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Spycraft Conversation with David Stone

Your Bio says you did Intelligence work. Can you define 'Intelligence'?

David Stone:     I'll try. There are many kinds of 'intelligence'. SigInt is Signals Intelligence – monitoring enemy communications. Then there's Elint – the kind of stuff the National Security Agency is doing right now.

You mean Electronic Surveillance, that sort of thing? How 'James Bond' has that technology become?

David Stone:     A better analogy would be 'Orwellian'.

As you wish … for example, we're having a phone conversation right now; what's the likelihood that 'they' are listening to us right now, having this conversation?

David Stone:     That would depend on what we've been talking about, and where we both are, and with whom we've been associating. We're both in America, so there is zero chance that someone at Crypto City is sitting at his desk right now listening to this exchange. Zero. But if you were in Yemen and I was in Idaho and we started to use words such as 'enriched uranium' and 'Port of Chicago' – or the usual terrorist code words for them - then the computers at Crypto City would kick out those trigger words and the focus would sharpen immediately. Our conversation – which, since all communication is digital now, would be retrievable as an audio packet - would show up on a screen – with a tag – and the event would be logged for a FISA warrant within 72 hours and yes, then, we would be under surveillance.

Is there any way a person like yourself could detect that kind of surveillance, any measures you might take to neutralize it?

David Stone:     Detect it? No. none at all, unless the surveillance was a 'bug' a hidden mike, or some kind of laser surveillance device, devices which are local and have recognizable electronic or physical 'footprints' that sensitive gear can detect and counter-act. As for 'neutralizing' data-mining surveillance such as the NSA is capable of, you have to take your entire operation back to the Bronze Age. No electronic communication at all, no wire transfers, no banking, no cell phones. You use human couriers, 'trust-based' banking procedures such as the 'hawala' system being used by Al Qaeda, or what is called 'starburst banking' where funds are moved in amounts below the automatic detection trigger of ten thousand dollars. If you have to use phone lines, you speak in riddles. You communicate by hidden cues on Islamic websites. You hide by day and skulk by night, like cockroaches.

That's quite a handicap.

David Stone:      Yes. That's the whole point!

You were describing different kinds of Intelligence?

David Stone:    It's a complex field, so what I'm saying here is pretty basic. I worked a lot in what we called HumInt - information from live humans you are in direct contact with. In HumInt work, you have an opposing force, either formal military, or a criminal organization such as an outlaw biker outfit, sometimes an insurgency. You want to find this Opposing Force, the OpFor, fix it, and kill it. To do that, you need to know where it is, where it's going, what it's carrying, what it's eating, what it's thinking. You plan for what the enemy can do, not what you think they will do.

That's an intriguing distinction. How do you actually do that?

David Stone:     By going out into the field and talking to people. The idea was to gather tactical info and add it to a larger portrait of the gang. Then we made as careful an analysis of their short-term and long-range plans as we could, based on the experience and gut instincts of senior men, and we moved on them. In a more military sense, you go out into the zone, talk to locals, gather spent casings after a fire-fight to see if you're colliding with the same fighters time after time.

How would casings tell you that?

David Stone:     You look at the firing pin prints, at the way the shell has been ejected, at the source of the round – it's a large body of knowledge – too complicated to go into here. When you can, you take a live prisoner, see what he can tell you.

Do you mean 'torture'?

David Stone:     There are many ways to persuade a man. Hard usage is only one of them.

Can you tell us some of the places you've worked?

David Stone:     Southeast Asia. Central America. Here and there inside the States. Canada, even.



Tradecraft Terms used in the covert world:

Black Intel – information from secret sources

White Intel – information from open (public) sources

Gray Intel – unpublished information open to penetration

Raw Intel – field reports, satellites photos, electronic surveillance

Finished Intel – reliable conclusions drawn from all of these sources

Humint – Intel from a human informant

Sigint – Intel gathered by electronic surveillance, data mining, wiretaps, satellite shots, mail intercepts …

Comint – a branch of Sigint used to refer to communications interceptions

Elint – another branch of Sigint that refers to electronics interception used to evaluate enemy communications and radar operations

Techint – Intel derived from a specific wiretap or bug placed inside a protected area by agents inserted for the purpose

Masint – Measurement and Signature Intel – the careful analysis of air, water, or seismic readings to assess enemy activity

Osint – open source intelligence – bank records, personal data, internet traffic, tax records – any data base that can be hacked into

– gathering info by going through waste and garbage

Field Officer
– Agency employees who live and work in target countries

Desk Officers – Administration and Logistics support for Field Officers

Declared Station – an intelligence unit known to the host country and officially working with friendly – or at least reliable – nationals

Undeclared Station
– a covert unit working in a hostile location

Intelligence Officer – one who handles intelligence agents

Intelligence Agent – a person whose job it is to produce Intel for his handler

Confusion Agent – a counter-espionage agent used to spread dis-information (lies and distortions) designed to destabilize and neutralize enemy agencies

Double Agent – an agent working for both sides. Or neither.

Provocation Agent – an operator inserted into an enemy cell to urge the cell into overt and illegal acts, justifying their arrest or liquidation

Legend – A complete and supported false identity every aspect and detail of which of which has been learned by heart. Most legends are supported by a backstop of Desk Officers and related specialists

Cover Role
– The persona adopted by a spy to carry out a specific mission. The persona is supported by the 'legend' that gives it shape

Going Grey – blending in. Not ever being noticed.

Snap Cover – a cover role decided upon at the moment and used as a temporary ruse to accomplish an element of a mission

Short-Term Cover – a cover role good enough for one short mission

Official Cover
– a spy who can plausibly claim diplomatic immunity if caught. If he can't, he may be subjected to torture or summarily shot

– Military Assistance Command – Studies and Observations Group – a Vietnam-era Intelligence unit.

For the Spy Enthusiast:

Interested in more adventures into the dark and mysterious world of spycraft? Try a  weekend trip to Washington, D.C. Drop your luggage at the Hotel George www.hotelgeorge.com and then head to the International Spy Museum, 800 F Street N.W. www.spymuseum.org After a quick lunch at Zola, right next to the museum, spend two hours absorbing even more information about the history of intelligence work on the Spy City Tour which runs every Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at Union Station.  By the way ... do be careful if you are assigned to room 524 at the Hotel George.