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If we’re to believe novels and old movies and even some television news reports, spying and gathering information by way of torture go together much like peanut butter and jelly, French fries and ketchup, and bacon and eggs. And, well, bacon and anything.

Torture, according to Merriam Webster is: the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure.

The CIA softens the sound of the word “torture” by calling it “enhanced interrogation.” But no matter the words, interrogation techniques that include sleep deprivation, slapping, subjection to cold, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), electrical shocks, and/or otherwise beating the snot out of someone to learn some sort of information is plain old torture.

Making use of hot lights and rubber hoses and trips to the soundproof basement to obtain confessions is nothing new. In fact, police have been accused of it for as long as, well, forever. Unfortunately, there is some truth mingled in the mix, such as back in the early 1980s when three Chicago police officers arrested Darrell Cannon in connection with a murder case.

The officers drove Cannon to a remote area to “convince” him to confess. Cannon, according to court records, said that when he refused to say what the police wanted him to say,  the officers forced the barrel of a shotgun into his mouth and repeatedly pulled the trigger. When that didn’t worked they used a cattle prod to shock his genitals. He finally gave in.

Homan Square – a ‘black site’ run by Chicago Police that’s used to interrogate people out of view of law enforcement’s regular chain of command?

I’m old enough to remember having “cattle prods” as part of a sheriff’s office’s arsenal of weapons. They were kept in the armory for use during riots or should we be called upon to assist with large prison disturbances at one of the nearby institutions. A couple of the crusty old-timers carried them in the trunks of their cars, and I’d heard tales of their use on suspects who wouldn’t climb into the back seat of a patrol car fast enough. They chuckled as they told tales of shocking the you know what out of a drunk homeless man or zapping a smart-ass punk who enjoyed taking swings at cops.

When I worked at a maximum security prison, there was a row of cattle prods lined up on shelf inside the armory, alongside rifles, shotguns, teargas guns, helmets, and the like.

Cuba

History tells us that the Russians, Chinese, Germans, and the good old U.S. of A. are all masters of the pain game. However, it is Cuba, an island roughly the size of Pennsylvania, that sits where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean join, that perhaps tops the spy/torture chart.

Yes, U.S. officials believed that Cuban masterminds had cleverly devised the most diabolical, devious and most horrific pain-inducer known to man. It is unrivaled, to say the least. And it is invisible.

In 2016, the first attack caught embassy staff by surprise. After all, how does one defend against something that can’t be seen as it advances toward its target at the speed of sound?

Staff members began reported neurological symptoms, along with concussion-like indications. Signs pointed toward head injuries, yet there were none. Not a single knock on the noggin had been recorded.

Next came reports of diplomats experiencing sounds they described as buzzing noises (like bees inside their heads), the sounds of metal grinding against metal, horrible, piercing squeals, and/or a persistent humming. And there was that weird and maddening and “ear-itating” feeling we sometimes get while inside a moving car with the windows partially rolled down—the  pressure-induced vibrating/air “baffling” that sort of hurts our ears when it occurs.

Canada and the U.S. became understandably alarmed. They thought it was possible that Cuba had lunched some sort of sonic attack and withdrew had of their Embassy staff, and they expelled Cuban diplomats in retaliation.

It was a big deal with lots of chest thumping and finger-pointing.

Fortunately, two biologists, while doing things biologists do, decided to listen to a recording of the mysterious Cuban sounds. We’ll dang if they didn’t discover, instantly, that the entire near-war, mass hysteria incident was nothing more than a bunch of local crickets belting out tunes to attract new mates. Special songs that other crickets found to induce love and sex appeal were sickening and ear-splitting to nearby people.

So yeah, two biologists single-handedly prevented what could have been the “Cuban Crooning Cricket Crisis.”

* The Indies short-tailed cricket is found around the Caribbean. Over-reacting, non-trusting and suspicious humans are found worldwide.

 

 

My Friend Cayla is not the typical secret agent. Not even close. In fact, her identity is out there for the world to see and she doesn’t care who knows her capabilities. She’s that good.

Standing at a towering 18 inches and powered by 3AA batteries, Cayla is able to carry on conversations with your children. She can also ramble on and on about herself—likes, dislikes, and even her possible career choices as she grows older.

Yes, Cayla is a doll, a child’s toy labeled as a “mole” and recently banned by the German government because of her ability to spy on the people around her. The country considers the doll to be so harmful that the FNC, Germany’s telecommunications network, issued an order to the public, instructing them to destroy every single Cayla doll in their possession.

My Friend Cayla is NOT Your Friend. She’s a Spy!

The order further instructed parents/Cayla doll owners to fill out a certificate of destruction and have it signed by a legitimate waste-management company official. The signed documents are then to be sent back to the FNA as proof the dolls were indeed destroyed. German law provides for aa potential fine of $26,500 and two years in prison as a general punishment for not following the FNA orders.

Cayla, you see, can be easily hacked by anyone within 30 feet of the dolls transmitting device. And, the Cayla dolls (also included are the i-Q Intelligence Robot) were found to be transmitting audio recordings to a third party specializing in voice recognition for police and military forces.

Ask Cayla if she can be trusted and she responds, “I don’t know.” A future politician, perhaps?

 

Banned in Germany, Cayla dolls are capable of spying on your kids, and you!

The dolls, designed as playmates for children, ask kids for their personal information—name, address, phone number, parent’s names, hometown, names of schools attended, and much more. All this without obtaining parents’ permission to collect the personal data.

The company producing the dolls says there’s nothing shady about the practice of collecting the data, which, they say, is used to enhance the experience of playing with an interactive doll.

Nuance – Dragon Naturally Speaking

Nuance, the company best-known  for Dragon, the speech-to-text dictation software (I used it from time-to-time when writing my book on police procedure and investigation), is also a defense contractor that sells “voice biometric solutions” to the military and to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Nuance makes the interactive voice recognition system used in these toys (Cayla dolls, etc.).

Nuance’s privacy policy states “We may use the information that we collect for our internal purposes to develop, tune, enhance, and improve our products and services, and for advertising and marketing consistent with this Privacy Policy.”

It continues, “If you are under 18 or otherwise would be required to have parent or guardian consent to share information with Nuance, you should not send any information about yourself to us.”

How many 6-year-olds will keep that directive in mind when her best friend, Cayla, asks for her mommy’s name and where she works? You’re right – Zero. And, who’s watching for the person who’s truly directing Cayla to ask the questions spouting from her plastic mouth?

After all, it could be the kidnapper/rapist sitting inside the ice cream truck parked at the curb—the creepy guy who just learned from your 9-year-daughter that her mommy will out for a couple of hours, but her 12-year-old sister is babysitting, and sure, they both like ice cream. And, of course she promised her friend Cayla that would not tell mom or dad.

So … as soon as you’re out the door and out of sight, Mr. Stranger arrives at the front door with ice cream, balloons, and candy in hand …

Hackers gain access to these dolls via Bluetooth connection

The dolls are connected to an app (typically a parent sets it up on their phone(s). Once accessed, the dolls are in the control the hacker, and the information received is theirs to do with as they wish.

Voiceprints

Data received and recorded can also be “voiceprint” for future access to “locations” without having to be physically present.

*Source – Consumerist, NPR, Washington Post… and me.

 

Treason is a word we often see in the news and social media and, unfortunately, its use is often, well, absolutely incorrect. Therefore, to save writers the trouble and embarrassment of using the term incorrectly in a work of fiction, here’s the definition of treason, a definition that is quite easily found in the U.S. Constitution.

Treason and Espionage

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.”

Please note the use of the word “only” in the first sentence. It’s there for a reason, to make certain there’s no misunderstanding. The treason law ONLY applies to those individuals who are levying War against them (the U.S.), or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. That’s specific. Quite specific. There’s no wiggle room whatsoever.

Tried and Convicted

So how does one commit treason against the U.S.? Here are examples:

  • In June 1947, Tomoya Kawakita, a U.S. citizen, was tried and convicted for the mistreatment  and abuse of American POWs held by the Japanese during World War II.
  • Mildred Elizabeth Gillars (aka Axis Sally) was convicted of assisting the Nazis by broadcasting propaganda on her radio show. She was an American employed by the Third Reich in Nazi Germany.
  • Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino (aka Tokyo Rose), was tried and convicted of treason for her propaganda radio broadcasts to American troops where American POWs were forced to participate in on-air propaganda messages.
  • In 1948, Robert Henry Best, an American foreign news correspondent who covered events in Europe, was tried and convicted of treason after it was discovered he was a Nazi supporter and broadcaster of Nazi propaganda during World War II.
  • Aaron Burr, third vice president of the United States, was charged with treason after the discovery of his plan to invade Mexico for the purpose of establishing an empire. Now that was an ambitious plan, for sure. However, Burr was a acquitted by Chief Justice John Marshall. In his ruling, Marshall said that to prove treason, “war must actually be levied against the United States … conspiracy (to levy war) is not treason.”

Spies often commit espionage.

Espionage

Remember Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the couple who were prosecuted for giving atomic secrets to the  Soviet Union? The pair was tried and convicted for their crimes, but they weren’t charged with treason because the U.S. and Russia were not at war when they committed their traitorous acts.

Again, the Rosenburgs were NOT charged with treason because the U.S. was NOT at war with Russia at the time. Sure, this occurred during the Cold War, but that’s not an actual war with bombs and missiles and soldiers fighting the enemy. Therefore, the Rosenburgs were instead charged with espionage (spying and/or transferring state secrets to a foreign government). The Rosenburgs were convicted and executed.

So, without going into a lot of detail (especially since details are not in any way available to any of us) and to help writers avoid a mistake, the charge of treason requires far more than a brief meeting to discuss juicy gossip. On the other hand, if Boris and Natasha were present and the U.S. was at actual war with another country, any country, and IF someone aided that country with their efforts against us in that war, well …

Collusion

To continue today’s lesson, Collusion is … click here to read the details.

*I ask that you please reserve political comments for another website or blog because this article is strictly for informational purposes. This is not an op ed piece about politics or politicians. Actually, I’m sick of seeing even one single word about politics (I avoid it at every turn. I do not read political blogs, articles, social media posts, etc.). I delete political comments, by the way. However, I absolutely welcome and encourage discussion. Just not about politics, religion, race, and any of the other hot button topics du jour.

Spies, they’re everywhere!