What is Street Craft?

Street Craft, clandestine communications, low-tech comms — the employment of which in today’s level of technology can almost be described as an act of desperation, a scenario in which all other sensible means of communication have failed and all that remains is a Cold War-era communication system. Actually, the use of such methods is much older than the Cold War. But these methods are still effective today for what they were designed.

What does your smartphone mean to you? Let me rephrase that question:

Would your heart literally stop beating and all electrical functions in your brain cease if you were forced to part with your smartphone?

Recognizing the level to which my smartphone can serve me, I have taken to terming it the PALMS: Personal All-Life Management System.

I can turn on my bedroom light with a voice command from Urumchi, China. I don’t know why I would do that since I am not even there to enjoy the light, but the point is I CAN do that. I can just as well access my front door security camera from that same obscure city in China, see strange men taking all of the furniture out of my house, and show the feed to the horrified citizens of Urumchi.



That’s right, all the way from Urumchi, China! Shown here is the approximate location from where I am able to turn on my bedroom light in Albuquerque, NM, using a voice command on my iPhone.

What if (Gasp) We Lost Our Phones?

Now (say) we have lost our phones, so how do we make operational communications while we are tooling around Berlin, Germany, wearing our Dick Tracy hats? No, we don’t borrow other people’s phones and make comms — that’s completely non-secure. We can go to phone booths and use payphones. Yeah… what is that? Those don’t exist anymore and were not secure anyway — no go! It may be possible that you are not thinking primitive enough for Street Craft.

Remember sitting in grade school class and passing notes behind the teacher’s back? Perhaps it was gossip among friends or an attempt to foster a romance with a classmate. I personally never did it because I always hated everyone, though I was aware of the note-passing. Then there was the poor schmuck who got caught by the teacher who inevitably read the passing note aloud to the rest of the class:

“Dude, if the teacher’s butt were any wider, the DOT would make her run pilot cars on the freeway!”

That brother was in trouble and his name went from Billy to $hite in that instant. Actually, there was just one note that I ever passed, and I skillfully reached over with it as the teacher caught me with her gaze, and she read aloud:

“Dude, I can’t help it I think I am in love with Mrs. Krabappel! She is sooo beautiful, kind, and smart… I think she has no equal in the Universe — good luck on the big exam today dude!”

I got a D- on that exam, but imagine my grade were it not for that note — that Street Craft! Even bros pass notes in the po-po routinely; the act is called “Fishing,” and the messages are called “Kites.”

Street Craft was designed so that communication can hide in plain sight. Persons can communicate while moving in public and even while under surveillance if the craft is executed skillfully

Dead Drop 101: The Message Container and the Load Signal

A very basic mechanism of street craft is the Dead Drop. It is a location known by (ideally just) the sender and the receiver. The location is quite truly only restricted by one’s imagination; many remarkably creative locations and objects have been used. Some suggested guidelines for a Dead Drop are:

1. It should be concealed such that a Message Container will not be seen by passersby when in the drop; that means that the Dead Drop should be inside, under, above, or behind something.

2. It should be along a logical route of travel such that the sender and the receiver do not have to make unnatural movements or travel an unnatural route to pass the drop. Imagine a pedestrian who suddenly jumps into a bush to root around for a dead drop. Any surveillance would quickly pick up on it.

3. You should have a Load Signal for the Dead Drop that can be viewed along the route to the drop location. When the Load Signal is “on,” it means there is a message in the drop. If it is “off” then there is no message in the drop, therefore it is wise not to even traverse the drop site at all.

Interrogation awaits the sloppy Street Craft performer.

Ideally, Dead Drops are only loaded a few minutes prior to the pickup time that is only known by the sender and receiver. I’ll use as an example 1200 noon; there will be one minute prior to 1200 and one minute after that will constitute a two-minute pickup window for the recipient to check the Dead Drop for a Message Container. If the two-minute window is missed by too much time, the Dead Drop may have already been unloaded by the sender!

The idea of keeping the Message Container in the Dead Drop for as short of an amount of time as possible is of course for security.

The form of the Message Container too is only limited by one’s imagination and creativity. Considerations for a Message Container include that:

1. It should completely encompass the message such that it cannot be seen at a cursory inspection.

2. It should be a mundane, boring, or undesirable item that somebody would not find attractive or desirable to pick up and take away. A used chapstick tube or used underarm deodorant dispenser are good choices; there is room below the product in the dispenser to conceal messages.

A perennial favorite Message Container — the ground spike — ideally has a lanyard passing through a hole in the cap so it can be easily pulled from the ground. To load the Dead Drop, the ground spike is pressed into the ground.

Park benches have long been favorite Dead Drops for low-tech comms. They are along logically flowing routes. Nobody needs to justify sitting down on a park bench. The Message Container can be stuck just under the edge of the bench so the receiver can carefully remove and pocket it without bringing undue attention to themself. The risk associated with the bench as a drop is that someone might already be sitting in that spot on the bench. If time is a factor in your pickup, that could not bode well for you.

Load Signals are as much a product of a spirited imagination as the rest of the Street Craft components — a black grease pencil mark on a designated concrete surface could be all that it takes to signal that a Dead Drop is loaded; the absence of the mark would then mean that no container is loaded so steer clear.

A very old-school concealment option, the ol’ short-wave radio in a hollowed-out book.

Consider my scenario:

(Note: it is highly likely that this supporting map could have been delivered by yet another Dead Drop.)

A simple yet essential map, like this one that depicts a Dead Drop location, could very well also be delivered to you in your Area of Operations by yet another Dead Drop. Perhaps this next Deap Drop could contain further operational instructions, a weapon, and some money. It might contain an ID photo of a person you are to look for as well as the person’s Pattern of Life (POL) profile.

Proceed west on Cheese Street toward Wine Avenue. At 70 meters from the corner of Wine and Cheese you will see a bus stop — your first alert to the Load Signal. At 60 meters from Wine and Cheese you will see a mailbox — your second and final alert to the Load Signal. At 50 meters, you will see a telephone pole with “79557B” posted on it in black characters over a yellow background.

If the Dead Drop is loaded with a Message Container, all six digits will be visible.

If the Dead Drop is not loaded, the letter “B” will not be visible.

The “B” on the end will be obscured if the Dead Drop is not leaded with a Message Container.

Turn right (north) on Wine and find the bench 25 meters from the corner. Sit in the northern half of the bench to find the message container under the edge of the seat.

I put my Dead Drop close to a corner turn so that there will be dead space where potential foot surveillance will not be able to view the receiver as he collects the message. Of course, along with modern advances in technology these days, there are many security cameras, making it all the more difficult to affect a successful Dead Drop operation.

The walk-by is a very simple technique for Close Target Reconnaissance (CRT) intelligence gathering. It entails nothing more than walking or driving by a target in order to collect as much information about it as possible. Considerations can include being careful not to actually appear to be gawking at the subject as you pass by — and that depends on personal demeanor.

Limit the walk-by to just two passes maximum. Normally a person can be expected to make a pass going somewhere, and another coming back from somewhere. More than just those two passes can raise suspicion. I know, I thought so too… I thought about disguising myself — changing up my profile — in order to make a few more passes by the target and collect more data — but be careful!

I grilled myself in a cartoon during my own Street Craft training where I chose to game the walk-by with several passes of the target disguised by a weakly changed-up appearance — to the chagrin of my graders observing from a nearby car.

Street Craft is, let’s just say, ten percent technical skill and 90 percent demeanor. Demeanor is such a large player in the success of Street Craft conduct — the worse your demeanor, da meaner de opposition gets. If you feel uncomfortable and awkward in how you look and how you are operating in the streets, you most likely will be exuding discomfort and awkwardness. It is strongly advised to not try to be something you’re not if you are not comfortable with it. In other words, “You be you”.

I’m put solidly in mind of the best advice ever regarding demeanor, from an agent who operated for nearly ten years deep underground in East Europe:

“Geo, if you’re going to walk with a limp, put a rock in your shoe.”

By Almighty God and with honor,
geo sends

— Editor’s Note: This story by Geo Hand first ran in SOFREP in February 2020. Let’s all do Geo a solid. Go out and buy his book and visit his website. I promise it’s all good stuff. — GDM