Showing posts with label tradecraft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tradecraft. Show all posts

01 November 2015

The 5¢ Misunderstanding

A couple of weeks ago, I saw Bridge of Spies with friends Sharon and Steve. Using desaturated color and retro photography, the film offered a 1950s-60s Len Deighton / John le Carré glance backwards at the Cold War. A sprinkling of fiction and shortcuts found their way into the movie, but over all, it followed the history reasonably well.

Except, one key episode was compressed, condensed, conflated… the part about the hollow nickel. The truth is far more fascinating– and funny– than the script let on.

Fisher/Abel (Soviet stamp)
Abel (from Soviet 5к stamp)
Rudolf Ivanovich Abel (aka Willie Fisher) never saw the hollow nickel. Instead, it was handled… or rather mishandled… by the clumsy Russian spy who turned Able in.

His name was Reino Häyhänen, a Finnish Soviet Lieutenant Colonel. Recruited by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, he served in Finland before he was called to Moscow for training and reassignment to the United States where he assumed an American identity of Eugene Mäki.

In Manhattan, his first handler turned out to be Mikhail Nikolaevich Svirin who served as the first secretary to the Soviet United Nations Delegation in New York City. Upon Mikhail’s departure, Häyhänen was turned over to Able/Fisher, code name ‘Mark’.

If you believe the James Bond stories, spies are obsessed with babes and booze, and Lt. Col. partook more than his share. ‘Mark’ complained bitterly about Häyhänen’s lackadaisical attitude, poor work ethic, consumption of alcohol, consorting with prostitutes, and refusal to take spying seriously.

During this period, the Soviets utilized a number of clever spy toys that Q might have envied. One such gadget was a 2-inch screw that itself could be unscrewed, revealing a hollow core in which messages might be passed. These secret containers were left in ‘dead drops’, places unlikely to be thought of as spy caches.

In 1955, the bumbling Häyhänen established a cache in Prospect Park, Brooklyn in a crack in steps of a tenement. Häyhänen dropped in a hollow screw with a coded message awaiting pick-up. However, the landlord proved more fastidious than Häyhänen imagined and filled in the crack with cement. There the message remained encased in concrete until the FBI recovered it two years later.

Hollow Screw

But this was hardly Häyhänen’s worst flub in what became known as the Hollow Nickel Affair. Häyhänen’s first assignment in the USA instructed him to pick up a hollowed-out coin, open it, and decode the message. Häyhänen managed the first part– he obtained the nickel– but then he promptly spent it before realizing his mistake.

For eight months, the 5¢ piece floated around New York, used for purchases and tips numerous times until an observant newspaper boy received the coin in change on 22 June 1953. That day, fourteen-year-old Jimmy Bozart, a delivery boy for the Brooklyn Eagle, collected subscription fees from ladies at 3403 Foster Avenue, Brooklyn.

As Jimmy jostled the coins, one seemed slightly lighter than the others. He flipped the nickel on the sidewalk where it split in two. Thomas Jefferson departed Monticello once and for all.

Häyhänen’s coin
Häyhänen’s coin

Jimmy told a friend, the daughter of a NYC police officer. The story worked its way up the chain of command until it reached a detective who told FBI Special Agent Louis Hahn, who confiscated the coin.

The device turned out to be made of two coins, the front half a 1948 nickel and the back half from a late WW-II issue. A tiny hole had been drilled in the R of TRUST to facilitate separating the halves. Inside, they found a square of microfiche with a numeric message.

14546 36056 64211 08919 18710 71187 71215 02906 66036 10922
11375 61238 65634 39175 37378 31013 22596 19291 17463 23551
88527 10130 01767 12366 16669 97846 76559 50062 91171 72332
19262 69849 90251 11576 46121 24666 05902 19229 56150 23521
51911 78912 32939 31966 12096 12060 89748 25362 43167 99841
76271 31154 26838 77221 58343 61164 14349 01241 26269 71578
31734 27562 51236 12982 18059 66218 22577 09454 81216 71953
26986 89779 54197 11990 23881 48884 22165 62998 36449 41742
30267 77614 31565 30902 85812 16112 93312 71220 60369 12872
12458 19081 97117 70107 06391 71114 19459 59586 80317 07522
76509 11111 36990 32666 04411 51532 91184 23162 82011 19185
56110 28876 76718 03563 28222 31674 39023 07623 93513 97175
29816 95761 69483 32951 97696 34992 61109 95090 24092 71008
90061 14790 15154 14655 29011 57206 77195 01256 69250 62901
39179 71229 23299 84164 45900 42227 65853 17591 60182 06315
65812 01378 14566 87719 92507 79517 99651 82155 58118 67197
30015 70687 36201 56531 56721 26306 57135 91796 51341 07796
76655 62716 33583 21932 16224 87721 89619 23191 20665 45140
66098 60959 71521 02334 21212 51110 85227 98768 11125 05321
53152 14191 12166 12715 03116 43041 74822 72759 29130 21947
15764 96851 20618 22370 11391 83520 62297                 .
Ж 12740/622
Häyhänen’s code

For four years, the FBI could make nothing of the code until Häyhänen defected and deciphered the message originally meant for him.

  1. We congratulate you on a safe arrival. We confirm the receipt of your letter to the address `V repeat V’ and the reading of letter number 1.
  2. For organization of cover, we gave instructions to transmit to you three thousand in local (currency). Consult with us prior to investing it in any kind of business, advising the character of this business.
  3. According to your request, we will transmit the formula for the preparation of soft film and news separately, together with (your) mother’s letter.
  4. It is too early to send you the gammas. Encipher short letters, but the longer ones make with insertions. All the data about yourself, place of work, address, etc., must not be transmitted in one cipher message. Transmit insertions separately.
  5. The package was delivered to your wife personally. Everything is all right with the family. We wish you success. Greetings from the comrades.
    Number 1, 3rd December.
Häyhänen’s message

The US knew nothing about this until the USSR recalled Häyhänen to Moscow for good… or bad. Fisher/Abel (aka Mark) had complained of Häyhänen’s incompetence, and at best, Häyhänen would not be allowed to return to the US, which he’d grown fond of. At worst, Häyhänen might have ended up on the wrong side of a KGB interrogation, and he was also fond of his own skin.

As Häyhänen reached Paris on his journey, he resolved not to return to Moscow. Instead, he defected to the Americans who returned him to the US, where Häyhänen proved more helpful than he had with the Soviets. He was able to identify his handlers, dead drops, and the technology the Russians were using. It brought about the exposure and capture of Colonel Rudolf Abel, who was eventually exchanged for Colonel Gary Powers of U-2 notoriety.

And it all began with a nickel that proved a lot less– and a lot more– than 5¢.

05 July 2013

TRADECRAFT: Surveillance 401

Regardless how good you are at conducting or eluding surveillance, sooner or later, you will run into at least one problem or more. It's the nature of the business. Your target (or you if it's the other way around) may see the same face or the same vehicle more than once and suddenly ask what's going on. How much is coincidence? And, that's if you are looking for surveillance. For the target who is checking behind himself, a surveillance team can easily get into trouble if they're not careful.

So here's a few tips. Just know that these tips can be taken from either side of the surveillance equation. If you are the one doing the following, these may be hints that your target is checking to see if he has grown a tail. Also, if you are in a situation where you wish to check your back trail or maybe ditch any surveillance on yourself, consider these suggestions on actions to take. Use as is appropriate for yourself or your fictional character. Many of these techniques can also be adapted to vehicle traffic.

From the viewpoint of eluding:
  1) While walking briskly in one direction, suddenly turn around. Which people behind you are caught short? Do they abruptly turn into a doorway? Awkwardly start window shopping? Look directly at you, then avert their gaze in embarrassment? When you move briskly, your surveillance needs to move fast too in order to keep up. When you suddenly turn on them, you catch them in mid-stride. It's awkward for them to recover quickly.

  2) Similar to the above is to completely reverse course and go back the way you came. You get all the benefits of #1, plus you disrupt the surveillance team's pattern. If you remember Surveillance 102, you'll know that any professional team has been trained to deal with this situation. In this case, go one block over to a parallel street and pull the same trick. Recognize any of the same faces from the block before? Naturally, you don't want the other side to know you're onto them (knowledge is power), so try to make your route appear to be normal. Have an apparent reason for all these changes of direction. Of course if you are a high profile target, the opposition may have two or even three teams on you and you may keep seeing new faces. However, in those circumstances where you are worth that much expenditure of their assets, you shouldn't be out in the open anyway.

  3) Pause long enough to tie your loose shoe lace or peruse a map, something which appears to be a normal action. What you're really doing is taking time to look behind you, across the street and around you to take notice of who is there.

  4) You've seen it done in thriller and spy movies, and you too can look in store windows to watch reflections of movements around you.

  5) Change your pace. Move slowly, then fast, then slow again in combination with other techniques mentioned here. This allows you to disrupt their team pattern and then catch them off guard.

  6) Enter a building or turn the corner of a building, stop and put your back to the wall. Who followed you into the building or around the corner? How did they react when they saw you standing there, waiting?

  7) Enter a building and immediately leave by another exit. Same faces? People running around the corner to watch the side door?

  8) Get on an elevator. Then get off on the same floor or anther floor. Walk up or down a flight of stairs and take a different elevator. They can't follow you without being obvious. In the end, they have to wait for you to leave the building. Does the building have a basement with a parking garage exit?

  9) Start to leave a building, then suddenly stop just outside the exit. You already know what you're looking for now.

 10) Assuming the opposition is merely following you, but not trying to kill or kidnap you, go down an alley. They either expose themselves by following else have to run around the block to catch you coming out the other end. But, what if you go halfway and then backtrack? Most of their assets will end up in the wrong place.

 11) Go around the same block several times to see who is still with you before suddenly heading off in a different direction. I recommended this one to a friend of the family who was in the middle of a divorce from a child-abusing husband. She used it to detect and record the license plate of a car following her and then reported the license plate to the Air Police when she went back on base. Turned out to be a PI hired by the abusive husband hoping to find some dirt on her in order to contest the divorce. She got the divorce without problems. He went to Leavenworth.

 12) While temporarily out of sight, change clothes, appearance, vehicles or method of transportation. The opposition may not recognize you with the change.

 13) See a policeman on a corner? Ask him for directions to a business you passed about half a block back. When he points behind you, you then turn and point in the same direction. Anyone following you will assume you fingered them to the cops. When you continue on your way, they will be reluctant to follow you past the cop. Our instructors in Basic Agent Training loved to use this one on trainees, only in this case they had the cop stop us to hear our explanation of what was going on.

 14) Use an associate for counter-surveillance. The pros do it and so can you. Let other sets of eyes watch your back trail for you. This technique is difficult for the opposition to detect and therefore is very effective. Unless of course, the opposition also knows who your people are. During the Cold War and even today, both sides of opposing governments keep files on their opponents, which keeps the game a little tighter.

So now are you ready to go out and try your luck? Follow someone or see if you're being followed? Hey, stay a little paranoid. It's good for you. You never know who's out there, or why.

01 February 2013

TRADECRAFT: Surveillance 201

Doing one-car surveillance is similar to operating as a one-man team following a subject on foot, except that it is a little more difficult to hide a vehicle than it is for a single person to blend in with his surroundings. Once again, just like a person needs to fit in, your vehicle needs to match the area being surveilled. You don't park a flashy new Mercedes in the projects, nor do you park a Low-Rider in an upscale neighborhood, without attracting attention of some kind. You want no attention. However, in some areas you won't be able to park for very long anyway because that neighborhood is watching for those who don't belong there. In those cases, you need to brainstorm another way to do it, or else pick up on your subject in a different area he frequents.

In Kansas City whenever we set up on a mafia owned neighborhood, we could bet that in about fifteen minutes we could look in our rear view mirror and see a squad car sliding in behind us. Naturally, the cops would approach and ask for ID. At that point, we had two choices: we could leave the area or we could stay. But, if we stayed, then the mafia knew we were the law because we didn't get rousted. They simply used the law enforcement system against us by making a phone call to the local police about a suspicious car sitting in their neighborhood. So much for clandestine surveillance.

In other tight neighborhoods, little kids on bikes would ride up and knock on your window. "Whatcha doing, Mister?" Now it's time to go, you're burned, unless you have a believable story to tell. Sometimes if I was by myself, I would park the car in a favorable spot and slide over into the passenger seat as if my invisible buddy, the driver, had gotten out of the car and gone inside one of the nearby houses or buildings. This usually bought a little time to stay in place and worked especially well in winter when you left the engine running to stay warm. Otherwise, the windows soon fogged up, in which case any passerby knew someone was sitting in the vehicle anyway. Always problems and consequences to be dealt with.

It helps if you can turn off your headlights and parking lights when the engine is running, a problem with some newer models. You will also want to disable your interior lights so they don't come on every time you open the car door at night. Sure, you could crawl through the window like race car drivers, but that's an awkward enter and exit. Tends to draw attention if someone's looking your way.

So now, let's say you got past all them problems, the subject came out of the building, got into his car and drove away. If it's just you out there then you have to get on your subject before you lose him, but don't just roar up and hang onto his rear bumper. If you can, let one car get between you and the guy you're following. And yep, this becomes a problem situation every time you come to a red light. If he makes the light and the car in front of you stops, then you're stuck. Given enough room, you can steer to the right, wait until there's a break in cross traffic and run the light. You're taking a chance that he's not watching his back trail in the rear view mirror. So, you may have to decide which is more important, losing the subject or risking a burn.

Another danger of running a red light is your local friendly traffic cop who just happens to be in the area. If you have a badge to show him, he may send you on your way without a ticket, but your stop time has probably allowed the subject to travel out of sight.  To minimize this risk, I've been known to make a quick right turn at the red light, shoot a U on the cross street, then make another quick right at the intersection and get back in the game behind the subject.

Traffic lights also present a problem if there are no cars between you and the subject. You really don't want to be directly behind him all the time, so maybe take a right hand turn into a parking lot until the light changes. Be sure to use your blinker to signal that turn. If the subject is watching his rear view mirror, his perception is that you are not following him because you just made a turn. Of course, as soon as the light changes and he moves forward, you get out of the lot and back on the road. You're good for a while longer.

Corners are another problem. Do you follow him around the corner? If you can, delay your turn at that same corner he took. Let him get down the block a ways in case he is parking to enter a building, or even sitting just around the corner to see if the same car keeps following him on turns. If you have another person in your vehicle, have him get out, walk to the corner and advise you as to what the subject did after the turn.

More than likely, you will lose your target if the surveillance covers much distance. That's why it's better to use multiple cars on a moving surveillance. This way, when a subject makes a turn, The Eyeball keeps going straight and the #2 car follows around the corner and becomes the new Eyeball. The 3rd car in line also makes the corner. All other cars either go down parallel streets on either side or pull over and park, depending upon what the new Eyeball says the subject is doing.

With moving surveillance and multiple cars, communications are a definite requirement, which usually means a radio system. Law enforcement radios operate with several different channels. At least one channel hits the base radio and all other cars which happen to be on that channel at that time. The other channels are usually used for car-to-car only, to include concealed radios being used by that team's foot surveillance personnel. This way, several different teams can work different subjects at the same time without interferring with each other's transmissions. However, if two different subjects meet up with each other, then those two teams can switch to the same channel.

In later years, many law agencies went to radios with both clear channels and encrypted channels. Seems the bad guys could purchase equipment to listen in and find out if they were being targeted. All they needed was to find the correct radio frequency. The problem with an encrypted channel is that it cuts down on the range of communications. Get far enough out and you can't hit base, or even another car that got left behind in a fast moving surveillance. Therefore, what you're saying on the radio might be secure, but there may not be any friendlies out there who can hear you.

But, when you're a cop, that's the job and you get paid to do it. If you're a private eye or a civilian, you probably don't have much backup anyway. To paraphrase the roll call Sergeant on Hill Street Blues, "Be careful out there, people."

18 January 2013

TRADECRAFT: Surveillance 102

It's been about a month and a half since my first installment on surveillance. By now, you've had several chances to try your skill at one-person foot surveillance and if so, then probably seen some of the problems first hand which result from conducting this type of activity all by yourself. To counteract these problem situations, someone way down the line in history took on a few associates to help out and maybe make these operations more successful. In recent times, this group activity became known as the ABC Method of Team Foot Surveillance.

In team foot surveillance, each member of the team acquires a letter of the alphabet, but only for the purpose of explaining his position. Each member then operates accordingly. Sounds simple so far, right? Don't worry, it becomes more complicated later.

The lead person, the one with The Eyeball, is always designated as "A." The person designated as "B" is across the street and almost parallel to but just a little behind the Subject. B keeps the Subject in view while trying not to be obvious about it. "C" is on the same side of the street as the Subject and is several paces behind A. It is not necessary that C be able to see the Subject, but C will always have A in view and will take his cues on where to go next based on A's actions and movement.

If you are lucky enough to have more members on the team, then "D" will follow several paces behind B, taking his cues from B and also A if he can see that team member. "E," if you have one, follows C and so on. Let's setup a crude diagram as a visual aid to better place this in your mind.


                                                              D                                          B

Got it? Good. Now pay attention because this can quickly become a fluid situation. If for some reason, A has been following the Subject for a long time, or feels that he has been burned by the Subject, then A will have C move up to become the new A and take The Eyeball. E then moves up to become the new C, while the old A drops back to the rear, becomes the new E and changes outer garments and appearance in order to cut down on recognition later by the Subject.

Okay, you've got a mental picture from the above diagram and you're starting to understand the fluid part. So now you know that if the Subject crosses to the opposite side of the street and continues in the same direction as before, then the old B becomes the new A and also acquires The Eyeball, while the old A becomes the new B and moves forward on his side of the street. All other letters follow suit. It now looks like this:


      E                          C                                 A                                            Subject

E, if you have one, is the only team member to cross the street, but he is well out of sight of the Subject.

So what do you do if the Subject (S) goes around a corner? Glad you asked. A stops just short of the corner, while B looks to determine whether the Subject continues on up the street, or if the Subject stopped and is waiting to see if anyone follows him around that same corner. B signals whether or not it is safe for A to go around the corner.
                                                                                                      ]                [
___________________________________________________]                [______________
                                                          D                                                          B

_____E________________C________________________A___                _______________
                                                                                                       ]               [
                                                                                                       ] S            [

Next situation: what does the team do if the Subject suddenly reverses course and starts back the way he came? Easy, everybody freezes in place until the Subject continues far enough for the team to figure out his new direction. If the Subject continues past E, then E becomes the new A and acquires The Eyeball. All other letter designations adjust themselves accordingly to fit the new pattern. Like I said, it's fluid, you gotta go with the flow.

As you can well see by now, some type of communication is necessary for team members to understand what's happening with the Subject and where each team member should go next. If you are a spy organization or high level law enforcement or expensive PI outfit, you probably have concealed radios with hidden microphones so you can talk into your collar or your sleeve. Otherwise, you get by with agency hand-held radios, or even walkie-talkies assuming you are an amateur group. It also helps to have silent hand signals similar to those used by the military or SWAT teams. For my surveillance workshops at writers conferences, I had the civilian teams use hand signals plus their cell phones to maintain contact with each other.

SIDE NOTE: Things go wrong. At the first workshop, one team member followed her "rabbit" down an alley, while the rest of the team hurried around both sides of the block to pick up their rabbit again after he emerged from the other side. However, upon reaching the far end of the alley, the rabbit suddenly reversed course to head back the way he came. The all alone team member panicked, ducked into a doorway and punched a quick number into her cell phone. "He doubled back and is coming straight at me," she said into the phone. "Alert the others and get here as soon as you can." There was a long pause on the other end of the call before a deep masculine voice replied. "Lady, I don't know who you are or what you're doing, but it sure sounds exciting." That wrong number made somebody's day. I recommend setting up Speed Dial to other team members, or setup an ongoing conference call.

One last item on team surveillance. If you are doing this for real, it helps to have one of the team members following way behind in a multiple person van or large SUV. This way, if the Subject suddenly gets into a taxi, private car, hops a bus or other public transportation, your total team won't be left standing at the curb. The van will pick up as many team members as possible without losing sight of the Subject, thus the foot surveillance starts up again at whatever point the Subject returns to walking. Any team members who were left behind have to make their own way to the new site. Once again, communication is imperative to get your team moving together and back on task.

So, you paranoid yet? You should be. Those subjects who are experts in this type of tradecraft may have their own teams out as counter-surveillance in order to follow you home or back to your office. They will want to know who is following them and why. That's right, keep looking over your shoulder, always check your back trail. Did you see that same person before? Could be coincidence. And then again.....

Have a nice day.

07 December 2012

Tradecraft: Surveillance 101

At some point in your life, you've probably wished you could follow a person to see where he or she was going, maybe find out more about them. It could have been a loved one you suddenly had reason to mistrust, or it could have been an errant child you feared was running with a bad crowd and about to get into trouble. Or perhaps it was merely a whim on your part concerning a stranger who suddenly piqued your curiosity by something he did. Of course if you're a writer, you can always fall back on the excuse that you were simply conducting research to make your latest story seem more real.

It makes no difference to me what your reasons are. For twenty-five years, I conducted surveillance on bad guys from on foot, in moving vehicles, from airplanes and helicopters, from blinds in the woods and from stationary positions such as adjacent buildings and undercover vans. Each method has its own procedures and its own reasons for use. Just know that this is an adrenaline filled activity, and if you try it, you'll find it's actually fun to do. In fact, I've put on a couple of surveillance workshops for one of the chapters of Mystery Writers of America, a Left Coast Crime Conference and repeat performances for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Amazingly, some civilians can be quite good at foot surveillance after only an hour briefing and then placed directly into a field exercise.

See how many of these celebrity authors ("rabbits") from the Denver Left Coast Crime Conference you recognize.
Roughly, here's some of the knowledge you need to know, a shortened version of what I teach civilians before forming them into teams to follow "rabbits" on foot in a downtown area or large shopping mall.

The first things to learn are what to wear and how to act. Wear only ordinary clothing for the area you'll be working in, nothing flashy or anything that will stand out. You want to become invisible or at least un-noticeable. Think for a minute, when you arrive at a big city hotel, the doorman opens the door for you. That's his job. He's in uniform. You thank him and go in. But, did you really take note of him? Could you pick him out in a lineup of other uniformed doormen? Probably not. You saw what you expected to see and soon dismissed any facial image. He blended in to the surroundings because he belonged there. That's what you want to do when you are following someone. Sometimes, it doesn't hurt to carry a backpack or shopping bag containing a rapid change of outside clothing and hats. Changing appearance helps keep you from becoming noticeable.

As for how to act, you act the way you're dressed. Do not draw attention to yourself, plus have a cover story as to who you are and why you are there just in case you are suddenly confronted by the one you're following or even by someone in the vicinity, such as a storekeeper or a security guard. At this point in the lecture, I usually tell my story about the Safeway Store Shootout in Kansas City. At the time, I was doing good surveillance on the parking lot from inside the store and had told a convincing tale to the store manager as to why I was lingering in the front of his store, right up until the guns came out. But, I've already related that little fun filled event in an earlier blog, so we'd best move on.

The best surveillance operatives are of average size and average looks. I know a six-foot tall lady of extreme intelligence and ivy-league background whom the CIA did not hire because of her height and good looks. They thought she would stand out in a crowd and therefore be too noticeable. Point in case, blend in as much as possible. Disappear, disappear, disappear, or at least become un-noticeable.

So now let's discuss what you want to learn or verify from your surveillance. This may determine how close you have to get to your subject. For instance, if you're looking for information leading to a divorce action, then your object of interest will probably be large, such as a meeting between subjects or a motel room being used. If you're looking for evidence against a stereo thief or shoplifter, then what you're watching for may be of medium size. However, if you're following a spy, then you may need to be on the outlook for small objects transferred in a handoff between two people or something picked up from a dead drop. Distance quickly becomes a factor.

The simplest form of moving surveillance is the One-Person Foot Surveillance, a tough way to operate because you are the only one out there, no team member to assist or rely on. Since one-person foot is usually conducted on the same side of the street and reasonably close to the subject in case he makes a sudden turn into a store or building, if you get burned by the subject or lose The Eyeball, then you are out of business for that day.

However, if your subject has a regular routine, you can usually come back the next day about the same time and pick up where you lost him and start following until you lose the subject again. Then come back on the following day and start from that point. Continue until you find his destination. That's how the Isrealis found out exactly in which town and house that Eichmann lived. This process helped them decide where and how to best take possession of him in order to spirit him out of that country.

The above info should be sufficient for a start on this topic. If it turns out there is enough interest, then I will continue in future blogs to cover the A B C Method of Team Surveillance, vehicle surveillance, other surveillance and the ever popular list of how the other side detects your surveillance. In the meantime, keep looking back over your shoulder. Who knows?