5 Total Nobodies Who Stumbled Into Huge Conspiracies
Hey everybody, we've got some terrifying news: Paul Blart: Mall Cop is basically a documentary. As it turns out, in the real world Average Joes blunder into vast conspiracies all the time -- and some of them are actually of absolutely incredible consequence, unlike that one caper in which Paul Blart laid a fart on those thieves of art. (OK, so we watched the movie half-asleep on an airplane.)
Newspaper Boy Is Paid With A Fake Nickel, Uncovers Soviet Spying Ring
When spies are being trained, we imagine there are some obvious rules that they have to follow: Don't use your laser watch as a cat toy, use protection because it's difficult to be an expert marksman when your dick is a chemical weapons factory, and don't absentmindedly spend the fake coins that you use to hide secret documents. We don't know about the first two, but one spying ring operating out of 1950s Brooklyn certainly failed in that regard.
In June 1953, a newspaper delivery boy (known only as Jimmy) was collecting from his customers when he noticed something weird about one of the coins that he'd been given: It was really, really light. The reason soon became clear. After he dropped it on the ground, it split open and revealed a tiny photograph depicting a sequence of numbers. In any case, they clearly weren't communist numbers, so Jimmy didn't bother telling anyone about his discovery -- you know, except his friend, who mentioned it to her father, who mentioned it to his police detective friend, who mentioned it to the FBI.
This is why today's paperboys insist on being paid entirely in Bitcoin.
After decrypting this long game of telephone, they were able to examine the coin and photograph. By the strange way that the numbers were organized, they could tell it was a message. But, to whom? Fortunately, this was the FBI. They'd have no problem busting this case wide open. It probably made a nice distraction from their day-to-day job of pissing off the civil rights movement.
It took four years.
To be fair, just the total amount of frustrated swearing alone counted for three months.
And the breakthrough came only because so much time had elapsed that the recipient of the message, KGB Colonel Reino Hayhanen, had already defected and handed the FBI his code-breaking secrets. Holy shit, can you imagine what the Soviets could have achieved with texting technology?
Vacationing Reporter Accidentally Discovers The Manhattan Project, Nearly Ends Up Drafted
We like to think of the Manhattan Project as the most successful secret project in history: Where, thanks to the tireless efforts of military censors and those guys who come up with secret names, we managed to concoct a weapon capable to turning people into shadows and ash without anyone finding out.
"See Uncle Sam rolling up them sleeves in case you need a 'reminder'?
We're not fucking around here."
Bad news: That never happened. Enter John Raper: newspaper columnist, inadvertent people-terrifier, and the only person to nearly end up drafted for writing about his own goddamn vacation.
After enjoying the tourist attractions and hospitality that New Mexico is famed for, Rap- ... John returned to work at the Cleveland Press and filed a report about something strange that he'd found in the desert. No, not an old-timey camper-van and some weird guys doing science. It was an entire military base filled with weird guys doing science and blowing shit up and, oh yeah, it was being overseen by Robert Oppenheimer, that famous theoretical physicist guy! Isn't that just wacky?
"... and those are the exact coordinates. You can't miss it."
For all their fancy security and hush-hush protocols, the development of the world's most dangerous weapon was uncovered by a 60-year-old guy not just seeing but deducing the shit out of what he observed ... and while being held at gunpoint.
It was too late to stop the original report, but government censors immediately quashed any follow-up investigations. As for John, he was interviewed extensively about his adventures, and it was only because of his advanced age that he avoided being drafted to the Pacific Theater on the orders of the people in charge. That, and someone might have realized John could give Japan the heads-up about the weird project he found in New Mexico.
Detective Working A Second Job In A Cigarette Store Uncovers Terrorist Fundraising Syndicate
In 1995, an off-duty police detective working as a security guard in a small-town tobacco store uncovered a major terrorist organization operating within his store. And, in 2016, you're calling bullshit because that sentence reads like the shittiest script for Paul Blart 3 (in other words, the one that'll end up being filmed). Trust us on this, it happened. There is a car chase at one point, so if you can't suspend your disbelief, just imagine that it involves a Segway.
While trying to make ends meet at his second job, Robert Fromme's routine of busting shoplifters and shooing stray dogs was rudely interrupted by the arrival of a convoy of men carrying bags and bags of banknotes. Fearing that it was a reverse robbery, he watched as the customers bought thousands of cartons of cigarettes and drove off in their vans.
After verifying that the men weren't smog monsters or the personification of emphysema, he followed them to the state border, where they disappeared into the lifeless void of Virginia. One call to the ATF reporting some guys smuggling cigarettes, and voila! He'd brought down a Hezbollah-funding network. Wait, what?
"I thought it was weird that they kept spitting on the American Spirits display."
Their scheme was simple: The group would buy vast quantities of cigarettes in states with low taxes and resell them in states with high cigarette taxes. In this case, they'd buy a carton for $14, resell it for $28, and funnel the profit to their "rainy days 'n' rocket launchers" fund. And at four van-loads per week at $13,000 each, that adds up to a fuckton of explosives. So yeah, Hezbollah was basically pulling off the exact same get-rich-quick plan your estranged uncle sends you in the mail every year in lieu of a birthday card.
Guy Chasing 75-Cent Accounting Discrepancy Uncovers A KGB Spy
Back in 1986, Cliff Stoll, a systems administrator at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, noticed something weird: WarGames hadn't made computer geeks into sex icons like he had hoped. Also, the accounts at his lab were 75 cents short. As this was back in the days when you pay to connect to the old-timey Internet, the discrepancy was because someone had been using the Internet and hadn't bothered to pay for it. Jokingly blaming the communists, that systems administrator got to work figuring out who was responsible ... and unearthed a for-real communist spying ring.
And still no sex-symbol status. We couldn't possibly imagine why.
It turned out that whomever was using the system wasn't just using it to browse cat pictures meticulously painted with ones and zeros. No, the culprit was accessing a ton of sensitive military information that might prove very dangerous in the wrong hands. They needed to be stopped. After building a system that alerted him via pager whenever the hacker logged on, as well as recorded what they looked at, Stoll spent the next year building up contacts in the FBI and CIA to help ensnare his pre- ... wait, a whole goddamn year? That's ... a long time. It's a good thing there wasn't a war on or anything.
In order to trace the origin of the hacker's connection, they needed to keep him online for as long as possible, because, yes, real-life is sometimes like a shitty kidnap movie. They did this by creating several dozen fake files -- purportedly about some top secret project -- that the hacker would've found irresistible.
Though, this being the '80s, he would've been online forever just by trying to log in at all.
Eventually, it worked: The connection was traced to Hanover, Germany. Because system admins don't have any legal jurisdiction over anywhere in the world, the final bust was made by local police and resulted in the arrest of a German hacker named Markus Hess, who was selling our government secrets to the KGB.
Hopefully he saved his money, because he probably didn't see
a penny from the inevitable book deal.
If only he could have hacked five years into the future and learned that his number one customer was about to dismantle itself.
Grieving Father Uncovers International Banking Scandal
If popular culture has taught us anything, it's that grief does one of two things to people: pushes them into an alcohol-fueled depression or triggers a riotous rampage of revenge. This is a story about the latter; namely, how a grieving father fucked up the most corrupt elements of the world's banking system with paperwork.
In 1995, Alisa Flatow was killed by a suicide bomber while visiting Israel as part of a school study group. Her father, Stephen Flatow, successfully sued Iran -- who were shown to have financed the terrorist group responsible -- for damages in the amount of $247.5 million. We probably should have mentioned her dad was a lawyer.
Liam Neeson wishes he had this guy's particular set of skills.
Shockingly, Iran didn't pay up. But they probably should have, because they had no clue who they were dealing with. Flatow started digging into an Iranian-owned skyscraper on 5th Avenue in New York City. Among the building's tenants were a Juicy Couture shop, billionaire oil traders, and multiple charitable foundations. But here was the thing: The United States wasn't supposed to do business with Iran, even if the technical owners of the building were an Iranian charitable group.
Flatow wrote to the New York district attorney's office asking for the damages for his daughter's death to be paid by the Alavi Foundation, one of the "charities" that owned the skyscraper. According to Flatow, Alavi was nothing more than a business front for the Iranian government. After a collective spit take and a couple of "whhhhhhhaaaaa" noises, the government did some research and realized Flatow was right. The building's tenants were paying rent that was getting funneled straight to Iran.
"We didn't know! The only crimes the Juicy Couture brand wants to be involved in are against fashion."
Although Iran was the mastermind behind the whole affair, Lloyds and Credit Suisse were the ones managing the operation stateside. Their most important job, tellingly, was disguising the money flowing from Iran as ordinary, non-evil money. This then triggered confessions from several other banks -- namely, Barclays, HSBC, ING -- and an enormous fine of $8.9 billion levied at French multinational bank BNP Paribas for effectively balancing the devil's checkbook.
Long story short: Do not fuck with grieving fathers who happen to be lawyers.
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