Crime, Web 2.0 Style
March 26, 2006 1:56 PM   Subscribe

ShadyDealingsFilter: Since I've read some how-to's on cyberstalking and murder and such here lately, I have a hypothetical question about criminal fund-raising...

I'm no criminal mastermind, but I do have a hypothetical premise in my mind that might make a good story if some realistic mechanics could be worked out. Hence:

Let's say you wanted to commit a criminal act, but needed a signifigant amount of money to successfully commit the act. Let's say the commision of the act was the important thing, and that getting caught afterward would be acceptible, if not preferable. Let's say the nature of the crime is such that international law-enforcement would cooperate to prevent it, but that it couldn't be 100% preventable, even with advance warning. Let's say that you don't have access to any large sources of money, but that the criminal act would be endorsed by/popular amongst a large segment of the world population.

Using the internet or otherwise, could you realistically announce your intent to commit a crimimal act and solicit funding from a worldwide audience, while mainaining your anonymity and the anonymity of any "donors" throughout the financial transactions and the investigations of motivated police agencies?

In short: could you setup an anti-charity and collect money for bad deeds instead of good, without lying about your motivations, without exposing every donor to conspiracy charges and without getting caught before you finish?
posted by chudmonkey to Law & Government (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like you're interested in crypto-anarchism, perhaps specifically assassination politics.
posted by duende at 2:30 PM on March 26, 2006

You need to read about Jim Bell and his essay, Assassination Politics.

Real answer: no, because there is no such thing as untraceable digital cash, and there never will be.
posted by jellicle at 2:36 PM on March 26, 2006

Real answer: no, because there is no such thing as untraceable digital cash, and there never will be.

It doesn't have to be digital.

Which to some extent takes care of the anonymity of your donors since they could, in theory, just mail cash in envelopes with no return address.

You'd still be in a mess of trouble though, because it'd be hard to see the government delivering your bundles of cash and not taking an interest.
posted by juv3nal at 3:32 PM on March 26, 2006

What's wrong with a legitimate (ie., say it's for something else) loan from a bank or credit union?

How much money are you talking about needing? Airplane tickets, hotel, and an unregistered gun - or - specialized equipment, real-estate, exotic cars, a yacht, and top-notch papers and fake referals?

As for setting up a charity, it would depend on what the cause is. If it's popular, then you might be able to set up a false front. ie., religious charity if you're targeting that religion's perceived competitors/detractors.

Being straight up about your intentions is going to get you watched by law enforcement and thus hamper your ability to successfully complete your objectives (unless you're using it as a blind and plan on doing something else completely).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:40 PM on March 26, 2006

Response by poster: PurplePorpoise: I wonder specfically if this could be done without misrepresenting the goal. I am, of course, aware that you can lie to people and get them to give you money. I am further aware that law enforcement agencies attempt to preclude crimes being commited, and that advance notice of an impending crime would be a boon to them.
posted by chudmonkey at 4:08 PM on March 26, 2006

It is worth noting that a lot of shady organizations use identity theft/credit card theft (and some are getting caught) for this sort of thing precicely because it offers 'untraceable' short-term funding.
posted by bhance at 4:32 PM on March 26, 2006

Using the internet or otherwise, could you realistically announce your intent to commit a crimimal act and solicit funding from a worldwide audience, while mainaining your anonymity and the anonymity of any "donors" throughout the financial transactions and the investigations of motivated police agencies?

The only possible answer to this is "maybe." My feeling is that it's almost impossible to have a public web presence where you say "I am intending to committ a serious crime" and expect to be able to keep that web presence for any amount of time, mostly becauase of the fact that everyone on the Internet has an upstream provider and at some point that upstream provider is going to call "bullshit" on "their" network being used for this. You can read about crypto-anarchism all you want and then read about and anonymity on the web generally. You could certainly use distributed networks, but there would have to be some sort of underground connection initially "hey, all the people interested in my upcoming crime, go here!" and if you don't already know where that might be, starting to get those connections going -- in an age rife with provocateurs and suspected provocateurs -- is unlikely.

Next is the money angle. You can collect money for any crappy reason, but the USA PATRIOT Act in the US is sory of specifically designed to allow the US government to fuck you up in the moneybags if they suspect you of any number of things. This would make donors wary because if they can be traced to you and your upcoming troublemaking, they, the big money donors, could stand to lose their own wealth just by being suspected of being in collusion. Even if you have gone through steps to 1) anonymize yourself and 2) make sure your donors are anonymizing themselves, that's a large crowd of people to be able to pull off that level of subterfuge for that long [see the most compelling argument against the 9/11 conspiracy theorists "all those people could keep a secret like that?"]. You see this in movies all the time though, trusted servants jetsetting around the globe picking up hefty envelopes of cash.

However, there are convoluted ways that you could at least posit that this would be done, large cash transactions going through diplomatic pouches and buried in coffee cans in the backyard or converted to precious metals or something. The Book of Lists or the People's Almanac once had a list of "people who got away with it" and talked about total fuckers who broke many rules and still got to live their lives their way [Richard Nixon, etc] and the last entry on the list was the person who got away with it the best, the one who never got caught. It's one thing to make up a nearly-airtight story about how this could happen, it's another to be someone involved in this sort of culture/commmunity and ever telling anyone else about it.
posted by jessamyn at 5:55 PM on March 26, 2006

Well, there's freenet, which might let you get away with posting a 'manifesto' or something. But if people can trace you then so can the government.

Really this has to be done through personal networking. You can't just advertize.

How much money are you thinking of rasing?
posted by delmoi at 6:26 PM on March 26, 2006

I think you could do this, but not as an anti-charity. What you're looking for is one big angel (or demon) investor.

Basically you could post the whole scheme on craigslist, leave it up for a day or two, and ask interested parties to contact you directly.

Odds are that the police won't be checking every single outrageous post in the world, and even if they do come calling you can claim it was a drunken joke. In the meantime, if the the idea really does have widespread support, at least one person wealthy enough to fund you will probably also contact you.

After you've made contact, you can deal directly with your new friend(s) and keep a low profile until you do the deed.
posted by tkolar at 7:44 PM on March 26, 2006

the criminal act would be endorsed by/popular amongst a large segment of the world population.

There are plenty of examples of organized crime and terrorist organizations doing exactly this. The Mafia receives/received tribute and protection payments from neighborhood businesses. There were (and maybe still are) bars in Boston that take up collections for the IRA. There are so-called "Islamic charities" that take up collections for al-Qaida feeder groups. Hamas takes in charity and funds schools and civic programs in the Palestinian territories, but at the same time, they're not exactly hiding their links to suicide bombers. Iraq, Iran, Syria, et al, are/were openly paying out cash rewards to the families of suicide bombers.

The key here is that these payments and crimes don't require technology to make it happen. It's all just good old-fashioned salesmanship.
posted by frogan at 8:09 PM on March 26, 2006

Monkey, please expand on what specifically you had in mind - -
posted by growabrain at 8:15 PM on March 26, 2006

Response by poster: frogan: Fascinating, thank you! my interest in the implementation of technology in this case is more towards anonymizing, and I can't help but wonder if donations to the organizations you mention are tracked/payed attention to somehow.

growabrain: What questions do you have? I know my hypothetical situation is outlined rather broadly, but I think the details pertinant to my curiousity are all included. If you'd like to lay out a more expanded scenario by way of your response, please feel free to hypothesize your own details, bearing in mind the framework of my query.
posted by chudmonkey at 10:19 PM on March 26, 2006

You'd need a series of cut outs in which digital cash became a real asset, or real cash, moving outside of an electronic network, even if only across a street and on to another IP address. Preferably in a place that was both dense enough and lawless enough to make human intelligence gathering challenging. Hypothetically, of course. I understand this happens in Pakistan, Somalia, and so forth. But it's really just good old money laundering and it happens all the time in your nicer nations as well. Why do you think there's an art market?
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:11 AM on March 27, 2006

[As for stating intentions: in this meta-post-post-ironic age, you could of course throw up a webpage saying, e.g., "Your Donations Will NEVER Be Used To Assassinate Cheney, No Really, We Wouldn't Dare Think of It" and a big PayPal button.]

Problem one is credibility. If you're anonymous and untraceable in some sense, why would anyone trust thant sending you money will result in anything? An Assassination Politics type scheme using digital signatures to provide a verifiable but anonymous identity, and doing a freebie or cheapie to start, might work on that front, but still. Tricky.

Problem two, money. Not quite untraceable digital cash, but:

In the (anonymously posted, natch) project description invite people to post an anonymous message (give instructions) on Craigslist or specific newsgroups encrypted with your public key, so that only you can read them. Have them include their public key and a throaway email, and you can initiate two-way encrypted conversations (using a different anonymous email account each time) -- or don't use email, but randomly picked web forums, newsgroups, etc. Use ridiculous keylengths.

Once you've got a willing donor, have them purchase and preload a prepaid debit card, get the numbers off the package and card and their pin (if it can be figured out how the magstripes are encoded -- alternately, instruct the donor how to get the magstripe info, not cheap but doable). Create a duplicate debit card (some equipment required, purchased very carefully) and withdraw some agreed amount from the ATM at some random time thereafter, destroy card. Use a different ATM each time, preferably in different states, preferably open-air ones in busy busy places (lunch hour in any city downtown), wear a disguise of some sort or use stooges (local bum, homeless guy), have car or other transportation nearby, immediately ditch disguise/don't let bum see car. Don't travel, use accomplices throughout the US and hopscotch so that they can't predict where the next ATM will be. Use a different amount each time.

At some point, probably pretty early on, the cops/feds/cia will join the party and become donors. But I'm not sure they'd be able to have a hairtrigger nationwide ATM debit card number trap that would allow them to get you at any ATM throughout the US in the 120 or so seconds from sliding in the card to leaving by car/ bus/ subway/ scooter/ rollerblades (vary methods).

Never use the same ATM twice, if possible never the same city twice. Never get properly captured by ATM cameras or any cameras adjacent to the ATMs (scope the area carefully). Vary the times you withdraw. Crowds are probably best, be an anonymous suit at the Wall Street ATM, a malldweller at the mall, etc. Vary the brands of prepaid debit cards, switch to the donor's own debit card for variety from time to time.

No phone contact, no snail mail contact, no physical trace or location information at any time. The donors should remain relatively untraceable -- prepaid debit card bought in State X gets used two weeks later in State Y is not exactly a unique situation.

Maybe do all the ATM withdrawals very close together, e.g., save up the numbers and then you and X accomplices get the cash from different locations in one fell swoop. This way whatever taskforce will have to deal with multiple simultaneous triggering (for each donation they've made).

Wouldn't want to try it myself but may be doable, or at least plausible enough for a story.
posted by cps at 1:56 AM on March 27, 2006

Depending on the region of the world and the location of your sympathizers, you might bypass the internet and rely on the mostly-untraceable Hawala system.
posted by gd779 at 7:46 AM on March 27, 2006

Is the question "Can I get in trouble for telling everyone I'm going to commit a crime, even though it will be impossible to stop me?" or is it "I'm going to commit a crime where I will absolutely be caught. How can I protect the people that funded me?"
I would also like to point out the awesomeness of the phrase "fuck you up in the moneybags."
posted by Sibrax at 8:33 AM on March 27, 2006

Response by poster: Sibrax: It's more like your second question, but with emphasis on not getting caught prior to the commision of the crime, during the fund-raising stage.
posted by chudmonkey at 9:37 AM on March 27, 2006

frogan: Fascinating, thank you! my interest in the implementation of technology in this case is more towards anonymizing, and I can't help but wonder if donations to the organizations you mention are tracked/payed attention to somehow.

I'm sure the Mafia remembers who paid what to whom. ;-)

I think the thing here is how lo-fi and communitarian the things I described are. In close-knit communities, everyone just knows who's paying who. Word gets around, even if there are no ledgers to review.

You also have to consider the concept of omerta and codes of silence in organized crime and surrounding communities. Organized crime flourishes under oppressive systems, as the criminals provide the communities with protection against that oppression (e.g. the Italian Mafia pays off the Irish cops, the Irish cops stay out of the Italian neighborhoods). When you deal out your worst-of-the-worst punishments to snitches, then everyone in the community has a vested interest in keeping their mouths shut about everything. This systemic paranoia -- everybody knows but nobody knows and everyone is afraid of the Godfather -- anonymizes the entire operation.
posted by frogan at 10:17 AM on March 27, 2006

Oh, one other thing -- you should look into systems of hawala, the anonymous, informal, secret banking systems in Muslim countries. This is how al-Qaida moves its loot around.
posted by frogan at 10:29 AM on March 27, 2006

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