What is Wrong with Us?

By Gamal Hennessy

Ten questions raised by yesterday’s subway stabbing in New York

1.       How many of us think “I might get stabbed on a subway train today?”

2.       Why is so much of our violence based in hatred of “The Other”?

3.       How does our own internal anger translate into stabbing someone who did something so offensive as offering us a seat?

4.       Why can’t we be comfortable in our own skin without worrying about the violent hatred of strangers?

5.       If violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum, what triggered this attack? Was it really just a racist woman who didn’t want to sit next to a Black person?

6.       If we can’t be safe in a public place surrounded by people, where can we be safe?

7.       What did she hope to accomplish by stabbing a person who offered her a seat? What was she trying to prove? What did she hope to gain?

8.       What details are missing from this story?

9.       How long will it take for the white nationalists to claim this hate crime as symptomatic of everything wrong with women, Hispanics, Blacks and transgender people in America?

10.   What the fuck is wrong with people?

Misogyny, Racism and the Moscow Rules

If my intent is to write something useful that people can understand then it's better to write about the way things are instead of what we imagine them to be. Many have imagined the world in ways which don't really exist because how one lives is so far removed from how one ought to live that the person who abandons what one does for what one ought to do, learns frustration rather than clarity.”
Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince

During the Cold War, Russia was the most dangerous place to be an American spy. The men and women who survived this dangerous and brutal environment followed a set of concepts called the Moscow Rules. These weren’t official guidelines. For years they were never written down. The rules were simple, easy to remember and essential if you didn’t want to end up dead in the street with a bullet in your back.

In the 21st Century, America has proven itself to be a dangerous and brutal environment for women and minorities. Look at the police brutality caught on tape (See Thoughts on Police Brutality). Consider the institutionalized misogyny of the NFL (See My Sixteen Game Ban on the NFL), Uber and the legal system when it comes to rape. Spend a moment thinking about all the hate groups, militias and interpersonal conflict in the United States and you might see parallels between Cold War Moscow and present day Ferguson (See Writing While the World Burns). 

Perhaps it is time for us to adopt the Moscow Rules for our own use. Maybe evolution is based on survival and survival is based on adaptation to circumstances. If you don’t know who to trust and you can’t rely on institutions or violence to protect you, then maybe you need a different approach.

Since there is no official set of Moscow Rules, I’m going to suggest my own. These are based on different versions of the Cold War ideas. I’ve simply modified them for the world we live in now.
  • Assume nothing. (Help may never come)
  • Pay attention. (You can’t avoid what you don’t know about)
  • You are never completely alone. (Threats can come from anywhere)
  • Everyone is potentially under opposition control. (I’ll let you define “opposition” for yourself)
  • Go with the flow, blend in. (If they don’t see you, they probably won’t get you)
  • Always give yourself a way out (of a conversation, altercation or attack)
  • Vary your pattern. (if they know where you are, you’re an easier target)
  • If it feels wrong, it is wrong. (Don’t ignore your instincts)
  • Maintain a natural pace. (Too fast or too slow draws too much attention)
  • Lull them into a sense of inactivity. (If they define you as a threat or an opportunity, they will attack)
  • Build in opportunity, but use it sparingly. (Pick your shots and your battles)
  • Don't harass the opposition. (Attack from a position of strength, not weakness)
  • There is no limit to a human being's ability to rationalize their actions. (Being “right” won’t protect you)
  • Keep your options open. (especially when it comes to getting away)
  • Technology will always let you down. (Rely on your wits and your skills, not your stuff)
  • Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.  (Understand the patterns of human behavior)
  • Don't attract attention (Even by being too careful or prepared)

I’m not suggesting we need to be spies in our own country or personal lives. I’m not saying this is the right way for people to live. On a certain level, adopting these concepts as part of your daily routine involves a change in perspective. You might begin to see yourself as isolated and oppressed by your own society. Seeing life this way can create emotional and mental damage over time. But I’m not writing this in response to the way life should be. I’m looking at the world around me and writing about the way our society is now.

If you feel the institutions and systems you live in will protect you, then you have no need for the Moscow Rules. If you are willing to risk a bit of alienation to avoid being shot dead in the street, consider the Moscow Rules. They might help you adapt to the dangers and brutality of your environment.

If you hope the institutions and systems you live in will protect you, give you justice or make you whole again after you’ve been violated, good luck. Just remember; hope is not a plan and the news is full of people who didn’t have a plan.

Have fun.


Surveillance Countermeasures: A Book Review

by Gamal Hennessy
One element that often comes up in my writing is surveillance. Ria Marlen stalks a pedophile from the shadows or Harrison Trent takes complex steps to detect and avoid a tail. In spy fiction, surveillance is as common as chase scenes in action films. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about The Pavement Artists in John Le Carre’s classics or the SDR’s of Barry Eisler. There is an art and a science to being followed.
One of the books that I’ve used to inform my writing is Surveillance Countermeasures (SC). Released by Paladin Press in 1994, this book approaches counter surveillance as a skill not just for spies but for business executives working abroad, victims of stalkers and others. While the book does go into a lot of theory and practice for avoiding observation on foot, in a vehicle or even in the home, it makes several assumptions that reduce its effectiveness for a wide audience.
The book starts by explaining the difference between surveillance detection (figuring out you are being followed or watched), surveillance avoidance (eluding someone who is trying to follow you) and counter surveillance (following the people who are following you). Then SC walks you through the process of detecting, avoiding and countering observation in a variety of scenarios including day, night, on foot, in a car, in urban, sub urban and rural areas. It even tries to provide a small section on detecting microphones and video cameras in your home, although that section lost me and I doubt it is as relevant now as it was in 1994.
For all the good information that SC provides, it has its limitations. The main one is that it assumes you are being shadowed by professionals over a long period of time. This gives you a chance to detect patterns of movement or behavior during the course of your daily life. That premise makes perfect sense for the scenarios that I write about, where professional operators and terrorists have the patience to put their schemes in motion. It isn’t as applicable for the woman being stalked by her jealous boyfriend or the potential crime victim being followed by an opportunistic criminal. I don’t think this reduces the utility of this book overall, but the audience it can serve isn’t as broad as it claims.
The other minor point is that SC was written in 1994, so it doesn’t take technological advances into account. A new version that I haven’t read was released in 2008. While that might be dated as well anyone interested in SC should probably pick up the updated version. I would also suggest picking up Marc MacYoung’s Street E&E book to get a more visceral perspective on the subject.
I think my descriptions of surveillance have been enhanced by this book. I recommend it to anyone who is interested about this art.
Have fun.

What to do When Bullets Start Flying (Responding to an Active Shooter)

By Gamal Hennessy
Most of my writing deals with crime fiction, but I often come across things in my research that can be helpful in real life, especially when you consider recent events.
The news over the past year has emphasized the idea that brutal massacres are not limited to war zones or ghettos. They are happening in summer camps (Norway), movies theaters (Colorado) and now churches (Wisconsin).
While the mainstream media will trot out the usual suspects from the pro and anti gun lobby, it is unlikely that meaningful debate or change will come out of the latest crime. There will be no major change in American gun laws because there is no political will to enact such a law. Even if a more stringent law could be passed, there is no practical way to collect and manage all the firearms in circulation. It would be easier to find and confiscate everyone’s iPhone at this point than take away their gun.
US society is not moving toward a period of fewer guns. If anything, recent events will inspire more amateurs to arm themselves in the naïve belief that a weapon alone will make them safer. This means more people will be armed on a regular basis. The standard response by government authorities and corporations is to implement armed security to respond to future threats. But armed security is only a deterrent to a rational actor. Many of the lone domestic terrorists among us are not rational and will not be deterred by security. They will simply find a new less secure target.
As members of an armed society with potential murderers who could strike at anytime, we are faced with two choices; hide in our homes or adopt principles that can help us avoid danger that might occur. This essay is meant to be an introduction to concepts of escaping an active shooter and increasing your chance of survival.
Defining an Active Shooter
In this essay, an active shooter is any individual firing repeatedly into a crowd. He is not threatening to shoot. He has already started shooting. He is not shooting at someone specific (as far as anyone can tell). He is simply trying to kill as many people as possible. There are other concepts that are applicable with other scenarios, but I’m going to focus on the scenario that has popped up with more and more frequency.
Preparing for an Active Shooter
If a gunman can appear at anytime in any location then it is impossible to be completely safe at all times. But there are preparations you can take to increase your ability to get out of danger.
  1. Get your body used to moving: If you never run you can’t expect to instantly become Usain Bolt if bullets start flying. There is a certain amount of energy that comes from fear but the more you learn how to use that energy before hand, the better off you will be. The type of running I’m referring to isn’t the jogging you do in the park to fit into your skinny jeans. This is running as if someone is shooting at you. Periodically sprinting (and not in a straight line) will give your body more exposure to the type of movement it has to do in an active shooter situation.
  2. Dressing for a retreat: The lady in the super tight skirt with the six inch heels and two purses isn’t going to be able to move very fast. The guy with the heavy backpack and the gym bag strapped to him on the train is in the same boat. I’m not suggesting that you only leave the house in Under Armor and track shoes, but you have to balance your wardrobe and luggage with the reality that you might have to leave it behind, assuming you actually have a chance to get rid of it. Lighter is faster and faster is better.
  3. Decide where you are going: Being able to move isn’t very helpful if you don’t know where you’re going. Trying to find the exits in the chaos of a human stampede trying to escape an active shooter is challenging at best. Whenever possible, it is prudent to locate the exits in your surroundings before you settle into whatever activity is on the agenda. This is also a good time to figure out if there are multiple exits or just one. If trouble occurs you can move yourself and your loved ones to the exits without any discussion or thought.
Reacting to the Active Shooter
The best writing I have found on this subject comes from a site called No Nonsense Self Defense. Violence expert Marc MacYoung has identified three main steps in avoiding an active shooter.
  1. Get out of the line of fire: move to a place where the barrel of the gun isn’t pointing
  2. Get out of the shooter’s field of vision: move to a place where the shooter can’t see you and will be less likely to aim at you and put you back in the line of fire
  3. Get out of the area where the shooter is located: move so far away from the shooter that he cannot continue shooting at you.
Becoming the Rabbit
In their seminal book On Combat, Dave Grossman and Loren Christensen divide the world into three types of people using the analogy of a sheep herd. The civilians who are potential victims are sheep. The criminals who prey on society are wolves. The police, military and first responders who have to deal with the criminals are sheep dogs.
It is difficult to determine where the wolves will strike next. The sheep dogs can’t be expected to be every where we need protection so we need a new script. I’m not suggesting increasing the number of armed civilians and creating a society of wolves. I am advocating a different model all together. Instead of lying down like sheep waiting for the slaughter, we can choose to be come rabbits. We are not involved in committing or stopping crime. We are only interested in getting out. Hopefully it is a set of skills we will never have to use.
Of course, following these steps cannot guarantee your safety if you encounter an active shooter. There are many variables that could hinder your escape including your own paralysis, a lack of exits, a lack of warning or a combination of all these factors. But consciously deciding how you will react and preparing for that reaction increases your chances of living through a horrible incident.

Gamal Hennessy