– Hiding From the Law Is Now Pretty Much Impossible

February 26, 2017

The new CBS reality series Hunted features ordinary Americans trying to hide from ‘the hunters,’ a group of top law enforcement professionals. One of those hunters is fantasy and science fiction author Myke Cole, who honed his fugitive-hunting skills while tracking terrorists in Iraq. He says it was very intimidating to be working as part of such an elite team.

“I’ve met George R. R. Martin and I’ve met Stanley McChrystal, I’ve met a lot of super-famous people,” Cole says in Episode 244 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “But walking into that room and sitting down at that table scared the living hell out of me.”

Another of the hunters is intelligence analyst Zaira Pirzada. She says that hiding from law enforcement is almost impossible these days, given the vast array of surveillance tools available. Even being intimately acquainted with those tools isn’t much help in evading them—so much so that she doubts she’d be able to survive as one of the hunted contestants on the show.

“I bet I would be able to figure out techniques, but of course on the ground, police and law enforcement are far too smart in what they do,” she says. “My respect is with them and I would not be good at this.”

Many viewers will probably be startled by the scope of the surveillance revealed in Hunted. In one episode the hunters are able to view photos of every piece of mail handled by the post office, and in another we learn that ubiquitous highway cameras are photographing and cataloguing every license plate that passes by. Cole, however, says he’s deeply ambivalent about all this technology.

“I think since 9/11, the latitude that law enforcement has been given is absolutely out of control, and really frightening, especially in the hands of the current administration,” he says. “But when I put on my law enforcement hat, and I need to go do my job, I need that stuff.”

Pirzada agrees that there are serious questions surrounding the use of these technologies, and she hopes that Hunted will get more people thinking about these issues.

“I’m very happy that this show is airing in the current political climate,” she says. “It’s started a lot of conversations in my circle already.”

Listen to our complete interview with Myke Cole and Zaira Pirzada in Episode 244 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Zaira Pirzada on open source intelligence:

“Intelligence collection is one of the earliest recorded organized human activities, along with war, of course. You had human-to-human intelligence and open source intelligence right from the start. In the 6th century BCE you had Caleb the Spy in the Book of Numbers, and then you had Sun Tzu writing his The Art of War. And in both accounts, you found a big need for open source intelligence—books, written manuals, second-hand accounts of things—anything to put the intelligence together and create a product. And every organization, public and private, here in DC, needs that. They need open source intelligence people who can gather the intelligence—there’s so much of it—and analyze it and create that product, and that product is what makes them competitive.”

Myke Cole on realism:

“CBS’s goal is to keep this as real as possible, so we were not given any information about what the rules were, and what [the fugitives] were being told to do or not do. As far as we in the command center were concerned, these were real fugitives, this was a real law enforcement scenario, and they could do whatever they wanted. … People say to me, ‘Is it scripted? This can’t be real.’ It drives me insane. I have answered this question at least a dozen times, and I’ll say it again, nothing in that show is scripted. It is 100 percent real. I’m not being paid to say this. Things unfolded the way they unfolded, and I think the show’s been pretty faithful about showing the mistakes that we make as well as the mistakes that the fugitives made.”

Myke Cole on Charles DeBarber:

“Charles got ahold of an app—I think he may have even customized the app—to connect to the Tinder profiles, after he hacked them, of [fugitives] Miles and Will, and then he changed their Tinder profiles to wanted posters. And he also set up a bank of something like 10 or 20 computers that would do nothing all day long but run this script to match them to women of the correct age demographic in the location where he thought they were, and just match, match, match, swiping right on hundreds of thousands of women, the idea being that if any of them swiped right on Miles and Will—and Miles and Will are very good-looking, so there was going to be a lot of right-swiping there—they would get this wanted poster, and it would offer a cash reward.”

Myke Cole on going off the grid:

“Not just me, but other people on this show, spent years tracking really, really skilled terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, who had been hiding from the Soviets and Americans and their allies for decades, who had perfect communications security, perfect operational security, carried no electronic devices of any kind, ever, and were always living in a harsh and forbidding wilderness that didn’t even have running water, and we still managed to find them. So really, the show doesn’t do justice to the breadth and depth of the skills and experience [that we had]. I won’t even say it would be harder to find that kind of a person, it would just be different to find that kind of a person.”

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