Posted by: Allen Hoffmann, JD
January 22, 2015
Things have definitely changed as far as intelligence and information sources for the cops and intel officers of yesteryear. It doesn’t seem like too long ago that a cell phone was out of reach of anyone but serious corporate types, and everyone still had a landline. Landline or cell, you had a billed, postpaid service which was very much tied to you; the idea of being able to buy a whole phone for any less than at least a few days pay which you could then easily ditch was not something anyone considered at the time. Additionally, the technology involved has changed.
Back in the day, the tapping of a phone line was done by physically hooking equipment onto a line, and ‘tapping in’ to the service – in some jurisdictions where legislators didn’t keep pace, or where the cops couldn’t get a warrant either through a high evidentiary bar or being lazy as shit, police were not above dressing as telecommunication staff and doing it themselves; installing homemade equipment with a view to monitoring their targets and developing intelligence (remember, once more – intelligence and evidence are NOT the same thing) with a view to using information gleaned to catch their man with ta hand in the cookie jar, and most probably chalking up the intel development to some nebulous, anonymously supplied ‘information received’.
Pagers were never a solid option; whilst the alpha numeric codes some providers used helped people adopt at least some semblance of protection by not spilling the whole story of their day and the bricks they moved in so many words when a prearranged code would suffice, the fact that all pager messages were transmitted on a radio frequency you could eavesdrop on with astonishing ease, and the messages being filtered in terms of which device/s they’d be displayed by the relevant Channel Access Protocol code meant that both LE and civilian adversaries had the game locked down in terms of traffic analysis, if not actual full interception, from the very start.
These days, telecommunications interception, primarily of cellphones, is a cheap way to free up LE resources, the bar in terms of evidence is, in some jurisdictions, laughably low. The logistics are no longer challenging; interception occurs seamlessly at the exchange, a service for which LE must pay telecommunications providers, and there aren’t all that many hardened criminal types stupid enough to be talking on a landline about their nefarious escapades in this day and age. The cell phone is where its at for users and adversaries alike. Even if an adversary is not listening in when you’re speaking on your cell, its still a very powerful investigative tool.
Your phone, and the trail it leaves, is a gateway into your life
Even if the cops aren’t listening to you talk, you’re still leaving them plenty of evidence when you use a cellphone to call someone. In this modern age of computer data systems and extensive LE and intelligence based datamatching and cross referencing, few items provide a greater depth of insight into a target than their cellphone and usage thereof. Forget social media; incoming and outgoing calls on your cell, as well as text messages, tell an adversary who you are in touch with on a regular basis to the extent that IM comms with them just won’t cut it, and who you need to reach in a timely manner. It tells your adversary who you’re talking to and for how long, and in the case of text messaging, tells them what you’re talking about – and if you’re out in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason at 2AM on a weeknight calling your lawyer and you later become a murder suspect, well, its going to be something which gets looked at really hard. Your calls may be intercepted, same with your texts; if its not being intercepted as yet, then the local usage detail records (if you’ve seen Law & Order, that’s what they’re talking about when they’re “pulling LUDs” all the time), known in some jurisdictions as call charge record, are the details of incoming and outgoing calls to a phone service – and an LE adversary does NOT need a warrant to get this information, but rest assured, it could very well be something which helps them secure further investigative assistance if there’s interesting information to be found, and that could well mean getting more warrants – warrants to bug your phone, or your car, or your house.
A great many people I deal with professionally will simply not talk on a phone about anything which would be of interest to an adversary. A golden rule that most serious operators use, if time or distance constraints dictate that they must use a phone, is this; no matter how secure or anonymous you are (read: think you are) say nothing on, or near (more on this later) a phone which you would not be comfortable screaming into an elevator full to the brim with feds. If you have to talk on a phone, use a code you have previously arranged, and make it more complex than just substituting a word. Take this classic conversation I overheard one day on public transportation;
“So, you, uh, have the bananas?…. Alright, and, ah, so, its $50 for… for each… for a banana, right?”
Ask yourself – Who in the fuck pays $50 for a banana? Same goes for talking about any other ridiculous, nonsensical item, whether it’s a discussion about quarter inch tape (quarter ounce of MJ), 8 balls (1/8 ounce of blow) or elbows (pounds of MJ) of something with a dollar amount with it which doesn’t make sense, if your code does not correlate with either something plausible and relatable to your day to day, and tapes start getting played in court, you’re gonna have a hard time convincing a jury that you actually were talking about buying a back full of animal elbow joints or $50 bananas. Whilst that old maxim of ‘it ain’t what you know, its what you can prove’ still applies, you are making a prosecutor’s life a great deal easier by using a weak code which offers no genuine deniability.
So those are the basics and the history lesson – what if you wanna go semi pro?
Read the other parts once published in the IntelPhone Tag