5th Annual Spook Appreciation Day–The Untalented Bank Clerk

By Jay Holmes

Every year at Halloween, Bayard & Holmes honor one of the unsung heroes of the intelligence community with our Annual Spook Appreciation Day. This year, we recognize British spook Eric Arthur Roberts, an “untalented” bank clerk in the UK who conducted valuable work against Nazi Germany’s Gestapo during World War Two. His identity was one of MI-5’s tightly guarded secrets until only last week.

 

The Untalented Bank Clerk MI-5 Operative Eric Arthur Roberts Image from The National Archives.

The Untalented Bank Clerk
MI-5 Operative Eric Arthur Roberts
Image from The National Archives.

 

Before and during World War Two, Germany had a well-trained professional intelligence service, the Abwehr, which was operated by well-trained German military personnel. Nazi party membership was not required to work in the Abwehr. However, there was a predominance of well-educated personnel in the service, which likely contributed to the organization’s lack of enthusiasm for Hitler and the Nazi party.

The Nazi party was aware of the Abwehr’s lack of Nazi devotion, so Hitler relied heavily on his secret police organization known as the Gestapo, which was led by Heinrich Himmler. Hitler also counted on the SD, which was the intelligence branch of the Nazi Party’s Waffen-SS, a.k.a. the Storm Troopers. Eventually, Himmler took control of the entire German SS, along with the secret police.

Himmler used his secret police authority against his political opponents within the Nazi Party with great success, and he tried to convince Hitler to let him take command of all German intelligence resources. However, it seems that Hitler was well aware of his senior minions’ machinations against each other, and he skillfully encouraged it as a way to keep himself safe from any “second-in-command” that might become too powerful.

 

 

We now know that the Nazi’s distrust of the Abwehr was well founded. After the war ended, as more secret information was slowly released to the public, it became apparent to historians that Admiral Canaris and many of his top deputies in the Abwehr not only lacked enthusiasm for the Nazi party, but they actually actively plotted against it, including involvement in multiple assassination attempts against Hitler.

Based on their lack of trust in the Abwehr, the Gestapo and the SD branch of the SS invested heavily in intelligence operations against the UK and the allies.

While understanding the structure and organization of German intelligence operations must have been an ongoing nightmare for a well-established and tradition-bound organization like MI-5, MI-5 never allowed that to slow them down in their secret war against Axis intelligence operations.

Any study of MI-5’s wartime operations leads to various interpretations, depending on the student. One conclusion that would be difficult for any serious student of espionage to miss would be the fact that, while MI-5 was remarkably ineffective in combating Soviet espionage, they were remarkably efficient in dealing with the massive intelligence efforts conducted by the Nazis against Great Britain.

MI-5 could never be certain which German organization was running which intelligence operation against the UK, but they were certain that all German intelligence operations needed to be defeated. On Friday, October 24, 2014 we learned precisely how the Gestapo and SD espionage operations were so successfully defeated.

In large measure, it was due to a bank clerk, or at least he appeared to be a bank clerk.

This particular spook was so successful in maintaining his cover as a bank employee that when the British War Office requested that his bank employers release him from his work for war service, the bank management resisted. They claimed that their employee clearly lacked any special talent that would make him particularly useful for the war effort. They couldn’t have been more wrong. The bank’s seemingly untalented clerk, Eric Arthur Roberts, was in fact a master spy and had been since before World War Two even started.

Someone in MI-5 leadership understood that countering the German Abwehr would not be enough. They had the foresight to realize that not only would the Nazi SS SD conduct operations against Great Britain, but also that Himmler might use his Gestapo personnel to conduct his own operations against the allies. In an example of excellent judgment, MI-5 selected Eric Roberts to run an operation against the Nazi’s.

So how does one bank clerk with nothing more than a suspicion that Germany would recruit more spies in the UK manage to foil the Gestapo? It occurred to our seemingly dull bank clerk that the best way to locate any disloyal, Gestapo-inclined British citizens was to recruit them first.

Roberts set up a system that any pyramid scheme con man would envy.

He posed as an undercover Gestapo agent and recruited the would-be traitors. They thought they were working for the Gestapo. Rather than arrest them, MI-5 trained them and used them to recruit their own networks of “Nazi” spies.

Roberts’s operation dried up the pools of Nazi sympathizers and kept them occupied, hindering the Nazi efforts to find real British traitors to work for them. Meanwhile, MI-5 and MI-6 both fed a healthy diet of double agents to the Abwehr, the SS SD, and the Gestapo. These double agents presented the Germans with various case files of imaginary agents, producing tons of delightful and delicious, but usually fake, information. They fed the Germans enough real information to keep them happy, but that real information was just late enough for it to not quite be useful.

Eric Roberts’s operations against the Gestapo, along with similar operations by MI-5 and MI-6 against the Abwehr and SS SD, explain why Hitler was so certain that the allied D-Day invasion would land at Calais rather than at Normandy. Hitler held stubbornly to that conviction against the advice of his General Staff and the advice of his Army Headquarters Staff.

After World War Two, Eric Roberts and his family moved to Salt Spring Island in Canada.

 

Salt Spring Island, Canada Image by Paperandglue, public domain.

Salt Spring Island, Canada
Image by Paperandglue, public domain.

 

There, he pursued a quiet rural life on the Canadian Pacific. Roberts took up writing and, not surprisingly, he was popular with the local inhabitants. Clearly, the man had a great talent for establishing friendships.

Eric Arthur Roberts passed away in 1972 with no recognition for his fantastic work against the Nazis. Like so many intelligence service personnel, he took his secrets to the grave with him. We now know that this seemingly insignificant bank clerk played an important role in defeating the Nazi plague.

Piper and I offer our humble but sincere salute to Eric Arthur Roberts and his cohorts, both known and unknown, on this 5th Annual Spook Appreciation Day.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Don’t miss The Spy Bride Blogger Challenge!

Click HERE for details.

Or The Spy Bride Giveaway!

We have some wonderful prizes for readers to celebrate the release of our debut novella, THE SPY BRIDE, in the RISKY BRIDES Bestsellers’ Collection. Sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Newsletter and be automatically entered to win a Secret Decoder Ring, a stash of Ghirardelli chocolate, or a bottle of sparkling wine from Mumm Napa vineyard.

Bayard & Holmes Newsletter Link–Click Here to Enter

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Boxed Set final Cover

 

RISKY BRIDES . . . 8 genres. 8 novels and novellas. 8 takes on what makes a RISKY BRIDE. Now on sale for a limited time at only $.99 and available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, and Kobo.

 

Spy Truth & Fiction–Are Silencers Silent?

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Movies and books would convince us that any firearm can be silenced down to a tiny pfftzing sound when fired. Not so!

 

From top: IMI Uzi with Companion Shooting Supplies (Vector Arms) Model 2000, 9mm. RRA AR-15 with Advanced Armament Corporation (AAC) Omni, .223. HK USP Tactical with AAC Evolution-45. Beretta 92FS with AAC Evolution-9. SIG Mosquito with AAC Pilot, .22. image by Cortland, public domain, wikimedia commons

From top:
IMI Uzi with Companion Shooting Supplies (Vector Arms) Model 2000, 9mm.
RRA AR-15 with Advanced Armament Corporation (AAC) Omni, .223.
HK USP Tactical with AAC Evolution-45.
Beretta 92FS with AAC Evolution-9.
SIG Mosquito with AAC Pilot, .22.
image by Cortland, public domain, wikimedia commons

 

For simplicity’s sake, we will use the terms “suppressor” and “silencer” interchangeably.

The purpose of most silencers is not to achieve complete silence, but to reduce the noise of a shot enough to prevent potential witnesses from recognizing that they heard a gunshot. 

In most cases, the shooter doesn’t care if someone hears the shot as long as they don’t recognize it as a shot and then dial up 911, scream for help, or return fire. People will normally ignore noises that they hear but don’t associate with gunshots or other dangers. Because of this human tendency, the level of “silencing” needed depends on the situation. If the shooter intends to walk into a steel mill and shoot someone, he doesn’t need much. On the other hand, if the shooter wants to shoot someone in a library without being noticed, he had better have a high degree of silencing.

The .380 semi-automatic pistol is a very popular weapon to use with a suppressor. (See Spy Truth & Fiction—Automatics, Semi-Automatics, and Revolvers.) The cartridge provides enough energy for close up assassination, but it is relatively easy and inexpensive to effectively silence a weapon that uses the .380 ammunition. James Bond’s Walther PPK is the most famous example of one of these weapons.

Something fiction rarely addresses is the fact that, with each shot, an unlocked semi-automatic slide cycles and ejects a brass shell.

It is impossible to silence the noise of an unlocked semi-automatic slide. It is also impossible to silence the sound of falling brass unless the weapon is equipped with a brass catcher. However, in the movies, a shooter frequently fires two or three shots in close succession from a “silenced” weapon without any noise being made by the cycling slide or the falling brass. Such scenes are complete and utter fiction.

The .380 semi-automatic is available in “straight blowback” design weapons. (Larger auto-loading pistols use “delayed blowback” designs.) A straight blowback design pistol can be modified to manually lock the slide in a closed position so that the weapon can fire without causing the cartridges to jam. The locked slide prevents the noise of the slide operation along with the noise that escapes the ejection port when the pistol cycles. When a “locked” pistol is used with a suppressor attached to its mussel, the combination allows for the highest level of “suppression,” hence the least noise.

Unlike the movies, to fire successive shots in real life, a shooter must manually unlock the slide, cycle out the cartridge, and then relock the slide before taking a second shot. Locking and unlocking is accomplished with a small lever that would resemble the safety lever on a slide. With a bit of practice it can be operated quickly without much effort.

The Makarov .380 is the most powerful mass produced auto-loading pistol that can be effectively silenced with ease and at low cost.

It is basically a knockoff of James Bond’s Walther .380 on steroids. With a bullet slightly wider and heavier than that of the standard .380, the Makarov has the maximum energy of any sub-sonic cartridge that the Soviet firearms specialists could put into a straight blowback semi-automatic design. The term “sub sonic” is important when discussing silencers or suppressors because a bullet traveling faster than the speed of sound makes a loud noise. Sub-sonic cartridges are, therefore, more practical for silenced firearms.

While a pistol with a manual slide lock does not allow for the quickest successive shots, it can be very quiet and thus ideal for some situations. If, for example, the shooter intended to assassinate an individual who was walking home on his usual route after work, she could easily get a close up headshot on a side street. The noise would be low enough that someone walking twenty yards ahead of the victim would not notice it. Another example is if the shooter could gain access to the target when the target was alone in his hotel room, home, or office. In such circumstances, a trained shooter could easily take the time to deliver a second “insurance” shot on a high value target without a hotel maid in the hallway or people in the next room hearing anything.

.380s without manual slide locks installed are also popular to use with modern liquid filled suppressors.

Such arrangements make more noise than a locked Makarov or locked .380 but still far less noise than a .22 short cartridge fired from a .22 rifle. If the shooter were alone with the target inside a closed hotel room, office, home etc., the noise level would still be acceptable. A pedestrian twenty yards away on a quiet street might recognize the sound as a gunshot, but a pedestrian standing or walking around the corner of a city block would not notice the sound of this type of suppressed weapon.

With precision machining and greater expense, larger handguns can be suppressed, but not to the same degree as the .380 or the .380 Makarov.

During the 1970s, one of the most popular handguns in movies was the attractive Colt Python .357 magnum revolver. We often saw scenes with “silenced” Pythons being fired with more than a mild pfftz sound being generated. The revolver mechanics somehow made no noise at all. Magically, the gas that escaped from between the cylinder and the barrel made no noise, either. That only happens in movies. Suppressors can be used on revolvers, but with much less effect than can be achieved with an auto-loading pistol with a locked slide.

Currently the most popular suppressed handguns in the movies are the 9mm autoloader and the .45 ACP autoloader. With modern suppressors, they can be partially silenced. When a shooter doesn’t want to wake up people in a neighboring apartment or alert police on the next block, those weapons are effective, but unlike in the movies, a guard standing 10 yards away is definitely going to notice the sound of the pistol—not to mention the sound of the falling body. Nonetheless, if a shooter ever had to fire an unsuppressed 9mm or similar pistol from inside of a car, his first thought would be, “Ouch, my ears really hurt.” His second thought would be, “I wish I had a suppressor on this thing.”

Another popular “silenced” weapon is Hollywood is the high power sniper rifle.

We love seeing “silenced” 30-06 rifles in movies. We wish we had one that works like they do. In real life, a suppressor can partially reduce the noise made by a high-powered rifle, but as long as that rifle is firing a supersonic bullet, it’s not going to be anything like “quiet.” Less noisy? Yes. Unnoticed downrange? Not likely. The only advantage in suppressing a high power rifle that fires supersonic bullets is that the shots would alert people over a smaller radius than if a suppressor were not used.

But there’s good news for Hollywood and for snipers.

In recent years, high power cartridges have been developed to fire heavier bullets at subsonic velocities. One example would be the .300 Whisper. These cartridges lack the flatter trajectories of supersonic bullets, but they also lack the loud sonic “crack” generated by supersonic bullets.

So the next time you hear a massive Dirty Harry revolver or an auto-loading pistol silenced down to a pfftz on the screen? The next time you see a shooter take successive shots with a silenced weapon without manually cycling the slide? Label it fiction.

Thank you to Julie Glover for this week’s question about silencers. What are your Spy Truth & Fiction questions?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

 RISKY BRIDES

Limited Time Edition Now Available for Pre-Order!

Bayard & Holmes debut novella, THE SPY BRIDE, in this multi-genre

bestsellers’ collection.

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Boxed Set final Cover

8 Risky Brides — 8 Novels & Novellas

Looking for your next must-read author? You’ll find him or her in this limited-time-only collection. USA Today Bestsellers, (Vicki Hinze, Rita Herron, Donna Fletcher, Peggy Webb, Kathy Carmichael) veteran authors, (Kimberly Llewellyn and Tara Randel) and dynamic newcomers, (Bayard & Holmes)—all share their unique take on what it means to be a risky bride.

Spy Truth & Fiction — Automatics, Semi-Automatics, and Revolvers

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

There are basically three types of handguns—the revolver, the semi-automatic, and the automatic. All three are commonly misnamed or misrepresented in fiction.

 

Gunner's Mate 1st Class Montrell Dorsey with M240B automatic weapon Image by US Navy, public domain

Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Montrell Dorsey with
M240B automatic weapon
Image by US Navy, public domain

 

With an automatic weapon, the cartridges load into a removable magazine. It’s called automatic because when you pull the trigger, it automatically fires repeated bullets until you take your finger off of the trigger. As the shooter fires, the brass shells of the cartridges are ejected from the weapon.

 

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 semi-automatic Image by Avicennasis, wikimedia commons.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 semi-automatic
Image by Avicennasis, wikimedia commons.

 

A semi-automatic also has cartridges that load into a removable magazine, which, in a pistol such as this one, fits into the handle of the gun. However, one trigger pull equals one shot, and the brass shell from each cartridge is automatically ejected. The weapon does not automatically keep firing.

It’s very common for a semi-automatic to be inaccurately referred to throughout media, movies, and TV as an “automatic” weapon. No matter how hot the journalist, movie star, or soap opera star might be, don’t believe it just because they say it.

 

Piper in the remake of Dirty Harry

Piper in the remake of Dirty Harry

 

A revolver is so called because the cartirdges reside in a revolving cylinder. Like the semi-automatic, one trigger pull equals one shot. However, the brass shells are not ejected automatically. A shooter must open the cylinder and eject all of the shells simultaneously.

Not to knock one of Piper’s favorites, The Walking Dead, but if you listen closely when Rick fires his Colt Python .357, you will sometimes hear the sound of ejected brass hitting the floor with each shot—something only semi-automatics and automatics do. Total audio fiction.

Now it’s your turn. What Spy Truth & Fiction questions do you have for us?

 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

 RISKY BRIDES

Limited Time Edition Now Available for Pre-Order!

Bayard & Holmes debut novella, THE SPY BRIDE, in this multi-genre

bestsellers’ collection.

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Boxed Set final Cover

8 Risky Brides — 8 Novels & Novellas

Looking for your next must-read author? You’ll find him or her in this limited-time-only collection. USA Today Bestsellers, (Vicki Hinze, Rita Herron, Donna Fletcher, Peggy Webb, Kathy Carmichael) veteran authors, (Kimberly Llewellyn and Tara Randel) and dynamic newcomers, (Bayard & Holmes)—all share their unique take on what it means to be a risky bride.

Spy Truth & Fiction — The Equalizer Gets Some Things Right

By Piper Bayard

The Equalizer is a thriller film by Antoine Fuqua in which an ex-CIA operative must defeat the Russian mob to save his friend. Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a widower who has left his former life of intelligence fieldwork. He keeps a simple life as a supervisor at Home Mart in Boston. Each night, his insomnia drives him to a corner diner with a classic book, where he chats with Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who is pimped out by the Russian mob. When Alina is brutally beaten and hospitalized by the Russians, McCall determines he will prevent her keepers from ever hurting her again. His decision triggers a series of events that lead to Moscow and to one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs.

 

The Equalizer Movie Poster

The Equalizer Movie Poster

 

Though this movie is not intended to be a documentary, it gets several Truth & Fiction aspects right.

One: Robert McCall is a former CIA operative.

Intelligence operatives get to resign or retire if they want to. There is a grand myth in some spy fiction that intelligence organizations are like the mafia—that once you’re in, there’s only one way to leave, as in to die. Unlike James Bond, who will outlive all other intelligence operatives on the planet, CIA operatives, active or past, actually do eventually all die of the same causes that afflict the rest of the human population. However, the Company does not put out a hit on operatives who decides to strike out in other directions, regardless of how many secrets they may know.

Two: Robert McCall is a man who wears jeans and plain button up shirts.

While some former intelligence operatives might wear leather clothing and ride motorcycles, it is not required. In fact, most people who are confident that they can kill you with their pinkies prefer to appear as innocuous as possible. Life is just more comfortable for everyone that way.

 

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer
Image from The Equalizer

 

Three: Robert McCall works as a supervisor at “Home Mart.”

Except for congressmen, no one gets rich by working for the government. That includes intelligence operatives. As a result, when they leave, most of them must find other gainful employment, and that might be anything from selling used cars to teaching high school to assisting people with their lumber purchases at a home improvement store.

Four: Robert McCall does not rely entirely on firearms to kill the bad guys.

One of the best parts of this movie is the creative way McCall kills off his opponents. A large showdown takes place inside a home improvement center. While our hero unrealistically passes on the obvious opportunity to pick up a few heavy firearms from the skumbags he kills, his creativity in killing with common store items is worth the price of admission. Through the entire movie, he lays out approximately two dozen bad guys, but he only shoots one of them with a firearm.

 

Robert McCall and Alina Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall and Alina
Image from The Equalizer

 

Five:  Robert McCall is in control.

Operatives certainly have their bad days, and sometimes they end up in situations that are beyond their control. But, as Holmes says, “If you’re in a fair fight, you’re using poor tactics.” In every situation, our hero in The Equalizer has the upper hand.

It’s worth noting that this control is actually a negative when it comes to sustaining tension. At no time is the viewer genuinely worried that McCall won’t survive an encounter in order to collect his paycheck and do another movie. However, he is so creative in how he maintains control that this doesn’t sink the film.

Six:  Robert McCall dedicates himself to his chosen mission simply because he believes it is the right thing to do.

As a general rule, American intelligence operatives are an idealistic lot who devote themselves to their professions because they want to make the world a better place for innocent people to reside. No one does it for the money.

 

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer
Image from The Equalizer

 

 Seven:  The evil kingpin behaves like an evil kingpin when cornered.

The Russian mobster at the top of the international crime food chain is aptly named Vladimir Pushkin. (All similarities to any living Russian oligarch are, no doubt, purely coincidental.) We see very little of Putin Pushkin, but where we do see him, he is behaving realistically, exhibiting disbelief that anyone would actually kill him, combined with the confidence that he can buy his way out of the situation.

 

Overall, The Equalizer is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that impressed me with its creativity. Denzel Washington is excellent in his role as the man people turn to when they have nowhere else to go. Chloë Grace Moretz does a great job breaking out of her Kick Ass role to show a bit more diversity. And of course, who doesn’t want to see a Russian mobster named Vladimir Pushkin get what’s coming to him? If you enjoy thrillers and justice movies, you will likely enjoy this one.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

We are pleased to announce that our first Bayard & Holmes spy thriller novella, THE SPY BRIDE, will be released in the RISKY BRIDES bestsellers’ collection on October 21 from Magnolia Press.

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Front Cover via Hightail

5 Espionage Myths — The November Man

 

By Piper Bayard

 

The November Man movie poster

The November Man movie poster

 

The November Man is an espionage movie in which an ex-CIA operative is brought back by the Company for a personal mission in Moscow, only to find himself pitted against his protégé. It is a fast action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Luke Bracey that rockets viewers through the Russian and Serbian shadow world with everything from brutal assassins to rogue top-level operatives. It is also a comprehensive collection of espionage myths.

 

Myth One – CIA operatives are all ready and willing to off their own at any given moment just because a bureaucrat orders it.

Truth – US intelligence operatives are not murderous automatons who blindly kill whomever they are told to, up to and including their mentors and protégés.

 

It was common in Stalin’s KGB for Soviet operatives to kill each other. In fact, the KGB had a special branch for the express purpose of targeting fellow agents. However, such pointless slaughter has never been part of the US intelligence culture. Americans don’t put up with that crap. Presidents come and go with their various agendas, and long after they are booking their lecture tours and cutting ribbons on their presidential libraries, operatives are still on the job. Our intelligence community consists of flesh and blood human beings who would not live long if they didn’t question and comprehend their missions. They are not slovenly attack dogs to be released on any target that a transient bureaucratic overlord decides is inconvenient to their political goals, particularly when that target is one of their own.

 

Myth Two – Operatives think nothing of killing innocent people.

Truth – People who randomly kill innocents are serial killers and criminal psychopaths, not highly trained intelligence operatives.

 

Killing is serious business, and the intelligence community has had standing orders for decades to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. An operative who randomly kills innocent people would be quickly weeded out. Such behavior is unacceptable in the intelligence community.

 

Myth Three – Operatives can’t have families.

Truth – Operatives, like anyone else, can have loved ones and families that they adore.

 

While it is true that many field operatives are either single or divorced, that is due to the nature of the job and not to any taboo about bonding with other humans. The fact is that few spouses are up for, “I need to go. Can’t say where. Can’t say when I’ll be home. Sorry, but I can’t leave you a number, either.” The lifestyle is very hard on relationships, and spouses must be as committed to leading the double life as the operative is. Not many are, and they are not to blame for that. However, as my writing partner proves, some do sustain marriages and family ties for decades.

 

Myth Four – People can be killers, or they can love, but they can’t do both.

Truth – Dedicated operatives often go into the field because they DO love.

 

The notion that someone who is trained to kill the likes of Bin Laden can’t love is patently absurd. Many operatives go into the field because they are unwilling to sit still and do nothing while brutal despots butcher innocent people.

 

Myth Five – Assassins look like assassins.

Truth – Assassins look like the school secretary, the grocery store manager, the bank teller, the janitor, or anyone else who can blend in with a crowd.

 

It is not required for operatives to speak in foreign accents and wear either tailored business suits or black leather.

 

Russian Assassin from The November Man

Russian Assassin from The November Man

 

 

While not a common myth, another notable fiction in The November Man is the notion that bullets from handguns travel at four times the speed of sound . . . Excuse me? A handgun? More like a hand held rocket launcher. Clearly, Hollywood is holding out on the Navy.

 

If you care nothing for accuracy about espionage or human nature in your spy thrillers, then go ahead and spend the $13 and enjoy Pierce Brosnan doing what he does best. However, if you do know anything at all about firearms, operatives, psychology, history, NATO, or intelligence work, this movie will make your head explode at a velocity of four times the speed of sound.

James Bond vs. The Spook

By Piper Bayard

You could say I work with Bond. James Bond. The real one. But that wouldn’t be quite right. I work with a spook.

 

Please don’t ask me how a small town author/belly dancer/recovering attorney grew up to be the writing partner of a seasoned covert operative, because that is a story I can never tell. But I can tell you this . . . It’s nothing like fiction.

 

His name is Holmes. Jay Holmes. And unlike James Bond, that’s not his real name. That’s because when covert operatives reveal their identities – even decades after they are out of deep cover – people can die. Assets and loved ones alike can become targets. So when a celebrity author shows up in an “I’m a Spook” T-shirt flaunting a “covert” career, it’s a dead giveaway that though she may have done some great and necessary work with an intelligence agency, she has never been a covert operative in the field. Covert operatives must forever keep a Chinese wall around their true identities.

 

Not Holmes. Holmes avoids suits wherever possible.

Not Holmes. Holmes avoids suits wherever possible. 

 

So what’s this real covert spook writing partner of mine like? First off, Holmes and his ilk are “spooks,” not spies. As Holmes says, “Spying is seamy. It’s what the Russians do.”

 

Spooks refer to each other lightheartedly as “spooks.” That’s also what military personnel call them when military and intelligence operations overlap. For example, if an intelligence team is working in a secured area of a ship, the crew refers to them as “the spooks.”

 

There is no official Dictionary of Spook Terminology, but the proper terms for spooks are “intelligence operatives” and “intelligence agents.” By habit, “operative” is used by CIA personnel when they are talking among themselves or reviewing an operation, and “agent” refers to someone – usually a foreigner – who is collecting information in a foreign country. Intelligence personnel are the “operatives” who are managing the foreign “agents.”

 

And all of those wild car chases that happen in books and movies? Sure. They happen now and then in real life. Holmes has personally driven down the Spanish Steps and gone the wrong way up a narrow one-way street to get his man. But what you almost never see in fiction is that spooks wear seatbelts. Religiously. “Because you can’t finish the mission if you’re dead.”

 

There are also many things fictional spooks do that real spooks never do—or at least few live to tell if they do. How many times in fiction does a spook duck into a doorway and peek out of it to spy on someone he’s following? That’s a good way to get dead in real life.

 

One of the first things spooks must learn about following people is to not be followed themselves. It’s common for bad guys to have their own people tailing them to pick up any newcomers, so spooks can’t only focus on who’s in front of them. They have to be acutely aware of who is behind them, too. That means that if a spook wants to watch someone from a doorway, she has to take her eyes off the target, go all the way inside a building, and only turn around once she’s out of sight of the street. Then she can come back out and stop in the doorway under some other pretense than watching someone. It also gives her the chance to handle the bad guy’s trailing entourage.

 

Another thing fiction almost invariably gets wrong is the spook’s relationship to room service. How many times has Bond ordered room service? And how has that worked out for him? You’d think he would have learned after Rosa Klebb’s stunt in From Russia with Love that this is a seriously bad idea. Even the spooks in the otherwise realistic movie Act of Valor ordered take out and paid the price.

 

This isn’t only because of the opportunity for an enemy to poison them, it’s also because it’s generally bad juju for spooks to invite strangers into their space when they are on a mission. In fact, Holmes won’t even have a pizza delivered to his home. The only food he actually enjoys is his own, his wife’s, or mine if it includes chocolate, and only then if he is eating at home or at the home of a trusted friend.

 

So back to my original question – what’s this real life spook like? Unlike fiction, Holmes is incredibly mundane. While he has an incredibly charming boyish smile, he doesn’t look a thing like James Bond, Jason Bourne, or Jack Reacher. In fact, real spooks come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities. When they aren’t on a job, they might be working as Wal-Mart managers, secretaries, teachers, insurance salesmen, or corporate CEOs. And their days at home can look like anyone else’s, filled with gardening, grocery shopping, cleaning, and following behind their children turning off lights. Holmes would say that spooks are ordinary people with a bit more than average commitment and dedication to their work.

 

More like Holmes. Never too good for the dirty work.

More like Holmes. Never too good for the dirty work.

 

Notice I said that Holmes would say that. He strongly objects to the notion that he and other covert operatives are special in any way. However, speaking as a small town author/belly dancer/recovering attorney with a home in “normalville” and a window into the shadow world, I would suggest that from most people’s perspective, there is one thing fiction definitely gets right. These folks are anything but ordinary.

To join in comments, come to

Bayard & Holmes

James Bond vs. The Spook

NSA: Hoarders, Cheaters, Dr. Phil, or Jerry Springer? You Decide.

By Piper Bayard

“Compulsive Hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary.” ~ Hoarders

At this point, we know the following about the NSA and its electronic data collection on Americans and foreigners:

  • First and foremost, the NSA is not acting in a vacuum. The basic purpose of intelligence agencies is to gather information . . . not for themselves, but for the policy makers. Their actions must be authorized and funded by the White House and Congress.
  • The NSA, at the behest of the White House and Congress, is unapologetically collecting and storing all of our electronic transmissions—phone calls, banking transactions, grocery purchases, social media posts, social media connections, internet search histories, etc., in the name of “security.”
  • In spite of all of this Extreme Security, they couldn’t pinpoint two deadbeats with a hotline to Chechnya Jihad Central who were Facebooking and Tweeting their jihadi hafla across the Cyberverse.

What does this tell us? The NSA has so many ones and zeros stacked up on us that it can no longer tell fact from fiction, or terrorist from law-abiding citizen. It has at this point collected so much hay in the barn that it can no longer find the threatening needle, or even the barn.

Actual photo of NSA data storage

Actual photo of NSA data storage

So I’m wondering . . . Do we need to send the Hoarders crew to NSA headquarters to help them sort out this dysfunction? Or do we just need to fire them all and put the crew of Cheaters in charge of figuring out who needs surveilling, and who doesn’t?

Come on over to our new site, and help me walk the NSA through a 12-Step Program. Please bring your comments — we love your comments — over to the new site, and remember to subscribe when you get there. We want to bring you all with us!

Bayard & Holmes

NSA:  Hoarders, Cheaters, Dr. Phil, or Jerry Springer? You Decide.