Spy Versus Spy: How a Researcher And a Journalist Unmasked an Undercover Agent

This week on CYBER, we talk to the people who concocted a bold sting operation to unmask an undercover agent.

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Feb 7 2019, 2:00pm

Motherboard

It was half John Le Carré and half Mr. Bean—at least that’s how one of the people involved in this strange story described it.

Last month, a man using a fake identity approached John Scott-Railton, a researcher at Citizen Lab, a group that has investigated the proliferation and abuse of government spyware around the world for years. Scott-Railton was immediately suspicious. In December, one of his colleagues had been approached under false pretenses by someone else, who claimed his name was Gary Bowman. Bowman appeared to be interested in eliciting information about Citizen Lab’s work, specifically its investigations into the controversial Israeli surveillance vendor NSO Group.

So, with the help of Raphael Satter, a journalist at the Associated Press, Scott-Railton decided to play a game of spy versus spy and turned the table on the man who approached him.

The two devised a plan to surprise and confront the man—later revealed to be Israeli—at the end of a lunch meeting in New York city. The result is one of the strangest stories of the year.

We spoke to Scott-Railton and Satter, who told host Ben Makuch the thrilling—and sometimes comic—step-by-step of their sting operation.

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