6 People Who Turned the Tables on Government Surveillance
Call us old-fashioned, but if you're going to go through the trouble of spying on your enemy, you might as well do your homework: buy some good equipment, get a background check, borrow a trench coat, etc. What you don't want to do is half-ass something that can end up getting you and your country into a heap of trouble. After all, it's a fine line between being a badass spy and being a wacky bumbling spy character played by Kevin James.
The CIA Can't Tell the Difference Between Lesbians and Dog Lovers
Let us tell you about the time the CIA got involved in a slapstick misunderstanding that would have been considered too goofy for an episode of Frasier.
The whole ridiculous thing started when, in the 1990s, the CIA wound up spying (in a roundabout way) on one of America's own ambassadors. That's not the misunderstanding -- they were doing that on purpose. What, you thought the CIA only spied on enemies? Foreign affairs are more complicated than that, we're afraid.
"She's on to us! Pretend you're stargazing."
At the time, there was a civil war in Guatemala. The U.S. was backing the government, and that government did some pretty awful things (during the war, 200,000 people were killed, and over 40,000 disappeared). However, America's ambassador to Guatemala, Marilyn McAfee, was pretty free about criticizing said government. The government that was backed by the CIA.
So, at one point a Guatemalan colonel ordered the Guatemalan Intelligence Service (GIS) to bug McAfee's office in the hope of digging up some dirt on her that he could then use to curry favor with his CIA handler. And he got his dirt: evidence that the married McAfee was having a lesbian affair. At one point they heard her say, "Oh, Murphy ... I love you. Give me some kisses. You're such a bad girl ..." Note that that McAfee's secretary was a lady named Carol Murphy. Busted!
When you scissor out of wedlock, you scissor the American flag in half.
The colonel relayed the evidence of this scandalous situation to his friends at the CIA. The agency began deeply investigating McAfee's life, recording a detailed log of both McAfee and Murphy's movements. The CIA station chief then confronted McAfee about it, and she was confused, to say the least.
See, in the course of their investigation, the CIA happened to somehow miss certain other details about McAfee's life, like how she owned a small poodle that was also named Murphy.
God, no, you disgusting freak! Wait, she was just ... Oooooohhh, OK.
Yep, what the Guatemalans and CIA believed was evidence of a hot lesbian affair was a recording of McAfee petting her dog.
Student Finds GPS Device on Car, FBI Demands It Back
Imagine you take your car to the shop for an oil change. As the car is raised, you notice an odd wire sticking out from the bottom. Upon closer inspection, you see it is part of a device attached to your car, a device that includes a big metal tube-shaped container and transmitter. That's weird. Do you:
A. Shit your pants because you think it's a pipe bomb.
B. Ask the mechanic to pull it off your car, then take pictures and upload them to Reddit asking for advice.
"Sorry, officer, but this is one of those rare 'you wish' moments."
If you're 20-year-old American college student Yasir Afifi, you choose B. Which was a brave choice, considering his deceased father was a Muslim community leader, he logs a lot of flight time making frequent trips to the Middle East and his stoned-off-their-asses friends thought it was a bomb for sure. Try picturing the cast of Half-Baked as you read the Reddit post and you get a sense of how bizarre the situation seemed. By the way, this was what they were looking at:
"I've seen one in my mom's underwear drawer. Does that mean she's being tracked, too?"
Within a very short amount of time, the world's most trustworthy source of information (aka Internet users) identified the gizmo as a Guardian ST820, a tracking device sold exclusively to law enforcement agencies. And if you're wondering, yes, law enforcement agencies could, at the time, legally implant tracking devices without a warrant. But more on that in a moment.
So in October 2010, Yasir Afifi had some kind of GPS gizmo on his hands -- one that he knew was placed there by someone in some kind of authority. He did what any 20-year-old college student would do -- he considered selling it on Craigslist. But before he got the chance, he was confronted with half a dozen FBI agents at his apartment complex. They wanted their GPS tracker back, please.
"Trust me, you wouldn't want it back if you knew where it's been."
Without even a hint of embarrassment at their own incompetence, the agents indicated that Afifi had been under surveillance for three to six months, and that they knew he had a new job and that he was going to Dubai in a few weeks. Then they asked a gaggle of questions -- did he know anyone who was traveling to Yemen, was he friends with anybody undergoing military training, was the friend who posted the pictures on Reddit a straight up terrorist? And then they giggled and told him he didn't need to call his lawyer, saying "Don't worry, you're boring." Case closed!
Two side notes: One, Yasir Afifi hooked himself right up with the ACLU and sued the federal government over the whole ordeal. And two, in January 2012 the Supreme Court ruled (in a different case) that, yes, from now on police need a warrant before placing a tracking device on a suspect.
"That's strange. According to this, he's just been sitting on the side of the highway for six days."
Operation Igloo White
Let's play a game. Imagine that we're Cracked.com and you're the leader in charge of American forces in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. (We never said it would be a fun game.)
Here's your problem: The enemy army in North Vietnam is trucking supplies and soldiers into South Vietnam via a road called the Ho Chi Minh Trail. And this "road" isn't an asphalt highway featuring access roads and exit ramps where you can easily set up a roadblock to thwart Charlie. It runs through the jungles of Laos, Cambodia and both Vietnams, and by 1973 the entire road was under canopy. Meaning whole convoys of commies could get from one end to the other without detection from the air. So, you're in charge of stopping them. What are you going to do about it?
If you're Secretary of State Robert S. McNamara, you're going to get $1.7 billion worth of electronic sensors up in that shit. During Operation Igloo White, over 20,000 acoustic and seismic sensors were airdropped along the road and monitored by orbiting aircraft 24 hours a day. When the sensors detected a target, an alarm would be triggered at headquarters and planes would be given the coordinates, and then they'd level the area with bombs. There is no way this could ever possibly go wrong. And in fact the operation reported destroying 35,000 North Vietnamese trucks! Good job, guys!
Except not exactly. The results seemed a little too good -- for instance, the Air Force's own numbers estimated there weren't that many trucks in North Vietnam, period, much less clogging the path of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. And there was scant evidence of the aftermath of all of these successfully bombed targets. So what was the deal?
"We're just gonna go ahead and round this one up to 35,000 and call it a day."
The deal was that the North Vietnamese weren't idiots. They discovered the sensors, messed with them to make them go off and ran away giggling while the Americans scrambled to bomb that spot. Specifically, the enemy soldiers were playing tape recorded truck noises or driving empty vehicles along the road as decoys. Some of the sensors were designed to detect bodies, like through sweat or urine, so the Vietnamese just threw bags of pee around to confuse them.
It worked. Oh, and it didn't help that the sensors couldn't tell the difference between a commie soldier and, say, a frog.
Guess how long it took the Americans to figure out their sensors were recording frog croaks, decoy trucks, urine bags and vacationing noncombatant Vietnamese people? Five years. And $1.7 billion.
The Crook Who Had a Leg Up on the Government
Christopher Lowcock had two problems (three if you count his name). One, he had a couple of drug offenses under his belt. Two, he had only one leg. The first problem meant he had to adhere to a curfew and wearing a court-mandated GPS tracker, and the second meant he wore a prosthetic leg. But what if one of his problems could solve the other?
Lowprick hatched a brilliant plan. When it came time for a contracted security firm to attach his monitor, tricky Chris pulled a switcharoo. Instead of letting the guard put the monitor on his one real leg, he jutted out the fake one. And the guard slapped the tracker on it because apparently he couldn't tell the difference. At this point, we're going to assume Lowcock wasn't sporting one of those high-tech new bionic-man prosthetics:
"My legs are fine. I just prefer impossibly tight multihued jeans."
Needless to say, whenever Bottomjunk wanted to break his curfew, he just removed the leg and hopped out the door. Or he replaced it with a spare. Probably that second one. In either case, he was free to go out and drug it up or drink and drive or whatever it was that got him into trouble in the first place, because according to his tracker, he was sitting at home knitting. Even though a second guard came by to check up on him and to make sure his equipment was working well. Either Lowcock was sporting a Real Doll-esque leg or neither guard had working eyes.
"Now who let all these moose in here? Shoo! Shoo! Get out of here!"
Especially since the private security firm hired to attach monitors had a whole set of protocols for this exact situation, which tells us it had happened at some point before. We're no geniuses, but we're guessing one of those steps was to pinch or prick the leg or something -- anything to make sure the limb was real. It wasn't until a third guard visited Downdick for a follow-up appointment that anyone suspected something was amiss. Their big clue? He wasn't home. He had been arrested for driving without insurance. The two guards who couldn't tell flesh from a hole in the wall were promptly fired, then mocked on a national level.
"There we go. Is that too tight?"
Undercover Agent Infiltrates Hippie Vagina, Goes Native
Secret agent rule number one: Don't fall in love with the enemy. Bond knew it, Nikita knew it, even Spy Hard knew it. But British agent Mark Kennedy didn't know it. Maybe that's because his "enemies" weren't deadly femme fatales or exotic henchmen -- they were bohemian hippie girls.
The kind who always look like they either just showered or haven't in days.
In 2003, Police Constable Mark Kennedy started working with the National Public Order Intelligence Unit as an undercover mole tasked with the job of deeply penetrating protest groups and bringing them off into the firm, supple hands of justice as hard and fast as possible. What kind of protest groups? All of them, apparently. Anarchists, environmentalists, animal ones, people who insisted on the BBC getting Ab Fab up and running again.
And before you picture a bunch of artsy fartsy goofballs lounging around, playing bongos and passing the doobie, we're talking about hardcore activists, the kind of people who infiltrate power stations to shut them down. So it certainly made sense for the British government to want to keep tabs on them. Enter Mark Kennedy, aka Mark Stone, aka "Flash." But there was a problem: He got emotionally invested in his protest mates. With his dick.
If a guy like that is nailing multiple hippie chicks, you know he plays a mean acoustic guitar.
During his seven-year-long career as an undercover cop, Kennedy reportedly slept with several different women, under the all-too-convenient rule that to not sex it up would mark him out as a narc. Eventually, however, his government-sponsored rendition of Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo came to an abrupt end when his activist friends began to suspect that there was something up with Mr. Cool. Maybe it was the flights he took to the United States every few weeks that gave him away. As if a hippie could afford to fly. At one point his so-called friends rifled through his stuff and discovered documents revealing his real identity.
Worse still, during the trial of the group he infiltrated, Kennedy suddenly had a change of heart and refused to give evidence against the group's members, resulting in the complete and utter collapse of the case. Sadly, however, the aforementioned members did still remember how badly their shit got fucked up, leaving Kennedy without any "We owe you our freedom, how can we ever repay you" sex.
"But you said I was your moon baby star dove-wolf! You said we'd raise alpacas together!"
The FBI Infiltrates a Mosque With a Fake Terrorist, the Mosque Calls the FBI on Him
In 2006, the FBI instructed Farouk al-Aziz, real name Craig Monteilh, convicted forger, to infiltrate the Islamic Center of Irvine in California and spy on the worshipers there to see if they were planning any terrorist activity. In post-9/11 America, this is considered both "legal" and "totally not racist." Also, the feds had already visited two months beforehand to reassure the patrons that they weren't going to be specially targeted for surveillance. The oldest trick in the book, baby!
"Go about your business. I am just an ordinary citizen, worshiping in my local mosque."
At first, things proceeded well. Monteilh integrated himself well into the congregation and was known for staying at the mosque all day, which is something that not even hardcore Muslims have the patience for. However, when designing his state-of-the-art recording devices to masterfully blend into his surroundings, Monteilh's handlers settled on the brilliant idea of hiding them inside a keyring, which was mounted on a set of Monteilh's actual house keys. Monteilh was thus forced to start leaving his keys around the mosque, which eventually people started to notice.
Monteilh then seemingly lost patience with the slow methodology of the investigation (see "staying at the mosque all day" above) and turned to insane levels of entrapment, which included sidling up to one man and saying "It's good that you guys are getting ready for the jihad" and flat-out telling a car full of poor souls that he had access to weapons they could all use to go and blow up a mall.
"What do you mean? I am wearing the traditional clothing of my people AND NOW I STAB AND SCREAM!"
Again, this was not a terrorist training camp the guy infiltrated. It was a random mosque in California that happened to be near Monteilh's home. Eventually, finding that they had an Islamic terrorist in their mosque, the worshipers did what anyone would do: They freaking called the FBI and said they had a terrorist in their mosque. When the guy still wouldn't stay away, they filed a restraining order against him on the grounds that he was clearly crazy and dangerous.
"Hey, man, I think it's great that we're all terrorists. You guys wanna go do some terror with me?"
The whole case fell apart shortly after that, and Monteilh himself sued the FBI. The FBI insists that he did get another worshiper at the mosque on tape agreeing to help him blow up a building, but they dropped the charges against him. That makes us wonder if the quote wasn't something akin to "If I agree to blow up a building, will you fucking leave me alone?"
You can find more from Adam at Alert Level Stork! He also helped to write Four Humors, an anthology of short stories published for charity by Wordplague. Check out Drew's Twitter feed, Outdated References, and his videos, Jake's Dating Vlog.
For more programs that just didn't work, check out 5 Government Programs That Backfired Horrifically and 5 Retarded Health Campaigns That Backfired (Hilariously).
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