https://reveal-player.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/747_Reveal.mp3

Amazon gathers a lot of information about its customers, from what they read and watch to what they search for and buy. And the company says customers trust it to keep their data safe. But internal memos and people who have worked inside Amazon paint a different picture.

Reveal found Amazon’s intense focus on growth left the company vulnerable to serious security risks. Amazon couldn’t track where all of its data was, according to a former executive. Customer service employees had the ability to look up the shopping history of celebrities, and some shady companies went through a back door to take the personal information of millions of Amazon shoppers. When Amazon found out, it kept it a secret from its customers.

Customer data wasn’t the only thing at risk. As a result of the company’s security struggles, corruption spread and independent sellers on Amazon’s marketplace have suffered attacks. Reveal explores the cutthroat world of Amazon sellers.

Dig Deeper

Read: Inside Amazon’s Failures to Protect Your Data: Internal voyeurs, bribery scandals, and backdoor schemes

Explore: Dig into more of Reveal’s reporting on Amazon.

Credits

Guest host: Ike Sriskandarajah | Reporter: Will Evans | Lead producer: Najib Aminy | Producers: Amy Mostafa and Nadia Hamdan | Lead editor: Queena Kim | Editors: Andy Donohue and Taki Telonidis | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk  | Original score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, with help from Claire Mullen, Steven Rascón and Kathryn Styer Martinez | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan 

Special thanks to CNBC reporter Ari Levy, WIRED senior editor John Gravois, and Reveal reporters Dhruv Mehrotra and Lakshmi Varanasi for the help on this story.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

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Ike Sriskandara…:From the center for investigative reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah, sitting in for Al Letson. We’re taking a break from our series on Billy Joe Johnson to bring you this story. It’s that magical time of year again, and you are probably spending too much time online shopping. No lines, endless choices, safe, easy, secure, or at least that’s the pitch for cyber Monday.
Speaker 2:There are tons of incredible cyber Monday deals available on Amazon this week and free shipping on over a hundred million items.
Ike Sriskandara…:Amazon in a little over a week, a ton of people will go on Amazon to shop for holiday gifts. By one count, more than half the adults in the U.S. are using Prime. Just think about that. While you might not care who finds out what gifts bought, there’s probably some stuff you do buy that you wouldn’t want people to know, because if you think about it, Amazon knows a lot about you, from the brand of tampons you order to the anxiety medication you take. Amazon knows every book you’ve read on Kindle, the movies you’ve streamed on Prime. Do you use Ring? Well, then Amazon could know who’s at your front door and yeah, don’t forget about Alexa.
Alexa:Hi, hope your day is going well.
Ike Sriskandara…:Amazon stores all that information and we just trust that it’s secure. And when I say trust, I really mean it. A 2018 Georgetown University study found that Amazon was the second most trusted institution in the U.S. after the military. But some people who worked at Amazon, well, they paint a different picture. Take Joe. He’s a former customer service manager with Amazon.
Joe:When I first started, it was like the wild, wild west.
Ike Sriskandara…:Joe worked at Amazon for several years, until 2019. We’re using a pseudonym to protect his identity because Joe doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of one of the world’s richest companies. Joe was fired from Amazon, but we checked out his story with other customer service reps and like them, Joe says employees at Amazon had a lot of access to customers, order histories.
Joe:There was nothing really preventing you internally from I want to see what Justin Trudeau ordered. Oh, well, some interesting things. Of course, you’re not supposed to.
Ike Sriskandara…:One former customer service rep told Reveal that he remembers coworkers looking up the Kardashians to see if they ordered the kind of stuff you don’t get to talk about on the radio. So I had to ask Joe, okay, here’s a hypothetical question.

Not that you did, but if you were going to look up the account of pretty much anybody that you could dream of looking up, what would be your top three list?
Joe:Wow. That’s really interesting. I would like to see Kamala Harris’s account. I would love to see that. I don’t know if you guys know, but I’m kind of conservative, so I apologize.
Ike Sriskandara…:You don’t have to apologize for that.
Joe:I would love to look up JB Pritzker’s account. The governor of Illinois.
Ike Sriskandara…:Hmm.
Joe:He’s a giant. I’m from Illinois, but anyway, I’m sorry. You know what? Honestly, it’s sad. Today’s the 70th birthday of Robin Williams. If he would’ve still been alive, I probably would’ve looked up his.
Ike Sriskandara…:Joe says it was as easy as a Google search, especially if you had a unique name like Kamala Harris.

Amazon says it has strict policies and tools in place to limit access. But as of 2019, when Joe left Amazon…
Joe:It’s almost like, somebody’s like, they show you a house and there’s locks on the doors and there’s window things and cameras all around. And you’re like, well, look how secure it is. I’m like, yeah. But you have no back door. There’s no back door in the house. You could still just walk in the house. So, that’s kind of what it felt like.
Ike Sriskandara…:And it wasn’t just some employees using this backdoor to spy on celebrities. Amazon insiders had been raising the alarm to top executives about how vulnerable the tech giants, most sensitive data was. And Reveal has learned some shady companies went through another backdoor, to take the personal information of millions of Amazon shoppers. When Amazon found out, they kept it a secret from the very people they say they’re obsessed with serving, their customers. Reveal’s Will Evans discovered what was happening. Will’s been reporting on Amazon for a while. You probably heard him on our show this time last year, exposing how Amazon workers were getting injured at sky high rates. Network made him a finalist for the Pulitzer. Hey Will.
Will Evans:Hey Ike.
Ike Sriskandara…:So can you tell us what you’ve got this time?
Will Evans:So I got to see a bunch of these internal documents written by the heads of Amazon’s information security team. And I also talked to more than a dozen employees who worked in information security and privacy at Amazon. And most of the documents I saw were these internal memos spanning from 2016 to 2018. And these memos are a key part of how Amazon execs do business.
Ike Sriskandara…:Okay. So what makes these memos so special?
Will Evans:Well, Jeff Bezos hates PowerPoints. So memos at Amazon have to be six pages. They’re literally called six pagers and they’re read silently at the beginning of each meeting.
Jeff Bezos:And the reason we read them in the room, by the way-
Will Evans:Here’s Bezos explaining the six pagers at a leadership forum in 2018.
Jeff Bezos:… is because just like high school kids, executives will bluff their way through the meeting as if they’ve read the memo because we’re busy. And so you got to actually carve out the time for the memo to get read.
Will Evans:So Ike, like I said, I got to see a bunch of these memos. Some were still in draft form, but others were actual six pagers and they were prepared for one of Amazon CEOs, the general council and its chief financial officer.
Ike Sriskandara…:Oh, so basically the top executives.
Will Evans:Yeah. And my reporting shows that Amazon was so hyper focused on growth, it left the company vulnerable to some serious security risks.
Ike Sriskandara…:Like what?
Will Evans:Well, let me set the scene for you first. So many of these memos are from 2018, when Amazon was close to becoming a trillion dollar company. But even then, Jeff Bezos had this ethos that Amazon always worked like it was day one. And really that means staying lean and nimble, like a startup, cutting down on the red tape so employees could focus on making products and services to keep the company growing. And to do that, Amazon created this loose constellation of what they called two pizza teams.
Jeff Bezos:It’s a simple idea, which is no team should be so large that it cannot be fed with just two pizzas.
Gary Gagnon:It was a great idea when they were a small company trying to build rapidly because you can do a lot with two pizza teams.
Will Evans:That’s Gary Gagnon. He was a VP of information security at Amazon. He started in 2017 and lasted a little less than a year. By the time Gary got there, Amazon wasn’t the scrappy, online book seller it once was it had morphed into the everything store and had hundreds of thousands of employees.
Ike Sriskandara…:That’s so many pizzas.
Will Evans:Yeah.
Gary Gagnon:The two pizza teams didn’t make a lot of sense anymore because one team didn’t know what the other team was doing.
Will Evans:Gary wasn’t the only person who saw a problem in this approach. There were thousands of these two pizza teams and according to a memo from another former head of Amazon security, Jeff Carter, these teams were grabbing data, copying it and storing it in random places. That made it almost impossible for Amazon’s data security team to keep track of it.
Gary Gagnon:The network was humongous and it was all put together with tape and bubble gum.
Will Evans:In a six pager that Gary wrote to Amazon’s top executives in 2017, he said, quote, “we lack visibility into the data we are charged with protecting” or as Gary put it to me…
Gary Gagnon:We have no idea where our data is.
Ike Sriskandara…:That sounds like a pretty big admission from somebody who’s very high up at Amazon.
Will Evans:Yeah. And he’s not the only one who had this concern. Now we invited Amazon onto the show, but they declined our request as usual and gave us written responses instead. And Amazon says, quote, “we strongly reject the assertion that as a business, we don’t keep track of sensitive data on customers and businesses.” And these memos I reviewed, Amazon says they’re just proof that they take security issues seriously. Now I should tell you, Gary was fired from Amazon. But according to him and several people, I spoke to, it wasn’t related to cyber security. And a lot of the stuff he’s saying lines up with the memos and other interviews I had.
Ike Sriskandara…:Gary’s in charge here, right? What is he doing to fix this?
Will Evans:Well, Gary said his whole department was underfunded and understaffed. He said that to really protect the consumer, he needed about a thousand people on his team.
Gary Gagnon:I only had about a little over 300 people.
Will Evans:Gary told me it felt like Amazon didn’t seem to understand what it really took to keep customer data safe. And when he’d ask for more resources to beef up security more often than not, he was told no.
Gary Gagnon:I was lumped into a category of, we need to lower our overhead costs to make sure our overhead isn’t growing faster than our profits.
Will Evans:Now Amazon disputes this. They say, quote, “we will never sacrifice security for costs.”
Ike Sriskandara…:Okay. So back to this whole Amazon not knowing where our data is. If they don’t know where it is, how can they protect it?
Will Evans:Exactly. That’s the whole problem. How can you make sure that the data isn’t being stolen or leaked or used inappropriately and that affected security issues, it affected privacy and it really made the whole problem overwhelming. And actually in an email in 2017, 1 senior Amazon engineer said that when it came to keeping customer data safe, it was like a brutal game of whackamole.
Ike Sriskandara…:Well, that’s a terrifying metaphor because in the game of whackamole, almost nobody ever gets all the moles.
Will Evans:Exactly.

Okay. So it’s 2018 and an internal memo prepared for executives says Amazon’s risk intelligence team stumbled on this sketchy called AMZ Review. The company promised to help Amazon sellers get better reviews and boost their rankings.
Ike Sriskandara…:So when you say sellers, you’re talking about the businesses that sell on Amazon’s marketplace, right?
Will Evans:Yeah. And many of these are small businesses and Amazon gives them the keys to a lot of their own customer data. Things like names, home addresses, phone numbers, the products they’ve ordered and the dates they ordered them. But one thing Amazon sellers don’t have access to are customer email addresses.
Ike Sriskandara…:And that information’s privileged because why?
Will Evans:Well, sellers can use emails to reach out to customers, say, who left a bad review and pressure them to take down the review. And Amazon doesn’t allow that. So they restrict access to the emails, but AMZ Review promises sellers they can get them some of those emails.
Ike Sriskandara…:Okay. So Amazon sellers can get these emails from AMZ Review. What does AMZ review get out of it?
Will Evans:In return, the seller gives AMZ Review the keys to all the rest of their customer data so they can go get it from Amazon system. Amazon at the time said AMZ Review likely got the personal information for almost 5 million Amazon customers. AMZ Review claimed it had more than triple that number.
Ike Sriskandara…:Oh, like 15 million.
Will Evans:16 actually.
Ike Sriskandara…:Okay. So did Amazon just allow sellers to give customer information from that many people to AMZ Review?
Will Evans:Well, it was definitely against Amazon’s rules, but Amazon hadn’t really been enforcing them. The memo says we have no way of knowing if the data was being accessed by actual sellers or by outside companies abusing the system. Basically the question was, who else did give Amazon’s keys to?
Ike Sriskandara…:So if I understand this correctly, I go on Amazon. I buy a phone charger from one of the sellers that happens to be using this AMZ Review service. And this outside firm could be getting my personal information, even though I didn’t okay that or have any knowledge of them.
Will Evans:Exactly. And Amazon determined that AMZ Review was this offshoot of a Chinese data analytics firm who could be using this for anything.
Ike Sriskandara…:So what’s it looking like inside Amazon, when they find out about AMZ Review?
Will Evans:Well, internally, it was a big deal. One of the people I talked to said when this made its way up the chain of command, the color was draining from people’s faces. Because think about it. There were billions of customer orders streaming out of Amazon system and outside companies could be taking that data and selling it or using it to target customers. The memo even says, we believe such use could violate customer trust, if customers understood what was happening.
Speaker 8:Good morning, a decade from now-
Will Evans:Remember Amazon discovered this in 2018, the same year as Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Speaker 9:Consumers are worried. Do they have any privacy anymore?
Will Evans:There were all these congressional hearings where lawmakers were grilling tech companies on data privacy because Cambridge Analytica had everyone spooked.
Ike Sriskandara…:Yeah. I remember that story. When Cambridge Analytica, this political consulting firm basically went through Facebook’s backdoor and got ahold of private information from millions of Facebook users and used that to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Will Evans:Yeah. And people on the inside of Amazon said they couldn’t help but think of Cambridge Analytica when they learned of AMZ Review. Now we don’t know what AMZ Review and companies like it were doing with all that customer information, but the way they got it, it is similar to Cambridge Analytica.
John Tester:So I’m a regular guy. I’m a farmer. Okay. I’m not a technology person.
Joe:Okay. So it’s September of 2018. And Congress wants input from tech companies on how to craft a federal privacy law. We’ve got officials from Google, Apple, Twitter, two telecom firms and Amazon. So knowing what we know, let’s listen to this question from Senator John Tester. He’s a Democrat representing Montana.
John Tester:If say a Russian firm were to ask for that information or a Chinese firm, have any of you been asked for information from a firm that does business in other countries and you’ve either given it to them or sold it to them? Private or not, any response to that? No response to that. No yes or no. Or just don’t know.
Ike Sriskandara…:So did anyone respond?
Will Evans:Yeah. Google, Apple, one of those telecom firms, they all said they don’t sell their information and Amazon doesn’t respond here. But earlier, they said they’re not in the business of selling personal information. But if you listen closely, Tester was also asking if they’d given data to companies in other countries. And this hearing was four months after Amazon’s risk intelligence team discovered AMZ Review. So at the same time, Tester is asking this question. Amazon knew it had been allowing giant quantities of sensitive customer information to go out the door to a Chinese company.
Ike Sriskandara…:So Will, you asked Amazon about AMZ Review? Did they tell you what they did if they fixed the problem?
Will Evans:Well, in Amazon’s written response to us, they said they put in place more exhaustive data protection policies and procedures, and more limits on the third party who could access its data. Amazon also revoked AMZ Review’s access to all that customer information and suspended the sellers who gave them those keys. And in general, Amazon says quote “it has an exceptional track record of protecting customer data. And that these claims are based on old documents that don’t represent how it’s running things today.” I do think it’s worth noting. I ask them how many people had their data scooped up by companies who were misusing Amazon’s system and they just wouldn’t say.
Ike Sriskandara…:That’s Reveal’s Will Evans. The story produced by Nadia Hamdan. Some in Congress have been pushing for federal privacy bills to keep customer data safe. Democratic Senator Ron Widen is working on a bill right now. He sent a statement saying sending sensitive customer data to quote unfriendly nations can pose a serious threat to our national security. And he says, quote “it’s outrageous that Amazon shared millions of customers, transaction data with the firm in China.” Coming up next, how Amazon’s security issues have made sellers targets for sabotage.
Speaker 12:You’d wake up every morning to see if you’re going to be pulled down. Like I dread waking up to like, okay, you no longer can sell on Amazon. That was like the norm.
Ike Sriskandara…:You’re listening to Reveal.
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Ike Sriskandara…:From the center for investigative reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah, filling in for Al Letson. In this hour, we’ve been telling you about Amazon, the place where you can buy almost anything.
Speaker 14:It could be a Teddy bear to bite or smoke alarm. You’ll never guess what I got you @amazon.com.
Ike Sriskandara…:Amazon has come a long way from when it first started selling books online. Here’s Reveal’s Will Evans.
Will Evans:Amazon is obviously one of the world’s largest retailers and in the U.S., small businesses sell more than 6,000 items on Amazon every minute.
Ike Sriskandara…:More than half of the sales made on Amazon come from these independent sellers. Today, there are around 2 million small business owners selling on Amazon and [Anna Lam] is one of them.
Anna Lam:I’ve been around on Amazon since 2014. I think. So I’m one of the oldies.
Ike Sriskandara…:By one count, independent sellers like Anna helped Amazon bring in around $300 billion in sales in 2020. And it turns out, that some of those independent sellers fell victim to a kind of human virus. One that infiltrated Amazon system and infected their businesses. Reveal’s Will Evans and Najib Aminy tell us how sellers like Anna Lam came under attack.
Najib Aminy:Anna has an online store. And she has a brick and mortar store too. It’s in New York City’s Chinatown. And that’s where I met her this summer. It’s a small store with an industrial look and Anna skincare products were lined up neatly on the metal shelves.
Anna Lam:Some skincare products, a cleanser, a serum, eye oil, and a rice brand for the face.
Najib Aminy:Anna grew up on the island of Nauru. It’s way off the coast of Australia. She eventually moved to New York city where she worked as a creative director at an ad agency. After the birth of her daughter, Anna took inspiration from holistic practices like acupuncture, aroma therapy, and natural skincare.
Anna Lam:I just like to do skincare. Every woman loves skincare.
Najib Aminy:Anna loved it so much. She says she flew to London to take courses on how to make the stuff. And in 2011, Anna made skincare her official side hustle. Anna opened up a store on the online shopping site, Etsy, and eventually opened one on Amazon too. She named her store, GingerChi and Anna gave the GingerChi brand a personal touch. She made her daughter the face of the company.
Anna Lam:She’s a model and she’s in most of my press and all my leaflets and posters.
Najib Aminy:Anna was trying to grow ginger Chi and come up with more products to sell. And that’s when she thought of the Jade roller.
Anna Lam:Jade is very important in Chinese culture.
Najib Aminy:In Chinese tradition, Jade is thought to have healing properties and a Jade roller, it’s what it sounds like. A piece of Jade, shaped sort of like a tiny rolling pin on a handle that you press and roll over your face. I’m told it’s one of those must have things if you’re really into skincare.
Anna Lam:It’s something that the Chinese used in the beauty regimen. You hear about it, that the emperors use it.
Najib Aminy:Anna looked for Jade rollers online, but wasn’t impressed. These were not Jade rollers fit for an Empress. So she traveled to Northeast China to source the stone. And around 2014, Anna debuted the GingerChi Jade roller on Amazon. Anna says in those early years, business was slow, but this is the internet. And what helps a product really take off?
Lea Michele:Hi, my name is Rachel Barry and I’ll be singing-
Najib Aminy:A celebrity endorsement. Duh.
Lea Michele:On my own, pretending he’s beside me.
Najib Aminy:That’s actress, Lea Michele from the TV musical Glee and in 2017, she posted an Instagram story saying quote so obsessed with my GingerChi Jade face roller. The actress has an online following in the millions.
Anna Lam:And then it became like, this is the roller to get. And from then on, it just went like wildfire and flew off the shelves.
Najib Aminy:In 2017, just three years after debuting her Jade roller on Amazon, Anna quits her day job to work fulltime on GingerChi. One day, Anna was checking out other Jade roller listings on Amazon, looking at her competitors, when she saw a familiar face.
Anna Lam:I noticed a box with my daughter’s images.
Najib Aminy:That box, it was for a Jade roller. Only it wasn’t GingerChi’s. Another seller was using a picture of Anna’s daughter on their branding.

Amazon’s policy says you can’t just outright copy your competition. So Anna filed a complaint.
Anna Lam:You can go to seller support, right? And you got pulled down, not allowed to use that image.
Najib Aminy:Anna doesn’t think much of this copycat seller. She figures Amazon’s taking care of it. Plus GingerChi is taking off. And so Anna is busy mailing out orders, and she was getting ready to move her business out of her living room and into a storefront in Manhattan. Anna didn’t know it yet, but that copycat seller was a kind of virus in Amazon’s marketplace. And my colleague Will Evans found out, it was spreading.
Will Evans:Anna’s copycat seller went by the name Krasr on Amazon. And that trademark was registered to a company run by Mohamed Multhazim Akbar Ali. I found him online and he looked like he was living large. A globe trotting young man in his twenties. He was getting a computer science degree at the University of Toronto. He looks confident and fashionable as he travels the world. In one photo, he’s riding in a helicopter in Dubai and in another riding, a camel in Jordan. Back in 2017, when Krasr first copied Anna, he was getting reputation in the Amazon seller community for sabotaging top sellers. That year, Krasr was the subject of a CNBC article. It was about how cutthroat Amazon had become. In addition to Jade rollers, Krasr had sold all kinds of random stuff. Everything from pest repellants to antis snoring aids.

One small business owner on Amazon who sold a top selling facial steamer told CNBC that he lost around $400,000 because of Krasr’s attacks and a Krasr representative texted him claiming to be the virus of Amazon. Amazon’s response to the story was that quote “if we discover that bad actors have abused our systems, we work quickly to take action on behalf of our customers and sellers.” But even after that CNBC article dropped, Krasr was on the attack again.
Najib Aminy:It’s 2018 and Krasr spelled K-R-A-S-R. Is B-A-C-K. Anna said Krasr copied GingerChi’s Jade rollers. And then she believes-
Anna Lam:He told Amazon I was copying him.
Najib Aminy:Amazon suspended Gingerchi in response to mysterious complaints of how the company broke the rules. That meant Anna couldn’t sell her Jade roller.
Anna Lam:I was pulled down like three times. I couldn’t sell for two months or three months, which hurt a lot.
Najib Aminy:Anna couldn’t really prove that it was Krasr but the next wave of attacks confirmed that Krasr was after her. Anna realized that Krasr had somehow taken over her Jade roller listing. Basically customers ordering GingerChi Jade rollers were being sent copycat rollers instead. And many of them were branded Krasr, leaving some customers feeling ripped off over this bait and switch. This was all happening digitally, but this is how it would translate into the physical world. Imagine Krasr breaking into ginger cheese, brick and mortar store in Manhattan. And he’s behind the counter, selling his knock off Jade rollers and taking all of the money. Oh, and by the way, Anna, she’s locked out of the store, watching it all happen.
Anna Lam:He did many things to pull me down or to attack me.
Najib Aminy:But Anna needed proof. So she ordered GingerChi Jade rollers as if she were a regular Amazon customer, to see what the regular customer would get.
Anna Lam:This is what we have. See. So this is his, and this is mine.
Najib Aminy:Anna showed me the Jade rollers she got in the mail.
Anna Lam:So there’s how many Krasr ones, right? He didn’t think that it would matter to have his name. So it’s Krasr, Krasr and then Krasr.
Najib Aminy:Some of Anna’s customers complained about the Krasr Jade rollers they received and left negative feedback in GingerChi’s reviews. So Anna says Krasr didn’t just copy her product, hijack her listing, steal her sales. But he also tarnished her brand. Anna reported her findings to Amazon. She hired lawyers to write pleading letters to the company.
Anna Lam:Two or three lawyers I had to go through. Yeah.
Najib Aminy:But Anna says the attacks continued.
Anna Lam:It started to chip away all the money that I had earned. And I went into the red.
Najib Aminy:She was afraid she was going to go out of business.

And as all this was unfolding, Anna had this hunch about why she couldn’t seem to get Amazon to fix the problem.
Anna Lam:Maybe there’s insiders. I don’t know.
Najib Aminy:My colleague, Will Evans, says Anna was onto something.
Will Evans:For years, internal Amazon reports had found that way too many employees had access to way too much information. As Krasr was attacking Anna, one internal memo, warned of the ability for a rogue employee to abuse internal systems for their own purposes. It goes on to say that these internal threat actors have powerful tools and insight into our business operations, that provide opportunities to impact our customers. Remember Gary Gagnon, the former VP of information security at Amazon. We heard from him earlier in the show. And Gary says during his time at Amazon, that threat weighed on him.
Gary Gagnon:What kept me up at night, the insider and what the insider can do.
Will Evans:And he said at that time, Amazon didn’t have a team dedicated to rooting out these insider threats. So there wasn’t an actual program in place?
Gary Gagnon:An insider threat program?
Will Evans:Yeah.
Gary Gagnon:No. Not when I was there.
Will Evans:That sounds scary.
Gary Gagnon:Well, it was scary to me.
Will Evans:And after Gary was fired in 2017, Amazon discovered just how real that threat was.

A year later, Krasr finally grabbed the attention of Amazon execs in a draft memo, prepared for the company’s top brass, dated November, 2018. The security division reported that Krasr was sabotaging other Amazon sellers and that he had accomplices, moles inside of Amazon. The memo said this seller recruited our employees over LinkedIn and Facebook. Over a series of years, Krasr spent around $160,000 to bribe seven Amazon workers. In exchange, these employees gave Krasr God-like powers to go after his competition. Amazon suspends sellers for breaking the rules, but Krasr’s moles could get them reinstated. These moles would also suspend other sellers for Krasr and they leak sense of business information to him about his competition.

When the employees were caught, they spilled their secrets and all seven of them were fired. That’s according to the same November 2018 draft memo, but Krasr himself proved elusive. And Amazon was trying to figure out how more moles were in its system. We asked Amazon about Krasr and in a written response, the company said it had referred Krasr to law enforcement in 2018. Amazon also said it has robust technology, processes and teams to identify these bad actors and take swift action. It also said, quote, “we continue to enforce and will remove sellers who have relations with Mohamed Multhazim Akbar Ali, the person behind Krasr.”
Anna Lam:Wow. Who gave you this information?
Najib Aminy:We shared what we learned about Krasr with Anna, to let her know that are hunch about insiders at Amazon was correct. But Krasr’s attacks had taken a toll. Anna had come to the conclusion that building a successful brand on Amazon might not be worth it.
Anna Lam:You’d wake up every morning to see if you’re going to be pulled down and say… I dread waking up. It’s sometime better not to be a best seller, right? It’s more peaceful.
Najib Aminy:Anna is still on Amazon, but it’s just not as important to her business anymore.
Anna Lam:It does pay some bills. But it’s not that supportive of small businesses. I think they’re trying, but I think it’s still difficult. The sellers are not protected.
Najib Aminy:And when and rogue sellers get inside access to game the marketplace, you end up with counterfeits, fake reviews and products you just can’t trust. Sure. It might be convenient, but buyer and seller, beware.
Ike Sriskandara…:That story was reported by Will Evans and produced by Najib Aminy.

Amazon said it removed Mohamed Multhazim Akbar Ali from its marketplace, but we found out he’s still there. He runs a new company. That’s selling lots of goods on Amazon, including yes, jade rollers. So how many Krasr’s are out there?
Anna Lam:It’s like turning on the kitchen light. The cockroach is scattered, but you know they’re still in the walls.
Ike Sriskandara…:When we come back, we turn on the kitchen light. That’s next on Reveal.
Najib Aminy:Do you want to know more about how we do what we do? Well, our weekly newsletter takes you behind the scenes. Our investigations change laws, minds, and sure, we like to say it, the world. Be among the first to read them just text newsletter 474747. You can text stop at any time. Standard data rates apply. Again, text newsletter to 474747.
Ike Sriskandara…:From the center for investigative reporting PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah, filling in for Al Letson. When Anna Lam realized her online business was getting attacked, she asked Amazon for help, but says she didn’t get the support she needed.
Anna Lam:I felt that they didn’t really care. As long as a product was sold, they would get a percentage, that’s my thinking.
Ike Sriskandara…:For every product sold, Amazon gets a cut of the sales. So whether Anna or Krasr sells the Jade roller, Amazon makes money. Sellers we spoke to believes that’s one of the reasons Amazon doesn’t do more to police the marketplace and protect the little guys. Despite the tech giants assurances that they do.
Jeff Bezos:I believe there are a lot of options for small sellers. I believe Amazon is a great one.
Ike Sriskandara…:That’s Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos in 2020, when he testified before the house antitrust subcommittee.
Jeff Bezos:We’ve worked very hard. I think we are the best one. We have-
Speaker 23:Mr. Bezos-
Jeff Bezos:… a lot of different programs that help sellers but we are not-
Ike Sriskandara…:A lot of different programs that help sellers, but there’s a critical mass of Amazon sellers who believe the tech giant isn’t doing enough to protect them. And so a cottage industry of consultants, lawyers and conferences has sprung up. Reveal’s Will Evans and Najib Aminy take us to this wild frontier of online commerce.
Will Evans:The Amazon memos are reviewed, only went through 2018 and that’s when Anna’s business got attacked too. So we wanted to find out if Amazon sellers today are faced these kinds of threats.
Najib Aminy:Excuse me, excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me.
Will Evans:To find out, Najib went to an Amazon sellers conference in New York this summer.
Najib Aminy:Will, this is the first conference I’ve gone to since COVID. And I remember why I hate conferences. I’m at the Amazon sellers telegram conference in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. Mostly everyone here is an Amazon seller, looking for tips to help grow their business. But I’m here for another reason. Are you an Amazon seller and are you an Amazon seller? Are you an Amazon seller by chance? I talked about half a dozen people and ask of a tax still happen on Amazon, like the ones that Anna experienced. They all say it’s sort of become the cost of doing business.
Janelle Shaw:The bad players are everywhere. You take one down, 10 more goes up. So it’s a constant process, basically. I’m [Janelle Shaw], I’m with JS Beauty and Nutrition and I’m an Amazon seller.
Najib Aminy:And so how often have you been taken down for suspensions that you feel like is suspicious or-
Janelle Shaw:Yeah, it happens to everybody more or less. So it’s called black hat techniques, they manipulate the system, basically. So…
Najib Aminy:How often does that type of behavior happen?
Janelle Shaw:It happens all the time.
Chris:I’ll give you my first name. My name is Chris and I’m a seller on Amazon.
Najib Aminy:Are there still kind of nefarious actors out there?
Chris:I don’t think that’s ever going to go away. You’re always going to have people who are going to do fraud, who are going to go either specifically after somebody or specifically after a brand.
Najib Aminy:The organizer of the conference, says it kind of began as a support group for sellers getting suspended on Amazon. It started as a group text.
Ed Rosenberg:We have a social media group on telegram and a Facebook, which is, just Facebook alone with over 60,000 people.
Najib Aminy:That’s Ed Rosenberg.
Ed Rosenberg:So we always attracted that sort of advanced serious, we don’t want to get pushed around, but we don’t want to cheat the system either.
Najib Aminy:On the one hand, the suspensions are evidence that Amazon is policing its sight, by booting off suspected counterfeiters, cheaters and corrupt sellers. On the other hand, bad actors have been weaponizing Amazon system of suspending sellers. Remember what happened to Anna? But sellers who don’t think they’ve broken any rules, at least not intentionally, say when Amazon suspects them of wrongdoing, it’s really difficult for them to talk to someone at Amazon.
Ed Rosenberg:If you’re not willing to call, they’re not willing to have a two-way conversation. You can ultimately crush a legitimate business. And I did not want it to happen.
Najib Aminy:Ed says he realized how much help sellers needed. So in addition to running this conference, he also started a consulting service and there are a bunch of these services out there. My colleague Will Evans found out that these consultants can take very different hats when trying to help their clients.
Will Evans:Cynthia Stein is the owner of eGrowth partners. It’s been around since 2015 and helped sellers who’ve been suspended. Cynthia says they’ve helped about 10,000 sellers and the price to help get a business reinstated, she says, is anywhere from two to $5,000.
Cynthia Stein:First, let me be very clear. I have no secret contacts at Amazon. I do not contact them to help us with our clients. That’s not allowed by Amazon.
Will Evans:And so clients pay Cynthia to write their appeals to Amazon.
Cynthia Stein:We call it the court of Amazon, right? King Bezos, because Amazon is ultimately the judge and executioner.
Will Evans:And if Amazon is like a monarchy, Cynthia is a sort of scholar of the rules of the kingdom. For example, she says, when Amazon shuts down a small business…
Cynthia Stein:What you get from Amazon is a template letter. And it basically says, you’re not allowed to do these 20 things. And then the thing that you did, they don’t tell you what that is. So a lot of time, our job is to play 20 questions with our clients. We’re like, what about this? What about that?
Will Evans:And Cynthia says in writing thousands of appeals to Amazon, she’s seen what works and what doesn’t.
Cynthia Stein:Everything that we know we have learned by observation and experimentation because we have no guidance from Amazon, right?
Will Evans:There’s an alternative to going with you though, that might be quick, right? There are services that say, we will get you unsuspended quickly.
Cynthia Stein:Yes. We call that the easy button.
Will Evans:I’m familiar with the easy button. I’ve seen these services online. They openly advertise they can get sellers reinstated really fast. Some can even get customer emails for sellers, which they’re not supposed to have. And internal screenshots of confidential info on Amazon system. This is what people in the industry refer to as black hat tactics, basically breaking the rules to get what you want.
Cynthia Stein:There were these black hat brokers and they had price sheets and they will get you reinstated in sometimes a few hours. The reason why is they’re bribing somebody at Amazon to reinstate you. So that is exactly what the indictment was about last year, that these people were bribing Amazonians in India to reinstate somebody. Actually we call it flip the switch.
Will Evans:It’s like flipping the switch and that indictment, I’ll let Najib explain.
Najib Aminy:The indictment Cynthia’s talking about was handed down by a federal grand jury in the Western district of Washington in September of last year. It accuses six people of conspiring to pay more than a hundred thousand dollars in bribes to Amazon employees in a scheme that continued from at least 2017 to 2020. And the indictment states that one member of the group, sent a suitcase, filled with cash in an Uber to pay for services that would help clients they were working with. Like Cynthia, that person was a consultant to Amazon sellers. And we met him earlier.
Ed Rosenberg:I always tried to do everything right. And if there’s something wrong, tell me. Right?
Najib Aminy:Remember Ed? The conference organizer? Yep. He was under indictment when I spoke to him. I ask Ed, why Amazon sellers resort to dirty tricks. And he answers using a sports metaphor.
Ed Rosenberg:If you on the Daytona… Not the biking, not the Daytona.
Najib Aminy:Tour de France?
Ed Rosenberg:You know what I mean?
Najib Aminy:Ed means the biking race, Lance’s Armstrong, culture of cheating. You get it.
Ed Rosenberg:15 people are doping and there’s 17 people in it. So if you don’t dope-
Najib Aminy:Ed said, you’re sure to lose.
Ed Rosenberg:If you do dope, you may not get caught.
Najib Aminy:At this point. I sense that Ed wants to end the interview.
Ed Rosenberg:So yeah, I got to get going.
Najib Aminy:Last question. Last question. I had to ask out the indictment.
Ed Rosenberg:Yeah. I can’t comment that. Thank you.
Najib Aminy:Ed didn’t want to talk about it. But all those bribes, according to the indictment, resulted in an unfair, competitive advantage, worth more than a hundred million dollars to those sellers who are helped.
Will Evans:Cynthia sees the indictment as a step forward for Amazon.
Cynthia Stein:The first thought I had was, it’s about time. They were finally willing to talk about it.
Will Evans:Amazon said it worked with the feds on the case, but an indictment also means airing Amazon’s dirty laundry. It went into a lot of detail about how badly Amazon’s system had breached and Cynthia wonders how much more Amazon is willing to expose.
Cynthia Stein:The indictment was like turning on the kitchen light. The cockroach was scattered, but you know they’re still on the walls. They’re still there. I could still go buy data if I wanted to that’s proprietary to Amazon.
Will Evans:And this affects customers too. Right? Because it means that you can’t really trust the system.
Cynthia Stein:No, that’s the other thing that’s really sad. So you’re going out and you’re buying your blender and then it’s a complete piece of crap. And you’re like, how can this be? All these other people loved it. Well, it’s because they’ve gotten rid of all the other negative reviews and they’ve written a whole bunch of fake positive reviews. And so consumers have to be much more savvy when shopping on Amazon.
Will Evans:Amazon said in a statement, that the company takes swift action when it detects fraud. And that quote, “as a result of our efforts, bad actors that attempt to abuse our them make up a tiny fraction of activity in our store.” And the company said it’s responsive to sellers. It resolves more than 85% of all seller issues in under 24 hours. Cynthia says she still believes Amazon is a wealth building engine for small businesses.
Cynthia Stein:Absolutely. The possibilities of what you can do on Amazon when everything goes right, is terrific.
Will Evans:But Cynthia believes there needs to be some accountability and lawmakers and regulators are scrutinizing whether Amazon has too power over small businesses on its marketplace.
Cynthia Stein:Because Amazon as dictator king, benevolent overlord, all of the above, that is not healthy. That’s just not how business should be.
Will Evans:But with Amazon’s dominance in an online retail growing, Cynthia says sellers don’t have much choice, but to submit to the monarchy.
Ike Sriskandara…:That story was reported by Will Evans and Najib Aminy and produced by Amy Mostafa. Will’s story on Amazon was done in partnership with Wired. Be sure to check out their December issue and wired.com to read his piece or go to our website, revealnews.org. Our lead producer for this week’s show Najib Amini, Nadia Hamdan and Amy Mostafa also helped produce this show. Queena Kim edited the show, additional editing from Andy Donahue and Taki Telonidis. Special thanks to CNBC reporter, Ari Levy and to Wired magazine editor, John [Rabois]. And thanks to Dhruv Mehrotra and Lakshmi Varanasi for their help on this story.

Next week, Al is back with his investigation into the death of teen football star, Billy Joe Johnson in Mississippi. We look into allegations that Billy Joe was harassed by police.
Speaker 27:And like I said, it ain’t nothing ever going to be on file that they never wrote no tickets. They just pulled us over and gave us a hard time and harassed us.
Ike Sriskandara…:That’s next week on Reveal, which means now is the time to catch up on the series if you’ve fallen behind. You can find it in Reveal’s podcast feed.

Victoria Baranetsky is our general council. Our production manager is Amy Mostafa. Score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda. They have help this week from Steven Rascón, Claire Mullen and Kathryn Styer Martinez. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. [Casie Navarro] is our audience strategist. Our interim CEO is Annie Chabel. Sumi Aggarwal is our interim editor in chief and our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by [Comorado Lightning]. Support for Reveal is provided by the Riva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of the center for investigative reporting and PRX. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah, filling in for Al Letson who likes to remind you, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 28:From PRX.

Ike Sriskandarajah

Ike Sriskandarajah is a senior reporter, producer, and fill-in host for Reveal. He has worked on projects that have won an Emmy, two medals from Investigative Reporters and Editors, and awards from Third Coast, the Education Writers Association, and the New York Associated Press Association. He was a narrative audio producer at The New York Times, making investigative episodes for "The Daily." Sriskandarajah is from Wisconsin and reports from New York City.

Will Evans is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal, covering labor and tech. His reporting has prompted government investigations, legislation, reforms and prosecutions. A series on working conditions at Amazon warehouses was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and won a Gerald Loeb Award. His work has also won multiple Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, including for a series on safety problems at Tesla. Other investigations have exposed secret spying at Uber, illegal discrimination in the temp industry and rampant fraud in California's drug rehab system for the poor. Prior to joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2005, Evans was a reporter at The Sacramento Bee. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Najib Aminy is a producer for Reveal. Previously, he was an editor at Flipboard, a news aggregation startup, and helped guide the company’s editorial and curation practices and policies. Before that, he spent time reporting for newspapers such as Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. He is the host and producer of an independent podcast, "Some Noise," which is based out of Oakland, California, and was featured by Apple, The Guardian and The Paris Review. He is a lifelong New York Knicks fan, has a soon-to-be-named kitten and is a product of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Aminy is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Nadia Hamdan (she/her) is a producer for Reveal. Previously, she was a public radio reporter with NPR station KUT 90.5 in Austin, Texas. Hamdan's reporting has been heard on NPR's “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” WBUR’s “Here & Now” and the BBC’s “World Service,” among other programs. She's won numerous awards for her reporting, including a national Public Media Journalists Association Award, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and multiple Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Awards. Hamdan was awarded a Texas Gavel Award from the State Bar of Texas for a podcast on why sexual assaults are so hard to prosecute in Austin. She once conducted an entire interview while riding a mule through downtown Austin, where she is based.

Queena Sook Kim

Queena Sook Kim is a senior editor for Reveal. She was previously at KQED, where she supervised the weekend desk. Before that, she headed the Silicon Valley desk and hosted a statewide daily news show, The California Report, for the station. Kim was also a senior reporter covering technology for Marketplace and covered homebuilding and toys at The Wall Street Journal. She has spent much of her career starting up shows and editorial projects for local public radio stations. She most recently edited an eight-part documentary, “The Political Mind of Jerry Brown.” Kim is also the head of audio at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Her stories have appeared on NPR, WNYC’s The Takeaway, Here & Now, BBC’s Global Perspective and The New York Times’ multimedia page.

Andy Donohue is the executive editor for projects for Reveal. He’s edited Reveal’s investigations into the treatment of migrant children in government care, Amazon’s labor practices, rehab work camps and sexual abuse in the janitorial industry. He’s been on teams that have twice been Pulitzer Prize finalists and have won Investigative Reporters and Editors, Edward R. Murrow, Online News Association, Third Coast International Audio Festival, Gerald Loeb, Sidney Hillman Foundation and Emmy awards. He previously helped build and lead Voice of San Diego, served on the IRE board for eight years and is an alumnus of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Donohue is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Taki Telonidis is the senior supervising editor for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Claire Mullen worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September 2017. is an associate sound designer and audio engineer for Reveal. Before joining Reveal, she was an assistant producer at Radio Ambulante and worked with KALW, KQED, the Association of Independents in Radio and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She studied humanities and media studies at Scripps College.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Kathryn Styer Martínez

Kathryn Styer Martínez (she/ella) is a production assistant for Reveal. She studies audio and photojournalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She is also a Greater Good Science Center reporting fellow, focusing on Latino well-being.

Martínez was the 2020-21 Toni Randolph reporting fellow at Minnesota Public Radio, the 2019-20 New Economy Reporting Project fellow and the former director of KGPC-LP FM, Peralta Community Radio. Her work has appeared in El Tecolote, The Oaklandside, MPR News, National Public Radio, Outside Online, Talk Poverty, New Life Quarterly and Making Contact.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in Raza studies and political science from San Francisco State University.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.