of garbage usually generates a clear profile of the subject. Groceries, prescriptions, movie/theater tickets, alcohol, illicit drugs, porn, letters to girlfriends, notes to boyfriends, retail receipts, credit card statements, and on, and on, and on…To muster this information into a cohesive portrait of the subject simply takes time, rubber gloves, evidence sleeves, a few notebooks, and meticulous organizational skills.


A background investigation for due diligence should be a thorough exploration of the facts and a thoughtful rendering of those facts into a portrait of the subject. The subject provides a head shot, their best side in the nicest possible light. Our objective should not be to destroy that ideal, but to augment it with a serious dose of reality. Many investigators approach this type of work with a broad-brush methodology. They simply gather computer-generated information and report that under their letterhead with no verification or support. (Actually, a lot of investigators will just copy and paste the database information into their report.) A worthy investigator will dig deeper. They will corroborate their initial research with several sources. They will contact the original source of information and verify in person or via telephone the virtue of all claims. The true professional will take it even further. He will conduct primary research in the form of observation and evidence gathering.

The “reputational due diligence model” sounds a bit pedantic and purposefully overwrought. A quality background investigation should be thorough and thoughtful and doesn’t need a long meaningless name. Spies have been doing this work for ages. I think they simply call it a dossier.

Ashley Madison - in the news...again.

Came across this on twitter. A fellow PI in NYC posted it. We've been aware of Ashley Madison for some time now. Not sure what to think of the premise behind the site. Noel Biderman, founder of the site, makes some interesting arguments. Check out the interview here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

[FIND] Vice

In the next several issues of THE Monthly Ledger, we’ll be running a guest column called [FIND] Vice.

We here at [FIND] Investigations occasionally enjoy our vices. For lead investigator THH, it’s the rare cigar. Investigatrix KDG appreciates the beauty of a fine, hand-crafted cocktail. So we’ve joined forces with two of our favorite local businesses to help us, and you, explore our respective vices with knowledge and artistry.

The Cocktail –

Mission: Pick the perfect cocktail to complement a fictional Private Investigator.

Operative: Josh Habiger, Manager

Venue: The Patterson House

1711 Division Street

Nashville, TN 37203

Tuesday – Sunday 5pm to 3am


Qualifications: Chef Josh Habiger, an alumnus of Fat Duck in London, Craft in New York City, and Alinea in Chicago, will apply his considerable talents to the task assigned. He’ll be pairing a cocktail with a PI for the next several months. Be sure and sign up for The Monthly Ledger to get the latest in Vice.

The Cigar –

Mission: Choose the perfect cigar to fit the character of a fictional Private Investigator.

Operative: Scott Partridge, General Manager

Venue: Uptowns Smoke Shop

4001 Hillsboro Road

Nashville, TN 37215

Qualifications: Scott Partridge will, with the help of Joe Zike, select a cigar for our PI of the month. Is he qualified? Well, Partridge is manager of one of the World’s Top 12 Tobacconists according to Forbes. Nothing more to say about that…

Drop by any time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Soccer Mom

How do you dismantle a vast secret police network, seeded in tsarist days and, during the Soviet era, built into a monolith, its icy tendrils quietly encircling the globe? Apparently, you don't, even when the Cold War is over and nobody's bothering to keep secrets from the Russians anymore.

Insert "scorpion and frog" fable reference here. Once a spy, always a spy, it seems. It's his nature. But really, who wants to change the game and infiltrate those pesky Chechens? New York and London are much nicer than Grozny this time of year, and so the knee-jerk spy fallback--old enemies, old tricks--proves far more sensible and rewarding than trying to figure out the whole labyrinthine Islamic fundamentalism thing. Or so says H.D.S. Greenway in today's NYTimes op ed piece.

There's been a lot of press this week about the recent discovery of Russian spies living seemingly ordinary lives in our midst: the couple next door in Montclair, NJ, quietly cutting the lawn and walking the dog has excited the New York press elite; and the sexy, red-haried London partygirl hanging out at clubs frequented by young British princes seems to have particularly captured the tabloid imagination (such as it is).

What it all amounts to, however, may wind up being a whole lot of cool and sophisticated tradecraft (exchanging identical briefcases in airports, encoded radio transmissions, etc.) to little or no effect. As this New York Times article asks, what secrets? All the surveillance gadgetry in the world is for naught if the information you seek is being taught in a class at the Kennedy School or is available online in some polisci grad student's PhD thesis.

I particularly enjoyed veteran reporter Ellen Barry's piece on the lore of Russian "illegals": legendary operatives without official diplomatic covers who went underground for years, even decades at a time and possessed astonishing knowledge and skills, often spoke multiple languages fluently, and received rock star adulation on returning home. In a nation built on secrets, secret-keepers are heroes.

Heroic sacrifice, to be sure, but to what end? Especially when, it seems, these newer operatives may turn out to bear a stronger resemblance to Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana" protagonist--a man in over his head, sending home vacuum-cleaner diagrams to keep the checks coming--than to Soviet überspy lore.

Are these recently outed Russian agents mere echoes of those professional cold-warriors, who helped make the Soviet Union a nuclear power and made the world extremely unsafe for Trotsky and other political heretics? Are they merely playing at the game of espionage, because that's what Russians have done for generations, dutifully leaving invisible-ink messages in sewer-pipe drop-boxes the world over?

Or are these suburban spies only the tip of a jagged iceberg, a series of comedic decoys that play into our often naive national pride, as in "Look, we made idiots out of those silly Russians again!" Somewhere deep down, it strikes me as just a little bit too comedic and facile. Kinda makes me wonder if Mr. Putin, the old former KGB puppetmaster himself, isn't lurking somewhere behind this curtain, smiling faintly as we tsk tsk the clumsy Russian soccer moms "infiltrating" the Jersey suburbs.

Remember who's best at this game, folks! Beware the rope-a-dope. And you outspoken Russian emigré oligarchs, be sure and check your sushi for polonium.


Canadian Cyber-Sleuths Hack Chinese Hackers

Spring 2009: a research group at University of Toronto reports their discovery of "GhostNet," a network of electronic spies, seemingly based in China, that has infiltrated more than a thousand computers around the world, including those belonging to government agencies, embassies, and even the Dalai Lama.

In addition to spiriting away files and invading targets' email servers, "GhostNet" may even be able to switch on video and audio recorders on infected computers and listen to what's going on in a room, say the Canadian researchers. So beware: Big Brother may be watching, especially if you happen to be a Tibetan activist. Read the full New York Times story here.

Tech-types can find more information about how the attacks work, their scope, and a pdf of the researchers' full report on GhostNet's cyber-espionage here at F-Secure's blog.