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.

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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.

4th Annual Love a Spook Day – An Insignificant Quaker Woman

By Jay Holmes

Three years ago, my writing partner, Piper Bayard, declared October 31st to be Love a Spook Day in appreciation of the quiet contributions of the intelligence community. In real life, versus Hollywood, not all spooks are highly trained supermen and superwomen who look like Daniel Craig and Scarlett Johansson. Many are simple people who rise to the occasion of their moment in history. Lydia Darragh was one of those people.

Lydia Barrington Darragh

Lydia Barrington Darragh

To learn about this remarkable nurse, midwife, and spy who affected the course of history, please click on the link below, and remember to transfer your subscription. We want to welcome you all to our new digs.

Bayard & Holmes

4th Annual Love a Spook Day

An Insignificant Quaker Woman

New US Outreach Program — Spooks without Boundaries

By Piper Bayard

First it was the NSA peeking up our digital skirts, illegally collecting and storing raw intelligence on Americans to paw through at will. Then the other four of the Five Eyes—Australia, the UK, New Zealand, and Canada—crowded up for a glimpse. Now I find out that Israel has its cameras under our hemlines, as well. When I consider how many other as-yet-to-be-revealed countries must be signed up for the Big NSA Raw Giveaway, I wonder if America unwittingly wandered onto the set of “Criminal Minds” during Rampant Voyeurs Week.  But as our government so glibly tells us, if we wear our Sponge Bob undies like a good little girls and boys, we have nothing to worry about.

Internet bugs Canstock

I know what you’re thinking—those World Order Conspiracy theorists just might be onto something, after all. Why else would our American government ditch the warrant system to illegally collect our own citizens’ electronic transmissions and share them with all of their corporate and political friends—none of whom loves us enough to help us hide the bodies? That’s the behavior of a bad boyfriend with a revenge porn account.

I don’t blame you one bit for that train of thought. But rest assured! You’ll be glad to know I did some checking with non-existent sources and found out nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, I’m betting you’ll feel as pleased with our government as I am when you hear the details.

Our government leaders, in their infinite wisdom and compassion, noticed that giving out candy bars in war zones somehow didn’t win America the Miss Congeniality prize they so coveted in the World Image Competition. They hired three out-of-work Carnival cruise directors, a retired circus clown, and the hostess from the local Hooters to get together and figure out what would make us more popular on the world stage. Their innovative solution is already rocking the planet.

These brilliant out-of-the-box thinkers looked to Doctors Without Borders and No Child Left Behind as guidelines and developed a new, all-inclusive friendship outreach program that proves America is now willing to put out for anyone who gives her an “I love you” and a promise of respect in the morning. The folks in D.C. and in the NSA have proudly dubbed it “Spooks Without Boundaries.” Their motto? No Country Left Behind!

The new program is rooted in the same fundamental progressive notion that makes Obamacare so successful—the conviction that candidates win votes with overblown promises of physical comfort and security. And why shouldn’t every government have the same illegal access to our phone calls and electronic transactions that our own government has? After all, if all of this intimate surveillance of Americans is keeping us safe—except from a couple of deadbeat potheads with a hotline to Chechnya Jihad Central—isn’t it only compassionate that we share this universal safety with those electronically less fortunate? Why should outdated Cold War ethnocentrism, phobia of al-Qaeda and its wannabes, or the rogue Israeli faction attack on the USS Liberty* affect our foreign policy decisions? With Spooks Without Boundaries, everyone, citizen or not, will be safe, because every government will have access to the personal transactions and communications of Americans.

World Hug Canstock

With all of this free love going around, it has me wondering how long it will be before the NSA starts to share a little of it with America. After all, if Americans are so willing to toss off their privacy rights in the name of safety, why not give state and local police access to the benefits of PRISM and the other NSA toys? It would be nothing to track down meth labs, underage drinkers, and deadbeat dads, not to mention felons and bail jumpers. Why should Israel, the Five Eyes, and untold others enjoy that level of knowledge about us when we don’t?

And why stop there? The NSA is already swapping info with their BFFs, the international corporations. Why not small businesses, too? Just think how useful PRISM would be to collection agents, private eyes hired to track cheating spouses, or marketing firms sending targeted ads just for you. If we’ve already decimated American privacy in the name of homeland security, how long will it be before we enjoy the safety inherent in giving all of our information to our local police and small businesses?

Spooks Without Boundaries—it’s not just for foreign terrorists anymore! Write to your congressmen today and tell them you want Americans to enjoy the same free love we give to Israel, our allies, and others. After all, if we’re going to pass out tickets to foreign countries to peep at our privates, shouldn’t we see them ourselves?

* Recently declassified documents indicate that a rogue element of the Israeli government orchestrated the 1967 attack on the USS Liberty.

Related Articles:

British Spy Agency Taps Cables, Shares with US NSA (Info on Five Eyes)

U.S. Agencies Said to Swap Data with Thousands of Firms

NSA Shares Raw Intelligence Including Americans’ Data with Israel

NSA and Israeli Intelligence: Memorandum of Understanding—Full Document

What Makes US-Israeli Intelligence Co-operation “Exceptional”?

Life in the Cold

By Piper Bayard

Independence Day was not the end of our fight for freedom, but only the beginning. Most of the men who signed our Declaration of Independence lost their fortunes and their lives in the battle. It is a battle that has been fought by each generation since 1776, as freedom is a great responsibility that we must continually earn, and not something bought and paid for once in the past that we can now take for granted.

My generation is the Cold War generation. This Independence Day, I would honor those of the intelligence community who served quietly, often giving everything to protect us from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

The following is an excerpt from “From Inside the Cold War,” written by my writing partner, “Jay Holmes,” who is a veteran of that conflict. A conflict which, in spite of the wishful thinking and historical ignorance of younger politicians, continues in a very real way to this day. In it, he gives us a window into his world and what it is like for him and his compatriots to walk through ours.

Anonymous Man Canstock

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

From the end of World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Soviet government in Russia in 1991, Western nations faced off with the Soviet Union and its allies and captive satellite states in what became known as the “Cold War.” Basically, the Soviet Union, led by the ruthless Joseph Stalin, felt that it was its duty to spread communism throughout the world, while Western nations governed by democracies felt it was their responsibility to keep the entire world from falling under Soviet domination. . . .

Most Western citizens think of the Cold War as being without casualties, except during the proxy wars in Korea and Viet Nam. Few Westerners will even remember that the allied nations fought a war against Soviet-backed communists in Greece from 1946 -1949, or that the United Kingdom struggled with a communist guerrilla war in Malaysia until 1960. Beyond the publicly acknowledged battle fields in Korea, South East Asia, Lebanon, Grenada, and Panama, the United States thus far acknowledges 382 American servicemen killed in combat against communist forces between 1945 and 1991. This figure does not include the officially acknowledged civilian losses of the CIA and other civilian personnel, nor does it include the deaths of “denied” personnel working under “deep cover.”

I believe the figure of 382 to be wildly low and a long, smoldering debate is currently underway in DOD and CIA circles concerning casualty figures during the Cold War. It is unclear how they should be counted and how much information should be released. After a lifetime of living in a necessary state of denial, “old hands” have well-founded fears about releasing too much information. For one thing, releasing dates and locations of deaths will assist belligerent parties in identifying and killing those who assisted US efforts. Our word was given that our friends would never be exposed, and they never should be.

For nearly four decades, the deaths of American Cold War combatants were explained away as accidents and sudden acute illnesses. Wives and mothers buried their husbands and sons without ever knowing what happened. The battlefield deaths of most of America’s Cold War combatants will likely remain unrecognized for years to come in order to protect the living. Some day, if a future generation gets around to dealing with the information, it will likely seem too distant for anyone to pay much attention to it. This is a natural consequence of the type of battles fought.

If it seems sad, we should remember that it is far less sad than the alternatives would have been. Armageddon was avoided. Freedom was not lost. That matters, at least to me and to those who have gone before me. My brothers paid a price. I knew none who were unwilling to pay that price quietly. None can now regain their lives by being identified.

When we review espionage activities from the Cold War, it is easy to take an academic view. If the seriousness of some of the participants seems almost comical from our current perspective, they seemed far less humorous at the time that they occurred. The events seem distant now, and the causes may have been forgotten by many, and never understood by some. I point out the issue of casualties in an attempt to describe an important aspect of clandestine activities during the Cold War. The contestants on all sides played for keeps.

Between the bright lights of international diplomacy and the dark cloud of the threat of nuclear war, life in the shadows in between was a bit different. Some of us feel as though we have lived in a parallel world far away from this one. We walked through this world every day, careful not to leave too many footprints here on our way to somewhere else. That other world became our home. This world where we trust our neighbors and love our children, is the world that we desperately wanted to see remain intact. But in a sense, we will always be visitors here in this world that we hold so dear. For some of us, our home remains somewhere else, far away.

~ Jay Holmes

Two Worlds Canstock

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From our world to your world, Holmes, thank you.

PRISM — You Can’t Stop the Signal

By Piper Bayard

In one of my favorite Joss Wheden movies, Serenity, the crew of a small scavenger space ship, Firefly, risks everything to bring the truth to the people of the Alliance about how their government was lying to them and screwing them over. To do this, they transmitted a damning recording across every media outlet in the galaxy. For them, it worked, because, “You can’t stop the signal.”

image from Serenity

image from Serenity

What the movie did not show was what happened after the broadcast, which was most likely a lot of huffing and puffing from diverse quadrants, and then a mass forgetting the next time some celebrity choose a freakish baby name. What it didn’t show was how many people do not care what a government does, as long as they can believe it doesn’t affect them.

Which brings me to a far more relevant pop culture analogy—Game of Thrones. I don’t know if Edward Snowden watched either Serenity or Game of Thrones, but if he had watched or read the latter, he would have known that the honorable man who brings the truth to a nation is always the first to lose his head.

Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes, my writing partner, is no Edward Snowden. He is not disappointed in the Obama administration because he has been through enough presidents to not expect anything from them in the first place. Also, he never reveals anything Classified at any level; however, he does at times know what is true of what is public.

That being said, this is the information from the public domain that I would pass on to you, our readers.

The NSA has direct access to the servers of the PRISM Nine. (See PRISM Surveillance on Americans—What Price Convenience?) I’ve seen many people commenting around the net that they don’t care that the NSA knows what Google knows. After all, everyone knows the internet isn’t private. To those people, I would point out two things. First, Google doesn’t have an FBI and a DHS to arrest us. And second, the NSA reach does not stop at the voluntary information we give to Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and the rest. It also includes our emails, bank transactions, credit card purchases, phone records and the very content of the calls, themselves.

All of this data is collected and analyzed for red flags. Like someone going through our “Electronic Footprint House” on a continual basis, looking for missteps. If an analyst suspects any, he can listen to specific conversations and read specific emails without obtaining a warrant specific to us. In fact, in Mr. Snowden’s words, “The reality is that due to the FISA Amendments Act and its section 702 authorities, Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant. They excuse this as “incidental” collection, but at the end of the day, someone at NSA still has the content of your communications . . .”

image from weknowmemes.com

image from weknowmemes.com

There is one notable exception to this illegal invasion of privacy. Members of Congress have a special exemption from NSA surveillance. Sort of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? If the NSA isn’t spying on Americans, why would Congress need an exemption from the spying they’re not doing?

Not only is this data collected and stored on all Americans and subject to viewing at the whim of an analyst, it is exchanged with foreign countries. The Five Eyes—the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand—have agreements in place between their intelligence agencies to share information on each other’s citizens.

This begs another question. Why would we spend money to illegally spy on our allies’ citizens? We are not at war with these people any more than we are at war with ourselves.

Sure, there are some maggots in those countries, just as there are some maggots in our own. Our Founding Fathers understood and accepted the fact that some maggots need to be spied on. However, they also understood that it was important to prevent the government from spying on its citizens without cause if we were to avoid devolving into tyranny. This dilemma was easily solved. It’s called a “warrant system.”

The requirement of obtaining a warrant does not in any way hinder intelligence and law enforcement agencies from acting in a timely fashion. Judges are available to approve warrants 24/7, 365 days a year. The judge’s staff then follows up with a paper document.

This procedure allows police and domestic intelligence operatives, such as the DHS, to act promptly while employing standard safeguards. The judicial system keeps records of what is requested and why. Eventually, any warrants issued for domestic eavesdropping became public knowledge. The warrant system prevents, or at least minimizes, abuse by elected officials and government employees while respecting the constitutional rights of Americans to enjoy reasonable privacy.

PRISM, however, has no such protections. The NSA eavesdrops with no judicial process, and citizens are not informed of the surveillance unless they commit felonies and are arrested. That means no accountability to the people. Think about it. A government that holds citizens responsible to it without a process in place for citizens to hold the government responsible to them is not a government by or for the people.

And it doesn’t stop there . . .

Eighteen days ago, when I first wrote about this Big Brother surveillance of Americans, I posed the following questions:

1)    Corporations sponsor and “own” politicians, so who in corporate America gets to benefit from this data collection?

2)    Do corporations who buy political figures get to use this technology to spy on their competitors?

Only days later, it became public knowledge that, indeed, there is an information exchange between our government and private corporations. You heard that correctly. Thousands of companies—finance, manufacturing, technology, etc.—receive benefits from the federal government in exchange for sensitive information about their clientele.

Having naïvely agreed to travel from Hong Kong to Ecuador via Moscow, Edward Snowden finds himself in Putin’s hands. For Putin, this is Christmas. For Edward Snowden, he might as well be Eddard Stark in the dungeons of King’s Landing. His winter is here, and when it comes to privacy protections in America, “Winter is Coming.”

meme by bizarrojerri.wordpress.com

meme by bizarrojerri.wordpress.com

We have seen time and again that technology, once developed, does not undevelop. You can’t stop the signal. However, we can choose how we will use it. Like nuclear weapons, the horse is out of the barn, but with careful controls and regulations, we have not used those nuclear weapons in nearly seventy years. Just because we have a tool, it doesn’t mean we have to use it in careless or evil ways.

Rather than calling for a shut-down of PRISM and its use, which would only create a more sophisticated government mouse, let us instead insist on understanding the unprecedented power of this program and treat it with the respect that it deserves. Let us instead focus this power toward the true enemies—not average Americans, but those who would terrorize and destroy us. Let us not do the job for them by continuing to turn this potentially devastating power on ourselves.

Penultimate Irony

Ultimate Irony