Guest Post: Author J.T. Patten On Next-Level Realities in the World of Spy-Fi

The following is the second (read Part I here) of two guest posts from blacker-than-black-ops thriller author J.T. Patten—who’s penned four thrillers: Safe Havens: Shadow MastersSafe Havens: Primed ChargeSafe 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


I recently shared how as high-technology takes a greater place in pervasive surveillance, manhunting, and remotely controlled vehicles and missile attacks, Military and Espionage books may find that the Spy-fi shelves could be a better future categorization for the current world of warfare.

Growing up, I recall two notable things that my grandfather kept in the basement bathroom (besides rough paper and a plunger): Popular Mechanics magazines and James Bond novels. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that thirty years later I would be at the nexus of both publications writing my own Spi-fi works and living an intelligence and special activities support career that converged both innovations and spycraft. Nor would I have even thought that just a few years ago I would be struggling to see over the next ridgeline what technologically may pop up that I have to anticipate today to mitigate a risk tomorrow in Strategic Intelligence, whether it be espionage, infrastructure attacks, or personal security.

Today’s warriors and shadow stalkers around the real world are adorned with high-tech communications equipment such as Sonitus’ mouthpiece that clips on a tooth and becomes the single point of contact for incoming and outgoing wireless audio communications. Ecole Polytechnique developed a 1.55mm-thick contact lens that allowed its wearer to zoom in telescopically at the wink of an eye. Nanotechnology has enabled drone surveillance vehicles to take on the shape of tiny spiders and mosquitoes. 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. But just as the tech enables the good guys, it can also be part of the bad guy tool kit.

We think of listening device “bugs” in pens but today it could be your Alexa or the GPS coordinates that may have ensnared Michael Cohen in his lie about being in Prague. And the NSA has been working with all the big social media companies, offering up your data (should they need it). Our own phones are able to be exploited for a homing device.

To further illustrate where I believe the convergence of sub-genres in thriller fiction are occurring, here are some technologies that will likely become more commonplace in the world of Spy-fi:

Stingray. The Stingray and similar devices spoof cellphone towers tricking nearby devices into connecting to it. The connection provides information on the devices’ whereabouts, data, and identifiers.

Black Hornet Drones. The Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance system is more of the world’s smallest combat-proven nano-drones. The Black Hornet weighs 32 ounces and can fly nearly two-miles with a thermal microcamera.

Micro Aerial Vehicles (MAV). The US Air Force Office of Scientific Research has been in collaboration with numerous partners to develop robotic insects equipped with microphones and cameras that can infiltrate urban areas while being piloted from a long distance away. Some designs offer the MAV’s ability to land on human skin and with a super-micron sized needle can take DNA samples or inject a micro radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking device.

Range-R. The Range-R appears at first glance to be a construction stud finder. Upon closer inspection, it is a radar device that send radio waves through walls to locate people with a structure to the point of sensing small movements such as breathing.

Shotspotters. A Shotspotter system is used with audio sensors that can determine when and where shootings, such as sniper fire, take place. Multiple sensors triangulate the number of shots fired, mapped distance, and the mobility of the shooter.

Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET). The DARPA RE-NET system is being developed (and improved) to integrate technological implants with the human central nervous system.  

Architecture for Diode High Energy Laser System (ADHELS). The ADHELS program is based around a high-intensity laser that can be used to in drones or against drones to defend against attacks. Additional innovations have been made in antipersonnel laser weapons to blind adversaries or disrupt opposing sensor technology such as night vision goggles or target location devices.

Data Theft Through Light. Drones and lasers are being used to deliver malware to defeat security protection and receive line of sight signals through telescopic lens to steal data thereby jumping air-gapped computer systems.

Autonomous Vehicles and Disruption. We’re already seeing the rapid evolution of autonomous vehicles. Certainly, this will create opportunity for kamikaze-style suicide attacks. However, the countermeasure to this currently is disrupting the laser ranging (Lidar) systems that most autonomous vehicles use for guidance. A simple laser pointed directed at a self-driving vehicle could spoof the guidance system into thinking an object was at risk of being hit causing the vehicle to stop.

Digitally encoded glass. Years back, the CIA developed an encoded makeup compact that revealed a secret code. Today that technology has evolved with mechanisms to send and receive message traffic and display the encoded text on glass such as eyewear.

While these are just a small sampling of the future being present today, it certainly widens the aperture of the possible for tomorrow’s military thriller and espionage novels, which continue to slide into Spy-fi and topics that we once viewed as futuristic science and technology.



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.

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