How to do a dead drop like a real spy

One of the pleasures of writing a book about teenage secret agents is getting to research all kinds of cool spy skills. I mean, really, who doesn’t secretly want to be James Bond? In the course of writing Playing With Fire, I had occasion to study codes, hacking, lock picking, surveillance, martial arts, and dead drops. Let’s talk about that last one for a bit.

A dead drop is a way of covertly passing items between two people. You know those scenes you see in the movies, where two people sit down at a table with briefcases and surreptitiously switch them? That’s not it. Since both people are present, that’s considered a live drop.

briefcaseA dead drop, however, means that both agents don’t need to be there to make the exchange. In fact, the two parties don’t even have to know each other — all they need to know is the drop location and signaling device. This method offers a way of avoiding personal meetings, which can jeopardize the spy network if the agents are observed or caught.

If you’d like to use these spy techniques for yourself and your friends — either for geocache gaming or as a practical tool — read on.

Give me a sign

Whoever plans to pick up your item needs to know when it’s in place. That’s where signals come in handy. A signal could be anything agreed-upon by the two people in advance — a chalk mark on a wall, a post-it in a window, a shade pulled down.

Bear in mind that anyone and his brother can see your signal, so writing the words “dead drop” with an arrow pointing under the park bench where you’ve hidden your package might be just a tad obvious. Subtlety is key here. In fact, the signal doesn’t even need to be near the drop — just in a place where your co-conspirator will see it.

For example, if you wanted to leave a house key for your cat-sitter, you might make a chalk mark on the door, letting them know that the key is under the flowerpot around the side of the house.

Do the dead drop

Pick the right spot. You want to make sure not to draw unwanted attention, either to the drop-off and pick-up, or to the package itself when unattended. Popular locations include a hole in a tree, behind a loose brick, inside a cut-out library book (an unpopular one!), or beneath a park bench. By contrast, leaving the package outside a police station or airport will only land you in deep, deep doo-doo. Choose wisely.

Make sure it blends in. Whatever you’re leaving in the dead drop should either be out of sight enough to go unnoticed, or so much a part of the scene that it gets overlooked. A suspicious-looking package taped to a wall stands out. But a fake rock in a yard blends in with all the real rocks around it.

Along those lines, make sure your hiding spot isn’t too obvious. Leaving a key under the welcome mat? A beginner’s mistake. Leaving a key in an empty soda can under the hedge? Much more spy-worthy.

Use protection. If you’re hiding something in the ground or behind a trash bin, you want to make sure it’s still in usable shape by the time your contact picks it up. Since the ‘60s, real spies have been using dead drop spikes, a waterproof concealment device that hides money, microfilm, documents, and other items. If you want to feel like a full-on spy, you can buy these on-line. But really, any waterproof container will do.

So the next time you need to leave a little something for a friend to pick up, try following these dead drop tips. Your item will be safer, and you’re guaranteed to feel a bit more like James Bond than you did before.

Photo Credit: photographer padawan *(xava du) via Compfight cc

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