HACKSAW RIDGE–A True Tale, Truly Told

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard

HACKSAW RIDGE is the true story of WWII hero Pfc. Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to earn the Medal of Honor.

 

hacksaw-ridge-movie-poster-one-man-stayed-2016

 

When Doss was drafted into the US Army during WWII, he chose to serve as a combat medic rather than go to a CO work camp, and he fought for the right to do so without carrying a weapon. During the Battle of Okinawa, the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment. A bloody battle ensued, resulting in heavy casualties driving the Battalion back. Doss refused to seek cover. He carried seventy-five injured men off the fire-swept battlefield and lowered them down the ridge to friendly hands below. HACKSAW RIDGE tracks Doss’s life through his commitment as a Conscientious Objector, his fight to be allowed to serve in combat without bearing arms, and his heroic rescue of seventy-five fellow soldiers.

The production quality of HACKSAW RIDGE is excellent, with award-worthy acting and cinematography.

The talented Andrew Garfield is brilliant as Pfc. Desmond Doss, and Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, and Teresa Palmer are outstanding in their supporting roles. However, the movie is every bit as graphic, and then some, as you would expect from BRAVEHEART producer Mel Gibson. The “R” rating is well-deserved, and people under the age of 17 should not be admitted for good reason. I would also warn veterans about seeing this movie. It does not pull any punches in either the graphics or the audio, and it might be too intense for someone who has seen combat in real life.

 

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

HACKSAW RIDGE does an exceptional job presenting the conflicting-but-legitimate points of view of Doss, his fellow soldiers, and his officers.

Pfc. Desmond Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who refused to touch a firearm or work on Saturdays. The story ably traces how Doss’s religion and home atmosphere solidified his commitment to never touch a weapon while instilling in him a deep sense of duty to serve his country. His faith was inseparable from his character and is portrayed realistically as such in the movie. Equally realistic are the reactions of Doss’s fellow soldiers to his “red lines.” They were suspect of Doss’s religious devotion, wondering if he was actually simply a coward who would get them killed on the battlefield. Doss’s officers were concerned, as well, about sending a man into the field who refused to fight, and they wanted him out. HACKSAW RIDGE gives a balanced and respectful presentation of the competing interests and motivations at work in the situation without over-dramatizing or unrealistically vilifying any of the men involved.

Some reviews have characterized HACKSAW RIDGE as “religious pomp and pornographic violence,” or “war propaganda.”

On the contrary, Doss was a deeply religious man, and religious beliefs were the foundation of his heroism in real life. The movie simply portrays him as such. As for the accusations of “pornographic violence,” I would invite those reviewers to do a tour or two in combat and then get back to us. Regarding the label “war propaganda,” a true tale truly told is not propaganda. HACKSAW RIDGE is true to Desmond Doss’s amazing life story with little dramatic embellishment. Interviews with Doss, his captain, and with soldiers who knew him at the end of the movie confirm the events and the characters as factual.

 

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE. Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers. This was true.

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.
Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers.
This was true.

 

In fact, the movie HACKSAW RIDGE is not big enough to portray all of Doss’s heroic deeds.

For example, the film shows cargo nets hung from the top of the ridge. What it doesn’t show is that Doss was one of the three men to carry the massive cargo nets up the ridge and mount them there under the nose of the Japanese. (See article below, History vs. Hollywood, for historical picture of Doss with the nets at the top of the ridge.) After the battle wherein Doss brought down all seventy-five casualties on his own, he continued to assist wounded soldiers and to inspire the men in the 1st Battalion to go on to win a foothold on the ridge, even after being wounded by shrapnel and sniper fire. It’s worth reading the full text of his Medal of Honor citation below.

 

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss
Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

In summary, this is a true story well told about a man of faith, whose faith gave him strength to rescue over seventy-five men from the battlefield during one of the bloodiest conflicts of WWII.

Those offended by displays of Christian faith or the horrors of war might find this movie is not for them. I would encourage those people to be open-minded and accepting of diversity and go anyway to learn about genuine historical events and a very real man who deserves an excellent movie. Those who are comfortable with religious conviction and who understand that war is hell will be amazed at the story of war hero Desmond Doss.

I give HACKSAW RIDGE our highest Bayard & Holmes rating, a .44 magnum, with one caveat.

Though the violence is realistic, it is extreme, just as one might expect the Battle of Okinawa to be. With excellent production and outstanding acting, it’s worth paying the prime time price for if you can stand the crowd.

 

 

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President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The text of Pfc. Desmond Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

 

For more about Pfc. Desmond Doss and how HACKSAW RIDGE compares to Doss’s real life, see HistoryvsHollywood.com Hacksaw Ridge and Bayard & Holmes article, The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight.

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

During WWII, dozens of the bloody campaigns raged around the globe, involving millions of US military personnel. Four hundred sixty-four of those Americans received the Medal of Honor — two hundred sixty-six of them posthumously. Most of the recipients received the medal for incredible feats of valor while attacking the enemy. However, in a few instances, the medal was given to a recipient that never attempted to harm the enemy. Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector from Virginia, was one of those recipients.

 

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

Seventy years ago, on October 12, 1945, President Truman awarded Desmond Doss the Medal of Honor for his conduct during the US campaign to take Okinawa from the Japanese imperial forces.

The US undertook the invasion of Okinawa to establish large air bases for operations during the anticipated invasion of Japan. On April 1, 1945, 250,000 combat troops, organized into three US Marines Divisions and four US Army Divisions, stormed the shores of Okinawa.

The landings, themselves, were conducted without much resistance from the approximately 90,000 Japanese defenders. By 1945, the Japanese had decided that it was unwise to expose their forces to vastly superior US naval gunfire and US air support on the narrow beach zones where the concentrated fire would devastate them. Instead, they built strong defensive positions inland from the beaches, where the US advantages in naval gunfire and air support were negated by the close proximity of the attacking US troops.

To defend Okinawa, the Japanese military had perfected two other major defensive innovations.

The first of these was Kamikaze (Divine Wind) suicide air units. Most of us are familiar with the Kamikaze fighter plane units that were unleashed with devastating effect against the US Navy’s amphibious fleet during the US invasion of the Philippines in October of 1944. By the time the US invaded Okinawa, the Japanese had further refined their aerial Kamikaze weapons. In particular, they had developed a man-guided rocket-propelled bomb. These fast moving rocket bombs were difficult to shoot down, and, in combination with the slower Kamikaze fighter craft and light bombers, they managed to kill nearly 5,000 US sailors while sinking twenty amphibious assault ships and twelve destroyers.

On land, the Japanese introduced their second highly effective and savage innovation – the child suicide bomber. The occupying Japanese conscripted middle school children to conduct suicide bomb attacks against the invading US troops. US Marines and soldiers were hesitant to shoot at civilians that ran toward their lines because some of them were simply trying to escape the Japanese. Unfortunately, many of the children carried explosives under their loose fitting shirts. In some instances, the Japanese troops sent forward young mothers with babies. When US troops left their cover to try to assist the women and babies, Japanese snipers killed the US rescuers.

This combination of the aerial Kamikaze and the child suicide bombers greatly complicated the battle for the US forces.

The Japanese commanders in Tokyo, pleased with the effectiveness of the suicide bombers, ordered the conscription of all boys aged fifteen and older and all girls aged seventeen and older to be trained and equipped as suicide troops for the defense of the home islands against the awaited US invasion.

Such was the savage nature of the fighting on Okinawa, which made Desmond Doss’s conduct all the more remarkable.

Because of his religious beliefs, Doss was a conscientious objector. He did not want to engage in combat. His beliefs, however, did not keep him from serving in the US Army as a combat medic.

The text of Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

After his discharge from the US Army, Desmond Doss spent five years in treatment for his injuries and for tuberculosis. He died in March, 2006.

Of the thousands of stories of outstanding courage during WWII, Desmond Doss’s story is one of the most remarkable. He did not act with a burst of adrenaline for a few minutes to achieve remarkable results, but rather he acted calmly and repeatedly risked his life under fire for several days in order to save his wounded comrades. In the midst of one of the most savage battles of history, Desmond Doss, conscientious objector and Medal of Honor recipient, still stands as an outstanding example of courage and compassion.

Pfc. Doss’s story is being brought to the big screen on November 4, 2016, in the movie HACKSAW RIDGE. Watch for the Bayard & Holmes review.

 

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

 

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

ANTHROPOID — Espionage Legend on the Big Screen

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

ANTHROPOID brings one of history’s legendary espionage events to the big screen – the WWII assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich by two Czech paratroopers and a few Czech resistance fighters.

 

2016 Aug Anthropoid Movie Poster

 

Heydrich, also known as the Butcher of Prague, was the architect of Hitler’s death camps and third in command after Hitler and Himmler. Jan Kubis (played by Jamie Dornan) and Jozef Gabcik (played by Cillian Murphy) trained for months in the UK and then parachuted into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Once in Prague, they met up with the dwindling group of Czech resistance fighters, who helped them plan and execute Operation Anthropoid. Heydrich was the highest ranking Nazi officer assassinated during WWII.

Piper Bayard:

This movie is a symphony compared to a Bourne movie rock concert.

If you’re looking for unrealistic characters who do unrealistic things to thwart unrealistic villains with unrealistic explosions and quippy dialogue, this is not the movie for you.  On the other hand, if you enjoy historically accurate war dramas about real events and real people, then you will likely find ANTHROPOID captivating and informative.

ANTHROPOID thankfully makes no effort to glamorize espionage, war, or the ordinary people made extraordinary by the demands of integrity and circumstance.

Courage falters, equipment fails, and humans make stupid mistakes, while at the same time they rise over and over again with a stubborn courage and devotion to their mission and to the Czechoslovakian people. While historical sources differ on the details, the main events surrounding the assassination are well portrayed.

 

Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis and Cillian Murphy as Jozef Gabcik

Jamie Dornan as Jan Kubis and
Cillian Murphy as Jozef Gabcik

 

The tension and conflict are well drawn in spite of a script that is at times a bit stiff.

The stakes are clear. There is no doubt that not only are the lives of the Czech resistance fighters on the line, but also the lives of their families and the people of Czechoslovakia. The drama is not manufactured, but rather real, and raw, and tremendous in the fact that in spite of all human fears and failings, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik carried on and succeeded in one of the greatest assassinations in history.

Jay Holmes:

In the way of disclosure, I must explain that I could not view Anthropoid with the objectivity that a reviewer should always employ.

Though I was not alive at the time of the operation, and I am not of Czech descent, I admire the operatives that conducted the operation, and I have always considered the Nazis to be contemptible. That combination makes it difficult for me to be completely objective in reviewing a movie like ANTHROPOID, but I am happy to share my impressions.

 

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik Image by UK Govt., public domain

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik
Image by UK Govt., public domain

 

Most war movies and action films that depict historic events are created with an emphasis on watchability, and the pace of events, the characters, and the dialogue sacrifice accuracy to make them more fun to watch. ANTHROPOID is not fun to watch, but it is an excellent movie all the same.

I am fairly well read on Operation Anthropoid, and I was once fortunate enough to meet a retired member of British Intelligence that had helped prepare the mission.

It is my impression that the movie ANTHROPOID succeeded in closely portraying the actions and moods of the men and women that were involved in the operation. For me, this made the movie more acceptable. It seems to me that the writer, producer, and actors were perhaps somewhat reverent in their attention to detail and accuracy. The movie may be the best memorial to Operation Anthropoid yet created. As such, I applaud it.

 

Reinhard Heydrich's car after the attack. Image in German Federal Archive, public domain

Reinhard Heydrich’s car after the attack.
Image in German Federal Archive, public domain

 

Interestingly, the process of researching and producing the movie has reawakened the Czech public’s interest in the event.

The Czech Government has now agreed to do forensic work to try to identify bodies from unmarked graves of that period and location to try to locate and rebury the Czech resistance fighters involved in Operation Anthropoid, and give them a proper military burial. I commend the Czech people for pursuing this course. The makers of Anthropoid can be proud that their movie has a tangible result beyond, and more important than, the box office.

Our Rating:

Overall the early reviews of the movie have been tepid. We will depart from the trend and give Anthropoid the Bayard and Holmes .44 magnum – our highest rating.

If the events of WWII and the moral questions surrounding those events matter to you, or if you are interested in raw espionage legend and the feats of real operatives, then you should make the short pilgrimage to see ANTHROPOID. Enjoy the symphony.

 

 

Which US Spy Agency Does What to Whom?

Bayard & Holmes

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

One of the most common mistakes in fiction is confusing which intelligence agencies have the power to do what to whom and where they have the authority to do it. Today, we want to clear up that confusion.

Wiki 2015 March US_Intelligence_Community_Logo_blue

While there are numerous military and civilian intelligence agencies, we’ll focus on four of the biggest branches, which are also the ones most commonly assigned imaginative extracurricular activities books and movies – the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA” or “Company”), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), and the National Security Agency/Central Security Service (“NSA/CSS” or “NSA”). 

 

Wiki 2015 Mar CIA Logo

Central Intelligence Agency

Purpose:

To collect, assess, and disseminate foreign intelligence. The Central Intelligence Agency is and always was what Congress thought it was creating for the first time with the DHS.

Where the CIA operates:

Exclusively on foreign soil.

Entire novel and TV series are premised on the notion that the CIA conducts elaborate surveillance and investigations of American citizens on American soil. (i.e. Homeland and Burn Notice). No. Even in the case of an internal investigation, such as the investigation of traitor Aldrich Ames, the agency must contact the FBI and/or the DHS—depending on the foreigner’s activities—as soon as surveillance on American soil is involved.

What the CIA is authorized to do:

The CIA is authorized to gather intelligence on foreign countries and foreign individuals outside of the US. It has its own employees, but it can also employ contractors and foreigners. Any combination of employees (a.k.a. blue badgers), contractors (a.k.a. green badgers), or foreign agents can be involved in an operation.

Power to arrest:

The CIA does not have the authority to arrest anyone. They do at times detain foreigners in the process of covert actions, but you didn’t hear that from us. The CIA never arrests people for the purpose of prosecution.

To arrest someone on foreign soil for the purpose of prosecution, the CIA cooperates with the FBI, who must in turn cooperate with the host country.

 

Islamabad house where Ramzi Yousef was captured. Image by US govt., public domain.

Islamabad house where Ramzi Yousef was captured.
Image by US govt., public domain.

 

An example of this interaction is the arrest of the first World Trade Center bomber, Ramzi Yousef, in Islamabad, Pakistan. A US State Department employee found the relevant lead by passing out thousands of matchbooks with a modest reward offer printed on the covers. He turned over the information to the CIA, which located Yousef and kept him under surveillance until an FBI team could arrive in Pakistan. The FBI executed a raid while the Islamabad Police waited outside the building. When the FBI brought Yousef out, the Islamabad Police performed the arrest and immediately turned him back to the FBI team to be escorted to New York for formal prosecution.

Oversight:

The CIA reports to the National Intelligence Director, who reports to the president. The agency is overseen by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. As much as Congress and the president disavow their knowledge of CIA activities at times, the CIA has never operated without oversight from Congress and the White House.

 

Wiki 2015 Mar FBI Logo

 

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Purpose:

The FBI was originally the federal government’s investigative agency. Now, the FBI investigates both criminal and terrorist activities and has offices in several overseas US embassies.

Official priorities listed at the FBI website:

  1. Protect the United States from terrorist attack
  2. Protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage
  3. Protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes
  4. Combat public corruption at all levels
  5. Protect civil rights
  6. Combat transnational/national criminal organizations and enterprises
  7. Combat major white-collar crime
  8. Combat significant violent crime
  9. Support federal, state, local and international partners
  10. Upgrade technology to successfully perform the FBI’s mission

Unofficially, the FBI is tasked with keeping suit manufacturers in business.

 

Canstock photo of three actual FBI agents.

Canstock photo of three actual FBI agents.

 

Where the FBI operates:

The FBI operates inside the US as both an investigative and a law enforcement agency. Outside of the US, the FBI assists foreign governments in investigations and conducts investigations of crimes against Americans and American installations. It also acts as a liaison to foreign law enforcement agencies.

What the FBI is authorized to do:

The FBI is authorized to conduct law enforcement and surveillance inside the US. Outside the US, it relies on the CIA for surveillance and must obtain the permission and cooperation of foreign governments for any US law enforcement activities on their territory.

Power to arrest:

The FBI arrests people inside America and, with the cooperation of foreign governments, takes criminals abroad into custody.

Oversight:

The FBI answers to the Department of Justice. The president can and does speak directly to the bureau, and the attorney general and various congressional committees provide oversight.

 

Wiki 2015 Mar DHS Logo

 

Department of Homeland Security

Purpose:

We’re not sure they know, and if they do know, they’re not admitting it.

Law prevented the FBI and CIA from operating effectively to avert terrorism in the US in that the bureau and the agency weren’t allowed to share most of their information with each other. This could have been fixed with a few changes in law.

However, Congress, never one to do for a dollar what could be done for $38 billion dollars, created the DHS. Their intent in establishing the DHS was to set up an agency that could work with itself in order to prevent the next 9/11. Its original core mission was counter-intelligence in order to ensure a homeland that is safe and secure, whatever that means.

The DHS is still creating itself and being created by outside forces such as Congress and any given president. Since its inception, the department has grown to include FEMA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, ICE, Border Patrol, TSA, and more.

 

TSA agents in Boston. Image by DHS, public domain.

TSA agents in Boston.
Image by DHS, public domain.

 

Where the DHS operates:

DHS operates both inside the US and outside the US, supposedly with the cooperation of the CIA. That boundary is a grey area that has never quite been defined.

What the DHS can do:

The DHS can order surveillance on anyone inside the US for virtually any reason under the Patriot Act and its legal progeny. To spy on people outside the US, it relies on the NSA, the CIA, and other agencies.

Power to arrest:

Like the FBI, the DHS can arrest people in the US or abroad if it obtains the cooperation of the foreign country. Those arrested by the DHS in the US have all the rights they would have if arrested by any other US police body. If the DHS nabs someone overseas, that person will show up in the US judicial system.

Oversight:

DHS has full department status, unlike the FBI or the CIA. They have their own department head. It is a cabinet position that reports straight to the president and only nominally to the National Director of Intelligence.

 

Wiki 2015 Mar NSA Logo

National Security Agency/Central Security Service

Purpose:

Cryptology is at the core of the NSA/CSS. It’s the agency’s job to break foreign codes and set codes for the entire US government. It also listens to and stores foreign and domestic signals, including computer signals.

The NSA is very stingy at sharing what it gathers with other sectors of the intelligence community. Other intelligence organizations view the NSA as a black hole where information and money go in, and nothing comes out. In fact, it is undoubtedly the source of astronomers’ models of cosmological black holes.

Where the NSA operates:

Most NSA employees reside and operate inside the US, though they might travel to US embassies or foreign bases. Anywhere there are secured communications, the NSA has the authority to show up and investigate to make sure that security procedures are in place.

The NSA neither confirms nor denies having any facilities for gathering signals outside of the US.

What the NSA can do:

The NSA’s foreign and domestic intelligence gathering operations are not discussed, however, we would refer you to Piper’s PRISM articles listed below. Everyone in the NSA leadership serves at the pleasure of the president. As with the CIA, the president likes to pretend that he forgot that the NSA does what he tells it to do.

 

President Obama addressing NSA about mass surveillance on Jan 17, 2014, pretending he forgot that he ordered the mass surveillance in the first place. Image by US govt., public domain.

President Obama addressing NSA about mass surveillance on Jan 17, 2014, pretending he forgot that he ordered the mass surveillance in the first place.
Image by US govt., public domain.

 

Power to arrest:

The NSA doesn’t arrest anyone. Not ever. If someone shows up flashing an NSA badge, feel free to shoot them. They are a Hollywood crew and not NSA employees.

Oversight:

The question of NSA oversight has been afloat for many decades. They are supposed to report to the National Director of Intelligence and the CIA, but the CIA has never been satisfied with the NSA’s sharing of information.

Have you ever spotted fantastical activities on the part of the CIA, FBI, or NSA in fiction? Do you have any question about who gets to do what to whom in the real world?

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PRISM Surveillance on Americans—What Price Convenience?

PRISM—We Can’t Stop the Signal

Why PRISM Matters

Spooks Without Boundaries

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

America Is Not a Location–The Ultimate Price of Citizen Surveillance

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Coming in September!

THE SPY BRIDE Final Cover 3 inch

For Bayard & Holmes updates notice of releases, subscribe to the monthly Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

Writing Spies–How the Pros Bug a Room

 By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

The basic function spooks serve is to spy on people and organizations. Technology makes that task easier. One major segment of that technology revolves around “bugs.”

 

James Bond checking the telephone for a bug. Of course, he finds one. Image from "From Russia with Love."

James Bond checking the telephone for a bug.
Of course, he finds one.
Image from “From Russia with Love.”

 

In spy parlance and crime stories, the term “bug” refers to electronic devices for clandestinely monitoring targeted spaces. We’ve all seen and read about fictional spooks locating bugs in homes, offices, and hotel rooms. The characters usually find them in a few seconds on lampshades, behind pictures, and inside desk phones. It’s cute and convenient, but it’s far from the truth.

After the Soviets successfully bugged the US Ambassador’s residential office in the US Embassy in Moscow from 1945 – 1952 with a gift of a carving of the US Great Seal, the US Central Intelligence Agency invested heavily in developing better bugging and bug-detection technology. They developed “audio teams,” whose specialty it was to bug targeted spaces. The term predates video surveillance. Modern intelligence services around the world now all field such specialty teams.

Bugging technology has improved tremendously since audio teams were first formed, but they still use some of the basic practices and principals developed prior to 1960. While other types of intelligence operatives partake in bugging activities as opportunities allow, when time and opportunity permit, a specialized team can do a better and less detectible installation of bugs.

Canstock 2014 Surveillance Word Collective

How an operative or a specialty team bugs a location depends on several factors.

  • Time—How soon do they need the information?

If critical information is needed quickly there may not be time for an audio team to show up and do a thorough job. In that case, field operatives would do the job, and they have varying degrees of training and expertise in basic bugging techniques.

  • Time—How long will they have to plant the bugs?

If a team or operative has only a few minutes, then they will use the simplest installations of disguised bugs. If a specialty team has as much as twenty minutes to work, they consider it a luxury. With less time, they will be less thorough.

  • Time—How sophisticated is the target?

In twenty minutes, a six-man team can install a high quality eavesdropping system that will be difficult for a sophisticated opponent such as a Russian or Communist Chinese embassy to detect. With a less sophisticated target, such as a drug gang or a third world military or diplomatic installation, a good team can do a great job in as little as five minutes.

  • Time—How long must the power source for the bug last? (Are you seeing a theme?)

Transmitters—bugs—need a power source. They are now smaller than a dime, and in the smallest devices, battery power is limited. However, technology allows for bugs to use external power sources, such as the target’s own electrical system, without a direct tap into the electrical system.

The bug’s transmission need not be powerful. In fact, if a bug transmits too strong a signal, the target can too easily detect it.

  • Location—Where can the operative or audio team monitor the bugs?

If the operative or team can’t safely monitor the installed bug from a nearby location, such as an apartment or business in an adjoining building, then larger (but still compact) relays can be installed nearby to receive and retransmit the bug’s weak signal. They can also install monitoring equipment in a vehicle. A car’s trunk can contain equipment that can trigger a relay to quickly transmit information and recordings picked up by the bug in a matter of seconds when the car drives past the relay.

  • Alternative Installation Methods

Sometimes, the operative doesn’t need to access the space. Many a bug has been placed by sending a nice gift to a target, such as a heavy desk clock, a lovely antique lamp, or the US Great Seal carving referenced above. The trick in these cases is to have a viable source for the gift. A contractor trying to do business with a foreign embassy might serve as such a source if the contractor is in the employ of the folks doing the bugging. Unfortunately, most of the premier targets, such as a Russian Embassy, will not be easily duped into accepting gifts and placing them in secured areas.

 

1945 Great Seal Exibit Replica of bugged gift to US Ambassador Harriman Image from NSA Cryptologic Museum

1945 Great Seal Exibit
Replica of bugged gift to US Ambassador Harriman
Image from NSA Cryptologic Museum

 

In the most ideal case, a targeted building can be bugged during construction. These windfalls are infrequent, but they provide the best opportunity for placing the most sophisticated, long acting bugs.

A more frequent event would be gaining access when repair work is being done. If you can intercept a delivery of new furniture or appliances, then you have a great opportunity to place the highest quality bugs with well-disguised installations without setting foot on the premises.

  • The Field Spook’s Bugging Kit

Once an operative gains access by way of bribery or burglary, his bugging kit need not be any larger than a paperback novel. A basic bugging kit would include bugs that can be programmed to record and/or transmit on preset schedules. The bugs can also be turned on and off remotely to foil bug sweepers. The kit would also contain a small hand drill, a minimal paint kit, and epoxies for patching minute holes in walls. The paint is odor free and fast drying. For the finishing touch, the kit would contain a “puffer” for adding a layer of ambient dust to a painted area. The entire kit may be disguised in something such as a travel-size chess set or built into real cosmetic containers for a female spy.

  • How a Field Spook Plants a Bug in a Wall

The operative first selects an advantageous location—often just above a baseboard. She begins by drilling a small hole, catching the dust on a little piece of plastic. She then selects a bug from her assortment, pops it in the hole, and seals the hole with epoxy. She empties the wall dust from the hole into a baggie and then uses the plastic as a palette to mix dabs of paint to match the color of the wall. With a small brush, she paints over the epoxy and then collects all of her materials to take with her. As a finishing touch, she sucks up ambient dust from against the baseboard with the puffer and puffs it onto the freshly painted wall until it looks like the surrounding area.

In short, your characters’ bugging efforts will be believable if you consider the full nature of the opportunities they have for surveillance and plan their bug installations accordingly. Where are they? How much time do they have? Who is the target? What equipment do they have? Work logically with your space, time, and tools, and your characters will bug like the pros.

Do you have any questions about bugging? What kinds of surveillance equipment do you see or use in books?

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.