Learn how to Gather Intel with SCG International: The Graduate School of Tactical Training
Learn how to Gather Intel with SCG International: The Graduate School of Tactical Training
The graduate school of tactical training you say? really? I was a bit skeptical myself when I first saw the sign upon entering SCG International in Holly Springs, Mississippi, but that skepticism soon faded as I came to understand the level of detail in which the crew from SCG operated.
Rather than focusing on a single class from SCG, I’m going to give you the overall picture of what my experience has been like training with them for a total of 109 grueling hours. This includes, but is not limited to getting rolled up by Law Enforcement, collecting intelligence, operating on little to no sleep, and yes, even being required to get a woman’s phone number.
Founded in 1996, SCG International provides government and private sectors with domestic and international security, logistics and training services. They specialize in protective security details, logistics, event/location security, corporate security, travel services, intelligence, film & television technical consulting, training, mobile training, risk & vulnerability assessment and K9.
SCG is led by former Central Intelligence Agency Officer Jamie Smith, who came on board as the CEO in 2002. Prior to taking the position, Smith served after as the first director of Blackwater Security Consulting. A company deeply rooted in tradecraft, SCG’s HUMINT (Human Intelligence) course, one of the two I attended, is actually modeled after the Central Intelligence Agency’s Field Tradecraft Course (FTC).
Headquartered in Virginia Beach, VA, they have offices worldwide and run their in-house classes at the SCG Training Center, located 30 miles south of Memphis in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Sitting on 1,500 acres, the training center features a variety of ranges purpose-built for their unique course offerings, including indoor and outdoor simulators, reactive steel target ranges, moving steel ranges, 360 degree ranges and a 5,000 square-foot fully ballistic live-fire shoot house.
My training at SCG includes their Operator/PSD Selection Course which I went through back in October of last year, and their Tactical HUMINT Operations course which I attended in June of this year. There was a lot of carry over between the two classes which definitely helped reinforce the TTP’s (tactics, techniques and procedures), yet the two courses were very different and challenging in their own ways.
The largest difference between the two was that in the OSC we weren’t always given the lesson and academics to train up on prior to kicking us out for the practical exercises. This was done to determine our baseline of knowledge, pattern of thinking, and reasoning skills. Did we have a team focus and what would we do under the stress of a dynamically changing environment?
While we were taught the way SCG does things vs. other PMCs (Private Military Companies), for the most part your were being evaluated on what you were bringing to the table. In the HUMINT course we were truly being “taught” how to complete the objectives.
While the HUMINT course was based on gathering human intelligence and detecting & reporting hostile surveillance, the OSC was largely focused on PSD (Protective Security Detail) operations. The OSC is also a pre-requisite to gaining employment with SCG.
Even though I mention that the OSC was largely focused on PSD operations, all employees of SCG need to be able to have a firm understanding in HUMINT operations, as that’s one of their functions as a company. So there was plenty of carryover in regard to what was presented in the HUMINT course.
HUMINT is paramount in COIN (counter insurgency) operations. The struggle between the government and insurgents for loyalty and support of the populace has tremendous implications that HUMINT can manipulate. The greatest threat to insurgents is effective HUMINT.
Both of the classes I attended were taught and evaluated by “D” and “Ski,” who are two of the sharpest, most knowledgeable instructors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with either in the Military or civilian training. All of SCG’s instructors are active operators in the company, which added a realism I haven’t found in other courses. Not to say I haven’t attended courses by those who have “been there and done that,” but the real-world examples that were given to us really drove home the instruction.
One of the fundamentals behind SCG courses is the continuous mention of these three questions:
- Why are we doing it this way / will it work?
- Is it necessary?
- Can we duplicate it under stress?
I can’t stress how important it is to question anything you’re doing and constantly evaluate it. SCG isn’t just teaching the how, but the why.
All their training exercises and evolutions at SCG come straight from their real-world operations and what they’ve experienced. The good, bad and the ugly. Also, you can fail their courses and be sent home. We had that happen to a guy during the OSC I attended, so there’s no guarantee you’ll earn a certificate of completion in any of their courses.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of my experience and the scenario that unraveled from the minute I entered the AO during both classes.
Something that truly rounded out the attention to detail SCG puts into all their instruction, were the periodic intelligence updates during the course. Just as real intel is disseminated to the field, our team received real-time updates that were pushed out via email and text message.
As we knew from our welcome packets, we were entering DROK, or the Democratic Republic of Krasnovikstan. A comprehensive break down of the current political climate, laws (including that Sharia Law was imposed) and travel advisories was also made available to us before entering. This was just like a mix between the travel advisories from the Department of State and information from the CIA World Factbook (you do read this stuff before you travel, right?)
It was clear that from the moment we received our packets that the role-playing and scenario was in full effect and we should assume we’d be under surveillance at all times in DROK. This kind of nervous anticipation does numbers on you both mentally and physically and only adds to the ghosts, or suspicious people, you think are around. Remember from The Moscow Rules, one sighting is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.
Ski really hammered it home that you should always mentally note anything that looks out of the ordinary and write it down later. It may be nothing, but at least there’s a record of it that can be referred to if it happens again.
The objectives of each of the courses at SCG were similar, but different in many ways. My team in the OSC was on the lookout for the same Al-Qaeda courier as we were in the HUMINT course, and we were gaining intel on captured americans in both courses as well.
With the OSC our objective was to actively use our IO (Intelligence Officer who was a role-player) to gain that intelligence, report it up the chain, and act as the boots on the ground to find the captured americans. In HUMINT, we were acting as IOs ourselves, much like we would in a small-unit HUMINT operation overseas.
Our objective here was to gain intelligence, report it up the chain, and detect and report hostile surveillance. Not necessarily act on the intel ourselves.
Each course had multiple role-players, which added to the realism of walking into meetings and weapons buys not knowing who you’ll encounter. That coupled with active participation from local Law Enforcement made for one stressed out week of training, make that two weeks.
Area of Operations and Cover
The Holly Springs area is a small town where everyone knows everyone. This is something you could definitely run into on an intelligence gathering assignment, and one where your cover is truly a priority.
As some of you may know already, there are two types of cover. Cover for status and cover for action. Basically this means that you need to have a reason for being in or working in a country (CFS), and an explanation for your movements and purpose in everything you’re doing (CFA).
For instance, I carried a carpenter’s measuring tape with me in the vehicle to play into my cover for status as a construction worker building resources for DROK. Medical related professions and public relations are also good cover for status overseas.
To effectively use your cover you must be prepared to answer questions that might arise from the attention you attract in a small town. Much like the questions you’d be asked by a Customs Agent when traveling, What is your business here? Where are you from? How long will you be here?
There’s definitely no place in the world of intelligence for the meek. You have to be sharp witted, able to think on the fly, and know your cover and stick to it.
When working with a team, it’s imperative that everyone is on the same page when it comes to your cover. I, along with my team, learned this the hard way when Law Enforcement rolled us up during a mobile meeting. When the officers that detained us started poking around and searching our vehicles they found body armor, issues of SWAT Magazine, and my concealed carry weapon (on me). Yes, I wasn’t using my head. I was more worried about protection than thinking about the role-playing scenario, which was a disconnect I was able to fix when going back for my second class at SCG.
As I’ve made evident in the above example, another important aspect when working under a cover is proper sterilization. Nobody realized how important it was and everyone took it for granted. With those simple mistakes our whole cover was blown. How could we explain those things under the cover we were under or the political climate we were in?
Let me also add to know your AO by conducting good area fams prior to hitting the ground and getting eyes on once you’re there.
While we were being fed our regular intel updates, collecting our own intelligence to move our objectives forward and developing our tradecraft (see below), there was never a shortage of busy work or taskers.
Our taskers kept us constantly moving and on our feet ready for anything, alternatively this also ensured we were in condition orange 24/7 (bordering on red). Unlike other courses you may have been to that stop for lunch and end the day with everyone sitting around bullshitting, this isn’t one of them. There’s always work after class to prepare for the next day’s brief, a late night call to meet with a source, or worrying whether tonight will be the night DROK Police come to search your room while you’re sleeping.
The taskers usually included developing our ability to case the establishments where we ate lunch and additionally develop our HUMINT gathering abilities. Casing? Yep, just like a Sniper draws detailed maps, so did we. We knew the ins and outs of a building, where the fortified structures were, where the entrances and exits were, colored structure references (see photo, right), even how many people were working.
I actually continue to practice this skill often when my wife and I are out to eat or at a bar. I’d always paid attention to exits before, but never could I sit down, make one trip to the bathroom, and be able to sketch the building layout, camera locations, and everything in-between on a bar napkin.
did I mention that everything we were assigned to do had to be briefed afterward or the next day? Our briefs always included presenting detailed maps and sketches of the area on the white board while verbally running through our every move on site. I’m usually good at public speaking, but the breadth of the information and detailed timetables I was presenting felt overwhelming at times.
One thing that I was guilty of in both classes was carrying around copious notes containing sensitive information. Obviously my example of sketching a building on a bar napkin doesn’t fly when you’re trying to be discreet, but neither does thinking your going to eat your notes if you’re in trouble.
So what exactly is tradecraft? Tradecraft is acquired methods and natural talents used to get the job done. Simple as that, essentially it’s skill-sets.
Our tradecraft differed a little bit in the OSC than HUMINT, but again there was a lot of carryover. Below is just a taste of the content presented at SCG:
Protective Security Detail
What we didn’t get into during the HUMINT course was PSD (Protective Security Detail) work. While we were expected to have a firm understanding of PSD work in the OSC, we went over fundamentals like attack-on-principal, formations, covering and evacuating the VIP, drop-offs and pickups, IADs (immediate action drills), and vehicle bailouts.
In all PSD work the objective is to protect your VIP from harm, harassment and embarrassment while providing concentric rings of security.
Surveillance Detection Routes
SDRs are pre-planned, timed, routes of travel and stops, executed to detect and, if necessary, manipulate surveillance in order to accomplish an operational objective. SDRs are the tradecraft ace in the hole.
Through the use of these routes you’ll be focused on detecting surveillance through the route you plan, not chicken-necking to get a glimpse of who’s potentially following you. SDRs are also a great way for your team to run counter surveillance on you to see if you’re being followed.
For instance, during our HUMINT class, our team spent countless hours calculating SDRs to and from clandestine meetings with sources. We were lucky to have a member of our team that had lived in the AO and was truly a valuable area expert.
Using our SDRs we were able to have a vehicle running counter surveillance along our SDR by simply parking along the pre-determined route and noting if we had surveillance on us. Communications are also invaluable in this situation.
I think one of the coolest parts of the HUMINT course was learning about Dead Drops and getting a homework assignment to create our own one night before class the next day. I’ve always had an affinity for the history behind Dead Drops and was excited to create my own. We had to subsequently use one to pass money for some information from a source.
If you’re unfamiliar with Dead Drops, these are simply an impersonal communication method to pass a message covertly.
Combatives and PT
One area that I feel made the SCG truly shine was their instruction on combatives and focus on fitness. During the first hour of the OSC there was a fitness test with a timed run, push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. They strive to ensure their operators are in top physical condition, to truly be able to handle any situation.
The SCG Combatives Program teaches you how to handle yourself in situations where your hands are your only weapons. It’s not realistic to think that you’re going to shoot your way out of every situation, and bringing a gun into certain environments could ruin your cover and potentially take an operation months or years in planning and ruin it, just like that.
Rather than continue to explain SCG Combatives, I’d like to segue into a video I was able to film with D explaining the program.
Remember… Buddies, Weapons and Options…
While the OSC or the HUMINT course weren’t dedicated shooting courses, we did spend a lot of time on the range. This was not only to ensure everyone qualified during the OSC, but to drive home the correlation between armed and unarmed combat.
Combatives has a large carry-over into range techniques, where the same stances that are the baseline for combatives are also the baseline for drawing from a holster. Watching someone’s hands rather than their face is also an important consideration when dealing with a potentially hostile individual.
While your brain is the first line of defense, ensuring you have marksmanship fundamentals down certainly doesn’t hurt. The one-on-one instruction I received during some of the HUMINT concealed carry pistol work was especially beneficial. D was able to spot an inconsistency in my sight alignment that I’d never noticed before, and once corrected, dramatically improved my performance.
You’ll see him in the photos and video watching me like a hawk!
During the OSC we were able to get into using the SCG Shoot House, which is truly a remarkable live-fire facility. 5,000 square feet of ballistic AR500 steel complete with a simulated airplane fuselage, jail cells, and meth lab.
Here’s a video walk-through of the awesomness! You’ll have to excuse the sound in this particular video, it was raining during the walkthrough and it sounds like static.
I’ve never quite connected with training courses like I did with these from SCG International. I attribute that to the level of dedication, professionalism and passion for teaching that both D and Ski brought to the courses.
SCG looks at training from the “whole operator” perspective, which is how I feel that we should all look at our lives and training programs. Mental and emotional discipline, physical ability, managing stress, integrity, thinking on your feet, and having the intelligence to make the right decisions at all times are what separates the sheepdog from the flock.
My personal take on SCG is nothing short of outstanding, they hold themselves to an ethical standard that I both admire and respect. I wouldn’t hesitate taking another class from them to further my experience and knowledge base.
A special thanks to not only D and Ski, but to all my classmates from both classes, who I look forward to training and working with again in the future.