Decent investigators and journalists everywhere ought to have been outraged at news over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal that appears to have caught a corporate investigator masquerading as a Journal reporter.

According to the story, the person trying to get information about investment strategy and caught on tape pretending to be someone he

Clients often ask us whether we tape-record phone calls we make in the course of an investigation. Our brief answer is, “never.” Here is why:

  • Recording could be illegal.

Some states allow tape recording conversations if one of the two people in the conversation is aware that a tape is rolling, but some require that

As investigators, we can’t always get exactly to the evidence we want to prove. Sometimes it merely doesn’t exist. Often, ethical and legal constraints keep us from being able to obtain the facts we definitively need to prove what we are investigating.

It’s easy to get lost searching for the unsearchable, pining for that one nugget that will help everything fall into place. But investigators don’t have that luxury.

So, we sometimes have to do what the computer scientists have done by pinpointing a font as a sign of trouble: We have to take a step back and look for clues elsewhere. We may not have direct evidence of wrongdoing, but we can scour the evidence in order to detect patterns that suggest wrongdoing. Alternatively, we can review the facts to see if we can find any that correlate with what it is we’ve been asked to help prove or disprove.

This is not about making assumptions–we never say that because x exists, therefore y. Instead, it is about being able to look for solutions that advance our clients’ knowledge, even if they fall short of the ideal solution.
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Good investigators are not necessarily smarter than the people they help. What often makes a good investigation is one in which “known” facts are independently evaluated once again. Just as we sometimes want a second opinion on a complex medical or legal matter, gathering and weighing the credibility of facts can also benefit from a fresh pair of eyes.
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