In Tolkien's legendarium, the kings communicated and acquired information about the past and the present with palantirs, a local variety of crystal ball. Palantirs were placed in the world's 7 largest fortresses, and only the rulers had access to them. The artifacts only showed things that existed but could lead the viewer to misinterpret what they saw. To minimize bad judgment, the kings appointed wardens to protect the stones and constantly look into them, gathering news and intelligence.
Now, Google and Facebook have become present-day palantirs, and competitive intelligence companies turned into wardens. The kings can thus avoid misinterpreting what they see and get answers to their questions. The range of applications is limited only to the client's imagination: from background checks on one's partners to reuniting with long-lost relatives.
Molfar agency gathers and cross-references information from publicly available sources (OSINT, open-source intelligence) that will help the client company make a decision regarding deals, hires, and partnerships, prepare for court proceedings, and much more. We're going to show you how it works, and although we take fictional characters as examples, the search techniques in the story are genuine.
The client, an owner of the Middle-earth zoo chain, makes a request to do a thorough background check on his former fellow student, Saruman. Sadly, he forgot the last name. The only thing he does recollect is that the man owned a mine flooded in 2002, and there was something about iron and mountains in its name.
So, we have four entry points to analyze:
Getting a confirmation on at least 3 of the 4 would let us advance in our search.
Knowing that the client graduated from the Isengard National University in 1985 majoring in ornithology, we start looking for his fellow students on Facebook. We find three, but no Saruman among them. Looking at Twitter and Instagram yield the same results. Then we turn to ornithology forums and Craigslist postings. There, we find two ornithologists by the name of Saruman. Those don't match the university, though.
Now we switch to the next entry point - the name of the mine. There are lots of mines in the Isengard region. We narrow down our search to 5–6 similar names, albeit to no avail. Then we decide to look up similar names among companies. Now we go to the public register and search by ‘mountain’ and ‘iron’. There it is: a record for Iron Mountain Mining LLC. Seemingly, it's what we need. However, the company director is Alex Treebeard, which doesn't add up.
We open the company profile and see that it was registered in 1995. And its director indeed had been Saruman White up until 2004, when Alex Treebeard took over. Now we have another part of the mosaic - Saruman's last name.
Now let's continue our background check. On to 2002, the date of flooding. Suppose the mine was flooded between the foundation of the company and Saruman White's exit. We launch Google Earth and zoom in to the level of detail between 15 m and 15 cm.
Apart from higher fidelity, it will show us the digital terrain model, too. Now we go to the mine location and start browsing historical satellite images. Judging by the image on the top that dates back to 2000, the water started accumulating in the coal pit already at that time. Sadly, the next image is as recent as 2014, and there are no interim ones. We see that the mine was indeed flooded as of 2014. Thus, we narrow down the time frame from 1995–2004 to 2000–2004.
Now let's look at the company register's license module. There, we see that the license for Iron Mountain Mining LLC was revoked in 2003.
In the Unified State Register of Judicial Decisions, we sift through the endless tide of cases on illegal logging in the Isengard region. An idea strikes us. Who is in charge of the country's mines? The State Geology and Mineral Resources Service of Middle-earth.
Going through administrative orders, we find out that the mine was renamed Anthracite in 2002, and its ownership was transferred to an eponymous legal entity registered by Alex Treebeard. At this point, we also note that one order mentions not only coal but also the accumulation of drainage water within the mine.
So, with the revoked license and the new owner, we bring the upper end of the time frame down to 2002. It's enough to verify what the client said about the flooding date.
Verifying 3 out of 4 facts would be enough. However, our inner perfectionists won't rest until we are 100% sure. Let's return to verifying the ornithology major. We go to the diploma database, but Saruman White's full name is not enough, we need a diploma number, too. We go to Google Scholar, a scholarly literature search engine, hoping to find Saruman's articles, but all we discover is ‘why owls go “woo” in the night’.
Knowing the full name, we can surmise that our person of interest has children, who we can google by ‘last name + * + patronymic’, where * is a wildcard character. The query yields a Craigslist posting of Saruman White Jr. wanting to sell a cape complete with his telephone number. We input the number into Nuga.app, and it returns his Instagram handle: @saruman_the_white. We scroll through a year worth of posts and find the confirmation of Saruman’s Sr. alma mater. The photo shows a page from the Birds of America book and a text about the father's education.
As a result, we know the name of our target and the names of several persons related to him, and now we have an opportunity to dig further.
My lord, in the murky glare of the palantir we found the person you want, what more do you want to know about him?
This article is written by Artem Starosiek, the CEO of the Molfar, an OSINT research and consulting company.