Wednesday, October 27, 2010

[FIND] VICE - A Reasonable Amount of Trouble

“Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached. For your private detective does not — or did not ten years ago when he was my colleague — want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client."

- Dashiell Hammett, introduction to the Maltese Falcon, 1934 edition.

Dashiell Hammett's Samuel Spade is, many would say, the most important figure in the entire private eye genre. He made his debut in 1929 in the pages of Black Mask, in the serialized first part of The Maltese Falcon, and detective fiction has never been the same. He's a "hard and shifty fellow," a partner in the Archer and Spade Detective Agency of San Francisco. He doesn't particularly like his partner, and he's not above sleeping with his wife. He’s a man’s man through and through.

Spade is known to have a penchant for good rum.

One of my favorite lines from the Maltese Falcon is when Sam Spade says, “Oh…I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble.” James Hensley, manager of our favorite speak easy, The Patterson House, has crafted a new cocktail based on this one single quote. Drop by any time and ask for…

A Reasonable Amount of Trouble

2 oz. Matusalem Classico Rum

1/4 oz. Lyle's Golden Syrup

7 drops Lime bitters

1 dash Peychaud's Bitters

Mezcal Rinsed Glass

In a mixing glass stir the Lyle's, Rum, and Lime bitters with ice. Strain over ice in a rocks glass that has been rinsed with Creme de Mezcal. Next add the dash of Peychauds' to the top and zest some orange peel over the drink.

Sam Spade loves his rum, even offers a shot to Polhouse and Dundy when they come by to interrogate him. Clearly, the base spirit must be rum. The Lyles is an old school product that's off the beaten path, not unlike like Sam’s detective agency. The Peychaud's Bitters are there to add complexity and like Mr. Spade's wit they are dry. The Lime Bitters liven things up because though Mr. Spade is quick of intellect he is also a man of action. The Mezcal represents the mystery, the unexpected, the twist if you will. This tasty beverage is, in many ways, like Ms. O’Shaughnessy’s $200 retainer to Sam…. more than if you had been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right.

A Spy's Guide to Halloween - Deep Cover, Pocket Litter, and a Marble in My Shoe.

Halloween. Best holiday of the year, bar none. Several reasons for this. First, everyone gets candy. Second, everybody gets to go in disguise, costume, as someone or something else. Finally, Halloween is the birthday of [FIND] Investigations Lead Investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys.

To go into deep cover, you'll need a good disguise. A proper disguise is not just spirit gum and fake mustaches. You'll need to build a legend, a fake background story. You'll need paperwork, credit cards, diplomas, etc. to support the legend. These items are what spies call "pocket litter." For a simple Halloween costume you can probably skip this part.

Jack Platt is somewhat of a CIA legend himself. He was the master at operating in denied areas, countries where he was not allowed to travel. Platt says, in the Handbook of Practical Spying, that he used to, "...put a marble in one shoe - man, am I going to walk Different." Platt goes on to say, "...take the marble out, 'the guy with the limp' has disappeared forever." You could actually give this one a try. It's the perfect way to disguise your usual gait.

[FIND] Investigations', Lead Investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys often wears a full beard. While this is a distinguishing feature, it's easily removed. In parts even. Somewhere out on the interwebs for computers, there is a set of photos of Mr. Humphreys in various states of facial hair. Shaving parts of a beard can change the shape and profile of the face. Slap on a different outfit, and're someone else.

This Halloween, give a little bit of thought to your disguise. Go to a party and see if you can avoid being identified by your friends. Better yet, crash another party, one where you don't know anyone. Go ahead, make some new friends. For that matter, if you feel up to it, drop by Rumours Wine Bar on 12th South in Nashville, TN this Sunday. It's the annual hal-o-birth-ween-day party. Disguise is encouraged. The password phrase to gain access is:

Life, The Universe, and Everything

Drop by any time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

[FIND] Travels – Washington, DC Tours – Part Two

800 F Street NW, Washington, DC

Friday, October 1, 2010, Mid-afternoon

It’s afternoon in the nation’s capitol, fresh, almost painful blue skies. There’s a hint of something cool just around the corner, fall maybe. Steve and I casually glance both directions along the 800 block of F Street NW, scanning the crowd, alert, ready. Across the street, unsuspecting tourists stroll in and out of the National Portrait Gallery, used to be the old Patent Office. They’re unaware, ignorant.

Steve snuffs a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, tosses the butt into a nearby trash can. We steal quietly into the door just under the staircase that leads up to Zola, haunt for agents, raconteurs. The Le Droit building’s historic fa├žade presents itself to the world, all neat and Italianate, the way McGill intended it back in 1875. But, once inside… the building immediately restyles itself into an ultra-modern interactive guide through the history of espionage.

The International Spy Museum is the only public museum that dedicates itself to the tradecraft of spies. Now…in a nod to full disclosure, it is only fair to point out that I have always been enamored of spies, I’m a geek, a fiend, I love spy lore, history, movies…so…I may not be entirely unbiased. But…this place is…, simply put, cool.

The best way to get the point across is to just list some of the things we witnessed here and then direct you to the website, which is an experience in itself.

A few things we saw:

Lipstick Pistol

Enigma (the cipher machine)

Tree stump listening device

1970’s vintage button hole camera (KGB)

Shoe heel transmitter

Aston Martin DB5 (Bond, James Bond)

and on

and on

The thing I like the most about this museum is the interactive nature of the place. Kids dig it, no doubt. But the museum directors do not in any way neglect the adults. There’s enough literature and information to keep the intellectually curious among us occupied for hours. There are enough cool spy gadgets to entertain those of us who have difficulty maintaining focus for any period of time. And then there are the experiences.

Spy in the city, spy at night, and operation spy, all mission based, all incredibly fun.

As with any self-respecting museum, this one employs the obligatory exit through the gift shop. But this gift shop may be the best I’ve ever seen. Seriously…they have actual spy gear for purchase. 4 gig button-hole cameras, 4 gig key-fob cameras, actual working spy gear, things we use on a daily basis. This is also my new source for spy literature. Last year for our holiday season newsletter, we bragged on a book called The Real Spy’s Guide, written by Peter Earnest, Executive Director of the Museum. We still highly recommend this book, but the more important thing is…this museum’s book store is a dream. They have stacks upon stacks of fantastic books.

We picked up a copy of The Handbook of Practical Spying, a tongue-in-cheek handbook that actually offers useful tips, and The Private Investigator’s Handbook, a kind of do-it-yourself PI guide. Had I enough money and space in my luggage, I could have done some real damage in this store. Check it out online, here.

If, by chance, you find yourself strolling around DC in the vicinity of Ford’s Theater, or just north of the National Archives, make the hike to 800 F Street NW. Look for the stairway that leads up to Zola. Just underneath that, you’ll find the entrance to the International Spy Museum. Just incase you’re afraid it’s going to be hard to find, the Le Droit building, in all of it’s Italianate glory, has a huge sign on the corner that reads, International Spy Museum. Drop by and check it out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

[FIND] Travels - Washington, DC, Part One

FBI Academy, Quantico, VA

Friday, October 1, 2010, Early AM

Friday morning breaks cool and cloudy, wet streets and scattered layer of scud slowly burning off above the Anacostia River. My buddy Steve and I meet up at the Eisenhower Avenue stop, I getting off the yellow line train and he in a rented, nondescript Ford. We wheel onto the I-95 southbound towards Quantico, VA and the FBI Academy.

Our contact has arranged for us to clear security. Marines in starched utility caps, neatly creased uniforms, and not-so-modest 9-MM sidearms ask us questions, verify ID, wave us through. Steve smokes a Marlboro, we pass a group of Marines, prone facing north, aiming at targets so far away, we can’t make them out. The soothing sound of a .50 caliber sniper rifle roars through the North Virginia woods. Steve drops his cigarette in his lap.

We stroll into the Jefferson Dormitory building thirty minutes early. We’re told to sit and wait. Our good friend, the one we call Agent X, has a buddy come to the lobby to check up on us. He’s a Tennessee native too, slow drawl, familiar, comfortable. We chat, tell war stories, and wait.

In walk several retired agents. You can tell because they’re all 60ish, unnaturally handsome men with smart, good-looking wives. We make introductions and wait.

Our tour guide, we’ll call him Agent Y, walks into the lobby all smiles and charisma. He’s done this before. He’s comfortable. He explains that they usually don’t do tours on Fridays, but…well…Agent X vouched for us, introduced us as “friends of the Bureau” and we’re with a batch of 1979 graduates of the Academy, so….

The lot of us pile into a short bus and the tour starts. HRT shooting gallery, indoor sniper range, Tevocistan (the tactical driving course), all the while hearing tales told tall by the retired agents. Agent Y takes the time to explain the inside chatter to Steve and me. He also takes the time to answer all questions, and there are a lot of questions.

Why all the doors? (This one side of the building looks like a Lowe’s, 200 or so wood and steel doors stacked up like a display.) Agent Y says, “you’ll see in a minute.” As we exit the building, on the opposite side, there’s a complementary pile of splintered doors. Shattered over and over, practicing “entry techniques.” Agent Y tells us that they have a staff of carpenters who just install and replace doors. Cool.

Why the multiple building finishes? (Same building has several different finishes, brick, stone, wood, etc.) Agent Y says, “We like for our guys to practice climbing all kinds of buildings.” Cool.

We make a swing by the Lab, what I can only guess is several thousand square feet of state–of-the-art analytical ability. The campus is huge. We roll down to the TEVOC (Tactical Emergency Vehicle Operators Course), watch some newbies spin and spin.

On foot now, we amble the quiet, small town streets of Hogan’s Alley. If you’ve never seen this place on TV, just picture any small town in America; a bank, a dry cleaner, a bar. There’s a post office, a motel, even a fully functioning movie theater. There are row houses, store fronts, even a used car lot. Agent Y explains how the trainees practice their surveillance skills, learn how to do a proper “take down,” and handle almost any situation.

Just across the main entrance to Hogan’s Alley, there’s a small residential subdivision. Three brick-veneer houses on a quiet cul-de-sac, fully furnished and empty, sit waiting for the next lesson on how to breach the door on a bad guy’s house. Agents even get a taste of how to deal with nosy neighbors.

We make our way back to the main academy building, the classroom building. Watch a class full of fit, good-looking, 30ish-year-old agents-in-training repeatedly slam one another to submission, muscle memories being made. The other room has several 45ish-year-old not-so-fit cops going through the National Academy. These guys are just starting their path to becoming some of America’s best trained, most fit, and well qualified police officers. They have some pain ahead of them, but every one of them is giving 100%.

Agent Y guides us through the maze of hallways, past the weapons locker, past the wall of fame, into a memorial plaza where the names and stories of fallen agents are honored. We stop and take pictures. The class of ’79 asks us to snap a few for them. Happily, we oblige.

Our final stop, as with any good tour, is the gift shop. Yes, they have a gift shop. And I have to admit that I was a bit kid-in-a-candy-shop. Now when I go to the Y for my thrice weekly strength training, I wear my new Under Armor shorts. They’re dark blue and have a simple three-letter logo on the left leg. Cool.

Steve and I load back into our nondescript ford. He sparks a match and takes a long pull on a new Marlboro. We are, three hours later, retracing our steps to the I-95 under a brilliant blue sky. On our left, to the north, the same group of Marines lets loose another barrage of .50 caliber pain on distant targets. Steve drops his cigarette in his lap.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Solving Murders Over Lunch

Once a month, a Victorian-era private dining room in downtown Philly becomes a hotbed of crime--a course of murder served cold, right after dessert.

More than twenty years ago, three unlikely friends--a cop (who now runs a PI agency), a sculptor with a gift for reconstructing the faces of the long-dead, and a criminal psychologist--started meeting for lunch to brainstorm solutions to cold crimes. They invited a few friends--detectives, forensics experts, criminologists--and asked law enforcement agents to bring this de facto crimefighters' think tank their cold case files.

Today, the Vidocq Society, named for a 19th Century French detective who pioneered the use of fingerprinting and ballistics as evidence, brings together crime experts from all over the world every month to consider unsolved murder cases. And they've solved quite a few, among them a murder in a small Pennsylvania town that confounded investigators: a woman had been wrapped in cellophane and stabbed brutallly inside a local restaurant, presumably to rob the place. But criminal psychologist Richard Walters saw through the staged burglary.

"What robbery suspect would stab someone so viciously that the knife enters the tile floor and wrap the head in cellophane?" says Walters, in an interview with NPR's Fresh Air. "A robber is simply not going to do that. It's not efficient." He pointed investigators towards an angry ex boyfriend, who is now serving a life sentence for murder.

Journalist Michael Capuzzo profiles the Vidocq Society in his new book, The Murder Room. To read an excerpt and hear an interview with the author and with society co-founder and crime psychologist Richard Walters, visit the Fresh Air archive.

You can also read a feature story on the Vidocq Society in The UK Telegraph here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Been too long

[FIND] Investigations has had a crazy busy month. So much so that we've been neglecting the blog. It's now time to fix that. In the next couple of days we have several blog posts that should have been posted in the past few weeks. I, unfortunately, had to be out of town much of the month of September and didn't have the time or energy to post. So, here's the brief update on the CFE class from last week.

I traveled to Washington, DC last week to attend an Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) seminar. The course was followed with an opportunity to sit for the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) Exam, one of the many criteria that must be met in order to attain the CFE designation. I am pleased to report that I passed all four modules of the exam in one sitting.

The class was separated into four distinct parts, financial transactions, Law (as relates to fraud), investigations, and prevention/detection of fraud. The first two days were all about the transaction, from very basic accounting principles to asset misappropriation, from Bribery and public sector corruption to theft of intellectual property. This first two days could have been (likely should have been) a mind-numbing process of detailed balance sheet analysis or income statement review, but instead it turned out to be a very well taught, broad-brush look at the general issues associated with financial transactions. The course instructors traded places and anecdotes with ease and style and lead our class through two days of dense material in a generally entertaining way.

Third day covered general legal principals relating to fraud. While the course is taught in breadth and not depth, this overview of the legal process was, like the first two days, highly useful and generally entertaining. The teachers covered basic federal laws relating to fraud, a broad overview of the civil justice system, and the foundations of evidence (the various types of evidence and what constitutes best evidence). In addition to these very basic concepts, the course dives into a brief look at how to testify as an expert witness.

The last two sections, investigations and prevention/detection, were the easiest segments to get through. It seemed that most folks in the class had had ample experience in these two areas. Still, I found the sections on interviewing and sources of information were enlightening.

The prevention and detection sections of the course were, to me, the most intellectually stimulating sections. Theories of crime causation (think B.F. Skinner and S. Freud) are given a very short treatment, but the source material is cited and will be reviewed in detail. I particularly liked the portion of the class that dealt with fraud assessment and fraud prevention.

I’ll keep you up to date on the CFE designation pursuit. In the mean time, I have a few posts to bring you from DC. The next few posts will be about our tour of the FBI Academy and the International Spy Museum.