Police Life, Real Life Crime

My Training to be a Secret Agent…

…is nonexistent.  Or, is it? After all, isn’t that exactly what a secret agent might say? First, I would like to correct the misnomer, at least from the CIA’s perspective, that its field employees are called “officers,” not “agents.” I will agree, though, that “secret officer” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Sounds more like a bank auditor that shows up announced.

That is the appeal of conspiracies, secret societies, government spycraft, the whole lot of it: you need proof, some piece of corroborating evidence that shows a person’s involvement, guilt, complicity, etc., before you can act. The spy endlessly works to act as though she’s not a spy. The secret society endlessly works to promote benign images of its good works, community values, openness, transparency. Doesn’t it all seem like the “dealer invoice” the salesman wants to show you for that car you’re lusting over? Any reasonable buyer quickly questions its authenticity, right? I can print that out right now off my phone with the pre-loaded forms in Word! Especially here in the US, we’re skeptics. Seeing is believing, until you’re at a Penn & Teller show. If you’re ever in Vegas, treat yourself, but understand that your eyes are liars, too.

There is so much mystery, intrigue, and uncertainty around every organized secret, and we’ve not delved into the double-agent yet! So, if you have to doubt everything you see and hear about a shadow organization, secret society, or criminal conspiracy, what do we have to rely on? For me, it starts with the Sixth Sense, your gut instinct, your intuition, whatever you wanna call it. If someone doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That starts me to pulling threads until I find corroborating evidence one way or the other.

The absence of evidence, though, does not necessarily show innocence. It just might mean you have to abandon the effort or start over. Might mean they made your surveillance team and it’s time to hire someone other than your unemployed brother-in-law as your lookout. Just something to consider.

All that said, when I started putting together the Saint Michael Thriller Series, one of the main themes I imagined readers would want to understand is how the organization could train run-of-the-mill priests to become secret agents (can’t say “secret officer” twice, it’s just not right). To save you from one of my notoriously long, tangential stories, just trust me on this point: if you wanna understand how someone would do something, put yourself in their shoes and figure out how you’d do it.

As I started laying out the background and realities necessary to make this thing possible, I had a striking realization: The specialized cop training that the folks in my units and I have attended over the years has, in part, prepared us for work as secret operatives. The next thought was something like, No shit, undercover drug cops have a lot of the same safety concerns as spies. I love a good checklist, so I jotted down all the training and skills my characters would need, and it turned out I could write about all of them from varying degrees of personal experience:

Structure like organized crime syndicate

Fitness training

Martial arts & ground fighting

Firearms (handgun, rifle, and precision)

Edged Weapons (offense and defense)

Psychology testing/evaluation

Evidence collection

Forensic analysis

Crime scene processing

Computer forensics

Lock picking

Camera identification and evasion


Counter surveillance

Police investigation methods

Tranquilizer use, antidote

Physical & biochemical body manipulation

Dynamic building entry

Homemade and improvised explosives

Crime scene fabrication

Street drug use, overdose


Evading police detection

International border crossing

Private/charter flight operations

Cover story/prefab lies

Much like the Alex Landon series, I get to cheat much of the normal research process by writing from my own knowledge and experience, at least for the training program and the secret faction’s organization and structure. I lucked out, because the same was not true of my background in Catholic dogma, ritual, and culture. Thanks to a superb technical adviser and hundreds of hours of research over the last six months, I feel very confident that the Saint Michael Series will not only be possible, but will be so realistic readers may wonder if it’s actually probable.

Stay tuned for more detail on the new series before it launches next month.

Be safe out there.


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