Tag Archive for: spies

With the current situation involving the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and with Russia’s cyberattacks on other countries, it should not be surprising to anyone that Russian spies live and work within the U.S.

Elena Branson, also known as Elena Chernykh, is one of those Russian spies.

Branson was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated to the U.S. at 30, and less than a decade later became an American citizen. Then, ten years later, or so, she began her work as a spy for the Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin.

Some of Branson’s duties as a spy included spreading and promoting pro-Kremlin propaganda for the purpose of networking Russian citizens with prominent Americans, arrange meetings between Moscow officials and U.S. politicians, help Russian nationals apply for visas to enter the United States under false pretenses. She even founded and operated a Russian propaganda center in New York City, called the Russian Center New York.

Elena Branson/Elena Chernykh corresponded directly with Putin and other Kremlin officials. In 2020, she was questioned by the FBI, and shortly after meeting with federal law enforcement she fled the U.S. and is currently hiding somewhere in Russia. The U.S. filed numerous federal charges against her, and if she’s found, tried, and convicted, she faces up to 35 years in prison.

Read the criminal complaint below. Click the arrows at the lower left of the document to advance to the next page, or to go to previous pages.


Spy v. Spy

The spy business has been around for a long time, thousands of years. Egyptian surveillance operations sought foreign intelligence about the political and military strength and weaknesses of Greece and Rome.  Early Greeks used deception and spying to help formulate surprise attacks on their enemies. Sun Tzu of China wrote The Art of War, which contained text dedicated to the use of spies on the battlefield and for private assignments.

The Roman Empire engaged in espionage, as did the Catholic Church and the Crusades, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Cold War and WWII atomic spies, the Verona Project, undercover police, police informants, labor spies, covert agents, double agents, corporate espionage, wiretaps, Amazon Alexa, social media data mining, and the list goes on and on.

Spies, spies, everywhere you look … spies, and things were no different in 1863 when a tough, determined woman who stood barely of five-feet-tall became a spy for the Union Army. This courageous woman was, of course, Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman was born as Araminta Ross, around 1822, at the Anthony Thompson plantation on Harrisville Road in Dorchester County, Maryland. Harrisville Road, little more than a good stone’s throw from Cambridge, Maryland, is nestled between the waterways of Church Creek, Blackwater River, Little Choptank River, Fishing Creek, and the larger Choptank River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

Araminta, called “Minty by her parents, was one of about 40 people enslaved by Anthony Thompson. Araminta’s mother, Harriet (“Rit”) Green, worked as a cook in the Thompson plantation’s main house. Her father, Benjamin Ross, served as a timber worker. At the age of five, Araminta was rented out as a nursemaid. At seven she was again rented out, this time as a muskrat trapper. Later, while she toiled as a field hand, she changed her name to from Araminta to Harriet to honor her mother.

In 1840 Harriet’s father was set free; however, she and her mother and siblings were to remain as slaves. In that same year, Harriet married John Tubman, a free Black man. Their marriage, though, was troublesome. That, and learning her two brothers were about to be sold, gave Harriet cause to plan an escape to Pennsylvania by way of the Underground Railroad, and to take her siblings with her. This, helping slaves reach their freedom, was a role Harriet Tubman would repeat many times.

Harriot (far left) with family and friends

Harriet: Spy and Cunning Military Leader

In 1861, in the early stages of the Civil War, Harriet was recruited to help fugitive slaves at Fort Monroe, a Union military installation where she served in a variety of roles, such as cooking, and as a nurse, using her vast knowledge of herbal remedies to heal both slaves and soldiers. She also assisted with laundry duties.

Two years later, in 1863, Harriet, a woman who could not read nor write, took charge of a highly dangerous spying and scouting network for the Union Army, providing vital information to Union leaders about Confederate Army troops and troop movements.

She partnered with Colonel James Montgomery, the commander of the Second South Carolina Volunteers, a Black regiment, to plan a raid along the Combahee River. Their mission was to rescue enslaved people and recruit the freed men into the Union Army. Then they’d demolish some of the flushest rice plantations in the area.

Montgomery and Tubman, on the federal ship the John Adams, led two other gunboats out of the St. Helena Sound in South Carolina towards the Combahee River. To safely navigate the waters and to avoid being blown to bits by enemy cannon fire, the ship captains and their crews relied on the intelligence gathered by Tubman and her eight top scouts.

Tubman led a charge of 150 men in a raid that freed 700 slaves from the grasp of rebel soldiers. Soldiers from both Montgomery’s gunboat and Tubman’s then went to work burning plantations, fields and crops, mills, granaries and manors, and they used gunfire from their boats to demolish a vital pontoon bridge used by the Confederacy.

As a direct result of Tubman’s skill and bravery, the mission was a success.

Harriet Tubman was never paid for her services.

Long Wharf’s History of Slavery, and Freedom

  • Some members of my family made their living fishing and crabbing in the waters around where Harriet Tubman was born and lived.
  • One of my uncles owned a house that Harriet Tubman used as part of her Underground Railroad.
  • When times were hard, like Harriet Tubman, my grandfather and great-grandfather trapped and cooked muskrats. Not a pleasant sight to see in a pot on the stove.
  • The Choptank River was a commercial artery used to ship timber, tobacco, and farm products. It was also a route used to transport captive Africans who were unloaded at Long Wharf, in Cambridge. From there the slaves were shipped to southern plantations. On the other hand, the Choptank River, as part of the Underground Railroad, was used by escaping slaves who  followed it northward into Delaware, and freedom.
  • Long Wharf Park is located at the end of High Street, a historic brick-paved street lined with magnificent homes from back “in the day.” Today, the street ends at a large picturesque marina for boats of any size, including naval vessels.
Long Wharf was used both by slave traders and by slaves who followed the Choptank River to their freedom

Long Wharf, Cambridge, Md.

  • Many of my fondest memories are of the summers I spent with with my grandparents who lived in the area. Nearly every day we were out on the Choptank’s salty water, fishing and crabbing ,or swimming. We’d also try our luck at catching fish in Church Creek, Blackwater River, Little Choptank River, and Fishing Creek, near Harriet Tubman’s birthplace. I carried on the tradition by taking our daughter there, starting when she was quite young. One day, as we stood on Long Wharf, taking in the sights and smells of the Choptank, a large group of seagulls flew in and landed near Ellen’s tiny little girl feet. She quickly turned toward me with excitement in her eyes and exclaimed, “Look at all the penguins, Daddy!” I never forget that as long as I live, and will always smile at her sweet innocense when I do.

Still, you can’t take a step around there without sensing the presence of Harriet Tubman and her story. And what a story it is.

This week, The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center in Church Creek, Maryland (Stop #13 on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway) launches the “Tubman 200 Celebration.”

The celebration includes a livestream video on Friday, March 11, 2022, that’s open to all:


7 p.m. – Virtual Premier of “Rooted Wisdom: Nature’s Role in the Underground Railroad”
This film chronicles the experiences of freedom seekers’ journeys through the wilderness. The documentary film will stream live on Friday, March 11 at 7 p.m at naturesrole.org. The virtual event is free and open to all, though registration is encouraged at bit.ly/RootedWisdomPremiere. A panel discussion with historians and filmmakers will follow. Register online to attend on the website at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/rooted-wisdom-natures-role-in-the-underground-railroad-virtual-premiere-tickets-253263025527

I’ve already reserved our spot for the livestream.

And, if you’re in the area, the other weekend events are:


10 a.m. – Opening ceremony featuring a living history interpretation by Millicent Sparks

11 a.m. – “The Discovery of the Ben Ross Homesite”
Hear from Dr. Julie Schablitsky of the Maryland Department of Transportation about the successful effort to locate and excavate the homesite of Ben Ross. The artifacts are on display for the first time at the Visitor Center for the entire month of March.

12 p.m. – “Foraging Freedom: Experiencing the Natural World of the Underground Railroad”
Join an interactive walking tour with historian Anthony Cohen through the Legacy Garden and adjacent Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Participants should expect to be on their feet and are encouraged to wear comfortable all-weather shoes.

1 p.m. – “Jubilee Voices at Harriet’s House”
Hear the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices during the Tubman 200th festivities. Jubilee Voices is an ensemble that is committed to the preservation of African American history and traditions through songs and storytelling.

2 p.m. – “The Education of Harriet Ross Tubman”
Kate Clifford Larson, a Tubman biographer, discusses the free and enslaved people who helped raise, protect, nurture, and educate Minty to become the woman we know as Harriet Tubman.

3 p.m. – “‘Designing a New Place to Experience History: An Exploration of the Architects”
Listen to Chris Elcock, associate principal of the architecture firm GWWO Inc., as he explains the design process behind creating the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center


10 a.m. – “Meet Harriet Tubman”
Living history interpreter Millicent Sparks performs as Tubman and shares her monumental life with audience members.

11 a.m. – “The Hidden Chesapeake Through Harriet Tubman’s Eyes”
Kate Clifford Larson, a Tubman biographer, shares about some of the places around the Chesapeake Bay that bear witness to the histories, memories, and legacies of the Underground Railroad and its most famous conductor.

12 p.m. – “The Chronicles of Adam”
A powerful and inspirational first-person historical interpretation of an enslaved man by the name of Adam.

1 p.m. – “The Legacy Hour”
Hear from community members and enjoy musical selections from Renna McKinney as we honor the lives of Donald Pinder and Herschel Johnson. During the second half hour, become inspired by Tina Wyatt, great, great, great grandniece of Harriet Tubman as she shares “A Letter to Soph.”

2 p.m. – “The Legacy of Slavery in Maryland”
Chris Haley of the Maryland State Archives presents a general overview of slavery in Maryland, which will include examples of records specifically related to the state and to counties of the Eastern Shore and how both the enslaved and free were affected by the ‘peculiar institution.’

3 p.m. – “Freedom Bound”
Join public historian and historical interpreter Marvin-Alonzo Greer in this family-friendly program with interactive songs and stories.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Department of Commerce, National Park Service, and other federal, state, and local partners will continue to celebrate and highlight aspects of Tubman’s story throughout the year.

The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center, which has just reached its 5th year of operation, has hosted hundreds of thousands of visitors from 70 countries and territories and all 50 states. This state-of-the-art, green facility is managed in partnership with the National Park Service.

*Event schedule above – The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center




Writers’ Police Academy
June 2-5, 2022
Green Bay, WI



Would you like to receive a $50 bonus from Writers’ Police Academy, AND free registration to a special WPA Online seminar?
The seminar, taught by Dr. Katherine Ramsland, is “Behavioral Clues at Crime Scenes,” and covers staging, profiling, character development, and more!
Details about this incredible opportunity to be announced very soon.

If we’re to believe novels and old movies and even some television news reports, spying and gathering information by way of torture go together much like peanut butter and jelly, French fries and ketchup, and bacon and eggs. And, well, bacon and anything.

Torture, according to Merriam Webster is: the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure.

The CIA softens the sound of the word “torture” by calling it “enhanced interrogation.” But no matter the words, interrogation techniques that include sleep deprivation, slapping, subjection to cold, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), electrical shocks, and/or otherwise beating the snot out of someone to learn some sort of information is plain old torture.

Making use of hot lights and rubber hoses and trips to the soundproof basement to obtain confessions is nothing new. In fact, police have been accused of it for as long as, well, forever. Unfortunately, there is some truth mingled in the mix, such as back in the early 1980s when three Chicago police officers arrested Darrell Cannon in connection with a murder case.

The officers drove Cannon to a remote area to “convince” him to confess. Cannon, according to court records, said that when he refused to say what the police wanted him to say,  the officers forced the barrel of a shotgun into his mouth and repeatedly pulled the trigger. When that didn’t worked they used a cattle prod to shock his genitals. He finally gave in.

Homan Square – a ‘black site’ run by Chicago Police that’s used to interrogate people out of view of law enforcement’s regular chain of command?

I’m old enough to remember having “cattle prods” as part of a sheriff’s office’s arsenal of weapons. They were kept in the armory for use during riots or should we be called upon to assist with large prison disturbances at one of the nearby institutions. A couple of the crusty old-timers carried them in the trunks of their cars, and I’d heard tales of their use on suspects who wouldn’t climb into the back seat of a patrol car fast enough. They chuckled as they told tales of shocking the you know what out of a drunk homeless man or zapping a smart-ass punk who enjoyed taking swings at cops.

When I worked at a maximum security prison, there was a row of cattle prods lined up on shelf inside the armory, alongside rifles, shotguns, teargas guns, helmets, and the like.


History tells us that the Russians, Chinese, Germans, and the good old U.S. of A. are all masters of the pain game. However, it is Cuba, an island roughly the size of Pennsylvania, that sits where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean join, that perhaps tops the spy/torture chart.

Yes, U.S. officials believed that Cuban masterminds had cleverly devised the most diabolical, devious and most horrific pain-inducer known to man. It is unrivaled, to say the least. And it is invisible.

In 2016, the first attack caught embassy staff by surprise. After all, how does one defend against something that can’t be seen as it advances toward its target at the speed of sound?

Staff members began reported neurological symptoms, along with concussion-like indications. Signs pointed toward head injuries, yet there were none. Not a single knock on the noggin had been recorded.

Next came reports of diplomats experiencing sounds they described as buzzing noises (like bees inside their heads), the sounds of metal grinding against metal, horrible, piercing squeals, and/or a persistent humming. And there was that weird and maddening and “ear-itating” feeling we sometimes get while inside a moving car with the windows partially rolled down—the  pressure-induced vibrating/air “baffling” that sort of hurts our ears when it occurs.

Canada and the U.S. became understandably alarmed. They thought it was possible that Cuba had lunched some sort of sonic attack and withdrew had of their Embassy staff, and they expelled Cuban diplomats in retaliation.

It was a big deal with lots of chest thumping and finger-pointing.

Fortunately, two biologists, while doing things biologists do, decided to listen to a recording of the mysterious Cuban sounds. We’ll dang if they didn’t discover, instantly, that the entire near-war, mass hysteria incident was nothing more than a bunch of local crickets belting out tunes to attract new mates. Special songs that other crickets found to induce love and sex appeal were sickening and ear-splitting to nearby people.

So yeah, two biologists single-handedly prevented what could have been the “Cuban Crooning Cricket Crisis.”

* The Indies short-tailed cricket is found around the Caribbean. Over-reacting, non-trusting and suspicious humans are found worldwide.



My Friend Cayla is not the typical secret agent. Not even close. In fact, her identity is out there for the world to see and she doesn’t care who knows her capabilities. She’s that good.

Standing at a towering 18 inches and powered by 3AA batteries, Cayla is able to carry on conversations with your children. She can also ramble on and on about herself—likes, dislikes, and even her possible career choices as she grows older.

Yes, Cayla is a doll, a child’s toy labeled as a “mole” and recently banned by the German government because of her ability to spy on the people around her. The country considers the doll to be so harmful that the FNC, Germany’s telecommunications network, issued an order to the public, instructing them to destroy every single Cayla doll in their possession.

My Friend Cayla is NOT Your Friend. She’s a Spy!

The order further instructed parents/Cayla doll owners to fill out a certificate of destruction and have it signed by a legitimate waste-management company official. The signed documents are then to be sent back to the FNA as proof the dolls were indeed destroyed. German law provides for aa potential fine of $26,500 and two years in prison as a general punishment for not following the FNA orders.

Cayla, you see, can be easily hacked by anyone within 30 feet of the dolls transmitting device. And, the Cayla dolls (also included are the i-Q Intelligence Robot) were found to be transmitting audio recordings to a third party specializing in voice recognition for police and military forces.

Ask Cayla if she can be trusted and she responds, “I don’t know.” A future politician, perhaps?


Banned in Germany, Cayla dolls are capable of spying on your kids, and you!

The dolls, designed as playmates for children, ask kids for their personal information—name, address, phone number, parent’s names, hometown, names of schools attended, and much more. All this without obtaining parents’ permission to collect the personal data.

The company producing the dolls says there’s nothing shady about the practice of collecting the data, which, they say, is used to enhance the experience of playing with an interactive doll.

Nuance – Dragon Naturally Speaking

Nuance, the company best-known  for Dragon, the speech-to-text dictation software (I used it from time-to-time when writing my book on police procedure and investigation), is also a defense contractor that sells “voice biometric solutions” to the military and to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Nuance makes the interactive voice recognition system used in these toys (Cayla dolls, etc.).

Nuance’s privacy policy states “We may use the information that we collect for our internal purposes to develop, tune, enhance, and improve our products and services, and for advertising and marketing consistent with this Privacy Policy.”

It continues, “If you are under 18 or otherwise would be required to have parent or guardian consent to share information with Nuance, you should not send any information about yourself to us.”

How many 6-year-olds will keep that directive in mind when her best friend, Cayla, asks for her mommy’s name and where she works? You’re right – Zero. And, who’s watching for the person who’s truly directing Cayla to ask the questions spouting from her plastic mouth?

After all, it could be the kidnapper/rapist sitting inside the ice cream truck parked at the curb—the creepy guy who just learned from your 9-year-daughter that her mommy will out for a couple of hours, but her 12-year-old sister is babysitting, and sure, they both like ice cream. And, of course she promised her friend Cayla that would not tell mom or dad.

So … as soon as you’re out the door and out of sight, Mr. Stranger arrives at the front door with ice cream, balloons, and candy in hand …

Hackers gain access to these dolls via Bluetooth connection

The dolls are connected to an app (typically a parent sets it up on their phone(s). Once accessed, the dolls are in the control the hacker, and the information received is theirs to do with as they wish.


Data received and recorded can also be “voiceprint” for future access to “locations” without having to be physically present.

*Source – Consumerist, NPR, Washington Post… and me.


Treason is a word we often see in the news and social media and, unfortunately, its use is often, well, absolutely incorrect. Therefore, to save writers the trouble and embarrassment of using the term incorrectly in a work of fiction, here’s the definition of treason, a definition that is quite easily found in the U.S. Constitution.

Treason and Espionage

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.”

Please note the use of the word “only” in the first sentence. It’s there for a reason, to make certain there’s no misunderstanding. The treason law ONLY applies to those individuals who are levying War against them (the U.S.), or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. That’s specific. Quite specific. There’s no wiggle room whatsoever.

Tried and Convicted

So how does one commit treason against the U.S.? Here are examples:

  • In June 1947, Tomoya Kawakita, a U.S. citizen, was tried and convicted for the mistreatment  and abuse of American POWs held by the Japanese during World War II.
  • Mildred Elizabeth Gillars (aka Axis Sally) was convicted of assisting the Nazis by broadcasting propaganda on her radio show. She was an American employed by the Third Reich in Nazi Germany.
  • Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino (aka Tokyo Rose), was tried and convicted of treason for her propaganda radio broadcasts to American troops where American POWs were forced to participate in on-air propaganda messages.
  • In 1948, Robert Henry Best, an American foreign news correspondent who covered events in Europe, was tried and convicted of treason after it was discovered he was a Nazi supporter and broadcaster of Nazi propaganda during World War II.
  • Aaron Burr, third vice president of the United States, was charged with treason after the discovery of his plan to invade Mexico for the purpose of establishing an empire. Now that was an ambitious plan, for sure. However, Burr was a acquitted by Chief Justice John Marshall. In his ruling, Marshall said that to prove treason, “war must actually be levied against the United States … conspiracy (to levy war) is not treason.”

Spies often commit espionage.


Remember Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the couple who were prosecuted for giving atomic secrets to the  Soviet Union? The pair was tried and convicted for their crimes, but they weren’t charged with treason because the U.S. and Russia were not at war when they committed their traitorous acts.

Again, the Rosenburgs were NOT charged with treason because the U.S. was NOT at war with Russia at the time. Sure, this occurred during the Cold War, but that’s not an actual war with bombs and missiles and soldiers fighting the enemy. Therefore, the Rosenburgs were instead charged with espionage (spying and/or transferring state secrets to a foreign government). The Rosenburgs were convicted and executed.

So, without going into a lot of detail (especially since details are not in any way available to any of us) and to help writers avoid a mistake, the charge of treason requires far more than a brief meeting to discuss juicy gossip. On the other hand, if Boris and Natasha were present and the U.S. was at actual war with another country, any country, and IF someone aided that country with their efforts against us in that war, well …


To continue today’s lesson, Collusion is … click here to read the details.

*I ask that you please reserve political comments for another website or blog because this article is strictly for informational purposes. This is not an op ed piece about politics or politicians. Actually, I’m sick of seeing even one single word about politics (I avoid it at every turn. I do not read political blogs, articles, social media posts, etc.). I delete political comments, by the way. However, I absolutely welcome and encourage discussion. Just not about politics, religion, race, and any of the other hot button topics du jour.

Spies, they’re everywhere!