Most Private Investigators learn that carrying a clipboard will grant access to most places, even those with confidential data to protect. Well there is a more powerful access tool than a clipboard and his name is Dickie.
Dickie doesn’t work alone, he has friends — 2-way radio, tool belt, Maglight, hard hat, and well-worn safety boots.
Nobody ever challenges Dickie. If a particularly diligent person does question Dickie, he says, “fine with me, but it will be at least four weeks until I can get back here. We’re really backed up.” Thusly, Dickie intimidates the most diligent, pretentious, and over-dressed staff member.
Dickie has an entire wardrobe to cover all occasions. Telephone technician days he is blue as Bell detested Gray. On computer service days, he is in tan slacks with a white polo shirt. When he is fixing the troublesome copier, he is either blue or grey. On clean-up days, he helps the janitor in grey. On hot or cold days, he fixes the HVAC system in this blue-green ensemble. Sometimes he delivers parcels in his fetching brown outfit.
Dickie is a master of surveillance and disguise.
The Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) was created in 1966 as an information system for Canadian law enforcement agencies. It is the sole nationwide repository of criminal convictions in Canada. Many employers require a search of CPIC before hiring. However, this system is not foolproof.
Auditor-General reports going back to 2000 have criticized the CPIC system (see para. 7.86) regarding timely delivery of criminal record data.
The most recent Auditor-General report estimates that the RCMP takes an average of 14 months to update an existing English criminal record in CPIC. The French updates take an average of 36 months. The stated goal is updating a record in 24 hours. Unfortunately, reality is an average time of 334 working days (see para. 5.59 & 5.60). For a new criminal record, the average time to process was 27 working days ( see para. 5.60).
If the employer hires someone with a minor criminal record, they may getting someone with a much more serious, but undisclosed, conviction. If the employer hires someone with no criminal record, the employer may be getting someone with an undisclosed conviction for a serious offence.
Skilled note taking is a critical skill for the Investigator. A client reminded me of this when he described a meeting with a Crown Prosecutor. The case in question resulted from an investigation that was conducted two years ago. The Crown went over his report and notes with a fine tooth comb in preparation for the trial.
Note taking has a long history. I see it in the margins of books, in notebooks, and this blog is a form of note taking for me. I’m in the process of writing a book and that entails a different form of note taking.
I found an New York Times article about 250 academics and civilians gathered at Harvard for a more self-conscious exercise: a chance to take notes on note-taking.
The article mentions the “Anxiety over the potential mindlessness of note-taking took on particular urgency during the digital annotation session, at which panelists debated whether the Internet and social media had ushered in a golden age of notes or doomed us to watch all our fleeting thoughts — if not our brains themselves — sucked down a giant digital drain, beyond the reach of future historians.” This is of particular interest to the Investigator.
The Investigator still needs to create clear paper-based notes to avoid having his work “sucked down a giant digital drain, beyond the reach of clients, prosecutors, and defense council.
I came across a book written during the Great War that has some good tips for the surveillance operator. It introduces the essentials of spycraft of a bygone era, but it remains particularly relevant to the Investigator who conducts surveillance operations.
The attitude that espionage is a sport in which the players appreciate and honor each other is truly misplaced, but the author’s observations about how to look like you belong in a place and about the key elements of disguise are timeless. The author’s description of how he gained access to critical installations to make observations are as relevant today as the Balkans in the 1890′s.
My Adventures as a Spy, By Lt. Gen. Sir Robert Baden-Powell, is an excellent short read.
Federal Political parties in Canada are only required to report the identities of contributors donating over $200 to one riding association or the central organization. For donations of $200 or less, receipts must be kept by the individual riding associations, but Elections Canada doesn’t record of them. Completely anonymous contributions of $20 or less are permitted.
Elections Canada confirmed in 2007 that individuals could contribute as much as $60,500 over the $1,100 limit – simply by donating $200 to each of a party’s 308 riding associations and Elections Canada would never know about it. Contributions of $200 or less are reported in aggregate, without a break-down by contributor to allow cross-checking across the riding associations.
However, we can search the Contributions & Expenses Database and other databases maintained by Elections Canada.
Keeping track of sites that don’t offer RSS feeds or email updates can be a problem for Researchers and Investigators.
As of September 30th, Google Reader will be turning off track changes. Track Changes allowed you to create a custom feed to track changes on pages that don’t have their own feed. Page2RSS seems to be one of the few alternatives available to replace this.
Page2Rss will convert any web page to RSS feed. You can even add a button to your browser’s bookmarks toolbar that will create Page2RSS feed for the page you are currently viewing.
Another alternative to Google Reader’s Track Changes is in the bottom left corner of the FeedBlitz home page. Insert a URL and get email updates from a website or blog that doesn’t offer email subscriptions.
Copernic Tracker – automatically looks for new content on Web pages, forums, and Social sites. When a change is detected, our Web site tracking software can notify you by sending an email, including a copy of the Web page with the changes highlighted, or by displaying a desktop alert.
WatchThatPage is a service that enables you to automatically collect new information from your favorite pages on the Internet. You select which pages to monitor, and WatchThatPage will find which pages have changed, and collect all the new content for you. The new information is presented to you in an email and/or a personal web page. You can specify when the changes will be collected, so they are fresh when you want to read them. The service is free!
Google Custom Search Engine is a powerful tool that lets you set a list of specific web sites that Google will check when you search. Google Custom Search Engines can be made to search specific sites for government documents, recipes, or how to survive the zombie apocalypse. A search engine may be set-up to search one website or multiple websites. Of course you need a Google Account to create the custom search. Go to the above link and create one for yourself if you wish.
However, there are quite a few that are available because somebody else has done the work for you. Each custom search engine has an ID to refer Google to the correct custom search engine. For example, the Canadian Government Documents search engine that I use has ID: 007843865286850066037:3ajwn2jlweq. To get to it, put http://www.google.com/cse/home?cx= before the ID as follows:
The U.S.A. Government information search engine that I often use is at
The Intergovernmental Organizations (UN & the like) site is at
You might want to use SaskSearch – the Saskatchewan, Canada Search Engine which is a regional search engine for the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, or go to the Caribbean Newspaper Search.
These custom search engines can save the researcher or investigator a lot of work if they are employed properly.
I came across an article on lifehacker entitled, Use an Old Gift Card to Keep a Bit of Duct Tape With You at All Times. I’m sure the article’s author is a Canadian at heart.
In recent months, I have travelled all over Eastern Canada, and here’s what has migrated to the bottom of my briefcase.
It’s surprising how often these things get used. The compass on the match case is really useful when I get twisted around on a back road and don’t know what direction to go. The white duct tape on the Maglite makes it easy to find in the bottom of a black briefcase as well as holding things together.
I found an excellent article on using disguise to gather information. This is the type of thing really good surveillance guys become adept at this.
Have you ever tried to automate Google Earth into an offline cache? This blog article shows you how to do it. It describes ways to load several types of maps offline, including topographical maps and Google Earth.
To download Google Earth for offline use, you will need software from DrRegener which is free to use. This allows you to create high resolution offline Google Earth caches that can be placed onto an external thumb drive and viewed as needed without access to the Internet. It is also a good way to manage mapping during an investigation.
Google tends to localize your search results based on where Google believes your IP address is located. This makes conducting may types of searches difficult. Normally, I would use TOR or some other proxy to conduct searches that are not biased by my current location. It is a real pain to create searches biased to a particular location in this manner.
Now thanks to Norma Goldsmith who found this, I now use I Search From to input the location from which I wish to search. For example, I might enter New Zealand as my location to search for something along the Pacific Rim, New Zealand, or Australia. I Search From changes the “gl” parameter in the URL denoting the country and adds parameters for the exact location. This overrules the IP as the means of localizing the search results.
I see a lot of reports produced by Private Investigators from all across North America and rarely do I ever see a search for a subject’s involvement with a charity included in background investigation reports.
In Canada, this is quite easy to do. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has a web site where one can get the filings of a charity if you know its name. All Canadian registered charities are required to fill out an information return in leu of paying income tax. Like so much data produced by government, it is poorly presented and is difficult to navigate.
A much better search facility for the CRA data is available that allows searches by Director or Trustee name. This seems to work very well. Of course, all such search facilities need to be doubled checked against the “official” version before you put your name on the report.
This data will reveal associations, affiliations, the names of family members, and much more.
The case of the person suspected of sending a dismembered foot to the offices of the Conservative Party of Canada is macabre, but some excellent investigative reporting appears in the newspapers that Private Investigators can learn from — namely a search that should be conducted in every background investigation. I’m talking about searching for a change of name.
This used to be a very difficult search to conduct though the normal bureaucratic channels. Today, we have the Internet. The provinces are in charge of matters involving the change of one’s name.
Each province has an Gazette where changes to legislation and other legal notices are published. In the case of Ontario, the government prefers that readers use the official web site where issues of the Gazette dating back to January 2000 are published in PDF format. This format allows full-text searching.
In the case of the suspect who now calls himself Luka Rocco MAGNOTTA, the intreped reporter went to the Ontario Gazette search page and searched this name, without using quotation marks. The reporter found an entry on 12 August 2006 that revealed that Magnotta’s original name was Eric Kirk NEWMAN.
As this is only a Gazette Notice, it required further investigation to confirm that the Notice related to the suspect.
Most cities issue business licences. Some cities make it easier to search the licences than others. Toronto allows you to make your own database by offering a Comma Separated Value (CSV) file at http://opendata.toronto.ca/mls/business.licences/business.licences.csv. This is great if you want to track what is at an address over time. We get this file every year and add a field for the year we get it.
You can use the Business Licence Lookup site at http://app.toronto.ca/LicenceStatus/setup.do?action=init to conduct an individual search.
Tom Vanderbilt’s book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) is a must read for every Private Investigator. For example, he cites two studies that explain why SUV drivers are more likely to speed. Essentially, the studies conclude that drivers seated at a high eye height of an SUV drove faster than when they were seated at a low eye height.