Tradecraft Nightmare

After two full days in the hotel with no contact, we called up Pacifica Intelligence the next morning to announce our arrival. We had done a little more conversation than usual about whether we should just change passports, call the retainer held lawyers of our brokerage houses to get our assets transferred to a second name than by which we entered the country, and just rent a house to start living in. We decided no. We expected Pacifica Intelligence to already know our other names and we didn’t know that Jacob had flubbed the duty of sending ALL our new names to PI headquarters.

In addition, we all gave thought to the question of whether the new Chief of GLCIS had the cohones to order our assassination on his own. The answer was “no”. We also saw that GLCCA, acting alone, wouldn’t have risked involvement merely on the basis of suspicion that we were “security risks” without any evidence to back it up. They must have been coerced into it by Higher Authority. That meant the President had known of and approved the killing of the three of us merely on suspicion. That put a more dangerous complexion on the matter entirely. Since they had driven us to flee the country, they automatically turned us into the security risks that they already suspected we were. Given that they had done this to a former Chief of Service, the risk of it was so great that they must chase us down and kill us after finding us by using the agents in place once they were sure of our destination. Even with the botched bombing, the President would almost certainly approve such a new attempt.

Lady Chief was an old hand at bureaucratic niceties and knew that “Aaron”, the Head of PI, couldn’t be contacted directly; her Dictapad call would be shunted off to who knows who that wouldn’t even know about Jacob’s arrangement for us. So she called Aaron’s “Executive Assistant” who, back in the days of the USA would have been called Aaron’s “secretary”, Helen. She had to be taking calls for him to know anything at all that was going on, and would understand our arrangement, whether she had known about it beforehand or not. She had. And Lady Chief’s title was the Open Sesame to Aaron, even when he didn’t know our travel names.

Early on the day after the phone call, we waited for about 20 minutes in the Beachcomber Lounge. Forever Hotel had left the sign up, though the tiki torches, parrots, and Hawaiian shirts were long gone, and all employees looked like they worked at a fine hotel again. Maybe the name was going to be permanent. So in the empty bar at morning with coffee and croissants, we were met by “Donald” of Pacifica Intelligence and “David” of Pacifica Internal Security Service. The latter agency was quite unfairly and unwillingly burdened by the acronym PISS (pronounced just like you think and you try to pronounce it any other way). They were really quite good and didn’t deserve it. As we were slowly finding out, PI (“pie”) was not quite so good.

In fact, we had used the extra days to also prepare for a tradecraft nightmare. On the phone to Aaron and, more importantly, to his Secretary Helen, we presented the stern dressing down we were also likely to give anyone they sent to us. When Helen asked why, Lady Chief blandly read off the addresses of all 7 safehouses Pacifica Intelligence had in Portland. GLCIS had known about them and spied upon them for over a decade. At this point Helen put Lady Chief on hold for a full five minutes. When she came back, Aaron the Chief was on the line, too. “Will you please read that list again to the both of us.” Lady Chief did so to stunned silence on the other side of the Dictapad line.

“Actually, Aaron, matters are even worse than that. I know that you use a “cutout” system for all your safehouse keepers where their boss Donald…Yes, I know that, too…meets with them only at the house they run and they never enter PI Headquarters even once. Very secure for the Headquarters. But Donald has to travel to all the safehouses regularly in multiple electrocars so as not to arouse neighborhood curiosity.

“It was very easy to spot what Donald was doing, and a pair of GLICIS agents simply followed him from house to house, taking down all the addresses each time. GLICIS has a wonderfully extensive photo album, Aaron, of Donald overseeing his safehouses. Further, in order to change electrocars every week through an entire decade David has had to use ALL of them your agency owns. GLCIS has the make, model, and licence plate number of every one of them.

“You use only chosen first names and agency titles both in house and when you run agents or interview sources, and all your people keep their legal civilian name and address. It’s not possible to spy on your well concealed headquarters in that little beachfront town outside Portland. The building being behind that totally untrimmed bamboo grove 20 feet back from the entire outer fencing makes it nearly impossible.

“Nor was it easy to spy on your daily shuttle bus service back and forth to your dedicated parking garage in Portland. So GLICIS doesn’t know all of your headquarters personnel, though they know and have photos of many of them. You’re very lucky to have hired mostly straight arrows and Girl Scouts, Aaron. So the drollop of good news is that GLCIS has never been able to blackmail one or buy one from you.

“But they really know Donald. And they’ve had plenty of time to vacuum up every detail of his personal life: name, address, family names, bank accounts, bank account amounts, length and payment status of his mortgage, utility bills, and much, much more. We also know every detail of your safehouse keepers’ lives, since the deeds to the houses are in their name with a PI lien on the house value if they move on.

“I sympathize with you Aaron. You now have a problem large enough that your next staff meeting and your next meeting with your political customers will both be very difficult. There were meetings like that, too, when I was chief of GLCIS, including the last one where I offered to retire. But if you and Helen will do a couple of things for us we can at least get Donald to straighten out his safehouse tradecraft. This will require a new budget line and some work with your armory and firearms instructors. And your orders for Donald to listen and cooperate with us.”

When Donald and David showed up at the hotel bar, we were whisked away to an “undisclosed location” by the two supervisors, one from each agency, who were both suit and tie guys in upmarket, off-the-rack, and reasonably well fitting (meaning about 1/2 size too large and taken in by a local tailoring shop) two-piece suits, and two PISS security gorillas casually and discreetly, who knew how to keep their concealed firearms from printing through their day at the beach clothes. The gorillas, one very tall towering man and one Amazon, were a minimum of 5 inches taller than any of us, and both at least 40 pounds very muscularly heavier. Donald and David were a more realistic size, a couple of inches shorter than the escorts, and were shirt and tie paper pushers.

In contrast to security’s casual clothes, we looked like we were headed to an important corporate meeting of two upper level employees from a different business in Portland, as a boss (Lady Chief) and high ranking subordinates. How could you tell? Because Elizabeth and I had kept to the cardinal rule of not outdressing the boss in her authoritative diamond and satin finery. But with our excellent self-effacing Chicago tailoring and with our tiny 21 carat gold earrings, mine a pair of hummingbirds, Elizabeth’s a simple ball-and-post, we clearly were a business trio in the eyes of anyone in Portland who actually paid attention. In memory of Zoltan, I had chosen my “pretty little red shoes”, Elizabeth, a set of sensible Mary Janes (with custom orthotics), and Lady Chief her standard matte black high heeled pumps. Business dress is as much tradecraft in spying as it is self advertisement for the whorehouse.

But the five of us together, with the two security gorillas stuck out like blood on a wedding cake, even in the cosmopolitan lobby of the Forever Hotel. Any secret agents in the shadows would spot what we were immediately. Yes there are shadows, even in a guileless and Pacifica style luxury hotel. The lesson to be learned from all this is that tradecraft can never be just off-the-rack (as it tends to become in your Home Office) but must always be bespoke out in the field. For the moment, all seven of us were, one way or another, out in the field. And we were all headed to a safehouse for many days of extended debriefing.

Oh, and if you have to ask by now what all that means, you’re not cleared to know. Sorry.

The hospitality of Pacifica Intelligence under refugee visas came at a price, which was our secrets. Ironically, the designation of us by GLCIS at “security risks” had been turned by them into a self fulfilling prophecy. The last, and most important, part of the spy’s insurance policy is their secrets, the most valuable commodity they have at their destination.

We could and did take for granted that our secrets, when revealed, would put a fair number of people in prison or maybe in their grave, with, as always, no right or wrong and merely the luck of the draw. You can’t be both a spy and a decent human being. So even after “retirement” from our agency, our body counts of unknown size continued to swell. Unfinished business, indeed. Treasonous business. But since our country had run us out of town by trying to kill us, we didn’t much care that it was.

As we approached the safe house and parked our car, the safehouse keeper, Emily, came right out the front door to greet us on the opposite sidewalk from the car! Tradecraft train wreck waiting to happen! Do something like meeting fellow spies on the front lawn, when Mossad, GLCIS, or even Poison Julep were getting very cross with you, and knew your address, it would take only two motorcycles, four killers, and two submachine guns to turn things very, very sour for you, and then make their escape.

After exchanging names on the lawn (another tradecraft gaffe of forgetting about long distance microphones), we went inside. Elizabeth and I noted that there was only a knob lock on the front door and no deadbolts, as well as no sign of upgrading the screws on the doorjamb or the hinges. An opposition team could break down that door in about 30 seconds, or pick the lock in twice that time, or just blow out the flimsy lock with a shotgun breaching round. That is, if Emily didn’t just open it innocently to a gunshot in the face! A train wreck waiting to happen. Just like it happened to Helen Thoroughgood.

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