#SPYHACK: CODEWORDS

Greetings Everyday Spy,

Welcome to your newest #SpyHACK!

Over the last year, my children have become very comfortable living in hotels.

I remember thinking of hotels as exotic destinations when I was a kid. Summer vacations to visit family in Indiana or Maryland were torture except for one thing – the Best Western hotel we used as a stop-over point.

My inner child still gets excited remembering the hotel pool, the video game arcade in the lobby, the breakfast buffet in the morning.

The beauty of being a kid was that we were totally blind to how miserable mom and dad must have been.

  • We slept like babies – they barely slept.
  • We ate pizza, burgers, fries, and milkshakes – they ate our leftovers.
  • We felt like we were on vacation – they felt like they were on high-alert.

Travel is an exciting and enriching experience…

But it also comes with unique dangers. 

  • Travelers are less familiar with the area area than local criminals.
  • Travelers carry more money and valuables on their person than local residents.
  • Travelers are only as secure as their choice of lodging.

Travel crime is based around hotels.

Hilton, Marriott, and even my childhood Best Western won’t tell you that. 

But FBI will:

  • 7,840 violent crimes occurred in US hotel rooms between 2004-2008.
  • 11,200 room guests report hotel theft every year.
  • 51% of hotel crime targets guests directly.

Criminal activity when traveling outside the US gets even more dangerous: terrorism, sexual assault, kidnapping.

In April 2019, the US Department of State created a new category of risk indicator for Americans traveling abroad. They call the indicator the ‘K Risk Indicator’ – ‘K’ for kidnapping and ransom.

35 countries immediately gained the K Risk Indicator upon its inception, including Mexico, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Russia. These are first-world countries playing significant international roles in diplomacy and finance. But they are also hotbeds for crime against Americans.

CIA trained me to protect myself when traveling abroad.

They trained my wife with the same skills. 

Together, we now train our children. Not just to protect them, but because their training can help protect the whole family unit.

 

CODEWORDS are the foundation for keeping our family safe during travel.

There are three types of codewords spies use in the field:

  • Paroles
  • Challenge & Response
  • Duress Words

 

PAROLES:

Paroles are codewords operatives use to verify one another. 

Field operations often require strangers to work together; officers who have never met face-to-face, assets who have never met their new field officer. In these instances, paroles are used to prove each person’s authenticity.

In my family, we train our children to use paroles with strangers that approach them. 

Children get a lot of attention overseas, and many cultures openly approach, touch, and talk to children they don’t know. That can easily turn into children getting lured away by promises of candy, games, and toys.

When someone new approaches our children, they have been trained to use a parole – a keyword that proves whether the person is acting on mom/dad’s behalf. That keyword can be simple (ex: Pine Tree) or complicated (ex: Dancing Sparrow), but it should not be a common word (ex: Ice Cream, Treat, Playground, etc.). Common words can easily be confused as a parole and lead a child to trust someone they shouldn’t trust.

Paroles make it possible for my wife and I to send friends/adults to help our children when we are indisposed.

My children know that a stranger using the correct parole (ex: Rocket Man) is someone daddy sent to help them. They know they can get in that person’s car, go into their house, and accept their food/drink. That person is authenticated.

 

CHALLENGE & RESPONSE:

Challenge and response is a technique for allowing access to a controlled space.

My children have had to move from hotel to hotel in our world travels. Every hotel room comes with a staff of house keepers, room service, and hotel managers who knock on the door to get in. Other family members, mom, and dad might also have to knock at the door because of a forgotten room key.

To protect our children against opening the door for a stranger, we trained them to ‘challenge’ anyone who knocks by asking a simple question.

For example: ‘Who is it?’ ‘How can I help you?,’ or ‘What do you need?’. Those who ‘respond’ to the challenge with the correct word/phrase (ex: Bus Driver, Do you have two ice cubes, I need a dance partner) are granted entry. Those who do not respond correctly are denied access to the room.

This precaution has frustrated many a manager and guest services person, but we don’t mind. Unless my child hears the correct response, they keep the deadbolt drawn and the chain lock in place.

Even if the person on the other side of the door says they are the police, the fire department, or the President, they aren’t getting in unless they break the door down.

Sorry Donald.

 

DURESS WORDS:

The last codeword my family uses is a duress word: a word that discreetly signals fear, danger, or distress.

Duress words are extremely useful in elite operations. They are a simple, reliable tool for communicating risk even when an operator is being held by force. These codewords can mean as much or as little as you choose, and are easily tailored for the mission.

Consider a field officer captured by a terrorist group. The terrorists may force the officer to call headquarters and give false information. A duress word allows that officer to signal distress during the call without the terrorist captors realizing it:

  • EXAMPLE: ‘HQ, this is BLITZ Team 1: All is clear on West Elm. Nothing to report.’
  • Using the duress word ‘Elm’ tells the Headquarters team that Blitz Team 1 has been compromised and requires assistance.

The same duress word procedure is used when safeguarding nuclear weapons. Consider a situation where a hostile threat intercepts a military vehicle transporting a warhead between two locations:

  • EXAMPLE: ‘Central, FALCON EYE remains en route to PARADISE with no issues.’
  • The duress word ‘Paradise’ is all it takes to get a quick reaction force in motion to take back the hijacked shipment.

Our family uses duress words to signal anything from physical danger to bullying.

The words are a discreet way to bring the group together quickly and get the whole family away from a compromising situation.

Anytime I hear my children mention the family duress word (ex: tiger, kayak, waterfall, etc), I know it’s time to go. And they know the same if they hear me pass the duress word to them. After we leave and find our way to someplace safe, then we can talk about what happened. 

And the whole exchange goes totally unnoticed to the outside observer.

 

There is a big beautiful world out there waiting for you and your family.

You deserve to explore it freely. 

And your family deserves the safety of CODEWORDS.

Godspeed, #EverydaySpy.

Author: Andrew Bustamante, Founder of www.EverydaySpy.com. Andrew is a former covert CIA Intelligence officer, decorated US Air Force Combat Veteran, and respected Fortune 500 senior advisor. Learn more from Andrew on his Podcast (The Everyday Espionage Podcast) and by following @EverydaySpy on your favorite social media platform.

 

2 Comments

  1. B

    October 16, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    We also have and use code words for rally points.
    Thanks, Andrew!

    • Andrew Bustamante

      October 19, 2019 at 7:15 am

      Excellent work, Billie!