Wednesday, August 15, 2018


by K.J. Howe

August Thomas, new Rogue Woman
It's August, and the Rogues are very excited and proud to welcome a new member to the crew--August Thomas!  August has taken the publishing world by storm with her debut thriller, THE LIARS' CANDLE, the story of summer intern Penny Kessler at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey who survives a bomb that kills and injures hundreds.  Penny is under suspicion and the CIA, State Department, and Turkish government have their own agendas, determined to figure out what Penny may or may not know.  On the run, clock ticking, Penny is a fresh and dynamic character in modern-day international intrigue.  We'll be showcasing August's first post this Friday, so please stay tuned.  We're so happy and proud to call her a Rogue.  And in the vein of intrigue, my post today zeroes in on the fascinating world of industrial espionage.


When we see news reports about spying and espionage, we conjure up images of countries spying on each other for national security reasons, or perhaps the state using intelligence techniques against criminals, terrorists or other non-state actors.  But another world of spying exists in the shadowy business world, with the express purpose of making money.  While industrial espionage rarely involves high speed car chases, radiation poisoning or dead drops, it can be equally fascinating and mesmerizing.

This form of espionage stretches back as far as recorded history.  One of the most infamous cases dates back to the 6th century. China had closely guarded the method of manufacturing silk from silk worms and had a monopoly of producing the valuable cloth.  In fact, they engineered a propaganda campaign to make it appear to the Europeans that silk came from India, not China to keep their secret safe.   But two monks travelling from Byzantium to China took an interest in silk manufacturing and learned how and where it was created.  They reported their findings to Justianian I, the Byzantine emperor.  In exchange for generous promises, they agreed to smuggle silkworms to him.  Adult silkworms were rather frail so they smuggled out young silkworms and silkworm eggs inside the bamboo staves they used to assist their walking.  Shortly after their return, silk factories popped up in five Byzantine cities, shattering the Chinese monopoly, allowing the Byzantines to dominate the European silk trade for 650 years.

The Chinese were also on the losing end when the British East India Company hired Scottish botanist, plant collector, and adventurer Robert Forest to venture into China on their behalf.   Disguising himself as a Chinese merchant, Forest travelled all over China for three years purchasing tea plants, smuggling them out of the country through a number of ingenious methods.  He even succeeded in smuggling out a team of Chinese tea workers under the watchful eye of the authorities.  This operation changed the course of history and allowed the British East India Company to produce tea in India to great profit.  Many experts propose this was the most significant act of corporate espionage in history.

It should come as no surprise that industrial espionage and spying has continued in modern day with high-profile and high-value cases making the news.  In 2001, Proctor and Gamble hired a team of “operatives” to go dumpster diving in the garbage bins outside their rival’s headquarters at Unilever.  After six months, this resulted in at least eighty confidential documents making their way to P&G.  These corporate spies were caught and had to pay ten million dollars in restitution.  Similarly, Oracle hired agents to spy on Microsoft. These agents bribed janitors to secure Microsoft documents, even those from the trash.

But an operation perpetrated by Hilton against Starwood in 2009 really set the bar high—or low.  Hilton paid two Starwood Executives to steal approximately 100,000 documents related to Starwood’s plans to develop and market niche “lifestyle” hotels.  They literally drove a truckload of sensitive documents from their employers and turned them over to Hilton.  A lawsuit erupted after the theft was discovered, and the Hilton had to cough up a settlement that included a cash payment of $75 million, hotel management contracts worth another $75 million, and they were ordered by a federal court judge to avoid developing any “lifestyle” hotels for a period of two years.  The reason you can’t book a room in a Hilton “Denizen” property today is because they pulled the plug on the project after this debacle.

Moneywise, it would be challenging to compete with the case involving Volkswagen and General Motors.  The President of the GM subsidiary Opel left that company and moved to competitor VW, bringing seven key executives with him.  GM alleged that they had absconded with many confidential documents and that VW had used their propriety information and trade secrets to enhance their own business and manufacturing operations.  A nasty four-year court fight ensued which ended with VW paying GM $100 million in cash and agreeing to buy one billion dollars worth of GM parts over a seven-year period.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. For every act of espionage that has been discovered and publicized, how many go undetected?  In today’s world, corporate cyber-espionage is the new frontier, but now hackers are more likely to be going through the trash folder on your computer than your actual trash.  When discussing spying and espionage, it’s important to remember that it’s not just the purview of government, law enforcement, terrorists, or evil organizations like Spectre involved in this world, this illicit behavior is also conducted by some of the world’s largest companies, many of which are household names.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Trains, planes, cars, and motorcycles

S. Lee Manning: Gayle Lynds’ excellent quiz on her last post made me think about spies and transportation. In international thrillers, spies travel – a lot. They have to get from one country to another. Once there, they use transportation to do surveillance – to ditch tails – to meet up with assets. What modes of transportation would a spy be likely to use? Would Bond really drive around in an Aston Martin? 

For the aspiring writer or the aspiring spy, I hereby present my guide to safely and secretly getting around town. 


Me with my husband's motorcycle. 
Yes, spies ride motorcycles – definitely in fiction. There are motorcycles in Bond movies, Mission Impossible, the Bourne movies.  Both sides ride them. Bond, Bourne, and Hunt ride motorcycles, and gangs of villainous minions ride motorcycles to chase them down. Unsuccessfully of course. 

Motorcycles have also been used in real operations. Israeli agents allegedly assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists by launching attacks from motorcycles.

Pros.They are very fast and very maneuverable. Easy to conceal one’s identity with the appropriate helmet and visor. Great for areas in the world where motorcycles are much more common than the United States for everyday transportation. Great for European cities with narrow streets, or any city with heavy traffic that a motorcycle can evade. They’re also sexy, which is great for fiction, but not the point for real secret agents – unless they’re trying to seduce someone who might have information. It happens – but is a motorcycle really essential for seduction?

Jim on his motorcycle
Cons.They’re dangerous. Well, they are. It takes some skill to ride a motorcycle – and not everyone can do it. If you’ve never driven one and you just jump on one to get away, good chance of crashing. I know this from personal experience. Nine years ago, while revisiting my youth, I thought it would be fun to ride my own motorcycle. I bought a small Suzuki. My husband tried patiently to teach me how to ride. After I nearly crashed into a curb, we sold the motorcycle. I bought a new guitar and wrote a song about the experience. Now I sometimes ride on the back of my husband’s bike – but only on country roads in Vermont.
Other cons. motorcycles can be conspicuous. Chasing on a motorcycle might work, but if an agent wants to conduct surveillance – she might be noticed. 

Conclusion: Motorcycles are cool. They can work for espionage, real or fictional. In fact, now that I’ve discussed the topic, going to try to work one into the next book.

Sports cars – and cars in general

(If you haven’t taken Gayle’s quiz, skip this section.)

Generally, we use cars to get around, especially in America. What kind of car would a spy use? Spies in fiction often have very cool cars. Who could forget Bond’s Aston Martin? (Apparently Bond could – because in other movies he drove a sunbeam Alphine, BMWs, a Ford Mustang, and a Lotus.) On the other hand, I’ll bet that George Smiley doesn’t even own a car.

Pros for sports cars. Fast. Of course. If engaging in high speed chases, it’s good to have a car that can accelerate quickly and corner sharply. And if an agent is going under cover in Cannes – or Monte Carlo – it would be a great prop to back up the legend. Further, like motorcycles, sports cars are sexy, which would be of some utility in seduction, and therefore also great for the fictional spies, because sexy sells books and movies.

Cons. More cons than pros – for real agents, that is. Much too conspicuous. No one would use a sports car for surveillance. Much too expensive. No government agency is going to approve the purchase of a sports car. One of my operatives has a very cool car – an Acura NSX that costs around $150,000 – but he has a trust fund from his grandfather. Kolya, my protagonist, who lives on the salary of a federal employee, owns a 20-year-old Volvo.

Conclusion: Sports cars do not work for your average operative – but sports cars are fun. If you’re writing an espionage thriller, choose whether your agent leans toward James Bond or George Smiley.

Trains, subways, buses

Lumping them all together under public transportation. Very important for the secret agent to use – except perhaps in Vermont – since in Europe, Asia, and some American cities, the mass of people get around by public transportation.
New York city subway station

Pros of public transportation. Most secret operatives want to blend in and look inconspicuous. No better way to do that than on public transportation. The competent agent will learn routes and schedules for buses and subways of the city he’s operating in – and not just so he can get around. Public transportation is a great way to spot surveillance and to ditch surveillance.

Cons. Uncomfortable. Slower. Limited bathrooms. And you can be trapped. If you’re on a train or subway with the villain, you have fewer options to get away. Think of all the scenes of bad guys following people from subway car to subway car. It’s enough to make you willing to pay for an Uber. 

Conclusion: Trains, subways, and buses are definitely part of your transportation plan – either if you are a spy – or you’re just writing an espionage thriller.


You’re in America, and your assignment is in Poland. You take a plane. 

Pros. It’s a long swim across the Atlantic.

Cons. It’s a plane. They can crash. The seats are ridiculously small. The food is overpriced and terrible. They can crash. (I hate flying. Did you guess?)

Conclusion: If you have to cross an ocean or a continent, you take a plane – unless you have enough time for a really long road trip or boat ride. Different kind of book.

So, my friends, this concludes my tour of the possibilities for spy transport. I did leave out a few options: horses, camels, bicycles – all of which have pros and cons –but alas, I am out of time and words – so you get to decide if you want your spy to use any of the aforementioned. Just think carefully before you stick your protagonist on a horse in the middle of Manhattan. 

What mode of transportation do you think works best for spies? Or yourself – for that matter?