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.


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.