Shadow Scouting Tips

Shadow Scouting Tips

What I call “shadow scouting” is the practice of exploring areas, locating resources, reconnoitering forces, finding routes, infiltrating territories, crossing borders, travelling stealthily and surviving in any environment. It can be a hobby, a profession, a way of life or even a spiritual path. The following are some tips for those who wish to engage in this activity.

Scout Your Home Area

Begin where you are right now. Scout every road and path within a few miles of your home. Learn all the routes into and out of the area. Take note of anything of interest, such as potential threats, security forces, places to hide, observation sites, cache sites, and useful resources. Do this regularly, noting anything new or different.

Travel Shadow Routes

Scout the “shadow routes” in your area. These are routes not frequented by vehicles, police, security or the general public. They include:

  • Forest roads: These are excellent alternative routes in many rural areas. Some are restricted to private industrial use, but this is not a problem if you travel at night or are stealthy.
  • Foot and bicycle trails: There are thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails in North America where you can travel long distances as a hiker or cyclist. Some trail systems close at night, but these are easily walked in darkness if desired.
  • Power lines: These can be good routes, but they often pass through private property and sometimes cross swamps or rivers so they can be difficult.
  • Railroad tracks: These can take you almost anywhere, and they have the added benefit that you may be able to hop on a passing train. Keep in mind that rails are private property and walk them mostly at night. And always keep an ear and eye out for oncoming trains!
  • Rivers and waterways: These can be very useful routes in some areas if you have a packraft, kayak, canoe or can acquire a boat.

If no shadow routes will take you all the way to your destination, be willing and equipped to travel cross-country between existing routes—bushwhacking, crossing deserts, cutting across private property, etc. It is possible to travel long distances in this way with little or no use of main roads.

Forest roads can take you over hills, through forests and between highways and towns very discreetly.
Be prepared to bushwhack where no shadow routes are available. It’s easier than you may think!

Navigation Notes

Off-road navigation has become rather trivial in an age of GPS devices and mapping software. Most shadow routes will show up on smartphone apps like google maps and gaigps and on handheld GPS devices. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Digital maps need to be pre-downloaded in areas outside cell phone coverage.
  • Using a smartphone for navigation is very convenient, but it is also a tracking device. For maximum anonymity use a handheld GPS unit.
  • Mapping apps eat up phone battery life. Bring a power bank for recharging.
  • Bring maps and a compass for backup navigation and know how to use them.
  • Develop an intuitive sense of direction and learn to navigate by the sun, stars and landmarks.

Locate Hideouts and Shelters

On scouting missions and travels, keep an eye out for abandoned houses, cabins, sheds, barns, offices, warehouses and other buildings where you can take shelter and hide in the event that you are being pursued. These could be ruins or places that aren’t currently in use. Look for secluded locations without nosy neighbors who might notice you, and for discreet places to park a car. Also look for good natural hiding places such as dense woods, ravines and caves.

Store these locations in your memory in case you need a hideout or shelter during a future mission or bug-out situation. Record them on a GPS device, map or data file if you must, but for maximum operational security I don’t advise it. I’ve found quite a few such places on my scouting missions; if I ever find myself on the run, I have a chain of potential hideouts in discreet locations where I can lay low before moving on.

Keep in mind that some of these facilities may be locked. This is where lock-picking and breaking and entering skills are very useful. I always carry some basic lockpicks and shims in my pockets for this purpose. This channel has some good information in this regard, and this site has some useful tools.

Have an Escape Plan

Have one or more escape routes planned in detail in case you ever need to make a quick exit from your home. Utilize shadow routes as much as possible, avoiding main roads. Ideally this should be a route out of the country that avoids official channels like airports and border checkpoints. I discussed training for this scenario in this post ; you should at least do the planning phase, and preferably the entire exercise.

Have a Bug-Out Bag

The Shadow Scout should always have a “bug-out bag” ready with essential gear, both for scouting missions and in case you have to make a quick exit for any reason (police, enemy action, fire, natural disaster, social unrest, etc.). It should contain enough gear to allow you to survive outdoors or on the run for a few days in any environment. Below is a list of recommended items to include in your bag.

Bug-Out Bag Contents:

  • pack (30-50 liter backpack or dry bag with straps)
  • hat (ball cap and/or beanie)
  • folding knife or leatherman
  • 25-50 feet of paracord
  • miniature flashlight or head lamp w/ extra batteries
  • firestarters (lighter, matches, flint striker)
  • compass
  • waterproof maps of your area
  • waterproof pencil & notebook (for notes & sketches)
  • medical pack: bandages, tape, antiseptic wipes, aspirin, diarrhea pills, water purification tablets
  • poncho (for rain, improvised shelters)
  • sleeping bag
  • hammock with straps and carabiners
  • bandana or neck gaiter
  • gloves
  • duct tape
  • toilet paper or baby wipes
  • lockpicks, shims and other bypass tools
  • cash
  • mobile phone (“black” or anonymous if possible)
  • energy bars and other ready to eat food
  • water bottle and filter

Test your bag from time to time by bugging out from your location for an overnight camping trip or scouting mission. See how well your equipment performs, modifying it as needed based on your experience.

Hammocks are excellent for camping discreetly almost anywhere.

The Last Samurai

(This story is reposted from this page.)

By Ron Laytner
World Copyright 2007
Edit International

BECAUSE OF THE THREAT OF NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA JAPAN IS CHANGING ITS CONSTITUTION SO IT CAN WAGE WAR. THIS IS THE STORY OF THE MAN WHO CHANGED THE HISTORY OF JAPAN, THE UNITED STATES AND THE WORLD – THE PEARL HARBOR SPY.

SHIKOKU ISLAND, JAPAN – Takeo Yoshikawa was World War Two’s most famous Super Spy – so successful it ruined his life forever.

For years thousands of Americans who didn’t know his name cursed him. Many Japanese hated him for getting their nation involved in a lost war. Some even blamed him for the atomic bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Yoshikawa, one of the most successful spies in recorded history, has received no awards, no honors, not even a pension from the Japanese government he served so well. When I met him he had no job and lived as a down-and-out on the island of Shikoku south of Tokyo.

The famed spy died in a nursing home in Tokyo, alone and without honors except for his old wife Etsuko who had supported him for years by selling insurance.

He had just turned 70 when I tracked him down through US Naval Intelligence.

“I have been wiped clean from Japanese history,” he complained. “Five years ago when I applied for a pension, they said, “We never heard of you.

“When I told them of my espionage assignment, of the long years working to become an expert on the American Navy and of my dangerous mission in Honolulu they had no sympathy. They told me Japan never spied on anyone.”

No matter how modern Japanese or anyone else feel about it, the Pearl Harbor attack stands forever on the amazing results it obtained.

It was a military feat so daring, so brilliant, so audaciously planned and so successfully carried out that it has been worth a special volume in the annals of warfare.

And the little man sitting before me drinking Saki rice wine, the little man in poor peasant clothing, this broken, old and bitter man, was directly responsible for much of the Pearl Harbor attack.

“Today war is bad,” declared the Master Spy, “War is wrong. But in my day it was good. It was right. I was a true hero of Japan. But look what it has brought me in m old age.”

Hands shaking, he said, “It is so different now. All they do is think about money and winning new markets for Japanese products. There is no honor as before. They do not respect their elders.”

When Yoshikawa was a boy the Japanese Empire was on the march and the death of a young man in battle was in Japanese thinking like the fall of a cherry blossom – which drops to its death at the height of its virility and beauty.

The future spy enrolled at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy at Eta Jima as a 1929 cadet. It was a brutal school. If anyone made a mistake, their entire class was beaten with bamboo staves. But four years later Takeo Yoshikawa graduated at the top of his class.

Japan expected greatness from him. He served outstandingly on the battleship Asama. He later served in submarines and trained as a top naval pilot. Someday he’d be a captain or an admiral of the Imperial fleet.

But a bad stomach ailment forced Yoshikawa to retire after two years. He was thinking of killing himself when a high-ranking officer offered him a job in Japanese Naval intelligence.

Yoshikawa became an expert on the America Navy. For four years he worked on the America Desk studying Janes Fighting Ships and Aircraft and almost every newspaper, book and magazine about US forces published in the United States.

In 1940 he passed the Foreign Ministry English examinations. Soon he was a junior diplomat. It would be his cover.

While in encryption school, he intercepted an English language radio transmission from Australia advising that 17 troopships were clearing Freetown bound for England. The Japanese passed the information on to Nazi Germany and many ships were wiped out.

Later Adolph Hitler sent Yoshikawa a personal letter of thanks. “It was the only official recognition I have ever received for my war services,” he told me.

In 1941 Yoshikawa received a diplomatic passport and went to Honolulu using the cover name of Tadashi Morimura as a vice consul at the Japanese Consulate.

He found out later that Admiral Tsoroko Yamamoto had prepared a detailed Pearl Harbor attack plan in 1941. “I was a spy in the field without secret inside information,” he said. “But I assumed my job was to help prepare for an attack on Pearl Harbor and I worked night and day getting information.

“The Americans were very foolish. As a diplomat I could move about the islands freely. I often rented small planes at John Rodgers Airport in Honolulu and flew around observing U.S. installations. I never took notes or drew maps. I kept everything in my head.”

As a long distance swimmer he completely covered the harbor installations. Sometimes he stayed underwater for a long time breathing through a hollow reed.

“My favorite viewing place,” recalled Yoshikawa, “was a lovely Japanese teahouse overlooking the harbor called the ‘Shunchoro’. I knew what ships were in, how heavily they were loaded, who their officers were, and what supplies were on board. The trusting young officers who visited the teahouse told the girls there everything. Anything they didn’t reveal I found out by giving rides to hitch-hiking American soldiers and pumping them for information.”

For a while diplomat Yoshikawa posed as a Filipino and washed dishes in the American Naval Officers’ Mess – listening, always alert.

Between his aerial spy flights, harbor swims and dish-washing duties, the geisha girl interrogations and actual vice-consul’s work at the Consulate, he was in a state of continual exhaustion. On top of this he stayed up late every night sending coded messages to Tokyo.

The big day grew closer. Yoshikawa handed a secret Japanese courier who arrived by ship 97 answers to intelligence questions asked by Admiral Yamamoto concerning ships, planes and personnel at Pearl Harbor during the fall of 1941. The Admiral learned, for example, that most ships were at anchor in Pearl Harbor on Sunday – so he planned the attack for that day.

On December 6 the Pearl Harbor Spy sent out his final message: “No barrage balloons sighted, Battleships are without crinolines. No indications of air or sea alert wired to nearby islands. Enterprise and Lexington (aircraft carriers) have sailed from Pearl Harbor.

In Tokyo the message was passed to Admiral Yamamoto who radioed his fleet ‘Vessels moored in harbor – 9 battleships, 3 Class B cruisers, 3 sea-plane tenders, 17 destroyers: entering harbor are 4 class B cruisers, 3 destroyers. All aircraft carriers and heavy cruisers have departed harbor… no indication of any change in U.S. fleet or anything unusual.’

In the darkness 400 miles north of Honolulu Vice Admiral Chichi Agumo received his order to attack – ‘Climb Mount Nitaka.’

Around him 31 ships, six aircraft carriers, two battleships, three cruisers, nine destroyers, several tankers, and nine submarines carrying among them 5 midget subs, surged to full speed. Agumo’s 350 carrier planes would soon be a part of history.

At 7:40 a.am. Yoshikawa was eating breakfast at the Japanese Consulate and still sleepy when, the first bombs began to fall.

“The Consul and I listened to the short wave radio bringing the news from Tokyo,” he said.

They heard a Japanese announcer utter the secret attack code ‘East Wind, Rain’, during the broadcast. This meant Japan had decided on war with the United States revealed the old spy. Not used were other pre-arranged signals which would have called for attacks on England or Russia.

Yoshikawa and the Consul shook hands. The attack was on. They ran into their offices and began burning code books and secret diplomatic intelligence instructions.

“I heard new sounds and rushed outside,” recalled a suddenly reinvigorated Yoshikawa. He put down his wine glass in excitement. “I looked up at the sky and saw a most wonderful sight. Through the clouds a fighter-bomber streaked towards Pearl Harbor and disappeared into black clouds of smoke rising above the base. On its wings were painted the Rising Sun of Japan. Soon the sky was filled with our planes. It was a brilliant attack. We lost just 30 men that day – the Americans almost 3,000.”

Quickly the Consulate was surrounded by hostile crowds and Yoshikawa and the other Japanese employees remained locked inside for safety. At 8:30 a.m. police showed up to protect them until the arrival of arresting FBI agents.

“For ten days we were held prisoner at the Consulate. Then they took us under heavy guard to a U.S. Coat Guard vessel which took us to San Diego, California. In March we were taken to an Arizona relocation camp full of innocent American Japanese. They had done nothing. It was a cruel joke. You see I couldn’t trust them to help me in Honolulu. They were loyal to the United States.”

Later the FBI took Yoshikawa and other diplomats to New York City where they stayed in the Astoria Hotel. Soon they were sent back to Japan in a diplomat prisoner exchange, the Americans not realizing they’d lost the Pearl Harbor Spy.

Yoshikawa had no hero’s welcome back home – nothing official then or ever after. He married and continued to serve in Japanese intelligence.

When the war ended and U.S. troops occupied Japan, Yoshikawa fearing he would be hanged, went into hiding and lived in the country posing as a Buddhist monk. When the Americans left he returned to his wife.

In 1955 Yoshikawa opened a candy business. But the local people knew who he was. They wouldn’t buy from a spy – a spy they believed had caused Japan to lose the war. “They even blamed me for the atomic bomb.” He declared with tears in his eyes.

He might have starved over the years if his loyal wife hadn’t supported him by selling insurance.

“My wife alone shows me great respect,” said the old spy. “Every day she bows to me. She knows I am a man of history.”

Then my last memory of the Pearl Harbor Spy: “I am drinking to forget. I have so many thoughts now so many years after the war… I did my duty. I was a true Samurai. Why has history cheated me?”

– The End –
By Ron Laytner
World Copyright 2007
Edit International

SITTING ON HIS HORSE ‘JONNY’ THE LEGENDARY PEARL HARBOR SPY, TAKEO YOSHIKAWA, SAID “I WAS BORN IN THE DAYS OF THE GREAT JAPANESE EMPIRE WHEN THE YAMATO RACE WALKED TALL ACROSS ASIA AND BOYS WERE DESTINED FOR GREATNESS.” EXCLUSIVE PHOTO COPYRIGHT BY RON LAYTNER, EDIT INTERNATIONAL.

 

SPY, WIFE, HERO – TAKEO YOSHIKAWA, HIS WIFE, ETSUKO, AND HIS LIFETIME HERO, THE BRILLIANT ADMIRAL TSOROKU YAMAMOTO, SUPREME COMMANDER AND PLANNER OF THE PEARL HARBOR ATTACK. EXCLUSIVE PHOTO BY RON LAYTNER FOR EDIT INTERNATIONAL.

 

WATCHING THE NEW JAPAN THROUGH HIS WINDOW, THE OLD SPY SAID: “I AM NOT SORRY ABOUT PEARL HARBOR – ONLY THAT JAPAN HAS NOT HONORED ME. ALL THOSE WHO DIED IN THE ATTACK – ALL THE AMERICANS AND THE FEW JAPANESE TOO – THEY DIED FOR THE GLORY OF HISTORY,” SAID UNREPENTENT JAPANESE SUPER SPY TAKEO YOSHIKAWA, WHO WAS DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR PROVIDING JAPANESE FORCES WITH INTELLIGENCE FROM PEARL HARBOR. EXCLUSIVE PHOTO COPYRIGHT BY RON LAYTNER FOR EDIT INTERNATIONAL.

 

“IN MY YOUTH I WAS A SAMURAI. I BELIEVED IN WAR AND DEATH IN BATTLE. I SHAPED HISTORY. NOW I AM OLD AND BELIEVE IN PEACE AND LOVE.” SAID TAKO YOSHIKAWA, THE PEARL HARBOR SPY, BEFORE HIS DEATH. WORLD EXCLUSIVE PHOTOGRAPH COPYRIGHT BY RON LAYTNER AND EDIT INTERNATIONAL.

 

THE MOST EFFECTIVE SPY IN HISTORY TOLD ME HE DRINKS TO FORGET. “JAPAN NOW THINKS ONLY OF MONEY AND HOW TO WIN NEW MRKETS,” HE SAID SADLY. EXCLUSIVE PHOTO COPYRIGHT BY RON LAYTNER FOR EDIT INTERNATIONAL.

 

Japanese Consulate staff photographed few days before the attack. Takeo Yoshikawa is at center of front row. Edit International

Shadow Ops Exercise: Exfiltration

Shadow Ops Exercise: Exfiltration

The Scenario

Here is an interesting training exercise for Shadow Operatives to try. Imagine the following scenario: you have just completed a high-profile op—e.g. an assassination, heist, sabotage mission or prison break—and are now the highest priority target of local security forces. You must get safely away from the scene of the op and back to safe territory.

Imagine your scenario in detail and modify your exercise accordingly. For example, if your op was a prison break, you may have nothing but your prison clothes and some spare change with you; if it was a heist, you may have bags of loot to deal with; if it was an assassination, you may have weapons to dispose of and blood on your clothing; etc.

Exfiltration Plan

The first part of the exercise is devising a detailed exfiltration plan. Use maps to plan your route precisely, and scout out the route in advance. If you use online mapping sites or apps, do so anonymously. Acquire whatever supplies you may need: cash, clothing, food, shelter, phone, transportation, etc. Make sure these items are all untraceable to you, and cache them along your route if necessary. Note that in some scenarios, such as a prison break, you won’t have access to many of these resources, so you will have to improvise on the fly.

Rules of the Exercise

Define your exfiltration target: a designated safe house or rendezvous point in another city, region, state or country. Your goal is to get there with the resources you have, without making contact with any security forces, showing your ID to anyone or leaving a paper trail. If any policeman, security guard or soldier takes special notice of you, evade them or you’ve failed. If civilians accost you or dogs bark at you, evade them or you’ve failed. If you see anyone you know, evade them or you’ve failed. If anyone asks for your ID, evade them or you’ve failed. If you make contact with known family, friends or associates, you’ve failed. If you pay for anything with a debit card traceable to you, you’ve failed. If you make a phone call, use an app or a computer in a way that is traceable to you, you’ve failed.

Tactical Tips

Alter your appearance. Wear a face covering in public. Have a cover story ready to explain who you are and what you’re doing. Make acquaintances if necessary for assistance with transportation, money, food, lodging, etc., using your cover story to explain your situation.

Take alternate routes on your travels; avoid main roads, airports, bus and train stations and ports. Use back roads and trails, hop freight trains, hitch rides, “borrow” a car, motorcycle, bicycle or boat if necessary. When you cross into another state or country, avoid passing through border checkpoints; go overland, across water, by train or private aircraft.

Don’t bring a phone, or bring one that you purchased prepaid with cash. Don’t log in to any online account that is traceable to you. Use off-grid technology whenever possible; e.g. paper maps and compasses or GPS handheld devices instead of GPS-enabled phones for navigation.

Example Exercise: The Pasayten Exfiltration

Here’s a scenario and exfiltration plan that I’ve devised for my own training. This is a somewhat high-risk exercise as it entails going back and forth across the U.S.-Canadian border, but that makes it more realistic and better training.

Scenario: I have just completed a heist of a bitcoin wallet from a home in Lake Chelan, Washington. Unfortunately, I was caught on security cameras and may have left fingerprints. I wish to get out of the USA before I am identified and arrested, so I am activating my “Pasayten Exfiltration” emergency plan.

Exfiltration target: A road near the U.S. border in southern British Columbia, Canada. I am imagining that I have a contact in Canada who will pick me up on the road at a pre-arranged time and take me to a safe house. If I am not there at the designated time, I fail the exercise.

Resources: A backpack with supplies for 5 to 7 days in the wilderness. A thousand dollars in cash. A motorcycle not traceable to me. Paper maps, compass and handheld GPS.

Cover Story: I’m an off-road motorcyclist/backpacker headed for the Pasayten Wilderness. If I get accosted by authorities near the border, I will tell them that I thought I could hike across the border and register with the authorities in Canada. I will have nothing incriminating on my person, so at worst I would be facing a fine. If this happens, I will of course have failed the exercise.

Route: I will ride mostly backroads from Lake Chelan to Harts Pass for about 100 miles. From there I will hide the motorcycle and proceed on foot on the Pacific Crest Trail for 30 miles to the border. I will night-hike across the border, continuing about 7 miles into Manning Park. I will make my rendezvous there near Highway 3, then turn around and hike back across the border before dawn.

The Pasayten exfiltration route.

If I reach the rendezvous point in B.C. and return to the U.S. without problems with authorities or the other disqualifiers mentioned above I will consider the exercise a success.

A boundary marker at the Washington state-Canada border in the Pasayten. The 20-foot “slash” runs along the entire international boundary.
Another view of the border slash in central Washington.
The Flight of the Falcon

The Flight of the Falcon

The Flight of the Falcon, published in 1983 by Robert Lindsey, is the true story of the continuing adventures of Christopher Boyce, a proto-Shadow Scout and one my personal inspirations. Boyce was previously the subject of a 1979 best-seller by Lindsey, The Falcon and the Snowman, which recounted Boyce’s exploits with his friend Daulton Lee selling top secret information to the Soviets in the mid-1970s.

Boyce, a former Catholic altar-boy whose patriotic father was McDonnell-Douglas Corporation’s Director of Security, had gotten a job in a classified communications center called the “Black Vault” in 1974. This gave him access to all sorts of sensitive information, including CIA cables that spoke about various nefarious Agency activities such as the overthrow of an Australian Prime Minister. Incensed by what he learned, the idealistic Boyce, encouraged by the degenerate, drug-dealing rich kid Lee (played by Sean Penn in the 1985 film adaptation), decided to strike back by selling classified documents to  the Soviets for hard cash. This doesn’t end well for them, though; in 1977, Lee was arrested in front of the Soviet embassy in Mexico City with incriminating microfilm. He soon confesses and implicates Boyce, who was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

The narrative of Flight begins on January 21, 1980, as Boyce has just broken out of Lompoc prison in California, a tough federal facility he’d been transferred to the previous July. This opening section of the book was riveting. We learn about Boyce’s desperate desire to escape Lompoc, where the upper-middle class white kid felt less than safe, having already witnessed a gang killing in a nearby cell. We also learn about Boyce’s preparations, running miles every day around the prison yard to prepare himself for his escape, and arranging to have wire cutters, a mattress and a makeshift ladder hidden in a hole that would get him over and through the yard’s razor-wire fences. His first days on the run in the desolate central California wilderness read like a thriller, as he has to evade teams of pursuers, dogs, helicopters, and survive on whatever food he can scavenge from the countryside or steal from houses. We learn that Boyce, nicknamed “The Falcon” for his love of falconry, was an accomplished outdoorsman from an early age, and he calls upon some of those skills to survive on the run.

After nearly dying from poisoned food left out for him by an angry resident whose outdoor refrigerator the fugitive had previously burglarized, Boyce manages to connect to an old friend, who helps him get a new identity and transportation to a remote area of northern Idaho. There he takes refuge with a sort of outlaw commune led by an eccentric, gold-toothed mountain woman named Gloria White. Boyce, America’s most-wanted fugitive, has slipped out of law enforcement’s net and dropped off their radar completely.

At this point the book takes a deep dive into the efforts by law enforcement to track Boyce down; we meet some of the people leading the search and learn far too much detail about the various leads, suspects and dead-ends they pursue. This part of the book, which makes up a good third of its length, was much less interesting than the rest, and should have been edited down. People read a book about a fugitive for the fugitive’s adventures on the run, not for the dull procedural work of law enforcement officers pursuing him!

Things get much more exciting as we learn about Boyce’s new method of funding himself on the lam: robbing banks. He gets the idea from some of the outlaw Idaho kids he finds himself hanging out with, and soon he is carrying out a string of armed bank robberies across Idaho and Washington. His method is simple: go into a bank with a handgun, demand the loose cash from the teller, and get to his getaway car fast. He would get maybe $5000 per job this way, and robbed some 17 banks during his crime spree. Later Boyce would admit that this was the one aspect of his exploits that he regrets; he considered himself a political dissident, not a violent criminal, so threatening people with guns and stealing cash didn’t really fit with this self-image.

In any case, after more than a year as a most-wanted fugitive, Boyce decides that his best course of action is to get out of the USA and into Russia, and he comes up with a scheme to do that. He makes his way to the Olympic Peninsula (my neck of the woods), where he purchases a boat with the intention of sailing to Alaska, across the Bering Strait and defecting to the Soviet Union. Changing his plans, Boyce begins taking flying lessons, intending to fly out of the country to safety (Boyce later claimed in his autobiography that he actually intended to fly back to Lompoc and break Daulton Lee out of prison). Boyce was two weeks away from obtaining his pilot’s license when U.S. marshals apprehended him on August, 1981 at a burger drive-in in Port Angeles, bringing his incredible adventures to an abrupt end. Convicted and sentenced to 68 years, Boyce got some rough treatment in prison, including solitary confinement and a beating by fellow inmates he suspects was orchestrated by higher-ups. He was released in 2002 after serving 25 years, and is now married, living a quiet life and pursuing his favorite hobby, falconry.

All in all, The Flight of the Falcon is an incredible true story, which despite the slow sections I mentioned, I consider required reading. Long before Snowden or Assange, Boyce dared to defy the U.S. intelligence community, operate according to his own code, have adventures worthy of a Jack Higgins novel and live to tell the tale. Get a copy here.

Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief

Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief

I always enjoy novels and movies that feature cat burglars who stealthily climb walls, use ropes and grappling hooks, creep along catwalks, bypass alarm systems, pick locks, crack safes, etc. to steal jewels or cash and get away cleanly. But I’ve often wondered: do such people exist, or are they just an entertaining fiction? The answer is the former, if you believe William Mason’s autobiographical account of his exploits as just such a burglar.

Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief recounts some of Mason’s most memorable heists and narrow escapes, his infiltration of glamorous society, and his double life as a responsible family man by day and a high stakes, high-rise sneak thief by night. I particularly enjoyed the technical details of his exploits, such as how he fashioned home-made grappling hooks by welding together large fish hooks, posed as prospective tenant to get a tour and floor plans of target buildings, carefully studied security cameras to find their blind spots, scaled walls, and the like. Mason’s standard M.O. was to get onto roofs from the inside then climb down onto balconies, taking advantage of the fact that people often didn’t bother to set their alarms or lock their doors because they never imagined that someone could get to them. He also used clever social engineering to plan his heists, reading high society newspapers and going to events they attended so he could scope out the jewels and learn more about his targets. Mason hit a number of well-known celebrities and tycoons, making off with millions of dollars worth of jewelry without the authorities having any clues.

What I find fascinating about Mason is the fact that even while he was making a comfortable upper middle class living as a real estate broker, with a wife and children in a good neighborhood, he led this dangerous second life and risked everything for the thrill of committing these crimes. Apparently the buzz and challenge of sneaking into luxury homes, outsmarting security measures and being instantly rewarded with small fortunes in jewelry was too potent a drug for Mason to give up. Once he got the taste for burglary as a young man struggling to make ends meet, it seems that he couldn’t stop until the law finally did it for him. This is a common trait we find in shadow operators, whether they are burglars, spies, hitmen or what have you: the real juice is not the money, but the excitement of living a life in the shadows, breaking the laws of daytime society and getting away with it, becoming a kind of shadowy superman who doesn’t play by the ordinary rules.

There have probably always been sneak-thiefs like Mason, targeting the fortunes of kings, nobles and merchants. It’s inspiring to know that such men can still operate in modern times, and can still profit wildly by their ingenuity, skill, daring, and exploitation of human error.  Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief is highly recommended for anyone interested in real heists and criminal shadow operators.

Get a copy of this book here.

The Shadows: Introduction

The Shadows: Introduction

One of my motivations for starting this blog was to develop an idea that’s been brewing in my brain for a while now, which I call simply the Shadows.

What are the Shadows? They are the society of shadow operators, who have been given many names—thieves, assassins, spies, special forces, saboteurs, terrorists, ninjas—but who share a common mindset, skillset and attitude to life. Shadows operate out of the light, outside the law, in darkness and secrecy to achieve their goals. They emphasize stealth, skill and deception over brute force and violence.

Shadows don’t concern themselves with abstract matters of good and evil, right and wrong, justice, progress or God. The Shadow attitude is that technique trumps ideology, actions speak louder than words, and impeccable skill is its own morality. Nor are Shadows aligned with any particular political faction, ideological cause, social stratum, religious sect or ethnic group. They may be found among criminals and law-enforcers, terrorists and soldiers, cults and corporations, businessmen and bureaucrats, spies and survivalists, security forces and revolutionaries, anarchists and fascists, and everything in between. The Shadows are in a class by themselves, which transcends other allegiances.

The closest historical analogs of the society of Shadows are perhaps the Ninja of feudal Japan, the Ye Ban Tou of imperial China, the Hashashin of medieval Persia, the Thieves Guilds of the Ottoman Empire, and various brotherhoods found among the criminal underworld and covert operations communities to this day. In spirit, the society stretches back to the earliest civilizations, all of whom had thieves, spies and assassins, and before that to our prehistoric ancestors who stealthily stalked prey of both the two- and four-legged varieties.

Shadow Operations

“Shadow operations”, or “Shadow ops”, are the various missions carried out by Shadows. These range from burglaries, heists and prison breaks to assassinations, spying, scouting, sabotage, psychological warfare, disinformation and dirty tricks. The best Shadow ops aren’t common knowledge; they are either still secret or are attributed to an accident, a false flag, a patsy, or something else besides the actual perpetrators. Here are a few Shadow ops from history that are common knowledge to illustrate the idea:

Obviously Shadows are not “good guys”; they are generally regarded as villains, rogues, or necessary evils at best. But they are a universal human reality, so perhaps it’s time to give them a name, discuss them as a group with a common mentality and set of skills, and give them some respect for living a life of action and daring in a world that all too often resembles a prison planet. I will be exploring these ideas in future blog posts, and possibly in a future book. Enjoy.

Getting Away with Ops: Best Procedures

Getting Away with Ops: Best Procedures

The following are some best procedures for completing an op without incriminating yourself. This list is culled from a study of shadow ops down through history—heists, capers, spy ops, assassinations, etc. They are lessons learned in the schools of hard knocks, hard time, and short lives. Most ops fail because they violate one or more of these rules. They may seem like common sense, but it’s surprising how many professional operatives neglect them, to their lasting regret. Study these procedures until they are second nature so you don’t make a mistake when the pressure is on.

  • Dispose of all Evidence. Immediately dispose of all tools, technologies, clothing, packaging and other physical evidence connected to the op when you are done with it. Don’t keep it at your home or place of business. Burn it, put it in a trash compactor, dump it in landfill, throw it in a deep body of water, bury it in a remote area. Make sure that it won’t be found for a long time, if ever.
  • Use Trusted Associates. Only work with highly trusted associates who can be relied upon to keep their mouths shut and not betray you. Preferably all associates should be long-time colleagues, close friends or family members.
  • Use Competent Associates. Only work with smart, competent, experienced associates who won’t botch the op or panic when the pressure is on.
  • Keep Associates to a Minimum. The fewer people involved in an op, the less chance of mistakes and betrayals. Ideally you should work alone.
  • Don’t Incriminate Yourself During Communications. Don’t say anything incriminating via telephone, text message, email or other communications medium. Communicate with co-operatives using code words. Whenever possible, meet them in person, preferably at a location where eavesdropping is difficult, such as a remote rural area.
  • Destroy Your Communications Trail. Dispose of all communication devices and messages linking you to op associates when you are done with them: phones, SIM cards, paper notes, emails, instant messages, etc.
  • Be Anonymous. Don’t attract attention during any stage of an op. Be the “gray man” that no one notices or remembers.
  • Use False Identities. Establish false ID’s so that any paper trail you leave during an op leads to someone else.
  • Leave the Scene. Leave the scene of the op immediately and don’t return. Don’t be like Leonardo Notarbartolo, who, after completing one of the biggests heists in history, returned to to the scene of the crime a few days later and got arrested.
  • Leave No Forensic Evidence. Wear gloves, a balaclava and long-sleeved shirt and pants to prevent fingerprints, disguise your face and minimize DNA evidence.
  • Be Untraceable. Don’t drive your own car to or from the op; use a stolen car or one rented under a false identity. Purchase tools, clothing and  supplies with cash; don’t use anything that can be traced to you that you can’t dispose of.
  • Have an Alibi. Make sure someone reliable can testify that you were far from the scene of the op at the time it occurred.

If you follow all these procedures you can complete any op in darkness without leaving any trace for pursuers. Like a Shadow.

 

Flawless

Flawless

One of my favorite subjects of study is “heistology”—the history, art and science of pulling off heists. One of the best books I’ve read on the subject is Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History, by Scott Selby and Greg Campbell. It is a detailed account of the notorious Antwerp Diamond Heist conducted in 2003, one of the largest robberies in history, worth upwards of one hundred million dollars in diamonds, gold and jewelry.

This is an amazing, riveting story. The robbers, members of the so-called “Turin School” of Italian professional thieves, spent two years planning and carrying out the audacious operation, which was to loot the vault of the Antwerp Diamond Center—a super-secure vault within one of the most thief-proof square miles of real estate on the planet: the Antwerp Diamond District. The leader, a man named Leonardo Notarbartolo, rented an office within the Center, and with the assistance of his specialist team members in Italy, gradually developed workarounds for the vault’s security measures right under the guards’ noses. They were able to bypass three different alarm systems by ingenious techniques; for example, they defeated the light sensor with a telescoping painter’s pole with a styrofoam casing on one end, molded to fit perfectly over the sensor. They also benefited from sloppy security: guards who conveniently kept the vault key in a nearby storage room, and managers who failed to update some of the vault’s security systems. But the amount of skill and ingenuity displayed by this gang is rather awe-inspiring, despite one unfortunate failure to dispose of incriminating evidence.

While I’m a big fan of heist novels by the likes of Donald Westlake and Lionel White, nothing beats a true story that reads like a thriller. This was a real mission impossible, conducted with great skill, patience and daring by a modern-day “thieves guild” that shadow operators can’t help but admire. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of Flawless here.