Disappearing Entries

Some of you may notice that there isn’t as much on Modus Operandi from today. A number of entries have had to be removed for reasons I cannot discuss.

I am saddened by this as Modus Operandi has always operated as a site to share old and out-of-print material as well as fan-submitted items. Although there are the odd affiliate links around the site, it has never made me much money. Certainly not enough to cover one years hosting and domain name costs never mind the 17+ years its been in existence.

I am now considering the future of the website in general.

Cracking Cell Phones

Written by Glenn Davisson

Generic rules for incorporating the cracking of cell phones into your missions.

Note: This was originally written for Covert Ops. It has been genericized to work with any percentage based game. For a d20 based game, divide everything by 5. It does assume the game system in use has some kind of critical success/critical failure mechanism.

Download Cracking Cell Phones

The Making of a Spy

Written by Glenn Davisson

Joining the CIA

The typical recruit for the CIA’s Clandestine Service must be between 26 and 36 years old (though some exceptions are allowed, especially if they bring useful real world experience to the Agency), has a four year college degree (or be within a year of completing one – because of this, very few recruits are under the age of 21, though technically the minimum age to apply is 18) with a GPA of at least 3.0. He (or she) has strong interpersonal and communications skills, and has demonstrated an ability to think on his feet while working independently or as part of a team. Typically, he speaks at least two languages fluently, and he often has served in the military, or has traveled or lived in foreign countries on his own. He is loyal to his country, even patriotic, and is willing to follow orders he does not understand. He is physically and mentally fit, well trained in the tradecraft of espionage, and well equipped for his job. Most are volunteers, but likely candidates will be discretely approached by recruiters.

Those who wish to apply choose what position they are interested in (and may apply for up to four at a time). There will be an extensive background check (including polygraphs), and thorough physical, mental and psychological tests. Any evidence of illicit drug use in the last 12 months is automatic disqualification, as is most criminal history. (A traffic ticket or two isn’t a problem. Several dozen probably will be. Actual criminal convictions, especially for a felony, is pretty much automatic disqualification.) There are several in-person interviews, to ensure that both the Agency and the potential recruit have a clear understanding of what to expect, and to examine the recruit’s motives in wanting to join. A genuine desire to serve one’s country is far preferable to an adrenaline junkie who wants to play with guns and bombs. The psych screening can tell the difference.

There are no specific requirements for the college degree (and technically, the degree isn’t strictly required, but one has to be really exceptional to get in without it), but the degree should be related to the type of work one is applying for. Degrees in any sort of international politics, business or finance, and law enforcement/criminology are desirable for Operations and Collection Management Officers (the guys who sneak around in the dark doing naughty things), as is military service. Fluency is one or more foreign languages, especially Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Korean, Pashto, Persian/Farsi, Russian, or Somali is also desirable. Advanced degrees are also more desirable than undergraduate degrees.

There are four Directorates to the CIA: Intelligence, Support, Science and Technology, and the Directorate of Operations (which used to be called National Clandestine Service). Of primary interest to Covert Ops players is the last directorate, Clandestine Service, and this article will focus there.

Many recruits join the CIA shortly after graduating from college. Since they lack the sort of real world experience of military service or other non-academic endeavors (a job), any recruit under the age of 26 starts with the Professional Trainee Program (or PT Program) at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, which gives them “the opportunity to gain experience through a series of responsible Headquarters-based assignments that expose them to core aspects of the mission of the National Clandestine Service prior to joining the Clandestine Service Training (CST) Program.” 1 In short, they assist the headquarters staff in Langley in running the Clandestine Service, to give them a thorough understanding of what the field officers (and others) do. This program typically lasts two years. This includes managing field operations, from planning to clean up, as well as working with analysts and Targeting Officers to determine the objectives of field ops, and, frankly, getting coffee and donuts for the working stiffs.

The CST Program is CIA boot camp, mainly at Camp Peary (“The Farm”) outside Williamsburg, Virginia. Recruits with military service, or other “substantive work experience” start here. The program lasts at least 18 months, and teaches the recruits the fundamentals of their tradecraft. This includes martial skills, such as hand to hand combat, weapons training, and defensive (and offensive) driving, as well as language lessons and technical skills (and how to use the high tech toys the CIA is so fond of). But mainly it focuses on people – how to find those who are vulnerable to compromise, how to recruit, bribe, blackmail or seduce them, and how to manage them afterwards. Initially, this is classroom training, but as the program progresses, it changes to more and more field exercises, which can take place anywhere in the world, including foreign countries. These exercises can include making or picking up information packets from dead drops, meeting with long term agents, and investigating suspected leaks. Sometimes, these exercises are real missions, whether the trainee knows it or not.

Graduates of The Farm then go on to advanced training, tailored to their chosen specialty. There are six specialties open to new recruits (who are now known as “core collectors”):

  • Collection Management Officer (mostly an analyst)
  • Directorate of Operations Language Officer (mostly a translator)
  • Operations Officer (a field officer – a spy, but also case officers – the line between them can be fuzzy.)
  • Paramilitary Operations Officer (another field officer, but on a far more violent career path) (Another variation of this is the Specialized Skills Officer, who tend to be technical specialists in some field, such as aviation, maritime, military psychological warfare and/or information operations. They might be pilots, computer hackers, SCUBA specialists, psy ops specialists, etc.)
  • Staff Operations Officer (office support – often people who are not well suited for field work, but are worth keeping around.)
  • Targeting Officer (mostly a desk jockey who interprets the analysts’ work and
    recommends missions)

The duties vary, but all these positions are considered interchangeable to some degree; all have received the same core training, and all are certified for field work (though not all are certified to carry firearms). Nearly all officers spend some time as a Staff Operations Officer immediately after graduating from The Farm, even if that is not their specialty. Collections Management Officers and Operations Officers typically spend up to three years at a time on assignment in foreign countries. The other positions are usually based in Washington, DC, with stiff competition for the few overseas jobs that are available. (The Paramilitary Operations Officer is usually based in DC, with short overseas assignments being fairly common. They are the (para)military trouble shooters, for jobs that are intended to be violent. They have similar duties to military special forces units, such as Seal teams, and often work with Special Forces on particularly important assignments.)

Note: Graduates of the CST Program can become Specialized Skills Officers and Staff Operations Officers, but not all SSOs and SOOs are certified core collectors. Those who are not certified for field work spend their careers at a desk. All other positions are virtually always CST Program graduates, and have at least some chance of spending some time in the field.

Even once the recruit is fully certified and in the field, the CIA strongly encourages (and pays for) ongoing education throughout the officer’s career. The Agency runs several specialized schools that teach various aspects of tradecraft, such as breaking and entering, advanced hand to hand combat techniques, electronic intrusion (hacking), and so forth. The CIA also sponsors officers in classes at universities all over the world. While there is a preference for studies that apply to the officer’s job (especially language and cultural studies related to trouble spots), they are very open to almost any field of study, and will grant long leaves of absence to pursue advanced degrees or specialized education. The more diverse an officer’s skill set and knowledge base, the more capable he will be.

1 www.cia.gov/offices-of-cia/clandestine-service/careers/careersprofessional-trainee-program.html

Further reading: www.cia.gov/careers/opportunities/clandestine/index.html

Agent vs Officer

A CIA agent is a local asset, usually a foreign national, who has been bribed, blackmailed or seduced in to working for the CIA. They are, essentially, a contractor. They may or may not know whom they work for. They may think they work for someone else entirely. A CIA officer is a full time employee, a US citizen, fully vetted with background checks and polygraphs and such, almost always college educated, and well trained at The Farm in Langley (and the CIA is big on continuing education throughout one’s career). This is the classic professional spy of fiction. Robert DeNiro’s character in Ronin is a good example.

The agent has a lot more discretion, being expendable and deniable. The officer has access to far more resources and backing, but at the cost of freedom of action. If an officer is caught by the enemy, a considerable effort will be made to get them back, up to and including a prisoner exchange. If they are caught by friendly local authorities, diplomatic means will be applied to smooth over the international incident, almost an unofficial form of diplomatic immunity. If an agent is caught, the extent to which the Agency will care is based on how much damage can be done by the compromise. At least some consideration will be given to whether or not the best way to contain the damage is to assassinate the agent themselves.

Diplomatic Immunity

Written by Glenn Davisson

If you’re looking for a real life-ish way to keep your favorite villain out of prison, give them diplomatic immunity.

This is a very brief (and over-simplified) summary of the US State Department’s manual for law enforcement in dealing with diplomatic immunity, available in full at www.state.gov/documents/organization/150546.pdf.

You know how you’re watching a movie or TV show, and the bad guy has diplomatic immunity, and he does something violently criminal and the cops can’t do anything about it, and you think, “Well, they’re exaggerating that. It’d never happen like that in real life!” Turns out, actually, it can, pretty much exactly like that. Sometimes.

Broadly speaking, there are three classes of people with different levels of immunity:

  1. Diplomatic agents – Ambassadors, mostly, and their immediate families.
  2. Diplomatic level staff – people who do diplomatic work, but aren’t ambassadors, usually with titles like “trade attaché,” or “undersecretary of importing toilet paper” – and their immediate families.
  3. Support staff – janitors, maids, cooks, chauffeurs, etc.

Diplomatic agents have very nearly absolute immunity to local laws. They cannot be arrested for any reason, they cannot be detained, they cannot be questioned without their consent, they cannot be handcuffed, no matter what they’ve done, even if they did it front of the cops. Their homes cannot be searched even with a warrant, nor can their official vehicles. They cannot be subpoenaed and compelled to testify in a civil case. If an ambassador is pulled over driving drunk in his official vehicle (with its diplomatic plates), he cannot be arrested, he cannot be detained, and his car cannot be impounded. The most that can be done is to offer to call him a cab, or drive him back to his residence in the squad car. All of this applies to their immediate families, as well.

The only exceptions are for self defense, matters of public safety, or to prevent serious crimes. (In other words, the “Your immunity is revoked” scene at the end of the Lethal Weapon movie is actually entirely realistic. Wave a gun at a cop and threaten to shoot someone, and it’s entirely legal for him to put a round between your eyes.)

As a side note, all classes of embassy personnel can be issued traffic (and parking) tickets. There’s just no mechanism for

  • Making them pay the fine, or
  • Making them even show up in court.
  • Impounding their car

And their vehicle registration (and plates) are issued by the State Department, who don’t care about traffic (or parking) tickets.

Where Hollywood gets it wrong is in what happens afterwards. While a diplomat can’t be arrested once he presents his credentials (they are issued ID cards by the State Department, and there are 24 hour hotlines to verify claims), the State Department strongly encourages the police and prosecutors to investigate and develop the case just like any other, and when they can honestly say “We would prosecute this were it not for the immunity,” they say that to the State Department, and State will ask the sending government to waive the immunity, with a real expectation that they will. (Interesting note: the immunity does not belong to the diplomat, it belongs to their government. The diplomat cannot waive their immunity.) If the waiver isn’t forthcoming, the diplomat being expelled from the country is pretty much automatic, and arrest warrants will be entered into NCIC, in case they ever come back without immunity (and they’ll never be granted immunity again).

Protection for diplomatic level staff is basically the same, only with a rather higher chance of a waiver being granted if they get caught committing a crime.

Support staff has rather less protection. They have no immunity from arrest for criminal acts, but cannot be prosecuted for acts committed as part of their official duties. (Whether or not something is part of their official duties, BTW, is decided by the court that has jurisdiction over the crime, not the State department or the government that sent them. Most judges are smart enough to not push their luck into international incidents, though, if the sending government claims them. This is useful in a gaming context in that spies are often listed as embassy staff at some level, and few state judges are eager to start an international incident.)

That sums up embassy staff. Interestingly, consulates are treated entirely differently (and governed by a separate treaty), because consulates serve and entirely different purpose. A consulate is there to issue travel visas to tourists, provide assistance to their countrymen who have problems, and keep an eye on trade and commerce issues.

An embassy’s purpose is to facilitate communications between the two governments. All else is secondary to that.

So “Career Consular Officers” (both the Consul and the senior staff, basically the top two categories of duties for an Consulate staff) can be arrested, but only on a felony, and only after a warrant has been issued by a court with jurisdiction over the crime. Their residences can be searched using normal warrants, etc., but not their offices or official vehicles. They have immunity in criminal cases only for official acts, and while they can be subpoenaed in civil cases, they cannot be compelled to testify. Support staff has only very limited immunity for official acts. Family members have zero immunity.

Also note that these are general guidelines, and exceptions abound, usually in the form of increased immunity for specific individuals, negotiated on a case by case basis with specific countries. The general rule is “Don’t accept anything as face value. Call the State Department’s hotline and we’ll tell you what you can and can’t get away with.”

Is that confusing enough? Imagine how your players will react when they have the bad guy dead to rights on an espionage charge, with all the evidence needed to lock them up forever, and the cops… just let them go… straight to the airport to go home.

The Hijacking of Keats’ Pride

Written by Glenn Davisson

The game is set in Vancouver, the third largest city in Canada (and largest on the west coast). It has the largest port in the country, and one of the largest in North America (including the fourth largest cruise ship terminal in the world). There are nine million tourists every year, and the four container terminals handle 1.5 million containers a year. Only half of the permanent population considers English their 1st language. Outside of Los Angeles and New York City, it has the largest film and television production industry in North America, with all the “that’s weird, but not notable” stuff that goes with that. With the average detached home running $1.2 million, it’s one of the most expensive places in the world to live, and has neighborhoods that range from extremely wealthy to one of the first skid rows in the world. Vancouver has the highest crime rate in Canada (though not so high compared to many US cities). And it’s only a few miles from the longest undefended national border in the world.

Add in a very busy port, and the unions that go with it, and border and customs officials who have a tendency to be either sympathetic to the US, or willing to take bribes to make that mortgage payment (or both), and a picture emerges of a place where the CIA would have a significant staff of case officers, to manage their various local assets (people they bribe, or blackmail, or otherwise coerce or seduce into helping), and a good sized staff of analysts, looking for anything interesting in all that port and tourist traffic, but not much in the way of gunfire or explosives. A convenient place to move people or contraband into and out of the US secretly. Their operations are controlled from the Consulate, but are not in it. Instead, their office is ostensibly an import/export company near the docks, Weathervane Import/Export.

This mission is written for characters who are a team of CIA field officers, exiled to a place where nothing happens, for reasons other than incompetence (they angered someone more important than themselves, but not by doing a bad job).

Download The Hijacking of Keats’ Pride (with accompanying maps)