Sunday, 13 March 2016

Breaking and Entering: Hatton Garden & Black Baggers (Night's Black Agents)

In the wake of the famous Hatton Garden heist, let's talk about infiltration and the role of the Black Bagger in Night's Black Agents.

For those not familiar with what journalists are calling the Crime of the Century, in brief: in April 2015 a gang of career criminals and pensioners made off with, at minimum, a little over $20 million in jewels, gold and other valuables in a clever and meticulously planned raid on an underground safety deposit facility at Hatton Garden, well known as a center of London's jewelry trade. The burglary took place over Easter bank holiday weekend, when the neighborhood was basically shut down, bar a few CCTV and passers-by. They got in via a lift shaft, drilled through into the vault, and carried the loot off in wheelie bins. It wasn't until five days had passed that the police got involved - though they were aware the alarm had been triggered long before -  by which time it was far too late to do anything about it.

It's worth noting that although estimates are a minimum of $20 million, the actual total could be in excess of $280 million. Most of the depositors went to Hatton Garden because they thought it was safe, but more importantly, discreet; anything could have been down in the vault, and probably was. The security company that managed the vault has since gone out of business. Neighbors heard the drilling, but thought it was roadworks, and while the police did get an automatic alarm, it was given a low priority grade which meant nobody was dispatched to see what was going on.

All in all, a triumph of Britishness over efficiency, while the criminals themselves, also impeccably British, have since been collared and are in the dock.

So, what do you need to be an infiltration expert?

To begin with, technical knowledge. It takes skill to operate a drill. A decent Mechanics pool is a must, in addition to Infiltration, and Architecture is a good pick. Reasonable physical health is also advisable, though you wouldn't know it from the Hatton Garden criminals, who all seem to be on death's door for one reason or another. That means Athletics, though possibly not on the scale of The Amazing Yen.

Extensive planning is crucial, which means a fair sized Preparedness pool for those moments when everything seems to be going wrong on a scale not usually seen outside of Invisible Inc. Or you could just go mad and actually plan out a scheme from soup to nuts. Not something I'd recommend, but it takes all sorts.

More important, though, seems to be an understanding of human nature and how organizations work. The Hatton Garden raid took place at exactly the right time, and there's every reason to think the missing Basil might be an ex-policeman, which might explain how the crooks could be so confident that there would be no immediate response to the alarm. That suggests Urban Survival, Bureaucracy and Human Terrain, in addition to the expected Streetwise.

Criminals of this sort are often described as charming, which isn't that surprising if you think about it. Much like hacking or detective work, infiltration often requires significant social engineering. You need to be able to talk your way to the target, or to information that gets you closer to the target. That in turn suggests Flattery, Flirting, Reassurance, and possibly also Disguise, though that last isn't strictly necessary.

Where the Hatton Garden mob seems to have let itself down is in its lack of Electronic Surveillance knowledge. The thieves all sat around in the pub yakking about the crime, and the police listened in. CCTV footage was carefully examined for each least hint of the robbery, which allowed the police to work out who did what when. That, and overconfidence, is why they're in the dock now. Except of course for Basil, that alleged ex-policeman, who probably also knew how the police would go about tracking the criminals down.

With that in mind, here's an example of the kind of Bagger build I'm talking about:


One sentence: A former Flying Squad operative who became a little too fond of the high life.

Investigative: Architecture 3, Bureaucracy 2, Cop Talk 1, Data Recovery 1, Electronic Surveillance 2, Flattery 2, Human Terrain 2, Interrogation 1, Law 1, Photography 2, Reassurance 2, Streetwise 1, Tradecraft 2, Urban Survival 1

General: Athletics 14, Conceal 2, Cover 10, Digital Intrusion 2, Gambling 10, Health 8, Infiltration 8, Mechanics 10, Network 15, Preparedness 8, Stability 8, Shooting 6, Weapons 4.

MOS: Infiltration. The cherries Swiss Army Prep (Mechanics), Luck of the Devil (Gambling) and In the Nick of Time (Preparedness) work well together, creating a situation in which Basil has a plan for everything, even when there is no plan.

Let's close off with a scenario seed.

The papers are calling it the Crime of the Century. Sophisticated thieves have broken into a safety deposit vault and made off with the contents, which happen to include something the Conspiracy is very interested in and would rather not have lost. Heat is rising, as assassins and police converge on every possible hiding place, port of departure, and haven. All the usual criminal safe houses are off limits, and the body count is rising rapidly. Everyone wants to know what happened to the loot, and until that question gets an answer corpses will keep piling up.

One of the black baggers reaches out to your protagonists through a trusted contact. This thief wants safe passage out of the city, and is willing to pay a high price. Can they get the black bagger out alive, when the undead and the cops are breathing down everyone's neck? And what really did happen to that artefact the crooks are supposed to have stolen, anyway?

That's it for now. Enjoy!

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