Showing posts with label CIA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CIA. Show all posts

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Getting my Jam On! Interrupting Communications: Information for Writers

English: Electromagnetic waves can be imagined...
English: Electromagnetic waves can be imagined as a self-propagating transverse oscillating wave of electric and magnetic fields. This diagram shows a plane linearly polarized wave propagating from left to right. The electric field is in a vertical plane and the magnetic field in a horizontal plane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Our guest today is Jeffery H. Haskell who writes as Cassandra Sky West. We'll start our interview with Jeff in his non-writer persona and then switch to get to know what Cassandra has been writing about. Let's take a moment to get to know Jeff.

Jeff, can you tell me your professional background and how your background feeds your prose - what do you write?

Jeff -
The two things I could really call 'my profession' would be the US Army, and a technical support agent.

I spent 5 years in the Army doing comms work before I left to go to school. I went to school for journalism, and even won some big awards, but the inherent dishonesty of reporting was too much for me. Plus, I suck at school.

From there I fell into working tech support. I was young enough that I knew more about computers than the people older than me and in the 90s that was enough.

I worked that until 2011 when illness prevented me from talking on the phone for very long. Most of my tech support was phone based, I worked in call centers.

So how does this feed my prose? When I was a kid... let's say 'I had a bad childhood' and I didn't really have parents in any meaningful way. I loved Spiderman and Star Trek, and I used to write what we call fan fic now, but back then with no internet, it was just me dodging homework to go live in another world.

Of course, I read everything. Sci-fi, fantasy, as long as it was fantastical, I loved it. A few years ago, after being out of work for 4 years, I decided to revisit writing as a career. Mostly thanks to Lindsay Buroker's blog.

I started ghost writing on Upwork for urban fantasy. I had never really stopped writing since I was a kid. I decided I could write urban Fantasy. I use my background, my experiences, and my ability to research to bring as much life to the worlds and characters as I can. 

Currently, I write urban Fantasy as Cassandra, and Superhero and Sci-fi as Jeffery H. Haskell.

Fiona - 
And along the lines of research and making things as life-like as possible, you are here today to help us understand communications and how to make them not communicate.

Can you give us a brief overview of how communications uses electromagnetic signals as a path to understanding how we can interrupt them in our plots?

Jeff -
We call them by different names, cell phones, routers, AM/FM radio, etc., but they are all the same thing. They all use electromagnetic radiation (EMR) to transmit signals. Antennas receive them.

When a EMR signal is transmitted there are several ways it can reach its target, either in a broad circular transmission that blankets an area (AM/FM radio) through a directed signal (satellite dish) or through bouncing off the ionosphere.

These signals all have their own wavelength, something layman refer to as frequency. They aren't exactly the same thing, but close enough.

Fiona - 
So let's say we're the CIA or FBI, and we have a warrant (ripping this article from the headlines!) how would they intercept those signals without interrupting the conversation?

Jeff - 
Bear in mind, they have highly specialized equipment, often stuff you can't even buy on the market.

Fiona - 
Gosh, I hope so!

Jeff - 
If you're talking about cell phones, there are a lot of ways you can hijack the conversation without interrupting it. The irony of cell phones is, they actually made it easier to tap phone calls than land lines.

In the old days, if they wanted to tap a phone, they would either have to go inside the house and implant a bug in the room or the handset. Or dig up the line and attach a bypass to it.

The easiest way for them to do it now, and I believe Wikileaks just confirmed this (not to be political), is to simply gain wireless access the phone itself. Use its own software to record and listen to the call.

Fiona -
So to interrupt - wire tapping is so last year ...well, maybe not last year as in 2016, maybe many many years ago. It just isn't done.

Jeff - 
No, they still call it wiretapping, but no, no one really does that anymore.

The other way to listen is by hacking the cell company (which apparently the NSA had been doing) and routing all calls through their government computers and recording them.

There was a brief time when the FBI or whoever would have a tech van with a dish on top, and they would scan for signals, decode them and listen in. You had to be in the area of the cell phone you wanted to listen in on, but you could do it.

Now the government doesn't do that even. They hack everything and plant software that lets them listen from the source.

Fiona - 
I see they make baby dolls that start recording the stuff that goes on in your house now. Have you seen that?

Jeff - 
If it is wireless, then just like smart TV's (see Wikileaks) they can use that to listen and watch.

Fiona -
That's so creepy!

1984 seems like a fond dream compared to the reality.

Fiona - 
Okay, new scenario.

The good guys (we only help the good guys here at ThrillWriting) need to stop the bad guys from communicating. How could they do that?

Jeff -
If I didn't mention it, I know most of this because I spent five years as a 31 Kilo, Combat Signaler. I had a top secret clearance and (at the time) used the most advanced radios in the world. Jamming is actually a bit more tricky than listening. 

Fiona - 
How cool is that! I knew I was asking the right person to help me understand this.

Jeff - 
It sounded much cooler writing it than the actual experience.

Fiona - 
So go back, can you define Combat Signaler? What did your job entail?

Jeff - 
I spent almost a year at Fort Gordon, Georgia, home of the Army Signal Corps.

At the time they were just transitioning from the PRC-77 (fondly known as a prick-seven) which was an unencrypted radio from Vietnam (yes, this was 1992. The Army doesn't upgrade quickly) I was the very first to be trained on the new sincgars, multi frequency, encrypted radios. I'm not sure how much of this is declassified these days so I'll just say this, they were impossible to jam, and as far as I know, still are.

Combat Signaler just meant I was in charge of the radio. Before the sincgars that meant you were just the guy who go shot first.

Fiona - 
I got stuck at Prick 7. I so love that. I have to put that in a books somewhere. Next book, everyone, look for it!

Could you define singars

Jeff -
Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, is what it stands for Impossible to jam! This is important.

It was a universal radio that could talk to everyone. Believe it or not, up until that point the services COULDN'T radio each other.

Fiona - 
Wait - what?
Is that fixed now?

(Jeff takes a moment to go and make sure he isn't releasing classified information to me so the DoJ doesn't come knocking on my door. Not to say that I wouldn't love to meet them, just to say I don't want to meet them under those circumstances. And it looks like we are cleared to continue this conversation)

Jeff - 
The basic stuff is declassified. 

Up until the sincgars came out, the branches of the military couldn't talk to each other. Everyone used different radios made by different companies and each with their own encryption (if they even had any).

If you needed to talk to the Airforce you would call the rear echelon, and they would relay the message. Fun, huh? We fought 4 or 5 wars like that.

On to why they are impossible to jam. First, I am going to explain jamming.

Here is what you need to jam a signal:

  • You need to know the frequency. You need to be close to the source (remember, some signals travel by bouncing off the ionosphere which starts 50 miles up).
  • A power source more powerful than the one the transmitter uses and a larger antenna.
Fiona - 
How do you discover the frequency, just messing around with a dial?

Jeff -
Well, with the right antenna and the right computer program you could scan for freqs in use. Or, if it is something like a commercially made cell phone, the FCC has laws that restrict their freq use. You could google 'Razor flip phone frequency' and probably get it.

Once you have all those things (see how it is harder than listening in?) You have to be ABOVE them. This is important. EM signals travel at the speed of light. If you are trying to go for a 100% jam, you have to turn on your jammer before they connect their call, and for best results be higher than them.

Physically - like on a hill or in a tower - or standing on your van?

Jeff - 
Yes, physically (for best results).

After that it is just a matter of 'keying the mic' to transmit. If you're 50w radio is transmitting and someone with a 2.5w cell phone tries to talk, the signal will be washed away by the 50w signal.

In the Army we had a special Humvee with two massive antennas on them and a 100kw generator. When we flipped the switch, NO ONE could talk. We would sit on hills and do it randomly for fun just to mess up training exercises

That's area jamming, by the way. There is such a thing as direct jamming, but it takes even more specialized equipment and a directional antenna. However, the benefit is you don't need as big a power source.

Area jamming is what I described first. You sit on a hill or a house and overpower everyone.

Directional jamming is when you use something that looks like a satellite dish and you point it at the target you want jammed
it has the advantage of being smaller, using less power, and it is far more mobile.

However, if your target were to go behind something resistant to EMR, they would be free of the jamming.

So there are trade offs.


What surfaces would be resistant to EMR?

Jeff -
Anything that conducts electricity well. Copper, aluminum, gold, etc.

Also, lead. But that is because it is so dense the waves can't pass through it.

I say 'blocked' but some of these things absorb it, it amounts to the same thing.

There is also a way to seal your home or HQ by building a Faraday cage. Which is a thin wire mesh, like chicken wire, but made from copper. You put it in your walls and then run a low amount of power through it. No signal can penetrate it.

I wish they would put Faraday cages in movie theaters.

Fiona -  
Why can't SINGARS be jammed?

Jeff - 
SINGARS can't be jammed. Essentially they don't transmit on any one frequency. While they are transmitting they change frequency 111 times per second. Of course, they have to be synced to another sincgar to do it. But because you can't know what freq their on, you can't jam them.

Fiona -
Thank you.

Here on ThrillWriting it is tradition to tell the story behind your favorite scar. Would you indulge us?

Jeff -
Sadly, most of my scars are less than fun stories. But if I had to pick a favorite... One time in high school a kid who hated me threw a quarter stick of dynamite at me. It went off an inch from my shin. Shredded my pants and dented my shin bone. The skin is still discolored and you can feel the indent behind it.


Kids in your school threw dynamite? What??? 

Jeff - 
I didn't like school, to say the least.

Fiona - 
Goodness. Well, since that time, now you are writing under the
beautiful name Cassandra Sky West. And your books are doing really well. One of them you've recently put on sale and our readers can snag it for only 99 cents!

Alexi Creed needs to know who murdered her, and why. When she wakes up with no memory of her previous life, the only clue she has is a sudden, undeniable thirst for human blood. She finds allies in a mysterious witch with an enigmatic warning of the future and a brooding werewolf in search of redemption. Together they must fight malevolent vampires, agents of the Arcanum, and the forces of darkness if she is going to uncover her past and save the world from a night that will never end. READ IT HERE

A big thank you to Jeff AKA Cassandra Sky West for visiting with us and helping us to understand this subject so we can write it right.

You can stay in touch with Jeff/Cassandra here:  

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Domestic Terrorism: Information for Writers with Cpl. Allen Norton


DISCLAIMER - This is a non-political site that is geared to help writers write it right. I am presenting information to help develop fictional characters and fictional scenes. In no way am I advocating any position or personal decision.

ThrillWriting is pleased to welcome back Corporal Allen Norton. Cpl. Norton graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell with a certification in Homeland Security and also graduated from Columbia Southern University with a degree in Criminal Justice. He attended the National Center for Bio-medical Research and Training through Louisiana State University and recently graduated from the University of St. Andrews, and obtained a Global Certification as a Terrorism Specialist. In addition, he is a recognized Certified Homeland Protection Professional (C.H.P.P.) Cpl Norton obtained this certification through the National
Sheriffs Association and the National Domestic
Preparedness Coalition.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has employed him for 11 years. In his time with the Commonwealth, he served as a Task Force Officer for the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) for 2 years.  Cpl Norton currently teaches an Evolution of Terrorism program, other various terrorism classes, that includes Sovereign Citizens, and History of Islam class, at local and regional police academies. He personally designed all of the classes. In addition, Cpl Norton owns GDSI Intelligence and Training.

Hello Corporal, today I thought we could talk about domestic terrorism in the United States, though domestic terrorism is a component of many countries.

Could we start with the difference between a gang and a domestic terrorist.

Cpl. Norton - 
Terrorists use gang tactics and gangs use terrorists tactics. For example, terrorist organizations shaking down people for protection money, drug trafficking, etc. and gangs using fire bombs, assassinations, etc. The best way to differentiate a terrorist group from a gang is the objective. Terrorists look for religious or political cause. Gangs are concerned with money, girls and turf. But because some have crossed into both categories (ex. New Black Panther Party), the US hasn't really labeled them as either. They're considered an extremist group.

Fiona - 
Is there a domestic terrorist definition? And who has jurisdiction once the group has been identified as domestic terrorists?

Cpl. Norton - 
Thankfully unlike terrorism in general, there is one definition for Domestic Terrorism. It states that: 

Domestic Terrorism is extreme force and violence perpetrated by residents of a country, within that country, for the purpose of coercing its government and population into modifying its behavior.

Jurisdiction is local, state or FBI. CIA has very little to do with DT (domestic Terrorism)

FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force
FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fiona - 
How many different domestic terrorist groups do they think there are? Which is the largest/most dangerous/highest up on the bad-boy list?

Cpl. Norton - 
There are thousands in the U.S. 

The Sovereign Citizen Movement has been classified as the most dangerous, because they are anti-government. They believe that they are their own country, and the U.S. does not exist. Instead, they say the 14th amendment tricked people into being U.S. citizens. They have their own documents and license plates.

The biggest probably being the Ku Klux Klan

Top Groups/Causes:
Sovereign Citizen 
* White Supremacist 
* Abortion 
* Black Separatist 
* Animal rights 
* Environmental 
* Anti-genetic engineering

Fiona -
Do DT groups recruit on social media like international terrorist groups? Do they have training camps?

Cpl. Norton - 
Militias will stockpile weapons and conduct training at camps. They also have uniforms and insignias and go by military titles. They will call themselves Militia of Virginia, Militia of Montana, Militia of North Carolina, etc.

Social Media is their biggest recruitment tool, along with record companies that put out hate music. I wouldn't say they have training camps, more so "gatherings". The Sovereign Movement recruits by traveling around the country giving seminars.

Fiona - Can you talk about recruits - who they look for? How do they lure them in? How do they keep them engaged?

Cpl. Norton - 
They do it differently. The Black Separatists look for "hot spots" that are racially charged in which to recruit. White Extremists do it via Hate Music. Anti-Abortionists look for those who feel the same way about their cause. Simply put, they try to single out people with the same ideology as they have, the same hate, from there they just intensify the rhetoric, and ram it home, so to speak.

Fiona - 
So there are laws that allow Americans the freedom to think hateful thoughts, what kinds of laws protect people from acts of hatred? I guess I'm wondering where the line is drawn? 

Cpl. Norton - 
Once they act on those thoughts

Fiona - 
In books that include domestic terror - who do you think wrote it well? And what mistakes do you see?

Cpl. Norton - 
Timothy McVeigh was one of the best known domestic terrorists, his favorite read was the Turner Diaries. A blueprint on right wing extremism because it was written by Andrew McDonald. Andrew McDonald is the pen name for William Pierce, the founder of the National Alliance.

Fiona - 
And National Alliance is...

Cpl. Norton - 
The largest white supremacist group ever founded.

Founded in 1967 in West Virginia, they hate everyone not white and Jewish people. Publish a magazine called National Vanguard, Claimed that 9/11 was because of the United States support of Israel, Best Financed and best organized white national organization, record label called resistance Records, Weekly radio show.

Rarely do you hear about the National Alliance.

Fiona -
Do you think media gets portrayals of domestic terrorism correct?

Cpl. Norton - 
Actually, I try to shy away from TV shows about DT. Some groups are so good they don't get caught, like members of the Earth Liberation Front or Earth First. The tactics are so sophisticated; they change clothes, shoes after attacks, put socks over their shoes so no footprints are used, use kitchen timers. When you watch TV it's all solved in 60 minutes, just doesn't happen this way.

Fiona - 
How dangerous is this for common Americans? Are the FBI on them tight enough that we're pretty safe?

Cpl. Norton - 

The problem with these groups is that there is nothing illegal about them being existence. The hardest thing for law enforcement is that even though we know they're there, unless they do something, their hands are tied. They have to act on it, before it's a crime. That's what makes them so dangerous

Fiona - 
Does law enforcement join them to keep an eye? Do the agents ever swing and become terrorists themselves?

Cpl. Norton - 
I have not known any to become terrorists. But law enforcement does infiltrate them, and they infiltrate law enforcement, and the military. The ones who do that have to be real good though, to be caught is certain death

Fiona - 
Wait - they infiltrate law enforcement? Who has to be real good or dead? How do you get to be real good?

Cpl Norton.

That also makes it tough, we learn about what each other is doing the same time we learn how to defeat each other. Sure, they join law enforcement agencies and the military, that's how they get good training. If a cop is found to be in a DT organization or outlaw motorcycle gang, they surely are killed.

Obviously, ones with criminal records can't join a law enforcement agency because of background checks. But ones with clean records that an agency hasn't come across yet is like you or me.

Fiona - 
Me? Clean? Don't assume.

Cpl. Norton - 
You just made me more interested in you, lol.

Fiona - 
We're out of time - I'll just have to leverage that into another interview. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

Readers, check out our Terrorism 101 interview by clicking on the article below. 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Related articles

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Terrorism 101: Information for Writers with Corporal Allen Norton

DISCLAIMER - This is a non-political site that is geared to help writers write it right. I am presenting information to help develop fictional characters and fictional scenes. In no way am I advocating any position or personal decision.

This article is the first article in a planned series on terrorism with ThrillWriting's guest, Corporal Allen Norton. I was so excited to have met the very knowledgeable and entertaining Cpl. Norton at a lecture on terrorism. He had the room transfixed. 

Fiona - 
Corporal Allen Norton

Corporal Allen, thank you so much for sharing your information with us. Can we start with an introduction of your background? How did you come to be an anti-terrorism instructor?

Cpl. Norton - 
In 2007, I graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell with a certification in Homeland Security and also graduated from Columbia Southern University with a degree in Criminal Justice. I've attended the National Center for Bio-medical Research and Training through Louisiana State University and recently graduated from the University of St. Andrews, where I obtained a Global Certification as a Terrorism Specialist. In addition, I am a recognized Certified Homeland Protection Professional (C.H.P.P.) I obtained this certification through the National Sheriffs Association and the National Domestic Preparedness Coalition.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has employed me for 11 years. In my time with the Commonwealth, I served as a Task Force Officer for the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) for 2 years.  I currently teach an Evolution of Terrorism program, other various terrorism classes, that includes Sovereign Citizens, and History of Islam class, at the local and regional police academies. I personally designed all of the classes. In addition, I own GDSI Intelligence and Training.

GDSI Intelligence and Training - website link
and on Facebook - click here

Fiona - 
You had a very personal brush with terror.

Cpl. Norton - 
I was supposed to be in the World Trade Center on 9/11 for a meeting. At the time, I served as Director of Security for three resorts in the Poconos. Fortunately, I overslept that morning.

Fiona - 
Very fortunate!

We met at a lecture, and the very first thing that you pointed out was that every government agency has their own definition of terrorism. Is there a reason that we do not have a national definition? How does this pose problems in working across agencies? 

Cpl. Norton - 
I cannot give a 100% definite reason as to why each agency and state has their own definition. My guess would be that each government agency wants to be the one to determine what it is. Like the rivalry between police and fire, each wants to be in control of the scene. 

The major issue is that working for an agency, you have to be able to enforce the laws of that agency. It is hard for individuals that serve on different task forces. They have to be very mindful of the capacity that they are serving in, and enforce that agencies definition. 

Fiona - 
Can you sift the definition down to one so that we can get a basic understanding as it applies to the U.S.?

Cpl. Norton - 
My personal favorite is the one offered by the Department of Defense, which states: 
Terrorism is the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives. 
This definition is my favorite because it lists religious, something that most of the others fail to list. The significance is that in this day and age, there is probably a 5:1 ratio of religious groups to political groups. 

Amazingly, there is only one definition for domestic terrorism, which is:
Extreme force and violence perpetrated by residents of a country, within that country, for the purpose of coercing its government and population into modifying its behavior.

How do they decide who has control over the case? Who maintains jurisdiction?

Cpl. Norton - 
The problem with most terrorist activities here in the U.S. we list the activities as criminal acts. Only once we've established a link between an event and a terrorist organization, are the FBI usually involved. In all terrorism cases here in the U.S., the FBI gets the lead. All terrorism cases that affect U.S. interests overseas the CIA gets the lead. 

Another issue that makes it difficult to determine who has jurisdiction is that we see gangs using terrorist tactics, and terrorists using gang tactics. The FBI, however, does do a good job serving as a go-to resource to help determine what agencies have jurisdiction.

Fiona - 
I was fascinated to learn that terrorism runs on a business plan and provides benefits. I am not talking about the virgins-in-the-sky kind of benefits either, I am talking about vacation pay. Can you talk about terrorism - both domestic and foreign as a business model?

Cpl. Norton -
One of the definitions of business is "an occupation, profession or trade." For most terrorist organizations what they are trying to accomplish, whether it be religious or political, they see as an occupation for God or the people. They are doing their work. Therefore, they are working for them. Domestic terrorism is less of a business than the international terrorist groups. Practically all of the domestic terrorists have regular jobs that they do.

Al-Qaeda, for example, does operate as a business. They, as well as other organizations, still promise 72 virgins, the chance to live in the lands of milk and honey, and they get to touch the face of God. 

These perks are only for males though; women get family redemption.

Fiona - 
Family redemption? I mean that is a nice gesture and everything... but there are other things that might entice me a bit more.

Cpl. Norton - 
Understand that family redemption for women is very important in the Islamic religion. 

Most of these women are raped into the organizations, therefore, making them impure. The only way they can purify themselves, and be right for God, is to do His bidding (as they are told).

There are many ways to entice women, but the most popular are:
* They are raped-in 
* They want family redemption 
* They have lost family to the enemy and want revenge 
* Or in many cases, they want to prove that they can fight and die
    just as well as a man can. 
* Some women are romantically involved with members of the
    organization, and it is just natural that they join.

Fiona - 
Let's do a little myth-busting. 

Cpl. Norton - 
Myths of Terrorism -

1. Terrorism is a new tactic.
    Terrorism can be traced to biblical times, but the first time it was
     used in the context we use it today was 1792 during the French
     Revolution. A British scholar said, "What is
     happening in France is terroristic."

2. One person’s terrorist is another person’s liberator. 
    That statement is in the eye of the beholder. If you ask a terrorist
     group if they are terrorists 9 out of 10 times they will say no.
     They will call themselves Freedom Fighters or Liberators. 
     Therefore the term is very political loaded. 

    Terrorism itself is part of a strategy. No one goes out and says, "I
    am going to terrorize people." It is a tactic that is used to reach
    one's goals.
3. Historically, terrorism has been assumed to be a left
    wing/revolutionary phenomena
    Right wing wants a return to a previous time.
    Left wing wants to  create a new reality.
    The reality is that there is a 5:1 Right wing to left wing terrorist
    ratio right now  

4. Terrorism is highly effective 
     No, it is part of a strategy. It is also important to realize that
     when terrorists receive what they are asking for, they will not
     stop and be happy. They will continue to do what they do, but
     next time ask for more. 

5. Terrorists are idealistic – 
    Terrorists use their ideology to gain power.

6. Humane behavior is sacrificed for revolutionary goals.
    The goal is power. 

7. Terrorism is for the poor.
    In reality, the people with high status within and organization
    come from very wealthy families.

Fiona -     
You have a list of the planning stage steps that all terror acts follow. 

Cpl. Norton - 
Yes, every terrorist organization uses this planning cycle:

Planning cycle  

• Broad target selection 
• Intelligence and surveillance 
• Specific target selection 
• Pre-attack surveillance and planning 
• Attack rehearsal  
• Actions on the objective 
• Escape and exploitation

Fiona - 
What is the point of no return? Where do the good guys usually catch the cell's planning?

Cpl. Norton - 
Catching a terrorist event before it happens is the ultimate goal. However, for the good guys to completely disrupt the event, it has to be caught before the attack rehearsal. Once the terrorists have all of the information, it's almost impossible to stop,  If we are able to disrupt the attack during the rehearsal stage, the terrorists already have all the information they need. If we arrest a group, then the terrorist organization simply finds others to train. Anytime you can foil it before then; they have to start all over. They have to be lucky once, we have to be lucky always.

Fiona - 
Can we talk about ideology and how they get the message out to possible followers?

Cpl. Norton -
Ideology is at the heart of all major decisions and choices the terrorist group makes. The avenues terrorist use to spread their ideology are: 
* Mass media
* Internet 
* Political fronts
* Literature dissemination 
One of the biggest recruiting tools is Social Media. Moreover, there are no laws against that.

Fiona - 
What are the usual tactics that terrorists use? Also, who are the targets? 

Cpl. Norton - 

The 6 Traditional Tactics: 

* Arson 
* Assault 
* Bombing 
* Hijacking 
* Hostage taking 
* Kidnapping 

Newer Tactics: 

* Threat-Hoax 
* Raid or Ambush 
* Seizure 
* Assassination 
* Weapons of Mass Destruction


* Governments 
* People 
* Other countries and their people

Fiona - 
Thank you so much, Cpl. Norton. I am so looking forward to learning more in this series. 

Also, thanks to you writers who do their research here on ThrillWriting. Hopefully, this has given you some plotting points for your WIP. While this article is only the first in a series, if you have a question or comment, please leave it below. The comments are moderated to block SPAM, so it will go up ASAP. In the meantime, if you find this resource to be helpful, I would appreciate your spreading the word. I've placed some handy-dandy social media buttons below.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Government Intelligence 101 - Information for Writers with Jeff Critser

Author, Jeff Critser
Fiona - 

Hi Jeff - so great that you stopped by ThrillWriting today - can you take a minute and introduce yourself to the readers? You know the usual - what you've done with your life, your aspirations, and dreams...

Jeff - 
Sure thing. I am a former Naval Aviator and military intelligence officer on national SIGINT programs. I've always had a storytelling mindset (despite being an engineer by training) and during a writing assignment in graduate school, I knew at that stage that I wanted to be a novelist. Tom Clancy was one of my first inspirations when he wrote The Hunt for Red October, and even to this day, he is one of my favorite authors.

In addition to working signals intelligence operations (SIGINT) in the military and other national operations, I consult on security programs today in a variety of capacities. My main goal as an author is to weave stories in and around intelligence and espionage situations.

Fiona - 
Let's start there. Can you give us a mini tutorial. A kind of "What Every Author Should Know About Intelligence" overview?

Jeff - 
Here are some of the key points I would like to impart to the readers regarding military intelligence:

1) Intelligence agencies are byzantine organizations. They are
     highly compartmentalized, thus making it difficult for any one
     person (or persons) to know all of the activities and operations.
     Even the appointed heads of NSA, DIA, and other military
     agencies (a flag-ranked officer*)  only serve for a few years at
     the post and have difficulty learning the full breadth and scope
     of their own organization. Most of the continuous knowledge
     base resides with the deputy directors (civilians) who serve in
     the same role for many years.

   * Flag Rank Definition: (DOD) A term applied to an officer
      holding the rank of general, lieutenant general, major general,
      or brigadier general in the US Army, Air Force or Marine
      Corps or admiral, vice admiral, rear admiral or commodore in
      the US Navy or Coast Guard. source

The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency....
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2) The compartmentalization and frenetic pace of intel collection and the backlog of background checks can lead to security breaches and help enable turncoats like Edward Snowden. The intel community relies too heavily on Counter Intelligence (CI)/Lifetsyle Polygraphs (with EPQ*) to “catch” potential spies. While there has been considerable push-back regarding the validity of polygraphs, the agencies are essentially doubling down on them to shore up security problems.

(*EPQ: Embarrassing Personal Questions)

Link - to NSA Polygraph brochure dos and don'ts, expectations.

 3) Most intelligence agencies exists to provide actionable
     intelligence to the war fighter in the field. That is
     why most of the intelligence agencies are part of the DoD and
     not civilian. The CIA is a major intel agency but is not part of 
     the defense establishment. 

 4) There are 16 identified intelligence agencies (actual number is

      The “Big Five” agencies are:
National Geospatial Intelligence Agency
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
      * Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) 
      * National Security Agency (NSA) 
      * National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) 
      * Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) 
      * National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency 

       While most people think the CIA is the
       biggest intelligence group, the NSA and
       NRO have much larger budgets (which is

 5) Inter-agency rivalries and feuds are very common, marked by
     senior representatives from each agency vying to out-work the 
     others for recognition and control of budget. There are
     numerous examples (most of which cannot be discussed
     outside of a cleared audience) in which a major intelligence
     operation went terribly wrong because one group refused to
     share intelligence with a sister agency for fear of losing bragging
     rights or having budgets diminished. The Berlin Wall tunnel 
     snafu during the Cold War was a famous case of inter-agency 
     fighting and posturing. Despite many attempts to corral this 
     infighting, these feuds are still prevalent today. In my
     novel, COLD SHADOWS, the various agencies had different
     parts to play. The insidious Rafter was a direct action (DA)
     operative from a deep black  group of the CIA. The DIA was the
     agency overseeing operation URGENT VECTOR, and the NSA
     was providing real time SIGINT tracking for targets of interest.

Fiona - 
You were explaining to me that the agencies are byzantine, and they are run by both military and civilians. The military are rotated out fairly rapidly leaving these groups to mainly be captained by civilians. What qualifies the civilians and is there difficulty in communication between these two groups and trust issues?

Jeff - 
There are significant trust issues between the agencies because they compete for recognition and funding by the White House, Congress and National Command Authority. The main weapon they use against one another is withholding information from another agency.

The military staff in these agencies have significant operational experience and provide critical insight as to what works (or what won't work) while most of the civilians are scientists, analysts, and engineers that are focused on the technologies and developments needed to accomplish the mission. For example, the NSA is one of the largest employers of scientists and engineers in the world. These guys are 20-30 years ahead of anything we've seen in the commercial sector.

Fiona - 
Who is more likely to be the next Snowden? Military personnel or civilian?

Jeff -
Современный компьютерный полиграф ЭПОС-7: сенс...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Traditionally, leaks come more from civilians than military, but both sides have been guilty over the years. Two issues that impact the trustworthiness of the people hired for these sensitive programs are: 
1) The overload that the investigative teams
    are facing with vetting employees for
2) The dependence on CI/Lifestyle
     Polygraphs for weeding out potential
     traitors. Many of the traitors
     historically have passed their polys with no
     problem, so the efficacy of these are often

Fiona - 
Polygraphs and psychopaths don't mix. As in - a psychopath (like your character, Rafter) won't have biomarkers of anxiety.

Jeff - 
Yes, that is correct. Many psychopaths and sociopaths will pass their polygraphs. They have no conscience.

Fiona - 
The NRO - Why have I never heard of this before our little chat?

Jeff - 
NRO logo
NRO logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The NRO is highly secretive because they maintain and operate the entire fleet of "overhead assets." This is intel-speak for spy satellites. Some of the most sensitive technologies used in the intelligence gathering reside in the satellites. Very powerful and highly sensitive programs exist with the "overheads."

Fiona - 
Okay so let's talk vocab.

Jeff - 

Seal of the C.I.A. - Central Intelligence Agen...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sure thing

Fiona - 
DA means direct action what would that entail?
Also, Deep black and SA...

Jeff - 
CIA DA groups are ones that employ paramilitary tools and techniques to accomplish the mission. They're armed with conventional and unconventional weaponry and spy gear/techniques (called "tradecraft") to accomplish the mission. CIA DA teams belong to the clandestine services are often recruited from military special operations teams like SEAL Team Six (DEVGRU) and Delta.Deep black means "Special Access Program." This is abbreviated as "SAP". SAP programs are ones that don't officially "exist" and are wrapped in very tight secrecy and highly compartmented. Before the F-117 and B2 programs were released to the public, they were SAP.
"Above Top Secret" is used a lot in the movies and TV. Here's what that means: The clearances run, Confidential, Secret, Top Secret, and Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (abbreviated "TS/SCI"). The TS/SCI programs require very special clearances and "need-to-know" before someone can be "read in" to the program. These are the so-called "above Top Secret" clearances.

Fiona - 
"NSA was providing real time SIGINT tracking for targets of interest." Explain SIGINT

Jeff - 
SIGINT is Signals Intelligence. Essentially, this is intelligence garnered and exploited through any electronic medium. Cell phones, faxes, emails, radar, etc. SIGINT is gathered through a global array of very sophisticated sensors that eavesdrop on electronic comms.

LINK - This is the NSA frequently asked questions document.

Fiona - 
If I put this information into my blog, tell the truth, will the NSA bang on my door? Not that I'm afraid - I like meeting new people, mind you - I just want to be prepared.

Jeff - 
No worries, we will not divulge anything that is sensitive.

Fiona - 
Explain the use of the word paramilitary.

Jeff - 
Para literally means "above". This does not mean that paramilitary groups are better than military from that word, but that the teams have are trained and outfitted similarly to elite military teams, but their missions and reporting agencies are very different from military ones. The CIA clandestine service is a "paramilitary" group As stated before, many in that group come from military spec-ops, SEALS, Delta, Force Recon, etc

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Fiona - 
Your thriller Cold Shadows has to walk a line between being accurate with the terms (the alphabet soup of military talk) and vocabulary that civilians use. You also have the CIA, DIA, and NSA involved. DIA being the Defense Intelligence Agency. When many people don't know what these agencies are/do how do you pull the reader along? I imagine that this is problematic for anyone who is coming from a place of expertise and now, as novelists, they have to "keep it real" and yet keep it accessible.

Jeff - 
It is a very fine line to walk, and if you're not careful, you could end up in the weeds and confuse the reader. Some authors go way too deeply into the military jargon and operational speak. For me, I have no problem following that since that is the world that I come from, but civilians' eyes glaze over pretty quickly. In COLD SHADOWS, I wanted to give just enough detail to explain what was happening (and to keep military enthusiasts happy) without boring the reader with deep technical descriptions.

The feedback so far has been very positive that there was enough explanation embedded without killing the pace of the story.

The military loves jargon and bizarre vernacular, so authors with military backgrounds have to remind themselves to not wade too deeply into those waters unless the work in question is specifically intended for a military audience. If that is the case, then the more techno-speak, the better!

Fiona - 
So when you are reading along, and a civilian has attempted to make a military enthusiast happy, what is a tell-tale sign that they are not from a military background? Do you see a mistake pattern that you can give us a heads-up about?

Yes, military people pick up on that right away

For example, the "above Top Secret" line. Nobody with SCI access uses that term. When I see it, I know it was from a civilian with no intel background

Fiona - 
Is it offensive? Amusing? Irritating?

It's not offensive, but it's irritating that it's not authentic.

Fiona - 
So they should buddy up with a military guy/gal and get them to beta read for them?

Jeff - 
That's always a good idea.

Fiona - 
So writers the big take away here is - if you know the vernacular use it like salt a little adds flavor too much makes the end product unpalatable - and writers if you don't have the background seek out a beta reader and bake them a chocolate cake to thank them for their help.

So here's an snippet from a story I'm working on:
Amanda reached out to pull her purse from its resting spot by the sink. Reaching in, she retrieved her work badge. It was a Pentagon issued SCI biometric badge. “Sensitive Compartmented Information, Amanda? Dr. Amanda Campbell? What the hell?"

Jeff - 
Regarding Dr. Campbell, Small point of distinction with SCI - 
The general clearance level is called "TS/SCI", but her actual compartments that she is cleared for would be listed after "TS". 

I can't list the actual compartments because the names are classified, so I will make this up. If she were cleared for the "ZEBRA ELEPHANT" compartment, her clearance in writing would read "TS/ZE". You can make up fictional compartments (they're typically two words) and use that in your writing. Only people who are similarly cleared will know the actual compartments, and they will NEVER be used outside of a cleared SCIF. SCIF - Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. These are the blacked out rooms with big vault doors and armed guards and only special comms gear inside.

Fiona - 
Yes, that's what she does. Define "comms gear."

Jeff - 
Communications gear that is encrypted to that level of security needed for that SCIF. No regular phones or computers.

Fiona - 
Okay so on her badge what would it say to give her access to the area?

Jeff - 
It usually says nothing, but it will have several things on it. 
1) A photo 
2) Bio-metric coded info (for readers that have it) 
3) A color scheme to denote the compartments she's cleared for 
4) Her name 

Fiona - 
You can tell she is SCI by the colors on her badge?

Jeff - 
Yes. The color codes are unique to the agency and are classified in their meaning. It helps make sure that everyone can quickly spot those who are cleared and those who aren't.

Fiona - 
OK I'll revisit how I said that. May I cut a slice of your chocolate cake for you now?

Jeff - 
Yes, thank you. It's fine how it is. Just a very minor point in distinction. Remember, the compartments are never spoken in an unclassified setting. The names of the compartments themselves are classified.

For writers of intelligence-genre books, have fun with the writing and let your imagination run wild. Call on a friend who is "in the business" if you need a reality check on what you've written. A VERY important thing to remember is that you should NEVER divulge an actual intelligence apparatus/asset or operation if you have knowledge of it. Not only will you land in a lot of legal hot water including jail time, but you will be endangering the lives of agents in the field. For most people, though, knowledge of actual operations is hard to come by, so this rule isn't broken often. Have fun, be imaginative, and sweep the characters into the deep unknown. The more fictional it may appear, the closer to reality you might actually be.

Fiona -
This is the part of the interview when I whip out our traditional question, "Tell us the story behind your favorite scar."

Jeff - 
Well, the one that is most prominent in my life is above my left eye. It was from a soccer accident at Vanderbilt in my senior year. It required surgery to fix my badly broken nose and ruptured blood vessels. The interesting part was that exactly two years earlier, I had another head-on collision with a player that damaged my right eye (also needed it stitched). The player that ran into me was the same guy both times, just two years apart. After being hit the second time, I actually started to punch him for splitting my head open (again!). I couldn't see because I had blood in my eyes, but I found him on the ground next to me and started punching him furiously. We were both taken to the hospital for surgery (he had torn a major blood vessel in his head that had to be sewn together).

Fiona - 
Was there a girl involved in this saga?

Jeff - 
No girl this time...just two aggressive males duking it out on the field two different times two years apart. I even yelled obscenities at him as we rode in the ambulance together (side by side gurneys).

Fiona - 
I caught the "this time" bit about the girl. The chances of being hit by the same guy are really pretty slim - I'm sure you've considered that this was karmic retribution for some past life offense...

Jeff - 
Most likely so. I've had my turn in the barrel for sure.

I would pay good money for the ambulance ride video.

Jeff - 
Had this been today, I'm sure it would be on YouTube from someone's cell phone camera two guys squirting blood out of their faces, blind, punching each other in the middle of a soccer field as ambulances rush to the scene. Classic. It looked more like a horror film. Texas Chainsaw style.

Fiona - 
Thanks to Jeff Critser for sharing his knowledge and insights with us. 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

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