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This book will give you a flying start at the art and science of purposeful concealment. These chapters will show you how to hide both large and small objects in both temporary and permanent locations.
This isn’t just another “How To Construct Secret Hiding Places” book. It’s not a text on carpentry or excavation. This book covers the dynamics of successful concealment to an extent that no other book in this field has yet done. Note especially the chapters on concealing weapons and on unconventional methods of getting your material “lost” for a period of time.
Some may think that hiding things is necessarily illicit, and that anyone with a clear conscience has literally “nothing to hide.” This is untrue, as we can see by examining a few instances.
Let’s look at a few people with good reasons to construct hiding places. The first will be someone worried about burglary. He knows that no amount of locks, alarms, and police protection guarantees against intruders ripping off his valuables, such as a coin collection. Another example is a police officer with young children. He needs to keep his weapons and ammunition away from their small hands, as they’re yet too young to understand safe gun handling and an admonition of “Don’t touch!” leaves too much to chance.
Even without children, a police officer has to worry about other dangers. His home is as vulnerable to burglary as any civilian’s. It can be very embarrassing when an intruder makes off with his service revolver when he’s off-duty and away from home. Recently, one young patrolman was ripped off in exactly this way. What made it worse is that his father is the local Chief of Police!
Closely related to this situation is that of a hunter and sportsman who keeps an array of firearms in the house. He knows that no warnings to children below a certain age will be effective, and that even when his children are old enough to understand safe gun handling, those of visitors may not be. It’s simpler all around to keep firearms safely out of sight and out of reach.
Another individual keeps a lot of valuables around because he doesn’t trust banks. He knows that banks can fail, in which case his assets may or may not be protected by the government. In any event, he knows that if his bank fails, he’ll have a long wait for his assets, at best. He needs a place for his bills.
A dealer in valuables, such as stamps, coins, or precious stones may use a safe and an alarm system to protect the bulk of his goods, but may want to handle especially valuable items in a special way, by concealing them.
Yet another earns undeclared income in the underground economy. He has assets to hide not only from thieves but from the government. He knows that safe-deposit boxes are not as safe as they seem, and that even a private vault means entrusting valuables to others’ honesty and convenience. He decides that he wants his assets totally under his control.
Carrying concealed weapons is a special topic within the broader one. It’s worth close study because, while keeping material concealed is not illegal, carrying a weapon concealed is, in some jurisdictions. Criminals, of course, tend to carry concealed weapons, which is what gave rise to the laws pertaining to them. What the law doesn’t officially acknowledge is that in most instances a concealed weapon is on the person of an otherwise law-abiding citizen who carries it as a defense against crime.
You don’t need to see the film Death Wish or the TV production Outrage to understand that street crime is widespread in this country. You need only read the daily newspaper or watch the TV news to see that, not only are many of our citizens victims of crime, but that the police don’t do much to defend them. The first, and usually the only, line of defense is the armed citizen.
Granted it’s illegal, and if you live in the hostile environment of New York City, it’s very illegal. It comes down to the basic question: “Would you rather be tried by twelve or carried by six?”
Don’t make the mistake of being too open about your hiding places. Some people brag about them, and openly display them to friends and acquaintances. Those who carry weapons’ especially, are tempted to show them off. This breaks their low profile and can lead to complications. If you have a need for a hiding place, you may already have a need to be discreet. Such would be the case if you’re part of the underground economy. Continue this practice and you’ll save yourself needless problems.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Although people have been hiding their possessions and themselves at various times since before the dawn of written history, there is very little written on the subject. The cultural explosion of the Twentieth Century has brought about the greatest volume of literature on hiding and hiding places, and yet there are very few books as such. Previously, there was almost nothing.
Part of the reason is that most people in the world were illiterate before our time. Another is secrecy. Many of these techniques and places for hiding things and people were truly deep and dark secrets, at least in the inventors’ minds.
The residue of history is legend and myth. We find this in Britain, where there are many legends about secret tunnels, and most of these legends have no factual basis.1 People apparently need to believe in romanticized versions of history, and many “secret tunnels” found were actually drains in the old days. With all that, there are some genuine hiding places still existing, and they date from the days of the Catholic persecution in Britain.2
The reason for the hidey holes was clear and crisp. Catholic priests risked execution if caught. These were the hearty Elizabethan days of the rack in the Tower of London. Sometimes the victims took days to die under torture.
In Warwickshire, Baddesley Clinton is a stone mansion with three wings surrounding a courtyard. Around it is a moat. In the back wing is a full length tunnel.3 One exit from it is on the moat, and allegedly there was a plank to bridge the moat for a quick escape. This is unlikely, given the forty foot length required, but the tunnel did serve as a hiding place. There was a secret entrance built into a window seat in what was allegedly the priest’s room.
In Aston Hall, in Birmingham, there is a very well preserved hiding place under a stair. A chair is mounted against a wall, and this chair swings aside to reveal a room that measures six by ten feet.4
A place with the guttural sounding name of Thrumpton Hall, Nottinghamshire, has a combination secret staircase and cellar room, with the entrance to the underground room hidden in the staircase. The cellar room measured two and one half feet wide by six feet long. It was a tight fit.5
In Burghwallis Hall, Yorkshire, there’s a false staircase head accessible only from the attic. Over a doorway is a secret trap door which leads onto a crawlway in the attic. Retracing the path along about thirty feet brings the fugitive to a six foot square hiding place at the top of the stairs.6
In Hardwick Hall is a false chimney section in the attic. A section is butted onto the real chimney, with a door made of wood covered with plaster and painted to look like a chimney’s brickwork.7
These are the homes of the nobility and of the gentry. No doubt, working class people and peasants had their secret places too, although not to hide the clergy. Probably they hid their few coins against the tax collector. As money was usually made of a “noble metal,” it would stand up to burial for years without corroding.
Across the English Channel, many miles inland and many years later, there was a prisoner-of-war camp at Colditz Castle, now in East Germany. During World War II, the hard-core, “incorrigible” Allied POWS were incarcerated here by the Germans. Security was as total as German ingenuity could devise, and the staff outnumbered the prisoners. Still, there were escapes.
Possibly the most imaginative escape project involved a secret room about forty feet long built into one of the attics of Colditz Castle. This refuge served as a secret workshop for building a glider with a wingspan of thirty three feet, designed to carry two men from a launching pad on the castle roof.
The room itself was closed off from the rest of the attic by a frame wall, covered with canvas and with a superficial layer of plaster to simulate the stone walls of the castle. The plaster was improvised from the debris of another project, a tunnel out of the castle. Materials for the construction of the wall’s framework and the glider itself came from the prisoners’ theater floorboards. Mattress covers supplied the fabric for the wings and fuselage.8
The plan was to launch the glider from the roof, along a catapult rail made of wooden trestles. The wood came from the bunks. The motive power for the launch was to be a bathtub filled with concrete that the prisoners would drop through holes in the floors, for a total drop of three stories. A rope from the bathtub would be attached to the glider, and tow it up to flying speed.
The glider never flew. By the time it was finished, it was the end of the war, and escape was pointless. The glider probably still lies in the attic, deep behind the Iron Curtain.
Other countries no doubt have their secret histories of hiding places, and perhaps some written traces of fact and legend can be found in foreign libraries. However, these are surely outnumbered by the hiding places of modern day America!
1. Secret Hiding Places, Granville Squiers, (Detroit, Tower Books, I971) p.la.
2. Ibid, p.20.
3. Ibid, p.31.
4. Ibid, p. 43. Photo of this arrangement is on plate facing page 48.
5. Ibid, pp. 81-83.
6. Ibid, pp. I l5-l17.
7. Ibid, pp. 133-135.
8. Colditz, The Great Escape, Ron Baybutt, (New York, Little, Brown & Company, 1982) pp. 124-125.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HILL: PART I – THE SEARCHERS
To develop your ability to hide things, you should understand the mentality and the methods used by those who will be trying to find your hidden material. The insight you gain from examining your potential adversaries will help you understand your task better.
Let’s start by laying out one fundamental fact. The success of your effort at hiding something will depend mostly on who’s searching, not the ingenuity of your idea or the quality of your workmanship. You might find this hard to believe, but let’s examine a few possible situations to see how this works.
(l) You’re female, driving alone in your car, carrying about an ounce of cocaine. You come to a roadblock, with heavily-armed sheriff’s deputies and state troopers searching every car going in your direction. Troopers on each side of the road are scanning the stopped cars, rifles and shotguns at port arms. As you pull up to the front of the line, a trooper approaches your car from each side, peering into the back seat and into the well in front of the front seat. One trooper asks you to get out and open your trunk, while the other covers him. He explains to you that they’re looking for an escaped convict, who is armed, dangerous, and has a history of kidnapping people to help him escape.
In this situation, they’re just looking for a human body, and inspecting any space large enough to hide one. You could smuggle a pound of hash or even a machine-gun and not have the police bother trying to find it.
(2) You’re a warehouse owner, and one fine morning the police arrive with a search warrant. Their affidavit, based on “information received,” states that you may be holding some stolen television sets. They proceed to search your premises. Actually, you’re a bookie on the side, and your betting slips are in a drawer of your desk, but the police don’t even look inside.
(3) You’re a spy, and one night you’re awakened by the counter-espionage police who break into your home, arrest you, and start taking the place apart. Several hours later, in the interrogation room, an officer of the counter-espionage police enters and tells you that they’ve found your miniature camera, invisible ink, and your radio transmitter. Although you’d taken every precaution to hide these well, you know that he’s telling the truth and start calculating if you can escape the firing squad by confessing and revealing the identities of your contacts.
From this, we see that there are different levels of search effort, and different agencies performing searches for contraband and stolen goods. Their effort and expertise will vary with the situation, and in most instances, a slight effort at avoiding suspicion will save you embarrassment and arrest. In other situations, nothing you can do will save you, because if there’s anything to be found, the officers will find it.
Let’s look in detail at the types of searchers we may encounter, and the intensity of the searches they may conduct. These vary widely, from routine and cursory searches to very intense efforts by teams of specialists.
STORE AND PLANT SECARITY
This can vary from slight to intense, and is usually not much of a threat. Store security is usually directed against shoplifters, and consists mainly of covert surveillance by plainclothes officers and TV cameras. Customers are not routinely searched upon exit. Only when an officer has witnessed a theft can he make an arrest and conduct a search.
Plant security is another matter. Industrial plants vary widely in type and in security measures taken. Some have a watchman at the gate, to ensure that an employee doesn’t walk out with half the plant stuffed into his lunch box or his pockets. Others are more serious.
Those doing military contract work will tend to have armed guards and examination of all briefcases and packages taken in or out of the plant. These searches may be regular or spot searches. There will also be high security areas within the plant, with restricted access and special rules. Employees and visitors may be required to empty their pockets before entering or when leaving, or even to strip down and change clothing altogether.
Nuclear plants are generally very secure, with a lot of effort directed at controlling who and what comes in. Visitors may be asked to submit to strip searches. This skirts the law somewhat. An individual doesn’t have to submit to search, but the plant authorities don’t have to let him in, either. Likewise, employees may feel affronted at being searched, but they don’t have to work there, either.
It can get pretty grim in certain other countries. In South Africa, for example, workers in diamond mines go through rigorous searches before being allowed to leave. They work in the mines, and are kept in fenced-in compounds, until the period of leave, when they may leave the premises to visit the outside world. Before being allowed to leave, the departing workers are kept in a quarantine area, where they’re obliged to take a laxative upon entry. The quarantine lasts long enough for the laxative to take effect, and they’re closely watched to make sure that they’re not smuggling any diamonds out in their bowels. They are also X-rayed to seek out diamonds secreted in other parts of the body. A strip search is the last step before leaving. This sort of close examination is alien to most Americans, but in other countries, especially if there’s a discriminated against caste, it’s normal.
With the skyjackings and attacks at airports during the last couple of decades, this is going to become tighter. Today, visitors to the concourse areas of air terminals have to pass through electronic gates and X-ray search of their carry-on luggage. This is aimed mainly at the smuggling of weapons on board aircraft. It has nothing to do with, and does not usually detect, narcotics or other contraband.
There are two types of luggage: carry-on and check-in. The check-in luggage is not accessible in flight, and is not usually examined. Carry-on is stowed under the seat or in overhead racks and bins. Airport security usually scrutinizes this type closely.
How effective is this sort of search in its intended role? It varies widely from one airport to another. In one instance, the author was able, with the cooperation of security guards, to pass a briefcase containing glass fiber daggers under the X-ray to determine whether or not they would show. They did not. In another instance, a security officer at the same airport was able to pass through the electronic gate without triggering the alarm, although he had his Government Model auto pistol under his coat.1
THE SPECIAL CASE OF EL AL
El Al, the Israeli airline, has had a special security problem, because of the intense effort directed against it. It has, consequently, special security measures to forestall certain types of attacks, although these measures simply don’t work well.
All luggage is searched. This is to forestall the smuggling of both weapons and bombs. El Al takes a special precaution with check-in luggage. All passengers boarding are checked off a list, and if any passenger doesn’t make the flight, his luggage is taken off and examined, as this “phantom passenger” technique is a useful way of getting a bomb aboard an airliner. Because some attackers are willing to give up their lives to destroy an El Al airliner, all check-in luggage is searched as carefully as carryon baggage.
All passengers are physically searched. Travelers on El Al had better arrive early, because airline security officers have booths where they search passengers for weapons. The search can involve stripping to the skin, if the security officer feels that it’s necessary.
Where El Al can arrange it, its aircraft get a security escort along the taxiways of the airport, to forestall a surprise ground attack. An armored car or truckload of soldiers escorts it to the end of the runway.
Armed guards travel on each El Al flight. These are supposed to cope with any in-flight attempts to skyjack the aircraft. There’s no official confirmation, of course, but rumor has it that the pilots have orders not to divert to an unfriendly country, even if threatened with death. Another rumor is that pilots are ordered to crash the plane rather than divert the flight. Whether they would do this in practice is speculative, as no recent in-flight diversion has occurred. Instead, attacks have taken other forms.
These efforts still don’t stop attacks, as the recent experiences in Europe have pointed up. The terminals are still vulnerable. El Al ticket offices, usually located on main boulevards in major cities, are open to both bombing and attacks by gunfire. Slow flying El Al airliners are vulnerable within several miles of the runway, beyond the reach of escort and still low enough to be within reach of ground fire on the approach and take off.
A form of in-flight attack against which there is no defense is the identification and overpowering of the armed guards by unarmed attackers. “Birddogs” flying an El Al route can quickly determine who the guards are, because they shuttle back and forth and some may board the aircraft ahead of the passengers. Once identified, they are vulnerable because attackers can seat themselves close enough to take them by surprise.
The severity of customs inspection varies from country to country, with some watching their entering traffic more closely than others. We often find a double standard in customs inspection. Tourists are usually passed through with minimal delay, because the host country doesn’t want to discourage visitors. Even visitors to the Soviet Union report that they were treated courteously by Soviet Customs agents. Citizens returning from abroad, on the other hand, get much closer inspection. Customs officials, instead of casually chalking their initials upon their luggage, have them open every case.
In some countries, customs officials will ask each traveler if he has “anything to declare.” Sometimes this is a routine question, but at other times, the officer is required to ask it two or three times. This is a requirement of the law, so that a traveler can’t claim that he misunderstood or did not hear the question.
There are two types: warrantless searches and searches in execution of a warrant. Warrantless searches may be incidental to an arrest, when the arresting officer is permitted to search the prisoner for weapons and evidence. This type of search can be superficial or quite thorough, depending on the situation and the officer.
The “pat down” is going out of style. It was never very effective in disclosing weapons or other contraband, and many police officers now use a caressing motion, sliding the hand along the body to reveal suspicious bulges.
Some locales have “stop and frisk” laws. These permit a police officer to search a suspect superficially while he detains him for a few minutes to verify his identity. The search may disclose weapons or contraband.
When a police officer executes an arrest warrant, this implies the right to search the person and the area under his immediate control. The search of the immediate area holds whether the arrest is a warrant arrest or an impromptu one, because the offender’s been caught in the act.
A search warrant is somewhat different, and does not necessarily imply an arrest. For a search warrant, the officer has to present an affidavit to a court detailing his reasons for believing that a search of certain premises will be productive. He may cite evidence in the affidavit, or he may cite an informer who “has been reliable in the past.”2
In the affidavit, the officer must describe generally what he expects to find. His search authorization is then limited to those items, or that category. For example, if the warrant is for narcotics, and the officer also finds illegal weapons, he can’t take them in evidence, because they’re “excluded.” This rule stems from court decisions designed to prevent abuses such as “fishing expeditions” by police.
No police officer or department will admit this, but it’s often expedient to lay the groundwork for a search warrant by an illegal and surreptitious entry before writing the affidavit. The officer conducts a clandestine search for his evidence. He cites it on his affidavit, and when he returns openly to execute the warrant thus obtained, he knows what he’s seeking and exactly where to find it. This is the procedure that was called a “black bag job” in FBI slang.
COUNTER ESPIONAGE POLICE
These are the “tough cookies,” the ones hardest to fool and sidetrack. Generally, counter-espionage agents are the best educated, the best paid, and the best motivated. Usually, they can’t be bought off or corrupted in any way.
Because espionage paraphernalia can be hidden anywhere, in almost anything, these people will have warrants that permit the most exhaustive searches. The search can easily last for several days, and may disclose one-time code pads, invisible ink, microfilms and microfilming equipment, microdots, and other documents and equipment. Material may be hidden in secret compartments in tables, under floorboards, in hidden rooms, toothpaste tubes, and even in hollowed out coins.
From all of this we can see that almost all depends on the motivation, skill, and diligence of the searchers. With the proper outlook, and the proper tools, they can find practically anything. Let’s look at some of their tools next.
l. Personal acquaintance of the author’s.
2. A form of language which usually satisfies legal requirements. Because police keep the identities of their informers secret, and are supported by the law in doing so, they often invent their informers.
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