Russian Amateur 'Web Detective' Interviewed on Successes in FindingCriminals. Material in the World News Connection is generally copyrighted by the source cited. Permission for use must be obtained from the copyright holder. Inquiries regarding use may be directed to NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce.
In the United States everybody knows about people once they have broken the law. If a gently smiling neighbor has served a sentence for rape, people are immediately warned: Bear this in mind, be careful. In Russia there might be drug dealers living in the next-door apartment -- the entire apartment block will know about it, but the neighborhood policeman will not have a clue. Our agencies are not coping with hunting down criminals, and so officials from the central Interpol bureau requested assistance from World Wide Web users because "in our time it is possibly much simpler in some cases to find a criminal on the Internet than in real life."
The success of Roman Romachev, who found eight individuals in four hours, exceeded all expectations. The Web detective talked to Moskovskiy Komsomolets reporters about his know-how.
[Goncharova] Roman, why did you respond to the appeal from the international police force? [Romachev] I decided that it was interesting and that I could be useful because I have been professionally involved in business intelligence on the Net for seven years now. In four hours on a popular social network I found eight individuals on the international wanted list being hunted not only by Interpol but also by the Republic of Kazakhstan Financial Police and the Republic of Belarus State Control Committee.
[Goncharova] But it is possible to "encrypt" yourself, to post a fake photo... [Romachev] I found not fakes -- that is, people who register under assumed names -- but real people on the wanted list.
There is a complex system of interactions between countries. In Russia the question of extraditing individuals who have committed a crime is generally under the jurisdiction of the General Prosecutor's Office. All of this is clear and obvious, but I was struck by something else. That Interpol had absolutely no interest in the information that I had collected. They were not interested in the high-quality photographs. And the officials' tone was condescending: Leave us in peace, they said, this is of no interest to us.
[Goncharova] But are you not afraid? These are serious people, the international police are not pursuing them just for the fun of it. [Romachev] There are definite fears. So I am not identifying the pages of the two citizens who are being pursued for murder.
[Goncharova] If you found eight individuals in only four hours, so why can police officers not cope with this task? [Romachev] Our agencies are still very badly equipped. Many people simply do not know how to utilize modern technologies. I fussed like an old hen over the dossiers that I had collected.
In this connection all civil initiatives in Russia encounter bureaucratic obstacles and passivity on the part of representatives of the law-enforcement agencies.
[Goncharova] Did you look only on one social networking site? [Romachev] Yes. On it the owners of pages indicate their age -- this is convenient: Birth dates are indicated in police files. Although I do not rule out the possibility that quite a few other people are to be found on other social networks that are more popular, incidentally.
[Goncharova] You said that, in addition to the criminals that you found for Interpol, there were also criminals from Kazakhstan and Belarus. Are these states' law-enforcement agencies interested in their whereabouts? [Romachev] In Belarus futile attempts were made to get through on the phone and convey the information. I asked a journalist acquaintance to obtain an official comment -- she was directed to the press service, where the telephones remained silent.
But in terms of Kazakhstan things worked out very productively, you might say. The people there were very interested in my information. They started to telephone regularly and consult about how to put together a request to the social networking site and how to track down lawbreakers through their IP address. The representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan Financial Police begged me not to name the criminals because detective measures are currently in place, and he also promised that in the future he will approach me for assistance in tracking down other violators.
[Goncharova] Are volunteer assistants' efforts rewarded in some way? [Romachev] Not in Russia. But in the United States the FBI pays a bounty for hunting down a criminal. If you remember the old westerns in which a substantial sum is offered for a criminal's head and a posse hunts him down, the situation nowadays has virtually not changed -- it is a lucrative business. There is a list on the FBI website of who is on the wanted list and how much will be paid for finding him. The FSB announced a reward for information about the suicide terrorists who blew up the Moscow metro, but this was a one-off action and, to the best my knowledge, this money has not been paid to anybody.
[Goncharova] Roman, do you intend to continue your "headhunting" in the future? [Romachev] Yes, this process has engrossed me very strongly. As the saying goes, "there is no such thing as a former [silovik]," and so, even on ceasing to serve in FSB agencies, I am continuing to stand guard over the economic security of the state, trying to protect entrepreneurs from relationships with fraudsters. In the West this business is very profitable because it is actively supported by the state. Some 70% of intelligence bureaus work for the state on an outsourcing basis.