It should be no surprise to any of you that we here at the Illuminerdy are interested in secrets. We suspect that you, dear reader, are too. Bu the strange thing about secrets in the modern era is not actually that there are so many, but that there are so few. For all the legendary black budgets and classified compartments our in which our shadow governments are allegedly hiding, there is a shockingly large amount of information publicly available to the enterprising GM (or writer) who wants to inject a little military/industrial complex authenticity into their own unreal worlds. (See what I did there?)
Big world events — and the secret government projects formed in reaction to them — inform a huge amount of contemporary-era roleplaying games, from Top Secret and SpyCraft down to Delta Green, Unknown Armies, and Night’s Black Agents. You can use plots from real-world geopolitics to underpin the sinister plots the heroes in your Supers game oppose, or fictionalize them to import into your fantasy of choice. Use cutting edge technology develops as a template for your characters’ lair or equipment, or extrapolate into the future for your sci fi game of choice. To make any of that work, you’ve got to stay informed, and so it is in this spirit that we call your attention to the top 10 twitter accounts any true black ops aficionado should be following.
The Top 10
Jeremiah Cushman is a defense researcher and writer at Military Periscope (which has it’s own relatively useful Twitter account: @Mil_Periscope) who regularly provides his followers with updates on global military technology and procurement, everything from new stealth boats being developed by the U.S. Navy to China’s growing nuclear arsenal. Cushman’s analysis often focuses on the post-Soviet Baltic, but, there are few better sources for the the cutting edge in military hardware world-wide. Although not everything Cushman highlights is usable in a game, he’s a tabletop gamer himself with an abiding love for both Shadowrun and Battletech. Follow along and you’ll learn something.
There’s probably a human behind Drunk Predator Drone, one of the most amusing sources of information on defense policy and technology you can find on the web, but we cannot discount the slim possibility that there’s actually a plastered Intelligence/Surveillance/Reconnaissance (ISR) platform somehow accessing Twitter. The Drone is well-informed on both general surveillance and counter-terrorism issues, and is obviously a proponent of UAVs for both military and civil defense. It’s also not a bad place to go for military Spec Ops lingo, particularly if you want your character to sound like a grizzled Delta Force operator whose seen action from Afghanistan to Somalia.
JM Berger is a terrorism expert whose Intelwire Daily Brief is one of the absolute best National Security roundups on the web. Berger is also a highly engaged twitter user and Social Media researcher who has repeatedly identified and engaged (and helped shut down) twitter outlets associated with a number of al-Qa’ida affiliates, in at least a couple of cases prompting Twitter to shut them down. Use him to find the real life bad guys who can inspire the fake ones in your game. He’s all in English, but the bad guys are mostly tweeting in Arabic. Google Translate to the rescue!
John Little’s Blogs of War has a little less pugnacious personality than Berger’s Intelwire, but if anything may be even better informed. Blogs of War got its start covering the 2002 invasion of Iraq, and he prides himself on beating mainstream media to the story on military, intelligence, and other defense issues, albeit largely focused on the Middle East. The blog features numerous interviews, but the twitter account has a great survey of the kinds of things your fictional intelligence operatives should be reacting to…or causing.
John Schindler, meanwhile, is a highly opinionated but very well-informed former NSA counterintelligence officer (and current Naval War College professor) whose past gives him a ton of insight into the inner workings (and dysfunctions) of intelligence agencies across the Western World, especially the United States. Schindler has not shied away from larger defense and foreign policy issues, but the fact that he’s actually done real SIGINT work give his frank appraisals additional gravitas.
Where Schindler gives you the SIGINT scoop, Emily Brandwin is probably worth looking at to get the HUMINT story. A former CIA Operations Officer turned comedy writer, Brandwin pulls no punches in her criticism of current U.S. intelligence efforts. Brandwin’s spin is often the exact opposite of Schindler’s, so I try to read these accounts together when possible so I can imagine them arguing. Your mileage may vary.
Stratfor is a private espionage firm that was put in the unwanted spotlight when it was hacked by Anonymous, which made its internal files available to Wikileaks. Clearly it struggles with the “Secret” part of “Secret Agent.” Regardless, the company presses on, providing unclassified — but often insightful — dossiers on major international figures and issues, running the gamut from terrorist attacks in Egypt to Polish political movements. If you want to see what spying without clear government sanction looks like, check these guys out.
Foreign Policy’s twitter account is another good place to check when you’re looking for a world event to serve as a last-minute adventure hook. It has a distinctly old media feel (as compared to some of the others listed above), but it’s hard to argue with history: Foreign Policy knows what’s important and what’s not.
I cheated. This is actually two accounts, but they’re run by the same guy so it counts. Mike Best (the NatSecGeek) is an intelligence expert — and tabletop gamer — whose @NatSecNews stands toe-to-toe with larger news outlets. Most of Best’s tweets have a counterintelligence flair. You’ll get more intel than gaming if you follow him, but he’s easy to engage and a good guy to track if you just want someone to point you in the right direction of what might be useful in your campaign.
Number one is actually a bit of a curveball — whereas the rest of these accounts will give you facts, Above Top Secret can only give you “facts”, typically layered with conspiracy theories of the Black Helicopter and FEMA concentration camp sort. The twitter account is basically just a notification mechanism for new and popular posts at the Above Top Secret forums, which provide the same sort of skewed read on the real world, just with more than 140 characters. I highly recommend watching this to see something coming from Foreign Policy end up repeated here as a “False Flag” operation or further evidence of a Anunaki UFO conspiracy. This is where a lot of the posts you can see from our own @theIlluminerdy begin.
Image Credit: Lindsey Krause