DIY Dead Drop Devices to Hide and Pass Messages like a Spy

by March 17, 2011 03/17/11
DIY Dead Drop

Today I’m going to share some techniques with you that I came up with for creating dead drop devices during a previous SCG International Tactical HUMINT Operations course.

One of our taskers at the end of one class day was to create two dead drops by the next morning. This assignment was give to us at around 6 p.m., so with limited time, I did what anyone wanting to create dead drop devices would do. I hit the local Wal-Mart.

Dead Drop Devices

There are some great commercially available dead drop devices available out there, a few of which we’ve reviewed from Spy Coins. While the commercially available devices work great, there’s just something neat and rewarding about creating your own.

For a brief history on dead drop devices and their use, I’ll direct you to a previous post of ours where we went over some specifics and usage. Suffice to say the purpose of one of these devices is to covertly or overtly leave a message for another person without actually meeting in person.

During the SCG HUMINT class, we had to utilize dead drops to leave and retrieve messages to further our intelligence gathering against the opposition. Just using your local Wal-Mart for the necessary supplies, I’ll take you through a few of the dead drops I created and how they’re best utilized. Be sure to check out the video at the end of this article too!

Creating your Dead Drop

Imagine with me for a few seconds and picture some places that you think could work for both covert and overt dead drop locations. Keep in mind that these locations must be somewhere that doesn’t cause suspicion when being left or retrieved. Perhaps a public bathroom? Walking the dog and tying your shoe?

While you can get creative and make your dead drops ahead of time, it’s much better if you know where and how you’re going to leave your message and mold your device with those things in mind.

Materials Needed

DIY Dead Drop

One item I’ve found tremendously beneficial when creating dead drops is a contact lens case. These are about a dollar and you get a right and left container that can be broken in half, creating two dead drops. Another thing I’ll mention is magnets, which can be both a blessing and a curse. A dead drop that I didn’t show is one of those magnetic key hider boxes.

These are great until you go to hide your drop and realize the location you just knew would be metal that a magnet would stick to (ferrous), turns out to be aluminum and it falls off. Luckily, I had a contingency plan and a second dead drop ready to go when this happened! The last thing I’ll mention is Velcro strips or adhesive strips, both work great on the back of a dead drop to quickly leave them underneath something like a sink in that public bathroom we talked about.

Here’s a break down of everything I used for the dead drops pictured in this article:

  • Brut Deodorant Stick
  • Contact Lens Case
  • Green Floral Foam
  • Sewing Pin Cases
  • EZ Dose Pill Pouches (zip locks)
  • Floral Moss
  • Craft Paint (2 shades of grey)
  • Sponge Brush
  • Modeling Clay
  • X-Acto Knife and Blades
  • Velcro Strips
  • Pocket Knife
  • Scissors
  • Hot Glue Gun

The old Dead Drop in the Deodorant Trick

DIY Dead Drop

The first drop I made was something I just wanted to attempt and thought would not only make a good dead drop, but also a great hiding place. As I was searching for useful items at Wal-Mart I stumbled upon the Deodorant and had a lightbulb go off in my head when I saw the Brut canister.

To create this drop, I simply pushed the deodorant all the way up until it broke free of the push-pop like canister. I then cut off about 1/4 of the deodorant stick using a knife. Wanting to store a contact lens case half inside, I knew that simply dropping it in and putting the deodorant stick back down would leave it totally obvious and unusable if anyone ever looked inside.

If that was my goal, I’d just completely remove the deodorant and have a large storage area and replace the cap. The problem with this is that when creating an overt dead drop, like in this case, you want to ensure it remains as true to it’s original purpose if it’s ever discovered. If anyone stumbled upon the Brut in question, they’d never suspect that it wasn’t regular deodorant (well maybe after reading this they would).

Fake Rocks and Grass Mounds

These next two drops are a bit harder to construct but are still relatively easy. The core of these rely on that green floral foam, while the floral foam I show in the images is square, these two drops used half-circle shaped floral foam that was found right next to the square stuff in the floral area.

What’s great about floral foam is its ability to be shaped into whatever you need. With the grass mound drop I didn’t do too much shaping, just hot glued on some floral moss and sticks I could find outside. If I had more time I would have gathered foliage that would match the area I planned to leave the drop.

Floral moss works well and will blend in with most grassy areas provided it’s not dead grass. On the bottom of the grass mound drop, hollowed out and shoved a contact lens case in that fit snugly but could still be removed. Again, a benefit of the foam is how easy it is to shape.

The fake rock was something that definitely took me a long time to sculpt. I started using my fingers to create the angular areas of the rock until I was satisfied that it looked like a rock. I then used two different shades of grey craft paint to dab on the color using a sponge brush. A single color just wouldn’t have looked good and I feel the lighter shade of grey really adds to the realism.

For the last step and while the paint was still wet, I grabbed some sandy dirt from outside and sprinkled it over the fake rock. After drying the sand stuck much better than I’d hoped and again added to the realism.

Notes

Hopefully this article’s made your imagination run wild, thinking of all the things you can create your own dead drops for. They don’t even have to be purpose built for dead drops, your projects can even be hiding places for your valuables that hide in plain sight. The problem with all those overt containers you see, like the hollowed out books or cans is that it’s the first place someone with any knowledge on the subject is going to look.

Let me know what you think of the drops I created and your ideas for what you’re going to put together!


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viscara
viscara

Quick question how to get rid of redeye and raccoon eyes? LoL. I love your site and what you do. The lessons al within at one point or another in ones life will be useful. So keep it up.

Casey
Casey

For small storage like shown in the video, why not just raid the local pawn shop for a half dozen CD's with the black/opaque tray and just slip your message under that? They aren't difficult to take out and put back - and if some one is searching your things hard enough to be taking CD cases apart, the deodorant isn't going to go unnoticed either.

evan
evan

Another idea, and i know this is kind of a sticky subject so forgive me, in many of the "tobacco" shops they sell "stash cans". The are monster, coke, sprite, or whatever cans that have a screw off lid that look totally innocuous yet have decent space inside. from the 3rd person a drop would merely appear to be a litterer followed by a recylcer. Just a thought, only down side is i think they're around $20..

Pamela Kay
Pamela Kay

I f you want an irregular shape without having to "sculpt" it, try spray foam instead of floral foam. It will expand into an irregular shape, is waterproof, lightweight, easily camouflaged, and you can incorporate wire stabilizing anchors to prevent unwanted movement :

1) Lay a piece of plastic wrap/bag (larger than your intended project) on the ground

2) insert 1 or 2 landscaping pins (or bent hanger wire) through the plastic, leaving at least an inch of the looped end above the surface.

3) Place the storage capsule (upside down) in the center of your project area.

4) Spray some "Great Stuff" or other insulating foam over the storage capsule and wires. (You won't need much, as it expands significantly. You can always add more later.)

5) The spray foam is VERY sticky! (Use gloves) Give it a few minutes to expand, then just throw on any concealment material you wish. (if you want to paint it, wait until dry).

6) Once it dries, just lift the the whole piece w/ the plastic. You can then peel the plastic off the bottom.

If the lid of your storage capsule is obstructed, you can use any blade to etch around the edges. If movement is not a concern, the foam is pliable enough that you can pull them out or omit that step altogether.

Pamela Kay
Pamela Kay

I f you want an irregular shape without having to "sculpt" it, try spray foam instead of floral foam. It will expand into an irregular shape, is waterproof, lightweight, easily camouflaged, and you can incorporate wire stabilizing anchors to prevent unwanted movement : 1) Lay a piece of plastic wrap/bag (larger than your intended project) on the ground 2) insert 1 or 2 landscaping pins (or bent hanger wire) through the plastic, leaving at least an inch of the looped end above the surface. 3) Place the storage capsule (upside down) in the center of your project area. 4) Spray some "Great Stuff" or other insulating foam over the storage capsule and wires. (You won't need much, as it expands significantly. You can always add more later.) 5) The spray foam is VERY sticky! (Use gloves) Give it a few minutes to expand, then just throw on any concealment material you wish. (if you want to paint it, wait until dry). 6) Once it dries, just lift the the whole piece w/ the plastic. You can then peel the plastic off the bottom. If the lid of your storage capsule is obstructed, you can use any blade to etch around the edges. If movement is not a concern, the foam is pliable enough that you can pull them out or omit that step altogether.

Christian Nadeau
Christian Nadeau

I would suggest checking out commercially available geocaches for ideas. Some are somewhat obvious but others are things you would probably never think of. You can even practice being covert when looking for some of the more public caches, although sometimes it is pretty darn tough to look inconspicuous when your reaching you arm halfway into a brick wall or canon.

jarod coon
jarod coon

Loved the video guys, keep them coming!

the pitbull469
the pitbull469

I have made alot of hollowed out books and hollowed out candles they make neat hiding places for valuables. Recently I bought one of those saftey can openers that leave the flat edges and used it to make my own decoy safes, like cans of soup, soda, even a ready-whip can safe. just secure the lids with magnets and your good to go.

John (jgrab81)
John (jgrab81)

Nice! They would also make great "micro"' geocaches. Another thing besides the regular paint would be to use some textured spray paint. Thanks for sharing!

Sam Adams
Sam Adams

I recently saw an interesting video demonstrating a whole new idea for dead drops: usb memory sticks embedded in outdoor building walls with the usb connector exposed. This allows anyone to walk-up and plug-in a laptop (albeit being forced to hold it right up against the wall) and upload/download files. All the usual encryption rules would apply, of course! :) To embed the USB drive, an opening is found or created, all plastic sheathing from drive is removed, and the drive is embedded using a spackle compound. The USB connector does remain visible, of course, and its hard to look non-chalant when standing next to a building wall holding a laptop up to it, but hey, its an idea.

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