(Editor’s Note: KSAs are Knowledge, Skill, Ability. It’s another of those mystery acronyms we’re famous for here at SOFREP. This is probably the best set of KSAs you’ll ever come across.)
In this hazy disco world of surreptitious investigation and collection, there are a few tools you damn well better have in your toolbox when you leave whatever version of Bat Cave from whence you’re doin’ the dirty.
I managed to get a few tools – basic root KSAs – while in uniform. Nothing big. Mostly baseline skillset stuff like fitness, tactics, situational awareness, and landnav. The rest I had to develop on my own, carved out of my own personal situation(s) and circumstance(s).
For example, I still use the traditional SALUTE report for the stuff I do. It usually goes something like this:
Size – I’m in Japan. So…smallish?
Activity – Probably smoking. All these guys still smoke for some reason.
Location – Right next to me.
Unit – TMI, dude. I’m sure it’s down there somewhere…
Time – Now.
Equipment – I would like to believe they are all hiding throwing stars and smoke bombs, but I know they are not.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m definitely a little peanut butter and jealous that I never had the chance to learn cool-guy tradecraft stuff at Secret Squirrel locations here and there. But in the end, I do not at all think that I am any less viable for it.
My operational elbow grease (here metaphoricized as a sword) may have been forged on The Big Green anvil, but it was sharpened, dulled, broken, reforged, and resharpened in night after night of shenanigans and shitshows. And unofficial, non-sanctioned foreign collection needs as little of a paper trail as possible. Thus…the PRC does not have anything of any value with any of my SF-86s.
If I were to have some unfortunate apprentice staring up at me expectantly – Skilcraft notebook and pen in hand – waiting to catch nightcrawling mana from the heaven of my beer guzzling, curse-slinging pie-hole, they’d likely be writing down this:
“The Top 10 KSAs of an Off-Reservation Collector,” or “How Not to Get Yourself Killed Doing Stupid Stuff You Shouldn’t Even Be Doing In the First Place, But Are Doing Anyway (For the Greater Good)”
These are broken down into three overlapping, yet mutually exclusive “lanes.” Abstract, Contextual, and Physical. And they are not listed in order of importance. And, in case anyone thinks it should be noted…I do not in any way condone or promote illegal activity of any kind at any time. Also, METT-TC, huah.
These are qualities that permit you to establish and maintain overall operability on this path. They are, essentially, Operational Intelligence-based KSAs. They set the framework through which all of your individual and longer-term operations will be facilitated. These are, to me, the most difficult to develop, maintain, and further, because #2 down there is not exactly something you can just learn to do. You’ll see.
1. Basic Intelligence Skills.
This one is really pretty easy. Plenty of books, schoolhouses, and chatrooms to get these things. Understanding the basic Intel Cycle, and how it applies – and how you apply to it – is really pretty fundamental to this whole game. So, nailing down some solid and tested chops in stuff like collection management, asking the right questions to the right jokers at the right time, and being able (and willing) to conduct at least basic R&S.
Although you may not have dbases of local shithead networks clogging up your harddrive, or link diagrams and B&W photos strung up all over your walls, or spend more than a few nights in some dude’s attic dooking in a ziplock bag…you also, actually, may. Be prepared for that.
[Relevant Anecdote] The first time I ever had to get into a place that was locked and secure (popo refer to this as B&E), I spent several hours over the course of several weeks reconnoitering and surveilling the location. I knew all the ways in, and out. I knew most likely avenues of approach for baddies, and most likely ingress routes for goodies (me). I went to hardware stores and checked out the types of doors and windows that this place had. I practiced the locks, and how to “hack” the windows by popping them off their rails.
The night came for game-time, and I made my way to the objective, got to the door, pulled out my bag of “Archaeology Tools”, and as I went to work on this frackin’ door…it slid open. Unlocked. For a solid 60 seconds I just stared at the lock and the 6 black inches of open door trying to process what just happened. Be prepared for failure AND success. Beyond that, I’m not dead or in a Hokkaido prison, so in the immortal words of G Dubs Bush, “Mission Accomplished.”
2. Developing and Maintaining Your [email protected]#&ing Profile.
(This will get you compromised faster and harder than any other thing in *this* world.) This is where we start getting into the real abstraction. Perception versus reality. Truth versus falsehood. Omote, and ura. Beyond all the lame paperwork, and visas, and legalities, and “What is your business in our country?” you – the doer – need to establish a shell personality that offers one part insulation, one part compartmentalization, and one part prophylactic.
Now, as an off-res dude, I have no one coming to get me if stuff goes sideways. I have no logistical chain giving me drops or team cards. I have no office out there fabricating and authenticating my false life for me.
From Phase Zero onward, it was me and me alone. And all of that had to be conducted well below the radar of my profile. Why is an “English Teacher” looking at windows in a hardware store? Easy to wing something at the moment should that question get asked. Why is an “English Teacher” living in my attic dooking in a bag? Hehehe. “Sorry, wrong attic?” Yeah…no.
I’m not sure what advice to give you on this since it’s almost entirely circumstantial – matched, of course, with your ability to understand and seamlessly apply your target perception(s), given your specific circumstances. You need to be able to build certain patterns in your life, in order to foment certain perceptions in those around you. Your neighbors, your boss, your friends. And they need to be able to really believe that stuff. That smoke screen needs to *BE* you…in the omote.
That omote is there to give you wiggle room. And there to protect you from anyone even thinking a question about you needs to be asked, much less actually asking it. And when someone does come around asking questions, the shrouds of probability and possibility – the shadow of doubt – needs to be easily supported by your cover. Unfortunately, this is a very long conversation/instruction. And the good news is: Even seasoned professionals screw this up on the regular.
[Relevant Anecdote] I’m a runner. I can run, anytime. You can wake me up at 0200 (if I’m even asleep yet), and we can go for a run. You can tap my shoulder mid Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels-style bender, and we can go for a run. All you can eat pancake breakfast at the local fire department…and then a run? Sure. I may puke, but I can step it out.
I made my running mania *very* clear upon my arrival. I also made it known that I prefer to run at night. Cooler. Stars. I’m soooo busy in the daytime. Best time to run; to think. So Zen. Japan is so safe. After enough time running in the dark, no one blinked when they saw me stride by at midnight. No one thought anything except, “There goes that crazy gaijin again.”
So, needless to say, I *had* to run a lot at night. And no one ever knew the better. Perception management, and the manipulation of truth and falsehood. You better damn well know it. And know how to almost literally wear it. Yada yada…analogies about masks and cloaks and stuff.
You will not find me by creeping around after me in that dark. I am standing in the open. My “cover” is actually who I am. what I do outside that cover is very specifically what you won’t see, because it doesn’t exist. I have fully disclosed how I do this – my TTPs – to a precious few people in my life.
This leads us to another KSA that isn’t really a KSA…
3. Being both an extrovert and introvert.
I think Analytical Psychologists will tell you this is impossible. May be. But that kind of label has never stopped me before. Haters gon’ hate, etc.
Two prime reasons you need to be an extrovert are, 1) that you have to be able (and willing) to talk…to anyone – everyone – at any time (pretty much a day-in-the-life if you’re collecting via HUMINT); 2) in order to fill the threads in the tapestry of that omote, you’re going to need to be hella proactive about plugging “holes” with information of *your* design.
[Relevant Anecdote] Everyone thinks I do coke.
Two prime reasons you also need to be an introvert are 1) in-country, you may or may not be around anyone you can really talk to, and even if you are…you can’t tell them everything (this is taxing, no matter who you are); 2) prior to “op” and post “op” you’ll need to process everything. That’s a lot of alone time, sifting through what you need for the op, conducting all your prep, doing the actual stuff, then getting it all processed and put into relevant files and folders…
[Relevant Anecdote] Trying to be a peppy extrovert – and have a day job – while spending *a lot* of time alone (doing creepy stuff) is a hard act to balance. I juggled a day job where I was speaking (at the very best) broken English from 9-5, an after-hours job where I did the exact same thing, and my nightcrawling where I might not make a single sound for several hours (or days).
In a particularly rough stretch where I suspected I had been compromised [somehow], I was sleeping in the crawlspace above my apartment, with various physical countermeasures in place in the rooms below. That definitely has an adverse effect on your social agenda.
These are qualities that allow you to establish and maintain some basic (and advanced) situational, spatial, and systemic awareness within and throughout your specific area of shenaniganry; with as much residual awareness on all adjacent spaces, situations, and/or systems.
Not unlike #s 2 and 3 up above, these aren’t things you can just learn how to do. And even though they are based in/on context, they really are no less abstract. Whereas the above group dealt more with your relationship with *others*, this group really depends on *your* understanding of the reality within which you’re functioning. Ergo…”Contextual”.
4. Situational and Spatial Awareness.
This is more on the microcosmic – immediate vicinity – level. You need to be as much aware of where you are, what you are doing, and what is going on around you as possible. And that level of “possible” better be pretty damned high. This should pre-emptively mitigate the vast majority of problems that will arise…***AS LONG AS YOUR PLANNING AND PREP WERE NOT SCENES FROM THE MUPPET SHOW***.
This holds true for your immediate space (the room, the building), as well as for your “operational” process(es) and progress (who and what is in that room or building; threats, assets). And *your* relationship – potential or actual – with all of that stuff.
Pay attention, and don’t forget anything. (Don’t worry, it’s always a work in progress.) Your ability to maintain awareness is going to directly facilitate your ability to not only do what you do, but stifle someone’s ability to stop you. The tenacity and diligence by which you conduct your activity should be equal to the tenacity and diligence of your active countermeasures. You cannot really understand one, without understanding the other, in my opinion.
So, while you are doing what you do, it is fundamental that you are aware of what others around you are doing (and when you get all Zen about it, what other *will* do). Experience nets you more know-how in coping and shifting with the weird dynamic of possibility and probability, at this “tactical” level.
[Relevant Anecdote] I was once at this party. There were all kinds of people there from all over the world. I was still trying to pick up Japanese at a much more functional level, but I knew a few words in a whole slew of other languages.
At this little shindig, I was trying to carry on the usual conversations, while trying to nail down where several of my potential targets were from (Philippines, Ukraine, Serbia, for the most part). So, my omote was buzzing busily glad-handing every swinging dick in the place, while my ura was tracking and triangulating the working girls (based on what they were speaking).
All the while, I had the positions, dispositions, and movement of every henchman, tough guy, and lacky in the room and along various routes out of the building. I also had my egress routes planned for any number of sideways eventualities. And last but not least, I was managing what I ate and drank, and what I needed others to think I was drinking – and acting accordingly as the night went on.
And let’s not forget that I still had to get out of that city by the time this was over.
5. Landnav, Geospatial, and *Macrocosmic* Awareness.
Now…your macrocosm is generally gonna be a very different story. Much more variables. The scope of possibilities and probabilities now becomes exponential. For me, having a real fix in my geospatial macrocosm involves me having eyes-on. This means actually going out and seeing stuff. Learning the train schedule, and actually *taking* the trains. Getting off at different stops, and hoofing it on foot. Understanding direct and indirect routes home. (Because there are definitely times you damn sure *cannot* go straight home.)
Couple this exploration with run routes or long walks. I also head out in my car when time allows. Use whatever available variety of mounted and dismounted methods to make damn sure you understand the layout of your village, town, city, prefecture, state, region, territory, Earth, Solar System, etc. Along with every major and potential port of disembarkation in the country.
I haven’t lived in Central Europe in over 20 years. If you dropped me off in Munich right now, I’d triangulate myself very quickly. And from there, be able to get myself to any other point on Earth – money permitting. I explore everything, every chance I get.
*This is also another way to “fill space” in your cover. “My hobby is exploring new places.” Now no one will question why you are walking around town marking stuff on a map, staring at the position of the damn sun.
And that’s just the geospatial stuff. Keep yourself up on current events. Watch the weather. Know seasonal issues, holidays, and other relevant stuff. There really is no way to express how important ALL levels of your situational awareness are. Just know that they are VERY important. And prepare accordingly.
[Relevant Anecdote] In March of 2011, the biggest disaster to hit Japan in several decades…hit. Everything started to come undone in a matter of hours where I was. Not so far away, everything *had* come undone (and to a large extent, still has not been put back together). The country was literally threatening to shut down.
Within 5 minutes of the report of the earthquake – long before the tsunami had hit – I was already preparing to move toward RALLY POINT 1, at the trailhead of a mountain just outside of town. From that mountain I am able to safely observe everything that was happening on the coastal plain on which I live. As needed, I can move further into the mountains.
I have caches, and various pre-arranged routes to various locations – some near, some far. As needed. Decisions would be made as to what needed to be done in a short list of plausible scenarios. Season would play a part, given that I’d be standing on about 10 feet of snow by the time I made to RP1 in the dead of winter.
Plan ahead. And in order to do that, you have to know what the hell is going on.
6. Pay Attention to Detail.
Not just operationally, but philosophically and aesthetically too. And not just in what’s going on around you, but in what YOU are doing in that context. Remember names. Faces. Details. The more factoids you have on a person, the easier it is to remember all the factoids.
Step lightly…at home, at the store. Because when that becomes a habit, you’re not tip-toeing all over the bubble-wrap like Ace Ventura when there are people in the next room who will cut you. Use all your senses. Stop, look, listen, smell…taste and touch, as appropriate. Sickos.
This is a Core Gear that you really just absolutely have to have if you want to even be relevant in any operational game. From hitting A-10s with wrenches, to the ever popular dooking in bags in someone’s attic. Like I said above, “Pay attention, and don’t forget anything.”
And while you’re back in the world doing your omote stuff, everyone will be really impressed when you remember their birthday. Or when you compliment them on their new subtle hair style. Know where to draw the line there, though…People get a little freaked out when you remember what they wore to your High School Prom [20+ years ago].
This is really where the pattern recognition stuff comes in. And knowing when something is out of place…
[Relevant Anecdote] We can wax fantastic about all the stupid stuff I’ve noticed while nightcrawling. Or all the stupid stuff I’ve noticed at my day job, but had to keep quiet about…Since your average Eigojin Junior High teacher who doesn’t speak much Japanese isn’t supposed to notice that someone’s talking about them on the other side of the office (in Japanese), while said Eigojin is speaking in broken Japanese to a 7th grader.
But all these…details…can also help to keep you safe, sane, and grounded. I catch every sunset I can over the Sea of Japan; it’s a mania with me. I watch as the red-orange sun ripples into the grey-black sea. Yet the peaks behind me are still amber-gold.
Or, how the frogs in the Spring rice fields cease their song as I run by at night, only to start again. But you can hear them for miles around. Or they way a live blade whistles or hisses depending on how close it is to you, and how fast it’s going.
How much the barrel of gun pointed at you shakes in the hands of the person holding it. How quickly and broken they are breathing. Or blinking.
Pay attention. Nothing is trivial.
This is the sexy, sweaty, visceral, kinetic stuff. The action movie skill sets that you are usually only using when all your brainiac plans and tactical pillow talk have failed. This is a tiny percent of what I do. But when I have to do it, my ability to continue changing oxygen into carbon dioxide for all those trees depends on it.
And the only way you can develop your KSAs along this line is to just get out and do it. Experience is what you get, when you don’t get what you planned. But as long as you’re home *in one piece* at the end of the day (and no one’s coming in after you), it’s a win.
Personally…I’m not sure why you would get into the action business if you don’t *like* running. Bruce Lee called it the “king of all exercises.” I agree. Not because you end up fit and mobile in the end, but because it shows you your brain can overcome what you perceive to be physical limitations.
You give me a generally physically capable person who says they can’t run, and I’ll see how fast and how far they can run with dogs chasing them. You just need the right motivation, and you can haul.
Now, as a “runner,” I don’t run on stuff like motivation. The hardest part of running is getting your shoes on and stepping out your door. I don’t do treadmills. I run in the rain, sleet, sun, moonlight, wind…whatever. But that has nothing to do with my love for running. It has everything to do with the fact that there is no inclement weather policy on me saving my ass.
I run because there are times that I *need* to run. And fast. Jumpin’ over stuff. Dodgin’ stuff. Tryin’ to lose tails. Running on the street. The dirt roads. The hallways and stairs. The beach. The trails. OFF the trails. I prefer to just have a nice peaceful run along the beach watching that rippling sun go down, but what’d I say up there about experience…
I grew out of timing myself or distancing myself like 15 years ago. My running is a perpetual dusting off of a potential emergency mode of transportation. Timing that is not only pointless, it’s worthless. I need to run faster and further than anyone running after me. And that’s not actually always about running far or fast. Your mental map should give you plenty of options for losing tails. I’m not giving you any tips on running. Put your shoes on – or not, if that’s your thing – and go.
[Relevant Anecdote] On the nights that I’m not out “doing work”…I run. I mean, I run sometimes on those nights, too. But that’s different. This one time, I had been drinking in a village many miles away from my own village. Drinking and driving is bad in Japan. I didn’t feel like paying money for a cab, and the last train had already run.
I did a quick calculation on the distance, and figured it was worth my cab fare to just hoof it myself. So I did. In what I had worn to work that day.
Obviously, having been Army, I’ve run what feels like hundreds of PT tests drunk. So no biggie. But business casual isn’t my usual excercisin’ get-up. Well, guess what sports fans…I don’t usually go “do work” in my Ranger panties and Adidas kicks. So, although I have my preferences, I also don’t let those preferences stop me from being better prepared to not get killed.
And in case anyone’s wondering, I run with one ear bud in usually. And I tend to not listen to much stuff that has a “runnable” beat. Minimalist stuff like Harold Budd or Steve Reich. Or…uh…really technical Death Metal.
8. No Rucking!
I don’t often find myself professionally engaged in carrying heavy stuff around. Personally I do, because I like to climb and hike. But saying no rucking doesn’t mean you should be ill-prepared for other modes of dismounted transportation. You should be cool walking long distances in varied terrain carrying whatever you need to carry.
And, as touched upon above, you need to be functional in any clothing or gear. I tend to plan accordingly. You can always shed layers in the heat, or add layers in the cold. Unless you don’t have layers. I always have layers. Even in the dead of summer, I have an under shirt and a fleece somewhere. If I need to shed a layer, at least I’m not down to my sizzle-chest.
I believe in functional fitness. Physical *readiness*. You are fit because you are prepared to carry out some physical action. I tend to make that stuff pretty pragmatic. So…weight rooms are not a regular stop on my fitness tour. Everything I do outside of my mobility training (running, swimming, biking, etc.) I can to in a 3′ x 6′ area, with something above me to hang onto. I love mobility stuff, though, because it’s *all* pragmatic. Knee-benders have a purpose.
However, I will never be conducting knee-bender related repetitive motion in any kind of real world situation. I do them because it trains my muscles to be prepared to do certain things. I swim because I might have to swim at some point. Secondarily, it also gets me “fit.”
[Relevant Anecdote] I designed my own workout. That workout can be done on one tatami (Japanese floor), which is basically 3′ x 6′. It works all major and most minor muscle groups, and attends to flexibility and strength building. I’m not a professional, but I have had many points in my life where I had to figure out my own Rocky IV workout program with what I had on hand.
9. Hand-to-Hand Combat.
This is the real sexy stuff, here. Hand-to-Hand Combat is a multi-billion dollar industry. Though, admittedly, most of that is entertainment and not combat-actual. I’m not going to give you advice and which type of “Jujits” is cooler, or how you can kill someone with a ball-point pen (it’s the same as with a knife, honestly). There is enough media out there to sift through to find out what is best for you.
I have a very checkered martial arts past…
I’ll break it down for you like this – without getting into technique. My martial art involves *exactly* the same thing that SAPPER operations involve. Three things. That’s it. 1) Mobility, 2) Counter-mobility, 3) Survivability.
My primary and almost singular objective in any contact is to break said contact and get the hell out of Dodge. This is why I pay so much damn heed to mobility fitness: it’s literally an integral part of my personal martial art. Now, I may need to trip a brutha up as I’m breaking contact, which flows seamlessly into C-Mob. I’m breaking contact *so I can egress*.
But if I am already engaged, the quickest way to break that contact may be to break something. But I’m not going to go out of my way to jack a dude up if an exit presents itself.
If there aren’t eye/throat/nut shots in your first “self defense” lesson, enjoy all those pretty belts. Mob/C-Mob is pretty simple. Leave/Don’t Be Followed. But the Survivability part *will* get messy. And rolling with a stabbed dude in a pool of blood is 100% not at all cool. Ever.
But your Survivability – should it come to that – should be understood to be the Counter-Survivability of your mortal opponent. This is why I don’t fool around with boxing too much. Or kicking stuff. If I cannot move out, and I have no choice but to engage, I am not there to roll around on the damn floor with you or exchange blows. I am now working a very bad situation into one where I *can* move out. Bottles, ashtrays, yes…ballpoint pens…chairs, other people. My brain will have already picked up several possible weapons of choice as soon as I walked into the room.
I can talk about this until ChrismaChanuKwanzIvus. But I’m not gonna. Personal safety is religion to me. I’ve studied everything from Wing Chun and Jeet Kun Do, to Savate, to Judo and koryu bugei. Study anything you can. Train as realistically as possible, whenever possible. Remember that when you are using this for real, it will be BAD BAD NEWS if you fail in your attempt to maintain your Survivability.
[Relevant Anecdote] Well, not really an anecdote. I’d rather not dazzle you with tales of bad stuff. So instead, you get a small rant. I’ve never been a fan of entertainment “combat,” MMA-type stuff. It’s a fantastic sport. Sport. Let me say that one more time: Sport. I’m not saying the dudes and dudettes that do that aren’t highly capable combatants. They are.
I’m not talking about the practitioners, I’m talking about the sport. I have never understood how you could drop two humans into a ring – or whatever new cool variation thereof – give them rules, have them duke it out…and compare that in any way to how shit really goes down on a bar room floor or back alley. Should I even mention a comparison to Airsoft?
You put me in combat with someone and tell me I can’t jab eyes, pop throats, or yank a sack…and it’s not combat. Call it combat if you want, but – just like Airsoft – it’s not. Words have meaning.
Furthermore, if I did have to be in that sport doing that stuff – which is very very very hard to do – I would think that a I should still get points for getting OUT OF THE RING before the other guy could stop me. That’s more like real combat. I certainly have no idea how many times I’ve used my martial arts out in the wide world.
But I have.
And never in the history of my successes in personal combat (which, don’t forget, means *everything else* had failed) did I ever wait around for someone to come by and hold my hand up or judge my victory. It’s not done when the guy is down. It’s not done when the guy is out. It’s not done when the guy is not breathing anymore. It’s not done when I’m long gone.
It is done when you are back home *in one piece* and no one is coming in after you.
I don’t fight for entertainment. And I find it all weirdly – though no disrespect intended, because I know this is *my* problem – disrespectful. I know it’s not the practitioners who generally make this mis-correlation, which is why I mentioned the sport.
Uh…yeah. So I got that off my [sizzle-]chest.
10. Work Yourself Into a HUGE Homeostasis.
Grow that comfort zone. Be happy anywhere. If you’re sweating to death now, just wait…You’ll be freezing to death in six months. Don’t like that food? Too bad. Later on down the line, you’ll eat anything, you’ll be so hungry. Don’t know what those people are saying to you? Smile and go talk to ’em. Don’t know anything about teaching English to 5th graders? No sweat, I got 20 minutes before class starts. Oh no! Electricity’s out again! Like I’ve never lived outside before. You want me to give a Russian lesson in Japanese? I don’t speak Russian. Oh, you’ve got a phrasebook! Done.
The Intelligence Collection business is hard. No doubt. But for those of us out here who’ve put our feet on that path, there can be nothing else. We live to understand, and we understand to articulate. Whether we are informing heads of state, CEOs, Generals, readers, grade schoolers, or our bartender, we live to be informed and to inform others. A timeless dance, just below the surface.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Blogspot.com)
This article previously published on SOFREP 07.10.2015