Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Unblinking Eye (Night's Black Agents)

Recently Frederick Forsythe issued an annotation to his celebrated novel, The Day of the Jackal - a book I encourage you to read - in which he described three reasons why the Jackal's 1963 plot would not work today. The third item is CCTV, "which would have recorded (for example) all cars entering France via the Ventimiglia crossing point." Never mind all the other opportunities; after all, the Jackal crosses more than one border in his quest to assassinate de Gaulle.

There's an interesting Urbaneye research paper concerning CCTV in London, which states among other things that, in 1999, someone walking through London could expect to be filmed by over 300 cameras on 30 different CCTV systems. Of course, over a decade and a half has passed since that statistic was compiled. No doubt things have progressed considerably.

The article also states that the official system has been integrated with that run by the City's many banks and private entities. Those same private entities are notoriously touchy when it comes to security; taking pictures of the Gerkhin, in London, often attracts the attention of internal security, who in turn inform the police.  

All of which leads up to an important question: how difficult is it, with the spread of CCTV, for the agents in a Night's Black Agents game to avoid attracting attention? How quickly will they be picked up, if they do anything that raises Heat?

In a previous post, I mentioned the early progenitor of CCTV, and pointed out that it could theoretically affect a campaign as early as the mid to late 1930s; the first recorded instance of security cameras is 1942, at Peenemunde. Thus in a Dracula Dossier game it is reasonable for CCTV, or the equivalent, to become an issue at any point after the war. The characters are unlikely to encounter CCTV deployed on the streets of a city until roundabout the mid 1980s; there were early experiments in the 60s and 70s, but it's not until the 1990s that everyone started installing them, everywhere. However they will encounter cameras pretty much every time they go inside an official building, or an important location, like a bank.

Of course, certain tourist destinations were well ahead of the game on this issue.

It's reasonable to assume that, in any game set during the 2000s, CCTV is present in every European city the agents visit. It's also reasonable to assume that the CCTV system in a major urban center - Paris, Berlin, London - is capable of facial recognition and video content analysis. Finally, it's also reasonable to assume that the system in any border control point - say, Lille, with its Eurostar connection - is at least the equivalent of a Paris or London system, due to the increased importance of border control. 

With regard to the Conspyramid, it's a fair bet that any Node within a major urban center is going to have, or want to have, some level of control over the CCTV network. A Level One Node probably can't manage much, if anything. Perhaps it's bribed one of the police officers whose job it is to run the system, or perhaps it has a small CCTV network of its own. More likely it just wishes it does, but any Node at Level 3 or higher is definitely going to have its fingers in the official CCTV network, either directly, or through bribed proxies. That means that any Heat breach caught by CCTV is going to be in the Conspyracy's hands fairly quickly, perhaps 24 to 48 hours after it happens; probably longer, for low level Nodes.

Blanking the CCTV system to conserve Heat is certainly possible, but increases in difficulty with the sophistication of the system. Your average branch of Lloyds Bank probably has protection up to Difficulty 4 Digital Intrusion, or similar, and blanking it out won't get much immediate attention. Blanking out all the cameras at, say, Bank Tube, is probably close to Difficulty 6 or 7, and will certainly get immediate official attention; the security services tend to be extremely paranoid when it comes to the public transport network of a major urban center. Blanking out the CCTV at Parliament is definitely Difficulty 8, and will absolutely get an armed response. For that reason, simply knocking out the CCTV isn't always the best option. A response of whatever type can be expected within anywhere from five to six hours, for a simple breach on a soft target, to immediate, for a hard target like Parliament or Bank Tube.

Disguise or similar can be useful aids, but never forget that facial recognition systems can render disguises useless, and video content analysis can pinpoint people behaving suspiciously. Depending on the system this may not be a problem, but if you're somewhere important - public transport, any border control point, government buildings, certain private buildings - the system is likely to be sophisticated enough to detect simple disguises and strange behavior. Face concealing items, like hoods, hats and long hair, may be the best defense in the short run.

Does this mean CCTV is infallible? God, no. Ultimately these things are hooked to a computer network - there aren't enough operators in all the world to directly manage this flow of data - and computer networks can always be fooled. That, and CCTV placement is a perennial problem. Are all the important areas covered? Is anything blocking the view?

Or perhaps the problem can be managed by simple misdirection; cause an obvious breach in one location, and while forces are mustering to deal with that, hit the system from another direction. In game, this could perhaps be represented by the protagonists deliberately splitting into two groups, one of which does something to generate a lot of Heat, very quickly, while the other group does what it needs to do. Spoof the emergency services, and have a fleet of ambulances or fire trucks turn up at the front door while the insertion team makes its way in through the sewer. Set a fire or make a bomb threat, then have the insertion team arrive in uniform, sneaking in as part of the emergency response team. Those firemen's outfits are great for concealing identity; all bulk, and handy, concealing facemasks. This probably won't work as well for, say, Parliament or the headquarters of MI6 as it would for a softer target, but it stands a fair chance.

In the end, your best option for minimizing Heat in the CCTV age is not to attract it in the first place. Loud explosions and automatic weapons fire may be cinematic, but they're also very problematic. Never rely on any Cover lasting long; get in, and get out, as quickly as possible. When in doubt, use your Network connections to hide the camera information, rather than try to wipe the system yourself.

Oh, and smile for the camera. It's always watching you.

No comments:

Post a Comment