How to Disappear (and more Snowden, Venezuela)

In short: start making fake blogs and posting beach photos from places you aren’t.

Case study: Guy stars in an amateur porn film in college. 20 years later it surfaces on the Internet. Solution? Fake DMCA takedown notice to get the cover image pulled, combined with fake blog from a “porn freak” in another state who just happens to share the guy’s name.

More elaborate: Hire someone to go shopping with your credit card on a regular basis… in Mexico City.

You have to combine this with very good personal security. Somewhere there’s a documentary short where the filmmaker shows up at a British private investigation firm to learn about modern surveillance… only to get a recording played of the interview he just came from. How? The PI (knowing his phone number) had hacked into the filmmaker’s iPhone and turned it into a bug. Downloaded all the data & emails, too.

What to do if you decide to drop off the map? STOP leaving tracks. Go do your research from a computer you bought in cash that has no connection to you. Now start doing some research in the other direction from your current computer.

Since this ties in a bit to an earlier discussion, I’ll point out one critical point about all this. This guy usually does the fake-blog-creation on behalf of people wanting to disappear. They don’t do it themselves.

The principles I articulated before — even the bullshit you put on the web reflects part of you, and can be used to derive information about you — therefore don’t apply. This guy is “option #2” — hire someone else to do your social media.

More Snowden: In the wake of the Bolivian president getting wrongly detained, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia — in that order — have all offered Snowden asylum.

Why? Quoth the Fugs (“CIA Man,” 1965):
Who can mine the harbors Nicaragua?
Out hit all the hitmen of Chicag-ua.
Fucking-a man!
CIA Man!

As Juan Cole points out, there’s a LOT of karma involved here. The US hasn’t just been in the business of causing death, mayhem, and generally making enemies in these countries for decades, the yoo-ess-eh has also made it standard practice to harbor e.g terrorists that blew up Venezuelan planes and killed the passengers on board:

Fortunately, Snowden will probably have a lot of help adopting to the culture shock. For anyone else considering a move down south, you should nevertheless consider the culture shock in your country of choice. “It is a truly alien culture that I find simultaneously beautiful, hard, giving, unfamiliar, uncomfortable and definitely self-protecting to the extreme.”

“”I start by collecting everything that I can find about the person, on the Internet, in public documents, registers, and from official sources.” Erasing all information from the web is frequently not effective.

“Disinformation is better than erasing the existing information.”

“Your pursuer isn’t looking for you. They’re looking for the information you leave behind. And that can be realistically faked.” In practice, that means that Ahearn alterns Facebook profiles, creates blogs, and Twitter accounts. Step by step he starts to alter the accessible information about the person.

“My client suddently starts blogging about his great time in Ireland, or uploads to Facebook photos of beaches in Thailand. In reality he may be living in Rome or Moscow.

Ahearn even laboriously fakes the electronic traces that could be possibly followed. One of his employees regularly goes shopping in Mexico City with a credit card. “Anyone who follows the electronic tracks would think the person is living in Mexico City.”

“If you want to disappear, it’s best to do this in society.”

Critical, according to Ahearn, is distributing as many traces as possible. “My goal is to make the hunt as labor intensive, expensive, and time consuming as possible for the pursuer.” […]

It’s not about running to the most remote places, stresses Ahearn. If you want to go underground, it’s best done in society. In large cities, for example. There, it’s possible to lead a halfway normal life even after disappearing.”

“What’s the oldest secret that resurfaced?

What’s starting to happen is every newspaper in the world is publishing every issue they’ve ever had online. One client — he’s in his 40s now — typed his name into Google and he saw something he did in college. He and his friends did an amateur porn movie, and it was being sold on a porn website. It freaked him out and he contacted me, and I contacted the porn company, told them the picture of the cover was copyright protected and they took it down, because it was easier than searching for the rights to the photo. Then I made fake online entities with the same name, and one of them is this porno freak from Ohio who was in this movie. So if someone types in my client’s name now they see this other individual in Ohio and think they were in the porno, and not my client. That’s for something that happened 20 years ago.

So it’s more about deflecting attention?

Right. That’s really misdirection. I’m of the philosophy that you can’t delete online information. If you don’t own the website or blog, there’s nothing you can do about it. To give an example, I have a client — this is pretty harrowing — his daughter is about six years old. Her mother was violently killed. Her and her mother share the same name, and my client says she’s reaching the age where she’s surfing the net, and she’s going to search for her own name and find out about her mother’s violent death. So I created all this content using the mother’s name, tricking it out, suppressing it, manipulating it, so that’s not the first thing she sees when she types her name in.

How did you get into this?

Originally was I was a skip tracer. I located people and information. You know all the stuff with the tabloids in the UK? I was the guy they would use — but not specifically them — and I sold phone records, bank records, airline records. I was able to get it through pretext and social engineering, and I got really good at finding people. And then the law started changing and I realised I can’t do what I do, it’s not worth it.

I met this guy at a bookstore — he was buying these books about moving money offshore, and these other discretion books, and he was using a credit card, and I thought “what an idiot, who buys books about offshore banking using a credit card?” So we struck up conversation and I told him how I could find him through his credit card, next thing I know he asks me if I can help him disappear. He was a corporate whistleblower. Then I just kinda got into the digital manipulation and I realised you can’t disappear information so you use deception. And I’m good at lying.[…]

If I wanted to disappear right now — I’ve got a Gmail account, I’ve got Twitter, Facebook, a phone contract — what would I do?

The first thing you do is what I call “stop and go”. Stop doing everything, from any connections — meaning your home computer, your work computer, your cell phone, your home phone — because the mistake people make is they start dreaming about disappearing, and they dream by looking at locations.

When you’re looking for people, you don’t look for them, you look for the information they left behind. That information will locate you. Once you’ve done the stop, you go out and buy a cheap laptop and surf the web from public places. Buy with cash, don’t put any identifiers on it, and you only use public Wi-Fi. You can walk to a large cluster of buildings and pick up Wi-Fi without a password no problem, and you surf from there and you search from there.

By the same token, you’re also on your home computer searching for fake places. You’re emailing magazines in Lisbon looking for jobs, and emailing realtors in Lisbon looking for an apartment, because that’s the information that a skip tracer will get on you. Then you need to do the digital manipulation, or digital “twisting” as I call it — on your Facebook account you start talking about Lisbon, and start friending people in Lisbon, and you start creating this fake online presence that makes it look like you’re moving to a new place. And once you’ve figured out where you want to go, it’s then a question of how to get you from point A to point B without getting traced.

Do billing companies give away information easily?

Absolutely. What I would do is see who’s in their building, find out who’s been living there the longest, and contact them and say “Hi, how are you doing? I’m calling from an insurance company, I’m trying to reach so-and-so, we have an insurance policy and we’re trying to send him a cheque but his address shows he’s moved”. She may not know where you live or where you moved to, but she might say “you know something, his sister lives in Manchester, let me give you her number”.

I call your sister asking about you, and the minute we get off the phone, she’s dialling you. I pull your sister’s phone records and I’ll have your phone number, and that’s how I’ll find you.

To take it further — not that I would do this — I would pretext whatever phone carrier you have and I’d find the apps you have on your phone. A number of apps track your GPS location. Let’s say you have a Starbucks app, I’d pretext the tech support at Starbucks to find you. I’d have broken 50 laws in the process, though.”

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