Thanks to my CIA Career

If you’ve read the last few books in the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco, you may have noticed that video plays an important role in providing clues and solving the mystery.

In 43 MISSING, the footage from police interviews and metadata information embedded in video, as well as speech-to-text video searching, are all vital plot elements. Emilia creates a database, using metadata, in order to do keyword searches against raw video.

43 MIssing

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In RUSSIAN MOJITO, the killer is spotted on surveillance video inside the luxurious hotel where Emilia lives.

Russian Mojito cover

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In NARCO NOIR, a hidden camera jumpstarts the action while a bit of movie making leads Emilia to a game-changing decision.

Narco Noir by Carmen Amato

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All of these ideas for how video helps to create or solve a plot element comes from my CIA career and my experience using video as an analyst, collector, or teacher.

Video for Intel Purposes

Video is an unparalleled tool for understanding environment, culture, industrial capability, personalities. The sources of useful video are legion.

Traditionally, news footage was the primary source of video content. From North Korea to Latin America, video has provided key insights. For example, we tracked the failing health of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. We tracked failing economies and crumbling infrastructure.

Related post: Inside my CIA Career: Analysis

Here’s a particularly affecting piece of video from BBC on Venezuela.


Recently, The New York Times, PBS, and other media outlets have published powerful video of China imprisoning its Uighur population even as Beijing denies it.


Social media has exploded video content. People enthusiastically reveal much about themselves, their environment and their vulnerabilities.

From dashcams to screen captures, there are so many new sources of video that can potentially be exploited for intelligence (and mystery novels!).

Video is also a learning tool. As the head of one of the US intelligence tradecraft schools, I incorporated video in training courses to illustrate intelligence challenges and formulate role-playing exercises.

Technical collection

I really learned the power of video as a technical intelligence collector. I spent hours monitoring surveillance video, tweaking camera angles, and identifying patterns of behavior.

The job was both tedious and exhilarating. Some footage was trash, other minutes were treasure.

But just like in the Detective Emilia Cruz books, grainy surveillance footage yielded actionable intelligence.

You can learn a lot from people when they don’t know they are on camera.


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CIA career


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


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