Monday, September 13, 2010

Today's excerpt from The Interceptors Club and the Secret of the Black Manta

Spy Craft

It’s funny now, when we look back how we thought we were ahead of the game, putting our heads together and trying to think three or four moves ahead of Pepper, but what we didn’t know he was a professional spook, trained to think ten steps ahead. We were amateurs and didn’t know (then) how much we didn’t know.

The world of a real spy is very different than portrayed by Hollywood. Real spies don’t drive English sports cars, wear tuxedos, drink martinis and rarely are involved in shoot-outs or car chases because that would draw attention and the last thing a spy wants is attention. Real spies think the fictional spy, James Bond is nothing but a big joke because everyone knows he’s a spy.

Spying is all about collecting information for the government one is spying for. It’s about gaining the trust of people with access to the information you seek and then persuading them (either through blackmail, coercion or bribery) to pass it on to you.

This next chapter is the first lesson in the nuts and bolts of espionage. Little did we know our teacher was a practicing master.

- Stanley Dodson

Colonel Pepper typed up two progress reports on two separate computers. One was on his official AFOSI work computer located in his office, the second he composed a few hours later on his personal laptop he always kept in his sight at all times.

The first report was for General Hogle, a skillfully written fictional report detailing his meeting with the Interceptors and how they were just a bunch of precocious kids who accidentally encountered Excalibur and made a model of it.

It was Pepper’s recommendation he have the kids sign an inadvertent disclosure to a classified program agreement and have the model confiscated and destroyed.

He also explained he had sufficiently put the fear of prosecution into these kids (who really didn’t mean any harm) and who were just in the wrong place at the right time. Since it was displayed as a “hypothetical” design, the damage was minimal and the cat hadn’t been let out of the proverbial bag.

It was Pepper’s recommendation that the case be considered closed.

The second report was for his spy-handler Chin. It also included a report on the Interceptors, and how they could be used unwittingly to fill their needs, gathering intelligence for them on Excalibur.

Although this report did include his interviews with Static and his gang, he did leave out one important fact that he felt that Chin did not need to know.

He didn’t tell them they were just teenagers. He knew his North Korean intelligence contact would not believe kids were able to succeed where their best-trained agents had failed.

The report for Hogle would be printed and hand-delivered to the general via a secure courier.

The other (to his North Korean spy masters) would travel over the internet and be posted on a public website in plain sight, but encrypted to prevent interception.

To insure that he would never be uncovered as a spy, Pepper took great efforts to keep his secret files safe.

He never typed up his reports on a computer attached to the internet. He knew from experience that by hooking up a phone line to a computer it became a gateway to almost anyone and especially to the FBI or CIA.

Although he used a laptop computer to covertly send his reports, he did so in a unique way that left no trace.

As part of his duties as an AFOSI agent, he was well aware there were powerful programs that could recover even erased files from a computer hard drive. He took great pains to insure the hard drive on his personal computer remained pristine. To do this he saved his secret files on tiny secure media cards, the type usually used inside digital cameras.

These cards could hold over 4 gigabytes of documents and were only half size of a tea bag (and wafer thin) and could be easily hidden in places that even the most diligent spy hunter would never look.

But Pepper didn’t bother to hide his files in some remote location. He knew they would only be safe if kept close at hand.

Since AFOSI officers were routinely investigated by internal Air Force security agents (charged with finding spies) he kept them close by at all times, inside his compact digital camera tucked away in the breast pocket of his uniform.

Since a camera was part of his normal investigating gear it would not seem out of place for him to be carrying one. If by chance he was ever suspected of being a spy (and the camera was confiscated) all one would find on the card were what looked like ordinary snap-shots any amateur shutterbug would take.

But cleverly imbedded in the images were all of Pepper’s stolen secrets, interlaced inside innocuous looking photographs of sunrises, landscapes and vacation snapshots.

To hide his files inside the photographs, he used a commonly available program known as “Outguess” utilizing a technique in intelligence circles known as steganographic encoding.

Since it would also be very suspect to have such a program on his personal computer it was kept stored on another photo media card and never mounted on his hard drive. In this way a routine search of his computer would show nothing to arouse suspicions.

To transmit the imbedded documents to his handlers he just simply posted them on a photography website known as, where amateur photographers could display their talents.

It made Pepper smile to think that at any given moments thousands of people could be viewing his photos without knowing they were looking at top-secret military documents.


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