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TURN: Washington’s Spies Spycraft Handbook – Birdwatcher

In Episode 202, “Hard Boiled,” Abe returns to York City under two guises: In the eyes of his father, he’s there to complete his law studies, while in the eyes of Major Hewlett, he’s there to root out the traitorous rebels of the Sons of Liberty. His actual mission: To act as a “birdwatcher,” a spy who surveils the enemy.

Before beginning his observations, a birdwatcher often must make use of an unsuspecting person to provide inside knowledge of where to focus his observations. To do so effectively, the birdwatcher must be deceptive about his purposes for requesting such information. Unable to ask direct questions, a birdwatcher may make comments to strangers regarding the weather and seemingly superfluous curiosities about their surroundings — all the while, steering the conversation in a way that leads someone to share the sensitive intelligence needed.

In Episode 202, Abe cannot ask directly where British operations in York City are concentrated, so instead, he chats with the customers of the boarding house dining room. It’s not long before a salesman provides the information he needs: The British Navy is building ships on the west wharf. Abe’s mark thinks he is conversing with a friendly, chatty stranger, never realizing the true nature of what he’s just volunteered.

Once Abe discovers where to best spend his time, he surveils the wharf by stealing furtive glances and using reflective surfaces. All the while, he quickly jots down notes in a concealed notebook, later to be transposed on a hard boiled egg using alum for the purposes of sneaking the intelligence out of the city.

“Birdwatcher” is a slang term for spy often used by British Intelligence. In this case, it’s the British themselves who are being watched.

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