Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘CIA’

A Spy May Be A Spy By Any Other Name, Or Gait—But You Won’t Recognize Them

In Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Movies, Political Satire on January 10, 2017 at 5:22 pm


Lisabeth Purnell was certainly clever enough to appreciate the grand irony of her opening at the White House as Ingrid Carlsbad, appearing in a one act play about the power of redemption, accompanied by ear-shattering thunder and dramatic sweeps of rain.

Who really knows the heart and soul of anyone among us? she asked herself.

Like many intelligence officers in the clandestine service, Purnell used more than one pseudonym. Ingrid Carlsbad just happened to be her favorite fake name. Bogus names threw off of her trail any curious civilians—including clandestine agents of hostile services—who might be inclined to follow up after events in the open like this briefing.

Lisabeth was also wearing light disguise. This was a subtle collection of invisible, almost magic alterations to her facial structure, her hair, and certain parts of her body. Lifts and slight orthopedic adjustments to her shoes changed her height, and the pace and cant of her walk. The CIA had used these techniques for decades to ensure that no one who happened to see an actual covert operations officer in such a public context would recognize the real person in a chance encounter elsewhere.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

Lisabeth Purnell (aka Ingrid Carlsbad) is just about the coolest character in my novel, Cronatos Hybamper. A CIA operations officer, she “had the perfect cover for her work in Moscow Station. And she had a score to settle. This was a dangerous combination for the Russians.” You can read her story and how she got her revenge in the novel.

There are several good sources on the use of disguise by agents in the field. Three that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to are these podcasts from the Spycast series posted by the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. They feature Antonio (Tony) Mendez and his wife Jonna Mendez, both of whom worked in the CIA’s Technical Services Division. At separate times, each was Chief of Disguise for the agency.

Tony Mendez was the real agent who got out the American diplomats trapped in Tehran, the story featured in the movie Argo. The pair have written several books about their craft and episodes from real life.

Here are links to the three podcasts:

A discussion of the intricacies of developing disguises for use in hostile environments, the advantages of selective aging, and the secret history of facial recognition technology.

Jonna Mendez discusses some of the operations she was involved in as well as opportunities for women in the intelligence community.

The story of how Tony Mendez mounted an elaborate deception and disguise operation to exfiltrate six Americans from Tehran before the Iranians were able to track them down.

One of the rescued diplomats wrote an article praising the film and Mendez, but explaining how the cinematic version differed from real life. See, Mark Lijek, “I Was Rescued From Iran: It wasn’t like the movie.” Slate.

Both of the Mendez couple have written books. Here are links to just two, and there are more. The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA, and Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History.

To read a sample of Cronatos Hybamper and order the book, click on the link below.



The Most Intelligent Men in the Washington Play Pen. Or Not.

In Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Ethics in Washington, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Political Satire, politics, Turf Wars, War and Rumors of War, Washington Bureaucracy on January 6, 2017 at 11:51 am


“Our biggest challenge with implementing the Cronatos system,” Wes McRae, the Director of National Intelligence, quipped at a seemingly casual but well-planned off-the-record moment in a joint briefing that he and the Secretary of Defense gave on Capitol Hill, “Was separating out the workers’ farts from the chemical leaks at the Russian’s special warfare facilities.”

McRae was the iron-fisted paterfamilias of the intelligence community, a giant man with bushy eyebrows and an unflinching gaze. He was given to good wine, fine cigars, black cowboy boots, and the classics of literature and music. Although the DNI post had once been little more than royal eunuch and far less than godfather, Wes McRae had changed that. He had clawed his way to the top of the heap and had the requisite skills—the ability to ruthlessly kick or exquisitely kiss ass, as the strategic moment demanded—to enforce his will through fear, favor, and tactical brown-nosing. As long as half of the secret world loved him and half hated him, he was happy, because he then always had the deciding vote. Lesser aspirants came to learn the pleasures of life in such posts as outer Bolivia, deep Minnesota, and anywhere in Chad.

No one had ever proven that Wes McRae had leaked a single syllable about any elected or appointed member of the civilian government. Everyone, the President included, knew that he could. No one wanted to find out if he would.

The second was a portly, balding man in a dark gray pinstripe suit. He was Manfrey J. Ferbe, director of the CIA. Ferbe held an office that once commanded the heights of the intelligence world, and from those heights a great deal of America’s foreign policy. No one but the President of the United States told the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency what to do or when to do it.

That was true until Wes McRae was appointed to the theoretically higher post of Director of National Intelligence, charged with coordinating the work of all of the intelligence agencies. Generations of CIA directors had just ignored any nominal superior, including the DNI. But McRae succeeded where previous DNIs had failed. He wrestled the agency into limping submission to his superior authority as top dog of everything that even hinted at intelligence.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

If you write a novel that touches on the geopolitics of the United States, it’s fun to feature the preening cuckoos at the top of the U.S. Intelligence Community. The two excerpts above reflect the struggle between the Director of National Intelligence and the subordinate agencies.

Well, daggone it! No sooner did I write Cronatos Hybamper than a wee-wee match broke out in the real world spook play pen. Guess I was ahead of the curve.

[Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn] … has called President Obama a “liar,” declared the U.S. justice system “corrupt” and insisted that he was pushed out of his assignment as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency because of his views on radical Islam. The claim has left former superiors seething, including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., according to current and former officials who said Flynn was removed because of management problems.

Dana Priest and Greg Miller, “He was one of the most respected intel officers of his generation. Now he’s leading ‘Lock her up’ chants,” The Washington Post, August 15,2016.

You can read the rest of the future here.

The Moscow Station, CIA Spyware, and the Prosperity Gospel Mega-Church Connection

In Concealed Carry, Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Political Satire, Prosperity Gospel, Russia, Russian Intelligence Operations on December 27, 2016 at 8:52 pm


Pastor Blanton heard the same concise signal though his own earpiece. The tiny radio receptors were commercial descendants of a line of clandestine technology originally developed by the Central Intelligence Agency for its secret operations officers working the streets of Moscow under the stringent surveillance of the KGB. CIA officers trying to shake off their KGB watchers could listen through their earphones to the radio chatter of their opponents as they played cat and mouse. It was an auditory advantage that enabled many American mice to mysteriously elude baffled Russian cats. If a Russian follower muttered “we’re turning right here,” the American turned left.

The earpieces were so cleverly designed that they were invisible even to a person standing right next to the wearer, if the observer did not know exactly where and what to look for. When the KGB caught one female American officer meeting with a Russian spy, its thugs arrested, carefully searched, and exhaustively interrogated the American. They found two parts of the three-piece counterspy communication kit hidden in her bra—an aerial and a tiny receiver that captured the circling Russians’ shop talk and transmitted it to the earpiece. But they never found the earpiece itself, even though the American officer continued to wear it throughout the long ordeal of her minute search and harsh interrogation. It was hidden in a small section of fake ear, a molding that was meticulously crafted to the agent’s ear and pasted into exactly the right spot before she went out on her mission.

“In ten…nine…eight…seven,” the countdown in the earpieces was whispered by Deshawn Caudill, First Apostle of Gospel Technology—also known as the production director for Fortress of the Holy Word Ministries—speaking from his special domain, a control room sealed off three floors deep within the basement of the Home Citadel structure. Six assistant producers were seated near Caudill, each intently watching his or her appointed panel of dials, buttons, HD television screens, and internet web displays.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

 The story of the counter-surveillance spyware described in this passage from Cronatos Hybamper is based on a real incident. The bit about its use in your local mega-church is…well…fiction. On the other hand, if you happen to be wearing one of the new advanced and nearly invisible hearing aids, you can thank the CIA’s spytechs for leading the way.

The American officer was a woman named Martha (or “Marti”) Peterson. She was the first woman CIA case officer to serve in Moscow station. The incident summarized in the novel—or something very much like it—happened in Moscow in 1975. It is described with varying degrees of detail in several nonfiction books. Here is an excerpt from one of the more authoritative, because it has the CIA’s nihil obstat:

…the KGB found, Velcroed to her bra, an OTS-developed [Office of Technical Services] frequency scanner used to intercept surveillance radio transmissions. Peterson’s “necklace” was the scanner’s induction coil antenna…Throughout the ordeal, the small receiver Peterson wore remained undetected. (p. 103)

Although the earpiece was small, it was not small enough to be worn on the street without the possibility of attracting attention. “The earpiece had an obvious problem,” said one OTS staffer who was involved with the design. “You couldn’t be seen wearing a piece of plastic in your ear without drawing attention.” So OTS disguise specialists produced a “Hollywood solution.” After taking a casting of a case officer’s ear, they fashioned a false, silicone ear that fit over the Phonak receiver. Realistic down to the last detail, the covering was sculpted and tinted to duplicate the shadow of the ear canal. Each case officer received four earpieces, two for the right ear and two for the left ear. Officers could insert the receiver into the ear canal and place the ear mold in front to cover the device. (p. 108)

Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton, Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs from Communism to Al Qaeda (New York: Plume, 2009).

You can read the CIA’s version of Trigon operation in which Peterson was involved here. And you can find Martha Peterson’s book, Widow Spy, on Amazon.

Of course, the technology is much more advanced forty years later. Now, you just get one surgical implant that can be updated to cover all the new technologies.

Ha-ha. Just kidding.

I think.


In Corruption, Cronatos Hybamper, Ethics in Washington, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Political Satire, politics, Putin, Russia, Russian Active Measures, Russian Intelligence Operations, Transnational crime, Trump on December 21, 2016 at 5:08 pm


President Roger Wilson Lane was hurtled into his high office by a shocking, tragic twist of fate.

Only hours before the dawn of Inauguration Day, a terrorist’s bomb…murdered the President-elect, his wife, and a fair number of functionaries, auxiliaries, hangers-on, media stars, waitpersons, passersby, and other ordinary innocents…

Blame for the gruesome bombing was officially laid on the Chechnyan splinter of an obscure Islamist extremist organization—the Ansar ibn Muqadimmah—that had hitherto been most active in the Northern Caucasus, on the southwestern periphery of Russia…

Within moments of the official finding’s release to the public, President Alexander Arkadyavitch Gribov was on the phone to President Lane, proposing an immediate alliance to combat the scourge of Ansar ibn Muqadimmah specifically, and more generally “radical Islam,” “Jihadism,” or whatever term with which one might prefer to label the wider threat. Lane…was surprisingly tepid to the proposal.

The Russians had never in their wildest imaginings expected this unenthusiastic reception. Lane’s dawdling demurral threw a serious wrench into the gears of their strategic machinations. They had vigorously if surreptitiously backed [the late President-elect] Del Fuller for the simple reason that they were quite sure that he would be enthusiastic about their plan to carve the world up into two, or perhaps three at most, old-fashioned 19th century-style spheres of influence. A discreet exchange of signals between the Fuller campaign and Gribov’s court confirmed the Russian expectations. To seal the deal, Gribov’s operatives quietly salted a few Swiss numbered accounts among two or three key players in the Fuller campaign menagerie. The fix was firmly in.

 From Cronatos Hybamper—An Extraordinary Incident

By Tom Diaz

Hmm. What the hell was I thinking when I wrote that into my novel months before the 2016 election? I mean,  would the perfidious Russkies really try to fool around with our election? That’s a bit far-fetched, isn’t it?

It’s just a novel. Fiction. Right?


But, then, there are the discussions of “Russian Influence” in the Real News. Not fiction. For example, there’s this story by Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post on December 16, 2016:

FBI in agreement with CIA that Russia aimed to help Trump win White House

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday, as President Obama issued a public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation.

New revelations about Comey’s position could put to rest suggestions by some lawmakers that the CIA and the FBI weren’t on the same page on Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s intentions.

And, then there is this troubling observation from former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell in an interview with The Cipher Brief:

 “…we need to see this for what it is.  It is an attack on our very democracy.  It’s an attack on who we are as a people.   A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life.  To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11.  It is huge and the fact that it hasn’t gotten more attention from the Obama Administration, Congress, and the mainstream media, is just shocking to me.”

I don’t know. You tell me. Is Cronatos Hybamper ahead of the curve? Are the Russians really attacking our democracy, just like in that novel, that fiction, Cronatos Hybamper?


In Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Political Satire, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, War and Rumors of War on December 20, 2016 at 4:37 pm


Then there was the fact that Lane had recently taken control of his daily intelligence briefing. This surprised and delighted the CIA. The PDB—the President’s Daily Briefing—was cloak and dagger revelation, top secret gospel written daily, read only within the holiest of holies. The PDB was the most revered work of the American intelligence community, the very reason for its existence, secret knowledge made manifest unto a select few.

Until recently, however, President Lane had no questions. He had refused to meet at all with the CIA’s briefers. He preferred instead to let Dr. Quin Rivera read the PDB, talk with the officers if she thought it necessary, and spoon feed him ten minutes of a desultory and derivative summary of the summary of summaries. In the event, the chastened CIA briefers’ only role was to wait alone in a bare anteroom until Rivera had finished reading the PDB. She then handed it back without comment. The officers escorted the iPad back to Langley, where it would be “rinsed and repeated” for the next morning’s ritual.
One recent morning that had all changed.

From the novel Cronatos Hybamper—An Extraordinary Incident, by Tom Diaz

These excerpts are from a longer passage in Cronatos Hybamper about a day during which the worm turns.

President Roger Wilson Lane, an accidental and wholly unqualified hack, has been passive. He has been content to be manipulated by the people around him. But internal changes in the man have come with experience on the job. The President is shedding his old ways. The sucker fish and manipulators have—in their arrogance and selfishness—failed to notice a number of signals about the change building up in President Lane.

I never imagined that the daily news would be so much like what I wrote in this passage. This scene is based on background research and my own imagination about what I learned about the President’s Daily Brief (which I must confess I called the “President’s Daily Briefing,” although I see that it is more correct to call it the “Brief,” just like people used to call a certain organization “the CIA,” but now the real slicks call it just plain “CIA,” dropping the “the.” Go figure.)

There are number of public sources from which anyone can learn about the PDB and the high priestly ritual that attends it. (Come to think of it, this subject would make a great episode of The Simpsons!)

At the easiest and quickest but most superficial level one can read the news, such as this article by Charlie Savage in The New York Times of December 12, 2016, “What Is the President’s Daily Brief?”

Or, you can go to school at the Central Intelligence Agency.

No, not literally, silly (except for some of you).

The CIA website hosts the “Center for the Study of Intelligence,” and the Center has posted many interesting and scholarly documents about how the world of intelligence either works or ought to work. Among them are a series called “Studies in Intelligence.”

The mission of Studies in Intelligence is to stimulate within the Intelligence Community the constructive discussion of important issues of the day, to expand knowledge of lessons learned from past experiences, to increase understanding of the history of the profession, and to provide readers with considered reviews of public literature concerning intelligence.

Among the posted documents is the PDF form of a book by John Helgerson, Getting to Know the President, Second Edition: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952–2004.

Even though the book is mostly about the history of briefings for candidates, it has a ton of fascinating information that applies just as well to the briefing of Presidents in office. Here are two excerpts that give the flavor of how three Presidents approached the CIA’s briefing:

Nixon and Ford

During his eight years as vice president in the 1950s, Richard Nixon had had broad exposure to the activities of the civilian US Intelligence Community. He was aware CIA had briefed the presidential candidates in every election since 1952 and undoubtedly harbored mixed feelings about the way the process had worked in 1960, when his narrow defeat by John Kennedy might well have hinged on the candidates’ different perceptions of the intelligence process. This familiarity with the IC’s capabilities and practices made him willing, at the outset of his new campaign for the presidency in 1968, to accept briefings from CIA Director Richard Helms. It also led him to decline to receive routine briefings from lower level officers, opening the way for Henry Kissinger, his national security advisor, to play a central and expanding role. (p. 61)

Ford accepted a suggestion that the PDB be brought to him directly, acknowledging that this would be the most secure way to receive the sensitive document. He specified that he would like to see it early each morning, prefer- ably as his first appointment. Beginning 1 July that became the regular rou- tine, one that was altered only occasionally by such diversions as a vice- presidential breakfast with the president or a speaking engagement out of town. On a few occasions Ford was seen at his Alexandria home before he flew off to keep such an engagement. Always a gracious host, he brewed and served instant coffee.

Ford came to the vice-presidency an informed consumer of the products of the Intelligence Community. He notes that he “had become familiar with CIA first as a member of the Intelligence subcommittee on Appropriations; later in other roles, including Minority Leader. I knew Colby from my days in Congress.” This familiarity, particularly with Colby personally, was to provide the Agency at least a temporary buffer in some difficult times to come. (p. 77)

Jimmy Carter

In late June 1976, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter distinguished himself in the eyes of CIA officials by becoming the first presidential hopeful to request intelligence briefings even before receiving his party’s nomination. Carter’s request, which was directed to President Ford, prompted discussions involving the president, CIA Director George Bush, and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft about who should provide such briefings and when they should be made available to the candidate. (p. 87)

Another source is a more recent book by David Priess, The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents from Kennedy to Obama. Written by a former CIA officer and State Department desk officer, it has the benefit of real first hand experience, if written in a sort of cheer-leading style. Don’t expect any gossip.

A source of endlessly annoying (to me) and usually partisan ankle-biting is the blame game about the PDB and other high-level briefings—what was in them and should the person being briefed have “caught” that item? In my humble opinion, most of the people who raise this issue know little about the real-world process of gathering and assessing intelligence, and especially the difference between knowing an adversary’s capability and his intentions.

I call these people “ball-scratchers,” like the guy at the end of the bar who knows just about everything and has an opinion on it that he is happy to share while relieving his STD itch.

If you feel compelled to either scratch yours or tell one of them to STFU, here is a place to start. The National Security Archive at GWU has a post on the famous or infamous briefing about Osama bin Laden’s intention to attack the United States. It includes a link to a declassified version of the August 6, 2001 PDB. Scratch away at this!

The National Security Archive, “The President’s Daily Brief,’ and link to August 6, 2001 PDB.

Finally, there is this short video which features clips of actual professionals from the intelligence community who know what they are talking about (as opposed to some meme generator at a political boiler room or a Hill “staffer.”)

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