Starting out, I have to say I’m a sucker for the Jason Bourne movies. I just love the pace and the action and the fantasy elements concerning the capabilities of our government to track individuals around the world, real time. It makes for good comedy mixed with action and drama. Don’t fall into this trap in your writing.
Ladies and gentlemen, our government has a lot of pretty cool stuff at its disposal, but the ability to have at its fingertips the combined security video feeds of every public transportation facility around the free world is not one of them. If it were, do you suppose there would be such a thing as the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list? If would be the “Last 10 Caught” list with 10 more coming up!
That’s not to say that our intelligence networks don’t cooperate with those of our allies, but we don’t have “control” of their data servers and must rely on them providing us recorded video or video feed at special request. If we are running an OP in Germany, the Germans must be involved or we would have to hack into their network and control it. This would be immediately discovered. The Germans aren’t easy to fool.
Case in point. I was involved in an espionage surveillance in Germany some years back and because it was fluid we weren’t able to coordinate with our counterparts every time we had to switch positions. A local German agency picked up our radio transmissions and tracked them down to our control center. It was only slightly embarrassing, as we had the authority to be doing what we were doing, but operationally, it reminded us that our “allies” share our capabilities as well.
Despite what Hollywood would have one believe, hiding is actually pretty easy for trained – and in the case of fugitives, not so trained – individuals. Nor does it require keeping a dozen or so sets of documents stashed in a locker in a foreign train station. Trade craft being what it is, getting documents isn’t difficult and in Europe, hardly necessary. One can travel pretty much at will and hardly ever have to show documents when crossing borders. Hotels normally require you surrender your passport while staying in them, but this is more to ensure you don’t stiff them with the bill.
“Licenses to Kill” notwithstanding, homicide is frowned upon in the undercover services. It’s not tidy and it adds a degree of scrutiny a professional is trying to avoid. Still, a dead body or two will be treated by local authorities as a criminal matter, hardly worth the involvement of higher government agencies, unless something very curious is discovered on the deceased. Even then, the coordination takes time, as in days, not hours. Hollywood wants you to believe the operative is running for his or her life with the various investigative agencies only minutes behind. This is pure fabrication.
Enjoy the cinema, but if you’re an author, at least try for authenticity in your writing. A well crafted plot with authentic trade craft will stand out over fantasy every time.