Oh, Happy Day: The Downfall of Chris Andrews
August 12, 2012 18 Comments
Reading the Sunday Independent this morning nearly caused me to die from laughter. It appears that one of the most odious men in Irish politics, Chris Andrews of Fianna Fail, has been drummed out of his party after an elaborate sting operation exposed him as the man behind the fake Twitter profile @brianformerff. The account was dedicated to attacking Fianna Fail.
I have waited a long time for this idiot’s online nonsense to properly catch up with him. I initially took issue with a tweet that reeked of anti-Semitism. I was willing to give Andrews the benefit of the doubt and put it down to populist Israel-bashing rather than anti-Semitism. Delving deeper into the activities of Andrews uncovered darker things, however. My own blog happened to be the first website to disseminate a picture of him being quite chummy with Mr. Assad of Syria (see above). This was actually in a leaflet sent to his constituents, and one of them passed it to me.
The story of how Andrews was exposed this weekend reads like a great espionage or detective novel. Consensus at the moment seems to be that this was all done by some opponents within Fianna Fail. When the party finally disbands, many of its adherents might just find work in G-2, the Garda Security and Intelligence Branch, or private investigations. According to the Sindo (Ireland’s best newspaper, in my humble opinion), the sleuth behind this:
[S]pent months tracking down the identity in what almost became a personal crusade and used ingenious IT techniques.
The author used a third party service called SnapBird.org which records every tweet posted indefinitely, even after they have been deleted.
He used SnapBird to recover a complete transcript of @brianformerff tweets which included messages sent in response to tweets posted by a range of newspaper and broadcast journalists, RTE and Newstalk Twitter accounts.
He discovered that each tweet had originated from the Twitter web interface, meaning it had been posted from a web browser on a computer, rather than sent from a mobile phone or other portable device.
Based on the times that tweets were posted by @brianformerff, he deduced that the Tweets were being posted while the user was on a work break, using a company computer or an internet cafe.
The next stage in the hunt was uncovering the IP address of the computer where the tweets originated.
“I created my own web redirection service which would allow me to take links to articles of interest, for example in the Irish Times, and then transform them into short links that would pass through a redirection server I controlled. In this way, if someone read the tweets and clicked on the link, I would be able to establish the IP address of the computer that was being used at the time.”
The author created a new twitter account, @john_cant _type, based on the persona of a politics student based in Kildare. He started sending several messages and tweets to “brian” and other users to establish himself as a genuine twitter user.
Eventually @brianformerff responded to a post from @john_cant_type to a link to an article at Silicon Republic. The bait was taken and the IP address was tracked to an internet cafe, Amazon cyber/net Rathmines which offers web access “at the very reasonable rate of €1/hour”.
What happened next descended almost into the realms of farce. The author waited for tweets from @brianformerff and then rushed to the internet cafe to try and catch Chris Andrews. Eventually the plan worked and the author used photography and video surveillance, even taking covert photographs of tweets as they were being posted in the internet cafe by Chris Andrews and analysing if the word count and structure matched the tweets appearing in cyberspace under the tag @brianformerff.
Many of the tweets are comedy gold. In one exchange with Sarah Ryan, a rival of Andrews within Fianna Fail, he says:
”FF say they want change from past but they still elect to continue dynasties like @SarahCatRyan to internal positions in party!!”
This is coming from Chris Andrews: grandson of Todd Andrews, son of Niall Andrews and his nephew of David Andrews. Oh, and cousin of Barry Andrews. He is the fourth member of his family to sit in the Dáil. If he has any work history prior to entering politics, he has never revealed it.
Others tweets are more childish:
”@CllrMcGuinness You left FF because you tried to get a job using the party and that effort failed now cop on to yourself!”
“@CllrMcGuinness How is the drinking going are you still trying to get off it?”
Pride of his family, Chris is.
Trawling through these tweets, it just seems like the gift that keeps on giving. Thank you for the laughter, Chris Andrews.