Antonio Veciana – writes in Trained to Kill :
The training was supposed to take two months. Mine was cut in half. I would arrive at 9:00 a.m. and leave at ten minutes to one. That was early enough to avoid being seen by the lunchtime crowd leaving the building, but late enough that I would quickly mingle into the flock of pedestrians going about their midday business on the street.
They told me to get away from the building rapidly, but not so fast that I would arouse suspicion. They wanted me gone by the time (Dick) Melton came down so I wouldn’t see who was picking him up. He was a foreigner who didn’t know his way around the city and depended on others for transportation….
As time went on, it became clear that Melton was not only an educated man, but a man who liked order and thoroughness. He had a folder with all of his notes in it. As we went through each class, he was like a professor, referring to his notes constantly as he explained. In truth, I don’t think he really needed them. He knew exactly what he was explaining. Perfectly. He knew the lessons by heart.
It clearly disturbed him that we had to rush through my training as fast as we did. “I don’t know what kind of operator you’ll be after this course,” he once said to me. “Sorry about that, Maurice and I both are convinced that you have what it takes to go far. But at this rate, a lot of its going to be up to you.”
I didn’t ask Melton questions. I was spellbound. Day after day, minute by minute, I listened intently as he reeled out the inner workings of his tradecraft. I was an apprentice to a form of sorcery I had never imagined – part magic, part skill, and part will – as much an art of deception and illusion as precise execution.
Melton was my master, the imparter of the conspirator’s commandments. And I was determined to commit every detail to memory.
“Your job as a conspirator,” he said, “is to use situation-appropriate means to create chaos within the enemy lines. Your job is to both gather information and cause damage. That might come as the result of a bomb, a fire, a bullet, or a carefully placed piece of misinformation that will disrupt the functioning of the government.”
I listened carefully as Melton explained in intricate detail the methods, the tools, and the skills I needed to be effective. He repeated them again and again, like a teacher guiding his students through the alphabet for the first time.
“This is serious stuff,” he said.”This is a grave matter.”
The wording of the commandments was deceptively simple, easily remembered, but loaded with meaning. Each word implied insinuations. Beach idea involved tactic. The combination of words and ideas represented the conduct expected of me. The limitations and capabilities were laid out perfectly in simple instructions.
- Achieve favorable opinions for your cause and critical ones for those of the enemy.
- Always maintain a double personality, disguising your real activity.
- Maintain your objectives in missions and absolute secrecy.
- Never reveal your associations, connections or collaborators.
- Use whatever is necessary in your battle plan. Your enemy is perverse by nature and will not hesitate to use whatever means necessary against you.
- Mistrust people, situations, and appearances.
- Be on your guard at all times.
“Your enemy’s best weapon is to infiltrate someone into your group,” Bishop said. “They’ll offer some of your associates their lives in exchange for telling them where to find you. You’ll learn that silence is the friend that will never betray you.”
He warned me never to fall to the temptation of expanding my circle. “You’re not competing to be Miss Congeniality. Your friend and associate today could be your betrayer tomorrow.”
In the eventuality that someone in my group got captured, he said, “they will be tortured. You must anticipate that they will tell everything they know. If someone you work with is arrested, you need to take every precaution. Immediately.”
Your cause needs to come first, before any sentimentality.
- Be bold in your objectives. Anything is possible if you plan well enough.
- Anticipate the personal risks you’re willing to take, and the cause they represent.
- Be disciplined in doing exactly the work assigned, in accordance with the instructions received.
- Maintain strict silence about your superiors and collaborators from other countries.
- Use the services of your friends and acquaintances to achieve your goals. Unscrupulously if necessary. The ends justify the means.
“Your position, your personality, your contacts,” Bishop said, “could be very useful to help prevent these people from consolidating their power.”
Neither Melton nor Bishop ever spoke to me about being a spy. They didn’t think of me as someone who would plant bombs or anything like that. What they wanted of me was for me to wage a psychological war against the government. They didn’t call it that. They called it a “propaganda campaign.” To discredit the government. To disrupt the government. That was their goal.
“You’re a man who can organize a resistance to disable the government,” Bishop said. “So that the people understand what the government is.”
…I had access, and I had the ability. I could do things to undermine them. I could use ideas to counter their ideas. Often enough, I ended up using their own ideas against them. That’s what Bishop wanted. More than for me to be a terrorist. I became a terrorist later. They didn’t even want to teach me about weapons. I had to ask for them.
“You’re not in the military,” Bishop said. “You need to be what you are – a person who knows many people and can influence many more.”
“But I need to be able to defend myself, don’t I? To protect myself?
Despite the oft-repeated saying that it’s better to fight and run away (and fight another day), Bishop insisted, “It’s better not to fight at all. Avoid a direct confrontation with your enemy any time you can. Almost always, when someone in the resistance has to shoot it out with the authorities, they lose. There’s more of them than there are of you.”
Eventually, though, I persuaded them. A little at a time. At first they just showed me how to break down a pistol and put it back together. Later they taught me about explosives….
Still, I don’t think they ever expected me to become a man of action. I’m not sure I did, either. Circumstances took me there.
Melton and Bishop insisted on offering me practical advice that they had gained through their own experience, which they knew was vital for an intelligence agent’s success. I never forgot them. Abiding by those rules can save your life.
- Stop going to places you normally frequent. If you’re being followed, avoid any of the places you previously visited.
- When you walk on the street, go counter to traffic.
- Avoid meetings with more than two people.
- Don’t go out at night.
- Don’t transport weapons or explosives at night.
- When you travel by car, do it accompanied by a women
- Develop and rely on your memory. Do not take notes. If you’re stopped, a little piece of paper could incriminate you.
If I did write things down, or if it was necessary to communicate in writing, they instructed me in the use of invisible ink and simple codes, to obscure information.
They also taught me that the voice is the last thing that changes in a person. People sound the same for a long time. Their looks change. Their faces change. They may gain or lose weight as they age. Their hair color changes, or their style does. They wear it longer or shorter, or they may have less of it. They wear glasses, or they replace the glasses they had with contacts. Men grow beards or mustaches, or shave them off. Ears and noses grow. But the voices rarely change.
They told me if I wanted to remember the way someone looked, I should key in on distinctive features. Notice if someone has a mole, or a birthmark. Large ears, a large or oddly shaped nose, very close-set eyes. It not only helps you recall, it allows you to describe them to someone else succinctly.
There were other important instructions:
- Don’t take or make incriminating phone calls. Don’t speak over the phone with anyone you don’t know.
- Don’t show up for an appointment without first monitoring the location, to be sure everything is OK. Never go to a meeting unless you’re absolutely sure that there is no problem.
- Dress in a normal, unassuming fashion. Don’t wear clothes or colors that call attention to you. Don’t wear dark glasses.
- Wear a hat or a cap to hide the shape of your head, but don’t make it a very conspicuous one.
- Learn to disguise yourself with a mustache or a beard that you can grow or change.
One day, after my lessons ended and I was getting ready to leave, Bishop asked me to wait. He spoke very somberly as he said, “Tony, you need to understand that this isn’t about showing how brave you are. For an undercover agent, there are times that the best route is to run away. Even if they call you a coward. You cannot let them arrest you.”
Before he left Cuba – I’ll never forget – he tore twelve American dollar bills in half and handed one set of the halves to me.
“Hold on to these,” he said. “If someone comes to you and they say they’re speaking for me, or they have a message from me, they’ll have to give you one of these halves. If they don’t have one, or if the one they give you doesn’t match one that you have, they’re lying. It’s a trap. Don’t tell them anything, and get away as fast as you can.”
“The success of a clandestine operation requires just that, that it remain clandestine – secret, invisible, unknown,” Bishop said. “The result should appear completely unconnected to any of our actions. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance to not leave tracks or compromising evidence of any kind.”
“But even if you do, remember,” he added, “we will forever deny our involvement. Forever. Even when it’s obvious.”
Secrecy he insisted, was absolute.
“We don’t get to be heroes,” he said. “No one ever knows what we do. Your triumphs won’t be applauded in the newspapers. The president doesn’t shake your hand on the evening news. Our satisfaction comes from doing our duty. It comes from knowing you helped your friends and hurt your enemies, even if no one else ever knows.”
An operative’s goal is to divide and confuse the enemy. To carry out a mission, an agent always needs to think of alternatives. He has to have backup plans. Success depends on his capacity for planning and his capability for execution. He needs to plan, prepare, perform – and expect the unexpected. For that reason, he should frequently evaluate the status of his plan and analyze his progress and consider any obstacles that have risen.
People are his tools, and his targets. They are to be used as means to his ends. If your interests align, they’re allies. If they have no interest, they’re instruments. If they oppose your interests, they’re enemies.
“It doesn’t matter,” Bishop said. “Any of them can be useful, in the right-situation. If you need them, you use them. You just have to find their weakness. Everyone has one. That’s the key.”
He was right. Before I could “work” somebody, I had to prodigiously study their situation, their qualities, their defects. Everyone is penetrable. We just have to discover their weakness. There are those who cooperate because an alluring women offers her bed. Others can’t resist the temptation of a bundle of cash, or the promise of power. Others just need their egos stroked. One way or another, anyone can be bought.
And once their usefulness is at an end, they can be discarded. Or eliminated.
An operative’s methods should not be classified as dirty or clean, he said. They are simply favorable or contrary to our cause. There are no illegitimate means. Anyone who lets his moral judgement affect his mission is, at best, a bad agent. At worst, he’s a dead one.
His arsenal: lies, deceit, intrigue, theft, kidnappings, bribery, corruption, destabilization, subversion, and murder.
“The only advantage of playing with fire,” Bishop said, “is learning not to get burned.”
As I listened to his commentaries and observations, I came to understand that Bishop had a disturbingly dark view of the world. It seemed, at times, worse than Machiavellian.
I came to believe that he considered himself above the law, beyond the rules the rest of us are expected to abide by. And I came to suspect that he might have been right, that he knew something I didn’t. I came to think that there was a parallel power at work in empires that sets its own rules, for its own ends. We’re all aware of the political authority that formally governs the country we live in. But Bishop made me see that outside this traditional, visible authority there is an invisible power acting in the shadows, directing events. These are the true puppet masters on the world stage, shaping the course of history. Political authority changes hand with elections. However, the true power lies in the hands of a hidden consortium that acts as an unseen overlord, watching over and deciding civilization’s destiny….It passes from generation to generation, forever hidden, yet forever in control.
That realization led me to questions that have haunted me ever since. What was Maurice Bishop’s assigned role in all of this?