Spies Like Us

Sun Tzu said, “It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you. Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used.” 

What is espionage?  It’s the art of obtaining a secret under false pretenses and disseminating that information without the permission of the original holder.  It is an important tool utilized by the US government and its enemies, foreign nations, and insurgents. 

Intelligence gathering is critical to the function of the warfighter.  Without it, armies would wander aimlessly until they are slaughtered.  In this essay, I will go through notable accounts of espionage in history, and how it operates today. 

Be advised: all information presented in this article is unclassified, and we at flintlocks4freedom officially do not endorse violence nor do we encourage anyone using any information against any government.  This paper is for informational and educational purposes only.

In the Beginning 

During the American revolutionary war, Continental Spy Nathan Hale may or may not have said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  Whether he said it or not, the message was clear: He was happy to give his life for a worthy cause.  In 1778, General George Washington ordered Major Benjamin Tallmadge to form an espionage cell called the “Culper Ring.”  The Americans were first contacted by Caleb Brewster who sent some credible intelligence on the British, but it was clear more agents were needed.  He recruited his friend, Abraham Woodhull, after being caught attempting to smuggle contraband. 

Woodhull, code name Samuel Culper, then swore loyalty to the crown and started reporting intelligence on the British.  Woodhull had several successful operations in Manhattan under the alibi of visiting his sister and staying at her inn.  When he was ready to submit a report, his neighbor Anna Strong, would hang a black coat from the clothes line.  In order to signal which hiding spot the intelligence was stashed, she would hang up a number of handkerchiefs to indicate one of six hiding spots.  The next revolution wasn’t so cut and dry.

The Yank and the Dixies

Before cracking heads of those on strike, Allan Pinkerton pledged his and his private organization’s service to the Union Army.  In 1861, Pinkerton Agents were planted all over the south to report back to the Union army and would report back to Army field commanders on known confederate spies, troop movements, and strengths.  The Confederates however developed a “Secret Line” and communicated by smuggling letters from Washington all the way to Confederate commanders.  They were aware of their problem with the Pinkertons so they developed the “Confederate Secret Service” to conduct counter-espionage.  As for quick battlefield updates, Calvary scouts were utilized.  As history goes to show, one of the bloodiest wars where brother fought brother and son spied on father, our thirst for warfare was not quenched.

The War to End All Wars

One thing you notice in warfare is the constant advancement of technology.  However, in WWI, it took a while for tactics and strategy catch up to the use of newer technologies.  For example, Calvary charges were still used, but they were charging horses first into trenches with machine-gun nests and were easily repelled.  An example involving espionage would be the heavy reliance on the Human intelligence collected by the organization, “La Dame Blanche” or the white lady. 

This network, comprised of 1300 agents, collected over 70% of all intelligence in occupied Belgium and France.  All information was turned over to MI6.  It was of vital importance to giving the allies a heads up on operations of the Spring Offensive of 1918.  Because of the information collected, Allied Forces dug in deep and pulled back forces and supplies out of artillery range.  They fortified and sent reinforcements to certain areas like ports, supply lines, and other logistic targets.  This led to the Germans only capturing worthless territory with no strategic value that they lost a few months later.

While tanks were crushing barbed wire and gas suffocated those in the trenches, planes collected intelligence from the sky.  They were just invented — not 10 years prior — and they were already being used in warfare.  Before dropping bricks and later bombs out of these aircraft, they were just figuring out they can use it to get a layout of the battlefield.  They started by taking pictures from airplanes.  Eventually, they started using contact balloons.  “It was the war to end all wars, it changed nothing.”  Although this quote is from the game “Battlefield,” it reigns true to this day.

Smoke Signals and Sabotage 

In the Second World War, communication became more complicated.  The Nazis developed the “Enigma Machine” following WWI, which was a device used to encode their messages.  The encryption was broken later in the war, but Enigma proved a major problem for allied forces for years. Taking a different approach than mechanically encrypted messages, the US leveraged one thing that no other country had: the Navajo “code talker“.  During the war, 400-500 Navajo speaking “code talkers” enlisted in the Marine Corps. Navajo at the time was an unwritten language, and code talkers could communicate with one another but no enemy force could decipher the Navajo language.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, Great Britain developed the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” also known as Special Operations Executive (SOE).  Their mission was to go behind enemy lines and infiltrate, collect intelligence, sabotage, assassinate high value targets, and gather those against occupation to start a resistance.

With Love from Russia

After WWII, what once was a friend was now foe, and I’m not talking just about the countries of the United States and the Former Soviet Union.  On all sides, spooks attempted to infiltrate foreign societies to learn the secrets of one another.  Thus began the golden age of espionage.

In the US, “The Pond” was developed.  This was a group dedicated to discovering the identity of radical leftists and feeding the information to the FBI.  It was comprised of soviet defectors like Ruth Fischer, the co-founder of the Austrian Communist Party.  

Not all defectors were treated so well.  Former KGB agent Yuri Nosenko defected to the US. The CIA called into question his authenticity as a defector of the Soviet Union.  So they used what they call, “enhanced interrogation” techniques on him to determine if he was genuine.  In the end, he was the real deal and consulted with the CIA for years after.

The US wasn’t the only one with secret squirrels in others’ trees.  Before Chelsea Manning, Robert Hanssen, code name “Ramon Garcia,” was one of the most notorious moles in US intelligence history.  He exposed multiple KGB agents and made sure that none of the paper trail led back to him.  Those exposed were blamed on a more sloppy double agent, Aldrich Ames.  Hanssen was free to continue his espionage.  Hanssen was so good, that he was tasked with, and eventually led a team to find suspected moles.  Due to the sheer incompetence of the FBI, Hanssen escaped multiple investigations. He finally managed to get arrested after taking bigger and bigger risks.


Intel Today

In the modern world, the approach is refined. My instructor broke down our country’s intelligence network for all agencies with a simple metaphor:  intelligence is a wagon wheel.  The outer ring of the wheel is the source of intelligence.  Each spoke of the wheel is a different branch, such as Human Intelligence (HUMINT), Image intelligence (IMINT), Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), Geo-spatial intelligence (GEOINT), Technical intelligence (TECHINT), Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT), and finally Cyber.  All these spokes connect to a hub that holds it together.  That centerpiece is the Intelligence Analyst, which is my former job.  

31 Flavors

The HUMINT guy is the secret squirrel, James Bond type in all the movies. HUMINT questions people and convinces them to snitch on all their buddies.  He or she is also the person who you see when you find yourself in a room that doesn’t exist, in a location that doesn’t exist, with other people that don’t exist, each doing things that aren’t officially happening.  

IMINT is the guy who provides pictures.  The instructions are really written on the box on this one.  The pictures are crucial to intelligence. We get a visual of high-value targets, equipment, uniforms, and other things.

SIGINT is a special brand of spooky.  They intercept radio transmissions, translate them, and type them out on a nice, neat form.  Although they have devices to listen in on all your conversations, they also have devices that will cut your communication.  Signal also encrypts all communications for friendly forces.  They pair up with MASINT who figures out the source of signals.

GEOINT is similar to IMINT.  They provide maps and satellite imagery for all operations.  This is needed because you need to know all avenues of approach as a defensive force or offensive force in order to determine different courses of action.

TECHINT are they guys who figure out how things work.  If we capture enemy equipment intact, the TECHINT guys reverse engineer it to figure out how it works.

Cyber is also a branch with instructions written on the box.  They are the newest branch in intelligence because cyber warfare is fairly new.  They prevent the country from being hacked and do shady hacking behind the scenes to other countries.

The Foundation

The analyst has several jobs.  Every branch of intelligence thinks they’re the most important and that their intel is more credible than the next.  So the Analyst reads all the different types of reports, looks for similarities in the reports to confirm each other, and writes a report based on the findings.  While he or she is receiving information, the analyst also reviews “open source intelligence” (or OSINT). OSINT is information open to public knowledge such as social media, news, public forums, etc.  While some might brush this off as unimportant, you would be surprised how much people put on social media.

I mentioned it on my politigram, flintlocks4freedom before the Virginia 2A rally. We used to have a party trick where I would tell a person I’d just meet their whole life story, where they lived, what their ex was up to, and their home address. I mentioned in the post that people were getting picked up during the Ferguson riots based on social media because they were being monitored by analysts who were seeing if they were being contacted by extremist groups.  

While reading these reports, the analyst is looking for high-value targets (HVT’s), enemy movements, enemy equipment, public perception of the enemy in that area, behavior out of the ordinary, and verifying it with both other reports and also the OSINT gathered. 

VBIED Example

An example of out of the ordinary behavior would be:

In the city of Baghdad, over the course of 4 weeks, several minivans were stolen.  Recently there a massive theft from a hardware store where pallets of fertilizer was stolen.  Several insurgents with IED vests have tried and failed to infiltrate the outer perimeter of the FOB nearby.  One could deduce that because of the recent failures, insurgents are now attempting a more aggressive approach using VBIED’s.  This is a very basic hypothetical example, but this is the type of thing an analyst would be looking for across multiple reports and his or her own research.

What Now?

Obviously, if guerrilla fighters were to set up some form of intelligence gathering, they would not have nearly as many resources as the US government.  It would in fact pale in comparison.  In a world with technology, one must find a way around it and use the environment both physically and politically to one’s advantage.  

Right now it is socially acceptable to wear a mask everywhere due to the recent scare of covid.  I don’t know any easier ways to avoid cameras.  What else is in the news? People looting and rioting in the streets has led our Overlord, Trump, to consider naming “Antifa” a terrorist organization.  One could be stubborn and be open about their distaste for the government and risk imprisonment in a potential 3rd Red Scare which would help no one.  Or, they can use it to their advantage.  Maybe don’t immediately tell that cop off and instead try making a new friend.  Maybe you play nice with politicians you have connections to through a friend of a friend.  They might tell you some things that would suprise you or your other friends.

As for communication, start writing letters instead of texting vital info.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, use encrypted browsing and messaging apps.  Most importantly, stop posting, texting, and calling while at suspect events!  Spooks are always watching.  Time to act like it (allegedly).

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J Flintlock
J is a full time Correctional Officer and part time weekend warrior who found out the Kool-Aid he was drowning in tasted like shit a little too late. Send hate mail or job applications to him and his friends at flintlocks4freedom on Instagram.

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