What does an intelligence consultant do and how to become one? What can be the most dangerous assignments? How will this job change you? An interview with Stian Fossheim.
Have you seen the new “Mission Impossible”?
I’m very much looking forward to it. I quit watching James Bond, as Daniel Craig’s resemblance of Vladimir Putin won’t let me enjoy it. But otherwise, I would watch any movie about secret agents.
All the stunts and action aside, I really enjoy the story itself, especially when attention to detail becomes the key to uncovering the evil plot.
Yet, as captivating as a good movie can be, we don’t think anything that happens on that screen is real.
Although the Queen might have needed some saving a couple of times, there can’t be many people who break into sky scrapers (from the outside!), defuse bombs in the last second (every freakin’ time!) or look like Putin (oh, thank God!).
However, there are way more people that we are aware of who do similar things as a part of their daily job. The only reason we don’t notice them is because they do it good, without anyone even knowing there was a job to do in the first place.
Meet Stian Fossheim. His business card says “Private Intelligence Consultant”. When asked what kind of a consultant that is, he answers, “The kind that solves problems”.
Full Name: Stian Fossheim
Occupation: Private Intelligence Consultant
Hobbies: Gemology, history, chess, gaming
Favorite Quote: “Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est” (lat.: knowledge is power) – Sir Francis Bacon
You can think of him as a private detective on a larger scale who works for organizations, corporations and countries.
He can bring something or someone from (a dangerous) point A to (a less dangerous) point B for you, look into your accountant who started behaving suspiciously, or uncover a money transfer scheme, just to name a few things.
He can “read” your current state of mind and your personality traits within less than a minute. And if you don’t watch out, he will use this information in his interest and make you do what he needs without you even noticing.
He would also know if you are lying to him. (If you were not intimidated by now, this would be the time.)
He talks about it without bragging, in a matter-of-fact tone. No wonder, as it is his daily job.
Although this post emerged from an interview where I was asking Stian particular questions about his job, I decided to change the format this time and remove my questions from the final version of the post, the one you are currently reading.
This way it became a story told from the first person, Stian himself, making it even more dynamic and captivating.
Stian is no regular guy, as no regular guy would be able to do a job like this. He is a very interesting person with a peculiar mindset. Listening to him tell about his job is a unique opportunity to see the world from a different perspective.
My favorite part of this interview? His very honest answer to my question how his job changed him as a person.
But I think I should just stop talking and let Stian tell his story.
Here’s What You’ll Learn:
- How I Became an Intelligence Consultant
- My Most Dangerous Assignment
- My Most Unusual Assignment
- My Hardest Assignment
- How to Uncover a Money Transfer
- Gadgets and Technology
- Using a Weapon
- How I “Read” People
- How to Become an Intelligence Consultant
- How This Job Will Change You
How I Became an Intelligence Consultant
I dropped out of college right in my first year. I simply got bored. I felt unchallenged and experienced it as a waste of time.
Back then, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. So to get by, I’ve worked many different jobs, from a photographer, writer, salesman to translator and programmer.
I was 22 and jobless, when one day, looking for a job, I went to the local welfare office. The social worker I was talking to turned out to be a Northerner like me who, also like me, had served in the military.
We ended up talking for a bit (there is a special bond among North-Norwegians meeting in a “foreign” place). He asked about my hobbies and experiences, and then gave me a business card saying: “You could probably work in a grocery store, but I don’t think it would be the best solution for you. Here, this is a buddy of mine in Sandefjord. I’ll tell him to expect your call”.
His friend was a private detective, and although he couldn’t hire me, he pointed me in the right direction by giving me the contact information of a couple of private intelligence firms, SIG, Stratfor and GIA being among them.
I sent out the applications and got my first gig in Stratfor writing a report on the housing boom in China. They liked it and started giving me more tasks from there on.
At first it were simple translation jobs with commentary on the political development in Scandinavia, or web security, or mapping (creating a map of someone’s connections and activities on the web).
My potential clients would know what jobs I could do from word of mouth. I would advertise myself as a consultant, with no further information, and when someone would ask me what kind of consultant I was, I would simply reply: “The kind who solves problems”.
This strategy worked very well, as it turns out, everyone has at least one problem that needs solving.
On a scale from 0 to 10 with 10 being the most dangerous, I would say my job is a 6. The point is to get the job done without anyone even knowing there was a job to do in the first place.
My Most Dangerous Assignment
The most dangerous assignment I’ve ever had was a VIP Extraction in Hakkari, Turkey.
“Extraction” is a very vague term. Essentially, it means someone is stuck somewhere and needs help getting out. And this can range from a person lying in a back alley with a terrible hangover and no money or ID to more serious situations like kidnapping, blackmailing or being held hostage.
The Hakkari job was a kidnapping where we had to deliver the ransom and extract the target. There were two of us, as we figured more people would increase the risk. The ransom was 3000 Euros, and the three guys we were meeting didn’t seem like much of a threat at first.
After we gave them the money, four of their friends with makeshift weapons showed up to make sure we didn’t try to run while they were counting the money.
When we tried to leave with the target, they blocked our path and started talking amongst themselves about keeping us all to demand more money. The talking turned into a small shouting match.
The situation was about to become dangerous, and I realized I had to do something quickly before it escalates. I reached for my gun and fired off warning shots. This caught them off guard, and we managed to get out safely.
My Most Unusual Assignment
The most unusual job I had to do was mapping a spouse. Social media is a big source of jealousy and mistrust in many relationships.
It might sound as a common job – and it would be one for a private detective or a grey-hat hacker – but when a PIC (Private Intelligence Corporation) does investigating on social media the focus is on larger groups, organizations or forms of organized crime. The only reason I took this particular job was because the client offered a very large sum of money for it.
My Hardest Assignment
I’ve never had to work undercover in a traditional sense, but I did have to pose as someone else online.
We had to do a mapping of a rightwing extremist group in Sweden once who was planning to blow up the Fittja Mosque in Stockholm. They were smuggling guns and weapons from South America in order to prepare for what they believed was a “Muslim invasion”.
It took us five months with multiple online profiles and choreographed “debates” just to get inside the forums they used. And although it was the least dangerous job I’ve done so far, it was the hardest one.
Not just because we had to be careful not to leave any digital traces that would lead to us, or “create people from scratch” online. It was also hard because you constantly have to plan the way you communicate, what words you use, how you formulate a sentence, where you put a comma, or use all caps or exclamation marks etc.
Take all that and juggle several profiles each with their own style over months! But it was also incredibly enlightening as we got a lot of new insights into how these groups operate, how they connect and coordinate isolated individuals online.
How to Uncover a Money Transfer
The most usual jobs in my field are transportation, information retrieval or financial investigations. For example, getting something valuable in one country and delivering it to the client in another country, or uncovering a money laundering scheme.
This is, for example, how we uncover a money transfer.
People who want to send money to dubious characters does not use banks. Banks keep records that are monitored by local financial watchdogs and PIC’s with an authorization from local government.
So they have two choices: Either to use money exchange services, or convert their money into something valuable, like jewelry, for example.
Now, if they use money exchange services they send people who gradually take out smaller sums of money from a number of ATMS, shops or banks.
The whole process can take several weeks or months. And when it is time to actually send the money, they will either use money transfer networks or “money mules”.
To uncover these operations, you can “ask” people close to the target about their visits to banks, ATMs etc. Or you can stay close to the money transferring services in the neighborhood and watch for a sudden increase in “customers”.
If a local Western Union office with a regular visitation rate of two or three people a day suddenly gets ten people regularly in a very short time you can be certain it is organized.
However, if the perpetrator choose to convert their money, it is harder to detect, yet not impossible, of course.
The most common ways to convert money is to exchange it for jewelry, gold, gemstones, art or even collectibles.
Recently, it has become quite popular to exchange money for the post-bitcoin currencies like Darkcoin, Feathercoin, Llitecoin and similar, which are less popular but equally valuable.
Once that is done, it’s just a matter of transportation. The crypto-currency is the most difficult to uncover. “Mules” tend to walk through the airports with just a USB stick in their pocket, or, as we discovered on one job, a completely normal Samsung mp3 player loaded with wallet.dat files instead of music.
The easiest way to uncover this kind of money transfer is to get access to the target’s personal computer or Wi-Fi network.
This is where sniffer tools on a smartphone are a life saver. You just randomly stop close to the target’s house and light a smoke while you appear to text on the phone. A little peek at their web activity can let you know whether they’ve been looking up exchange rates for crypto-currency or checking the current prices of gold.
This does not always work, though. Sometimes you have to get the information by other means, and of course sometimes you just have to chase down the “mule” transporting the money before they leave the country.
How we identify that someone wants to do illegal transfers is something I obviously cannot reveal.
Gadgets and Technology
Everything I need in terms of gadgets and technology I get from any cheap Android smartphone I can pick up in a local store.
With it, I immediately have a tracking device, a listening device, a video monitoring device and a sniffer (a tool for collecting Wi-Fi data). The phone is unregistered and usually small enough for me to stick it to your car with scotch tape, drop it in your purse or leave it in your home or office.
Using a Weapon
Although I’m trained to use a weapon, so far I had to use my gun only once, on that VIP extraction job in Turkey when the situation was escalating very quickly, and I felt it was necessary to put a drastic stop to it. I reached for my gun and fired off two warning shots in the air. I hope it will be the only time I will ever have to use a gun.
How I “Read” People
One of the indispensable skills in my job is the ability to “read” people and assess situations quickly.
For example, if I’m about to meet a “target”, I would arrive a half hour early. This way I can map my surroundings and memorize routines. If it’s a café or a restaurant, I would pay attention to their clientèle, from where the waiters and cleaners appear, how quick they are, how the furniture is arranged, etc.
When the target arrives, I will immediately study the way they are walking.
A straight back displays confidence, and someone who is confident while walking into an unknown situation tends to have a very dominant personality.
With a straight back, the shoulders tend to even out or dip “backwards”, which shows that the person is focused or very “situational-aware” and in a good mood.
A craned or slouched back means the shoulders will hang loosely, which often shows a bad mood, stress, a submissive personality, or just someone who is not very focused.
Basically, if I can spot the shoulders – which is by the way not easy to do if a person is wearing a heavy jacket or a coat – I can quickly see whether they are in a submissive or defensive mindset.
If I see someone with a craned neck, chances are they work in an office all day, staring at a computer screen or loads of business reports. And someone who spends most of their time in an office is not used to going into the meetings with other people, even less being the center of attention there.
Such person would probably feel a bit stressed when walking into a new situation with people they have never encountered before. Which in other words means I am better prepared than they are.
The way your arms swing when you walk can tell me a lot about your personality.
For example, if your arms swing higher in the front and back, I’ll be sure that you think of yourself as youthful or vigorous. In other words, you are someone who will be open for new deals, arrangements or proposals.
However, if your arms are more rigid or “controlled” when you are walking, chances are you might be conservative, or not very open for any new deals I might propose on behalf of my client.
If you are looking straight ahead while walking you are either focused on something or have a submissive personality. So this one is a tricky sign, because it has to be read together with other signs.
On the other hand, people who will look other people in the eyes while walking are either confident or trying to intimidate others. It’s a way to display power, as if saying “I am stronger and more important than you”.
All of this and more will reveal to me how well you are prepared for the meeting, what mood you are in, whether or not you had a bad day, and so on.
Once I have studied your body language, I will move on to clothes and accessories.
If you are fumbling with the phone while walking over, it means you are distracted, unfocused or just simply not prepared for the meeting.
If the collar of your shirt is moist on a cool day, I would know this is a meeting you were not looking forward to. Stress tends to make most people sweat, not to mention constantly rub their neck, which leaves marks.
People who rub their necks a lot during a conversation tend to be less honest.
If I see you carrying a nice watch, a tie clip or other jewelry I know you are someone who wants to put three things on display: Money, social status and masculinity (if you are a man, obviously).
It also tells me that you care about how you are perceived by others and that you might have self-esteem issues, which I can use to my advantage.
The type of jewelry will of course also reveal key factors of your persona, how much money you have, whether you have a liberal or a conservative mindset, or if you adhere to any particular trends or ideologies.
I absorb all this information while waiting for you to walk over to me.
As soon as my counterpart is seated, I’ll take control over the situation if I assessed a person as submissive, or, if they have a dominant personality, simply “guide” them feigning submission to get what I want.
Related article: 7 Simple Ways to Spot a Liar [Infographic]
How to Become an Intelligence Consultant
The route that led me to this profession is certainly unconventional, and it’s a bit difficult to pinpoint the exact path one could take to become a private intelligence consultant.
This question is hard to answer because there is no specific degree or course that you can or should take in order to work in this field.
It’s a varied set of skills that you need, combined with a very particular state of mind. In this job, knowledge truly is power, and most of the people I work or compete with have studied pretty much everything.
A colleague of mine is originally a chemical engineer, and I have another one who is a former ad designer for TV commercials. I also once worked with a competitor who used to be an actor.
What I am trying to say is that in this job any set of skills can be used.
Did you study history? You can analyze current political events, draw the line to the previous incidents.
Do you have an art degree or love archeology? You can be a “purchaser” for VIPs.
Like playing chess or strategy games? Awesome! You can help with logistics or tactical analysis.
Obviously, there are some skills that are more useful than others, for example, skills that you can only get by serving in the military, working in the police or a tax investigations department.
So if you want to work in the field of private investigation, you first need to know exactly what kind of work you’d like to do.
Analytics? Programming? Field work? Logistics? Once you have figured that out, get the necessary work experience from another, more usual job. It will give you the knowhow you need before you start being an operative.
How This Job Will Change You
You should also be prepared for this job to change you, probably more than many other jobs would do.
I have no doubt that the increased presence of PICs in social media, this interview included, will lead to at least a handful of people thinking to themselves: “I could do this too!”
Well, I am not going to say don’t do it. We need people, a lot more people. But I would like to say this: It’s a great job that comes with a cost. It will change you in many ways.
There will be little time for social relations, friends and nights of partying. When you are home after a job you will probably be in a very particular mood where the only thing you want to do is just hang out with your family and kids and completely disconnect from the world.
After my last job, I came home and set in the living room watching my one year old daughter play. She was flipping through a book, pointing at the colors and just laughing to herself. I just sat there and watched her for an hour. I wanted to stay in the moment for as long as it lasted. That’s the kind of things I am talking about.
Even your behavior will change in many ways.
Things you do on the job will become your second nature, like “reading” people, analyzing their behavior and drawing conclusions.
For example, as there are many situations where I need to make the least amount of sound possible, to move without making noise has become a force of habit. So sometimes my wife would go to the kitchen to put on a kettle just to turn around and get startled because I’ve magically materialized behind her back to grab a snack from the pantry, completely without a sound.
As for your perception of the world in general, you could easily end up lumping people into simple categories like “people who are dirty”, “people who pay you” and “people who can be useful”.
But if you are willing to pay the price, this will be the best job you’ve ever had.