Book Review: Way of the Shadow

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Book Review: Way of the Shadow

Post by Psychlonic » Mon Apr 19, 2021 6:15 pm

Did you know 'Way of the Shadow' is almost 20 years old? I haven't even looked at it in over a decade, so I decided to give it another look over to see what all it included, omitted and if long-held opinion of how badly it needs a successor is accurate.


It's absolutely terrible!!! Where do I even begin?

Let's start with what's on screen right now: "Hiding in a Room". Currently, I believe any form of concealment should include the ability to escape and evade if seen. What's WotS have to say? Cram your body into a fucking cabinet. What happens if you're found? They're going to pull their phone out and you're going up onto YouTube. And jail. Showers, WTF???

"Eye Cut Mask - No Mouth"
"Eye Cut Mask - Mouth Hole"

LOL, apparently I didn't know what a fucking balaclava was nor a ski mask.

"Ghuille Suit": It's like a ghillie suit but illiterate. They're also almost worthless for anything but long distance glassing of an isolated target in the middle of nowhere.

I love that this took place before digital camouflage became a thing. The suggestions in "Clothing" are sparse and fairly worthless. Darks of course are a standby when you have nothing else, woodland and tiger aren't bad but if you're the guy going out to purchase something chances are none of these are what you should be going after.

Speaking of taking place before established tech, I find WotS' lack of Google Earth... disturbing. It was barely a thing back then but today I consider it an essential. My typical SOP for recon when I find out about a target I haven't seen is to immediately hit the satellite images and try to sort out my best approach with all available intel. If it's serious and I have the opportunity to go back, the first operation is purely recon and I come back to base, AAR myself, optimize routes on Google Earth, and form an infiltration game plan.

That being said, sometimes you just can't use it for whatever reason. WotS does a terrible job covering old school land navigation and intel gathering which are skills I think even younger operators can become proficient at well enough. Plus you'll probably want a good compass anyway for sniffing out magnetic door switches.

Naturally, WotS doesn't cover using a compass for this. IT DOESN'T EVEN COVER MAGNETIC SWITCHES!!! It also doesn't state the obvious in using a clear bodied compass. You know why those rock the house? Because you're not 8 feet tall you can't see the face of the compass when you're hovering it at the top of a door frame. And they often don't work right upside down. Get a clear housing compass and prosper.

Let's dig into those fucking alarms now cause it's even worse than I remember. "Blinding the sensor" doesn't work on PIR sensors if the system is armed. They work by detecting changes in NIR lighting. You know what makes a pretty epic change? Closing the curtains on the damn thing. Oof! There are "inside job" tricks galore but otherwise don't fuck with the sensor itself be it on an alarm or a light.

"The final option is to cut the wires to the thing. This prevents the sensor from sending a signal."

Motherfucker, NO!!!! NO NO NO. Don't cut wires to alarm system elements, systems are designed to detect that shit. Instant alarm condition. Holy fuck somebody get me a time travel machine so I can go mug my past self on an operation.

The whole alarm section is trash, talking about glass cutters and shit. WTF even is a double pane window, Young Psychlonic? The first option I wrote about was usually "Get ready to break shit! Woo!" Fucking trash.

+1 for the graphite trick though, that's still handy today in various situations. There are superior powders out there but in a pinch mechanical pencil lead can work all kinds of fun magic if you grind it up into a powder. Back then I didn't actually KNOW of most of the magic but hey...

Never in the history of fucking ever has telling a dog you don't know that's barking at you "No!" made it stop. Don't run around trying to shock dogs. Not only is that fucked up, but it's ineffective. A dog yowling because of an attack is 100x more likely to draw attention than a barking one. Also LOL at anti-attack dog killing technique with a bite guard and using its weight on the knife. That's... actually really effective if you can brace yourself properly so you don't get knocked back but come on...

Just avoid dogs, very seldomly are they protecting anything worth actually protecting anyway. If you must contend with them, carry treats or some pheromones and learn to use them. It won't fool the best trained dogs, but I'm not trying to write a guide here either.

"The Exit" is criminally underwritten. Realistically, most operatives will return using the same route they infiltrated with. It's known and should be safe leading to shorter times and less worry. However, if it's cut off or you have a separate extraction zone then you need a fleshed out idea of what you're doing. This requires every bit the effort to formulate as infiltration because what good does it do if you can't remember everything? Another +1 for learning paper land nav for emergencies.

"The Escape" is kind of shit. It doesn't cover many more likely scenarios and divulges too much into others which are extremely novel and unlikely. Also, if you're inside of a building and police show up that is a HUGE subject and chances are barricading yourself inside is not the best option for a multitude of reasons.

"The Alibi" is better written in the newer forum thread.

"The Crafting" is fucking shit-tastic and reads like a 90s text file.

"The Experiments" is better ignored entirely, just pretend it doesn't exist.

"The Stories"... OK What the fuck? People took this guide seriously after those? I'm not sure WTF I was thinking including that shit, maybe I was worried the more serious ones would sound familiar to the wrong people?

Ah fuck it, let's go back for a minute I'm not done talking shit about The Gear.

Old me didn't know how to properly put a boonie hat strap behind my head to keep it from blowing off. Not that it matters because that's shit head gear selection.

Footwear is wholly unnecessary here, too. Just try things on and walk around in them. What makes you think "Man, I could sneak around really well in these?" Just wear those.

At least I mentioned that prints can transfer through thin latex gloves. That's actually true, although I can't imagine why anyone would EVER pick those as their operating gloves. Just pick a glove with a leather palm and don't be an asshole. Yes, they have a print of sorts. Anything serious happens, just destroy the gloves. Make life simple, not complicated.

LBVs are shit. I wore them for awhile thinking they were a decent low-enough profile carrying item for long range operations where there were a lot of maybes. There's also a huge number of cool items that have become more commonly available these days which the guide omits. For example, if you're a black ops guy there are some surprisingly strong fold-away packs you can tuck into a leg pouch, cargo pocket, etc. and only deploy it if you find something. They're cheap and it's a win win. There's no need to run around with an empty backpack on anymore.

Knives: Coming from a guy who at that point didn't have experience with nearly the range of cutlery he has handled since. Yet again my opinions have changed on most of the issues in the guide but it's really not important. Every operative knows why they're carrying a knife if they do so. Your business is your business. Just remember, functionality comes first. Not what you think is cool.

"Flashlights" sucks. Covers a lot of obsolete designs, doesn't cover how to run them like a pro, and doesn't have the newer developments obviously that every operative should be on the lookout for.

I could go on and on, but I'm tired of writing. It's shit. I don't even recommend it for new operators as some offer as a feel good statement when it comes up. Most of the content has been covered in superior manner since on the forum. It's amazing to think of how much better of an operator I personally became after I had released the guide. One should note that the original version of this began in mid-2004 when I was still pretty new and wanted to form a personal checklist of sorts and it grew into a piece of writing. At the time I never considered myself an authority but it caught on. The release of 2005 is the date of the revision which still sucks and still isn't even from my most active period which was easily 2007-2013 or so.

But god damn. I'm not kidding about wanting that time machine.
Last edited by Psychlonic on Mon Apr 19, 2021 6:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Book Review: Way of the Shadow

Post by Psychlonic » Mon Apr 19, 2021 6:24 pm

Reserved for Part 2: The shit I should have included but didn't.

So there's some pieces scattered around the guide that are fairly poorly written including "Job Hunting", the various maps, sources, etc. and what would go better overall is the concept of open-source intelligence along with other intelligence sources such as HUMINT. Even back then there was a lot of open-source intel left laying on the table but it is what it is. Let's fast forward to today.

The use of Google Earth deserves a lot of coverage on its own because it's such a huge resource. Good usage of KMZ files to save markers and maps is great because they are locally saved files that only you can access, and you can do this to come up with what seem to be the best possible routes beforehand as well as mark important resources whether they're areas with good cover, prime evasion areas, security elements, etc. Knowledge of storing these files for PERSEC on an external device of any kind should have been included or at bare minimum the concept of taking an AO screenshot with routes edited in with any photo editor. Even MS Paint can work. This creates an AO map that can be printed out if electronic mapping is not a secure option. Even more primitively, just printing the satellite imagery and marking on them physically with pens.

Social media similarly hadn't yet blown up nor the general internet presence of facilities both large and small. These are a fabulous open-intel source and can be used to glean all kinds of useful information about where you intend to infiltrate. Whether it be photos, videos, or written information about the area uploaded by the owner or a third-party who visited and snapped photos there is all kinds of valuable intel floating around the web for just about anything.

Another thing with modern open-source intel is hiding your interest, especially in today's environment. Do your hunting in an untraceable fashion. VPNs, public sources on burners, encrypted browsers... you know the drill. Ideally, you won't leave behind signs of infiltration. If you do, you at least shouldn't leave any reason behind for heavy investigation. But why not? It's a healthy habit that doesn't take up any extra time once you know what you're doing and is one more safety net for you.

HUMINT is just social engineering to gather more info if you think you'll need it from other people. Again, you want to do so in a way that doesn't expose your own personal interest in the potential AO. More writing on how to go about this in person and through the internet, maybe even telephone, seems like it would have been a no-brainer.

Why so much focus on intel right out of the gate? Because it's kind of fun and helps develop confidence. It's how you discover potential operations and the means to execute them. Being a master of stealth means nothing if you don't go out, and this helps you actually get out there.

In other areas, the guide is horribly lacking in overcoming security elements. Most operatives stick to places with minimal security solely practicing individual movement techniques and that is fine. However, as you're able to bypass more and more elements, your potential operations broaden and now you can do more.

For locks I echo the sentiment that nearly all pen testers state; picking isn't the first choice. Don't get me wrong, picking is a lot of fun and a good skill if you're passionate about this. However, there is a big difference between picking locks in a sterile home environment and out in the middle of an operation where you're juggling a number of factors trying to complete the mission. My guide leaves out lockpicking on a large scale although there's only so much you're going to learn from reading, but it also leaves out many fantastic alternatives in lieu of crude, brute force techniques. While those can and do work, there are better ways.

The under-the-door tool wasn't really a concept at the time unfortunately but it should be a go-to in a more modern version. Really, all attacks that go between the door and the frame. Those are my personal first go-to. It's fast, it's quiet, it's effective. In today's world a UDT, a balloon wedge, and a good slim jim are more valuable IMO than a set of picks. They can't do it all, but chances are really good that they can do what they do PERIOD whereas there are elements of concern with picking especially when starting out. If you're a novice, may as well leave your set at home.

WotS completely leaves out all of these attacks, even using a card bypass which is funny because I actually used that a few times before I wrote it! WTF was I even thinking?

Speaking of attacks I'd used but didn't write for some reason: door hinge attacks. I used a door hinge attack during one operation successfully. Not an ideal go-to, but it works and tools are available to run through them today quickly, cheaply, and they're compact. In any scenario where you're bringing along the above mentioned tools, why not throw in a pin removal tool? I improvised back then, you don't need such a tool but they're a definite "why not?" you should consider.

Padlock shims are never mentioned and they're incredible. While you'll usually run up against cheaper padlocks that can be defeated very easily even by a novice using picks, probes, sometimes even a jiggler key, shims can usually open the same locks plus many more just as well. Steel, steel, steel. Homemade aluminum shims will only break your heart, don't waste your time and the operation depending on them.

Speaking of jigglers, where are they? No mention. Super light, simple item that should be part of a tool kit along with other useful keys. Bump keys... good and a why not but I'd place them after all of the above. Bumping is a skill too.

The gear section in general is ass and needs an update for today's world.

Alarm coverage is also crappy. There's no real writing that helps the reader understand how the systems work and how to avoid them. Actual exploits... that's pretty specialized. Worth including in a general "newbie guide"? Probably not, realistically only the most dedicated operatives are going to bother. However, a few tricks on avoidance should have been added and ones that actually work and aren't annoyingly terrible. Where they are typically installed, what you are looking for, etc. at the very least. I obviously didn't know my shit back then and shot from the hip. WotS and the community suffered.

While the guide was clearly centered around going 100% unnoticed for the entire duration of the operation, a few words on going inconspicuous should have been added. Back then, that was considered a foul but you know what? It's better to fail that way than get caught IMO. But only as a last resort. A seen, inconspicuous operator is still suspicious when there are no other leads.

Fences deserved some better elaboration on how to use them to your advantage instead of them simply being obstacles. I've since experienced many lessons learned as well in dealing with many of them that could have been invaluable for the guide and the reader. The guide also does not deal with extra steps needed for certain situations when some load bearing equipment may get in your way, nor does it address the fact that you NEED to have your gear secured so you don't lose anything when passing, especially at speed.

Lighting and silhouetting in general was all over the place, better writing is available here on the forum. A better fleshed out section here would have been good.

As addressed in the first post, hiding indoors when there is someone searching needs a huge overhaul. Alongside strict hiding, more needs to be said for the times when it's not enough and you're seen anyhow. Do all you can to avoid being seen but if that fails, you need to be ready to do all you can to avoid getting caught.

There are some great tricks for bypassing certain types of windows that weren't mentioned, manufacturer inclusions used in many homes and offices for emergency personnel to open them up without destructive methods. Once again, magnetic switches are not mentioned. While doors need to be sniffed with a compass to see if the needle will lock onto a switch, you can almost always see window switches even from the outside.

IMTs - Individual movement techniques - is pretty poor. How far should one go in elaborating on them? Probably more than WotS did but it's not necessary to list everything. An operator will dynamically adjust to what works. If it doesn't work, they will feel like they're being too loud or too visible. The concept of when to move fast, when to move slow, etc. Timing is a juggling game especially when the operation is one of longer distance.

"The Crafting" as I've said seriously sucks and doesn't even address it's own problem: how to improvise mid-operation when you need to bypass something but didn't bring the appropriate tool. A better overall concept of improvisation would have been fantastic.

The guide also doesn't delve into great physical techniques that increase hearing, seeing past light sources, the concept of natural night vision and when to move with one eye closed to preserve it. Those are essential, free, and learned in minutes.

There's so much more, but eventually you get into specialization. I once opined that a "guide" might actually exist more effectively in an encyclopedia format with installments. The core focusing on individual stealth, movements, basic low skill entry methods, etc. Later, the operator can go into more advanced ideas if they want. The reality is that your new user, which is nearly everyone now, will start to tune out fast if there's too much too quickly and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Everything stands upon the basics first and foremost. Get yourself some clothing that blends in and hides your identity, get a good light with multi-modes, learn to use it effectively, get what you need to attack around a door, padlock shims, learn to identify security elements and you'll go a long, long way with just that.
Last edited by Psychlonic on Mon Apr 19, 2021 11:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Book Review: Way of the Shadow

Post by Sicarius » Mon Apr 19, 2021 7:38 pm

Nobody roasted you because you are basically our Grandfather lol.

Read the version in the library, it covered several things you said were not in it and the spelling was better. You also have to remember, you were new and noobish at the time. And look around Psychlonic... what has everyone else produced? Stealth Technique's video on slicing bottles with katanas may be better now that I think of it(sarcasm). So your guide, mixed with up to date info on the forum and some other info on the internet, is pretty good. And Xanatos has good posts and of course his videos, which I found very useful. Without his videos and your guide, I would be a little confused.

I do agree we need something new though. I have realized I am more interested in realism than the original night ops spirit, but I am still trying to write some night ops stuff. For example, I am currently training my peripheral vision and wide-angle vision. However, the night ops idea is different from something like that. The exploration, the sensation, and the curiosity. I am trying to operate more often as well, tonight actually.

All of us keep talking instead of doing when it comes to a new guide thought, or a "system" and/or martial arts curriculum. I do not really know how practical this is actually. People disagree on certain subjects, and many subjects would require physical testing for conclusive, accurate results.
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Re: Book Review: Way of the Shadow

Post by Xanatos » Tue Apr 20, 2021 11:03 am

WotS isn't going anywhere. It's basically become classic literature, dated though it is. But it reflects what Night Ops was like in its infancy, and in some ways it's nice to see how far we've come.
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Re: Book Review: Way of the Shadow

Post by fx1k » Thu Apr 22, 2021 6:32 am

Despite its flaws, the intro of WotS hit the right chord at the right time. Certainly inspired younger me to go on my first op that night, and I'm still here browsing over a decade later.

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