True Spies Episode 58: The Avengers
NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position?
True Spies Episode 58: The Avengers. Our spy is Everett Stern, a commercial spy.
EVERETT STERN: I'm the intelligence director and CEO of Tactical Rabbit, a private intelligence agency, and I'm also running for the US Senate here in Pennsylvania.
NARRATOR: But in 2010 when this story starts, Everett wasn’t a politician or even an intelligence officer. He was just a regular 20-something guy who got a job working in a run-down office cubicle for the banking giant HSBC doing, essentially, admin.
EVERETT STERN: I was expecting this massive bank with a glass building this tall; people in suits. And I don't know what I expected - Wall Street - but no, this is like some one-story shopping center in New Castle, Delaware.
NARRATOR: And while he was there sifting through bank transactions, he made a shocking discovery. The world’s local bank was doing business with some of the world’s most wanted criminals.
EVERETT STERN: I ran multiple terrorist names through the system - and we're talking billions of dollars and terrorists and drug cartel money - going to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda.
NARRATOR: It turned out, even cartel kingpin El Chapo was moving his dirty drug money through HSBC. And, in case you didn’t guess, allowing this to happen is illegal. And this 25-year-old compliance officer from Florida wanted to be the one to expose the banking giant’s dirty laundry.
EVERETT STERN: The moment when the reporter said to me: “Do you want your name on this?” And he said to me: “If you put your name on this, you understand what's about to happen?” He's like: “You're going to be all over the news and it's going to have disastrous consequences for you. But if you don't put your name on it, it's not going to have credibility and the story is not going to go anywhere.” So I told them, I said: “Put my name on it.”
NARRATOR: But going up against HSBC [meant he] risked everything and [it] could have cost him his life. Narcotics are a big business. A 2019 study estimated that the retail value of transnational drug trafficking crime is roughly $650bn. That’s more than the economy of Portugal, Finland and Croatia combined. So, imagine you’re a mob boss. You’ve got millions of dollars worth of narcotics being grown, made, and trafficked across the country and abroad, where they’ll be sold on the streets. Drugs go out, cash comes in. But you can’t just turn up to a bank with dollar bags full of notes inside. The first thing you’ll get asked is: “Where did all that money come from?” You have to clean the money of its dirty criminal origins before you use it. We’ve been here before on True Spies. If you’re interested in the murky world of financial crime, check out Episode 39: The Money Spy.
EVERETT STERN: Money laundering is the concealment of the source of funds, so if you have a drug dealer who - or if you have someone working for the cartel - if they go out and buy a Ferrari with that money, the IRS and the government are going to question where they are getting that money from. So, they have to launder it and make it seem legitimate, make it seem real.
NARRATOR: They have to make it look like the money they’ve made has come from a legitimate place in the legal economy.
EVERETT STERN: One of the key things in money laundering is placement. So, what they'll do is, they'll go into a cash business - like a restaurant or something - and they'll put money into that cash business. So, if a drug dealer, let’s say a cartel member, makes a million dollars, he'll put a million dollars into a restaurant.
NARRATOR: Then when they come to file a tax return for the restaurant, they make fake receipts and payments to get their tax bill down.
EVERETT STERN: Then they can report that to the government, pay taxes and it becomes real money. So that's what money laundering is, in a nutshell.
NARRATOR: But criminals still need to put that money somewhere. To move a vast amount of money around and buy things, what you really need is a bank account. And the criminal bank of choice, back in the noughties, was HSBC.
EVERETT STERN: The reason why it's the bank for money launderers, drug cartels, and terrorists, is because they have the biggest world footprint. So, let's say you're banking at Wells Fargo in the United States and then you want to get money to go to your cousin at Standard Chartered Bank in the Gambia in Africa, right? Wells Fargo does not have to have a relationship with Standard Chartered Bank in the Gambia, but HSBC does. So what would happen is that Wells Fargo would send the money to HSBC. HSBC would be the broker, and then they would then send that money to Standard Chartered in the Gambia.
NARRATOR: But moving nefariously earned money carries huge risks. All banks have anti-money laundering programs to stop criminals.
EVERETT STERN: Now, what happens is, you have these anti-money laundering compliance officers who work in the corresponding banking division.
NARRATOR: That’s the local bank where the money’s been deposited.
EVERETT STERN: What they're doing is, they're analyzing these transactions to see if they're legit. There's always anti-money laundering laws in the United States that HSBC Bank, North America has to follow. The problem with HSBC is that it's so big. There's HSBC in Tehran. There's HSBC in the Middle East. There's HSBC Asia, and they're all following different rules and regulations.
NARRATOR: For example, in 2002 HSBC bought the Mexican bank Bital, and in doing so, also bought the bank accounts held by members of the cartels. And when Bital became HSBC Mexico, those accounts weren’t stopped or closed. No additional money-laundering protection measures were put in place. And the same officials working for this corrupt Mexican bank were now working for HSBC. This lack of regulation, rules, and corruption, meant dirty money transactions were flying through HSBC across the world and not getting checked at any level.
EVERETT STERN: And the thing is that HSBC, they want the transactions to go through because that's how they make money, right? It's like being a broker on Wall Street. That's what they do. They make money off these transactions.
NARRATOR: Some branches were taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars a day in questionable money from certain customers. Then, in Spring 2010, documents that proved dollars from criminal organizations were being deposited and moved through the bank were leaked to Reuters’ journalists. US prosecutors alleged that HSBC was intentionally flouting the law.
EVERETT STERN: In 2010, there was a cease-and-desist order placed on the bank by the US government. And the US government said: “If you don't clean up your act within one year, we're going to take away your banking charter and we're going to possibly fine you and put you guys in jail.” And I mean, this is a pretty serious order.
NARRATOR: So how do they go about cleaning up their act?
EVERETT STERN: They had a thing called the Alert Monitoring System at the time and any time there's a suspicious transaction, it generates an alert. And this alert contains information of the originator beneficiary, the amount.
NARRATOR: But at HSBC, before they got their knuckles rapped, no one was looking into the alerts. They were sitting there unchecked. So to make amends, HSBC promised to create a new department of what they called ‘money-laundering compliance officers’. Their job would be to look into the massive backlog of automatic alerts that got logged in the system when a transaction involving a suspiciously large sum of money took place. If everything checked out, the compliance officer would clear the alert and record it as a legitimate transaction. If it became apparent the transaction was made by a criminal, the authorities would be notified. Everett Stern was one of the applicants, a young man desperate to take down criminals. A young man who is...
EVERETT STERN: I would say very idealistic and very ambitious. I just saw a lot of things wrong and I struggled with it.
NARRATOR: You might be wondering how a man who works for a bank is so idealistic. Well, Everett’s sense of justice emerged when he was 16.
EVERETT STERN: I had a very good friend of mine who was actually killed by drug dealers, these two kids off their heads on drugs. And they were speeding down the road and they ended up hitting… T-boned my friend, and they killed him. And as a result of that, I wanted to make a difference. I was very upset. And I remember going into this very deep depression after that happened because there's a loss of my friend and the injustice of it. I know, my friend, that he was going to go to Harvard and the guy had straight A's, and he was just such a good person. And I didn't understand how a good person could be killed like that. And then these other people who were drug dealers and these bad guys, they just walked away fine. I didn't understand that concept. So I figured: “Okay, I need to do something about it.” And I remember I went to the police department, and I told them I want to be a ‘narc’, and I wanted to go after drug dealers and gather intelligence for them.
NARRATOR: Astonishingly, the police agreed. This sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie: a teenager goes after drug dealers who killed his friend. But this was Everett’s real life.
EVERETT STERN: My reputation in high school, I was class president and I had a very good reputation, and it became very bad because my reputation then became as a drug user and as a drug dealer when I really wasn't. And it was very interesting because I didn't know it at the time but I was becoming like a spy. I was playing this dual role.
NARRATOR: And from there Everett wanted to become a fully-fledged spy. He was in business school when he applied to the CIA.
EVERETT STERN: And I'll never forget, I had to meet the CIA on February 14, 2006. My girlfriend at the time, you know, it's Valentine's Day - and I had to meet the CIA in this hotel in Miami - and I couldn't tell her where I was going or what I was doing or anything. So she ended up breaking up with me as a result because it was Valentine's Day.
NARRATOR: But in the end, it didn’t work out with the CIA either.
EVERETT STERN: I was eventually rejected. Now, some people don't believe that. Some people believe I really am an operative but I'm not. But the problem is, the more I say I'm not, the more people believe that I am. But really... I really am not. I really was rejected at the end.
NARRATOR: It was 2010 and the height of the financial crash.
EVERETT STERN: I couldn't get a job and there was just one job at HSBC for some money laundering compliance officer. And I didn't even know what that was. I didn’t know what money laundering was. And I just said: “Screw it.” And I applied for it. So I was applying for everything and I just happened to get a callback from HSBC. And I said: “Hong Kong, Shanghai Banking Corporation” sounds good to me.
NARRATOR: But little did Everett know what he was walking into.
EVERETT STERN: I flew up to Delaware and this is where things got weird. I showed up and I was expecting this massive bank, like with a glass building, people in suits. But no, this is like some one-story shopping center in New Castle, Delaware. And the people were in jeans and T-shirts and like... it was not a bank. It was very suspicious.
NARRATOR: The interview raised more red flags.
EVERETT STERN: The interview was very fast. He just said: “What do you know about money laundering?” And I said: “Nothing.” I said: “But if you give me a book and some time I can read, I can learn about it.” And he was just shooting questions at me very, very, very quickly. And he was just like: “When did you graduate from business school? Do you know about the cease-and-desist order that we were placed on?” And I was like: “No.” And, basically, every question he asked me - about my knowledge about money laundering or anything related to banking - I just didn't know. It was true, I just didn't know that world. I didn't know how to do due diligence.
NARRATOR: Sounds like the perfect candidate.
EVERETT STERN: They hired me. That was like a huge red flag too because I didn’t know what I'm doing. That's why they hired me - because I didn't know what I was doing and that’s why they're hiring everybody else. They didn’t know what they were doing.
NARRATOR: Now why would a company that needs to root out suspicious and potentially criminal activity in its midst hire people who have no idea what they are looking for?
EVERETT STERN: They had such a backlog and they had to clear the alerts and show the regulators that all these alerts are being cleared.
NARRATOR: If the alerts over suspicious transactions get cleared as legitimate and no suspicious activity is technically found then HSBC can keep its banking charter and clear its name - no fines, no criminal charges, nothing. But in truth, buried within those alerts, were transactions made by terrorist groups, mobsters, and drug lords. And they’d happened on HSBC’s watch.
EVERETT STERN: They 100 percent wanted people who did not know what they were doing so they could defraud the United States government to get as many transactions cleared as fast as possible. And the reason they ended up having this facility in Newcastle, Delaware, is because the regulators are all in New York. So the regulators aren't going to come down to New Castle, Delaware. I mean, I never saw a regulator in my life. A regulator might as well have been a leprechaun or something. I never saw one. I never heard of one.
NARRATOR: It was a case of: “Just clear the alerts as quickly and as quietly as possible.” But as we now know, Everett is a man who takes pride in his principles and has a little bit of spy training, so once he suspected that HSBC was potentially trying to cover up the money laundering going on in their bank, he began to investigate.
EVERETT STERN: What I did was, on my second day I went to the University of Delaware and I checked out a whole bunch of books on money laundering and terrorist financing. And I got up two hours early every morning, three hours early, and I sort of am reading and teaching myself and understanding what was happening. And then I start getting a feeling that what these people were doing was wrong. I noticed in the actual transactions... that these were high-risk national security issues. And I tried certain tactics. There was a shipping company out of Canada and so much money was going to this exact transaction.
NARRATOR: Everett suspected nefarious activity. So how to investigate? He hadn’t actually been given any proper training on what to do when you find a transaction that could potentially be criminal.
EVERETT STERN: If they had a decent-looking website, just a good-looking website, PDF it, attach it, and then write a report saying the money is going from a medium risk country to a high-risk country but the risk is mitigated because they have a good-looking website. That was it. We're talking Google searches here.
NARRATOR: The name of the game was just clear all the alerts. Make it look like action is being taken.
EVERETT STERN: You had to do it as fast as possible and you had to clear at least 30 alerts a day. So they started putting no limits on it. They also had competitions about who could clear the most amount of alerts in a week or so.
NARRATOR: So with this shipping company Everett had found in Canada, he had to get creative and come up with his own test.
EVERETT STERN: I called the company in Canada and I pretended to be an arms dealer. And I said: “Look, I need to get bullets into Iran and into Tehran. Can you get me a shipment of .223 bullets for the AR-15 into Tehran? Can you do this for me?” And they're like: “Yeah, no problem.”
NARRATOR: Okay, so definitely illegal activity going on here.
EVERETT STERN: We're talking national security issues. I was like: “That was crazy.” So, I hung up the phone. Well, I tried writing a suspicious activity report which would go to the government.
NARRATOR: Which, remember, is his job. But management was not impressed.
EVERETT STERN: They said to me: “Everett, don't ever make a phone call like that again. You can't pretend to be other people.”
NARRATOR: Another red flag that something just wasn’t right with this whole operation. To avoid further scrutiny from his bosses, Everett took his investigation underground let’s say. And he realized that this shipping company was just the tip of the iceberg. He started to wonder how these dirty transactions were able to go through without being stopped.
EVERETT STERN: I was trying not to be too suspicious about it. So I remembered once I stayed home - they allowed you to work remotely from home - which is a fatal mistake on their part because I just went home sick and just analyzed all their stuff. I asked them for access to the system called ‘Camp’. It's a customer alert monitoring program. And what it is, it allows you to go through every single transaction that was ever done at HSBC, every wire. I basically was like: “Look, I want to learn all the systems.” But no. I knew what this Camp thing I did. I found out from somebody else that it had all the information in it. So, what I did was I ran multiple terrorist names through the system - and we're talking billions of dollars and terrorists and drug cartel money, mostly terrorist money - going to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda. I mean, it was incredible. And, when I saw that, I didn't understand how it was possible.
NARRATOR: Perhaps you’re wondering how he knew which names to run through the system? Well, The US government puts out a list of companies and people that have sanctions on them...
EVERETT STERN: … People we can't do business with. These are Russian mobsters, KGB. These are all different types of people, you know, terrorists, drug cartel members, any bad guy you can possibly imagine. They put out this list. And what happens is HSBC is forced to take this list and then any wire that comes in that matches the name is supposed to be blocked. But what I saw in the Camp system was that the wires were going through and I didn't understand this. I couldn't figure it out because allowing money to be wired to a sanctioned entity... That is jail time. I mean, that is beyond.
NARRATOR: So how were these transactions or ‘wires’ getting through the system? HSBC has a wire filter that is supposed to stop any transactions that come from companies or people on that sanction list, but somehow they were getting through.
EVERETT STERN: I noticed in the wire filter… It just caught my eye. I don't know how I caught this. So one of the big companies - a company called Tajco - which is owned by the Tajideen brothers, which are these financiers of Hezbollah. Tajco T-A-J-C-O is the name of their company, it’s a construction company, but it's really a front for Hezbollah, but it was spelled TAJ.co or TAJ-co. And I was like: “Wait, wait, what?” I was like: “Why are these dots and dashes there?” And so I asked somebody: “How does the wire filter work?” And they said: “It has to be an exact match.” So I was like: “Oh, my God, that's how they're doing it.”
NARRATOR: The wire filter is kind of like a fishing net, any account name that exactly matches the names on the government sanction list gets stopped, but anything that doesn’t passes through. By changing just one character in their account name, criminal organizations were able to send millions of dollars of dirty money around the world without being stopped.
EVERETT STERN: That's how they're laundering and getting money to terrorists… They're creating a non-exact match so that if it's TAJ.co, it's not a match so the payment will go through. And that's how the fraud happened.
NARRATOR: If it sounds crazy that it would be that easy, remember this is how Everett got here in the first place - HSBC got caught out for making a lot of money off of criminal transactions. The bank benefits when it brokers large sums of money. This was evidence of how they were doing it.
EVERETT STERN: That's what the government didn’t know.
NARRATOR: Everett had what he needed to blow the whistle on HSBC.
EVERETT STERN: It was November 12th. I was late to work the next day and I got yelled at for being late to work. But I was tossing and turning in bed because I was like: “This is going to change my life completely and I don't know how, but this is going to change my life. Like, if I send this email to the CIA, It's all over.”
NARRATOR: HSBC is worth almost $3 trillion. Their glistening buildings are monoliths on every major skyline. They have 40m customers in 64 countries brokering transactions for global corporations, governments and - as we know - terror organizations, mafia, and cartels. Everett is David and HSBC is Goliath.
EVERETT STERN: Going up against one of the biggest banks in the world - dirtiest banks in the world - terrorists, drug cartels... You have to remember, wars cost money, right? And this is how they get money. And if we cut off the money supply, we’ll win. So this puts me in the middle of the war. And I just sat there and it was like 2 am and I was like: “I just have to do this self-sacrifice, and do it for the greater good. And that is a national security issue. And this is for the United States of America. And I'll do what I have to do.”
NARRATOR: Would you risk everything to take on a giant? You know the repercussions and what’s at stake for you. An email threatening to take down one of the world’s biggest banks landed in the inbox of the CIA. Sender: Everett Stern Everett continued to send emails detailing HSBC’s money-laundering violations and, presumably, emails were being sent back to him.
EVERETT STERN: I can't get into how I was doing things but I worked very, very hard over the following year to stop terrorist transactions. I'm not going to say as a spy, but I did what I had to do as a citizen trying to do the right thing.
NARRATOR: And then Everett went public.
EVERETT STERN: There are two critical moments. There was the moment where I sent emails to the CIA, but then there was also the moment when the reporter said to me: “Do you want your name on this?” And he said to me: “If you put your name on this, you understand what's about to happen?” He's like: “You're going to be all over the news and it's going to have disastrous consequences for you.” He's like: “I'm not going to lie. This is not going to be good for you. But if you don't put your name on it, it's not going to have credibility and the story is not going to go anywhere.” So I told them, I said: “Put my name on it.”
NARRATOR: By this point, Everett had left HSBC.
EVERETT STERN: It was very bad. Very, very bad because the bank denied it at first, right? They denied my allegations. I had family members and people, close friends saying: “You're crazy. You're saying the FBI is helping you. You were passing information to the CIA.” Remember, nobody knew my background or anything and I mean... really imagine, if you didn't know my back story, I'd be telling you all this back then, when I was 25 years old, you’d think: “This kid is nuts! He’s off his rocker, right?”
NARRATOR: And things went from bad to worse.
EVERETT STERN: I was devastated after this because: 1) I ended up being blacklisted from the financial community, I ended up not being able to get a job. 2) I moved into this - it wasn’t witness protection, but it's like the FBI was watching me very carefully - and; 3) I was living in this 400-sq-foot apartment, and it's like a studio, I was just sleeping on a cot. I didn't even have a bed. I couldn't afford a bed. And I had this plastic fold-out table I got from Walmart, those plastic conference tables. That was my desk.
NARRATOR: But someone did show him some kindness.
EVERETT STERN: My name came out and I was becoming famous, but I don't have any money. It's very weird becoming famous, but you don’t have any money, So I'll never forget I went down to P.F. Chang's - it was the nearest restaurant - I went to them and I said: “Listen, I have no money left. My dad had cancer and didn't have money to support me.” I was eating hot dogs, just boiling hotdogs, and eating peanut butter and jelly for like a month. And then I went to Changs and I was like: “Listen, I don't know how to wait tables. I have an MBA. Here's my picture in Rolling Stone magazine. They did a whole feature on me. Please read it. Help me. I need a job. I don't know how to wait on tables, but I'll learn.” And the guy looked at me like I was crazy. And he took the Rolling Stone magazine and he called me the next day and said: “Come down to P.F. Chang's.” And he goes: “You did the right thing. We're going to make sure we help you.” And I'll never forget that guy. And when I hit it really big, I'm going to make sure that guy is sitting on a beach somewhere for the rest of his life because he saved me. They even stayed late with me multiple times to teach me how to hold the tray properly. I kept dropping food and I was probably the worst waiter known to man.
NARRATOR: He was waiting tables by day but at night Everett was sitting at his plastic folding table writing. He was putting together a damning intelligence report on HSBC enabling money laundering, and assisting state-sponsored terrorism, and drug trafficking. That report was submitted to the US Senate. The Senate Committee found that this global bank was enabling billions of dollars of dirty money to run through the American financial system. And evidence at the hearing showed that HSBC executives knew exactly what they were doing. An internal email revealed that one executive even wrote: “We are allowing organized criminals to launder their money.” Criminals like the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico, responsible for hundreds if not thousands, of deaths. At the hearing, HSBC didn’t deny the evidence. Instead, they said they were ‘trying to do better’. Based on the evidence Everett had found, the bank was fined $1.9bn. It was some vindication for the man who lost everything to expose the bank.
EVERETT STERN: A whistleblower’s fear is, you don't have support until you're acknowledged, so it takes tremendous strength.
NARRATOR: But it didn’t feel like justice.
EVERETT STERN: I remember though, when the fine came out, the $1.92bn fine, when they announced that I was devastated because I want someone in jail. They said there was a deferred prosecution agreement. Nobody was going to jail - $1.92bn was five weeks of their profit. I mean, what are you kidding me? It wasn't a punishment and it set a precedent for every bank out there to be able to do what they want.
NARRATOR: To Everett, the penalty was inconsequential. He felt dangerously helpless.
EVERETT STERN: I was very depressed because I worked so hard to defend the United States and it meant nothing. It just meant my efforts went nowhere and I felt like a complete failure. And I also felt like I failed the United States because I took it very personally that I didn't get anybody in jail. I remember when the deferred prosecution agreement came out, I was sitting at my desk and, I mean, I'll be transparent with you. I was sitting at my desk and literally holding a 9mm. I had a gun at the corner of my head and I was going to kill myself.
NARRATOR: But an unlikely savior came to the rescue.
EVERETT STERN: I have a pet rabbit, so I'm big into rabbits. I love rabbits because they're innocent creatures and they hop around, and they eat vegetables, and you know, all about the defensive goodness. Like they're kind of my spiritual animal, I guess you could say. But I'll never forget. My rabbit hopped up in my lap and it was amazing. And I was like: “Who's going to feed the rabbit?” And that's what saved my life.
NARRATOR: Keen to turn things around and move forward with everything he’d learned and experienced gathering intel on HSBC, Everett decided to save up and set up a private intelligence agency of his own. He called it Tactical Rabbit.
EVERETT STERN: Tactical Rabbit is a private intelligence agency, so we're not a PI firm. There's a big difference between a PI firm and a private intelligence agency. We do real intelligence operations, so everything that the CIA does, basically, we do. And we function as a private CIA. The main function of Tactical Rabbit is national security.
NARRATOR: How does that work?
EVERETT STERN: We have a team of former CIA field operations officers, former NSA military intelligence, and the main function of Tactical Rabbit is national security. We're actively engaging targets; creating shell companies; fake websites. I mean, we're doing things that no other company is doing. Of course, we have a whole legal counsel to make sure everything we do is by the book. But we are operating internationally right now, 10 different countries. We are going after the bad guys.
NARRATOR: When Everett started Tactical Rabbit he was working as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant with no money to his name, so how did he manage to get former operatives to work with him?
EVERETT STERN: I asked the same question you did. I was like: “How do I get these people to join me? How do I create a fighting army?” That's what I want, I didn't want to form a company. I wanted a fighting army to defend justice, the United States. And then I just built this website and I went on LinkedIn. And then I had one person come to me, reach out to me.
NARRATOR: It turned out his new-found fame wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
EVERETT STERN: It just blossomed into this massive thing. And it's kind of... if you build it, they will come. I mean, it's a true, very true thing. You just have to have the guts and just do it.
NARRATOR: They take private clients in corporate cases as a way to help fund their endeavors. But the main aim of their intelligence-gathering operations is to gather intel on those threats to national security and pass on information to the FBI and CIA.
EVERETT STERN: So, what we do is, we have to gather intelligence on organizations that [pose] domestic insider threats and different terrorist organizations.
NARRATOR: And one recent operation exposed a white nationalist organization in Florida.
EVERETT STERN: Right before Biden's inauguration, we got a tip that there might be an insider threat where there was possible danger against President Biden and Kamala Harris. When we first looked at their website, we just like: “Oh, these guys, they're not that extreme.” We thought maybe they [were] rednecks in a trailer or something. I mean, we didn't think much of them. But then when my former NSA officers were looking into that and we saw their IP address... it just kept changing. Their website wasn't static. And then we started engaging and going through their code, what they were doing, and even their coding on their website was just extremely advanced. And this was not a normal organization. And then we started digging into the people, and we started going into their networks, and we started targeting them like a cell for Hezbollah or Hamas or something that was in the United States. We started looking at them as a domestic terrorist organization. We were working so hard because of Biden's inauguration, I think it was two weeks away, and we felt these guys could make a move.
NARRATOR: Everett can’t reveal much more as this group is now under investigation by the FBI, in part due to Tactical Rabbit’s reconnaissance.
EVERETT STERN: When you expose someone like this group, it makes them move. It makes them change. They took down their website. They started moving to different locations. They went into hiding. So it disrupted them and prevented them from making the attack.
NARRATOR: Everett says his company has good ties with both American intelligence agencies.
EVERETT STERN: We try to pass as much information to the FBI as possible.
NARRATOR: But acknowledges that some agents disagree with their methodology.
EVERETT STERN: But I think everyone agrees that I have the right motives and the right nature behind it.
NARRATOR: And on a personal level, Everett is putting himself in danger by being the face of this private intelligence agency, and now running to be the Republican senator of Pennsylvania.
EVERETT STERN: I'm definitely on their radar with Russian intelligence, the Nazis, I mean, ISIS posted a target photo of me. I probably pissed off every group known to man but that shows I'm doing my job. So the risk to me is very high. There’s a very high threat level. I have to walk around with security a lot of times. I was told to wear a bulletproof vest on the campaign trail.
NARRATOR: But even the threat of bullets doesn’t deter him.
EVERETT STERN: I’ve seen justice can happen and I believe corruption can be ended. There's something inside of me where I know if I'm fighting, I can win the fight because in the Bible - David versus Goliath - David wins.
NARRATOR: Everett Stern CEO of Tactical Rabbit. I’m Vanessa Kirby. Join us next week for another secret operation with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former head of training at British intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com.
Everett Stern is the founder of Tactical Rabbit, a private agency that provides clients with legal, business, and national security intelligence. Stern previously worked for HSBC and blew the whistle on the bank’s money-laundering failures, leading the SEC to fine the bank $1.92bn in 2012.