Frank Ahearn on the art of disappearing
By Natalie Gerhardstein
Frank Ahearn, author of New York Times bestseller “How to Disappear”, was in Luxembourg Thursday night for a seminar. Wort.lu/en caught up with him to discuss how he tracked down Monica Lewinsky, and how he helps clients disappear.
Frank Ahearn is known as the man who tracked down Monica Lewinsky.
“One day I received a call from a tabloid asking me track down two women: Lewinsky and her mother, Marcia Lewis,” Ahearn recalls.
At the time, the names meant nothing to him. He started tracing phone, airline, bank and credit records until he got Lewinsky's phone number.
Ahearn called the number, and Lewinsky's housekeeper picked up. Ahearn claimed to be a postal worker with a water-damaged package. “I asked for 'Monica Louie'—you mispronounce the name, so people think you are stupid. But when they correct you, then you know you have the right person.”
The housekeeper did correct him—and then told him to call back in an hour, when Lewinsky would be home. Ahearn relayed the news to his client who replied: “Just watch the news later.”
The Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal broke that evening as Ahearn was having a drink.
“But I couldn't really tell anyone in the bar—they wouldn't have believed me anyway,” Ahearn said. “But the tabloids have information like the CIA—it would blow your socks off.”
The pinnacle of paranoia
Most of his clients in the past were insurance companies, lawyers, tabloids or finance companies, and his specialty was extracting information. “But there was the writing on the wall—I knew it was bordering on the illegal,” Ahearn said. “I started getting really paranoid.”
His paranoia reached a pinnacle around 2004, he was at home in Florida and a helicopter was hovering above his residence. “I just kept thinking about the movie 'Goodfellas'.”
The helicopter didn't leave, so Ahearn panicked and tossed shredded documents and other evidence into a nearby canal. He later discovered that the helicopter was actually over the canal for another reason: officials were trying to locate a lost manatee.
The art of disappearing
A shift happened when he found himself in a bookstore one day: he was surprised to see a customer buying “books of discretion” with a credit card.
He followed the man, who turned out to be a corporate whistle-blower. It then dawned on Ahearn: if he had helped search for people, couldn't he also help them disappear?
Ahearn now lives in Madrid. Most of his clients are based in Europe—he has even had a few cases in Luxembourg. His services cost a minimum of around 30,000 euros.
I love to lie, when it comes to business."
“I love to lie, when it comes to business,” he said. “I'm good at [making people disappear] because I know what people are looking for and I know how to create disinformation.”
By creating disinformation, Ahearn creates false trails, like setting up a new billing address or arranging for someone to regularly take out money at a cash machine to make it appear as though his client is living somewhere.
Social media and living "under the glass"
Privacy is more than just disinformation: “We tend to think just of technology, but if we walk outside, there are physical cameras,” said Ahearn. “It's almost like we have forgotten there is a physical world.”
In one particular case, Ahearn was hired by a wealthy individual to look into a piece of stolen artwork--not to find the artwork, but to find out how the thief knew about the piece in the first place.
After some investigation, he discovered the explanation was quite simple: the client's daughter had posted photos on social media with the artwork in the background. He explains that often in cases, it is the kids who are not thinking ahead when they post to Facebook, for example.
"Once something's online, it's in the public," Ahearn said. "We live under the glass, so act accordingly. People put photos of their kids online--if you wouldn't do that on a billboard, why would you do that on Facebook?
Frank Ahearn's last book, “How to Disappear”, is available on Amazon. His next book will be published in spring 2016.
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