Fraud and Deception

Blog Posts

Journalist Who Posed as Middle Eastern Tycoon Gets Prison Term

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

UK journalist Mahzer Mahmood didn’t let ethics or truth get in the way of a hot scoop, and now he’s headed to prison. It’s a story that beggars belief, involving politics, pop star drug scandals, royalty real and fake. We’re left to wonder what’s up with the screen rights.


“British Reporter ‘Fake Sheikh’ Jailed for 15 Months”
by Danica Kirka
AP
October 21, 2016

aotpmazhermahmoodA judge sentenced a British journalist who often posed as a Middle Eastern tycoon in sting operations to 15 months in prison on Friday, after the tabloid reporter was convicted of perverting the course of justice in an effort to get scoops.

Mazher Mahmood, a tabloid reporter nicknamed the “Fake Sheikh,” was found guilty earlier this month of tampering with evidence in the collapsed drug trial of pop star and actress Tulisa Contostavlos. The case against Contostavlos originally was based on interviews Mahmood, 53, conducted for the Sun newspaper.

The Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing another 25 convictions linked to Mahmood’s work and has dropped active criminal cases in which Mahmood was to be a witness.

As he was led away to prison, a man in the crowd shouted, “Your turn now, Mazher.”

One of his most famous scoops involved the wife of Prince Edward, youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II. Edward’s wife. Posing as an aide to a Saudi Arabian prince interested in hiring her public relations company, Mahmood charmed Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, into making indiscreet comments about the British government in 2001.

The countess also was caught on tape describing then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, as “horrid, horrid, horrid.”

For the sting involving Contostavlos, Mahmood posed as a film producer and discussed a movie role with her that would have her share screen time with Leonardo DiCaprio. Prosecutors said Mahmood gave evidence to police that led to Contostavlos being charged with supplying illicit drugs. Continue reading.

James O’Keefe’s October Surprise

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

It wouldn’t feel like an election year without a fresh sting from right-wing culture jammer James O’Keefe.


“Everything We Know About the Latest James O’Keefe Video Sting”
by Philip Elliot
Time
October 18, 2016

James O'keefe

The latest ‘gotcha’ videos from conservative provocateur James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas Action have some shocking claims that, if they are true, would indicate Democrats are playing dirty to get Hillary Clinton elected.

In one video, a contractor seems to brag about sending homeless and mentally ill people to harass Republicans. Someone identified as a Democratic National Committee staffer appears to claim credit for pushing Republican contender Donald Trump’s rally in Chicago toward violence. In another, consultants look like they are describing a plan to bus voters across state lines and registering immigrants in the country illegally to vote.

But if O’Keefe’s previous efforts to infiltrate and expose his foes such as ACORN and NPR are to offer a hint, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. O’Keefe has previously spliced videos together to imply its subjects were saying things they were not.

Even so, the latest video has cost someone identified by the Democratic National Committee chairwoman “a temporary, regional sub-contractor” his job. Another established DNC vendor gave up his contract. Another protester who says she was at the Chicago melee linked herself to Clinton’s campaign, although she was paid for work in Arizona in the weeks before anything happened in Illinois.

The release of the videos made conservatives giddy that O’Keefe had claimed yet more scalps for his long-standing effort to show liberal hypocrisy through hidden-camera footage. And more embarrassing videos are expected to come before Election Day, O’Keefe promised. Donald Trump urged his audiences in Colorado on Tuesday to go online and watch them. Read more.

Alex Chang Plumbs the Depths of Telemarketing Scammers

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Prank News, Pranksters, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks

A scambaiting expedition leads to an unexpected conclusion:


aotp_office
“I trolled my IRS scammers for weeks. I learned something really dark.”
by Alex Chang
Vox
October 18, 2016

These scammers had called me so many times that I knew their script.

They always introduced themselves as IRS officers with inconspicuous American names, like “Paul Thomas.” They called to collect the $6,000 I owed the IRS. And if I didn’t pay, they threatened to send the local police to arrest me.

They were unconvincing. I didn’t understand how this scam could work on anyone. But a quick search led me to a couple in Tennessee, a student in Virginia, and thousands of others who’d fallen for the scam. There was something about this scam that worked — and I had to find out what it was.

So I got further and further into the scam. At first, I played along for a few minutes and then hung up. After a few days, I trolled them with the vast amount I learned about their operation. Then, on a hot mid-September day, I decided enough was enough.

I was going to get to the end of this scam.

That’s how I ended up talking to “Steve Smith” for 30 minutes. He was a senior investigations officer — the actual person who walks you through how to send them money. I learned that his secret is maintaining an aura of authority. That’s how he optimizes fear. That’s how he gets people to suspend logic, drive to Walgreens, and buy iTunes gift cards to pay the IRS. The scam takes advantage of the most vulnerable people. Read more.


The Best Trick Wins the War

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Illusion and Magic, Political Pranks, Prank News, Propaganda and Disinformation, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks

Infaltable decoys come of age with military sleight of hand. [Thanks Peter M.]


“A New Weapon In Russia’s Arsenal – And It’s Inflatable”
by Andrew E. Kramer
October 12, 2016
The New York Times

russianmilitarydecoysDeep in the Russian countryside, the grass sways in a late-summer breeze. In the distance, the sun glistens off the golden spires of a village church. It is, to all appearances, a typically Russian scene of imperturbable rural tranquillity.

Until a sleek MIG-31 fighter jet suddenly appears in a field, its muscular, stubby wings spreading to reveal their trademark red star insignia. A few moments later, a missile launcher pops up beside it.

Cars on a nearby road pull over, the drivers gaping in amazement at what appear to be fearsome weapons, encountered so unexpectedly in this serene spot. And then, as quickly as they appeared, the jet and missile launcher vanish.

“If you study the major battles of history, you see that trickery wins every time,” Aleksei A. Komarov, the military engineer in charge of this sleight of hand, said with a sly smile. “Nobody ever wins honestly.” Read more.


An Internet Writer Breaks Up With Her Boyfriend Over Trump… You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation

The ferocious and funny Anna Merlan takes an impressively deep dive into the made-up career of Rachel Brewson, the JT LeRoy of womens-interest clickbait.


“The Team of Men Behind Rachel Brewston, the Fake Woman Whose Trump-Fueled Breakup Went Viral”
by Anna Merlan
Jezebel
October 4, 2016

aotp_brewsonIn December 2015, readers at women’s site xoJane were enthralled and filled with all-caps rage by Rachel Brewson, a self-described “giant liberal” who boldly declared her love for a Republican named Todd. She described, in rapturous terms, how the couple’s political disagreements fueled an ecstatic third-date bipartisan fuck-fest that soon flowered into a real relationship.

Mid-date, they got into a “heated debate” about politics, Brewson wrote. They fought from wherever the date took place (she didn’t say), into the street, and into a cab. The discussion ended when Todd—who, as it turned out, was a gun-loving, Iraq-war-supporting libertarian—manfully invited himself up to her apartment.

“What followed was the best sex of my life up to that point,” Brewson wrote, whose author bio said she was a “dating editor” at a site called Review Weekly. “Somehow the political tension between us had transformed into sexual tension. I was hooked.”

The post was a modest success—it was shared just under 3,000 times on social media, and racked up 1,000 comments on xoJane itself (whose editor-in-chief is Jane Pratt of Sassy fame. The site was purchased by Time. Inc last fall). Many of those comments complained about Rachel’s privileged white-woman version of liberalism, which allowed her to ignore “petty differences”—her term—between her and Todd on issues like immigration.

“He flashed some money your way and you’re ready to label things like rape culture and systematic racism as ‘petty differences,’” one commenter fumed. “You aren’t as liberal as you want to believe you are.”

Three months later, the fairytale was over. (more…)

Fake Newspaper Endorses Reality TV Politician

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump may have his “personal Pravda,” but everyone from The New York Times to the Arizona Republic has endorsed his opponent, and the media at large have taken the gloves off with him. The real estate developer hasn’t gotten any extra love from the fourth estate in the wake of his rough debate performance on Monday. He’ll be happy to know that the Baltimore Gazette has his back.


“Trump Gets Big Boost From Fake Newspaper”
by Jason Linkins
Huffington Post
September 27, 2016

aotp_baltimoregazetteBig media news for Hillary Clinton Tuesday night as the Arizona Republic ― which had never in its history endorsed a Democrat for president ― has thrown its endorsement to the former secretary of state, citing her lifetime of never coming across like an impulsive man-baby: “The president commands our nuclear arsenal. Trump can’t command his own rhetoric.”

But not so fast! Donald Trump has a media coup of his own to brag about. Seems that some eagle-eyed investigative reporters at the Baltimore Gazette have brought home a dilly of a scoop: “Multiple reports and leaked information from inside the Clinton camp claim that the Clinton campaign was given the entire set of debate questions an entire week before the actual debate.”

Trumpet sting!

Earlier last week an NBC intern was seen hand delivering a package to Clinton’s campaign headquarters, according to sources. The package was not given to secretarial staff, as would normally happen, but the intern was instead ushered into the personal office of Clinton campaign manager Robert Mook. Members of the Clinton press corps from several media organizations were in attendance at the time, and a reporter from Fox News recognized the intern, but said he was initially confused because the NBC intern was dressed like a Fed Ex employee.

That’s some serious shoe-leather! Unfortunately there was un problema. Read more.

Inside the Amazon Million Dollar e-Book Scam

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Literary Hoaxes

In a complex whirlwind of a story, ZDNet digs into a bizarre tech scam involving bots, bad e-books, Amazon Kindle, Tor, and one unscrupulous engineer.


“Revealed: How one Amazon Kindle scam made millions of dollars”
by Zach Whittaker
ZDNet
September 27, 2016

Emma Moore could have been the health and weight loss guru you spent your life looking for.

aotp_kindlecatfishYou might be forgiven for not knowing her work — after all, she has a common name, one that she shares with other similarly successful authors on Amazon. Until this week, she had dozens of health, dieting, cooking, and weight loss ebooks to her name. She published over a dozen ebooks on Amazon this year — five ebooks alone this month. And Moore would even work with other authors — like Nina Kelly, Andrew Walker, and Julia Jackson — who have all published about a dozen ebooks each this year as well.

Here’s the snag: to our knowledge, Moore doesn’t exist. None of them do.

Moore was just one of hundreds of pseudonyms employed in a sophisticated “catfishing” scheme run by Valeriy Shershnyov, whose Vancouver-based business hoodwinked Amazon customers into buying low-quality ebooks, which were boosted on the online marketplace by an unscrupulous system of bots, scripts, and virtual servers.

Catfishing isn’t new — it’s been well documented. Some scammers buy fake reviews, while others will try other ways to game the system.

Until now, nobody has been able to look inside at how one of these scams work — especially one that’s been so prolific, generating millions of dollars in royalties by cashing in on unwitting buyers who are tricked into thinking these ebooks have some substance.

Shershnyov was able to stay in Amazon’s shadows for two years by using his scam server conservatively so as to not raise any red flags.

What eventually gave him away weren’t customer complaints or even getting caught by the bookseller. It was good old-fashioned carelessness. He forgot to put a password on his server. Read more.

Uncle Sam’s Imaginary Pen Pal

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, The History of Pranks

Gizmodo’s Paleofuture blog examines the canon of opinion writer Guy Sims Fitch, a prolific non-existent writer for the United States Information Agency.


“Meet Guy Sims Fitch, a Fake Writer Invented by the United States Government”
by Matt Novak
September 27, 2016
Paleofuture

aotp_guysimsfitchGuy Sims Fitch had a lot to say about the world economy in the 1950s and 60s. He wrote articles in newspapers around the globe as an authoritative voice on economic issues during the Cold War. Fitch was a big believer in private American investment and advocated for it as a liberating force internationally. But no matter what you thought of Guy Sims Fitch’s ideas, he had one big problem. He didn’t exist.

Guy Sims Fitch was created by the United States Information Agency (USIA), America’s official news distribution service for the rest of the world. Today, people find the term “propaganda” to be incredibly loaded and even negative. But employees of the USIA used the term freely and proudly in the 1950s and 60s, believing that they were fighting a noble and just cause against the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism. And Guy Sims Fitch was just one tool in the diverse toolbox of the USIA propaganda machine.

“I don’t mind being called a propagandist, so long as that propaganda is based on the truth,” said Edward R. Murrow in 1962. Murrow took a job as head of the USIA after a long and celebrated career as a journalist, and did quite a few things during his tenure that would make modern journalists who romanticize “the good old days” blush.

But even when USIA peddled its own version of the truth, the propaganda agency wasn’t always using the most, let’s say, truthful of methods. Their use of Guy Sims Fitch—a fake person whose opinions would be printed in countries like Brazil, Germany, and Australia, among others—served the cause of America’s version of the truth against Communism during the Cold War, even if Fitch’s very existence was a lie.

Read more.

DHMO in the Water, Mischief in the Air

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Dan Lewis’s conversation-starting email newsletter “Now I Know” looks back on a morning radio hoax that kicked up a storm.


“The Dangerous-Sounding Threat of DHMO”
by Dan Lewis
Now I Know
September 14, 2016

aotp_dhmoSt. John and Fish were, at the time, morning hours radio hosts for a Florida radio station. On April 1st of that year — and yes, that date should have been a clue — the duo decided to issue a public service announcement, telling listeners that dihydrogen monoxide was coming out of water taps in the area.

The reaction from what would hope was a small, small minority the listeners was fierce and nearly immediate. Enough people were fooled by the PSA that the county water board began fielding calls, and at 8:30 AM that day — about three-and-a-half hours into what should have been a five-hour radio show — St. John and Fish were taken off the air. The county issued a statement telling residents that the water was entirely safe and that this was just a joke gone bad (although without explaining the science), and the radio station, per the Atlantic, spent the rest of the day informing listeners of the same.

But beyond that, no big deal, right? Wrong — at least, according to the state’s Department of Health. Its spokesperson told the press that calling in “a false water quality issue” could be considered a felony in the state. The station, perhaps fearing liability, suspended the pair of DJs indefinitely. And listeners seemed OK with the punishment: according to USA Today, a (hardly scientific, but why should we get science involved here?) poll on the radio station’s website had a large majority — 77% — hoping that the two would never be welcomed back on the air. Read more.


Facebook Fights the Fakers

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Prank News, Urban Legends

From duplicitous “satire” to malicious BS, Facebook helps people spread untrue stories. With a new step in the sustained controversy over its algorithms and curatorial practices, the big blue giant is now taking measures to cut some of the crap.


“Facebook to roll out tech for combating fake stories in its trending topics”
by Sarah Perez
Techcrunch
September 14, 2016

aotp_facebookFollowing the controversial firing of the editorial team who managed the Trending Topics that appear next to Facebook’s News Feed, the company is now actively working on technology that will help prevent fake news stories from showing up in the Trending section. Similar systems have been rolled out to News Feed in recent months, and now that same technology is making its way to Trending, said Facebook’s News Feed head, Adam Mosseri, at TechCrunch Disrupt SF this morning.

The social network came under attack earlier this year for allegedly suppressing conservative news from appearing in the Trending Topics section. While it was later discovered that this was largely due to individual judgement, not institutional bias, the company took the heavy-handed measure of letting the entire team of Trending Topics news curators go.

Explained Mosseri, Facebook made this decision because “we wanted to be clear – in the wake of a lot of feedback – about our role and the role of people in the Trending product.”

That being said, the remaining product, which is now entirely driven by algorithms, has become much worse, many say. It has even allowed fake news stories to show up as trending topics – something a human-powered editorial team would likely catch.Read more.


The Strange Case of JT LeRoy

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hype, Literary Hoaxes, Prank News, Publicity Stunts

JT LeRoy was widely presumed to be a gay prostitute from West Virginia who became the toast of NYC art-hipsterdom on the strength of his autobiographical books. The problem was that he didn’t exist at all – he was a character invented by a frustrated failed writer named Laura Albert and played by a friend of Albert’s in a blonde wig. Frauds and fabulists ran amok in the Bush years, and LeRoy’s unmasking didn’t garner the same attention and schadenfreude as the downfalls of rouge reporter Jayson Blair or manly-man poseur James Frey. But as a new documentary explores, his story was a hell of a lot weirder.


“JT LeRoy doc explores absorbing literary scandal”
by Lindsey Bahr
AP
September 7, 2016

downloadTo the general public, the name JT LeRoy probably rings only the vaguest of bells, if any at all. It didn’t for this particular critic. But that innocent ignorance is all the more reason to seek out the documentary “Author: The JT LeRoy Story ,” a fascinating peek into one of the wildest literary scandals in recent years and the bizarre nature of celebrity relationships. Director Jeff Feuerzeig’s film, while undeniably one-sided, will have your mind spinning with questions about authorship, authenticity, art and fame.

Read more.


Can Snopes Keep Up with the BS?

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation, Urban Legends

Our friends Barbara and David Mikkelson have been separating facts from fakes since 1995, when the internet looked like it might be a fad. Their immensely popular and credible argument-settling website Snopes.com has held steady against a rising tide of digital lies. But in the era of Reddit, Twitter, and Trump, David admits that he sometimes feels a tad overwhelmed.


“Can mythbusters like Snopes.com keep up in a post-truth era?”
by Rory Carroll
The Guardian
August 1, 2016

davidmikkelsonThe most scenic way to find truth on the internet is to drive north of Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway, blue ocean foaming to the left, sunlit hills cresting to the right, until Malibu Canyon Road, where you take a sharp right and wind for a few miles through the oak-lined knolls and dips of Calabasas, past gated estates that are home to the likes of Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian and Mel Gibson, and keep going until you reach an odd-looking wood-and-brick house with a US flag on the porch: the home of David Mikkelson.

It feels like a good jumping off point for a hike, or a pony trek. But really it is the ideal place to explore fibs like whether Hillary Clinton stole $200,000 in White House furnishings, or whether Donald Trump called Republicans the “dumbest group of voters”, or whether Black Lives Matter protesters chanted for dead cops, or whether Nicolas Cage died in a motorcycle accident, or whether chewing gum takes seven years to pass through the digestive system, or whether hair grows back thicker after being shaved, or, if you really, really must know, whether Richard Gere had an emergency “gerbilectomy” at Cedars-Sinai hospital.

Mikkelson owns and runs Snopes.com, a hugely popular fact-checking site which debunks urban legends, old wives’ tales, fake news, shoddy journalism and political spin. It started as a hobby in the internet’s Pleistocene epoch two decades ago and evolved into a professional site that millions now rely on as a lie-detector. Every day its team of writers and editors interrogate claims ricocheting around the internet to determine if they are false, true or somewhere in the middle – a cleaning of the Augean stables for the digital era.

“There are more and more people piling on to the internet and the number of entities pumping out material keeps growing,” says Mikkelson, who turns out to be a wry, soft-spoken sleuth. “I’m not sure I’d call it a post-truth age but … there’s been an opening of the sluice-gate and everything is pouring through. The bilge keeps coming faster than you can pump.” Read more.


The Strange Saga of Melania Trump’s Speechwriter

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Prank News

In one of many remarkable moments in this year’s Republican National Convention, potential First Lady Melania Trump delivered a speech blatantly plagiarized from incumbent First Lady Michelle Obama. A little-known Donald Trump speechwriter named Meredith McIver showed up to take the blame, sparking conspiracy theories. And things have stayed weird.


“Who’s Impersonating Melania Trump’s Plagarist Meredith McIver?”
by Gideon Resnick
The Daily Beast
August 2, 2016

meredith-mciver-melania-trump-8Meredith McIver, a former ballerina turned Donald Trump co-author, is definitely a real person. But her social media persona, which came into being after she took the blame for Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech, definitely is not.

The account @imeredithmciver began tweeting on July 20, the day after Melania Trump’s prime-time Republican National Convention speech was upended by the revelation that she had cribbed some lines from an address by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. And it is still posing as McIver to this day, with no comment or pushback from the Trump campaign.

As the campaign is in the throes of daily sparring with a Gold Star family, fire marshals, and even the speaker of the House, there’s been no acknowledgment of the fake social media presence of McIver, who told The Daily Beast she has no online presence. Multiple people have emailed The Daily Beast claiming to have some knowledge about the mysterious appearance of the account, ranging from abject satire to claims the Trump campaign is actually behind it.

“I just wanted to set the record straight. @realDonaldTrump is a wonderful man,” the account tweeted just as McIver was getting roped into the burgeoning scandal. With her social media proclamation, the account included a photoshopped image of McIver and Trump standing next to each other in his office. (more…)

Pokemon Go Crime Wave… Not

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

In less than a week, Nintendo’s new mobile game Pokemon Go has become a 2016 pop-culture phenomenon. (It is, you see, pretty much the only recent news item that isn’t wildly depressing.) With all the hype, think-pieces, newsjacking, and Facebook-sharing, some skepticism was lost in the shuffle.


“The Man Behind the Pokemon Crime Wave”
by Ben Collins and Kate Briquelet
The Daily Beast
July 11, 2016

wigglytuffAmerica is going crazy for the new game—crazy enough to kill, if you believe all the stories on Facebook. But the bloodbath is fake, and The Daily Beast tracked down the man behind it.

At CartelPress.com, the death toll from the first weekend of Pokémon GO is still piling up.

If you’re to believe that website, the new augmented reality game that has users walking into public parks and streets to catch Pokémon—and is nearing as many daily active users as Twitter—is responsible for a bloodbath. A teen killed his brother over a low-rent Pokémon called a Pidgey, the site reports. Countless were left dead on a Massachusetts highway when a 26-year-old stopped in the middle of the road to catch a Pikachu, it also alleges. And now, on CartelPress.com, the so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS is claiming credit for the biggest Pokémon tragedy of all: rampant server issues.
Unbelievable.

No, really. It should be unbelievable. But 10,000 people shared that first story on Facebook. More than 64,000 shared the last one. And the Pokémon highway accident? Three hundred eighty-four thousand shares on Facebook in a couple of days.

And none of them are real.

CartelPress is just one part of the Pokésteria.

Now gamers on other sites are fooling people into donating to a Texas-based Uber driver who claims he witnessed a murder scene while trawling for Pokémon over the weekend—even though that murder scene, just like the rest of these stories, never existed.

That didn’t stop plenty of reputable news agencies from recycling the Satanic Panic-esque stories that were always too good to be true. The Atlantic referenced the highway death in the middle of its story “The Tragedy of Pokémon GO.” The New York Post did the same.

There are plenty more. Pablo Reyes almost caught ’em all. According to the 26-year-old internet prankster—who flooded America’s elevators and drive time radio shows with fake Pokécrime he invented on CartelPress, a new site he created—it’s all one big coding mistake. Read on for the interview.

James O’Keefe’s Phone Prank Fail (and the Rise of the Professional Political Pranksters)

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Pranks, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Starting with an astounding botched sting operation from James “ACORN Pimp” O’Keefe and his team Project Veritas, The New Yorker goes in depth exploring the status of American political dirty tricks in a particularly nasty and absurd election year.


“Sting of Myself”
by Jane Meyer
The New Yorker
May 30, 2016

As Dana Geraghty recalls it, March 16th was a “rather quiet Wednesday.” That afternoon, she was in her cubicle at the Open Society Foundations, on West Fifty-seventh Street, where she helps oversee the nonprofit group’s pro-democracy programs in Eurasia. The Foundations are the philanthropic creation of George Soros, the hedge-fund billionaire, who is a prominent donor to liberal causes, including Hillary Clinton’s Presidential bid. Soros, who has spent nineteen million dollars on the 2016 Presidential campaign, is regarded with suspicion by many conservatives. National Review has suggested that he may be fomenting protests against Donald Trump by secretly funding what it called a “rent-a-mob.”

Geraghty, who is twenty-eight, had programmed her office phone to forward messages from unfamiliar callers to her e-mail inbox. She was about to review several messages when she noticed that one of them was extraordinarily long. “Who leaves a seven-minute voice mail?” Geraghty asked herself. She clicked on it.

AOTP_OKeefe“Hey, Dana,” a voice began. The caller sounded to her like an older American male. “My name is, uh, Victor Kesh. I’m a Hungarian-American who represents a, uh, foundation . . . that would like to get involved with you and aid what you do in fighting for, um, European values.” He asked Geraghty for the name of someone he could talk to “about supporting you guys and coördinating with you on some of your efforts.” Requesting a callback, he left a phone number with a 914 area code—Westchester County.

She heard a click, a pause, and then a second male voice. The person who had introduced himself as Kesh said, “Don’t say anything . . . before I hang up the phone.”

“That piqued my interest,” Geraghty recalls. Other aspects of the message puzzled her: “Who says they’re with a foundation without saying which one? He sounded scattered. And usually people call to get funding, not to offer it.” Victor Kesh, she suspected, was “someone passing as someone else.”

She continued to listen, and the man’s voice suddenly took on a more commanding tone. The caller had failed to hang up, and Kesh, unaware that he was still being recorded, seemed to be conducting a meeting about how to perpetrate an elaborate sting on Soros. “What needs to happen,” he said, is for “someone other than me to make a hundred phone calls like that”—to Soros, to his employees, and to the Democracy Alliance, a club of wealthy liberal political donors that Soros helped to found, which is expected to play a large role in financing this year’s campaigns. Kesh described sending into the Soros offices an “undercover” agent who could “talk the talk” with Open Society executives. Kesh’s goal wasn’t fully spelled out on the recording, but the gist was that an operative posing as a potential donor could penetrate Soros’s operation and make secret videos that exposed embarrassing activities. Soros, he assured the others, has “thousands of organizations” on the left in league with him. Kesh said that the name of his project was Discover the Networks. Read more.