Sniffing out the truth from the hype

Sniffing out the truth from the hype

February 01, 2018

Humans are liars, and understanding that is key in the intelligence community (IC).  The most trained liars still react in one form or fashion. In the real world, you can utilize techniques to help understand and assess these acts on a daily basis.  

On the internet, there are a plethora of “experts” ready to take your money or con you for sympathy.  Some just want to get rich off your back, but others have nefarious intent.  I often get asked what I think about instructors, and I usually recuse myself from the conversation.  The problem being I lack the emotional investment to deal with rabid fan-boys convinced their hero is a super secret red teams ninja spook (SSRTNS) when in reality they cannot even hold a minor clearance level.  In the following article, we will discuss how to help identify these frauds.

“The devil is in the details”

If they can't give you details and, at the same time, you notice that critical aspects are lacking, that’s an indicator.  Keep in mind we aren’t talking about the operational friend you may or may not have still on the job.  I’m talking about the guy milking you into paying for his class on how to be an SSRTNS or maximize his SSRTNS following.  If they consistently make comments about operations then they refuse to furnish details, it's probably an attempt at getting your attention.  Remember that "cool guys" have cover.  When people are interested in what you do that focus can get you killed and with today's network of agencies its rather easy to be moved into the suspected officer category.  Having dedicated surveillance is bad if you’re really on the job so why would you risk it by posting?

“Ask the questions”

You are giving up your hard earned money, and, more importantly, your time to spend with an instructor.  What you are in effect paying for is their time, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.  

Hit the five W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) at the least.  

  • Who were you with?  If an agency is so secret it can't be named, the person will have cover.
  • What did you do there?  
  • When were you with *insert agency or unit? 
  • Where did you serve? 
  • Why did you serve and or why did you leave?  

Finding out ahead of time that the person teaching you how to put on a tourniquet or conduct a surveillance detection route (SDR) never did anything but wash out of a pipeline is a crucial piece of intelligence.  If you want to pay a YouTube personality to teach, so be it, but go into the process knowing what you’re getting.

“Inflated or grandiose job descriptions”

For a time I managed multi-million dollar inventory and sales for a global fortune 12 company developing technology solutions custom tailored to customer needs. In other words, I managed a cell phone store.  

Using that same creative wording could be applied to a cashier.  I remember one I saw that was something like “operated covertly throughout the world, running low profile counter-terrorism missions” which was an Air Marshal gig.  Sure they aren’t lying, but that’s is putting on your Sunday best.  I’m not sure how often the utilization of tradecraft comes in handy at 40k feet in a confined space with a detailed roster of who is in which seat.  

If you served you served--just be up front.  Innovation doesn’t typically come from the old professional it comes from the guy seeking out a new way.  If you were on the team in a support role just say it--there is no shame in that. If you were a shooter, say you were a shooter.  


I’m not going to waste an entire paragraph on this but if you have citizenship in another country or even dual there are lots of jobs you cannot have until you renounce it.  There are plenty of open source  venues where you can research this on your own to learn what the requirements are to hold a clearance in your home nation.

“No references”

If you’ve been in the consulting gig, you have customers who are willing to vouch for you.  It is a part of doing business and obviously if they are willing to pay for you to SSRTNS for them they are investing in you as much as themselves.  

Supposed experts who can’t point to anyone they’ve actually worked with, or use the “it’s confidential” line, should serve as a blazing flare in the darkest of nights that something is wrong.  Military-wise, if you were assigned to a unit there was a public place you were assigned.  “Cool guys” have cover and if they are in the civilian world trying to make a career off sharing what they learned or did in the service they are going to have a legitimate “verifiable” story and background.

Basically the laughable “I can’t tell you or I’ll have to kill you” concept is a marker of someone that is illegitimate.

“Lack of ability to provide clearance”

For those of you still on the job in the Intelligence Community (IC), or even in the service in some capacity, you will have a security officer in your unit/organization.  Those commands have controls in place to know and vet who their charges are training, speaking with, or even idolizing.  Under the auspices of “consideration for training” the security officer can review clearance of the instructor and can verify (or refute) it.  

If the instructor is claiming to actively be working with military units like Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), or any other “big” names or “TLA”s, they MUST have a clearance.  They can’t just walk up to the desk and use their number of followers on Instagram as a proof of legitimacy.  

“Take it with a grain of salt”

No one goes looking for the third best training program they can find.  

Most instructors, making a living teaching, are going to market themselves and I’m not saying that’s wrong.  What I’m cautioning against is blind fanaticism for people you don’t really know.  Recently in a conversation with someone about this topic I was told he believed a person had the correct clearance to work with JSOC because they were friends and he had known him for years.  Understand there is a difference between what you know and what you’re shown.  

One of my favorite things to remind people is that often times stagecraft is as important as tradecraft.  If you aren’t looking a the world with an analytical mindset you’re failing yourself and your family.

“Well back in my day”

When I joined the Army we were issued Y suspenders and two three mag pouches with a small medical pouch that usually held cigarettes.  If you showed up to a combat deployment with that same gear on today people would think you were crazy.  At the time though that was the SOP and what we did.  

Just because once upon a time someone was the pointy end of the spear doesn’t mean they’ve kept those skills up to date and adapted.  Range Day at SHOT Show has demonstrated that the sport shooter can best the ex-SSRTNS if they don’t maintain their skill sets.  I am a pretty good shooter on most days but toss me in a competition and I’m a fish out of water.  Skill sets are not always universal and while I’m an advocate for the most tools in your tool box possible there’s a difference in quality and usefulness.

“Well he was in the military so he knows how to shoot”

I’ve heard this one over and over again.   The amount of weapons training most service members receive on pistols is dismal at best.  The average soldier doesn’t get SERE training or surreptitious entry training.  Trying to get the Department of Defense certification in Red Teaming? Best of luck unless you fall into a VERY small group of people. Want to see how to have a bad day? Try and break into a federal building to show them your mad SSRTNS skills.  

If you want to learn how to shoot go to someone that spent the majority of their career behind a firearm.  If you want to learn how to make yourself safer though the use of tradecraft then go to someone who spent their career in the IC.  Never assume anyone’s skill level without seeing and or verifying what that level actually is. 


These are just a few ways to determine if your investment is worth it.  In the end, it’s up to you to vet your own sources and find out for yourself.  No one can judge the value of something to you (or your mindset) and that is ok.  

I have plenty of friends who rave about instructors I’m positive never received any sort of training and while I won’t personally support it, I won’t make fun of them for it.  Good on them for at least getting out there and doing something.  I do however offer up vetted sources I would trust to my own training and the training of my family.

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