100 Deadly Skills
The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation
Author: Clint Emerson, Retired Navy SEAL
Illustration: Ted Slampyak
Publisher: Touchstone, An Imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc.
Since this month is all about espionage it’s only fitting to review an espionage-oriented publication. The book 100 Deadly Skills is not directly a book about spying but rather a book about tactics an operative of covert operations could use while in the field. Written by Clint Emerson, retired Navy SEAL, Clint spent twenty years conducting special ops missions all over the globe while assigned to various SEAL teams and the NSA (National Security Agency). In that time he utilized a broad range of skills to protect himself at home and abroad. He compiled some of those skills in this book to help civilians better protect and be aware of themselves, at home and away. For us, as roleplayers, we can take the special tactics presented in this book and apply them to our favorite spy genre roleplaying game(s).
First and foremost this book is not intended to be used as a guide to engage danger. It is intended to teach life-saving skills to protect the reader from dangerous situations. When faced with danger, if an avenue of escape is available it should always be taken. Some of the skills listed in this book are dangerous and deadly to perform, not to mention against the law. Please use this knowledge responsibly or in-game. Rolling Boxcars takes no responsibility for injuries, maimings, incarcerations, or deaths from the information in this book or the following summary. Again, please proceed responsibly.
My review is for the paperback version of the book. The book is digest-sized with a stiff heavy coated cardstock cover and thick coated pages for the interior. The book contains 258 pages with 100 deadly skills to learn. The 100 skills are broken into nine parts, each focusing on a group of related skills. With each deadly skill, a detailed set of illustrations visual demonstrate each of the steps outlined.
Part 1 – Mission Prep
The reader is introduced to 10 live saving skills that involve making sure the Violent Nomad, the illustrated character in the book, is prepared for any dangerous situation. In our first lesson, we look at what our Violent Nomad looks like. Our Violent Nomad is shown with various concealed items hiding within the seams and cuffs of his clothing. Razor blade in his pants cuff, micro compass in the tongue of his shoe to a handcuff key sewing into the hem of his pants. As well as other important tools our Violent Nomad will need while on an operation.
Continuing, the reader learns about EDC, Every Day Carry and assembling a Bolt Bag. These are items that every Violent Nomad should have prepared. You never know when you’ll have to make a hasty retreat and being prepared is key. We get instructions on making a concealable compass and an improvised concealable holster out of a wire coat hanger. There will be times when our Violent Nomad will be detained and stripped of all his gear. Two uncomfortable skills demonstrate the less looked hiding places where one can hide EDC items. Rounding out this section we learn how to make body armor from books and tile, learning about taking cover behind objects, what will save you and what will just hide your profile. Lastly, we are given a training regiment that every Violent Nomad should practice to keep them in shape, “Run Fight Run”.
Part 2 – Infiltration: Access to Enemy Territory
No passport needed for this section, as our Violent Nomad demonstrates the various ways to infiltrate hostile territories. First, our Violent Nomad demonstrates the proper way to enter from the sea via a helicopter drop with the necessary gear. Next is for not the faint of heart as our Violent Nomad jumps out of a perfectly good airplane and glides with a fly suit until the last-minute where he pulls his parachute. A more grounded approach, our Violent Nomad infiltrates hostile borders through a rugged landscape of a porous border. Along the way, he shows the reader strategic places to concealed gear caches. Once embedded he teaches the reader to bypass building security by scaling the side of building along a drainpipe or using a makeshift hook and Frost Knot Ladder. Lastly, we are taught to blend into any environment through personal, cultural, situational, and third-party awareness.
Part 3 – Infrastructure Development: Lodging, Transportation, Weapons
The first three skills our Violent Nomad teaches us deals with hotels. When traveling abroad we learn to always take hotel rooms on the second or third floors as fire services in a lot of countries do not have truck ladders able to reach any higher. Never take a room on the first floor as hostile invasions start at the bottom and work their way up. Change rooms and hotels often as hotels owner may work in conjunction with the governments to spy on westerners and place them in a room with surveillance devices already installed. Be wary of lobbies as they are a common area for criminals and con men to stalk their prey, often without being questioned by hotel staff.
Once inside the room our Violent Nomad demonstrates how to prevent hotel room invasions. Barring the door to give our Nomad time to assess the situation and enact an escape plan. At times our Violent Nomad will not be able to carry a piece of equipment with him so hiding it in the room is the only option. The key to keeping items hidden from prying eyes is to place them in areas that require more time to find. A person searching the room will be in hurry since they don’t know when the target will be returning. Hide items behind electrical switches or in the backs panels of television cases. Air ducts are a great place to hide laptops as ducts are a perfect size. For small thin objects, nothing beats taping them to the bottom of drawers.
Moving on to the long-term observation of a target, our Violent Nomad sets up a Room and a Vehicle Hide. In both skills, we learn how to set up an observation nest that will not attract attention even in daylight. For observing from a room our Violent Nomad always chooses a room with the best field of view on an upper level. Most targets won’t look above eyes level when walking. To make our Nomad invisible in front of their observation window even during the day, he tacks to the ceiling black sheets creating a three-sided room. Another set of black sheets are erected a few feet away to prevent light leaking as he enters and leaves his blind. Our Violent Nomad pays close attention to the outside look of this observation location. If the maid opens the shade at a certain of time day our Violent Nomad follows suit. Blending in with the surrounding is key to any covert operation.
When constructing a vehicle hide similar construction is utilized. Our Violent Nomad chooses a vehicle with tinted window and constructs a similar blind. To help avoid detection he keeps the engine off. In cold weather, Rain-X is applied to the interior windows and he wears nonporous clothing to prevent the window from fogging up. For bathroom facilities empty water bottles are used and then placed under the front and rear dash to act as defrosting devices.
So far we learned about infiltrating with a plane and setting up a Vehicle Hide. But now we are taught how to acquire them and it isn’t through a rental agency. Stealing a vehicle can discreetly be done in a few ways. It can be as easy as lifting a set of keys from a valet stand or violently carjacking a vehicle. Whatever method he uses he acquires a vehicle that won’t stand out.
Once inside he searches the vehicle first before hot-wiring the vehicle. Sometimes people place spare keys in the sun visor, owner’s manual, center console or under the floor mats. Never leave keys in your car even if it is locked. If no key is available hot-wiring is the next option. Apparently, Honda models made in 1999 or before are super simple to hot-wire. You’ll have to buy this book if you want to know just how easy it is. Certain BMW models can be unlocked through a wiring harness found in the trunk. Short them out and it will unlock the whole car.
Once our Violent Nomad has acquired his vehicle he preps it by looking for empty cavities to stash equipment. A door side panel can conceal a firearm and a rifle can fit under the dash by removing the passenger airbag. To make the vehicle super stealthy our Violent Nomad will disengage the interior, daytime running, and brake lights. He also over-inflate the tires by five to ten psi over max to give the car optimal performance.
Before our Violent Nomad even steps into a vehicle he has already trained and prepared for high-speed chases. He has learned to drive with both feet. One operates the brake while the other operates the gas pedal. The human nervous system functions more efficiently when both sides of the body work together.
But what about a plane? You promised you’d talk about stealing a plane. Our Violent Nomad loves planes, especially the Cessna 152 or 172. These high-winged, relatively quiet, fuel-efficient, and single small engine planes can be found on smaller less protected airfields. The locks on planes are easily picked as well as the ignition. The ignition harness can be easily hot-wired. High-winged planes are perfect for our Violent Nomad to jump out of in a hurry without obstructing his way. But the best advantage of using a small plane like the Cessna is they can take off and land in a relatively small space. All our Violent Nomad needs is an open field.
Neat, now what about weapons? Have you ever wanted to know how to make a silencer from a water bottle? Well, the Violent Nomad shows you how. How about turning an umbrella into a weapon with a punch? Yep, just fill the closed umbrella with lead wrenches and zip tie the umbrella closed. That will pack a punch to your assailant. Speaking about packing a punch, try clasping a roll of nickels in your fist to increase your punching power. Or remove some of the nickels from the roll so you can place three nails through it, finger width apart for a spiked surprise. How about rolling up an ordinary newspaper with a nail sticking out of it, Ouch! In need of a sap? Take an eight-ounce fishing weight and roll it up in a bandana. Need something will a little more reach? Try the classic chain weapon with a lock at the end. But the best-improvised weapon no Violent Nomad should be without is a Zebra Pen. The Zebra F-400 or F-700 writing pens feature 100% stainless steel barrels that can puncture into plywood.
Part 4 – Surveillance: Observation, Tracking, and Counter-surveillance
When tracking a subject on foot our Violent Nomad makes sure he stays out of the target’s line of sight. He will walk in the target’s blind spot and always look for a place to duck into when the target looks around before crossing the street. Our Violent Nomad carries a change of clothes in opposite colors and tones, changing into them often. He uses the environment around him to watch his target. A reflection in a window is a great tool for our Violent Nomad to use. Finally, lighting a cigarette to cleaning a pair of glasses, always make sure you have plenty of items and excuses for being static.
Some of the same rules applies when tailing in a vehicle. Never get behind your target or in its mirrors. Always stay in a different lane than your target. Don’t follow the target past two turns. It could be doing a counter-surveillance maneuver called stepping. Following a vehicle without any electronic devices is very difficult. It’s best accomplished with a team of three or more vehicles. This way after two turns another team can take over the tail and so on.
If you find yourself on the other end of a tail there are some counter-surveillance maneuvers you can use. One already mentioned is stepping, which is making a series of right turns to see who follows. Another is to pick a route with lots of traffic lights or stop signs. The team tailing you will get stretched out and be less effective. Stop and start frequently. Most tails are lost at the start and stop of movement. If you being trailed on foot, use public transportation. Get on or depart at the last-minute. Look for crowds to get lost in and don’t wear clothing that makes you stand out.
To prevent being tracked in a vehicle by electronic devices, first inspect your vehicle. Tracking devices are small so they can be just about anywhere. A good way to find out if your car has been bugged is to tune the radio to AM frequency. Adjust the knob so the dial falls between stations so all you hear is fuzz. Turn off all your electronic devices like your cell phone and listen closely to the car speakers for a tic, tic, tic. The ticking sound is an electronic device interfering with the car’s speakers. If a device is found, leave it. Don’t let your trackers know you’re on to them. Instead, make an excuse to change out the car. While we are on the subject of vehicle tracking devices the Violent Nomad demonstrates how to make a nighttime tracking device out of a white LED light, photographic film, scissors, and zip ties. Using these items the Violent Nomad can construct an infrared beacon which can be placed on the target’s car and tracked with a Handycam that can view infrared light.
Part 5 – Access: Clandestine Breaking and Entering
In this section, the Violent Nomad shows the reader how to pick a lock with a paper clip. Instructions go even further to explain how common locks operate and how to defeat them. But our Violent Nomad wants his own key, so he demonstrates how to Clam a Key. Taking an impression of the key to later duplicate it can be done in several ways. One way is to photograph the key with your phone. One will later have to resize the key to be the proper size but all the cuts can be easily duplicated. If our Violent Nomad can get his hands on the key he could make an impression with soap, by pressing it into his skin or using a key clam filled with modeling clay. When the key is not available to duplicate, a key can be made from the lock itself. This process is slow and most dangerous to accomplish. The process first requires the proper blank for the key. Insert the blank into the lock and rock it back and forth. When the key is pulled back out, small indentations will appear on the blank signifying where you need to start filing the key down. Repeat the process until the key is made.
Let’s go back to the hotel room for a moment. Thanks to fire codes and disability laws most commercial hotel room doors are required to have the door handle, when pulled down, disengage the deadbolt. When a guest is locked out of their room hotel staff have a special device that fits under the door and reaches up to pull the lever down, giving access into the room. The Violent Nomad demonstrates how to make that same device with a bit of string and a wire coat hanger. But wait what if there is a chain pull or a bar lock engaged. Not a problem for our Violent Nomad. He demonstrates how to get past these with a rubber band. Now once inside the room, our Violent Nomad wants to covertly get access to a locked suitcase. Using a ballpoint pen our Violent Nomad show how easy it is to separate the zipper to gain access. Nothing with a zipper is safe.
Finishing up this section our Violent Nomad shows how to defeat a padlock with a soda can. It looks so simple it’s scary. He further shows how to unlocking a car door with old style pull knobs using a bit of string. And finally how to break into a garage with a garage door opener armed with a wire coat hanger. Again with a wire coat hanger, so many covert uses. Honestly, this last one scares me as it looks so easy to accomplish. All our Violent Nomad needs to do is straighten out the coat hanger and put a hook on one end. He then squeezes it through the top seal of the garage door at the center of the door. He then latches onto the release cable and pulls to disengage the garage door opener. He just then push up on the garage door and he’s in.
Part 6 – Collection: Audio and Video Intelligence
Installing an audio device to listen in on a conversation is a great way to collect information. Though one needs to understand the most optimal place to set up such a device. When installing a device there are two types of installations: hard and soft installs. Hard install uses power already available from a source at the installation point. This requires a longer install time but less maintenance over time. The second is the soft install which uses an independent power source which will need to be swapped out more often. Once our Violent Nomad determines what type of install he wants to do he needs to locate the best place to install it so the audio can be clearly heard. When installing in a vehicle the best place is in the center console or in the dome light. Both areas will cover the front and back and far enough away not to pick up engine noise. When installing in someone’s home the kitchen or the master bedroom nightstand make great locations.
Did you know that an audio speaker can be turned into a microphone? Yep, that’s right by swapping the negative and positive outputs of a speaker you can turn it into a microphone. Attach an audio plug to the two wires and insert it into a cell phone hidden inside the speaker cabinet. Set the cell phone to silent and audio answer and listen away. Boy, that Violent Nomad is a clever guy.
Repurpose a baby monitor to make a pinhole video camera. To do this our Violent Nomad removes the inter-workings of the baby monitor and salvages the video camera components. He then covers the camera lens with homemade plastic, which he makes out of milk and vinegar. He places a toothpick on the lens of the camera while he molds the homemade plastic around it. He then paints the plastic to look like a rock that matches the rocks outside of his target’s house. He then takes the components of the baby monitor and encases it in a plastic bag and buries it near the target’s door. Lastly, he lays the faux rock/pinhole camera in position. He uses the toothpick to line up the correct angle before removing it. He then retreats to a safe distance and observers his target on the baby receiver.
When in the field our Violent Nomad sometimes needs to send messages back to base or communicate with other violent nomads. The best way to accomplish this in the digital age without compromising the information is to first make his way to a location that offers free WiFi that doesn’t require a login or password. Once at the location our Violent Nomad downloads the app Tails, a friendly operating system that uses TOR as it’s backdrop, which does not save browsing information. He then uses an anonymous email address. He writes his message but does not send it. Instead, he saves it as a draft. Before his insertion, he shares the account with his contact. The two communicate on the same account creating emails that never get sent. To further encrypt the message he uses a nondescript image in the draft email. Below or above the image he types out his message and turns the type white. For another layer of protection, he alters the font to a symbol based font. Continuing with hiding messages in plain sight, Our Violent Nomad writes a message on a piece of paper. He then places it in within the background of a scene and takes a picture with a high-megapixel camera. He then attaches that image full-sized to an email. The recipient then zooms into the high-resolution image and retrieves the message.
Part 7 – Operational Actions: Deny, Disrupt, Disable
In this section of the book, our Violent Nomad demonstrates how to draw a concealed pistol without it getting hung up on clothing, shooting from inside a vehicle, how to win a knife fight, striking for a knockout, and using your elbow as a weapon. We also learn how to make a taser out of a disposable camera. The flash component, when wired to a set of screws, can deliver 380 volts of immobilizing taser power. Please note in constructing such a device is very dangerous. If the capacitors within are not properly drained off it can send that same volt of energy to our Violent Nomad.
Need a distraction? Got a lighter? Turn a lighter into an improvised explosive. You will need a compressed gas lighter which is no longer sold in the United States but can be found overseas. You’ll also need a piece of tape. First, break off the flame guard of the lighter. Then slide the flame adjuster to the plus sign to give the lighter the highest flame possible. Then lift the same adjuster moving it back and forth to cause the lighter to leak fuel. Ignite the lighter and tape it upside down so part of the flame is touching the body of the lighter. The flame will melt the plastic body away and BOOOM!! you have your distraction. Again utilizing a lighter our Violent Nomad removes the flint and spring from the device. He then stretches out the spring and wraps the flint to one end. He heats up the flint with another lighter for thirty seconds, getting it red hot. When the flint is thrown to the ground it lets off a brilliant spark just like a flashbang. This is best used in very dark situations as the bright light can impair the human eye for up to ten minutes.
The next skills demonstrated by our Violent Nomad is for all the anarchists at Rolling Boxcars. Readers are shown how to make the classic Molotov Cocktail, how to make an improvised gas mask out of a milk jug, and how to wage a psychological warfare. But more seriously, our Violent Nomad demonstrates some last resort and life-saving techniques. We are shown how to disarm an assailant with a pistol at close range when facing us, how to get a gun away from someone who is sticking it in your back, and how to survive an active shooter situation. In those scenarios, it is best to give in to the attackers demands or flee. Only use the techniques shown as a last resort. Our Violent Nomad teaches us how to survive a grenade attack. In such a scenario when one cannot get fully away or behind adequate cover the best option is to take two big steps and hit the ground with your feet facing the explosion. Grenades explode in a reverse cone effect so getting low is key for not getting hit with flying shrapnel. While on the ground cross your legs to protect your femoral arteries and cover your ears to prevent tympanic membranes from rupturing. Tuck your elbows close to your ribs and open your mouth to prevent damage to your lungs from the pressure wave.
Part 8 – Sanitation: Leave No Trace
In this modern age, it is getting harder and harder to conduct covert activities without leaving behind a trail. Our Violent Nomad walks the reader through some special techniques to leave no footprints behind. He first starts with a literally scrubbing off DNA that could be left behind. Excessive scrubbing in the shower followed by donning of newly purchased clothing helps keeps his DNA in check. Four different methods are shown to prevent leaving fingerprints behind without using gloves. Next, our Violent Nomad helps us keep a clean digital trail. Multi-layers of tin foil can block incoming and outgoing transmissions to your cell phone. And here I thought the loonies with tin-foil hats were nuts. Sometimes leaving no trace means creating a hasty disguise by donning clothing of alternate colors from head to toe. Most people remember you by what you wear and not your facial features. Radical changing outfits can throw them off your trail. Dogs can be man’s best friend and an infiltrators enemy. Our Violent Nomad could easily dispose of these threats but doing it without leaving a trace is the goal. Spraying the urine of a female dog away from his entry point can distract a dog for a clean entry. Finally, sometimes things don’t go as plan and the situation get messy. Our Violent Nomad demonstrates how to make a body disappear.
Part 9 – Exfiltration and Escape: How to Disappear
In this last part of the book, our Violent Nomad creates a rappelling harness along with king-sized bedsheet to escape a multistory building. He shows the reader how to survive a drowning attempt while having your feet and hands bound, getting out of a vehicle trunk, and planning out an escape route. When fleeing by vehicle, our Violent Nomad demonstrates how to perform a J-Turn, a reverse 180, and breaking through a two-car roadblock.
When our Violent Nomad is taken captive and bound, he shows us his skills to help him escape. When being bound to a chair he arches his back and moves his feet to the outside of the chair to create slack in the bindings. If his hands are bound behind his back he demonstrates how to reposition them to his front. If locked in handcuffs or zip tied, he shows a few methods of removing them without a key. Hint a bobby pin works in both instances. The final skill our Violent Nomad teaches the reader involves breaking out of duct tape bindings by snapping out of it instead of using brute force.
100 Deadly Skill is just that, 100 ways to better prepare yourself against dangerous situations and make it out alive. For roleplaying purposes, it’s 100 way to enhance the flavor in your espionage game. Be it from behind the screen or dazzling your gamemaster with ingenious methods of thwarting their attempts to challenge your player characters. The contents in 100 Deadly Skills will make your player character feel like your favorite silver screen spy or real life operative.
~ Stephen Pennisi