Life As An Undercover Reporter
Life As An Undercover Reporter
"Craig" (not his real name) (Undercover Reporter) gives expert video advice on: Where have you been undercover?; Are all undercover jobs dangerous?; What happens if the bad guys catch up to you? and more...
Where have you been undercover?
Undercover I've worked in the USA, Northern Ireland, Germany, Holland, all over the UK and Spain. The United States, I worked in Boston on an undercover sting against Hell's Angels. It was the world meet for the whole of the Hell's Angels, and each year they pick a location and Boston, just outside of Boston, was the meet. And we were up there to find some UK based Hell's Angels who had been involved in some dodgy situations.
Are all undercover jobs dangerous?
No. Some of them are quite glamorous. Some of them can be quite good fun. It depends on who your subject or your target is. Some are dangerous, but overall not all of them are.
What happens if the bad guys catch up to you?
What we are trying to do is once everything has gone out, we are try to keep on a very low profile and we watch our tracks. The name of the game is to try to disappear for week or so to let the heat die down. In all the cases I've been involved in, none of the bad guys had caught on us.
Are you always on edge because of your job?
Sometimes it gets a little bit stressful when you're getting involved with the different departments within either the newspaper or the media that you're working with. The legal issues sometimes stress you out because you are getting close to the sting itself and legal issues crop up and then you have to take a step back. So that can be the sort of stressful side of the job.
How do you keep your composure when faced with the horrors you're reporting?
The old cliché, I think, what happens at work, stays at work. When I go home I completely switch off. I try not to take my work home really.
What do you tell friends and family you do for a living?
It depends which part of the friends and family I am talking to at the time, but they know that I work in the security industry, so I just leave it at that, and they know I travel the world, so my wife knows what I do, but the rest of the family just know that I work in the security industry.
What do you do if an acquaintance approaches you while you're supposed to be undercover?
Funny enough, that has actually happened to me in Germany last year at the World Cup. I was standing in a bar with some not-very-nice people, and this guy walked up to me and said, "I know you. You used to go to school with my brother. Are you still working for this organization?" And I sort of pre-empted it, and I just saw the words coming out of his mouth. I pushed him back into the bar, spilled my drink all over him, and apologized, and dragged him into the bar and sort of told him in sort of terms that I was working. He understood because of the nature of his job as well. So it's kind of a close shake, really.
Is it a difficult life to lead?
Not really, because I don't lead that life every day of the week. I do other work as well, so I can easily separate the undercover side of life to my other security work.
Have you ever been found out?
No, I haven't. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I've been sort of very careful with it, but I do know of instances where it's come very close to being caught, so at this moment in time, no.
What do you do if you get found out and you're not a public place?
Before we go into any of these meetings, for example, meeting in a basement, if I knew that this was a pretty secluded place and I was possibly running the risk of being caught out, or I'd been called to this place, which was unusual to how the undercover sting was going and I walked in. I would generally have my backup team with me on this so there would be a prearranged signal or time, that if I wasn't out in a certain time that they would then come in and get me out. But we'd always build into the undercover story part of it that we're never taken into secluded areas unless we've got backup with us. But if it did happen when I was in a basement, for example, once again I would openly deny that I was involved in an undercover operation. And as I walk into this basement, I would obviously be looking around for any ways I can get out of here if it did go wrong. I think normally, the best thing to do is completely deny it and then you backtrack. For instance, if the door that you've just come through is suddenly locked, then I think you've got two choices: you can either come clean and explain that you're working for either a newspaper or media organization or whatever and that if anything happens to you the guys outside know that you're in here, so it depends really. Nine times out of ten, if people caught you with recording equipment, they would take it off you and let you go.
Have you ever come close to blowing your cover?
Not that I can remember. Everything that I've been involved in has, touch wood, always run very smoothly. That's down to the planning and preparation that we put in prior to going out on the job.
After doing such a dangerous job would you be bored in any other job?
Without doubt. I can't see myself getting involved in a 9 to 5 job. It's just not me. Even as I'm getting older, I've still got the buzz to do the outdoor work and this line of work.
Do you wear disguises?
No I don't, but I would do if the story needed me to be disguised for whatever the job we were doing. But no, I think most people just sort of generally do it as themselves.
What disguises might an undercover reporter wear, and why?
Obviously makeup, wigs, glasses, earrings maybe, or even grow a beard. They could be other disguises such as your clothing, but it largely depends on the role you're actually playing at the time. But generally a lot of people just do the undercover detective work as themselves because it's the easiest way to be, it's more relaxed, and you're more natural. If you disguise yourself, then you have got to remember that all the paperwork that you're maybe exposing has to have that disguise on it as well.
Do you ever feel guilty exposing people?
No, I don't. If somebody's committed a crime, I just feel that it's our job to report it. I don't feel guilty at all. If you've done something wrong, then you need to be exposed.
What's the scariest situation you've ever been in?
One of two. I would have said the Hell's Angels one in Boston but I did something a long time ago when I was involved in the military. I was working undercover on a ferry. On one side of the ferry were local IRA guys from Anderson's Town and on the other side were Protostants from the Shank Hill going over to watch a Celtic-Granger's game. I was involved on the IRA side. For that short period of time I was on the ferry, it wasn't a scary moment but it was probably one of the most memorable moments in my life. I had to be aware and be on my guard at all times.
What's the longest you've ever been undercover?
The longest I've ever been undercover is two years which is quite a long time really because you're living a complete lie for two years. You're living a different lifestyle and you have to be aware that you can't afford to make any slip-ups during that two years.
Is there any undercover work you wouldn't take on?
Not really. I think that in a sort of comical way, I enjoy exposing people if they've done anything wrong. And as long as it's within the laws, I'm happy to take anything on.
What would be your dream scoop?
My dream scoop would be exposing anybody who hurts children, exposing a paedophile ring, or anything like that. That would be my dream scoop.
What's it like living a lie?
Living a lie is very hard. You're so much like a split personality. You want to believe the lie you're living because, for example, if you're playing the role of a businessman, you've got to live that lie as a businessman. You're not a businessman, but deep down you want to be that businessman because, depending on the job that you're doing, you've got loads of money at your disposal, depending on how much they want to put into the program, the paper report, or whatever. You've got a lot of things at hand for you, so you're living this lie as a businessman, and when you finish whatever part of the undercover operation you're doing and you come out, you sit back and you think, "Oh, I quite liked living that lie, because it was good fun." It's not your real role in life. You're basically there with your expensive jewellery, your money, and you are living that lie. It is hard sometimes when you've got to take all of that lie off. You take off all the jewelry, you put the money away, you take the clothes off, and then you put your own clothes back on, and then you're back to being the person you normally are. It's good fun, as long as you don't let it take over your life. Living the lie is quite good, and if you get involved with these characters, and you're living the lie with them, it also helps whatever story you're doing. They believe your lie that you've portrayed to them. They believe you and they take you under their wings, and then it gets you more into the story itself and gets you more information. You're living your lie and they're giving you more information.