The OPSEC FAILS keep on coming…
Previously on the Actors Assault Guide: we looked at the sociological realities of secret societies, a few critical operational security rules, and the cursed foundations of Jussie’s doomed (alleged) publicity stunt. We rejoin our analysis on January 25th as Jussie is explaining his plan to Abel…
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January 25, 2019. The Plot
Jussie texts Abel asking for some help committing a crime, requests a face to face meeting to discuss. They meet at the studio where they work and Jussie gives Abel a ride home during which he describes his cunning plan.
“I want you to pretend to batter me. Get your brother to help.”
Jussie parks up outside Abel and Ola’s place where they collect Ola as a member of the conspiracy. Jussie conducts some basic agent vetting to weed out unreliable recruits:
- “Can I trust you?”
The character, quality and potential counterintelligence threat of each recruit to a secret group should be assessed, before they learn enough to pose a risk. There are many ways to conduct good vetting, although none are perfect and it is not a solved problem. Vetting methods include subjective testing for correct thought/interest: ideological tests, testing for domain specific knowledge, testing for passion. More quantifiable vetting methods include: background checks with, or without, tests for truthfulness (polygraph). There is even a sort of “web of trust” vetting used by some groups: a new member must bring a recommendation from an approved source – if vouched for member turns out to be an enemy agent, then everyone who was vouched for by the same source is suspect.
Regardless of the method used, for a secret group vetting is absolutely critical. There are many ways to approach the process, and there are solutions available for almost every scenario. I’ve included specifics on various vetting processes.
Ideological Vetting: The Italians Red Brigades used to require months of deep vetting for ideology. The aspiring terrorist would spend months living in a communal flat with ideological true believers. There would be daily hours long discussions about Maoism, Leninism, Marxism, and other thrilling minutiae of Communist theory. These discussions would be interspersed with “self criticism sessions,” a process that would break down the sense of self and reshape it in favor of group cohesion. Anyone who survived this gruelling process was no doubt: a) a true believer with deep ideological conviction, b) absolutely ready to kill someone!
Background Checks: A background check can vary significantly from the basics like a credit check or police check for “a criminal record and/or warrants.” More in-depth checking is performed by more rigorous organizations. During the days of the KGB, vetting ideological purity required a full background check (what if someone’s great uncle once harboured anti-Bolshevik thoughts?!) The background research was so thorough that it could (allegedly) include verifying personal details about one’s grandparents by visiting the graveyard and inspecting the headstone. A grandfather who was on the wrong side during the battles between the Red army and the White, could be interpreted as indication that the recruit was not ideologically pure. US security clearance is slightly less invasive. The FBI interviews people that have known the applicant, going back many years.
The Mongols MC also require a background check of prospects before they can get patched in. Prospects fill out an application with extensive background information, then the Mongols MC have private detectives and corrupt law enforcement verify the information. In one case, at least, the Mongols’ Sergeant-at-Arms was suspicious of a (undercover police agent) prospect and demanded the prospect’s high school year book to verify their name and history. The prospect patched in while the Sergeant-at-Arms was away and had no say.
There are a large number of approaches to vetting a potential member of a secret group, but none of them are guaranteed effective. More importantly for counterintelligence, no pre-selection vetting will uncover members who turn against the secret group after joining. This set of people includes most penetrations against groups – it is simpler to convert an existing insider than it is to infiltrate someone.
Vetting – critical to ensure a healthy secret group; not completely solved; more important to the group’s future than it is interesting in the present.
Jussie has a posse
Vetting is important, difficult, and boring. A terrible combination that encourages taking shortcuts and cutting corners. I would write more about vetting (it’s such a fascinating problem with so many creative solutions), but I’ll just conclude that Jussie did not conduct thorough vetting because he knew the recruits already. The strong social bonds are used as a substitute for vetting. Really, the preexisting strong social connection was a warning sign that the assault team’s compartmentation was compromised.
January 25, 17:00, 2019. The Storyboard and the Plan
The way that Jussie envisions, plans, and creates the fake assault is incredibly revealing. As an actor he sees the event as a piece of theatre, a dramatic action scene in a show rather than a risky real life operation. He locates a CCTV camera to capture the performance (it turns out to be filming in the opposite direction). He’s outlined a script with dialogue, plus a list of wardrobe and prop items for the assault team to use. There are stage directions, blocking and hitting the mark on time. What does it look like?
EXT. Sidewalk — Night. VICTIM is walking home, alone, on a cold dark street with patchy lighting. The mood is relaxed innocence.
Two TOUGHS appear on the street, wearing dark clothes, ski masks, scarves, gloves, sun glasses, and red MAGA-like hats. The mood changes to ominous.
TOUGH 1: Empire F----t!
TOUGH 2: Empire N----r!
VICTIM stops walking, moving to confront the two TOUGHS. A short fight ensues, where TOUGH 1 and VICTIM trade light punches and scuffle. While VICTIM is occupied with TOUGH 1, TOUGH 2 places a noose over VICTIM’s head and around his neck. TOUGH 2 uncaps a bottle of liquid (gasoline? bleach?) and pours it on VICTIM.
TOUGH 1, TOUGH 2 (simultaneously): This is MAGA country!
The TOUGHs escape into the night. VICTIM has endured a traumatic racial and homophobic attack, although he fought back, he has been (slightly) injured.
SCENE 2: ...
SCENE 3: VICTIM Profits! VICTIM alerts the authorities (and??), schedules press interviews, gets a big pay raise, has a better career and is lauded for his bravery.
The performance is scheduled for January 28, 02:00 on the dot. Jussie finances the production with $100 for the brothers to purchase wardrobe and props. The show, a piece of guerrilla theatre, is almost ready to start.
No one is going to go to jail for you.
During police questioning, the two brothers, Abel and Ola give the same story. Forensic evidence corroborates the their version of events. Video footage and cell tower dumps show Jussie Smollett’s vehicle and phone at the correct locations. This is not in the script.
As I frequently point out, amateurs planning actions tend to be fixated on wish fulfillment. Their operational plan goes exactly as far as “and then the thing happens.” There are many phases in an operation, and the execution is only one of them, (usually) not even the most important one. The full sequence of phases in an operation are, roughly:
- Target Selection
- Escape & Evasion
One of the key indicators of a professional operational plan is that it addresses the escape and evasion phase, and potentially the exploitation (although that is usually handled by higher echelons.) An example of a professional terrorist operation plan is this example from the Provisional IRA. It is worth noting just how much time and detail is dedicated to the escape. The Provisional IRA, and ETA, used to consider any operation where everyone got away a success. If they happened to do what they meant to do as well, that was even better.
You plan an escape and then add an attack to it.
January 27, 2019. Location Scouting
In the morning Jussie picks up the brothers and drives them to the location he’s selected for the performance. On site he takes care to point out the camera location that will be filming the incident (it won’t because it doesn’t cover that angle.) There are a few significant events that are worth noting.
- Bleach, not gasoline. The group decides that bleach will be substituted for gasoline, the liquid that Ola will pour on Jussie. Possibly because bleach is easier to obtain that gasoline (petrol stations have CCTV, and siphoning it out of cars is complex.) But most likely because, of course, gasoline soaked clothes are an actual danger. Someone could get hurt!
- Going off the grid. Jussie instructs the brothers to leave their phones behind at their house when they do the performance. This is a smart security conscious move as it will help to protect Abel and Ola’s identities. Smart OPSEC move for the night of the performance. Most of the security measures that are enacted with a myopic focus on the performance itself. Pre and Post production are not considered security sensitive.
- Payment upfront. Jussie takes the brothers home and pays Abel with a personal check for USD$ 3500, back dated to January 23, 2019. The most generous security analysis I can make for this method is that Jussie is trying to lay a false trail suggesting that he paid Abel for something long before the assault takes place. Large amounts of cash could look suspicious, but a backdated personal check is less suspicious, less likely to get stolen, and provides a thin cover story for the payment predating the incident.
Next time on Actor’s Assault Guide…
The exciting purchase of wardrobe and props. An unscheduled delay in the performance. And more forensic evidence is created that reveal the back stage details of the incident.