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Thursday 1st February, 2024 | Author: Dick Smith [Member (F1520)] | Filed under: Good practice policies

Overseas instructions:  A “clear and present danger” to UK PIs

If as a professional investigator, you consider that hostile activity carried out on the world’s stage has little to do with your day-to-day management of assignments, then the following cautionary thoughts may change your mind. 

December saw an escalation of alerts against overseas nations carrying out illicit operations on UK soil, highlighting an accusation that Iran planned the assassination of two journalists.  And on Christmas Eve, our illustrious new Foreign Secretary also warned that we faced a “more aggressive, assertive China.”  Coupled with the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, the prospects abound for headline-grabbing acts of violence, contrasted with the secretive yet aggressive harassment of dissident nationals, all played out on Western turf.

Looking firstly at the Iranian case, it appears that plans were initially to car-bomb the intended victims outside their studio in London, later switching the elimination method to stabbing.  The quoted fee offered to third-party people-traffickers by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was USD 200,000.  The media claims to have uncovered the plot, reportedly confirmed by intelligence services.  But let’s be more realistic.  It is essentially more feasible that it was those services that covertly fed the story to ITV News, thereby securing bonus payments for their agents within the smuggling fraternity.  Whatever the truth behind the narrative, put yourself for a moment in the position of that people-smuggler, safely based in one of the six countries from which they habitually operate: Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, and Italy.  Having been contracted to carry out the hit, I started to make my plans.  

Q: How do I conduct an assassination in a foreign land when I don’t have an accomplice within the target group?

A: I need good intelligence, which I can best obtain through surveillance.

Q: How do I overcome a lack of vital local knowledge of the topography where my targets live or work, or even the customs of the country?  [In the Middle East, there must be an equivalent idiom to “Standing out like a sore thumb”!]  

A: I employ a professional outfit, which is both competent and local, to do it for me.  

Q: How do I find them?

A: I hear the ABI has a new website . . . I’ll tap in the postcode, make contact, and inform them of the generous budget available.

Q: The ABI member tells me they want to know my identity and be satisfied as to the reason for the instruction, so they can complete their Data Protection Impact Assessment.  What do I do?

A: I have access to countless false passports and can invent a plausible storyline.

Q: So, what is my “false flag” instruction?

A: Easy; it’s a domestic situation involving a cheating spouse or an allegation of blackmail.  I produced some fabricated emails.

Q: As I have contacted an experienced investigator who is continuing to follow ABI’s guidelines by satisfying the “legitimate interest” test, I am being overwhelmed with further searching questions and proof of document authenticity.  Do I continue?

A: No, with the absence of control of the professional investigation industry in the UK, there are plenty of less-scrupulous outfits I can randomly find on the internet and who will be willing to take my money.

This could never happen in the UK . . . could it?  Well, yes.  There are instances when such a scenario has occurred in the past, actually leading to the deaths of dissidents on the streets here.  There is probably a similar “false flag” op being planned or actually happening at this very moment.  

In mid-December, the US Congress Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] was discussing the “utilization [sic] of private investigators by the CCP”, including the case of Mike McMahon, the highly decorated former New York cop turned PI, convicted in June of a number of charges.  He had effectively been assisting Chinese “Foxhunt” operations . . . state-sponsored surveillance, harassment and repression of Chinese diaspora in the US.  According to his defence, he believed he was working for a Chinese translation company seeking redress in a fraud case.   

Additionally, the US Department of Justice is pursuing a Chinese national, Lin Qiming, who attempted to hire a private investigator to uncover or manufacture damaging information on another Chinese, resident in the States.   

In the US, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center and the FBI have been actively warning PIs against falling into this trap. 

We have previously reported on this platform that in 2021, IPFGB received a request to locate a number of Chinese nationals working in the UK; ostensibly ‘head-hunting’ them for lucrative employment.  Applying the legitimate interest test, we insisted that we were provided with sufficient data to satisfy us that the approach was warranted.  The potential client evaporated, probably offering up the instruction elsewhere.

There’s still time to make a New Year’s resolution.  Especially if that new instruction emanates from abroad, either directly or indirectly, make sure the legitimate interest test is met.

Dick Smith QPM

Director IP Forensics [GB] Ltd