THE COMPLEAT SPY: TRADECRAFT
This is an extract from Richard Tomlinson’s book, “The Big Breach: From Top Secret To Maximum Security”, which was extensively serialised in the UK Sunday Times, in January 2001. Tomlinson has been familiar to Peace Researcher readers for the past few years (see previous issues). He is the New Zealand-born former MI6 agent (MI6 is Britain’s foreign spy agency) who got sacked, spat the dummy (he loved being a spy, and was pissed off at being sacked. There was no noble principle motivating him). To shut him up, he was imprisoned in Britain and then hounded, persecuted, injuncted, locked up, bashed up and kicked out of more countries (including the gutless land of his birth) than he’d had hot dinners. Eventually his book was published in Russia (where else?) and proved a great hit in Britain. He still continues to generate much current media coverage in NZ (for example, see Listener, 12/5/01; “007’s lament: The spy who wants to come in from the cold”, Mark Revington).
Tradecraft means the practical skills that enable a spy to communicate with an agent without arousing the suspicion of counterintelligence.
An intelligence officer cannot go to a clandestine meeting with an informer without first ensuring that he or she is not being followed. This "dry-cleaning" involves an innocuous cover activity such as a shopping trip on a planned route that contains "surveillance traps".
Another tradecraft technique, the "dead letter box", involves hiding a message to be picked up by the other party. On a training exercise, James Barking chose a high-level toilet cistern in the gents in the Mr Pickwick pub in Portsmouth. A former Army officer called Andy Mare, picking up the message, had to climb up on the toilet seat to reach it - causing the enraged gentleman in the next cubicle to call the police. Unable to explain the truth, Mare admitted to cottaging (unknown UK slang, but the meaning seems clear. Ed.). He was fortunate to be let off with a caution.
Secret Writing (SW) still plays a role in spying. There is a three-man joint *MI5/MI6 section known as TS/SW, which is responsible for research and training. The method now used ubiquitously by MI6 officers in the field is miraculously simple. Like many great inventions, it was discovered by accident. * MI5 - British internal spy agency.
The problem with early invisible inks was that the writer could not see what he had just written. The solution came in the mid-1980s, when a technician was developing a SW message written on the back of an envelope posted from Moscow.
As the technician swabbed it with developing fluid, the secret writing began to emerge. But other writing, in a different hand and mirror-written, also started to develop.
There was only one explanation. In the post box, the envelope must have pressed against another addressed with a commercial ink possessing the invisible chemical. If the pen responsible could be identified, it would be a simple and deniable SW implement that would allow an agent or officer to see what he was writing before taking an "offset" copy.
MI6 mounted a worldwide search. Every MI6 station was asked to buy every make of pen available. The magic pen turned out to be the Pentel Rollerball. This is now used routinely by MI6 officers.
Clandestine communication systems were the responsibility of TOS/AC (Technical and Operations Support, Agent Comms). Their gadgets are virtually indistinguishable from commercially available equipment.
Pettle recorders were particularly ingenious. Any normal audio cassette has two tracks running parallel to each other, one for each "side" of the cassette. Pettle recorders exploited the unused part of the magnetic tape between the two strips.
TOS/AC also demonstrated modified laptop computers. The removable floppy disks used in ordinary computers have a hidden space which is just big enough to hide a simple word-processing system and file retrieval system.
We also learnt how to use SRAC (Short Range Agent Communication). The agent writes a message on a laptop computer, then downloads it into the SRAC transmitter, the size of a cigarette packet. A receiver, usually in the British embassy, sends out a low-power interrogation signal that triggers the transmitter when the agent is close enough. For many years "Garfield the Cat" toys were popular with agents as their sucker feet allowed an agent to stick the transmitter on the side window of a car, giving a clear signal driving past the embassy.
The lecturers also taught us how to mount bugging operations, although this is not the job of the IB. TOS/AC has about 100 officers trained as locksmiths, clandestine entry specialists, sound engineers, electricians.
Dell, our chief trainer, gave us an exercise in which we had to imagine that the Irish Republican Army had acquired a safe house that was to be used to plan a bombing campaign. We had to draw up a detailed portfolio of the house, its layout, its occupants, their movements, then recommend how and when the house should be entered to place covert listening devices. Each of us was to reconnoitre a different house in Gosport owned by an innocent member of the public. "You can do whatever you want," said Dell. "Just don't get caught."
I borrowed a covert shoulder bag-mounted camera from the photographic laboratories and photographed my target, a medium- sized home in a small garden. A visit to Gosport Town Hall yielded a copy of the electoral roll, giving the names of the occupants. Posing as an architectural student, I looked at the plans of the house in the building regulations department and covertly photographed them.
The best place for the listening device would be in the kitchen, where the family socialised. But more detailed information was needed. One evening I jogged round to the house and found that it was empty. I climbed a fence and scuttled the few metres to the back of the house. There was silence, so I peered through the window and sketched the kitchen layout in a notebook. I noticed a key in the door. I turned it and pushed the door open. My intrusion was illegal, but in the euphoria of the Ionec (meaning unknown. Ed.) it seemed justified. Dell rewarded my efforts with full marks.
Although the core activity of MI6 is agent running, its charter, known as the Order Book, requires it to maintain a capability to plan and mount Special Operations of a quasi-military nature. MI6 officers set the objectives of the operation and obtain clearance for it from the foreign secretary. Thereafter the operation is executed by specially trained officers and men from the three branches of the armed forces.
The RAF provides a small detachment of about 10 pilots known as the "S&D flight". They operate a Hercules C-130 transport aircraft and a Puma helicopter, are trained on many other military aircraft and also have commercial pilot’s licences. The Army provides an Special Air Service (SAS) detachment called Revolutionary Warfare Wing, and the Navy provides a small detachment from its Special Boat Service (SBS). Both are known collectively within MI6 as the "Increment".
SAS and SBS personnel learn how to use improvised explosives and sabotage techniques and advanced VIP protection skills. They study guerrilla warfare organisation, and advanced insertion techniques are practised, including high-altitude parachuting from commercial aircraft or covert landings from submarines.
The SBS Increment also operates MI6's mini-submarine. This is about the length of two cars; the pilot and navigator sit astride the cylindrical forward hull. The rear half of the craft flattens into a passenger compartment to carry four persons, packed together like sardines. The mini-sub is used for infiltrating specialist agents into a hostile country and for exfiltrating compromised agents.
Another specialist cadre occasionally participates in operations. These 20 or so men and women, known collectively as UKN, encompass a diverse range of specialist skills. A small core who are on call full-time draw a modest salary from MI6. The rest work unpaid and take time off from their real jobs.
Their core skill is surveillance and countersurveillance. Other skills are diverse; one is an air-taxi pilot who is prepared to drop everything to help out in an MI6 operation. Another is a yachtmaster who provides his boat when required.