Showing posts with label Federal Bureau of Investigation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Federal Bureau of Investigation. 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, November 20, 2016

Who Has Jurisdiction? A Question for Crime Writers with Tina Glasneck

This post was written by ThrillWriting friend Tina Glasneck, who jumped in to help me out as I am furiously trying to meet a deadline for my publisher. So a big thank you and welcome to Tina. Tina's other articles on ThrillWriting are: Paralegals 101  and Prepping the Alleged Perp.

Who has jurisdiction?

Being a part of a writing community provides opportunities that are not always possible to enjoy alone. This past weekend, I attended a wonderful workshop regarding the Cop Culture and the Organizational Differences in Law Enforcement.This workshop was about getting the details right.

There are different branches of law enforcement including, Tribal, Federal, Task Force, State Police, Private Security, Sheriff, Local Police, and even Campus Police. When creating a crime story, a mystery that entails that a crime occurred, it is important for to question jurisdiction, and to know which law enforcement agency might respond.

In understanding the jurisdiction issue (and it is not always based on county, city, state or country lines), let's look at the example of a laptop being stolen. If it happens on a college campus, it’s usually something reported to Campus police, but it could also be reported to the city or county police who have jurisdiction over that campus, based on where the campus is located.

What about the state police? Would they look into something as benign as a stolen laptop? Well, it all depends. For example, in Virginia, Virginia State Police would be called in “to investigate any matter referred by the Governor.” Additionally, “[t]he Attorney General, commonwealth's attorneys, chiefs of police, sheriffs and grand juries may request the Department to investigate matters that constitute Class 1, 2 or 3 felonies.”

Class 1, 2, or 3 felonies include: murder, and malicious wounding, and although it does not include burglary or grand larceny, I think that if it is connected to such a matter, it could then still fall under the perview of the State Police.

Now let’s suppose that this laptop has something egregious on it – say it is connected to a serial killer, and all of his victims, for such a matter the FBI would be quite interested. According to the FBI’s website: “The Bureau concentrates on crime problems that pose major threats to American society. Significant violent crime incidents such as mass killings, sniper murders, and serial killings can paralyze entire communities and stretch state and local law enforcement resources to their limits. Particular emphasis is put on criminal street gangs, bank robberies, carjackings, kidnappings, interstate transportation of stolen property and motor vehicles, assaults and threats of assault on the president and other federal officials, and the theft or destruction of government property. As part of this priority, the FBI also investigates crimes against children, art theft, child prostitution, fugitives and missing persons, and crimes on Indian reservations.”

Can you see where we're going with this? It is not just the object but how it connects to the overall crime.

And what about these organizations working together. Borders do not always stop one law enforcement's jurisdiction. This is called concurrent jurisdiction. Concurrent jurisdiction means: "The authority of several different courts, each of which is authorized to entertain and decide cases dealing with the same subject matter.”

It is important to understand concurrent jurisdiction, especially in our understanding of the FBI, DEA, and others working in a task force. “In law enforcement, “concurrent jurisdiction” may exist, where a crime may be a local, state, and federal violation all at the same time.” See FBI on task force.

This is where task forces come into play, and there will be agents from multiple agencies on the task force.” Task forces typically focus on terrorism, organized crime, narcotics, gangs, bank robberies, kidnapping, and motor vehicle theft. “Ibid. As a side note, the FBI does investigate matters which take place on Tribal land, as well, just as it can have an attache in the embassies located outside of the US borders..

Another jurisdiction to consider is the sovereign jurisdiction of the Tribal nations. The Federally recognized tribes, who have reservations, are their own sovereign nations. While some of these reservations have their own tribal law enforcement officers, those that do not have their own police force use officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). For more information, see BIA.Gov

When writing that next piece and working on solving that next case, consider that question of jurisdiction. Not only do we have to look at the crime itself, but as to the severity of the crime and if concurrent jurisdiction is indeed possible. The theft of this laptop can, from my understanding, be a jumping off point for multiple agencies to get involved in the investigation, and it will depend on the details on who actually takes the lead.

A special thanks to Lilianna Hart and Scott Silverii for leading such a wonderful workshop in making sure us writers get it right, and can take our writing and careers to the next level!

 (Look for Scott Silverii ThrillWriting articles by doing a search at the top right-hand side of this blog)


TINA GLASNECK writes in an array of genres and loves a good story. She appreciates a good cup of coffee, characters that cause visceral responses, and a nice helping of laughter to balance it all out. Learn more about Tina and her writing at

Some things are worth killing for.... Alexandria "Xandy" Caras was charged with murder - a mass murder. The charges were dropped; the case dismissed. Or was it? A serial killer with a "Moses complex" is out for blood - Xandy's blood - and the blood of those who have sinned against the 10 Commandments. The bodies are piling up, and he's getting closer to his number one target: Xandy. Only her death will make it all stop, silencing the deranged killer who thirsts for far more than just revenge.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Military v. Civilian Crime Investigation Who's in Control? Info for Writers with Daniel Chamberlain

In this article, I'd like to introduce you to Daniel Chamberlain, who
was a Special Agent with the Department of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Recently, he was telling me about a c
ase (none of this is classified, I promise) which involved an Air Force asset who had been working as a double agent for nearly a decade. They were surveilling the final meeting between this guy and his handling agent in Germany. At the end of the night, he got a nasty surprise and the German government was able to roll up a fairly large network. Oh, and if you want another case, check out Jens Karney. Karney was another spy Daniel had a hand in trailing. While never friends, Daniel had dealings with him before it was discovered he was also a spy. 

And now, Daniel, you're turning your experiences into fiction. What are you working on? What genre do you enjoy writing?

Daniel -
My first two books were categorized as "Westerns," but the first was a murder mystery, and the second an historical fiction. My 3rd was my first venture into an action/adventure. Right now, I'm working on a sequel to that. I don't want to get fenced into a particular genre.

Fiona -
Can you tell us a little bit about your job in the Air Force and how your experience influences your writing? Or does it?

Daniel - 
Prior to the Air Force, I was a street cop. After entering the Air Force, I was recruited into the Office of Special Investigations following a fairly brutal crime scene where some of the agents had an opportunity to watch me work. A few days later, I was summoned to the detachment and asked if I'd consider a cross train. I worked a lot of drugs and crimes against persons, but my heart was really in larger crimes, espionage, black marketing and things like that.

Fiona - 
Does this influence how you write scenes in your books?

Daniel -
I'm a very visually oriented person. At the same time, I'm very observant. I want my scenes to be imaginatively stimulating as if I'm looking at the scene that very moment. I also insist on authenticity. I won't make a mistake about a weapon, or piece of equipment, or for that matter, an investigative technique. Nothing can be imaginary. It has to exist and I have to know how to use it. 

Fiona -
You fit right in here on ThrillWriting - we are writers who strive to write it right and readers who like to be entertained and also learn cool new stuff (that's the technical term) from the books they choose.

How were you trained to enter a scene? As an investigator can you take us through the steps and thought processes?

Daniel - 
A scene - as in crime scene - may have defined borders, but initially you may not know this. You have to enter from the spot it was discovered, or as closely as you can. I stop and do an overall scan to get a sense of the scene, then I move closer to my point of observation, mentally marking anything that may be of evidentiary value, what I might want photographs of later. I decide what track I'll use when entering, because nothing irritates me more than someone who blunders into a scene and steps on things that could be evidence. (Read more about that and Locard's Exchange Principle HERE)

After I decide the route I'll use to enter, I do so, slowly and with great deliberation. Even a fleck of blood is evidence.

I once had an agent step into a death scene and accidentally kick an expended bullet that had gone through the victim's head, bounced off the ceiling and lay on the floor at the entrance to the apartment.

Fiona - 
You mentioned kicking a spent bullet case. What other things might you be on the lookout for? How do you decide that something is significant?

Daniel - 
Ah, everything has the potential to be significant. I didn't work this case, but OSI had a murder involving a Non-Commissioned Officer in base housing. He was bludgeoned on his patio. The case agent swept the patio with a vacuum. In the bag, they found a grasshopper with one broken leg. Later, once they'd identified a suspect, a search of his room involved taking his clothing that he'd worn that day. In the cuff of his pants, they found the broken leg of the grasshopper!

Often, one doesn't know initially what will be significant and what won't. So, you take way more than you need to, and sort it out later.

Fiona - 
Very cool story.

You worked in public arena and in the military dealing with criminal activity. Here at ThrillWriting, we're trying to help writers write it right. Are there any differences writers need to be fined tuned about -- differences in how crimes are handled by these two entities?

Daniel -
I think the biggest difference isn't so much how things are done technically, but what resources are available to various departments. 

If you watch CSI, you get a very false idea of how crimes are processed in major departments. It's exciting and thrilling, and nothing could be further from the truth. 

Crime scene processors, or criminalists are methodical people who gather evidence, bag it, tag it and the majority of it is sent to a crime lab for inspection and analysis. That's not to say major departments don't have labs at their disposal, but many departments across the country rely on contract labs, or the FBI. The military has some very good crime labs as well, but in many cases we send our stuff to the FBI. Regardless, very little of it is thrilling.

Fiona - 
When is the military investigator the one who covers the crime and when is it a public investigator?

Daniel - 
Jurisdiction is determined using several factors. 
  • If the victim is involved with the Department of Defense, and the likelihood the perpetrator is as well, but the crime occurs off base, then it's a joint venture. 
  • If the crime occurs on base, it's the military's purview. Many of my investigations occurred off base, particularly the espionage investigations, black marketing and fraud. In these instances, we briefed the cases to the US Attorney, and if they wanted to exercise control, we'd bring in the FBI.
Fiona - 
What if you cross catch the bad guy? The military catches a civilian or vice versa, is there a hand over? How does that work?

Daniel -
A lot depends on what crime has been committed. But, we cannot prosecute a civilian for a crime against persons. We must brief the case to a civilian prosecutor. If the bad guy has been apprehended, then he's turned over to a civilian authority with the appropriate jurisdiction. Any crime that occurs on a military base, is a Federal crime and depending on the severity, the FBI gets first shot at seeking prosecution. On the other hand, we often investigate civilian entities independently of the FBI when there is a service connection, such as contractor fraud or espionage.

Fiona - 
If it's a military arrest is the brig (vocab?) like a jail house?

Daniel - 
The Air Force calls it a "Detention Facility." I don't now about the other branches. There are military and federal prisons...but that comes later.

The detention facility functions like a jail in terms of processing prisoners.

Fiona - 
When you read accounts in books or see them on TV or in the movies, what do writers do that make you throw your hands in the air and scream?

Daniel - 
Where do I start? 

For one, the use of weapons, while technically correct, tends to be fanciful. A whole lot of missing goes on in real life. I want to throw something at the television when I watch the investigator moving from room to room and apparently deliberately ignoring the very closet the bad guy will come out of and knock them on the head! 

Speaking of knocking people on the head, that gets way over used in Hollywood. Knocking someone on the head hard enough to knock them out, will more times than not, result in a brain bleed!

On my web site,, I have several essays on death scenes, violence, firearms nomenclature and capabilities, aimed at writers who don't have any experience in those areas.
Also, I hate the Bourne movies where it appears the CIA has every surveillance camera in the world patched into their command center
It's total bull crap! They want you to believe there's a bustling command center monitoring every terrorist hot spot in the world. Total fantasy.

Fiona - 
Wait! You mean that stuff's not true????

So let's go to something that is true. It's a tradition on ThrillWriting that we ask the story behind your favorite scar. Will you indulge us?

Daniel - 
One evening, I was talking to a member of the Ojibwa nation named Ray, and he noticed a scar on my right wrist. He asked me where I got it. I told him I’d received it in a fight with a drunk driver suspect. Ray asked, “Did you win?” I replied, “Well, I got the handcuffs on him and took him to jail, so I suppose you could say I won.” Ray thought for a moment, and then asked, “Does he have a scar?” I smiled, “No, Ray, I don’t think he does.” Ray nodded. After a few seconds he said, “You lost.” “How do you figure that, Ray?” I asked. “For the rest of your life, you’ll remember his name. But he can forget he ever knew you.” Ray’s wisdom was soon forgotten. Then, about 20 years later, I encountered the man who I’d arrested and said,” How are you Merlin?” He looked at me for a moment, and asked, “Do I know you?”

Fiona - 
So good. Thank you for sharing.

So tell me about one of your books. What about that story was compelling to you?

Daniel - 
My latest and it's a thriller/mystery with totally authentic tradecraft. A little Jason Bourne but with a real smart ass for a protagonist, rather than a brooding Matt Damon. 

Amazon Link
Fiona - 
We love authentic tradecraft! And my gosh - your cover! It's beautiful.

Daniel - 
The story revolves around an organization that was ended at the close of WWII, but resurrected under Reagan (fiction)

You can stay in touch with Daniel on Facebook. 

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, 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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"911, What is your Emergency?" - Emergency Communications Information for Writers

found publicly on Facebook
Fiona - 
Hi David, welcome to ThrillWriting. Would you please introduce yourself to the readers and tell a little bit about your background and your writing?

David -
I am a retired 911 operator living in northern Kentucky. I also worked as an operations manager for a large transportation company and as part of my job investigated accidents. I worked as an emergency operator for the Department of Public Safety in northern Michigan until 2006. I have written in several different genres, mystery, romance, and even some literary, short fiction and novels. I have five published novels

Fiona - 
Is there a difference between a 911 operator and an emergency operator?

David - 
David Swykert
The duties would be the same. 911 is an emergency system. Houghton, Michigan had no 911 system of its own, neither did its neighboring city, Hancock. I worked for the Department of Public Safety for MTU, a large northern university. we were a state licensed police agency for the university, and also our officers were deputized in the county and assisted local law enforcement agencies. We contracted our emergency 911 services to the two cities, and their fire departments, as well as taking emergency
calls for the university. We also dispatched
the police officers for the two cities, and
their fire departments.

Fiona - 
Can you tell me about the qualifications and training of a 911 operator?

David - 
I was trained by the Michigan State Police to obtain a LEIN certification, which is an acronym for law enforcement information network. This certification enabled me to access databases maintained by the states, NCIC which is the FBI's database, which searched for federal warrant information and CMIS, which is a corrections database for prisons. The law enforcement training was done in house for operators by the Department.

Fiona - 
What do your duties entail?

David -

Amazon Link $2.99

Taking emergency calls, although, "emergency" is a pretty broad term. For some people this meant the neighbor's dog was barking.

We answered the phone like this: "Public Safety, what is the nature of your emergency?" 

At this juncture, you determined a course of action, i.e. my house is on fire. Or, my
husband is threatening me. I'm going
to hang myself. There was protocol
for almost every emergency you can
think of. 
* Fire - I would engage the alarms for the appropriate fire
   department and forward the information. 
* Police calls, depending on the nature of the call determined what
   action I would take. 
* Domestic violence, generally we would send a car and always
* Suicide call, we would try and keep the caller on the line and send
   initially a police car to the scene, the officers observations then
   would determine further action, i.e. notification of the emergency
   at the nearest hospital.

Fiona - 
In an emergency, do you talk the caller through stabilizing the situation? For example, in a fire do you make sure they leave the house?

David - 
Not in a fire. We would advise them to leave and wait across the street for the fire department. For a domestic violence call, I would ask them to stay on the line with me until the officers got there, and there is some information I'd want, for instance, "Is he armed? Are there weapons in the house? Are you injured?"

Most common call was about what kind of situation?

David - 

Amazon Link $6.50

One of the most common calls we would get would be lockouts. "I locked my keys in my car." Our officers all carried a tool that would allow them to unlock cars. But the newer cars with all the electronics it's getting tougher. We insisted on the driver signing a waver, in case the officer yanked a few wires loose trying to open the vehicle.

Fiona - 
See and I thought that was a call to AAA unless my kid or dog was inside (which would NEVER happen).

David - 
Some police agencies refuse to do lockouts, too many damage complaints. But our officers were very proficient with a "slim Jim"; the tool they lifted the lock with.

Fiona - 
What was the most bizarre call you ever received?

David - 
One was a report of a large group of very naked young men running down US41 at about 3 a.m. The only officer on duty anywhere near the area was a young female officer. And yes, I sent her to investigate. She found them, got out of the car and went in pursuit of them. She cornered about a half of dozen of them and ended up with all of them, buck naked, in the car with her, crammed in the back, and she transported them like that to the jail. I asked if she wanted me to run any records on them. She said, "No, they're not carrying any ID, no wallets."

Fiona - 
Do you get to know the outcomes? Or is that protected under privacy laws?

David - 

Amazon Link $5.79

I took the job thinking it would provide me with great stories for writing. But, no, you often don't know the outcome of an emergency. You aren't at the scene, and you have other calls coming in. You take the call, you do what is necessary to handle the situation, then you move onto the next call. However, I would often see the officers coming on duty or leaving, or on quiet nights they'd stop by the station and
sit around. And I'd find out how
certain situations ended. 

Most of the calls are quite routine. We would answer what is called a call for a "well being check." Which mean someone was concerned about someone and asked us to check. Calls about murders and things are pretty far and in between. I worked with a couple of officers from large metro police departments. Even there, the kind of calls they responded to were mostly routine. We did have a couple of murders, but these entail investigations I would not have access to. I did take a call where there was a man stuffing a body into a burn barrel. At first I thought it would be just something he was burning. Nope, it was a body.

Fiona - 
When you're watching TV, or the movies,or reading a book that includes a call to 911, what are the writers getting incorrect in the plot line and is there an interesting twist that would change everything?

David - 

Found publicly on Facebook
The only TV shows I recall watching that involved 911 operators were shows about 911. And these were actual calls and operators. 

The operator is a very peripheral participant in the investigation. Our duty is merely to identify accurately the
nature of the emergency
and decide a course of action, 
which is pretty straight forward. 
Send an officer. But then our 
official involvement ends.

I learned a lot about how police departments function, but not a lot of information about a specific case, unless I followed it up myself on my time.

Fiona - 
Traditional ThrillWriting Question: Will you please tell us the story behind your favorite scar and if you have none, could you fill in with a harrowing story?

David - 
I have a long scar over my left eye. Did not get it on duty. I got it in an automobile accident, hit a tree.

The worst 911 call I ever took was from a woman who said, "I'm going to hang myself." Then she hung up the phone and hanged herself. She was found hanging from a basement rafter, deceased, when the officers arrived. 

I had another terrible call with a woman who called that her husband was unconscious and barely breathing. She was hysterical, and I had a difficult time getting the house address. The officers, and ambulance, I had called both, could not locate the house with the number. As it turned out, it was a newer home and the husband hadn't put the numbers out on the house yet. He also was DOA.

Fiona - 
That brings up a good point. Once my daughter was having a seizure - I had been through many of them but this was the first that my husband saw. I sent him to call 911 while I tried to stabilize her. When he got the operator on the phone, he could not remember anything - my daughter's age, the cause of the crisis, where we were. He just stammered into the phone. I could hear her prodding him - and started screaming the information out as loud as I could, so she could hear me from upstairs. You never know how you will do in a crisis especially if it's a loved one, and this is a first time. How do you help people in that kind of situation?

David - 

Found Publicly on Facebook
You're describing a very similar situation. The house was outside of our system, so I had to get the address from her, and she is just unglued, screaming, crying, and perhaps being a new house didn't even know what the address was. He had a heart attack. Anyway, by the time medical techs and our officers got there, he was blue and not responsive. He never regained consciousness. I think that's the 
worst call I ever took, you feel 
helpless, unable to help. By and 
large the job overall is very rewarding.

Fiona - 
Thank you kindly for sharing this information. 

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.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Police Interviews: Preparation and Rapport Building with Sgt. Pacifico


detective (Photo credit: olarte.ollie)
Fiona - 
Good morning, Sgt. Pacifico - Thanks for stopping by ThrillWriting.

Today, I have a some questions for you about the interrogation process. I was watching a movie last night where the arresting officer was the one who conducted the interrogation - is that the norm?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Well, that depends. Was the "arresting officer" as you called him a uniformed police officer who knew nothing about the case and just picked the guy up at someone's request or maybe a warrant? Or was he the one who had conducted the investigation?

In this case, he was on patrol, witnessed the crime, and made the arrest. Can you help me understand why you're making a distinction in your question?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Sure. First, let me say that in  the scenario you posed, yes he would conduct the interview. Here is how (in most places and agencies) it works. Contrary to television, the vast majority of interviews and interrogations conducted on a daily basis throughout law enforcement are done by uniformed patrol officers. 

Although the best interrogators are often displayed as detectives -and this is often true - there are far more interrogations and inteviews happening in the uniformed ranks. 

Detectives don't steal cases from patrol officers and start interrogating a suspect without knowing the case very well and having done some of their own work on it. Just like the FBI doesn't come in with their hands on their hips and take cases away from local police departments. 

English: Omar Khadr is interrogated by two Can...
English: Omar Khadr is interrogated by two Canadians (faces obscured) while a female CIA agent oversees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A detective will conduct an interrogation of a suspect after he has been assigned the case through an administrative process, or if it is the natural assumption of the major case in progress that detectives respond to from the very beginning. In the natural order of things, as the police officers are no longer needed at the scene, they are relinquished back to handling calls in the field.

Something to consider, if we had complete control over the investigation process, the very last action we want to take is to interrogate the suspect. Often that is done very early in a case both in real life and also in fiction. But it is a mistake.

Now the reality is, sometimes we don't even know our suspect is our suspect when we first talk to them. We may think he is a witness....we just don't know either way. I hated it when my suspects would be put in my lap at the early stages of the investigation, and I didn't have enough knowledge to interrogate properly. Asking questions to which we don't know the answer is a dangerous area to be in.

Fiona - 
At what level of concern will a case require a detective to join the team?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Detectives get involved in cases for a couple of different reasons. Most often it is a manpower issue. The detective doesn't need to fly off to some other call and can spend all day, or the next three days or intermittently the next three weeks working the case. Patrol officers have to field numerous calls every day and be as available as possible for dealing with emergencies - domestic fights, bar fights, traffic crashes, fires, medical emergency calls (we are sometimes the closest unit to a medical call) and any other 911 you can think of. 

So if we have a major case brewing that is going to require a lot of coordination, follow-up and by its nature is too enormous for patrol to handle, then detectives are requested by the field supervisor. In most cases this is a sergeant. But then there are those cases which naturally get detective calls without any further ado: homicide, severe crimes against children, some rapes, bomb and arson cases for sure, and some serious assaults

Fiona - 
Some rapes?

Sgt Pacifico - 
Me grilling Dan McD in Law & Order SVU's inter...
Me grilling Dan McD in Law & Order SVU's interrogation room (my buddy MikeC works on the show and let us look around the set!) (Photo credit: dpstyles™)
The reason for the "some rapes" is this - If the case is pretty basic in its investigative properties (readers follow the technical answer not anything emotional here), and you have a seasoned officer with great interrogation skills who is a renowned investigator, and you can spare him from patrol, there is no reason to call a detective. 

A basic investigation might include a date rape. Here a friend/acquaintance or family member is the suspect. The location is accessible. And, there is easily obtainable evidence because it was the victim's or suspect's residence. Also, all involved parties are local and available. A good patrol cop will handle this. 

A stranger rape, unknown suspect with extreme violence, a crappy outdoor and contaminated scene or a late reported case where evidence is lost...that is going to need a heck of lot more work and a detective will likely spend weeks if not months on it. 

Remember, detectives don't just materialize from no where as super interrogators. It's those great street cops that we promote to detective. On Friday, he was a street patrol officer; but come Saturday morning, his orders are effective, and he is now officially a detective. The only thing that changed was his clothing

Thank you for clarifying. I feel better.

How might early interrogation or interviews interrupt a good outcome - good meaning finding the guilty person and removing them from society?

Sgt Pacifico -
Well, the interruption of getting a suspect too early is that without any evidence to provide the investigator with confidence he is the person, it takes a lot of the power of the performance away from the interrogation. That is part of the preparation. Knowing what we know that only the suspect and cops could know. Having some form of proof of his involvement, OR having such knowledge of something that we know we can bluff him with evidence that doesn't exist, but he would believe does exist. That is a whole discussion on themes that we will engage in the future.

Fiona - 
Okay so let's say the crime is one of the one's you listed earlier. The police chief wants to put his crack, A+ detective on the scent. What does the detective do prior to entering the interrogation room? (Besides making sure he had an in and out burger a bathroom break and a cig)?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Interrogation (255/365)
Interrogation (255/365) (Photo credit: andrewrennie)
First of all, the chief ain't involved. That is done by the captain of the division. The chief is running the entire department, (unless we are talking about the small 15 man departments, then yes he might become directly involved in making personnel requests.) 

If a detective is involved in the case at the late hour and was not part of the investigation and now being brought in, he will indeed make sure about the food, water and bathroom and then he will sit down with the investigating officers and get completely briefed on the case. That could take 10 minutes to the better part of an hour. Hence, the In-N-Out Burger is vitally important to obtaining rapport after the detective enters. (And thanks for reminding me that I'm hungry...) 

A good detective will also go over the suspects rap sheet and any written information on the suspects history available. It is in these little bits of history and truths that we know that we can use to test a suspects honesty. 

We want to know as much about a suspect as we can before entering the room to give us an edge. 

Lastly, we need to determine his status. Is he indeed in custody or did he come voluntarily? If he came voluntarily, did he ride in a cop car? If so was he handcuffed? In the cage portion or up front? All these things matter - they help determine the potential defense issues as to whether or not there was defacto custody or not. Bottom line, do we need to do Miranda or not based on the current set of circumstances.

Fiona - 
Now that our detective is up to speed. How does he build the all important rapport necessary to get a confession? Also, concerning Miranda - will the detective who comes in read the miranda rights just to CYA?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
No, with Miranda warnings, we don't automatically read them like on television. If he is NOT in custody we do not need to advise him of his constitutional rights per the Miranda decision if we are NOT going to ask him questions against his self interest or regarding information related to the case in chief. 

As part of the rapport building phase, like in any interview including a hiring one, there is usually chit-chat to break the ice. The cops and crook are strangers to each other most often, and there is a need to get to know each other. So we talk about what I call "sports and horses."

However, before we ask any questions that could illicit an incriminating response AND we plan on keeping him now in custody, then we will need to advise him of Miranda. If though, we are going to let him go regardless of what he confesses to, then we don't have to do a miranda warning. But see, now we are getting back to our previous Miranda discussion. Like I said, there are a bunch of variables to Miranda situations that takes hours and days to discuss and learn.

Fiona -
What might a sports and horses discussion look like - "Hi, I'm Sgt Pacifco. I'd like to put your butt in jail for the rest of you life - hey, did you catch the Nicks' game?

Sgt. Pacifico - 
Well, cut out the first part, and you got it right. "Hey there, I'm Derek, this funny looking, lanky guy over here is my partner Rick. Don't mind his gawdawful tie, his wife is out of town and didn't lay out his clothes for him this morning. You get something to eat? You gotta piss?" 

And it goes on from there - "You a baseball fan? Me too. Can you believe Jeter is retiring? I'm kinda glad. He should go out on top. Don't want to see him stay past his abilities. I'll bet he'll be on the networks doing commentary before next spring training." And away we go.... maybe for a half-hour, a full hour.

Then using the prep work, we ask some questions we know the answer to in order to establishing his truth telling style, his truth baseline. Even a mass murdered isn't going to come in and lie about their hobbies, the weather and conversational stuff. Knowing what his full legal name is, we will still ask him to tell is his name. We want to see where that takes us. If his legal name is William Mark Smith, and you call him Will, William or Bill only to find out he hates his first name and goes by Mark, then you have started on a hated foot.

Fiona - 
So whether you like it or not - you have to read the sports page.

Sgt. Pacifico - 
No, you don't need to read the sports pages. For many years I didn't know enough about sports and really still don't - only baseball. As my son got more involved in playing, we started watching it more. That's why the sports and horses comment. I once had this 15 year old female murder suspect who was neither sport, music, or artfully aware of the world, but she loved horses. Fortunately, I finally found something to talk to her about. Having some knowledge of horses from a summer I spent with some folks who had a horse ranch, I knew enough to ask my suspect questions and have some conversation about something she liked that broke the ice and allowed us to have a meaningful conversation. All the while, I'm reading her facial expressions and body language as it related to something she was comfortable speaking about.

Fiona - 
This is very helpful information - obviously the interview process is key. I'm looking forward to your next visit so we can continue learning some of the tricks of the trade. In the mean time, can you tell me how things are shaping up for the Writers' Homicide School? I bet your novelists are compiling their lists of questions to bombard you with.

click HERE

Sgt. Pacifico - 
I look forward to it as well! The Writers Homicide School is having its next session on June 9-10 in Las Vegas, Nevada. We have writers coming in from as far away as Australia and Canada. Registrations are on sale now, but we will be closing off ticket sales pretty soon so the crowd isn't too big to handle. So if you want to get a ticket, you'd better get in soon. We have a variety of packages available at THIS LINK

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.

P.S. If you found this blog article helpful, you might also want to read these other ThrillWriting articles featuring Sgt. Derek Pacifico:
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Friday, January 17, 2014

Cyber Security - An Interview with a Hacker: Information for Writers


Question mark liberal
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fiona - In today's interview I am speaking with Steven, who
            was kind enough  to come and share some of his
            unique expertise with us. 

            Hey Steven, can you introduce yourself to my
            readers and tell them how you got
            involved with computers and hacking?

Steven - I work as an IT analyst. My first experience with
              computers was when I was about 10 years old and
              convinced my parents to purchase a used Atari
              computer from a yard sale. This particular
              system did not include very much software, but it
              did come with several books that contained source
              code which you could type and
              run yourself. This was fascinating to me. I had a
              video game console (NES) at this time, but never
              put much thought into how a game was made...
              and a game is essentially an application.

             It was as though a door had been opened, revealing
             a hidden dimension that was all around. My mind
             filled with wonder, and I quickly became obsessed with learning more about this hidden universe.

             Eventually, I learned about what was referred to as an "IBM Compatible" computer. It included
             (what I thought was at the time) a more robust operating system MS-DOS and the first graphical
              interface I used "Windows".

              I started by learning a few commands "dir" and "help". Then I went through the entire system and
              learned every command which was available and read every help document.

              By this point my obsession with the computer was so great, my parents decided to start locking the
              keyboard out so I could only use it at authorized times... This only lasted a while, as I figured out I
              could bypass the lock switch by flipping the jumpers.

Keyboard V
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fiona - Did your parents know that they
            were helping you grow your hacking
            skills by trying to keep you
            away from the computer?

Steven - My mom originally thought she
             would be the one to teach the rest of
             the family about computers. I don't
             think she could have anticipated that
             I would surpass her knowledge in
             such a short time, nor do I think she
             foresaw where this would lead.

Fiona - Did your friends share in your computer obsession?

Steven - At this point in time, I didn't know anyone else that had a computer. I lived in relatively small town.
             One day in middle school, an exchange student arrived from eastern Europe. I befriended him and
             learned that his father was a computer programmer. He too dabbled in computer programming and
             was as fascinated with computers as I was. We would always say "We didn't want to do something
             if we knew we could" -- Kind of saying, if we were 100% sure something was technically possible it
             didn't interest us. We really wanted to do things to prove ourselves wrong.

Fiona - Let me go back and tell the readers that this interview started on Skype. I was up on the video chat
            and this is the image that came up for Steven:

Black Square

Fiona (cont.) -  Steven startled me by speaking in a digitally disguised voice, which I will not lie, was totally
                        creepy. How did you do that?

Steven - I used a voice scrambling system called VMic. It installs a virtual sound card driver that applies
              modulation effects to the hardware microphone, and sends the output to whichever application you

Video Quick Study (:05) snippet of voice being disguised (not Steven)

Fiona - That could be a great plot point! Okay - so now we are typing on a program called Criptocat - can
            you explain what that is? Why one would use it? And how could something like CryptoCat help a
            literary villain get away with a crime?

Steven -  Cryptocat "encrypts" any messages sent to the chat. This would add another layer for a third party
               attempting to intercept a message via sniffing. They would need to decrypt the conversation
               before it was intelligible.

Child nose
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
TIME OUT for a vocabulary tutorial: Sniffing:
"A program and/or device that monitors data traveling over a network. Sniffers can be used both for legitimate network management functions and for stealing information off a network. Unauthorized sniffers can be extremely dangerous to a network's security because they are virtually impossible to detect and can be inserted almost anywhere. This makes them a favorite weapon in the hacker's arsenal." Link

Fiona - So Cryptocat  makes my data unreadable from my driveway where someone is sniffing my wifi?

Steven - It would make it difficult enough to prevent most people from sniffing the message. There's always
              the "lead pipe" method though.

Fiona looks perplexed - she can't see Steven, but she assumes he rolled his eyes.

Steven - "Lead pipe" method is where they [the criminal] would use the threat of physical violence to coerce
               you into revealing the key to an encryption. This would, of course, nullify any attempt for the
               listener to remain covert.

Fiona - What about in my slack space is it encrypted there or is it still plain text there?
             (plain text is un-encrypted data)
             Blog Link to Digital Footprints: Computer Forensics and Digtal Evidence

Steven - "Slack space," or the unwritten clusters on your physical storage media, will most likely remain in
               the same format as it was before it became "deleted". If you didn't encrypt it to begin with, it
               wouldn't be encrypted afterwards.

             "Slack space" is sort of an IT new-speak term invented by management with limited technical skills.
              There's an increasing belief that you don't need to be technical to manage those with technical skills.

Fiona - Good to note. The digital forensic investigators refer to the area as slack space but an IT person/
            hacker would not.

            When I first heard about your computer skills, you were on your way to DEFCON in Las Vegas
            to study hacking - now you're in IT, what shifted your perspective. Can you tell me about the change
            between back then and post 911?  (Defcon link)

Steven - I was never involved in anything "illegal". My interests were pure curiosity about how someone
             would go about bypassing security measures. Post 9/11, it "upped the ante". It seemed like more
             resources became available for law enforcement, and they were developing a trigger finger for their
             shiny new big guns. I didn't want to get caught in the scope.

Fiona - Big guns?

Steven - The big guns were things like provisions to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 by the
              patriot act.

Fiona - (Authors - Here's a link if you think this might influence your plot and want to do more research.)

             Steven, if our character was knowledgeable about computers, what advice/systems would you
             suggest they put in place just to be safer?

Steven -   Don't overlap accounts. If you use an account for personal or other business, do not use it where 
                you are doing activities you wish to remain hidden or secret... In other words, don't shit where you

Fiona - That makes sense. I'm suddenly thinking about the General Petraeus affair. 
            "The general’s biographer and mistress thought she was being clever by using anonymous
             e-mail accounts and sending messages using hotel WiFi networks.
             But metadata — in this case the Internet protocol addresses pointing to network locations — 
             gave the Charlotte woman away."  news article link

             What should a writer be careful about when they are writing about digital technology?

Steven - If there was an easy way to do it, everyone would be doing it. I think it would be good to attempt
              to avoid specifics as much as possible. At the time it may seem cutting edge, but probably won't
              age very well. "4 Megabytes" was a lot in 1984, but in 2014 we can transfer it in seconds.

Fiona - What do you see as a big fallibility in cyber security?

Steven - A huge security hole that will never be patched is people. If you can gain confidence with a
             person you can get them to do things they normally wouldn't do 

Fiona's aside: This is completely true. I trust Steven. He told me he would only do an interview with Cryptocat. Since I wanted very much to interview him, I signed right up without doing any research - Shoot! I could have agreed to load sniffing software into my computer, and he could be finding all of my passwords and bank account numbers, etc. Trust. Hmmmn.  

Fiona - Steven - can you believe our hour is up! This has been great. I so enjoyed speaking with you. I'm
            wondering if you could just quickly tell me the story of the hacker you met who turned evil and was
            caught because of his bragging.

Steven - I'd rather not end up on anyone's radar. Snitches get stitches.

English: CAPT John Rolph swears in COL Paul Ho...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fiona's aside - Steven suggests that if you need a template for a crime, do a search for a crime that has come to trial and read through the court documents to find out the exact steps involved. 

Fiona - Ha! Well we don't want you acquiring any new scars. Speaking of scars, a standard question here on ThrillWriting is about your favorite scar.

Steven -  If this were an interview where I had
              admitted to doing something illegal, I
              would invent a scar in a
              place where one didn't exist... 
              But since this isn't the case, I'll have to go with my favorite scar would be the one
              on my left arm. I got it from a jungle gym when I was a child. I think it was my favorite because up
              until that point I didn't know anything about limits... I would tumble backwards off the top bars and
              land on my feet. Looking back, I could have snapped my neck, but the only real damage was a
              deep scratch from an uncapped screw.

Fiona - A huge thank you to Steven for his wonderful information.

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.