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🔑 Key Takeaways

  1. From coded shoe laces to surveillance, learn how spies use innovative methods to communicate undetected, as shared by private investigator Igor in New York City.
  2. Private intelligence companies can be hired for unethical purposes, such as spying on victims and journalists, highlighting the need for proper regulation and oversight. Always question the ethics of the work you are doing.
  3. It's important to protect journalistic integrity and be aware of the risks involved when dealing with private intelligence companies trying to silence stories. Always choose the side of truth.
  4. Investigative researchers like Citizen Lab face targeted attacks, highlighting the critical need to strengthen their cybersecurity measures and remain vigilant to threats by creating awareness of the techniques used by these operatives.
  5. JSR plans to tackle Michel at the meeting with proof. However, things didn't go as planned, highlighting the importance of remaining calm during uncertain situations.
  6. Despite facing multiple challenges, quick thinking and resilience can help achieve success even in unexpected situations.
  7. In surveillance, being inconspicuous is essential; following instructions, being cost-conscious, and using appropriate equipment can help operatives fulfill their tasks efficiently.
  8. Always be cautious of who's around you and the conversations you have with them. Verify their identity, protect sensitive info, and report suspicious behavior to prevent security breaches.
  9. Creating fake companies can lead to ethical dilemmas and reputational risks. It is essential for businesses to prioritize ethical practices and be accountable for their actions.
  10. Stay observant and responsive, gather information discreetly through pictures and videos, listen carefully to those in danger, maintain personal boundaries and avoid illegal requests.
  11. Private investigators use tactics like driving down quiet streets, analyzing small details and using garage entrances to check if they're being followed. Overthinking is an essential skill for their job.
  12. Intelligence operatives must always prioritize secrecy in order to avoid compromising their identity and hampering their ability to conduct covert activities.
  13. The investigation and subsequent exposure of Aharon Almog-Assoulin's involvement with Black Cube highlights the importance of investigative journalism in uncovering information that might otherwise remain hidden, and underscores the importance of journalistic freedom and independence in countries around the world.
  14. When compartmentalizing work that involves sensitive information, it's important to communicate boundaries and protect oneself from being used as a scapegoat. Despite the stress, opportunities to witness powerful figures in action can leave a lasting impression.
  15. John's experience underscores the profound violation of privacy that comes with being targeted by a powerful entity, and the uncertainty and fear that comes with not knowing if someone is watching your every move.

📝 Podcast Summary

Creative Methods Spies Use to Send Messages Unnoticed

Spies use creative methods to communicate messages right in front of us without being detected. Shoe laces can be tied in specific ways to convey different meanings. Using different combinations of messages on two shoes, a spy can convey different messages depending on the situation. Igor, a private eye in New York City, spends his days and sometimes nights inside cars and watching people closely. He helps insurance carriers assess the validity of insurance claims. Igor has a lot of interesting stories from his work that he is willing to share.

Private Intelligence and Unscrupulous Purposes

Black Cube is a private intelligence company that provides business intelligence, but they have been hired by billionaires and foreign countries to carry out spying campaigns. They were contracted by Harvey Weinstein to spy on his victims and also on Ronan Farrow, who was investigating Weinstein's sexual harassment case. They used a method of sending spam messages to Ronan Farrow to get his geolocation. Igor, who was hired to carry out the surveillance, discovered the truth and realized that he was unwittingly working for Harvey Weinstein. The revelation shows the dark and dangerous side of such private intelligence companies that can be used for unscrupulous purposes.

From spying to journalism: Igor's journey towards integrity

Igor felt uneasy when assigned to spy on respected publications and ascertain their sources for a private intelligence company. He realized this could be a negative thing and potentially damage the journalists and their stories. After unsuccessfully trying to contact law enforcement, Igor decided to call Ronan Farrow and help him with the Weinstein story. Igor kept sharing information with Farrow and switched sides from doing dirty work to helping journalists. He filled in for his colleague on an important job and recognized John Scott-Railton, the target of Black Cube. Igor's experience highlights the importance of journalistic integrity and the risks of private intelligence companies trying to silence stories.

Black Cube Targeted Investigative Researcher

John Scott-Railton from Citizen Lab was targeted by Black Cube operative in an attempt to uncover and discredit Citizen Lab's work. The operative created a fake digital identity and met with one of JSR's colleagues to ask about Citizen Lab's work. Later, JSR was contacted by a man named Michel Lambert, who acted interested in JSR's previous work on aerial photography using kites. JSR suspected that Michel was the same Black Cube operative who targeted Citizen Lab. He recorded their conversations to gather evidence against him. This incident highlights the threats faced by investigative researchers like Citizen Lab and the need to strengthen their cybersecurity measures.

JSR's plan of confronting Michel with a reporting team using a covert camera video necktie.

JSR plans to confront Michel with a reporting team led by Raphael Satter during the meeting. He prepares himself by making a covert camera video necktie. JSR is worried about the outcome of the meeting and whether Michel will guess that they are onto him. However, when the day of the meeting came, things started going wrong. JSR arrived at the hotel too early, which made him anxious. The meeting is about to become a game of spy versus spy as JSR sets up to spy on the Black Cube agent Michel Lambert, and Igor watches their backs. The objective of the meeting is unclear, but JSR thinks Michel may try to harm him or his colleagues' reputations.

Overcoming Obstacles to Record a Top-Secret Meeting

The author had a challenging time making it to a top-secret meeting location while carrying recording equipment. Despite facing challenges like pouring rain, difficulty finding a taxi, and a traffic jam, he made it to the restaurant using his quick thinking and running. Upon arriving, the author managed to avoid raising suspicion and recorded the meeting as planned, all while feeling unprepared and awkward. The meeting was conducted in French and was mostly meaningless chit-chat. The author's resilience and resourcefulness paid off in the end as he successfully recorded the meeting without getting caught, even though he had to make several last-minute adjustments along the way.

Operative's Experience During Surveillance Operation

During a surveillance operation, operatives try to avoid being noticed and take precautions to exclude the operative's identity from video footage. The meeting with the target and agents went so well that the operative was asked to relax and stay at the bar. This was unusual as the meetings are usually brief and tense. The operator was instructed to follow them until they split up, but not to follow the agent. Black Cube usually strictly follows instructions and is very cost-conscious. The equipment used by the operative were an iPhone for pictures, a camcorder, and no microphone for eavesdropping. When he returned to the hotel, a professional photoshoot was happening in the lobby.

Staying Vigilant in Public Spaces

In this text, a man narrates his experience at a hotel bar where he witnessed a photoshoot and was later approached by a stranger who was trying to gather information about Citizen Lab. The stranger used offensive tactics to get the man to reveal something valuable. The key takeaway is to always be cautious of the people around us and the conversations we have with them, especially when it comes to sensitive information. It's important to verify that the person is who they say they are, to avoid revealing any information that might be valuable to others. We should also report any suspicious behaviour to the authorities to prevent security breaches.

The Risks of Making Fake Companies

A journalist from The Associated Press, Raphael Satter, and his videographer confront a man named John about his fake company, CPW Consulting. John tries to avoid the camera and questions, but his terror grows as the situation escalates. Finally, he spots an open door in the back to a private dining room and goes inside. A restaurant staffer helps him and closes the door. Meanwhile, Igor, one of John's associates, is on the phone with their boss, Roman Khaykin, who is worried about the situation and wants to help get John out of there. The incident highlights the risks of creating fake companies and the importance of ethical business practices.

Tips for Navigating Chaos and Uncertainty

In situations of chaos and uncertainty, it's important to gather as much information as possible. Taking pictures of people and identifying them can be crucial in understanding what's going on. Having a discreet video app and noticing small details about people's appearances can also provide valuable information. When tasked with helping someone in danger, it's important to listen carefully and follow their instructions, offering whatever assistance they need. However, it's also important to have personal boundaries and not agree to unethical or illegal requests, even in high-pressure situations. Overall, staying calm, observant, and responsive can be key in navigating uncertain and potentially dangerous situations.

Strategies to Check if You're Being Followed as a Private Investigator

Checking if you're being followed is important for a private investigator. In heavy traffic areas like Midtown Manhattan, one strategy is to drive down quiet streets and force someone to stay behind, then change directions of travel to see if they follow. Garage entrances are also useful, one can enter and exit through different exits and try to force someone to go through a garage. Other strategies include going through drive-throughs and seeing who is constantly showing up in the same cars. PIs also analyze small details - such as a name tag on a luggage - as this could provide valuable information about a person. Overthinking is helpful for a private investigator's job.

The Importance of Secrecy in Intelligence Operations

An intelligence operative's picture being taken is the worst thing and can prevent them from conducting covert activities. Michel, an operative, needed to get home because he believed his face could end up being on TV or in a publication tomorrow. This would put his covert activities in jeopardy. So, he was trying to get a flight to Israel. The person driving him understands this and takes him to a hotel with a big glass lobby where he can be far away, removed from the street, that nobody would see him. This incident shows how careful intelligence operatives need to be to protect their identity to carry out their activities undetected.

Black Cube's Connection to Former Israeli Intelligence Official Exposed by Journalists

Raphael Satter, a reporter at Associated Press, investigated Michel after receiving information from Igor, who had also sent the same information to Ronan Farrow. Farrow and Satter shared media, which revealed that Michel worked for Black Cube. Upon publication of the story, people in Michel's home country recognized him and he was identified as Aharon Almog-Assoulin, a former Israeli intelligence official. Black Cube asked Igor to take a polygraph test and questioned him if he was paid by the journalists. This incident showed that the American system of journalism is not the same as in other countries and how uninformed some officials can be.

A Journalist's Experience with a Secret Job

The speaker compartmentalizes his work, as he is not given advance notice of a job. He was offended when they asked him if journalists paid him. He found it absurd as he had no information worth buying. He also warned his employer that they might use him as a fall guy and tell journalists he broke the law. He felt disappointed when the journalist who interviewed him delayed introducing him to the subjects of his story. The job was a stressful and intense experience that forged lasting memories. The speaker was in awe of the parties involved and expressed his admiration for them.

Being spied on by Black Cube gave John a taste of what it's like to be a victim of spyware.

The experience of being spied on by Black Cube gave John a sense of what it feels like to be a victim of spyware. It was a profound experience for him to meet Igor, one of the people behind the operation, and to learn that Igor had turned whistleblower because he realized that what he was doing was bad. The fact that lawyers representing victims of NSO Group were also targeted by the same operation raises the question of who spent so much money to discredit them. Despite the lack of hard evidence that links the operation with NSO Group, it is a strong theory. John's experience highlights the terrible feeling of being targeted by a well-resourced entity and not knowing whether someone is following you.