Ask Mr. Tradecraft – 3

Dear Mr. Tradecraft,

I landed an upcoming assignment beginning 6 weeks from today, but for reasons I can‘t mention, I‘ll need to disguise myself. Any advice? – Disguised Operator Needs Good Lessons from Experts.

MrTradecraft

Dear DONGLE, Cancel the contract. I won‘t operate with a different persona without a minimum 4 months solid prep time, 24×7.  The hair, the clothes, the look, the speech – that‘s the easy bit. But the walk is the key. We all have our own natural walk, and learning to walk differently – to carry yourself differently – that‘s the hard bit. You’ll need a minimum of 4 months living the persona full time to develop the muscle memory, and to keep it throughout any stress situation.

Dear Mr. Tradecraft,

Ken has mentioned in his blog all the different areas you’ve worked in. What is the hardest and most challenging?– Secret Person Yearning

Dear SPY, The clandestine world has many specialties and sub-disciplines, but one stands far, far apart from the others: Cut-Out: getting a physical “thing” from Place A to Place B with absolutely, positively no trace-ability. Oh, I’ve dabbled in this from time to time, and I rarely turn down a straightforward contract. But for the big stuff – the political dossiers, the nuclear plans, the CD of videos showing CIA torture scenes – nothing less than a purebred, died-in-the-wool CU master will do. A top earner in this discipline easily earns fifty times what I bring down. But it takes decades of hard work and experience to get to this level. Today, there are only three well-known international, freelancing CU masters at this level. Four, if you count one in the Mossad.


Note from Ken: I’ve known him for years, but I never know when I’ll hear from him. Gladly, he’s back, not sure for how long, and I hope he has time to start emptying his mailbox.

After many decades, Mr. Tradecraft remains a much-sought-after operator for the most demanding contracts with governments, corporations, and private parties alike. He has over 30 years of international field experience that span the whole spectrum of clandestine services, from cut-outs, snatch-and-grabs, bag jobs, surveillance, to wet work — much of it spent in red zones. His retirement increasingly near, Ask Mr. Tradecraft is the pro bono way he gives back to the community. If you’d like to ask him a question, please submit it to Ken – but due to obvious reasons there may be a wait of many months before he can respond to your question.

 

Gabriel in Zürich – The true backstory

If you’ve read my post about Historical Jewry in Zurich, I might have left a few details out. Here’s the “backstory” as told by my father of Uncle Eddy Speaks Up fame:


Gabriel felt uneasy in Zurich at the best of times.  The Swiss have made it clear that he was not welcome. But he was back.  Worse, he was about to enter the old Synagogengasse and he didn’t much care for company. And yet here, in the evening mist, was someone else, pretending to read the plaque that told of the old pogroms there and holding a cell phone camera.

Gabriel’s hand went under the black slicker he wore and gripped the Beretta in the small of his back.  Standing in the shadows was a figure, quite tall and seemingly bald, he held a baseball cap to as to get closer to the plaque that marked the end of the alley. No one went to Synagogengasse, not even Jewish tourists.  Gabriel hoped that this was a coincidence, and that his cover wasn’t blown. No one was supposed to know he was in Zurich.

This was not a time for caution, and against his better judgment he had to move.  He slipped up quietly behind the stranger, pulling the Beretta, and jammed it into his ribs.  “If you want to live”, Gabriel said, “tell me who sent you.”

“Hey, man, quit the gun stuff”, said the stranger.  “I’m Ken, and I live here in Zurich”.  Gabriel’s eyes narrowed: “You have a slightly American accent – Ken.  If that’s your name.  And why take a picture of the Synagogengasse plaque?”

The stranger pushed the Beretta away from his ribs, and said: “the pictures are for my blog, you moron.  I travel all over the region – France, Germany, Italy – take interesting pictures and publish them in my blog.  This is a little known Jewish relic in Zurich and I wanted to see it.   I was trying to read the plaque when you came sneaking up, you jackass”.

Suddenly, it made sense to Gabriel.  “Wait a minute.  Ken —  blog — Zurich.  You’re Mr. Tradecraft’s friend Ken?”   “That’s right”, said Ken, now uneasy at the mention of the seldom-spoken name.   “I’m sorry.”, said Gabriel, “I’ll just slip away quietly and leave you to your reading.  Have you heard from Mr. T, lately?”

Ken looked at him, and made a what-a-dumb-ass-you-are face. “When Mr. T wants you to know where he is, he’ll call you.”

TOP SECRET – Full Disclosure!

I am not a spy, secret agent, terrorist, or anything like that. And I am not a paramilitary operator or mercenary, although people often think that when they see my enormous physical strength and lightning quick reflexes.

However, I have had – through no fault or desire of my own – more than my fair share of encounters with people who live in this secret underworld.

The other parts of my homepage and blog have been written for fun. But the stories I am now disclosing here are all true, and I am disclosing them for one purpose only: to save my life. Only by FULL DISCLOSURE can you be sure — after seeing what I have seen and learning what I have learned — that you will not one day simply disappear.

You’ve already read several blogs from my clandestine friend (Mr. Tradecraft) – now please stay tuned to read about my adventures.

 

Ask Mr. Tradecraft – 2

Dear Mr. Tradecraft, I’m a middle-aged operator with experience now on three continents. On each of them, from older (and wiser) operators, I’ve heard rumors and speculation about something called Code 16. But nobody can tell me what it is – is this a special tactic?  Perhaps a famous black operation? – Suspicious person yearning.

MrTradecraft

Dear SPY.

Neither. It’s an black-ops organization, but the details are not fully known.

Here’s what we know. Everyone’s heard of the Navy SEALS: take soldiers with world-class athletic ability, put them through insane training, and punish them in a “Hell Week” without sleep. Those that make it through become the world’s top warriors – or so they say.  In 1996 an analyst in the psychology group of the Center for Naval Analysis studied all graduating SEALs and those who dropped out. She found an amazing correlation: the candidates who dropped out during Hell Week had an intelligence quota of 16 points higher than those who made it through or dropped out earlier. For non-experts, that’s the difference between average and genius. Thus was born the idea for Code 16.

Think about it: find soldiers who’ll die to carry out orders and what do you have? Super soldiers willing to follow orders and die.  And of course that’s good – sometimes you need that.  But find soldiers who drop out just before the end and what do you have? The same super soldiers, but those who can think, who need to see the Big Picture; those who also value their own lives and well-being.  As any operator knows, those are more valuable traits for our line of work. Presumably, a select group of these “last dropouts” is handpicked to join Code 16 – probably those with skills in multiple languages.

Who runs Code 16?  Nobody knows, but the current speculation is a joint U.S. / French group with a focus on Northern Africa.

Where are they based?  Nobody knows, but my guess is a big city – partly for urban training opportunities. But also the best way to hide a group of men with strange body language is probably in plain sight.

How do you identify them?  That’s probably the easy part.  If you have access to a wire news search engine (like the newspapers use), search the obituaries for young men, early 30’s, Navy enlisted (or my guess: French Foreign Legion as well), dropped out of the program, and were killed – preferably cremated. Not all of them are Code 16 – but that’d be the place to start.


Note from Ken: I’ve known him for years, but I never know when I’ll hear from him. Gladly, he’s back, not sure for how long, and I hope he has time to start emptying his mailbox.

After many decades, Mr. Tradecraft remains a much-sought-after operator for the most demanding contracts with governments, corporations, and private parties alike. He has over 30 years of international field experience that span the whole spectrum of clandestine services, from cut-outs, snatch-and-grabs, bag jobs, surveillance, to wet work — much of it spent in red zones. His retirement increasingly near, Ask Mr. Tradecraft is the pro bono way he gives back to the community. If you’d like to ask him a question, please submit it to Ken – but due to obvious reasons there may be a wait of many months before he can respond to your question.

 

Ask Mr. Tradecraft – 1

Dear Mr. Tradecraft, At restaurants, bars and coffee shops I know I should always sit facing the door or window, but what happens when this isn’t possible?  Is this rule so important that I should look for a different place to eat or drink? – Beginning Operator Needs Discussion

MrTradecraft

Dear BOND. I get this question a lot – it might be my most asked question! The short answer is: eat or drink where you like, because where you sit really doesn’t matter.

You have to remember, BOND, we live in a world of CCTV, drones, cell phones, and GPS. So the tradecraft we use today is a lot different than what George Smiley or his contemporaries practiced during their jaunts through East Berlin. There’s what we call the Golden Assumptions of Tradecraft, or GAT-Rules.  GAT Rule 1: assume you are under observation, everywhere, all the time.  GAT Rule 2: assume that if they want you dead, you’re dead.

Now, BOND, the only thing you’ll likely accomplish by looking for a special seat is to send off those oh-so-subtle body language signals that might be picked up by innocent non-combatants such as waitresses or passers-by.  That can only complicate the successful completion of your mission. No, BOND, your best course of action is to assume you are being watched, and rely on your heightened senses and quick reflexes to deal with any eventuality that may come along.

So, BOND, just relax and find a good spot to enjoy your meal. Because in our business, you never know if it will be your last.

 


Note from Ken: After many decades, Mr. Tradecraft remains a much-sought-after operator for the most demanding contracts with governments, corporations, and private parties alike. He has over 30 years of international field experience that span the whole spectrum of clandestine services, from cut-outs, snatch-and-grabs, bag jobs, surveillance, to wet work — much of it spent in red zones. His retirement increasingly near, Ask Mr. Tradecraft is the pro bono way he gives back to the community. If you’d like to ask him a question, please submit it to Ken – but due to obvious reasons there may be a wait of many months before he can respond to your question.