The following is the first of two guest posts from blacker-than-black-ops thriller author J.T. Patten—who’s penned four thrillers: Safe Havens: Shadow Masters, Safe Havens: Primed Charge, Safe Havens: Presidential Retreat, and Buried in Black, the first book in a new series following operative Drake Woolf. His fifth book (and second in the Drake Woolf series), The Presence of Evil, comes out on August 20, 2019. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter, and visit his newly revamped website here.
Is Spy-Fi the Next Frontier of Military Thrillers and Espionage Novels?
The outing of Edward Snowden has provided more deep state conspiracy fuel relating to surveillance and snooping with a literal inside look as to how our own government and its allies have allegedly unlocked encryption used to protect email, banking, and medical records as well as covertly working with high-tech companies to insert weaknesses (backdoors or trapdoors) into Internet of Things products and commercial encryption software.
Simultaneously, during 2018, the number of state-sponsored actors indicted for cybercriminal activity rose exponentially citing some of the most sophisticated criminal actors as being connected to the Chinese, Russia, Iranian, and North Korean governments.
It’s also ironic that at the time of this writing, our nation has just emerged from a contentious government shut down and a fierce partisan debate has ensued about building a border wall to bolster national security, while billions of dollars are lost each day to firewall breaches and hacked accounts. Sure, the need to keep people out of restricted areas requires use of age-old concepts of towering fences or walls, moats, perimeter security, and the like, but in my world where people are not kept at bay by steel or concrete, a physical wall is the least of my worries as a solution to the really horrific threats at mass scale that are present in our world today.
The result is a literal sandwiching of attacks to gather intelligence or technically exploit connected citizens by both friend or foe governments and a constant erosion of privacy trust.
In the world of espionage, infrastructure protection, and clandestine operations where I sit, drones, satellites, laser-sent communications, and spies or state-sponsored terrorists with proper digital footprints to bolster their identification and backstories, are often unburdened by a wall, door, or razor wire. But even these more modern technology and tradecraft mechanisms to thwart security vectors fall by the wayside each day with new and improved means of protection or circumvention.
Truly, science fiction has become our reality, and like a gripping thriller, our headlines are plagued with news of veritable plots for world domination, technology used for extortion, and futuristic weapons being created that could cause global destruction. It’s often stranger than fiction.
I believe many civilians today find themselves in an uncomfortable place balancing the rapid pace of technological advancements with their own lives and the trade-off of risks given that the same technology improving their day to day could be a threat to their privacy or personal security. Snowden’s whistleblowing and his troves of pilfered information citing the US government’s abilities and practices to monitor civilians through systemic overreach caused a new awakening about pervasive government spying. It’s a scary thought, which is exactly why the next levels of surveillance and innovative technology are also converging book genres of espionage and military thrillers closer to the world of Spy-Fi, a genre in fiction that commingles action, intrigue, espionage, and elements of science fiction. It’s also why Spy-Fi is the next frontier in action-adventure thrillers, and I’m really excited about it.
I’ve been an avid reader of espionage novels and military thrillers for as long as I can remember. Like many, it started somewhere with characters such as Mack Bolan for the shoot ‘em ups, and authors like Le Carre and Flemming for the spy books. And then 9/11 happened. We went to war again and the battle space tightened the disciplines of military operations and intelligence. As they say in the war-fighting business, Intel is ops, ops is intel. Yet, no one told the librarians or Amazon. You see, the genres still stayed in their rigid lanes, although some subgenres like Assassination and Terrorism helped a little, but still in unflattering generalization, Military basically meant non-stop action war porn and Espionage meant slow shadow snoozers.
The reality of actual war, however, in the fight against terrorism conjoined shooter and spy approaches in real life, so stuffy brandy sipping CIA spooks hanging out in embassy parties had about as much place in the desert as a muscle-bound Delta shooter who couldn’t understand link analysis or geospatial software had at the Special Operations Command. Yet, while Clancy’s newer thrillers moved into Chinese hacker espionage and newer authors like Andrews and Wilson teamed their Tier One series crew with the latest in geospatial analysis, communications tapping, and good old-fashioned door kicking, the books still tend to get pigeon-holed in traditional categories of either War-type or Espionage, even though Intelligence is the cornerstone of both.
Now, our warriors and shadow stalkers around the real world are adorned with high-tech communications equipment. The future has arrived and each day, soldiers and spies alike have new gadgets and gizmos in their kit, which puts them squarely in a techno space, too.
In the Techno Thriller space, we still see a lot of covers with outer-space laser shooting warriors, nuclear submarines, and post-apocalyptic survival. Michael Crichton is a fixture with his titles involving cloning, alien microorganisms, aerospace, and nanotechnology. Patrick Robinson is a master of undersea technology and espionage. Daniel Suarez uses a plethora of hacking, sensor systems, drone technology, and autonomous vehicles. Of course, Dan Brown is known for his conspiracies with cryptography, keys, and mysterious codes. However, as technology takes a greater place in pervasive surveillance, manhunting, and remotely controlled vehicles and missile attacks, Military and Espionage books will soon find that the Spy-fi shelves are really the best categorization for the current world of warfare.
J.T. Patten spent over a decade providing counterterrorism and counterespionage mission support intelligence to the government and special operations community. In that role, he became a subject matter authority on science and technology solutions to discreet activities and surveillance as well as gaining insights on disrupting communications and exploiting computerized systems. His Task Force Orange thriller series is based on the fictional mission concepts of the highly secretive Joint Special Operations Unit, formerly known as the Intelligence Support Activity, which leverages many sophisticated technological “Spy-fi” approaches to counterterrorism and targeting.