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Jeffery Deaver shares the lessons he learned from 007

02-Jun-2011 • Bond Style

One of the greatest pleasures I get as a novelist is researching a field I wasn't previously familiar with, then incorporating the resulting material into my novels, writes Jeffery Deaver in the Wall Street Journal

For "Carte Blanche," the newest James Bond novel, I soaked up a number of fascinating factoids about tradecraft—the subdued term for the techniques of espionage. My knowledge will have faded in a few years, but in the short term, I'm a bit of a spymaster. I thought I might share a few of the more useful tricks of the trade, in case you find yourself tapped (recruited) by a handler (the spy who supervises field agents) to help out the pros.

Apparently this happens quite frequently. At least according to Hollywood.

• To be a spy, you don't need to break into top-secret facilities, climb through air ducts and make your way through laser beam fields. Yes, agents do some of that acrobatic stuff, as well as sit in front of really neat high-def monitors, a la Jack Bauer in "24," while vacuuming up cellphone calls and emails. But a huge amount of "product," as intelligence is called, comes from open sources, information available to everyone, found in newspapers, on TV, in unclassified government, corporate and nonprofit reports and from observations in public. You can be sure that somebody in Russia's SVR, one of the KGB's successor agencies, is jotting down notes about this article even as you read it.

• Think you're being tailed? If you're on foot in the city, never look behind you; the agent will quickly hand off to another member of the surveillance team. Find a commercial street with stores or restaurants whose entrances have large, angled windows. They provide perfect mirrors to get a glimpse of a tail. Take several random turns to verify that you're the target, but be sure to stop at several stores on your route and make actual purchases to justify your complicated route and convince your tail that you are oblivious to him.

What you do when you lead him into a dark alleyway is your own business.

• Are you the tailer rather than the tailee? If you're conducting surveillance or following somebody who is frequently adopting disguises to throw you off, remember three distinctive things about the target: height, proportion of shoulder width to size of head and angle of foot (outward or inward pointing). Even if the target changes clothes, makeup, hats, posture and hair style, those three characteristics can't be altered credibly or consistently.

• If you need to disguise yourself, remember that less is more. "Mission: Impossible" rubber masks and prosthetics only work at considerable distance. For face-to-face disguises, the most important trick is to use a dental apparatus to give you bad teeth. The attention of the person you're trying to fool will automatically be drawn to your mouth, even if they try to maintain eye contact.

• To forge a subject's signature—to, say, sign a document as part of a misinformation assignment—copy it upside down. If you try to forge handwriting without inverting it, your own script will affect the results.

• Dead drops are locations where one agent leaves an item, like classified documents or cash, for another to retrieve later. Usually the objects are left in a CD, that is, a concealment device. Outdoors, your best CDs are objects naturally found on the ground and of little interest to passersby. They're called "sticks and bricks" because that's often what they are: hollowed out branches and fake stones. Freeze-dried dead animals are popular too. Just make sure there's no one around to wonder why you're dropping a dead rat into your attaché case.

• If you think your dead drop has been compromised and is under surveillance, go on the offensive against the enemy; try a Trojan Horse operation. Leave a double concealment device, one with two hidden compartments, at the drop. The CD's first compartment, which can be opened, should contain a large sum of money or secret documents (stolen from the enemy). In the second chamber, which can't be opened, put a tracker or listening device. Once the enemy agents take it back to their safe house, it's sure to be scanned for radio or data transmissions; make sure the unit has timing software so that it will not start sending signals for two or three days.

• A good way to get a listening device into the home of a target is to adopt an NOC (non-official cover) as a salesman—of household items, for instance. Follow the target's spouse to the grocery store and gently ding his or her car with your own. Apologize profusely and say that you'd prefer not to report the accident to your insurance company. Give the spouse much more money than it would cost to fix the damage (cash is too suspicious; use a check from an account set up under your NOC). Then further make nice by giving away one of your samples, like an expensive salt and pepper set, which will, of course, have a transmitter inside—again, timed for delayed transmission.

• If you're concerned that someone is tapping your mobile or land line, you can always come up with a prearranged vocabulary of code words to convey messages in the course of what seems to be an innocent conversation. Or use silent calling, in which a certain interval of silence between pick-up and hang-up conveys a message. Five seconds means to do X, 10 seconds is Y, etc.

• Who hasn't spent sleepless nights worried about double agents? Moles have existed since the profession of espionage began. Motivation is the prime criterion in deciding if someone spying for you is legitimate. Apply the MICE test: Is he working for you because of the Money, out of Ideology, because he's being Coerced or because of his Ego? If he doesn't score high on any of those measures, he could be a double.

• If you're a spy, you have to communicate, sharing with your handler both operational information and the product you've gathered. Most spies avoid public meetings, and instead use covert communications (covcom) or clandestine communications (clancom) to swap information.

Covcom occurs when the message itself is detectable (though possibly encrypted), but the sender and recipient are unknown. Classic techniques include using anonymous email accounts and broadcasting information via radio. Clancom is when the message itself is hidden. Steganography is the art of hiding information, and the practice is thousands of years old. In the mid-20th century microdots were the preferred form of steganography, and spy agencies' technical services departments vied to outdo their opponents in making the messages smaller and smaller.

Today spies use computer steganography, in which the binary codes of photos, videos or music are modified to contain digital messages. To the naked eye and ear, these seem to be just any other digital media. But after being downloaded by the recipient, they can be quickly processed by special software, and the message extracted.

You might have noticed that I've neglected to offer any insight into one particular aspect of espionage. In reality, spies rarely assassinate anyone. Accordingly, and for the sake of personal liability, I thought I'd avoid helpful hints I've learned about targeted killings. If you really need some help in that department, the best I'll offer is that drone strikes seem to work pretty well.

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