Three Rules for Success

To be a successful private investigator follow my three rules.

  1. Spend 95% of your workday doing billable tasks.
  2. Be incredibly organized, and maintain a fastidious filing system.
  3. Don’t get distracted by things that aren’t billable hours.

Reading List

I have begun a reading list for those who wish to improve their investigative skills and knowledge. You can get to my list by clicking on the Reading List tab in the blog header.

I will add to the list over the next few weeks. All the books in the list are ones that I have found to be well written and useful.

Site Investigation Tools

When you start to investigate a particular Internet site, I suggest you begin with these resources.

Domain Dossier Investigate domains and IP addresses. Get registrant information, DNS records, and more—all in one report.

InterNIC Public Information Regarding Internet Domain Name Registration Services

Network Solutions’ Whois

DomainSearch.com  Search multiple top level domains at once to see if the domain name is in use. I use it to find the domain name in other top level domains.

Convert Host/Domain Name to IP Address and vice versa  Find the IP of a host machine (convert host to IP) or domain name (convert domain name to ip address) or find the name of one of the hosts at an IP address (convert ip address).

Using Traceroute Learn how to use and interpret traceroute results.

Additions thanks to Kirby:

hostcabi.net  Provides lot of information, but most importantly, it identifies other users of same Google Analytics account and all the sites using that account.

sitedossier.com  Sometimes shows older servers, which is useful when website has upgraded to cloud service or CloudFlare.

Getting a Date

Date formats are easily misinterpreted. For example, if you write 06-07-07, an American might assume that it represents June 7, 2007 or 1907 and an European might assume that it is 6 July 1907 or 2007. Some might  recommend using an unambiguous date system, such as an ISO 8601 European date format, (YYYY-MM-DD) but unless the reader  is a government worker they might get the month and date mixed-up.

The best method is to use a 3-letter abbreviation for the month preceded by the day and followed by the full year to avoid any confusion thusly, 6 Jul 2007.

The Investigator’s Eight Rules of Everything

1. Know your client’s motives and intentions.

2. Recognize questions that cannot be answered and those that cannot be answered legally.

3. Do not do anything that you would not do on the steps in front of City Hall.

4. Do not do or say anything you wouldn’t want published in the newspapers or Internet.

5. Do not do anything illegal because it is too inconvenient and difficult to cover your tracks.

6. Do not personate a living person.

7. Do not personate a representative of any existing company (or business) or anything to do with government.

8. Do not cause anybody to be concerned for his or her own safety, or the well being of any person, business, company, or property.

Motherpipe

Do you want a search engine that does the following:

  • doesn’t keep details on what you are searching for
  • doesn’t store your IP address
  • doesn’t use cookies
  • doesn’t track you
  • doesn’t send your search term to the site you clicked on
  • doesn’t store or share your search history
  • doesn’t share your personal information
  • doesn’t have servers in the U.S.A.
  • doesn’t hide the search results amongst a deluge of ads

Try Motherpipe. It operates privacy oriented search engines at motherpipe.com, motherpipe.co.uk, motherpipe.de and motherpipe.se that don’t do things I don’t want done.

It gets its data from Yahoo!Bing. It offers the search operators “site:” and Boolean operators “AND” and “OR“. It also searches Twitter anonymously.

Media Bias

I’ve written about the dangers of believing everything you read and here I go again.

Matti Friedman was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of Associated Press who now exposes a particularly pernicious bias within the established news media. The article is entitled, An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth, and it exposes the news media’s bias against Israel. While I don’t agree with everything Friedman says in the article, my experience tells me that he is right that “the old comfort of parsing the moral failures of Jews, and the feeling of superiority this brings” is alive and well in the news media.

For over 20 years, I have had to sort through bias, prejudice, propaganda, and stupidity from the semblance of fact presented in news articles. Friedman’s article illustrates only one underlying narrative that distorts what passes for news reporting these days. If you must resort to searching for “facts” in news articles, then I urge you to read Friedman’s article.

Don’t Believe Everything the Government Says

Here are three simple facts:

  1. Governments are political.
  2. Politics is not about the truth–it’s about getting elected at any cost.
  3. Morally vacuous individuals are attracted to the power inherent in politics and government.

The following is my approach to evaluating the veracity of what government says:

  1. Record what government or politician(s) said.
  2. Conduct a detailed comparison of what they said to the data provided by the same government.
  3. Bureaucrats are political, they champion ideologies, agendas, or politicians that promise them greater power, higher pay or benefits.
  4. A thorough understanding of statistics and their abuse is required.
  5. If they continue pushing their agenda in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, then you are witnessing morally vacuous individuals engaged in self-serving propaganda.

Sources and Methods for Investigative Internet Research

Sale

My book, Sources and Methods for Investigative Internet Research, is now available at a reduced price of $19.95 at our online store until Saturday, 30 August 2014. For a description of the book go to our Publications page.

The ePub edition is only available from our store.

Safe Recharging with a USB Condom

The mobile phone adaptor USB cable is a combination power-and-data connection that can expose your device to manipulation by some very unsavory characters. This practice is called Juicejacking and I have written about it before.

If you must recharge your mobile devices at a public recharging station then you need to practice safe recharging just like your high school health class recommended.

USB Condom

The USB Condom protects personal and private data stored on your mobile device while recharging. The USB Condoms only transfer power, not your data as it cuts off the data pins in a standard USB cable, preventing any data from transferring in either direction.  It sells for $9.99. This is very hygienic.

However, you can abstain entirely and achieve the same results by using a power-only USB cable.

Propaganda War

Shooting down a passenger jet has exposed some good old-fashioned Soviet-style propaganda. It’s not as good as some of Putin’s efforts, but it’s interesting to watch.

The Wayback Machine has captured some very interesting evidence that Russian-backed terrorists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. In a post by Igor Girkin on Vkontakte, Russia’s Facebook clone, the Ukrainian terrorist leader who is also known as Strelkov, claimed his forces downed what he thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane.

The Russian-backed terrorist claims he shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was caught by the Wayback Machine and publicized on their Twitter account, @InternetArchive (https://twitter.com/internetarchive/status/490302564240334848). See The Christian Science Monitor article that translates the content and provides a timeline of the attempts by the terrorists to hide this and blame the Ukraine government.

Meanwhile over at Wikipedia, the Twitter account @RuGovEdits monitors Wikipedia edits by the Russian government. It reveals Russia’s efforts to shift the blame to the Ukrainian government. Putin’s office and Russian media outlets made multiple edits to the page for the murder of the MH17 passengers to blame the “Ukrainian military”. @RuGovEdits should be trustworthy as the Wiki-twitterbot code is widely available on Github.

Forgotten But Not Gone

The European Union “right to be forgotten” law that allows individuals to demand the removal of links from Google’s EU search sites is starting to come into play.

The EU “Right to be Forgotten” is clearly a form of censorship in the 28 member nations and 4 other European countries that encompasses over 500 million people. Google has 90% of the search engine market there.

Demanding the removal of an indexed item only renews interest in the story. As the law only applies to Google and not the pages themselves or other search engines, traffic to the articles in question increases thanks to journalists calling attention to them once they receive notification that the article was removed from the EU sites. This is known as The Streisand Effect.

European Google search results for any name display the disclaimer that, “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe,” even if nobody requested the removal of anything.

Of course, people will soon tire of writing about the removed articles and people will stop demanding the removal of indexed items.

Certainly, a free speech enthusiasts will start to collate all the missing search results and make them available. This has already started with Hidden From Google. This site archives articles that Google must remove from European Union search results. I’m certain a Twitter account like @gdnvanished will also appear to provide similar content.

The easiest way to circumvent this censorship is to search using the Google.com site instead of the local EU search sites—or better yet, use other search engines like DuckDuckGo, Yandex, and blekko.

Perception & Disguise

I was working on a small surveillance crew recently and we needed to change our appearances on the fly. Changing clothing is an old ploy but it wasn’t enough for this group of very alert subjects.

We bought used clothing in bigger sizes than we normally wear. I tested this clothing around people who haven’t seen me in a while. They all commented on how much weight I had lost. Some asked if I had been sick. I didn’t change, but the clothes made me look like I had lost 30 pounds. Adding a little makeup under my eyes made some people think I had a terminal illness.

Perception goes a long way. People quickly jump to conclusions–my disguise made sure it was the conclusion I wanted them to make.

Critical Thinking & Reality TV

Critical thinking is the investigator’s greatest tool. You might have developed a good way of evaluating sources such as my 13-point check list for evaluating information, but you must apply it with intellectual rigor.

The authority of the source and the accuracy of the information are key issues to examine.

  • What is the reputation of the data, and the data-provider? Has this source of data been cited elsewhere?
  • What is the reliability of the source?
  • How can you document or qualify the source of the information?
  • Are the complex issues of data integrity and validity oversimplified?

With regard to authority and accuracy, I suggest you read the interview with Cody Lundin who is a professional survival instructor with over 25 years of experience. Read this to learn more about Survival TV from his perspective as an expert. He calls this stuff, Survival Entertainment with good reason and says, “…anyone who would trust their life to what they see on reality television shouldn’t breed.”

Critical Thinking

Growing up, my mother always told me not to believe everything I read. This was good advice, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Critical thinking is an ancient concept but the actual term began to appear in the mid-20th century. In the information age, developing this skill is essential. It is an intellectually disciplined process of actively analyzing and evaluating information. It transcends all subjects, sources, or problems. Critical thinking protects us from biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or prejudiced content and ideas. It insulates us from improper assumptions and implications. It prevents undesirable consequences.

Critical thinking is not the application of logic for selfish purposes. Selfishness often appears under the guise of critical thought to skilfully manipulate ideas to promote a vested interest. Fortunately, this usually becomes apparent upon close examination because selfishness typically accompanies lies and an intellectually flawed argument. Examining the issue fair-mindedly, and with true intellectual integrity, the selfish analysis falls apart. Of course, the selfish minded individuals will call the product of true critical thinking idealism, using that term in a pejorative sense, thus further identifying their selfish motives.