CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a...

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As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time. Arabic Seiko Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.   Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection. Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection.  In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.” Origin Story If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece. Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating.  At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud. W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Specs The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.    There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby. Social Media and “Influence” Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales. The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it. After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022: We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks.  I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.   W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Advertising and Influencers We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example. Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Conclusion At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing. Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces   This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from...

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Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from the year.  Thank you for all of your support, we look forward to a great year in 2024. -W.O.E. 10. Hollywood Watches of Espionage Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. Continue Reading 9. Trading a Rolex to Get out of a Sticky Situation - Myth or Reality? The "Escape and Evasion" Rolex The final requirement to be certified as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) is to pass the certification course at a classified government training center commonly referred to as “the Farm.”  Students learn the tradecraft to clandestinely recruit and handle assets.  The entire learning process is a surreal experience, and the atmosphere at “the Farm” is somewhere between a college campus with a constant stream of students riding by on cruiser bikes (IYKYK), a covert paramilitary base with state-of-the-art tactical facilities, and Hogwarts, a place where you learn the dark arts they don’t teach in regular school. Continue Reading 8. Bond: A Case for Omega Here, we will first share the full story of Omega’s origins with James Bond, followed by a detailed analysis of the history of product placement in Bond, and the critical role it plays in keeping the franchise alive. While this piece does not serve as a direct response to the first Dispatch, it aims to present a more thorough history of Bond, offer a better understanding of why adjustments have been made, and propose a case for why we can celebrate Omega’s inclusion in 007’s history Continue Reading 7. Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches Former CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh passed away at the age of 93 exactly one week ago; but we don’t mourn his death–instead we celebrate his incredible life of service in the best way we know how–through his timepieces. William “Billy” Waugh is the Forest Gump of CIA and Special Forces with a larger than life personality and an uncanny knack for adventure. At the conclusion of WWII he attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at age 15. His age got in the way, but three years later, in ‘48, he successfully enlisted in the United States Army, launching a career that would become nothing short of legendary in the Special Operations community. Continue Reading 6. Advice for Buying a Watch The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. Continue Reading 5. The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military The History Of G-Shocks And The US Military - Benjamin Lowry Forty years have passed since the introduction of the Casio G-Shock in 1983. And while the basic formula behind the world’s most durable watch has remained largely unchanged since the legendary DW-5000C first hit store shelves, the world of warfare and the United States Military in particular have made significant strides in both equipment and tactical doctrine. Conflicts in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia/Herzegovina were waged in a bygone analog era, influenced by lessons learned in the Vietnam War. But the terrorist attacks of September 11th changed all of that, embroiling the United States in a new type of war based on counter-insurgency in the digitally-augmented age. Continue Reading 4. CIA Officers and Apple Watches Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat. Continue Reading 3. CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC A Real “Spy’s” Every Day Carry (EDC)  We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. Continue Reading 2. Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s) The Shield Protects the Crown:  W.O.E. is a watch snob–or at least I was. For years, I looked down on Tudor as an inferior tool watch existing in the shadow of its big brother Rolex. I never understood why someone with a Rolex would purchase a Tudor.  After all, Tudor is a poor man's Rolex, or so I thought. Most haters are motivated by insecurity, but my views were simply shaped by ignorance. I didn’t know much about Tudor and was unaware of Tudor’s long standing relationship with the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, a personally relevant intersection. Continue Reading 1. Casio F-91W, the Preferred Watch of Terrorists The Terrorist Timepiece - Casio F-91W The Casio F-91W’s reputation looms large in both horology and national security circles, and for good reason. The simple, cheap and effective plastic watch is likely one of the most ubiquitous timepieces on the planet, with an estimated three million produced each year since sometime in the early 1990s. However, the watch that is coveted by hipsters and former presidents alike has a more sinister utility: it has been used to deadly effect as a timer for explosive charges and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and worn regularly by members of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other transnational militant groups. Continue Reading

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Advice for Buying a Watch

Advice for Buying a Watch

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those...

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The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. (James Rupley) Step 1: Do your research:  There are more resources than ever on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re far enough down the rabbit hole and you want to know more.  We at W.O.E. do not do traditional watch reviews- but other platforms do and do it well.  Hodinkee, Bark and Jack, Teddy Baldassarre, Fratello, aBlogtoWatch, etc.  There are plenty of great outlets with different perspectives putting out content on Youtube, online editorial platforms, and podcasts. But it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to any enthusiast media, as much of the content on these sites are paid advertisements and/or heavily influenced by the watch brands.  Read our Covert Influence In Watch Media piece so that you approach it with a skeptical eye. Step 2:  Talk with people. The simple lost art of conversation.  Ask your friends, coworkers and family members about their watches.  See a guy with an interesting watch on at a bar, coffee shop, or even at the urinal? Ask him what he is wearing.  Why did he buy that specific watch?  What does he like and dislike about it?  Ask to try it on. Most people into watches want nothing more than to talk about them. Major cities likely have watch meetups. RedBar Group is the largest and most well-known of these group meet ups.  I have never been to a watch meet up but know a lot of people enjoy this community and it is a great way to get your hands on lots of watches in the wild. Step 3:  Visit an AD.  An “Authorized Dealer” is a store that sells watches from major brands, and they have an official relationship with said brands.  We recommend visiting a dealer with a larger selection of brands so that you can physically try on different watches to see what works for you.  Tourneau, Watches of Switzerland, and Bucherer are some of the largest ones, but chances are even your local mall has a store that sells watches. Sales associates can be notoriously pretentious and they’re not always “watch guys” but there is something to be learned from everyone.  At a minimum they should have the training to explain the range on the market. Step 4:  Buy your first watch.  After spending a few weeks/months on steps 1-3, you should have a general idea of what interests you.  It’s time to buy your first watch. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000, and even under $500 is better.  Just because you can afford a Rolex doesn't mean you should start there.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” for some thoughts from a broad range of practitioners with experience. (James Rupley) Step 5:  Pause - wear your watch, repeat steps 1-3.  It’s tempting to immediately focus on the next watch, always wanting more.  But wear your watch, find out what you like/dislike about it. Sometimes you learn things about your taste only after wearing a watch for a while. Think about how it feels on your wrist, how it works with your lifestyle, etc. Most importantly, however, is to make sure that the watch works as an extension of your own life philosophy. Maybe the values of the brand don’t line up with your own–or maybe they do. This is the time to learn. (James Rupley) Step 6: Accessorize.  A strap is a great way to change up the feel of your watch.  We have a host of straps in the W.O.E. shop, but don’t let us limit your options.   In the strap game, you generally get what you pay for. Like most things in life.  Stay away from Amazon and pay a few extra dollars for something of quality.  Most of the major watch content outlets also sell straps and are a good one-stop-shop.  Buying a strap from a smaller business is a great way to show your support and rep that brand/community.  Here are some of the different straps you should consider: 2 Piece Leather: These should be handmade in the USA or Europe, nothing mass produced. There are some great craftsmen out there making one off and small batch straps like our Jedburgh and Leather and Canvas DNC Strap.  A good leather strap can work on mostly any watch. Affordable Nylon:  You can buy these anywhere and should be somewhere in the $20-40 price range.  Our Five Eye is on the higher end of this but in return you get quality. The better ones are well-made but cheap enough that you can use and abuse them and throw them out like a pair of good socks.  A simple nylon strap is a great way to support a group/person that you’re interested in. (James Rupley) High-End Fabric Strap:  In my opinion, Zulu Alpha is the best quality fabric strap on the market. The Quantum Watch Strap from TAD has great hardware and Tudor has some great fabric straps (see Hodinkee video). None of these are cheap but you get what you pay for. Single piece leather is tricky, most are thick and I do not like to use bent spring bars on my watches. These do fit some of my pieces with a wider gap between the spring bar and I wear them. I am a big fan of both Soturi and Zanes. Rubber: I have owned a few from Everest and overall have been happy with them. There are plenty of options on the market here and quality generally coincides with price. Elastic MN Straps: I have a MN strap from NDC straps which I like and have heard great things about Erika’s Originals.  A great way to change up your watch. A new strap can completely change the feel of your watch.  Most watches are 20 mm or 22 mm so if you buy a handful of straps you can rotate them between your watches. (Photo Credit: @navs.watch) General Advice & Tips: As you look to expand your collection, here are some general tips that we use as a north star.  Remember, none of these are hard and fast rules: Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford.  “Buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch.  DO NOT FINANCE YOUR WATCH. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate in value, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the passion. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Sinn, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville, Sangin Instruments, Elliot Brown etc), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either.  When you do decide to go into the micro-brand space, do your homework. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. (James Rupley) As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. Remember, those Speedmasters that went to the moon and the 1675 GMT-Master examples that our pilot heroes wore were all value buys back in the day. They weren’t luxury products in that period.  As we have said many times, the man makes the watch, not the other way around. Vintage Watches: Lastly, if you are just starting out, we recommend staying away from vintage watches.  While there are some great deals out there and it is a lot of fun, it is not for the uninitiated.  There are plenty of fakes at every level and it is easy to get ripped off if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.  Additionally, old watches come with old problems, this can be exciting once you have a handful of watches in your collection, but sending your sole watch off for service for 3 months doesn’t make for a good time.  Happy hunting, -W.O.E. Read Next: Blackwater Breitling - The Story

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CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a...

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As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time. Arabic Seiko Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.   Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection. Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection.  In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.” Origin Story If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece. Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating.  At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud. W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Specs The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.    There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby. Social Media and “Influence” Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales. The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it. After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022: We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks.  I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.   W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Advertising and Influencers We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example. Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Conclusion At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing. Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces   This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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CIA Officers and Apple Watches

CIA Officers and Apple Watches

Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to...

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Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat.  In general, we are not against smart watches at WOE. In my post-CIA life I have worked in emerging technology and the benefits of “wearables”, including smart watches, are limitless.  Even though their high-tech functionality runs counter to much of the analog-inspired stories that we put out at W.O.E., smart watches are great tools. They provide immediate and actionable data to increase one’s health, productivity, and situational awareness.  To effectively provide this resource, the watch constantly collects data on one’s location, surroundings, vitals, and movement.  That data is held on the device or sent to a cloud for storage and analysis.  Depending on the applications on the device, much of this data is packaged and sold to third parties for targeted advertisement. Strava Fitness App: In late 2017, open-source fitness tracker data from Strava, an application that allows users to track their fitness activity, was used to reveal the location of sensitive military locations in countries including Syria, Niger, and Afghanistan.  More than 3 trillion data points were available for analysis, posing a potential vulnerability for operational security (OPSEC), revealing sensitive government locations of importance to the US Government’s operations in the area. It’s important to note that this data was relatively rudimentary, simple GPS data points with map overlay– a fraction of the data collected by smart watches today. Even so, researchers from Bellingcat were able to manipulate and combine the information with other datasets to reportedly reveal the identities of British Special Air Service (SAS) personnel, proving that “anonymized” data often isn't. Strava heat map showing sensitive government location. (Strava Data) Clandestine Operations: A CIA Case Officer’s core competency is to recruit and securely handle “agents” for strategic intelligence collection.  This activity ideally occurs in face-to-face clandestine meetings with the foreign government penetration or non-state actors in back alleys, parks, seedy hotel rooms and safe houses.  To securely collect human intelligence, the Case Officer must be “black” –free from hostile surveillance–to protect the identity of the asset.  Traditionally, this requires a multi-hour Surveillance Detection Route (SDR) to determine one’s status.  The rise of networked devices and “smart cities” with facial recognition and ubiquitous surveillance make the Case Officer's job more difficult than ever before. In these so-called “smart cities” movements are easier to track.  Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance (UTS): The Internet of Things has permeated our everyday lives.  Everything from your car to your toaster and baby monitor constantly collect data in order to provide a better user experience through the “smart” network.   Graphic Credit: Ridgeline International A smart watch is just one vector in what has become known as “Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance (UTS).”  According to defense contractor Ridgeline International:  UTS refers to the collection and long-term storage of data in order to analyze and connect individuals with other people, activities, and organizations. Because our data is stored indefinitely, these records are always accessible. In the case of Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance, this data can be used to forensically reconstruct events, no matter how long ago they occurred. Most of this data is collected for commercial purposes, either to make the product more effective for the customer or to be packaged and sold for advertising.  “Data is the new oil”. Collecting, storing, and processing data has never been easier or cheaper, and this ubiquitous network of technical surveillance can be exploited and analyzed in real time or after the fact, potentially revealing the time, location, and identities of those involved in a clandestine act.   CI Risk: Counterintelligence, or “CI”, is any potential risk to an intelligence officer, asset or operational activity.  For Case Officers, this boils down to revealing the identity, location or tradecraft of an officer, Agent or clandestine act.  The rise of technology has increased the potential points of collection (threat vectors) and exploitation, making secure agent handling more difficult.  Not long ago, a hostile intelligence service would have to surreptitiously implant a listening device in an office or a beacon on a vehicle.  Today, vehicles are integrated into a smart network with constant telemetric collection and everything from TVs to toasters and your watch now has a microphone that can be remotely activated known as “hot mic.” When Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by the Saudi government in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, initial reporting suggested his murder was recorded by his Apple Watch, something technically possible given the microphone and record feature.  While it turned out this was disinformation (REDACTED), this is something that is technically possible and may potentially become more common in the future. Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul 2 October 2018 The Future is Now: Not long ago, an intelligence officer could simply leave his or her phone (or smart watch) at home while operational; however, today even this lack of activity is an indicator.  How often is your phone or smart watch sitting idle while you are at home for hours at a time? The lack of movement is just as telling as movement itself.  When it comes to wearables, if an intelligence officer wore a smart watch 24-7, but removed it when operational, this could clearly be analyzed as an anomaly to identify suspected periods of operational activity.  Should a pattern emerge, a hostile intelligence service may allocate physical (or technical) resources to further monitor that individual during a given time, hoping to exploit a vulnerability. Pattern of Life Analysis: Understanding a target’s “Pattern of Life” (POL) is crucial for intelligence collection and a smart watch is the ideal tool to collect POL data.  A Russian intelligence officer’s regular visits to a casino, brothel or liquor store may indicate vulnerabilities for exploitation.  Knowledge of regular visits to a gym or park for exercise presents an opportunity for a Case Officer to facilitate a seemingly innocuous encounter.  For non-state actors and terrorists, patterns provide an opportunity for a capture-or-kill operation. Smart watches and other wearables present an opportunity for unprecedented “Pattern of Life” collection in real time but at an even deeper level of analysis including heart rate, sleep patterns and other physiological responses.  Further, if the device is compromised, the microphone and camera can be activated, providing insight into that individual's home life, relationships and mental state. Traditionally, this type of compromised technical system was limited to capabilities by advanced state actors, specifically hackers known as “APTs” (Advanced Persistent Threats).  However, with the growing private sector intelligence industry, these capabilities are now available to companies, governments and non-state actors.  Notably, Israeli firms including NSO Group have developed and commercialized these capabilities.  NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware can be covertly installed on an individual’s Apple IOS software, exploiting previously unknown “zero-day” vulnerabilities in the software. The US government openly acknowledges the risk of smart watches and prohibits the wearing of any Bluetooth, wireless or WIFI-enabled device in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), a secure government facility where classified government information can be discussed and transmitted.  For intelligence officers who spend much of their time working in a SCIF, they are not permitted to bring their cellphones or any device that receives or transmits a signal, including smart watches. Counterintelligence Risk = Collection Opportunity: While smart watches present a vulnerability for CIA Case Officers, they present an equally interesting opportunity for the US Intelligence Community’s computer exploitation “hackers” to target foreign entities for intelligence collection.  Exploiting a foreign intelligence officer’s smart watch could facilitate his or her pattern of life, allowing a CIA Case Officer to “bump” the foreign official to strike up a conversation in hopes of recruiting that individual as a penetration.  Remotely activating the camera and microphone on a foreign President’s staffer could result in collection of Foreign Intelligence (FI) or valuable assessment data on that individual. Despite the CI risks, foreign politicians including Former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have been photographed wearing Apple and other smart watches.  U.S. elected officials are not immune from this type of analysis by foreign intelligence organizations.  Interestingly, current President Joe Biden was the first U.S. President to wear an Apple Watch in the Oval Office while President Obama reportedly chose the Fitbit for security reasons–it was a less “smart”, smart watch.  For Biden, a certified watch nerd with a collection of Seiko, Rolex and Omega, this was no accident.  It is possible that this was a signal from Biden that he is “hip” and focused on modernity.  For a President criticized for his age, it would be a logical message to send.  US Senators and Congressmen have been observed wearing smart watches in sensitive meetings where cell phones were prohibited.  We can assume this is something that foreign intelligence services are watching closely. President Joe Biden wearing Apple Watch in Oval Office (White House) The Future: In 2022, Apple sold approximately 50 million smart watches, and we can expect this number to increase as the adoption of the Apple Watch becomes more widespread.  That said, Case Officers will likely continue to rely on simple quartz and automatic timepieces to conduct an operational act (agent meeting) at the exact time and place without leaving behind a digital footprint that can be pieced together by a competent hostile intelligence service. Sometimes it’s best to do things the old-fashioned way. This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Casio F-91W, The Preferred Watch Of Terrorists   Submissions from the W.O.E. community:  Jason Heaton testing the limits of the Apple Watch Ultra @chando_bear

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Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from...

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Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from the year.  Thank you for all of your support, we look forward to a great year in 2024. -W.O.E. 10. Hollywood Watches of Espionage Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. Continue Reading 9. Trading a Rolex to Get out of a Sticky Situation - Myth or Reality? The "Escape and Evasion" Rolex The final requirement to be certified as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) is to pass the certification course at a classified government training center commonly referred to as “the Farm.”  Students learn the tradecraft to clandestinely recruit and handle assets.  The entire learning process is a surreal experience, and the atmosphere at “the Farm” is somewhere between a college campus with a constant stream of students riding by on cruiser bikes (IYKYK), a covert paramilitary base with state-of-the-art tactical facilities, and Hogwarts, a place where you learn the dark arts they don’t teach in regular school. Continue Reading 8. Bond: A Case for Omega Here, we will first share the full story of Omega’s origins with James Bond, followed by a detailed analysis of the history of product placement in Bond, and the critical role it plays in keeping the franchise alive. While this piece does not serve as a direct response to the first Dispatch, it aims to present a more thorough history of Bond, offer a better understanding of why adjustments have been made, and propose a case for why we can celebrate Omega’s inclusion in 007’s history Continue Reading 7. Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches Former CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh passed away at the age of 93 exactly one week ago; but we don’t mourn his death–instead we celebrate his incredible life of service in the best way we know how–through his timepieces. William “Billy” Waugh is the Forest Gump of CIA and Special Forces with a larger than life personality and an uncanny knack for adventure. At the conclusion of WWII he attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at age 15. His age got in the way, but three years later, in ‘48, he successfully enlisted in the United States Army, launching a career that would become nothing short of legendary in the Special Operations community. Continue Reading 6. Advice for Buying a Watch The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. Continue Reading 5. The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military The History Of G-Shocks And The US Military - Benjamin Lowry Forty years have passed since the introduction of the Casio G-Shock in 1983. And while the basic formula behind the world’s most durable watch has remained largely unchanged since the legendary DW-5000C first hit store shelves, the world of warfare and the United States Military in particular have made significant strides in both equipment and tactical doctrine. Conflicts in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia/Herzegovina were waged in a bygone analog era, influenced by lessons learned in the Vietnam War. But the terrorist attacks of September 11th changed all of that, embroiling the United States in a new type of war based on counter-insurgency in the digitally-augmented age. Continue Reading 4. CIA Officers and Apple Watches Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat. Continue Reading 3. CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC A Real “Spy’s” Every Day Carry (EDC)  We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. Continue Reading 2. Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s) The Shield Protects the Crown:  W.O.E. is a watch snob–or at least I was. For years, I looked down on Tudor as an inferior tool watch existing in the shadow of its big brother Rolex. I never understood why someone with a Rolex would purchase a Tudor.  After all, Tudor is a poor man's Rolex, or so I thought. Most haters are motivated by insecurity, but my views were simply shaped by ignorance. I didn’t know much about Tudor and was unaware of Tudor’s long standing relationship with the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, a personally relevant intersection. Continue Reading 1. Casio F-91W, the Preferred Watch of Terrorists The Terrorist Timepiece - Casio F-91W The Casio F-91W’s reputation looms large in both horology and national security circles, and for good reason. The simple, cheap and effective plastic watch is likely one of the most ubiquitous timepieces on the planet, with an estimated three million produced each year since sometime in the early 1990s. However, the watch that is coveted by hipsters and former presidents alike has a more sinister utility: it has been used to deadly effect as a timer for explosive charges and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and worn regularly by members of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other transnational militant groups. Continue Reading

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Advice for Buying a Watch

Advice for Buying a Watch

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those...

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The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. (James Rupley) Step 1: Do your research:  There are more resources than ever on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re far enough down the rabbit hole and you want to know more.  We at W.O.E. do not do traditional watch reviews- but other platforms do and do it well.  Hodinkee, Bark and Jack, Teddy Baldassarre, Fratello, aBlogtoWatch, etc.  There are plenty of great outlets with different perspectives putting out content on Youtube, online editorial platforms, and podcasts. But it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to any enthusiast media, as much of the content on these sites are paid advertisements and/or heavily influenced by the watch brands.  Read our Covert Influence In Watch Media piece so that you approach it with a skeptical eye. Step 2:  Talk with people. The simple lost art of conversation.  Ask your friends, coworkers and family members about their watches.  See a guy with an interesting watch on at a bar, coffee shop, or even at the urinal? Ask him what he is wearing.  Why did he buy that specific watch?  What does he like and dislike about it?  Ask to try it on. Most people into watches want nothing more than to talk about them. Major cities likely have watch meetups. RedBar Group is the largest and most well-known of these group meet ups.  I have never been to a watch meet up but know a lot of people enjoy this community and it is a great way to get your hands on lots of watches in the wild. Step 3:  Visit an AD.  An “Authorized Dealer” is a store that sells watches from major brands, and they have an official relationship with said brands.  We recommend visiting a dealer with a larger selection of brands so that you can physically try on different watches to see what works for you.  Tourneau, Watches of Switzerland, and Bucherer are some of the largest ones, but chances are even your local mall has a store that sells watches. Sales associates can be notoriously pretentious and they’re not always “watch guys” but there is something to be learned from everyone.  At a minimum they should have the training to explain the range on the market. Step 4:  Buy your first watch.  After spending a few weeks/months on steps 1-3, you should have a general idea of what interests you.  It’s time to buy your first watch. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000, and even under $500 is better.  Just because you can afford a Rolex doesn't mean you should start there.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” for some thoughts from a broad range of practitioners with experience. (James Rupley) Step 5:  Pause - wear your watch, repeat steps 1-3.  It’s tempting to immediately focus on the next watch, always wanting more.  But wear your watch, find out what you like/dislike about it. Sometimes you learn things about your taste only after wearing a watch for a while. Think about how it feels on your wrist, how it works with your lifestyle, etc. Most importantly, however, is to make sure that the watch works as an extension of your own life philosophy. Maybe the values of the brand don’t line up with your own–or maybe they do. This is the time to learn. (James Rupley) Step 6: Accessorize.  A strap is a great way to change up the feel of your watch.  We have a host of straps in the W.O.E. shop, but don’t let us limit your options.   In the strap game, you generally get what you pay for. Like most things in life.  Stay away from Amazon and pay a few extra dollars for something of quality.  Most of the major watch content outlets also sell straps and are a good one-stop-shop.  Buying a strap from a smaller business is a great way to show your support and rep that brand/community.  Here are some of the different straps you should consider: 2 Piece Leather: These should be handmade in the USA or Europe, nothing mass produced. There are some great craftsmen out there making one off and small batch straps like our Jedburgh and Leather and Canvas DNC Strap.  A good leather strap can work on mostly any watch. Affordable Nylon:  You can buy these anywhere and should be somewhere in the $20-40 price range.  Our Five Eye is on the higher end of this but in return you get quality. The better ones are well-made but cheap enough that you can use and abuse them and throw them out like a pair of good socks.  A simple nylon strap is a great way to support a group/person that you’re interested in. (James Rupley) High-End Fabric Strap:  In my opinion, Zulu Alpha is the best quality fabric strap on the market. The Quantum Watch Strap from TAD has great hardware and Tudor has some great fabric straps (see Hodinkee video). None of these are cheap but you get what you pay for. Single piece leather is tricky, most are thick and I do not like to use bent spring bars on my watches. These do fit some of my pieces with a wider gap between the spring bar and I wear them. I am a big fan of both Soturi and Zanes. Rubber: I have owned a few from Everest and overall have been happy with them. There are plenty of options on the market here and quality generally coincides with price. Elastic MN Straps: I have a MN strap from NDC straps which I like and have heard great things about Erika’s Originals.  A great way to change up your watch. A new strap can completely change the feel of your watch.  Most watches are 20 mm or 22 mm so if you buy a handful of straps you can rotate them between your watches. (Photo Credit: @navs.watch) General Advice & Tips: As you look to expand your collection, here are some general tips that we use as a north star.  Remember, none of these are hard and fast rules: Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford.  “Buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch.  DO NOT FINANCE YOUR WATCH. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate in value, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the passion. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Sinn, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville, Sangin Instruments, Elliot Brown etc), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either.  When you do decide to go into the micro-brand space, do your homework. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. (James Rupley) As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. Remember, those Speedmasters that went to the moon and the 1675 GMT-Master examples that our pilot heroes wore were all value buys back in the day. They weren’t luxury products in that period.  As we have said many times, the man makes the watch, not the other way around. Vintage Watches: Lastly, if you are just starting out, we recommend staying away from vintage watches.  While there are some great deals out there and it is a lot of fun, it is not for the uninitiated.  There are plenty of fakes at every level and it is easy to get ripped off if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.  Additionally, old watches come with old problems, this can be exciting once you have a handful of watches in your collection, but sending your sole watch off for service for 3 months doesn’t make for a good time.  Happy hunting, -W.O.E. Read Next: Blackwater Breitling - The Story

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CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a...

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As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time. Arabic Seiko Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.   Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection. Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection.  In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.” Origin Story If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece. Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating.  At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud. W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Specs The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.    There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby. Social Media and “Influence” Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales. The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it. After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022: We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks.  I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.   W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Advertising and Influencers We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example. Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Conclusion At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing. Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces   This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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CIA Officers and Apple Watches

CIA Officers and Apple Watches

Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to...

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Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat.  In general, we are not against smart watches at WOE. In my post-CIA life I have worked in emerging technology and the benefits of “wearables”, including smart watches, are limitless.  Even though their high-tech functionality runs counter to much of the analog-inspired stories that we put out at W.O.E., smart watches are great tools. They provide immediate and actionable data to increase one’s health, productivity, and situational awareness.  To effectively provide this resource, the watch constantly collects data on one’s location, surroundings, vitals, and movement.  That data is held on the device or sent to a cloud for storage and analysis.  Depending on the applications on the device, much of this data is packaged and sold to third parties for targeted advertisement. Strava Fitness App: In late 2017, open-source fitness tracker data from Strava, an application that allows users to track their fitness activity, was used to reveal the location of sensitive military locations in countries including Syria, Niger, and Afghanistan.  More than 3 trillion data points were available for analysis, posing a potential vulnerability for operational security (OPSEC), revealing sensitive government locations of importance to the US Government’s operations in the area. It’s important to note that this data was relatively rudimentary, simple GPS data points with map overlay– a fraction of the data collected by smart watches today. Even so, researchers from Bellingcat were able to manipulate and combine the information with other datasets to reportedly reveal the identities of British Special Air Service (SAS) personnel, proving that “anonymized” data often isn't. Strava heat map showing sensitive government location. (Strava Data) Clandestine Operations: A CIA Case Officer’s core competency is to recruit and securely handle “agents” for strategic intelligence collection.  This activity ideally occurs in face-to-face clandestine meetings with the foreign government penetration or non-state actors in back alleys, parks, seedy hotel rooms and safe houses.  To securely collect human intelligence, the Case Officer must be “black” –free from hostile surveillance–to protect the identity of the asset.  Traditionally, this requires a multi-hour Surveillance Detection Route (SDR) to determine one’s status.  The rise of networked devices and “smart cities” with facial recognition and ubiquitous surveillance make the Case Officer's job more difficult than ever before. In these so-called “smart cities” movements are easier to track.  Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance (UTS): The Internet of Things has permeated our everyday lives.  Everything from your car to your toaster and baby monitor constantly collect data in order to provide a better user experience through the “smart” network.   Graphic Credit: Ridgeline International A smart watch is just one vector in what has become known as “Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance (UTS).”  According to defense contractor Ridgeline International:  UTS refers to the collection and long-term storage of data in order to analyze and connect individuals with other people, activities, and organizations. Because our data is stored indefinitely, these records are always accessible. In the case of Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance, this data can be used to forensically reconstruct events, no matter how long ago they occurred. Most of this data is collected for commercial purposes, either to make the product more effective for the customer or to be packaged and sold for advertising.  “Data is the new oil”. Collecting, storing, and processing data has never been easier or cheaper, and this ubiquitous network of technical surveillance can be exploited and analyzed in real time or after the fact, potentially revealing the time, location, and identities of those involved in a clandestine act.   CI Risk: Counterintelligence, or “CI”, is any potential risk to an intelligence officer, asset or operational activity.  For Case Officers, this boils down to revealing the identity, location or tradecraft of an officer, Agent or clandestine act.  The rise of technology has increased the potential points of collection (threat vectors) and exploitation, making secure agent handling more difficult.  Not long ago, a hostile intelligence service would have to surreptitiously implant a listening device in an office or a beacon on a vehicle.  Today, vehicles are integrated into a smart network with constant telemetric collection and everything from TVs to toasters and your watch now has a microphone that can be remotely activated known as “hot mic.” When Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by the Saudi government in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, initial reporting suggested his murder was recorded by his Apple Watch, something technically possible given the microphone and record feature.  While it turned out this was disinformation (REDACTED), this is something that is technically possible and may potentially become more common in the future. Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul 2 October 2018 The Future is Now: Not long ago, an intelligence officer could simply leave his or her phone (or smart watch) at home while operational; however, today even this lack of activity is an indicator.  How often is your phone or smart watch sitting idle while you are at home for hours at a time? The lack of movement is just as telling as movement itself.  When it comes to wearables, if an intelligence officer wore a smart watch 24-7, but removed it when operational, this could clearly be analyzed as an anomaly to identify suspected periods of operational activity.  Should a pattern emerge, a hostile intelligence service may allocate physical (or technical) resources to further monitor that individual during a given time, hoping to exploit a vulnerability. Pattern of Life Analysis: Understanding a target’s “Pattern of Life” (POL) is crucial for intelligence collection and a smart watch is the ideal tool to collect POL data.  A Russian intelligence officer’s regular visits to a casino, brothel or liquor store may indicate vulnerabilities for exploitation.  Knowledge of regular visits to a gym or park for exercise presents an opportunity for a Case Officer to facilitate a seemingly innocuous encounter.  For non-state actors and terrorists, patterns provide an opportunity for a capture-or-kill operation. Smart watches and other wearables present an opportunity for unprecedented “Pattern of Life” collection in real time but at an even deeper level of analysis including heart rate, sleep patterns and other physiological responses.  Further, if the device is compromised, the microphone and camera can be activated, providing insight into that individual's home life, relationships and mental state. Traditionally, this type of compromised technical system was limited to capabilities by advanced state actors, specifically hackers known as “APTs” (Advanced Persistent Threats).  However, with the growing private sector intelligence industry, these capabilities are now available to companies, governments and non-state actors.  Notably, Israeli firms including NSO Group have developed and commercialized these capabilities.  NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware can be covertly installed on an individual’s Apple IOS software, exploiting previously unknown “zero-day” vulnerabilities in the software. The US government openly acknowledges the risk of smart watches and prohibits the wearing of any Bluetooth, wireless or WIFI-enabled device in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), a secure government facility where classified government information can be discussed and transmitted.  For intelligence officers who spend much of their time working in a SCIF, they are not permitted to bring their cellphones or any device that receives or transmits a signal, including smart watches. Counterintelligence Risk = Collection Opportunity: While smart watches present a vulnerability for CIA Case Officers, they present an equally interesting opportunity for the US Intelligence Community’s computer exploitation “hackers” to target foreign entities for intelligence collection.  Exploiting a foreign intelligence officer’s smart watch could facilitate his or her pattern of life, allowing a CIA Case Officer to “bump” the foreign official to strike up a conversation in hopes of recruiting that individual as a penetration.  Remotely activating the camera and microphone on a foreign President’s staffer could result in collection of Foreign Intelligence (FI) or valuable assessment data on that individual. Despite the CI risks, foreign politicians including Former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have been photographed wearing Apple and other smart watches.  U.S. elected officials are not immune from this type of analysis by foreign intelligence organizations.  Interestingly, current President Joe Biden was the first U.S. President to wear an Apple Watch in the Oval Office while President Obama reportedly chose the Fitbit for security reasons–it was a less “smart”, smart watch.  For Biden, a certified watch nerd with a collection of Seiko, Rolex and Omega, this was no accident.  It is possible that this was a signal from Biden that he is “hip” and focused on modernity.  For a President criticized for his age, it would be a logical message to send.  US Senators and Congressmen have been observed wearing smart watches in sensitive meetings where cell phones were prohibited.  We can assume this is something that foreign intelligence services are watching closely. President Joe Biden wearing Apple Watch in Oval Office (White House) The Future: In 2022, Apple sold approximately 50 million smart watches, and we can expect this number to increase as the adoption of the Apple Watch becomes more widespread.  That said, Case Officers will likely continue to rely on simple quartz and automatic timepieces to conduct an operational act (agent meeting) at the exact time and place without leaving behind a digital footprint that can be pieced together by a competent hostile intelligence service. Sometimes it’s best to do things the old-fashioned way. This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Casio F-91W, The Preferred Watch Of Terrorists   Submissions from the W.O.E. community:  Jason Heaton testing the limits of the Apple Watch Ultra @chando_bear

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Watches & Wheels: Pairing Military Vehicles with Timepieces

Watches & Wheels: Pairing Military Vehicles with Timepieces

Round Two of honoring the age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. We’ve done it once before–paired watches with military aircraft–and now we’re...

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Round Two of honoring the age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. We’ve done it once before–paired watches with military aircraft–and now we’re doing it again. Except this time, we’re trading wings and rotors for wheels and tracks. These watch pairings explore the world of military vehicles.  There’s no hard and fast rule that we use to come up with the pairings–the goal is to explore the world of watches–and military vehicles–in a way that’s engaging and offers some insight into both worlds. Part of this exercise is to isolate characteristics of a watch or vehicle that make it unique. It forces us to look at a watch and contextualize it using its physical character and attributes, and beyond that, the reputation of the watch that the community has created for it, or sometimes the brand themselves. Many of you will have experience with some of these vehicles–and watches– and you might even have a specific pairing you’ve found works. We’d love to hear about them.  To preempt any comments, yes, the Casio G-Shock could be paired with any and all of these vehicles, but that would be a pretty boring article. Let’s shift into low gear and roll right into it.  The Vehicle: The 464 G-Class Utility Truck Credit: Mercedes-Benz  The G-Wagon from Mercedes-Benz has been hijacked by the likes of the Kardashians and finance bros, but the roots of the truck couldn’t be further away from that specific culture. Contrary to the current reputation of the truck, it started off as an idea put forth by the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for the Iranian military. The brief was to create a reliable and capable 4WD platform that could stand up to the austere terrain the Iranian forces operated in. The Shah was an important stakeholder of Mercedes at the time, so the brief was realized in the form of the 1979 debut of the “Geländewagen,” or “G-wagon”.  Of course the modern civilian version is far from its roots, but for decades, forces around the world have used the G-Wagon to get it done. Mercedes still produces a special variant of the G-Wagon for defense and security forces. It’s called the 464 G-Class Utility Truck, and unlike the civilian version that needs 93 Octane, this version can run on poor quality diesel anywhere in the world, and sports a ladder frame, three locking differentials, and rigid axles up front and in the rear. And of course, a desert khaki paint scheme with black plastic instead of chrome.  The Watch:  IWC Big Pilot's Watch Perpetual Calendar TOP GUN Edition "Mojave Desert" Photo Credit: IWC This desert khaki ceramic perpetual calendar will set you back a cool 40 large. It’s the kind of watch with a case as big as its price tag at 46.5mm. But the aesthetic of the watch is its strength. It looks cool, even if you’re paying dearly for that look. IWC is based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, in the German-speaking region near the German border. Underneath it all, there’s an in-house caliber that’s well engineered.  The Link: Expensive but capable is the theme here, and both of these things have a degree of unnecessary tacticool flashiness that’s earned them a legion of loyal followers, even if they’re designed with stealthiness in mind.  The Vehicle: Toyota Hi-Lux This is regarded as the most indestructible truck on the planet by most automotive enthusiasts. For better or worse, bad actors agree. That’s why you’ll often see a squad of masked goons perched in the bed alongside a shoddily mounted SALW set up ripping through the desert. We don’t get the Hi-Lux in the US, instead we get the Tacoma, which is a great truck in its own right–but not quite as tough as the Hi-Lux. It comes in a range of diesel and petrol options, 4x4 drivetrains, and the most basic features possible. Trucks modified as an “improvised fighting vehicle” are referred to as technicals. While yes, terrorists are known to employ technicals, our own Special Operations Forces have used them as well. The Toyota Hi-Lux is an absolute legend.  The Watch: Casio F-91W Speaking of legendary, Kikuo Ibe’s G-Shock is unequivocally the watch of choice for terrorists. It’s no secret that Usama bin Laden wore the F-91W. This isn’t to be taken as a knock against the watch, however. Terrorists deserve absolutely zero praise, a lot of us have dedicated our careers to mitigating their efforts.  But the truth is, the equipment that terrorists typically use has to be cheap and reliable. That’s exactly what the F-91W is.  (Read More: Casio F-91W, the Preferred Watch of Terrorists) The Link: I’ve met a few terrorists in my life, and they come in all shapes and sizes.  The one thing they all have in common, whether in Colombia, Somalia or Afghanistan, is a love for Hi-Lux and Casio.  Indestructible, simple, easy to use, and both favorites of bad actors around the globe–and good ones, too.  The Vehicle:  Land Rover Wolf You probably know the Land Rover Defender–the boxy, no-frills 4x4 that’s earned a massive fan base around the globe for its collection of 90-degree angles, not to mention its reputation as the physical incarnation of the English can-do attitude. It’s long out of production now, but the Wolf is the Defender, mostly in OD Green, with a roll bar and soft top, and a number of fortifications that made it fit for military duty. It also used the 300Tdi engine instead of the Td5 as it was considered easier to work on in the field because of its analog properties. It was widely used by UK forces during GWOT. There were nearly 100 versions of the Wolf performing specific roles like serving as an ambulance or modified for winter-specific operations.  The Watch: Bremont Broadsword Bremont Broadsword (Photo Credit Bremont) The Broadsword is Bremont’s interpretation of a Dirty Dozen watch, and it’s settled into the line-up as a GADA model that’s closely associated with Bremont’s military program. It’s simple, it’s tough, and has a touch of elegance. Just like its country of origin. It’s got small seconds at 6 just like the original Dirty Dozen watches, but now it’s joined by a date window. The font is modern, and it’s been endorsed by the MoD. That means Bremont has the rights to revive the Broad Arrow markings and put it on this very model. (See our profile: Aviation “Unit Watches”: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division) The Link: Strong ties to heritage and made in England with English pride is the theme here.  The Vehicle: MRZR 4x4 You’ve either driven a Polaris RZR or know someone who has one. They’re everywhere outside major cities in the US. The MRZR isn’t all that different, but it runs on diesel and includes strategic protection for use in conflict zones. The strength of the vehicle remains the same between the civilian and military variant: being able to rip through rough terrain quickly and reliably. The MRZR is designed to be transported in the V-22, H-53, and H-47.  The Watch: Pelagos 39 Photo Credit: James Rupley Rendered in titanium with the same legible dial layout as the apex predator dive watch, the Tudor Pelagos, the Pelagos 39 is slightly downsized for a perfect fit. Some folks don’t like the brushing on the dial or bezel, but it’s hard to deny how well this watch wears and how legible it is. (Read More: Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s) The Link: Light and nimble. Pared down. Easy to use. Their perfect size is their strength.  The Vehicle: High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV; Humvee) SOCOM Modified HUMVEE as a part of the Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV) program. (Photo Credit: DOD) The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, otherwise known as the Humvee, entered service in the late ‘80s, just as tensions were heating up around the globe. Developed for large scale Cold War-level conflicts, it quickly became a central figure in TV reportage of the Persian Gulf War. Meanwhile it served in Just Cause, Somalia, and the conflicts of the time in Bosnia and Kosovo. Its early success cemented its reputation as reliable and effective, and it went on to become known as the most successful light military truck in modern history. Where the Willys Jeep is a symbol of American mid-century might, the Humvee stands in for the military role the US has played in modern times. In fact, the vehicle was so beloved by the Americans that AM General produced a civilian version of it, the Hummer.  The Watch: Panerai Submersible PAM02973 (Photo Credit: Panerai) Panerai (in some fashion) was one of the original suppliers to Italian Frogmen. The brand’s signature svelte Italian curvy case and sandwich dial might have been relegated to the more style-oriented subset of watches today, but there’s certainly bonafide military history in Panerai’s past. The watches are chunky and oversized. The Submersible adds the functionality of a rotating bezel and is engineered for diving. What many people forget is just how desirable Panerais were in the ‘90s and early 2000s. There were waiting lists and you had to “be someone” to get an allocation long before the modern hype watch phenomena. While many watch blogs continue to debate (hate on) Panerai’s marketing, the fact is it does have a strong following in the NatSec space, particularly with the Naval Special Warfare community.  The Link: Both the Humvee and the Submersible are built like tanks and were true kings of the ‘90s and 2000s. Back then, many people were probably into both. The brawny draw of both captured the same sort of enthusiast, though it may not remain so today.  The Vehicle: Soviet/Russian MAZ-7917 With a 14x12 drivetrain and the ability to obliterate nations with ICBM launching capabilities, the MAZ-7917 is a force to be reckoned with. If you see MAZ-7917 movements on intelligence reports it gets attention. It transports, erects, and launches the Topol-M missile. The 54th Guards Order of Kutuzov Rocket Division is reported to oversee the Topol-M program. MAZ (Minsk Automobile Plant) manufactures the MAZ-7917 in Belarus, and is state-run. In addition to military vehicles, they produce vehicles like city buses for Eastern European nations.  The Watch: Seiko Astron The 1969 Quartz Astron 50th Anniversary Limited Edition (Photo Credit: Seiko) In 1969, Seiko unveiled the first quartz watch, and set off what would come to be dubbed the “quartz crisis” by the watch industry. The Astron relied on electronics to tell the time rather than traditional watchmaking know-how that Switzerland specialized in. Quartz watches were cheaper and more accurate, and Japan’s trio of Citizen, Seiko, and Casio owned the market. The Astron was the watch that started this trend. We all know how the story went–Quartz had a moment but certainly did not completely stamp out the Swiss mechanical watch industry. But it was the Astron that sounded the alarms.  The Link: Both the MAZ-7917 and the Seiko Astron have the potential to set off catastrophic chain reactions. And one–the Astron–did in 1969.  The Vehicle: Bradley Fighting Vehicle The Bradley Fighting Vehicle is named for General Omar Bradley, made by British BAE Systems, and operated by Croatia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and of course, the US. It’s one of the most widely used tracked armored vehicles by the US and has been in service since 1981. As a tank, it’s a popular fixture in Hollywood military movies, and that’s for good reason: there are around 4,500 being actively used by the US military, and roughly 2,000 in storage. There are two versions, the M2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the M3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle. It’s still being delivered to this day, at roughly 160 units per year.  The Watch: Omega PloProf Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M (Photo Credit: Omega) This is the ultimate dive watch from Omega. It’s waterproof to a staggering 1200 meters and originally used a monobloc case design which means the movement is loaded through the front and then a crystal is pressed into the case. In short, again, it’s built like a tank. There isn't an obvious curve on the case, either. The crown guard and bezel lock mechanism are actually part of the case, lending to a very functional design.   The Link: Both of these things are built in the same way–like tanks. One is actually a tank (well, a tracked armored fighting vehicle), and the other is as close as a watch can get to a tank.  The Vehicle: Type-10 Snow Vehicle Photo Credit: Military Today This vehicle is relatively obscure for a reason. Japan has a self-defense force (as opposed to an expeditionary force) and only recently has it moved towards exporting any sort of defense machinery. This means that most Japanese-developed military vehicles have stayed inside Japan, like the Type-10. It’s made by the company Ohara, which specializes in supporting civilian operations with vehicles in snowy environments, like Antarctica, where Japan maintains Syowa Research Station. The Type 10 is designed to carry 8 soldiers with gear and runs with a crew of 2.  The Watch: Seiko SPB297 Photo Credit: Seiko In 1965, Seiko came out with the 62MAS, their very first dive watch. It was well-received for the time, and Seiko took testing and quality control very seriously. The watch was issued to the 8th Antarctic Research Expedition team that stayed on the ice from 66-69. This visual language and case shape laid the foundation for plenty of Seiko’s dive watches since, and in the last five years Seiko has released a bevy of watches directly paying homage to this model. The SPB297 is one of them, and it features an icy dial to establish the link.  Showa Station, home of Seiko 62MAS testing. Credit: Antarctic Journal of the United States, 1967-68 The Link: We’ve said before that Seiko is the Toyota of Watches, but in this case it is the Ohara of watches.  Seiko might still issue watches to Japanese Antarctic teams (it’s known that Seiko made watches for JARE47 and JARE49), and if they do, it should be the SPB297. And you might find a Type-10 at Japan’s Antarctic station Showa as well.  The Vehicle:  BTR-80 - Soviet Union The Soviet-Afghan War is often overlooked, but some of the equipment that took part in the conflict certainly isn’t. The BTR-80 is one of the most striking symbols of the Soviet Union’s military might. It’s often depicted rolling through the Red Square with its crew popping out the hatches in the front of the vehicle during military parades. Most recently, the BTR-80 played an important role in the War in Ukraine. Both sides operate the BTR-80, and both sides have lost a number of them in the conflict. They’re still being produced to this day. The Watch: Vostok Amphibia Steve Zissou wore this watch in the movie The Life Aquatic, but that’s not why we think it’s interesting. The Amphibia is probably the most recognized example of a “Russian” watch. Although it should really be known as a Soviet watch, since it’s been around since ‘67 and Vostok as a company has been around since ‘42. Some collectors have a fascination with Russian/Soviet watches because of their prevalence in the current conflict in Ukraine. The Link: Both are instantly recognizable Soviet designs.  The Vehicle:  Jeep Willys MB Part of Roosevelt’s plan to emerge victorious during WWII included “out-producing the enemy” and this meant that the military industrial complex was spun up to full force. It resulted in an economic miracle, and one singular byproduct of that is the Willys Jeep. Roughly 600,000 of these light and capable 4x4 vehicles were produced, and they were shipped to every theater that the US was operating in. The vehicle went on to play a role in just about every conflict immediately following for a few decades; it was prominently featured in the show M*A*S*H, a comedic illustration of life soldiers’ lives during the Korean War. Of course, the platform evolved into an automotive smash hit in the civilian world with the Jeep Wrangler, but it started off as a humble git ‘er done piece of machinery serving on the battlefield.  The Watch: Hamilton Khaki Field Photo Credit: Hamilton We’re talking about an entire family of watches here, but if we want to get down to a specific reference, it would be the GG-W-113.  This watch was produced by many manufacturers, including Hamilton, to a US Gov spec (and that spec is GG-W-113, hence the name of the watches it spawned). That spec came out in 1967, and has since been replaced. But the modern, non-gov spec Hamilton Khaki field is the spiritual reincarnation of those Vietnam-era watches. The Link: Hamilton is now owned by the Swatch group, but it was once a truly American company that gave the US a lot of pride. The Jeep is another American icon. Both the Khaki Field and the Jeep spin off very successful civilian products that have become icons in their own right from a military specification.  -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.     Read Next: SEAL Team Six and a U.S. Navy-Issued Seiko Turtle

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Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex”

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex”

Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex” I first heard of Sangin Instruments during TDY travel to a WarZone while at CIA.  At the...

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Sangin Instruments - The Marine Owned “Raider Rolex” I first heard of Sangin Instruments during TDY travel to a WarZone while at CIA.  At the time I was responsible for a counterterrorism Covert Action program in the Middle East and I was traveling to visit the program on a flight with other CIA officers.  (REDACTED PARAGRAPH) The atmosphere on the plane was a Star Wars bar vibe, with bearded paramilitary officers, support personnel and analysts, all dressed in civilian clothing that varied from business casual to a college campus look and of course the obligatory new camping gear from REI.  Like most things at CIA, rules were relaxed and the plane filled with professionals who didn’t need to be told which rules actually mattered. During a refuel stop in a European country, I struck up a conversation with the individual sitting next to me who I assessed (correctly) was a GRS (Global Response Staff) contractor reading a book on the Rhodesian Bush War. The conversation moved from evolution counterterrorism tactics, the ongoing conflict in our destination country and finally watches. The operator asked about the Rolex Submariner on my wrist, and was quick to interject that he used to wear his Sub during deployments but lost it in a recent divorce, so now wears a Sangin watch. He then launched into a passionate pitch for the company and an overview of what the Sangin brand represents. Sangin in the wild during Orion space capsule recovery (Sangin community photo) At the time, my interest in watches was surface level. But during that trip and following deployments I began to notice Sangin Instruments on the wrists of SpecOps personnel, CIA paramilitary officers, and other case officers.  In the business we call this a pattern. Like many watch companies, Sangin was a subculture in itself. Very much a “if you know, you know” type thing. I wanted to learn more about the watch that seemed to keep appearing on the wrist of professionals in this world. So I reached out to one of the two founders, Jacob Servantes to learn about how the company came to be.   (Sangin community photo) Sangin Instruments  Watches are a medium for stories, but for Jacob Servantes, Marine Raider and founder of Sangin Instruments, they provided even more.  “You come out of the military depressed as hell. At the professional level we were at, a lot of what you do becomes who you are. And when you leave, the machine just keeps going . . . so Sangin gave me a lot of purpose out of the military.” Servantes enlisted in 2008 as the economy was crumbling, hoping to earn some money for college on the other side of his service. The goal was to follow his father’s footsteps and become a Reconnaissance Marine.  At the time, he wasn't aware that a restructuring in 2006 would mean that elements of the Marine Corps would participate in SOCOM, resulting in MARSOC. He ended up squarely in the special operations community.  A rare photo of Jacob on deployment in Afghanistan. It was during selection that he walked away with his first lesson that he would incorporate into Sangin Instruments–become the new standard.  Become the New Standard Not much was publicly known about the Raider selection process, and that’s by design. But Servantes recounted the biggest takeaway was that the standard to be selected by the instructors only moved in one direction: it became harder and harder. When Marines rose to the standard, and exceeded it, their standard became the new standard. “We used to joke that the mattress fairy would take people away at night, because every night you would see fewer and fewer people,” Servantes recalled. In his class, a group of 120 hopeful Marines were deposited in an undisclosed location somewhere in North Carolina. 25 people were selected after a grueling three weeks and countless miles of rucking/team events. Each class sets the standard for the next class, meaning that the standard is constantly being raised. It always gets harder, and that idea is something Servantes has incorporated into the way Sangin Instruments does things, “selection is continuous.” (Sangin community photo) Sangin, Afghanistan The name of Servantes’ company comes from Sangin, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, an area along the Helmand River Valley where the Commando team he worked on spent much of their deployment. Sangin is a place that many who served during the GWOT will be familiar with, and it was known as “the most dangerous place in the world for multiple years running–the hospital on base was the busiest hospital, anywhere, at the time.” Servantes says. That’s part of why he chose the name Sangin Instruments. “Sangin is a horrible place in the world–many guys attribute awful memories to Sangin, but they’ll carry this name with them and hopefully have a positive memory about breaking down barriers, and their own sacrifices and achievements.”  (Photo Credit: James Rupley) Building a watch company is not for the fainthearted and bringing the brand to life was an achievement in itself. It almost didn’t happen. But the can-do attitude prevailed. He got back from a deployment and told his wife that he’d put in his time with special operations. During his time in the Middle East and the Philippines, he wore a M-1 Breitling Chrono Avenger (sketchy) and several Digital Tool Watches. While deployed, he'd been thinking about watch designs based on the work he was doing. He tested the market among his friends and colleagues in the military and conceptualized a watch that would be affordable and capable. A watch that would stand up to the type of work they were doing while also speaking to the community.  Watches Built For Warriors Servantes’ wife, Paris, bought the idea. This was 2017. After some help from his mentor, Bill Yao of popular watch microbrand MK II, they had a prototype. And following the evaluation of the prototype, Sangin launched a successful pre-sale that would help fund the initial batch of 250 watches called the Kinetic 1. The only problem was that Paypal held the funding without explanation and would not release it to obtain the watches. Paris reached into her savings and a small inheritance; Servantes had his bonus from his last Afghanistan deployment. Between them, they scraped together the cash and bet big on Sangin Instruments working out. They were in a squeeze, but Servantes had a steadfast partner in his wife, who learned how to do Quality Control on all the watches and packaged them up and answered customer emails while he was in business school. W.O.E.’s personal Sangin Overlord Believing in Sangin Instruments paid off, but it was never the plan–the primary objective was to take care of the community and make a product to be proud of. The first round of watches was delivered and the phones haven’t stopped ringing since.  “Part of the culture of watches in general is wanting to have a part of something you’ve done. So when these guys leave the military, they can take a piece of that experience with them,” Servantes says of his watches.  (Sangin community photo) Sangin Today  Today, Sangin boasts an impressive line of watches, from the entry level quartz Overlord to the premium newly released Hydra, Sangin’s interpretation of a mid-century compressor-style diver's watch. The community remains an important part of Sangin’s identity with customers demonstrating a near religious fervor as they wait for the next release. Sangin also offers several watches that must be earned.  The “Para” Overlord is only available to members of the airborne community and would-be customers must submit a certification verification.  The green bezel Atlas and Neptune are available only to those who have completed a SOF selection course, red for first responders and blue for law enforcement personnel.  They are tools for professionals. Jacob was mum on the ongoing special projects “unit watches” but a custom Professional made for the CIA Directors Protective Staff (DPS) was recently for sale on Ebay (but quickly disappeared without explanation).  Suffice to say, we are aware of several special projects for units in the IC and SpecOps community but cannot go into details at this time. Ebay listing of Sangin Professional for the CIA’s Directors Protective Staff. (Ebay)  Sangin Instruments - “With You” As Sangin grows, Servantes makes sure that giving back and taking care of the community he comes from is part of it. Servantes has developed watches that specifically speak to a community of men and women who serve. As he grew the business, an unlikely presence in the watch world supercharged the number of people interested in Sangin. “Rolex helped us out with their price point and availability. You have a lot of Green Berets who finally could afford a Rolex but just couldn't get them. And here we were offering something specifically for them,” he says.  Informally, many refer to Sangin watches as the “Raider Rolex.” Now Servantes will run into guys who tell him that they have a few deployments on their watch, and the memories of service are imbued into the timepiece. That’s exactly what makes Servantes and Paris continue to push Sangin forward. A part of the Sangin Instruments mission that Servantes doesn’t publicly put forward is his support of important nonprofits contributing to those in the veteran community, including HunterSeven Foundation, Special Operations Care Fund (SOC-F) and Vigilant Torch. One of the altruistic motivations of the W.O.E. platform is preserving watch culture in the NatSec community. No one has done more to further this end than the team at Sangin Instruments. Many of us came up in the GWOT days where digital watches were the norm. Sangin offers a great way for professionals to get into watches in an unpretentious manner. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.  This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Demystifying a North Korean State-Sponsored Luxury Wristwatch Awarded to High-Ranking Officials

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Omega's Modern Unit Watch Program - Frogmen, SEALs and the Secret Service

Omega's Modern Unit Watch Program - Frogmen, SEALs and the Secret Service

Omega has a long history of producing watches for the military, most notably the classic Seamaster 300 made for the British Royal Navy.  Today the...

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Omega has a long history of producing watches for the military, most notably the classic Seamaster 300 made for the British Royal Navy.  Today the company is continuing that history with special production “unit watches,” and appears to have standardized its program, offering a unique Seamaster Diver 300M solely to military and law enforcement units.  The options for customization include the unit insignia on the caseback as well as a name/call sign or other identifier associated with the individual. Submission from the W.O.E. community. Omega and the Military: While Omega watches are no longer issued to UK military units, we see them regularly on the wrist of operators as private purchases. The connections between Omega and the military, in particular maritime SOF units, are undeniable.  We previously profiled the watch of the British Special Boat Service (SBS), a 2007 commission of the Omega Seamaster GMT 300 Co-Axial with a blue dial. It appears that Omega has revived this practice of creating a unit-specific Seamaster. Unit Watches: Unit Watches are at the core of modern day watch culture in the military, intelligence, and law enforcement community. We've seen a significant uptick in unit-specific customization programs by major brands in recent years.  In contrast to other special projects programs, which provide significant customizations to their range of watches for military units, Omega appears more restricted in their offerings, potentially to streamline the process.  (Omega marketing document) To review, a unit watch is a timepiece that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization.  Customizations can include the unit’s insignia on the dial and/or an engraving on the caseback.  Unit watches are generally private purchases, paid for by the individual operator.  We have profiled several unit watch programs, including Bremont and Tudor. Omega Unit Watches: We are aware of at least four confirmed recent configurations of this Seamaster made for units: the Danish Frogman Corps (Frømandskorpset), the US Secret Service, the US Navy SEALS, and a US Special Operations unit (name withheld).  All watches appear to have the same dial and bezel, a matte version not available on the public market and the watches are customized with the organization's insignia engraved on the caseback. (Omega marketing document) Watch Specifications: The watch is a no date Seamaster Diver 300M with blackened skeleton hands, beige indices with blue lume on the hour & second hands and green lume on the minute hand.  The movement is the Omega Calibre 8806, Co-Axial Master Chronometer.  The preferred pricing is $5,100 (before taxes), discounted from the MSRP of $5,900 for a standard Seamaster at any AD.  The Seamaster has a steel bracelet and an extra rubber strap.  The watch comes in a waxed canvas travel pouch from British Millerain (sounds fancy!), and the unit's insignia is embossed on the pouch. (Omega marketing document) Danish Frogman Corps (Frømandskorpset): The Danish Frogman Corps is the premier maritime special operations force of the Danish Armed Forces and is a rough equivalent to the Navy SEALs/SBS and appears to be the first unit to receive this custom version of the Seamaster. (Photo: @fkp_froemandskorpset) Pictured is a Danish Frogman wearing the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M “unit watch” during a training exercise.  It was reportedly available for private purchase by current and former members of Frømandskorpset. After completing their service, the Frogmen can join “Conventus Ranae” (“a gathering of frogs”), which is the Frogmen’s association aimed at strengthening the bond between active and retired Frogmen. The Omega was available to anyone in that association. Submission from the W.O.E. community. This week, then-Danish Crown Prince Frederik X was proclaimed King of Denmark after his mother Queen Margrethe II abdicated the throne.  King Frederik X served in the Frogmen Corps and when he took the throne, he wore his “unit watch” Omega Seamaster Diver 300M . . . on a tan Omega fabric strap.  We always choose our most meaningful watches for big events and to the King, this appears to be his.  Any watch brand would be thrilled to give him any allocation he wants–but instead he chose to wear the watch he served in. It doesn’t get any better.  Navy SEALs: We have extensively profiled Tudor’s long time association with the SEAL Teams but watch culture in Naval Special Warfare extends to other brands, including Omega.  The Omega Seamaster (and other references) has long been a favorite of the SEALs, due to its history as a dive tool watch, and of course, Bond, James Bond.  While these were never issued to Naval Special Warfare units, they can be seen on the wrists of Team guys deployed and while at home. (See our previous profile of former Navy SEAL Dave Hall). Omega Seamaster Chronograph on the wrist of former Navy SEAL Rob Huberty during BUD/S graduation of class 259 (Photo Credit: Huberty)  The SEAL version is the same as the Danish Frogman one, except the caseback displays the Navy SEAL Trident, an eagle clutching a U.S. Navy anchor, trident, and flintlock-style pistol, also known as the “Budweiser” given the similarity to the (former) American beer company. We are told that the SEAL version of the Omega Seamaster is currently in production and has not been delivered.  Current and former members of a Navy SEAL team can submit orders and expected orders are somewhere between 150 and 200 units.  In contrast to Panerai’s commercialization of the “SEAL Trident,” this watch is (reportedly) only available to SEALS . . . the way it should be. (Omega marketing document) United States Secret Service: The Secret Service is the US federal law enforcement agency responsible for conducting criminal investigations surrounding financial systems and protecting U.S. political leaders, most notably the President and Vice President.  We have previously profiled the US Secret Service Counter Assault Team (C.A.T. aka Hawkeye) commissioned Tudor Pelagos LHD and it appears others wanted in on the action.   In December 2023 USSS Special Agents began taking delivery of the custom Omega Seamaster.  Each watch is similar to the SEAL/Danish versions and the caseback contains the Secret Service star and “Worthy of Trust and Confidence.”  At the bottom of the dial is the Special Agent’s commission book number or something else unique to them.  Approximately 182 were produced, the second batch set to deliver at the end of January 2024. W.O.E. community Submission. A Few Thoughts: We applaud Omega and The Swatch Group for offering this resource to men and women who answered the call to serve around the globe.  These watches will no doubt remain a talisman of their service to their nation and heirlooms for generations to come.  We expect several other units to adopt the Omega Seamaster as a unit watch over the coming months.   While other brands appear to offer more customization options, the simple design and limited options for customization (insignia on the caseback) likely make this a more streamlined process which can result in more watches.   Our hope is that this specific design is not released to the broader public as many have called for.  The best things in life are earned, not bought. *This post is NOT sponsored by Omega, Swatch Group or anyone else.  All views and opinions are solely our own. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.  -- READ NEXT: Remembering the Legacy of CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh Through His Watches  

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A Brief History Of The Dive Watch - How The Military Helped To Shape History’s Greatest Tool Watch (Part Two)

A Brief History Of The Dive Watch - How The Military Helped To Shape History’s Greatest Tool Watch (Part Two)

Benjamin Lowry -  If you’re new here, you’ll want to go back and read part one (HERE) of this two-part series where we detail the...

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Benjamin Lowry -  If you’re new here, you’ll want to go back and read part one (HERE) of this two-part series where we detail the history of the earliest diving-specific watches and their crucial links to military organizations including Italy’s Decima Flottiglia MAS, the US Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT

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Double Wristing Stormin' Norman

Double Wristing Stormin' Norman

No, General Schwarzkopf did not double wrist a Rolex and Seiko Despite What You’ve Read. Pictured is General H. Norman Schwarzkopf wearing two watches. Read...

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No, General Schwarzkopf did not double wrist a Rolex and Seiko Despite What You’ve Read. Pictured is General H. Norman Schwarzkopf wearing two watches. Read any story on Schwarzkopf and watches and you’ll learn that it’s a Rolex Day-Date and a Seiko diver. There’s just one problem–he didn’t wear a Rolex. The truth is just as interesting, however. Both watches are Seikos, aka the Toyota of Watches. Thanks to research by our friend @niccoloy, we’d like to set the record straight, and while we’re at it, we’ll dig into the idea of “double wristing”, or simply put–wearing two watches at once. “Double Wristing” -Bravado vs practical utility: Double wristing can be understood today as somewhat of a “flex”, done by celebrities, athletes and rappers as an ostentatious display of wealth, an indication one has “f*ck you money.”  But wearing two watches before the era of smartphones meant something different. Keep in mind, watches were largely used for their intended purpose - to tell time. Wearing two watches meant that you probably had a reason to.  While the GMT complication has allowed a single watch to track two time zones at once, several historical figures have worn multiple watches. Most notable among them is Four Star General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, aka Stormin’ Norman, who wore a watch on each wrist during the First Gulf War. There’s undeniably an element of projecting a certain image, but here’s the reason in his own words: "I always wore two watches during the war. The one on my left arm was set on Saudi Arabian time and the Seiko on my right arm was set on Eastern Standard Time. That way I could quickly glance at my watches and instantly know the time in both Saudi Arabia and Washington, D.C.”  Then commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) and head of coalition forces against Saddam Hussein, Schwarzkopf was pictured regularly wearing the two timepieces, a supposed two tone "Rolex" and a Seiko diver on a rubber strap.   Photo Credit: Yousuf Karsh The dressier watch is regularly reported in watch media as a two tone Rolex Day-Date, which is incorrect.  According to expert historical watch spotter @niccoloy, both watches are actually Seikos.  Niccoloy looked through scores of pictures to find this relatively obscure photo of General Schwarzkopf on a helicopter, the signature Seiko clasp clearly visible on the inside of the wrist. Practicality vs Imagery, Bravado, Perceptions: Did the General really need two watches to track the time in DC and Saudi Arabia?  Probably not, a simple GMT function would have sufficed. Or a quick calculation.  While we will not outright question Schwarzkopf’s claimed utility of the two timepieces, we can also assume that the watches also served as a tool in the information war. In Diplomacy, Military, and Intelligence, imagery and perception matters.  Modern day Generals are just as much politicians and diplomats as they are warfighters.  Schwarzkopf was the face of the Gulf conflict to the American people, allies, and Iraqis. He likely spent considerable time thinking about how he was perceived by each constituent.  While it seems comical now, thirty-plus years ago, the “double wristing” arguably supported his persona as someone in charge, someone who valued time and someone intensely focused on accomplishing his mission.  The contrast of the two watches, one a riff on the watch par excellence, and the other a known tool watch, mirrored his position as warrior-diplomat. An effective General can get his hands dirty during the day and stroll right into a state dinner at night looking the part.  Our assessment is that these two accessories were intended as a physical display of this dichotomy.  The watches were tools–each one for a different job. Interestingly, General Schwarzkopf appears to periodically switch wrists throughout the conflict, the reasoning behind this is purely speculation.  While the two tone dress Seiko is unidentified, the blue and red “Pepsi” bezel Seiko on a rubber strap was auctioned in the 1990s at Antiquorum for $11,000.  The Seiko diver is often listed as a Seiko SKX009, but according to the 1999 auction description, it was quartz so it is likely something a Seiko reference 7548. Havana - Moscow - Washington D.C. The General is by no means the first notable historical figure to wear two watches at once. Fidel Castro routinely wore multiple watches, sometimes on the same wrist, including during a 1963 meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the Kremlin.  There are some indications he set the watches to Havana, Moscow, and Washington DC (The third utilizing the GMT function).   Similar to Schwarzkopf, we can assume this was just as much a strategic decision as it was practical. We can only speculate what a socialist and Marxist-Leninist leader was trying to accomplish with this display, but we can assume it was no accident.  (Today Washington D.C. and Havana are in the same time zone -UTC -5-, but between the years 1960 and 1964 Havana used the time zone UTC -4.)   Modern Day Double Wristing - Is it acceptable? In general, we do not judge people for how or why they wear their watches.  Anything that lets one enjoy their timepieces is a good thing.  It appears that double wristing is having a renaissance with the advent of the smart watch.  This may seem overboard, but the use case of wearing a high tech Apple Watch and a traditional timepiece seems to make complete sense.  Recently, former Delta Officer and JSOC Commander, Four Star Gen. Scott Miller was seen double wristing an Omega Seamaster 300M and smart watch while meeting with some former Afghan partners in Texas.  It's hard to judge a man like Scotty Miller. READ NEXT: The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military

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The Dive Watch - How The Military Helped To Shape History’s Greatest Tool Watch

The Dive Watch - How The Military Helped To Shape History’s Greatest Tool Watch

by Benjamin Lowry On a moonless night, gently rolling waves reflect only the faintest shimmer of starlight. Fully submerged well up the beach by way of...

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by Benjamin Lowry On a moonless night, gently rolling waves reflect only the faintest shimmer of starlight. Fully submerged well up the beach by way of a spring tide, a team of commandos peer down at their synchronized mechanical dive watches, counting down the seconds before their waterside assault will begin in earnest. Eight pairs of eyes, hidden behind rubber diving masks, are just able to discern the time thanks to luminescent material applied to the dial and hands of their watches. Rotating bezels manage the elapsed time from when the combat swimmers emerged unseen from the torpedo tubes of a specially outfitted submarine further offshore. Mission time is elapsing, and the action is just about to start. Each operator’s head, mask, muzzle, and watch slowly break the surface on a pitch-black beach in a faraway land. It’s zero hour; time to put in the work.  W.O.E. Personal US Navy Issued Tudor 7928 (Photo Credit: James Rupley) While we’re all familiar with the imagery so often celebrated in watch campaigns and marketing materials, few understand the extent to which the dive watch owes its very existence to amphibious military organizations. Despite the lack of popularity of scuba diving and the pervasive use of diving computers that has rendered the traditional mechanical watch all but unnecessary, the dive watch remains the most popular watch today. In other words, many SCUBA divers wear a wristwatch, but very few people who wear a dive watch actually SCUBA dive. As a category, the dive watch boasts an impressive array of executions and designs that rose in status to become culturally relevant, including the Rolex Submariner, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and OMEGA Seamaster, to name a few. But how can this be the case? If no one cares about diving in 2023 and no one really wears a dive watch for diving, why are watches like the Submariner and Seamaster some of the most iconic luxury watches on the market?  Tudor's recent Pelagos FXD was one of the more recent collaborations between a military organization and a major watchmaker, but far from the first. (Photo Credit: Tudor Marketing) The truth is that these legendary names could never have ascended to their premium luxury positions without first descending on the wrists of a select few military divers and elite special operations units. Units like the US Navy SEALs and French Commandos Marine are as relevant to the dive watch as we understand it today as any Swiss executive chain smoking cigarettes in a leather-bound boardroom. To understand how yesterday’s diving tool, intended for wear alongside a mask, fins, and oversized dive knife, transformed into today’s luxury jewel, often sported by hypebeasts with Gucci slides and a Supreme hoodie, we’ll shine an underwater flashlight on the military’s role in shaping what has become history’s most impactful sports watch. Like pasta and fashion, the history of the dive watch starts with Italy.  An Entirely New Form Of Warfare & The Need For Water-Resistant Timekeeping  Early operators from the Decima Flottiglia MAS utilized the Siluro a Lenta Corsa or "slow-running torpedo" along with Panerai dive watches. Starting in 1935, the Royal Italian Navy or Reggia Marina established one of the first dedicated undersea warfare units. Known as the Decima Flottiglia MAS, the unit was tasked with infiltrating Allied harbors and sinking ships by attaching explosive charges to their hulls. Given the complexity of these burgeoning maritime missions and the importance of careful coordination in any situation where things blow up, the need for a capable water-resistant watch emerged. Already a respected supplier of instruments to the Italian military, G. Panerai & Figlio of Florence stepped up, developing the reference 2533 around 1936 and later the reference 3646 with no small amount of help from Rolex SA across the border in neutral Switzerland.  Panerai's pioneering Radiomir reference 2533 from 1936. With a massive 47mm case, multi-layered “sandwich” dial construction, and hand-winding pocket watch calibers, the “Radiomir”, as it came to be known for its radium-based luminescent material, finds its place in history as the first watch developed specifically for underwater use by divers.  The earliest watches intended for underwater use by divers were from Panerai, with the tender in this legendary image wearing one of the earliest Radiomir references. Equipped with water-resistant luminescent watches and rudimentary pure oxygen rebreathers, as well as submersible “human torpedoes” to cover greater distances, the Royal Italian Navy’s novel diving commando unit was incredibly successful for its size and age, sinking or disabling some 200,000 tons of Allied war and merchant ships while establishing new modalities in naval warfare that would influence virtually all maritime special operations units to follow. And so their success would influence the use and design of watches as well. Seen as more of an outsider with their simple, rotating bezel-free format, Panerai’s WWII-Era creations are perhaps less impactful for the dive watch genre compared to some of the icons we’ll cover but do garner a place in history both for demonstrating the value of luminescence for underwater legibility as well as the need for direct feedback from military operators in influencing the development of diving-specific watches.  (Photo Credit: Navy SEAL Museum) Across the pond, the United States Military was developing its own amphibious warfighters, initially known as the Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU) and later the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). These early United States maritime units gained notoriety for successful beach reconnaissance and explosive clearance operations in both the European and Pacific theaters of World War II. One of the earliest watches created for these maritime units was the Hamilton “Buships”, short for Bureau of Ships. Nicknamed the “Canteen”, Hamilton’s Buships secured its water resistance by way of a cap that was attached to the watch by a short chain and screwed over an inner push-pull crown for a watertight seal. Looking more like a field watch adapted to the sea than a true diver’s watch, the Hamilton is also a bit of an outlier but did help to bolster the case for submersible timers for amphibious military units.   Hamilton's earliest military dive watches were designed for Underwater Demolition Teams and utilized a screw-down cap to create a watertight seal over the top of the standard crown. underneath. (Watch Image Source: Craft & Tailored) The Mid-Century - The Dive Watch Comes Into Its Own  Without the advent of scuba diving and especially Jacques Cousteau's influence in popularizing recreational diving, the dive watch could never have become what it is today. However impactful, Panerai and Hamilton’s World War II and early post-war efforts in watch design didn’t make their way into watches designed for public consumption, and recreational scuba diving didn’t really take off until Jacques Cousteau and Émile Gagnan’s Aqualung became more widely available starting around 1950. As scuba diving as a recreational pursuit grew, so too did the military’s adoption of scuba as opposed to the much older “deep sea” mode of diving undertaken by way of a brass helmet, rubberized canvas drysuit, and virtually unlimited breathing gas supplied through an umbilical. Given the limited gas supply inherent in diving with a tank on your back, as well as the life-and-death gravity of managing decompression-related issues, simply knowing the time of day underwater was no longer as important as tracking elapsed time. Starting in 1953, the dive watch as we know it today was born.  Omega Seamaster- The transition from primarily hard hat diving to scuba required a closer watch on elapsed time in order for a diver to track their breathing and avoid decompression-related issues.  The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms - Created For Combat Divers   Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms was designed in direct response to a request from the French Navy's nascent combat diving corps, changing the history of dive watches forever. (Source: French Government Archives) The conversation about which dive watches were developed and actually released to the public first is nuanced, spicy, and not really why we’re here. That said, two important names officially hit the market in 1953, the Zodiac Sea Wolf and the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, with the latter having been developed in direct response to a request from the French Military. Of course there’s also the Rolex Submariner, first released in ‘54. There’s even an ongoing discussion around when the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms hit the scene–whether it was ‘53 or ‘54. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter who was first; it matters more how they all came to be. Modern tribalism is far less interesting than the genesis story of these legendary watches.  The story of the Fifty Fathoms goes that Captain Robert ‘Bob’ Maloubier, a wartime espionage legend, and Lieutenant Claude Riff were charged with creating a French Navy commando diving unit modeled after Britain’s Special Operations Executive which was itself in part inspired by the aforementioned Italian frogmen of World War II. Disappointed by then-commercially available water-resistant watches, none of which were actually designed for underwater operations, Maloubier and Riff set out to find a manufacturer willing to create a watch to their own unique specifications. Turned down by Lip, a business decision the brand likely later regretted, it was Jean-Jacques Fiechter, longtime CEO of Blancpain and a passionate scuba diver, who took up the challenge, changing the future of dive watches forever.  1953 saw the arrival of Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms, a watch often credited as the first modern diving watch. Source: Blancpain Unveiled to the public at Basel Fair in 1953 after extensive testing with the French Navy’s combat divers, the new watch was dubbed the “Fifty Fathoms” in a nod to its water resistance as well as a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Galvanizing the basic silhouette that now embodies the dive watch, the Fifty Fathoms was housed within a then-gigantic 42mm case and offered a suite of newly-patented features including a rotating push-to-turn bezel for tracking elapsed time, a dual-gasket crown system, and a novel screw-down case back system in addition to a soft iron inner cage safeguarding the caliber from magnetic fields.  The TR 900 from Tornek Rayville was a subtly modified Fifty Fathoms intended to subvert the Buy American Act and make the watch available to US Military divers. Source: Revolution Watch Immediately catching on with military divers around the world, a subtly modified version of the Fifty Fathoms known as the Tornek-Rayville TR-900 was later conceived by US Blancpain distributor Allen Tornek in an effort to subvert the Buy American Act of 1933. Now one of the rarest –and most expensive– military dive watches, the TR-900 was issued to US Military divers, Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians, and other maritime special operators starting in 1963. Despite a cooler reception from the mass market upon release, Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms leaped into the mainstream with both fins thanks to its inclusion in 1956’s The Silent World, Jacques Cousteau’s epic diving documentary. Now rightly considered among the heights of luxury watchmaking with starting prices around $15,000, it’s important to remember the Fifty Fathoms would never have existed at all without its basic design parameters coming from a detailed request from an elite military diving unit.  French combat divers pictured in 1956. A big shoutout to the French military for helping to create the dive watch as we know it today. The Curious Case Of The Zodiac Sea Wolf  Offering a smaller 35mm case and more colorful options compared to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms or Rolex Submariner, the Zodiac Sea Wolf also deserves its place in dive watch history. Source: Benjamin Lowry While Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms receives the majority of the kudos for its 1953 release date, the humble Zodiac Sea Wolf was also right there and is deserving of its place in both military and recreational dive watch history. Where the Blancpain eschewed trends, instead leaning into pure utility with its oversized 42mm case diameter, Zodiac’s Sea Wolf stayed closer to the sizing norms of the day with a 35mm diameter and abbreviated 43mm lug-to-lug measurement. Looking beyond its smaller stature, which no doubt aided in the Sea Wolf’s Mid-Century market appeal, Zodiac’s purpose-built diver was no less an aquatic tool, offering a rotating elapsed time bezel, luminescent indices, and optional expanding bracelets intended to work with a variety of diving suits. Though the Sea Wolf wasn’t necessarily ideated with the military in mind, instead capitalizing on the rapid growth of hobby scuba diving, the watch became a regular choice for US Military divers and special operations forces, commonly spotted on the wrists of US Navy SEALs during the Vietnam Era.  Favored by early UDTs and the SEAL Teams to follow, the Zodiac Sea Wolf is commonly associated with service members from the Vietnam War Era. Source: Navy Helicopter Association Historical Society In comparison to the Blancpain and Rolex’s Submariner which we will of course address in detail shortly, the Sea Wolf was smaller and offered a more comprehensive array of more colorful dial and bezel options, traits that likely limited its appeal to military divers in particular, especially as preferred sports watch sizes gradually began to increase. In the ensuing decades, brands like Blancpain and Rolex effectively scaled the luxury ladder. In contrast, Zodiac, which was imperiled along with much of the Swiss watchmaking industry during the Quartz Crisis, changed hands several times, losing elements of its core design ethos in the process. With that being said, modern Zodiac, today a part of the Fossil Group, offers a much more attainable pathway to heritage diving legitimacy with its current collection as well as relatively reasonable prices for vintage Sea Wolf references, both attributes that cannot be claimed by the final missing piece of the OG dive watch trio, Rolex’s world-beating Submariner.  A Zodiac Sea Wolf on the wrist of a US Special Forces solider. Source: The Dive Watch Connection In part two of this article, we’ll take a closer look at more of the most significant instances of military organizations influencing the history and design of diving watches including the Rolex Military Submariner, Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E) both old and new, the OMEGA Seamaster, and a whole lot more.  As a note before the keyboard commandos attack, this piece is intended as only the most abbreviated overview of some of the most prominent and impactful instances of the military’s role in shaping the dive watch as we know it today. There are numerous other important military dive watches we simply couldn’t cover in this piece including brands like IWC and Benrus that you will hopefully be inspired to discover. If you’re interested in additional coverage of other important military diving watches and their unique histories, you know where to find us.  READ PART II HERE Read Next: Read Next: Demystifying A North Korean State-Sponsored Luxury Wristwatch Awarded To High-Ranking Officials About The Author: Benjamin Lowry is a US Coast Guard veteran and commercial diver turned watch writer. These days, Ben splits his time between writing and video production in the watch industry and managing @SubmersibleWrist, a watch spotting account dedicated to military and commercial divers as well as the life aquatic.

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SOG Seikos - Vietnam MACV-SOG Watches, Part II

SOG Seikos - Vietnam MACV-SOG Watches, Part II

Detailing the Lesser Known Fourth CISO-Issued “SOG Seiko” By Nick Ferrell - Watches of Espionage previously covered a trio of vintage Seiko dive watches worn...

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Detailing the Lesser Known Fourth CISO-Issued “SOG Seiko” By Nick Ferrell - Watches of Espionage previously covered a trio of vintage Seiko dive watches worn by the U.S. Military’s ultra-secretive Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observat

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Modern Navy SEAL Watch Culture - GBRS Group

Modern Navy SEAL Watch Culture - GBRS Group

Travel Pouch And Challenge Coin - Third Option Foundation Fundraise Modern Navy SEAL Watch Culture - GBRS Group and Watches of Espionage Collaboration  We have...

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Travel Pouch And Challenge Coin - Third Option Foundation Fundraise Modern Navy SEAL Watch Culture - GBRS Group and Watches of Espionage Collaboration  We have written extensively about the history of Navy SEALs and watches.  From Tudor Submariner 7928’s issued in Vietnam and Seiko 6309-7049’s during the Cold War days to the modern day Digital Tool Watches of the legendary G-Shock.  In present day Naval Special Warfare, watch culture is strong and many “Team Guys” have high end tool watches, including Rolex, Breitling, Panerai, Tudor, Omega, Bremont and various other timepieces. The reason is simple.  Many of the modern day “tool watches” were originally designed for maritime use, and specifically as military dive watches.  The predecessors of the modern Frogmen were the intended end user for the tool watches of the mid-20th century. Wearing these pieces in the present day is a nod to those who came before, the forefathers who developed the fieldcraft and tactics employed today. In the culture of Intelligence and Special Operations heritage and history is important.  We honor those who paved the way for our trade. Original UDT/SEAL issued Tudor Submariner ref. 7928 (James Rupley) To the outsider, modern day SEAL watch culture can be difficult to comprehend.  Why would a SEAL with a limited government salary spend that much money on a watch?  The idea seems to contradict the practical nature of SOF, which favors function over everything else.  In preparation for the GBRS-W.O.E. fundraiser for Third Option Foundation, we asked former Navy SEALs Cole Fackler and DJ Shipley to give a Rundown of their personal experience with watches and watch culture in the SEAL Teams. As stated by former Navy SEAL and co-founder of GBRS Group:  “It’s a part of the culture and tells a lot about the wearer of that particular piece.  The cost isn’t as important as the backstory or the sentimental value of a piece and the story you both share together.In the military you are issued particular watches, most get a standard watch like a G-Shock, easy to operate and can withstand almost anything that the user can.  As we got older it became custom to upgrade your issued watch for a more luxury watch as a statement piece.As you hit certain goals and milestones in life, you would add a timepiece to remember the occasion or that period in your life.  It was customary in the SEAL Teams to wear a Rolex at a certain stage in your career, you treated that watch just like it was a hundred dollar G-Shock, you did everything in it.It was always a funny sight in a chow hall overseas, all the guys have long hair and beards, covered in dust from the helicopters, absolutely filthy and still have on a Rolex. There is a cult following around watches that plagues a lot of us.” W.O.E.-GBRS Group Collaboration - Third Option Foundation Fundraise Earlier this year we approached GBRS Group about a possible collaboration for charity.  Cole and DJ agreed without hesitation and were eager to support Third Option Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the CIA’s paramilitary officers of the Special Activities Center (SAC).  The relationship between Naval Special Warfare and the CIA is close, particularly for the paramilitary officers who recruit heavily from the SEAL Teams. “TOF provides funding to the Agencies Paramilitary officers, a lot are former colleagues, and suffer severe injuries while working with that organization.  The Third Option Foundation bridges the gap and supports those still in the shadows that never receive recognition for their sacrifices.  As a small way to say thank you, we donated the last of our AOR1 uniforms to be used in making these travel cases.  The funds raised support a fantastic group of people who truly deserve it. If you’re a watch enthusiast, you’re gonna want this for your collection.” Thank you to everyone who made this possible.  Please consider a donation to Third Option Foundation to support the men and women at the tip of the spear. For additional information on Navy SEAL Watches: A Navy SEAL’s Rolex Submariner On The Osama Bin Laden Raid SEAL Team Six And A U.S. Navy-Issued Seiko Turtle The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military The Pragmatic Journey Of A SEAL Through Watch Collecting

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Army Special Operations, 9/11, & The Asymmetric Warfare Group - Jose Gordon Part II

Army Special Operations, 9/11, & The Asymmetric Warfare Group - Jose Gordon Part II

If you haven’t had a chance to read Part I of this Dispatch, please check it out here. If you don’t, you’ll be confused.  by Benjamin Lowry...

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If you haven’t had a chance to read Part I of this Dispatch, please check it out here. If you don’t, you’ll be confused.  by Benjamin Lowry After the initial combat jump and assault into Tocumen Military Airfield and two weeks of searching and numerous assaults, raids, and skirmishes, Jose’s team ultimately just missed capturing infamous dictator Manuel Noriega, unknowingly coming within a few hundred yards of his position before being called off by the powers that be. Despite the disappointment, Jose confirmed his appreciation for a life lived at the pointy end of the spear.  A 1989 ad for a Timex Ironman similar to Jose's. An impressively capable digital family of watches, the Ironman is often overshadowed by the legendary G-Shock.  Decompressing from the disheartening near miss with Noriega, Gordon returned to the United States, eventually purchasing a Timex Ironman with an Indiglo backlight that offered better nighttime legibility than the fading luminescent material on his trusty old Seiko. After a relatively quiet Gulf War deployment in 1991, Jose continued to climb the enlisted leadership ladder of the developing Ranger Regiment. Through numerous near-involvements in global conflicts in Liberia, Somalia, Peru, and other hotspots around the globe, Gordon honed his craft in crisis action and mission planning, helping to create an incredibly complex but ultimately unutilized assault plan for Haiti involving no less than 48 aircraft and the 82nd Airborne.  A young Jose (right) operating in South America with an issued field watch on the wrist. Source: Jose Gordon While he remembers his Timex serving him well, Gordon missed his old 6309 and was quick to pick up a Seiko SKX007 when they were released in 1996. As we know, for a real watch nerd, the pull of analog mechanical timekeeping can be too much to resist. By the late 90s, Gordon earned his promotion to First Sergeant, the Army’s second-highest enlisted pay grade, while serving at the Ranger Regimental Training Detachment. Hand-selected to serve at West Point as the Senior Enlisted Advisor in 2001, Gordon neared the natural end of his 20-year career, spending his days sharing his decades of combat experience and lessons learned with cadets who would become the future of the Army Officer Corps. As the United States cracked open the 21st Century, Gordon and the rest of the world were unaware of the meteoric events awaiting New York City and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001. Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 preparing to collide with the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. Source: Associated Press On the morning of the 11th, Jose finished his PT and was getting dressed for work when his wife Patty called from the barn at West Point where she had her horses to tell him to turn on his TV because “. . . something big was happening.” Like so many Americans and particularly those within his profession, Jose remembers feeling two things most of all, an otherworldly anger that seemed to ache from deep within his bones paired with the intangible drive to help in whatever capacity he might offer. Around 1030 that morning, with smoke still billowing from the fallen Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, a general from the Pentagon called West Point asking after Gordon. A member of “The Unit” had referred the general to Gordon as someone relatively near Ground Zero geographically speaking who had an impressive reputation in the breaching community. “Breaching” is military parlance for forced entry in tactical scenarios, meaning Gordon was familiar with exothermic cutting and controlled explosive demolitions, skills that were to prove useful in ways the military had never imagined.  Jose in modern times instructs students in exothermic cutting, a key component of any breacher's arsenal, with a Sinn U1 on the wrist. Specializing in breaching throughout his career, Jose never imagined how his skills would be utilized at Ground Zero. Source: Jose Gordon A New York State Trooper was assigned to meet Gordon at West Point’s Thayer Gate and personally deliver him to Ground Zero. For whatever reason, Gordon reached for his newly acquired Suunto Vector, an early digital watch with altimeter, barometer, and compass functionality, that morning for PT as opposed to his beloved SKX. With Americans advised to shelter in place, the State Trooper raced along empty highways to New York at well over 100 miles per hour. Tracking the minutes on his Suunto’s digital display, time once again seemed to slow as Gordon anxiously awaited his turn to help his fellow Americans in the chaos of Lower Manhattan. While he’d seen the devastation on TV and heard more detailed reports through military channels, nothing could have prepared Jose for the magnitude of destruction he would face at Ground Zero. With 19 years in the Army, almost all of which with the Ranger Regiment, Gordon had seen his share of death and destruction at the frayed edges of modern civilization, but this was something else altogether. This was the United States.  Gordon worked at Ground Zero from September 11th to the 11th of October, serving as one of very few active duty military members involved in the early recovery efforts, alongside virtually every imaginable federal and local government agency. While Jose was clear when we spoke that he doesn’t wake up at night remembering the countless faces of the dead he’s seen in combat, he admitted he vividly remembers the faces of the dead unearthed at Ground Zero, ranging in expression from placid to horror-stricken. He also recalls the immense efforts taken to recover and identify the fallen and missing, with FBI Crime Scene Technicians occasionally stopping Gordon to point out the odd pink stain on a concrete slab, the product of human beings crushed between floors under the immense pressure of a falling skyscraper. A sour construction site smell permeated the area alongside an eerie silence so pervasive it could almost be heard above the din of dozens of generators. Amid the smoke, rubble, sweat, blood, and innumerable tears of the somber, post-apocalyptic scene, anger welled in Jose’s heart. Jose's Suunto Vector and hardhat, both of which were worn continuously while working at Ground Zero. Source: Jose Gordon. Returning from Ground Zero, Gordon was desperate to find a way into the developing conflict in the Middle East. Unfortunately for him, the Army had other ideas, insisting he serve his swansong tour in South Korea in an advisory leadership role. With firsthand experience at Ground Zero scraping the remains of fallen Americans from the rubble, there was no way Gordon was going to miss his chance to bring the fight to the enemy. After twenty-one years, Gordon chose to retire from the Army, the galvanizing force of his adult life, to look for another way. A few months working with legendary firearms manufacturer Heckler & Koch was a good start, with Gordon helping to develop both the HK416 and XM8, but he still yearned for his place in combat.  During his stint with Heckler & Koch, Jose helped to develop the HK416 and the polarizing XM8, seen here being tested by the US Army in the early 2000s. Source: US Army Eager to find the rare few with combat experience from before the brand new Global War On Terror, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) recruited Gordon to work as a contractor. For two years, he worked with an Army research lab developing new tactics, techniques, and procedures while also actively deploying with an unnamed special mission unit conducting surveillance and intelligence gathering missions. Unsurprisingly, Jose is careful with what he shares when it comes to describing this part of his life. Eventually, Gordon was recruited to help form the Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG), a blend of active duty military and civilians charged with embedding among both conventional and special operations units to identify gaps and develop solutions to increase combat effectiveness and what the Army calls “Soldier Survivability”. Like many watch nerds, Gordon was also a gear nerd, and the new role seemed tailor-made for Jose’s strengths.   Jose in his AWG days with a Suunto Observer on the wrist. Source: Jose Gordon Far from sitting on the sidelines taking notes, advisors like Gordon deployed and fought alongside military units at the darkest corners of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous other locations Gordon opts not to name. The core of Jose’s job was figuring out what these units needed firsthand, a job that meant accompanying the warfighters no matter the mission or how deep in the shit they managed to get. With most of their operations taking place at night, Jose picked up a Luminox Navy SEAL with tritium tubes for illumination shortly after leaving the Army. When the tritium began to fade, an AWG teammate directed him to Traser, another popular maker of military watches that leaned into tritium. Of all of the watches he wore in combat, Gordon counts his two Traser watches, a P6600 and a Commander as among the best, being incredibly durable and perfectly legible in the darker conditions where people like him thrive.  Jose training his nephew, currently serving in the US Army, in the ways of subterranean warfare with his trusty Sinn U1 on the wrist. By 2007, Gordon met Dave Hall, a retired US Navy SEAL who also happens to be a passionate watch enthusiast. If you haven’t read our Dispatch article about Dave’s life in the SEAL Teams. Dave turned Jose onto Sinn, a German brand known for utilitarian tool watches. Gordon purchased a U1 that same year and has worn it almost daily ever since. At this point, it’s important to note that Gordon was in his fifties and still found himself in combat situations while serving AWG on a consistent basis, ultimately seeing even more combat as a civilian contractor than he did on active duty until the AWG was disbanded in 2020.  Jose's Sinn U1 has seen some shit. Source: Jose Gordon Over the course of 40 years on the front lines, Gordon served with distinction both within the US Military as well as in civilian government contractor roles, amassing an impressive reputation within the special operations community. Despite his incredible background and experiences, Jose is humble almost to a fault, coming off ego-free and quicker to talk about how much he likes his Sinn U1 than he is to brag about his special operations combat experience. Jose’s unique experiences working with military gear and the government procurement process have led him to have an intimate understanding for sorting the necessary elements of a tool watch from the marketing fluff, and it’s no surprise to see his career influenced by brands like Seiko, Timex, Luminox, Traser, and Sinn. Like a number of individuals featured on the W.O.E. Dispatch, Jose is further evidence that a surprising number of the military elite continue to favor mechanical analog watches even in demanding combat scenarios, which should mean they’re solid enough for the rest of us not to worry.  These days, Jose stays busy sharing his lessons learned with the next generation of warfighters. Source: Jose Gordon Today, Gordon works part-time with the Irregular Warfare Technical Support Directorate as a Subject Matter Expert on subterranean warfare. He also shares his vast experience in weapons and tactics training working with Green Ops, a firearm and security training company, while also owning his own consultancy providing operational and tactical advice to the government. If you’d like to talk watches, guns, or gear with Jose, which I highly recommend, he can now be found on Instagram @rgrguns. He’s new to Instagram, and I’m counting on you guys to show him a warm welcome.  Read Next: Blackwater Breitling - The Story About The Author: Benjamin Lowry is a US Coast Guard veteran and commercial diver turned watch writer. These days, Ben splits his time between writing and video production in the watch industry and managing @SubmersibleWrist, a watch spotting account dedicated to military and commercial divers.

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Special Boat Service OMEGA Seamaster

Special Boat Service OMEGA Seamaster

Two British Tier One Special Operations units, the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS), have a long and storied history of using...

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Two British Tier One Special Operations units, the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS), have a long and storied history of using high-end tool watches.  While this relationship was initially established through Ministry of Defence (MoD)-issued timepieces, including the highly-collectable Rolex Military Submariners (MilSub) references, in more recent decades the relationship has evolved, and the SAS and SBS units have commissioned watches to honor their distinct heritage. In order to document the lesser-known SBS-commissioned blue-dialed Omega Seamaster GMT 300 Co-Axial, we spoke with Dean Stott, a former member of the SBS about his 2007 SBS Omega.  After 16 years of service, Stott still boldly embodies the “use your tools” ethos.  Stott wore his SBS Seamaster on combat deployments while operational and still wears it today in the next chapter of his life. Stott during a 2009 Supervisor Forward Air Controller (SUPFAC) Course, Omega on his wrist. Unit Watches: Even as a patriotic, red-blooded American, I have to acknowledge that much of what we’ve come to know as “Watches of Espionage” likely originated across the pond in the United Kingdom. James Bond is an obvious example, but military “unit watches” appear to have been prevalent on the eastern side of the Atlantic before widespread popularity in the United States. Unit watches now play a significant role in the watch culture of American and international servicemen, and point to the heart of watch culture in the National Security community.  A unit watch is a customized version of a standard production reference that usually includes the unit’s insignia on the dial and/or engraved on the caseback. Many of these are produced at the manufacturer and are not modified on the aftermarket.  Breitling, IWC, Omega, Tudor and Rolex have long histories of military customization programs, but newcomer and UK-based Bremont Watch Company has made significant headway in capturing the market and providing a unique watch to military and intelligence units. These watches are tools, but also serve as constant reminders of one's service to their country. Given the rapid proliferation of digital timepieces, many operators choose to wear a G-Shock, Suunto or other smart watch while operational, and reserve the unit watch for the garrison.  We have written in the past about much of the aversion of part of the watch community to the military, and there is much truth to this when it comes to watch journalism and the watch elitism in the fashion capitals like New York and Los Angeles. But the watch companies themselves, the ones actually producing the timepieces in Switzerland or elsewhere, have historically been forward-leaning in supporting those who answer the call to serve. In true Swiss fashion, certain watch manufacturers value discretion on a level that rivals an intelligence service, and many of these models are not openly advertised and only known to the broader public when they leak out on the internet or watch forums years later.  Gangster move for sure. SBS OMEGA Seamaster: W.O.E. takes a strong position on the idea that the fictitious James Bond should wear Rolex, but the connections between Omega and the British Ministry of Defence and specifically the British Royal Navy and maritime SOF units are undeniable.  One recent and striking example of this relationship is the British Special Boats Service’s 2007 commission of blue-dialed Omega Seamaster GMT 300 Co-Axial (ref. 2535.80.00). Omega produced 500 numbered pieces exclusively for the SBS operators. According to Stott, the SBS was adamant that the watches were for the sole use of actively-serving badged SBS operators and not offered to former members or support personnel.  This would also ensure that all operators, including those deployed, were able to secure a timepiece. When worn, the watch is indistinguishable from other Seamaster GMTs from the time period, but off the wrist, the SBS insignia is visible on the sapphire caseback with the SBS motto, “'By Strength and Guile."  The watches are serialized 1-500, as visible by Stott’s #263/500.  Rated for 800 meters, the watch was designed for hard use and Stott put it to the test regularly.  He said that while many of the operators kept the watch in the box to pass on to future generations or wore it only while back in the UK on safe soil, Stott opted to use it as it was intended: as a tool.  He wore the Omega on countless operations and training missions, including operational jumps in Afghanistan at 15,000ft and combat dives. According to Stott, the members of the SBS were aware of the 2003 SAS commission of a custom Breitling Avenger Seawolf and looked to emulate this model.  Due to the aquatic nature of the Seamaster, the unit approached Omega, who readily agreed to provide the unit with a suitable watch.  Former SAS Melvyn Downes commissioned Avenger Seawolf with the SAS insignia at the 9 o’clock on the dial, along with a D. Squadron coin. (Photo Credit: Downes, previous W.O.E. submission) The Omega Seamaster was a logical choice for the British Maritime SOF unit.  In fact, James Bond costume designer Lindy Hemming reportedly chose the Seamaster for the fictitious character due to Omega’s real connections to the British Royal Navy, including issued Seamasters in the late 1960s.  While we’re skeptical of anything coming out of Hollywood and it’s tempting to discount this rationale as a justification for a marketing-driven switch from Rolex to Omega, the logic is relatively sound. As with most people we profile at W.O.E., Stott has had an impressive career both in and outside of the military.  Stott was one of the first British army members to join SBS and conducted direct action and counter terrorism operations globally. After 16 years of military service, Stott left the military in 2016 after a horrific parachute accident. Like many former members of elite military units, Stott continued his “unrelenting pursuit of excellence.”  He spent a number of years working in Private Security operating in nonpermissive environments, and the watch came with him on many of these adventures. Notably, Stott holds two world records for biking the Pan American Highway, a 14,000 mile route from Argentina to Alaska in May 2018, raising more than $1.4 million US dollars for mental health awareness charities in the process. Stott and friend Prince Harry, 2007. Interestingly, Prince Harry is known to wear a Rolex Explorer II unit watch. Stott’s recently released book, Relentless, shares his extraordinary, inspirational life story to date: from his courageous military service and record-setting cycling adventures to his rescue missions and friendship with Prince Harry.  Stott’s watches continue to play a big role in his life. He’s now a Global Ambassador for Vertex Watch Company.   READ NEXT: SEAL Team Six And A U.S. Navy-Issued Seiko Turtle

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Army Ranger's Story of Watches and the Evolution of Modern Warfare

Army Ranger's Story of Watches and the Evolution of Modern Warfare

From Grenada to Ground Zero With Army Ranger Jose Gordon: Anti-aircraft rounds pierced the skin of the aircraft from bottom to top, their trajectory indicated...

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From Grenada to Ground Zero With Army Ranger Jose Gordon: Anti-aircraft rounds pierced the skin of the aircraft from bottom to top, their trajectory indicated by the occasional laser-like tracer. As the MC-130 Combat Talon of the Air Force’s 1st Special Operations Wing settled into its final approach, Ranger Private Jose Gordon ambled to his feet,

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An Exploration of “Unit Watches” from the Special Operations Community: Tudor

An Exploration of “Unit Watches” from the Special Operations Community: Tudor

“Unit watches” are at the heart of watch culture in the National Security community and closely tied to the idea of “Watches of Espionage.”  A...

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“Unit watches” are at the heart of watch culture in the National Security community and closely tied to the idea of “Watches of Espionage.”  A unit watch is a timepiece that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization inside the military.  Customizations can include the unit’s insignia or motto on the dial and/or an engraving on the caseback. 

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Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches

Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches

Former CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh passed away at the age of 93 exactly one week ago; but we don’t mourn his death–instead we celebrate...

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Former CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh passed away at the age of 93 exactly one week ago; but we don’t mourn his death–instead we celebrate his incredible life of service in the best way we know how–through his timepieces. William “Billy” Waugh is the Forest Gump of CIA and Special Forces with a larger than life personality and an uncanny knack for adventure. At the conclusion of WWII he attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at age 15. His age got in the way, but three years later, in ‘48, he successfully enlisted in the United States Army, launching a career that would become nothing short of legendary in the Special Operations community.  (Photo Credit: James Rupley) In the very year Waugh enlisted, North Korea, along with Israel, became recognized nations. The US-led Berlin Airlift was underway in response to a Soviet blockade, and Czechoslovakia had fallen to communism. By the time Waugh retired in 2005 at age 75 from the CIA, the entire geopolitical landscape had been dramatically reshaped–and Waugh’s half a century of service had played a part in that change. He deployed to the Korean, Vietnam, and Afghanistan wars as well as numerous covert operations throughout the globe. Waugh’s Rolex, Photo Provided by Waugh’s widow through Ric Prado and Tom Marshall. Waugh wore several watches throughout his career, including at least three iconic Rolexes and a Seiko 6309. They were crucial parts of his kit and can be seen on his wrist from pictures in Vietnam, Sudan, Cuba, Afghanistan, and in his retirement as he speaks to the next generation of warriors.  Like many stories here at W.O.E., it’s never strictly about the watches. The watches we cover are simply a token–a memento–that stand in to represent incredible tales of servitude and sacrifice. Billy Waugh’s watches are no different. They represent key moments in a life dedicated to the Special Operations community. The Missing Rolex, Vietnam: In 1954, after serving in Korea, Waugh earned his Green Beret and joined the 10th Special Forces Group in Bad Tölz, in what was West Germany at the time. The same year the Vietnam war kicked off, and Waugh found himself right at the center of the conflict for a number of years. Eventually Waugh joined Special Forces A-team A-321, an “Operational Detachment Alpha” serving with 5th Special Forces Group.  The ODA conducted a night raid on a Viet Cong compound in Bong Son, in Binh Dinh Province. The area was littered with Viet Cong, North Vietnamese and other Communist forces including the Chinese and that left Waugh and his teammates thoroughly outnumbered. A fire fight broke out and the ODA was hit hard. Most of Waugh’s teammates were injured in the fight, including Waugh. He described the situation in his book, Hunting the Jackal. Waugh as a young Special Forces Master Sergeant, 1964 (Photo Crédit: Hunting the Jackal) I took another bullet, this time across the right side of my forehead. I don’t know for sure, but I believe the bullet ricocheted off the bamboo before striking me. It sliced in and out of a two-inch section of my forehead, and it immediately started to bleed like an open faucet. It sounds like the punch line to a bad joke, but you know it’s a bad day when the best thing about it is getting shot in the head. Miraculously Waugh was still alive, but in bad shape.  All that mud had baked on me like a crust. The leeches were everywhere. The bones on my leg were sun-baked. The dried blood on my forehead made it tough to see, but I didn’t need my eyes to understand I was naked. They’d (the North Vietnamese Army) come across that paddy and stripped me of my clothes, my Rolex watch, my gear–everything.  Eventually Waugh's teammates found him and brought him to safety. The road to recovery was long, but for his valiant efforts, he was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.  While we can’t say for sure, this Rolex was likely a Submariner ref. 5513 or GMT ref. 1675, both popular in the SF community and could then be purchased for “a month's salary.”  Waugh (left) in 1969 wearing what is potentially a replacement Rolex on a fabric strap and compass. (Photo Credit: Unknown) After recovering, Waugh got back in the fight and joined the shadowy Military Assistance Command-Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG). Plenty of his work in this capacity is still classified, but it’s known that he helped train up Cambodian and Vietnamese forces in unconventional warfare tactics that would help disrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail supply route and stymy the efforts of the Viet Cong. Additionally, Waugh became highly skilled in High Altitude Low Opening parachute jumps, known as HALO. This insertion platform allowed operators to enter hostile territory virtually undetected. Waugh led the last special reconnaissance mission in ‘71; Waugh and his teammates used the HALO platform to enter a denied territory held by the NVA.  Custom Gem-set Gold Rolex Day-Date: Waugh briefly retired from military service when the Vietnam War wound down and took a job with the United States Postal Service. But Waugh wasn’t meant for the USPS. He had more to give to the world of Special Operations. Before he knew it, he was back in the fold.  In the mid-1970’s Edwin Wilson, formerly CIA, recruited Waugh and a few of his former teammates to train up Libyan special forces. Waugh thought this was a CIA-backed operation, but it turned out Wilson was acting outside an official capacity. Waugh's saving grace is that he was indeed recruited by CIA prior to his transition to Libya for Wilson’s project. The CIA tasked him with photographing and reporting on any interesting activity that he noticed while he was there. The USSR was heavily invested in Libya and was of interest to US security. He photographed and observed the soldiers he was training and various Surface-to-Air missile sites.  Waugh’s Gold Rolex Day-Date with aftermarket diamonds. (Photo Credit: member of W.O.E. Community) It was here that he reportedly purchased a gem-set gold Rolex Day-Date. According to a member of the W.O.E. community, Waugh told students of a recent Special Forces 18A course that he “purchased it in the late seventies in Libya for 13-14k.” But Waugh was well aware of the rise in value of Rolex watches. “Ya better believe that goddamn thing is worth about $25k or more now!” Waugh exclaimed when discussing the watch.  Waugh’s Rolex, Photo Provided by Waugh’s widow through Ric Prado and Tom Marshall. We’ve had pictures of this watch for over a year but didn’t publish them for a simple reason: we surmised the authenticity of the watch may have been questionable.  However, we reached out to several vintage watch experts who said they believe the watch is likely real but modified with aftermarket diamonds on the bezel and dial. This style of modification was relatively common during the period. Rolex even launched its own service creating bespoke pieces for discerning clients in the ‘60s and ‘70s with custom gem-setting.  While we can’t establish a concrete history of the watch, the diamond-set gold Rolex is perfect for an old school SF operator.  Waugh was also famous for wearing an SF pendant on a gold chain and gold rings.  This watch can be seen frequently on his wrist after retirement, the bracelet is stretched and scratched after decades of hard use. (Photo Credit: Nick Stubbs / US Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain) Post Libya: After his Libya stint Waugh was assigned to the Kwajalein Missile Range in the Marshall Islands to survey and report on Soviet maritime activity in the area. In 1991 he returned to Africa, this time to Khartoum, Sudan to survey and track Usama Bin Laden, who was relatively unknown to the public but of interest to the US intelligence. Waugh’s assignment was to survey the activities and patterns of life of Bin Laden. According to a contact that discussed the assignment with Waugh, he would “conduct his surveillance under the guise of going for a jog around the living area of bin Laden and his guards, frequently ‘flipping those bastards the bird or pretending to shoot them by pointing finger guns and imitating pulling the trigger’ while they watched him conduct his run. Waugh mentioned pushing up the request to kill bin Laden as it didn’t make sense to him to burn more time watching him. That request was denied and he wrapped up his surveillance shortly thereafter.”  Waugh in Cairo, Egypt late 1990s (Photo Credit: Waugh) The subject of much of Waugh’s book, Hunting the Jackal, is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as “Carlos the Jackal.” Waugh was assigned to track him down after Sanchez had evaded a number of intelligence agencies around the world after committing murder in a number of countries and playing a role in terror attacks. Waugh set up a surveillance site, tracked and photographed The Jackal for some time before turning over the intelligence to the French, who conducted the capture mission.  Rolex 1675 “Pepsi” GMT-Master: Rolex GMT on Waugh’s wrist in retirement. (Photo Credit, Recoil Magazine and Tom Marshall) We have previously said that a GMT-Master is the perfect watch for a CIA Case Officer, and this is especially true for an old school operator like Billy Waugh.  This reference is likely from the 1970s around the time Waugh would have been recruited by the CIA.  Unfortunately, we are unable to confirm the details of when he acquired the watch and if it was worn operationally in any capacity, though given Waugh’s life, it is reasonable to assume this is the case. Waugh has been photographed wearing the watch, including during a recent interview with Recoil Magazine. Rolex GMT on Waugh’s wrist in retirement. (Photo Credit, Recoil Magazine and Tom Marshall) September 11th, 2001: After the September 11 attacks, Waugh, then 71, deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the CIA’s Northern Alliance Liaison Team –codenamed JAWBREAKER.  The Rolex was left at home and Waugh can be seen wearing a digital Suunto watch, similar to that worn by CIA team leader J.R. Seeger, as documented in “Digital Watches Of Espionage.”  As previously discussed, the digital tool-watch was a far more effective tool for the modern day fighter, even a SOG veteran like Waugh.   Despite his age, Waugh was well suited for the initial mission into Afghanistan, given his time tracking Usama bin Laden in Sudan in the ‘90s and his decades of combat and intelligence experience.  He would celebrate his 72nd birthday in Afghanistan. Gardez, Afghanistan January 2002, wearing a Suunto (Photo Credit: Hunting the Jackal, Waugh) In total, Waugh would be awarded one Silver Star, four Bronze Stars for Valor, four Commendation Ribbons for Valor, fourteen Air Medals for Valor, two Combat Infantryman badges and eight Purple Hearts.  We can also assume Waugh was awarded numerous classified commendations from CIA. As previously discussed, this reflection is less about Waugh’s watches and more about the man who wore them.  Billy Waugh served the nation with the most difficult assignments for both the US Army Special Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency.  This is our way to memorialize that service and honor his sacrifice. Fair Winds and Following Seas Waugh sky diving in Cuba wearing a Seiko 6309 at an astonishing 89 years old. (Photo Credit: Annie Jacobson)  For additional information, read Waugh’s “Hunting the Jackal” and watch the interview with Waugh by Recoil Magazine.  Thank you for Tom Marshall and an unnamed member of the W.O.E. community for providing pictures and additional background on the pieces. Read Next: Vietnam MACV-SOG Seikos: Setting The Record Straight   

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South African Issued Tudor Submariners - Making Time Podcast

South African Issued Tudor Submariners - Making Time Podcast

Our good friends Darren and Ross Povey from Tudor Collector discussed the history of military issued Tudor Submariners on the most recent episode of “Making...

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Our good friends Darren and Ross Povey from Tudor Collector discussed the history of military issued Tudor Submariners on the most recent episode of “Making Time” podcast.  We plan to do a complete W.O.E. Dispatch on South African MilSubs in the future but this is a great opportunity to learn about the history of Tudor and various military watches from the expert.  South African MilSubs are controversial pieces given the ties to the South African Defence Force, but they are fascinating snapshots into that period of history.   Pictured above is a black 7016 from approximately 1974.  I acquired this piece from Ross when I visited Zulu Alpha in Liverpool last year and it is the crown jewel of my collection.  There are fewer than 10 confirmed pieces.  As many of you know, I have spent much of my life living and working in Africa and this piece has long been a “grail” watch for me.  It’s an honor to be the custodian today.  See above for the story of the watch and how W.O.E. became the lucky owner.

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Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part III

Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part III

In this edition of the Dispatch, we’ll answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these...

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In this edition of the Dispatch, we’ll answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these responses can – and probably will at some point–serve as stand alone stories, but for now, here’s some additional insight on Watches of Espionage. If you have any more questions, please ask in the comments section and we’ll address them in a following article. See past questions “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part I” and “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part II” 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf with the SAS insignia at 9 o'clock. (Courtesy SAS Melvyn Downes) W.O.E. recently posted a SAS Breitling Avenger with the Special Air Services (SAS) insignia on the dial, do unit watches cause OPSEC issues? We have extensively covered “Unit Watches” from various Intelligence and Special Operations organizations and profiled programs from Tudor, Bremont and Omega.  To summarize, a unit watch is one that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization inside the military. Civilian organizations inside the NatSec space can also receive these watches, but the term “Unit Watch” almost exclusively applies to military units. Customizations to the watch can include the unit’s insignia on the dial and/or a custom engraving on the caseback.  While more honorific in nature, we have documented many instances of these watches worn operationally overseas.  This has caused many to question if the watch itself is an “Operational Security” (OPSEC) vulnerability.  If an individual is captured, wouldn't the “bad guys” know he was a member of the SAS? British SAS G Squadron Richard Williams wearing a custom 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf in Iraq. The fact of the matter is that most elite units (even Tier One SpecOps) operate overtly most of the time.  While deployed to a War Zone, they’re generally wearing uniforms with their nation’s flags on their plate carriers and are not “under cover.”  While elite units and intelligence organizations certainly have operations where they operate under some form of cover, including posing as businessmen, most of the time this isn’t the case for someone in an “assaulter” role or even CIA Paramilitary Officer.  If an individual is operating under a “Non-Official Cover” (i.e. not a government official) then they certainly would not wear a Unit Watch.  They would pick a watch to match their persona.  Given the rapid proliferation of digital timepieces, many “operators” choose to wear a G-Shock, Suunto or other digital watch while operational, and reserve the unit watch for the garrison. What was the most dangerous thing you did at CIA?  The job of a Case Officer is to collect intelligence– to steal secrets through recruiting and running human assets (“spies”).  It's more dangerous than the average trade, but it's certainly not like it is in the movies. I never got into a fistfight in an elevator, a high-speed chase through a European capital, or performed a risky surreptitious entry into a Russian oligarch's dacha.  Most of my work was discreetly meeting with assets and liaison services in cafes, back alleys, and hotel rooms to collect intelligence. W.O.E. in Afghanistan, early 2000s.  W.O.E. in Sudan, early 2000s, Breitling Aerospace on the wrist. The easy answer to this question would be “warzone” assignments, where during the Global War on Terror, IEDs, shootings, and kidnappings were a real and present threat.  That said, in a warzone, Case Officers carry guns, wear body armor and generally operate alongside GRS and/or paramilitary officers.  The most dangerous thing I did was operate alone in Africa, and in one specific capital where crime, terrorism, and counterintelligence risks from the local service were deemed “critical.”  During this assignment, I did my cover job during the day and then at night went out on the street alone and without a phone (read CIA Officers and Apple Watches).  After a multi-hour Surveillance Detection Route, I met developmentals and recruited assets in hotels, bars, dark alleys, and cars hunkered down in low-trafficked areas of town.  Most of the time I was unarmed, as being caught with a firearm would have posed significant problems for my cover (see CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC).  The risk from terror groups and the local intelligence service was significant, but the constant exposure to the streets, and everything that comes with that, night after night over a multi-year assignment dramatically increased the probability of carjacking and violent crime, something that can generally be avoided for the average tourist or business traveler. Do you only wear your watches on straps?  How do you feel about bracelets? (Photo Credit: James Rupley) It is no secret that W.O.E. loves straps. This has led our own line of leather and nylon straps that we designed. I constantly rotate my watches through a plethora of straps and it’s a great way to change up the look and feel of a watch.  That said, it is hard to beat a well-designed bracelet and I wear my watches regularly on the original bracelet.  Rolex Oyster and Jubilee bracelets are incredibly comfortable and are probably my favorite.  Most of the watches in my collection, including Tudor, IWC, and Breitling also all come on great bracelets.  The one exception is Seiko and particularly the Arabic Seiko: the bracelet feels cheap and I threw that one in the trash as soon as I got it.  So in short, yes, I am a big fan of bracelets.  After wearing a watch on a nylon or leather strap for a while, it is always refreshing going back to the original bracelet. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) How do you store watches and do you use a watch winder? If you have more than two to three watches of value, you need to invest in a safe that is mounted to the wall or floor.  Frankly, no matter what, it is worth acquiring a fireproof safe for valuables, firearms, and important documents.  For years I have kept my watches in affordable (read cheap) plastic cases and put them inside the safe.  Like all of our designs, I have made them for myself and the 6 Watch Storage & Travel Case is exactly the type of case I have used for years (but much better quality than the ones I used to purchase off Amazon).   There are some fantastic high-end watch cases and watch boxes (like Bosphorous Leather) that are true works of art, but it is hard for me to justify spending that type of money on something that will mostly sit in a safe.  There are also some really cool “display cases” on the market, but unless you have a walk-in safe, this is a sign to the goons that reads “take me.” Bosphorus Leather “Watch Collector Case” (Photo Credit: Bosphorus Leather) I have never used a watch winder.  There is conflicting information on whether a watch winder is good or bad for watches but it generally seems like if you have new watches you should be okay.  That said, many of my watches are vintage and I would not want to keep them winding every day. It’s simply not necessary.  However, the main reason I do not use a watch winder is cost.  A 4 Piece Wolf watch winder starts at over $2,000.  I would much rather use that money to purchase a pre-owned Breitling or Tudor or multiple Seikos.  Additionally, I actually enjoy setting the time on my watch each time I pick one up to wear it.  It’s something of a ritual to take a few minutes to wind the watch and set the time.  And yes, I always set the correct time on my watches. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) In purchasing a pre-owned Rolex, do "Box and Papers" matter? Vintage watch dealer Eric Wind has famously said that, "Saying you only want to buy a vintage watch if it has the original box and papers is the equivalent of walking around a high school with a ‘Kick Me’ sign taped to your back—except it says, ‘Rip Me Off.’ ”  Given his breadth of experience, I will take this at face value. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) That said, I do enjoy having a “full set” when possible because it’s a neat historical addition to the watch, but I would not necessarily pay the extra premium for a piece of paper that can easily be forged.  A few years ago I purchased an early 1980s “Root Beer” Rolex GMT Master 1675/3 with the original box and papers from the original owner.  The receipt shows the exact day and store where he purchased the watch in the Caribbean.  It’s a piece of living history and part of the story of that watch.  While I rarely look at the paperwork, it is a something I treasure because it’s part of the ephemeral nature of ownership and a sign that the watch has seen plenty before–and hopefully after me.  One of these boxes is fake, can you tell which?  “Box and papers” can add $1,000-2,000+ to the price of a pre-owned watch, and for me, this is simply not worth it.  Of all the things to fake, the papers are the easiest to forge, and boxes are often paired with pre-owned watches and it’s difficult to determine originality. What are some good fiction spy books? There are plenty of great classic espionage fiction authors a la John le Carre and Rudyard Kipling; however, if you are looking for contemporary works, my favorite authors are Jason Matthews (former Case Officer and Breitling owner), David McCloskey (former CIA Analyst), Jack Carr (former Navy SEAL) and David Ignatious (journalist and columnist with Washington Post).  With the exception of Ignatius, all of these authors come from the IC/SpecOps and have real world experience.   (Photo Credit: James Rupley) It’s impossible to write about our community with authority if you have not lived it, and each one of these pieces contain little “if you know, you know” nuggets that cannot be faked.  Further, the fiction genre often allows the authors to include details that otherwise would have been removed by the CIA’s publication review. (there have been multiple items in the above books that were removed from my work because they were considered “classified.”) Movie adaptation of Red Sparrow Additionally, it will come as no surprise that watches are mentioned and often play a central role in all/most of these pieces. Red Sparrow trilogy- Former CIA officer Jason Matthews Agents of Innocence - David Ignatious  Damascus Station- Former CIA Analyst David McCloskey Terminal List series- Former Navy SEAL For military fiction and the future of warfare, check out 2034 and Ghost Fleet.  What do you think about the recent Moonswatch/Blancpain releases? I don’t think about them. Why has the W.O.E. platform been so successful?  What advice do you have for growing my Online Journal/Instagram page? W.O.E.’s “quick” growth and high engagement is largely due to the fact that it’s such a niche topic, with broad appeal.  But the real “secret” is authenticity.  This is a passion and a hobby and I never set out for this to be a business.  I genuinely enjoy researching topics and creating products for our community.  In fact, I don’t post on topics that will get high engagement, instead I write about things that I find interesting.  A successful article is one that I enjoyed researching and writing, not one that gets a lot of likes and comments.  The community (you) is not stupid and can see through anything that is artificial, fabricated, or click bait. If you are interested in launching a podcast, newsletter or social media page, my advice is to identify a niche topic that you are passionate about and have a unique perspective on and double down on that. Lastly, this takes time.  While W.O.E. might seem like an overnight success, I have put a lot of effort into cultivating this content to provide this resource to our community. Like with anything, consistency is key. Would you wear a fake watch/Rolex? I can think of very few instances where wearing a fake Rolex is acceptable. In response to “Trading A Rolex To Get Out Of A Sticky Situation - Myth Or Reality?” several commenters suggested traveling with a fake Rolex for bartering.  The logic may be sound, but if you are really at the point where you have decided to part with a $5-10k watch, your life is likely on the line and the cost is trivial.  Further, whoever you are giving the watch to is presumably in a position of power and likely someone you do not want to piss off should they determine the watch is fake. Seized fake Rolex by US Customs and Border Protection I have heard of some people with expensive watch collections that have “dummy” displays in their house, the idea being that if someone breaks in to steal their collection, they would take the fake watches without realizing the real collection is hidden in a safe.  This is something that could potentially make sense, but is not necessarily something I would advise.  If someone goes the distance to specifically target you for your watch collection, they are likely going to be pissed to find out they stole fake watches, and may come back for retribution.  No watch is worth your life. All that said, I do have a fake Rolex Submariner that I received as a gag gift from a wealthy friend in Dubai.  I have never worn it or even taken out the links to fit it to my wrist.  Who knows, maybe it will come in handy one day. How accurate is your portrayal of your life and W.O.E.? When it comes to long-form writing, all of my stories and personal anecdotes are 100% accurate.  I have several friends from the community that read the Dispatch regularly and my Signal messages would immediately light up if I started making up there I was stories for clout.  Of course, I do change times/dates/locations and minor details for the sake of anonymity (or if the CIA’s Prepublication Review Board advises I do so). In many ways, being anonymous allows me to be more honest in my writing.  I recently posted a picture of my entire watch collection.  This could easily be construed as bragging about material possessions and is something I would never do on a personal social media account.  In fact, most of my close friends don’t even know about the number of watches I own or the value of my watch collection.  Anonymity permits me to engage in a form of honesty that would otherwise be self-corrected.  While my portrayal of my life and thoughts are genuine, I do think a lot of people interpret this as a persona of something I am not.  I am not a commando or Jason Bourne.  I am a (relatively) normal guy who is fortunate enough to do some abnormal things with extraordinary people.  For that I am very grateful. What is the future of Watches of Espionage? Our goal for Watches of Espionage is to become the number one resource for military, intelligence, and NatSec content and products as it relates to timepieces. Long-form written articles are our main product, and we intend to keep this free and open for everyone to learn from. In 2023, we set the foundation for this expansion with the establishment of the website, development of some incredible products, and expansion of written form content. We raised $24,800 for Third Option Foundation and we have more fundraisers scheduled for this year that will be both meaningful and interesting. We have resisted offers from advertisers so that we can maintain complete editorial control of our content.  Remaining authentic and representing our community respectfully is key to our past and future success and we will not sell out for a quick buck.  W.O.E is and always will be an enthusiast platform solely for our community, and it's not for everyone. Over the coming year, we hope to expand the number of articles per week and potentially move into other mediums.  Regarding products, we are happy to now have W.O.E. products in stock and we are working on some new and exciting projects for 2024, including some EDC items.  We are also still in the initial stages of producing W.O.E. content in a print medium, something that we are being methodical about to make sure we get it right. We appreciate those who have supported W.O.E., as this support will give us the opportunity for increased quality content and products. As always, thank you for the support.  This would not be possible without you. Stay tuned, -W.O.E. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   -- This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Best Watches Under $1,000 - Ask the Experts

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Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from...

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Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from the year.  Thank you for all of your support, we look forward to a great year in 2024. -W.O.E. 10. Hollywood Watches of Espionage Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. Continue Reading 9. Trading a Rolex to Get out of a Sticky Situation - Myth or Reality? The "Escape and Evasion" Rolex The final requirement to be certified as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) is to pass the certification course at a classified government training center commonly referred to as “the Farm.”  Students learn the tradecraft to clandestinely recruit and handle assets.  The entire learning process is a surreal experience, and the atmosphere at “the Farm” is somewhere between a college campus with a constant stream of students riding by on cruiser bikes (IYKYK), a covert paramilitary base with state-of-the-art tactical facilities, and Hogwarts, a place where you learn the dark arts they don’t teach in regular school. Continue Reading 8. Bond: A Case for Omega Here, we will first share the full story of Omega’s origins with James Bond, followed by a detailed analysis of the history of product placement in Bond, and the critical role it plays in keeping the franchise alive. While this piece does not serve as a direct response to the first Dispatch, it aims to present a more thorough history of Bond, offer a better understanding of why adjustments have been made, and propose a case for why we can celebrate Omega’s inclusion in 007’s history Continue Reading 7. Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches Former CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh passed away at the age of 93 exactly one week ago; but we don’t mourn his death–instead we celebrate his incredible life of service in the best way we know how–through his timepieces. William “Billy” Waugh is the Forest Gump of CIA and Special Forces with a larger than life personality and an uncanny knack for adventure. At the conclusion of WWII he attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at age 15. His age got in the way, but three years later, in ‘48, he successfully enlisted in the United States Army, launching a career that would become nothing short of legendary in the Special Operations community. Continue Reading 6. Advice for Buying a Watch The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. Continue Reading 5. The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military The History Of G-Shocks And The US Military - Benjamin Lowry Forty years have passed since the introduction of the Casio G-Shock in 1983. And while the basic formula behind the world’s most durable watch has remained largely unchanged since the legendary DW-5000C first hit store shelves, the world of warfare and the United States Military in particular have made significant strides in both equipment and tactical doctrine. Conflicts in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia/Herzegovina were waged in a bygone analog era, influenced by lessons learned in the Vietnam War. But the terrorist attacks of September 11th changed all of that, embroiling the United States in a new type of war based on counter-insurgency in the digitally-augmented age. Continue Reading 4. CIA Officers and Apple Watches Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat. Continue Reading 3. CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC A Real “Spy’s” Every Day Carry (EDC)  We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. Continue Reading 2. Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s) The Shield Protects the Crown:  W.O.E. is a watch snob–or at least I was. For years, I looked down on Tudor as an inferior tool watch existing in the shadow of its big brother Rolex. I never understood why someone with a Rolex would purchase a Tudor.  After all, Tudor is a poor man's Rolex, or so I thought. Most haters are motivated by insecurity, but my views were simply shaped by ignorance. I didn’t know much about Tudor and was unaware of Tudor’s long standing relationship with the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, a personally relevant intersection. Continue Reading 1. Casio F-91W, the Preferred Watch of Terrorists The Terrorist Timepiece - Casio F-91W The Casio F-91W’s reputation looms large in both horology and national security circles, and for good reason. The simple, cheap and effective plastic watch is likely one of the most ubiquitous timepieces on the planet, with an estimated three million produced each year since sometime in the early 1990s. However, the watch that is coveted by hipsters and former presidents alike has a more sinister utility: it has been used to deadly effect as a timer for explosive charges and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and worn regularly by members of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other transnational militant groups. Continue Reading

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Tactical Watches & Christmas Films - Die Hard, Lethal Weapon & Home Alone

Tactical Watches & Christmas Films - Die Hard, Lethal Weapon & Home Alone

Movie Watches To Watch For This Christmas Season: Watches of Espionage Edition Like we’ve always said here at W.O.E., tradition matters. It’s what builds culture...

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Movie Watches To Watch For This Christmas Season: Watches of Espionage Edition Like we’ve always said here at W.O.E., tradition matters. It’s what builds culture and forms the pillars of our community. And during the Holiday season, tradition means appreciating the cinematic masterpiece that is Die Hard. As usual, we’ll look at the movie–and a couple other Christmas movies– through the lens of watches and national security. Die Hard- “It’s the greatest Christmas story ever told”  Inside the wrist- tacticool style There are people out there that might tell you Die Hard is not a Christmas Movie. The debate has been going on for over 30 years. We’re not going to take a position on the matter other than saying that the movie is playing theaters right now. You can go see the movie, in 2023, during the holiday season. It doesn't matter what naysayers think. It’s a Christmas movie. A family comes together, a Christmas holiday is saved, and everything is merry and bright in the end. Re-creation Die Hard layout using a Tag model 932.206 from our friend @movementsofaction With that being said, let’s get into why the TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph is a fitting watch for protagonist John McClane, masterfully played by Bruce Willis. McClane is a NYC cop, and in 1988 when the movie came out, the city was grappling with a massive crack cocaine problem and a record number of homicides–1,842 in total. The streets were tough. McClane was tougher. He’s a little rough around the edges, and that unpolished element of his character was exacerbated by his newly-estranged wife moving his family to Los Angeles. While visiting her for her company’s holiday Christmas party, all hell breaks loose as a group of German terrorists hold the entire party hostage, killing a few employees in the process. With his skills learned from being a cop on the mean streets of New York and his knack for improvisation, McClane jumps into action…and you know the rest. Yippee Ki Yay, motherf*cker! TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph - worn inside the wrist allows McClane to check the time while putting in work. Worn inside the wrist in true tacticool fashion is a TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph. It’s the perfect watch for McClane. The NYPD isn’t issuing watches, so this is a private purchase–or a gift from his ex-wife. It has a blue-collar character to it, and it’s the sort of watch that’s charming because it isn’t really a watch guy watch. It’s exactly the kind of watch you wear if you don’t care about watches. For McClane, it was a tool.  The Actual Tag worn by John McClane (Photo Credit: PropstoreAuction) If McClane wore a Rolex or Patek, it wouldn’t telegraph the right message. McClane is effortlessly cool because he just doesn’t give a damn. In a world where we fetishize what watches are worn on screen, there’s a certain charm to a guy wearing a quartz TAG Heuer while using a Beretta 92F/S and a Heckler & Koch MP5 (actually a modified HK94s) acquired from the terrorists he eliminated to eventually get to Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman–his breakout role. In addition to McClane’s TAG, Watches play a significant role in the plot. In fact, one crucial W.O.E.-related scene was reportedly left on the cutting room floor. In the original script, the members of the terrorist group synchronized their own black TAGs prior to entering Nakatomi Plaza. McClane would go on to remove one watch from the body of a dispatched terrorist, and use this small detail to identify Gruber as the leader of the group when he pretended to be a hostage. McClane’s ex-wife Holly wears a Rolex DateJust, a gift from her coworker and a not-so-subtle signal that she has moved on from the more “common” lifestyle of the wife of a cop. Gruber’s Cartier Tank says everything you need to know about him–he has good taste and wealth to match. And he probably didn’t earn it the right way. After all, how do you fund a massive “terrorist plot” to kill innocent Americans? Lethal Weapon - A Christmas Story Speaking of guns and TAG Heuers in the late ‘80s, there’s another Christmas Movie that showcases a law enforcement officer showing us how to make an otherwise mundane watch cool. Martin Riggs, played by Mel Gibson in all four Lethal Weapon movies, wears a black plastic TAG Heuer Formula One. It’s 35mm, minuscule by today’s standards. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the man that makes the watch. (Photo Credit Unknown) Riggs is a former Army Green Beret turned cop, and that explains the spec of the Formula One on his wrist. It’s black on black on black–black dial, case, and plastic strap. The color echoes his inconsolable attitude after the death of his wife. The plastic Formula One was incredibly popular in the era, almost like the Moonswatch of today. It was cheap, it was relatively cool, and it was ubiquitous. It was launched in 1986, one year before Lethal Weapon was released. We also have credible intelligence that the Formula One will be making a comeback in the not-too-distant future as well. Home Alone - Rolex the Escape and Evasion Tool And of course a look at Christmas movies through the scope of W.O.E. wouldn’t be complete without a mention of one key moment that we’ve discussed before: trading a Rolex to get out of a sticky situation. Kevin at high port practicing questionable trigger discipline, Breitling concealed under the Christmas sweater cuff. In Home Alone, Kate McAllister, mother to the protagonist of the movie, 8 year-old Kevin, needs to get back to Chicago from Paris as quickly as she can after realizing she forgot him at home. At the airport she barters with an elderly couple for a seat on the plane back to CONUS with two first class tickets, $500, gold jewelry…and most relevant to W.O.E., a watch. But not just any watch, a Rolex. The elderly woman asks Kate if it’s a real Rolex and she’s met with Kate’s non-answer “Do you think it is?” immediately followed with “But who can tell, right?” The interaction points to the nature of Rolex watches as universal currency- a tool. In this case it’s to get out of France, but a Rolex will most likely work as a bartering chip just about anywhere. It’s not just a tactic for those in SpecOps and the intelligence community. But of course, the repercussions of someone finding out it’s fake could be much more dire in that line of work. Luckily for Kate, she found her way back to the US and lived to fight another day. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to the W.O.E. community.  Get out there and use your tools. Read Next: Hollywood Watches of Espionage

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W.O.E. 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

W.O.E. 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

In preparation for the holidays, we provide the W.O.E. stamp of approval on the following products.   We have closed up “shop” for the year but...

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In preparation for the holidays, we provide the W.O.E. stamp of approval on the following products.   We have closed up “shop” for the year but will be back next year with some exciting tools for our community.  Please sign up for “Notify Me When Available” for anything that interests you.  In the meantime, check out the following items as gifts for loved ones, friends or yourself.  There are no affiliate links or discount codes.  We are highlighting these tools because we believe in them, not for financial gain.  None of these are sponsored products. Please highlight any other gift ideas in the comment section.  We are always in the market for new tools and specifically love support small businesses and people doing innovative things. Watches We chose three watches at different price points.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best Watches Under $1,000” for a more comprehensive list. Seiko: SEIKO 5 Sports- SRPG35 - $210 A simple field watch and perfect first mechanical watch for yourself or a friend.  Purchasing a watch for a father/son/daughter or nephew?  The Seiko 5 Sports line is a great place to start. Elliot Brown - HOLTON: 101-001  - $511 The Holton Professional was developed in response to a request from a specialist branch of the UK military who demanded a fit-for-purpose professional watch capable of a life in the field.  We will do a more thorough write up on EB at some point, lots of history here! Omega Seamaster Diver 300M - Green - $5,600 The Omega Seamaster has a long history with our community, as we have documented with the British Special Boat Service (SBS) Seamaster.  Since 1993, the Seamaster Professional Diver 300M has enjoyed a legendary following. Today’s modern collection has embraced that famous ocean heritage and updated it with OMEGA’s best innovation and design. This 42 mm model is crafted from stainless steel and includes a green ceramic bezel with a white enamel diving scale.  Gear and Community The Grey NA TO - Supporter Subscription  - $100 year TGN is a community of like-minded individuals who believe in using their tools.  Hosts Jason Heaton and James Stacey break down their love for adventure, their addiction to watches, and also discuss travel, diving, driving and gear.  A subscription to The Grey NA TO includes a NA TO strap (grey, of course), stickers and access to additional content.  At $100 a year, a unique gift for someone who has everything. Field Ethos - Magazine Subscription - $15.00 - quarterly  The premier lifestyle publication for the unapologetic man is here. Enjoy a mix of modern adventure, historical context, and perspectives forged through global travel while staying current with the latest products that elevate an unapologetic life. Eagles and Angels Ltd - Signature Hats & Tools - $39.00 and up We salvage the old uniforms of our brave men and women, transforming them into high-end accessories to be proudly worn by those who support our troops. Each piece is beautifully crafted in the US and carries the story of the soldier who wore it first. Each purchase helps support the families of fallen heroes. The Observer Collection - Piecekeeper - $30.00 The Piecekeeper is designed to halt hostilities between your watch and laptop. The same natural dyed Italian suede used in the Observer Collection bags creates a comfortable barrier between watch bracelet and workspace preventing scratches to both watch and laptop. Leather Works Minnesota - No. 9 Wallet - "Coral" Mahogany - $110 So named for the number of pockets this wallet has, the No. 9 boasts the most capacity out of any wallet in our line. It’s easy to see why it immediately became one of our best sellers. This is the wallet for the ultra-organized, the one who needs to keep it all with them, or the person who has a card for everything. Art Ad Patina - The best in the game when it comes to vintage watch advertisements.  Prices vary.  Bad Art Nice Watch - Custom Print Commission a piece on your favorite watch.  North Carolina artist, Bryan Braddy, combines his passion for watches with his love for art.  What started as a doodle at his kitchen table with his daughters has blossomed from a hobby into a business. Embracing the concepts of wabi-sabi, the acceptance, and contemplation of imperfection, guide the principles of his style. “I want you to see my artistic choices, good or bad, with the pen or the brush.” King Kennedy Rugs - Driver Rug-  prices vary We have no idea who runs this company, but his rugs are incredible. Check out these “Vintage Rolex Hand Woven Rugs” rugs from Pakistan. $325  Prairie Fire Art Company - "The Professional" Billy Waugh MACV-SOG Art Print - $65.00 Billy Waugh had a 50 year career in Army Special Forces and as a paramilitary officer.  He patrolled the jungles of Laos and Vietnam. He hunted down Carlos the Jackal. He was the first to put sights on UBL and he invaded Afghanistan when most said he was too old for the mission. "Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young". Knives Winkler Knives, WK Huntsman - $300.00 The Huntsman is an adaptation of a Small Hunting Knife I made back in the 1990’s. Perfect for hunting and everyday carry. This model is fast becoming one of our most recommended designs. Sangin Knives - Carbon Fiber Corsair - $699 Sangin is known for their watches, but they also recently stepped into the knife game with a premium blade, the Corsair.   The Corsair is a 9.0” blade, made from premium Crucible Metals CPM M4. The blade is finished in an ultra-corrosion resistant black KG Gunkote. The Corsair is fitted with premium Camo Carbon Fiber handles, giving it a unique design with a sturdy feel, ready to be used in any scenario. With precision-turned titanium tubing, we can hold incredibly tight tolerances which allow our handles to be press fitted and secured using friction. This is a significant upgrade, solving the issue of handle scale fracturing and separation from the steel. Half Face Blades, Brad Cavner signature series - $375 Half Face Blades was founded by Andrew Arrabito, Navy SEAL (ret.), to meet the need for high-quality, “go-to” knives and axes – usable, personalized, functional, versatile tools that work for every person in every walk of life.  Toor Knives - Field 2.0 - $295.00 Toor designed the Field 2.0 with every day use in mind and it has quickly become known as the workhorse of our Outdoor Series. Its small size allows for all day carry comfort, while having the capability to handle almost any task out on the trail. Tools Soturi - The ‘Diplomat’ Strap - $185 Our most refined Cordura strap, The Diplomat is a tailored addition to our lineup that is just at home in the field as it is the office. Featuring a fully rolled edge, tapered design, and supple nubuck leather lining; it’s built to suit your every endeavor. Bergeon - 7825 Spring Bar Tweezer Spring Bar Removal Fitting Tool - $170 Bergeon 7825 is a tweezers, special watchmaker tool for inserting and removing spring bars in difficult to access end links and the short spring bars in the inner link.  Jack Carr - Signature Whiskey Glass - $23.00 Handblown by Mexican Artisans and made from recycled glass Coca-Cola bottles.  Crossed Hawks etched emblem on front of glass. Ball and Buck - Arthur Zippo - Brushed Brass - $68.00 Originally made in 1941, Zippo served as an essential accessory to American soldiers fighting in World War II and on. Their heralded tradition continues wherever men roam, igniting in every condition it encounters; the lighter's metal ring sweetly sounding in an American echo. With The Arthur Zippo, you can proudly display your support of American quality and manufacturing. Whether you're enjoying a smoke or building a fire in the woods, the Ball and Buck Zippo lighter is sure to become a staple for your everyday carry. Books G-SHOCK 40th Anniversary Book - $65 Celebrating the story of G-SHOCK, a truly unique watch whose pioneering innovation, function, and versatile design has made it a cult-collectible worn by devoted fans across the globe as well as by cultural icons in the worlds of fashion, sports, music, and popular culture for the past forty years. The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal - $15.99 It was the height of the Cold War, and a dangerous time to be stationed in the Soviet Union. One evening, while the chief of the CIA’s Moscow station was filling his gas tank, a stranger approached and dropped a note into the car. In the years that followed, that man, Adolf Tolkachev, became one of the most valuable spies ever for the U.S. But these activities posed an enormous personal threat to Tolkachev and his American handlers.  Watchistry  - Marine Nationale Book - $77.00 An exploration of a collection of 34 watches and instruments issued to the French Navy. 224 pages of photos and text cover vintage military watches from Tudor, Omega, Longines, Breguet, Auricoste, Doxa, Triton and others are featured, along with detailed provenance and commentary. It represents an unprecedented look at the nuance and breadth of the pieces used by the Marine Nationale. A Die Hard Christmas - $19.99 True story.  All John McClane wants for Christmas is to reunite with his estranged family. But when his wife’s office holiday party turns into a deadly hostage situation, he has to save her life before he can get home in time for Christmas!  The unconventional fan-favorite movie Die Hard is now an illustrated storybook- complete with machine guns, European terrorists, and a cop who’s forced to rely on all his cunning and skills (and the help of a fellow officer) to save the day.  Small Arms of WWII: United States of America, James Rupley, Ian McCollum-  $98.00 The Second World War was a fascinating and dynamic time in the history of firearms – a period that began with revolvers and bolt-action weapons, and ended with the first generations of modern select-fire combat rifles. We detail these developments in Small Arms of WWII, discussing not just what the weapons were, but why they were developed and how they performed in the field. If you want to get a better understanding of how these weapons changed warfare and were in turn themselves changed by warfare, this is the book series for you!  A Man & His Watch: Iconic Watches and Stories from the Men Who Wore Them, Matt Hranek - $28.49 Paul Newman wore his Rolex Daytona every single day for 35 years until his death in 2008. The iconic timepiece, probably the single most sought-after watch in the world, is now in the possession of his daughter Clea, who wears it every day in his memory. Franklin Roosevelt wore an elegant gold Tiffany watch, gifted to him by a friend on his birthday, to the famous Yalta Conference where he shook the hands of Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. JFK's Omega worn to his presidential inauguration, Ralph Lauren's watch purchased from Andy Warhol's personal collection, Sir Edmund Hillary's Rolex worn during the first-ever summit of Mt. Everest . . . these and many more compose the stories of the world's most coveted watches captured in A Man and His Watch.  The Wrong Wolf, Chris Craighead and Matthew Klein $19.99 From the very start, the Wrong Wolf knew he was different. Over the course of a journey marked by loss, mercy, courage and self-sacrifice, he learns that where and how you are born does not always determine where you end up. Sweetwater - Jason Heaton - $14.99 With an American presidential election looming, a decades-old plane crash is once again thrust into the news. Old secrets threaten to expose dangerous truths and underwater archaeologist Julian "Tusker" Tusk finds himself at the center of a mystery with the highest of stakes. With time running out, Tusker is forced to come to terms with not only his own past, but that of his father, in an adventure that spans two generations and hits close to home in more ways than one.  Moscow X, David McCloskey - $25.49 CIA officers Sia and Max enter Russia under commercial cover to recruit Vladimir Putin’s moneyman. Sia works for a London law firm that conceals the wealth of the superrich. Max’s family business in Mexico―a CIA front since the 1960s―is a farm that breeds high-end racehorses. They pose as a couple to target Vadim, Putin’s private banker, and his wife, Anna, who―unbeknownst to CIA―is a Russian intelligence officer under deep cover at the bank. Clothes Relwen - Quilted Insulated Tanker Jacket - $318  This will be your go-to, so don’t fight it. Our Tanker is that one jacket that fills all the voids, whether tailgating, going out for dinner, or off to work. The soft peached nylon/cotton shell utilizes a water-resistant polyurethane coating, ideal for all weather conditions. Lightweight quilting provides warmth across temperate conditions making for highly pragmatic style. Clarks, Desert Boot Suede - $150 Cultural cachet and design DNA: no shoe is quite like the Clarks Originals Desert Boot. Nathan Clark’s 1950 design was inspired by a rough boot from Cairo’s Old Bazaar, and its minimal, progressive style sparked a worldwide footwear revolution GBRS Group - Set Point Flannel - $75.00 The Set Point by GBRS Group MD Approach Flannel is a multi-purpose flannel for everyday use. Combining the crisp look of a heavier flannel with the comfort of a lighter one makes this flannel resourceful on any occasion. Vuori- Strato Tech Tee - $54 The Strato Tech Tee is the softest piece of workout apparel on the planet, doubling as your go-to t-shirt. With next-level comfort, our softest performance knit is quick drying and moisture wicking. Goodr - Bosley's Basset Hound Dreams - $25 Tortoiseshell sunglasses? More like houndshell shades. These sunnies were named in honor of Bosley, king of the basset hounds. So every time you wear these no slip, no bounce brown frames with non-reflective polarized brown lenses, you’ll be in the presence of royalty. Hot sauce Tabasco: Priceless, available at your local convenience store, this delicious nectar of the gods.  Tabasco. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.   -- *W.O.E. has received no financial compensation for the above products and these are NOT/NOT sponsored.  Please do your own research before making any purchases.

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Advice for Buying a Watch

Advice for Buying a Watch

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those...

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The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. (James Rupley) Step 1: Do your research:  There are more resources than ever on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re far enough down the rabbit hole and you want to know more.  We at W.O.E. do not do traditional watch reviews- but other platforms do and do it well.  Hodinkee, Bark and Jack, Teddy Baldassarre, Fratello, aBlogtoWatch, etc.  There are plenty of great outlets with different perspectives putting out content on Youtube, online editorial platforms, and podcasts. But it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to any enthusiast media, as much of the content on these sites are paid advertisements and/or heavily influenced by the watch brands.  Read our Covert Influence In Watch Media piece so that you approach it with a skeptical eye. Step 2:  Talk with people. The simple lost art of conversation.  Ask your friends, coworkers and family members about their watches.  See a guy with an interesting watch on at a bar, coffee shop, or even at the urinal? Ask him what he is wearing.  Why did he buy that specific watch?  What does he like and dislike about it?  Ask to try it on. Most people into watches want nothing more than to talk about them. Major cities likely have watch meetups. RedBar Group is the largest and most well-known of these group meet ups.  I have never been to a watch meet up but know a lot of people enjoy this community and it is a great way to get your hands on lots of watches in the wild. Step 3:  Visit an AD.  An “Authorized Dealer” is a store that sells watches from major brands, and they have an official relationship with said brands.  We recommend visiting a dealer with a larger selection of brands so that you can physically try on different watches to see what works for you.  Tourneau, Watches of Switzerland, and Bucherer are some of the largest ones, but chances are even your local mall has a store that sells watches. Sales associates can be notoriously pretentious and they’re not always “watch guys” but there is something to be learned from everyone.  At a minimum they should have the training to explain the range on the market. Step 4:  Buy your first watch.  After spending a few weeks/months on steps 1-3, you should have a general idea of what interests you.  It’s time to buy your first watch. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000, and even under $500 is better.  Just because you can afford a Rolex doesn't mean you should start there.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” for some thoughts from a broad range of practitioners with experience. (James Rupley) Step 5:  Pause - wear your watch, repeat steps 1-3.  It’s tempting to immediately focus on the next watch, always wanting more.  But wear your watch, find out what you like/dislike about it. Sometimes you learn things about your taste only after wearing a watch for a while. Think about how it feels on your wrist, how it works with your lifestyle, etc. Most importantly, however, is to make sure that the watch works as an extension of your own life philosophy. Maybe the values of the brand don’t line up with your own–or maybe they do. This is the time to learn. (James Rupley) Step 6: Accessorize.  A strap is a great way to change up the feel of your watch.  We have a host of straps in the W.O.E. shop, but don’t let us limit your options.   In the strap game, you generally get what you pay for. Like most things in life.  Stay away from Amazon and pay a few extra dollars for something of quality.  Most of the major watch content outlets also sell straps and are a good one-stop-shop.  Buying a strap from a smaller business is a great way to show your support and rep that brand/community.  Here are some of the different straps you should consider: 2 Piece Leather: These should be handmade in the USA or Europe, nothing mass produced. There are some great craftsmen out there making one off and small batch straps like our Jedburgh and Leather and Canvas DNC Strap.  A good leather strap can work on mostly any watch. Affordable Nylon:  You can buy these anywhere and should be somewhere in the $20-40 price range.  Our Five Eye is on the higher end of this but in return you get quality. The better ones are well-made but cheap enough that you can use and abuse them and throw them out like a pair of good socks.  A simple nylon strap is a great way to support a group/person that you’re interested in. (James Rupley) High-End Fabric Strap:  In my opinion, Zulu Alpha is the best quality fabric strap on the market. The Quantum Watch Strap from TAD has great hardware and Tudor has some great fabric straps (see Hodinkee video). None of these are cheap but you get what you pay for. Single piece leather is tricky, most are thick and I do not like to use bent spring bars on my watches. These do fit some of my pieces with a wider gap between the spring bar and I wear them. I am a big fan of both Soturi and Zanes. Rubber: I have owned a few from Everest and overall have been happy with them. There are plenty of options on the market here and quality generally coincides with price. Elastic MN Straps: I have a MN strap from NDC straps which I like and have heard great things about Erika’s Originals.  A great way to change up your watch. A new strap can completely change the feel of your watch.  Most watches are 20 mm or 22 mm so if you buy a handful of straps you can rotate them between your watches. (Photo Credit: @navs.watch) General Advice & Tips: As you look to expand your collection, here are some general tips that we use as a north star.  Remember, none of these are hard and fast rules: Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford.  “Buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch.  DO NOT FINANCE YOUR WATCH. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate in value, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the passion. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Sinn, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville, Sangin Instruments, Elliot Brown etc), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either.  When you do decide to go into the micro-brand space, do your homework. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. (James Rupley) As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. Remember, those Speedmasters that went to the moon and the 1675 GMT-Master examples that our pilot heroes wore were all value buys back in the day. They weren’t luxury products in that period.  As we have said many times, the man makes the watch, not the other way around. Vintage Watches: Lastly, if you are just starting out, we recommend staying away from vintage watches.  While there are some great deals out there and it is a lot of fun, it is not for the uninitiated.  There are plenty of fakes at every level and it is easy to get ripped off if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.  Additionally, old watches come with old problems, this can be exciting once you have a handful of watches in your collection, but sending your sole watch off for service for 3 months doesn’t make for a good time.  Happy hunting, -W.O.E. Read Next: Blackwater Breitling - The Story

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What Watch Pairs With What Military Aircraft?

What Watch Pairs With What Military Aircraft?

Honoring an age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. At W.O.E., we cover all sorts of subjects relevant to our community, ranging from...

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Honoring an age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. At W.O.E., we cover all sorts of subjects relevant to our community, ranging from in-depth profiles of impactful Intelligence Community and military practitioners to breaking down geopolitical conflicts through the lens of watches. Today, however, we figured we’d go a little lighter and engage in an age-old tradition that, while slightly more juvenile than most of our content, continues to be relevant and just plain fun. Just about every watch platform has matched up the Rolex Submariner with the perennial watch-guy favorite–the air cooled Porsche 911. But we’ll leave that to the popular watch style blogs. We’re here to talk about metal with a purpose beyond simply looking cool. We’re going to match up iconic watches with well-known aircraft. Many of you will be intimately familiar with both of these subjects, and finding the intricacies and characteristics that tie a watch to an airplane and vice versa is an exercise in diving deep into the engineering characteristics, legacy, and function of both the plane and the watch.  Tom Cruise wearing Porsche Design Chronograph 1 (Photo Credit: Paramount) Before we apply full nose down inputs and dive in, we’d like to acknowledge that folks will have very serious opinions about these pairings, and that this list is just a starting point. If you disagree, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. We eschewed the traditional “rules” for pairings using things like country of origin or physical appearance to pair watches and cars and instead focused on the core ethos of each piece of equipment and the character and reputation it has developed in both aviation and horology circles. Now let’s roll, pitch, and yaw right into it: The Plane: Lockheed C-130 Hercules The “SUV of the sky” is ubiquitous and tough as nails. It’s been in service since 1956 and the fundamental design of the aircraft hasn’t changed much over more than half a century. It can land and take off from unprepared airstrips, it can operate in hot and high environments, it can be fitted with skis to land on ice, it can use JATO (jet assisted take off), it can act as an aerial refueling platform, it can serve as a command and control platform, it can even be kitted out for long-range search and rescue, and maybe most importantly, the AC-130, the gunship version known as the Angel of Death, can absolutely rain down hell on the enemy. The Watch: Seiko SKX007  You won’t find this steadfast tool watch on the wrist of anyone wearing a suit. It’s not particularly accurate, and it’s not known for superior fit and finishing, either. But it’s where a lot of us started our watch interest, and it’s where it can end, too. You don’t need another watch. This one is tough as hell and just keeps on running. Like the C-130, it’s spawned a bunch of variants.  The Link: The same places you’ll find the SKX007 being worn, you’ll find the C-130 being used. They’re both the standard unit of toughness that all other watches and utility aircraft are measured against. The Plane: Boeing C-32A  This is the plane that the highest officials in the US Government use for executive transport. You’ll typically find the Vice President (Air Force Two) and the Secretary of State aboard. It can also serve as Air Force One when the President’s 747 is considered overkill for a specific destination. It’s a symbol of American might and democracy that you’ll find all over the world. The Watch: Rolex GMT-Master and GMT-Master II Photo Credit: James Rupley The Case Officer’s watch. It can get dirty and take a beating, but has a certain polished cache that’s elevated it to iconic status. It can tell time in three different time zones at once; and the design hasn’t changed much since 1954, when it was first worn by Pan-Am pilots. The model became popular with military pilots and was even famously worn by Chuck Yeager.  The GMT-Master II serves as a stand-in for worldliness The Link: Both of these at first appear polished and proper, but they’re also some of the most capable and bad-ass platforms around. The C-32A has a whole host of classified defense systems. And the guy wearing a GMT-Master probably isn’t a stranger to doing what it takes to get it done. The Plane: Lockheed Martin F-16 For the last 30 years, when someone says “fighter jet”, it’s most likely the F-16 that many people–familiar with military aircraft or not–think of. It’s the most widely operated fighter in the world. In other words, it’s the OG fighter aircraft of the modern era. It’s a multi-role aircraft, and there’s even a project led by the US Air Force, Project Venom, to operate F-16s autonomously. The F-16 has come a long way since its first flight in 1973. The US Air Force had once said that it would be retired in 2025, but then signed on to keep the F-16 flying for another 20 years. It’s not going anywhere just yet. And that’s a great thing. If it ain't broken, don’t fix it.  The Watch: IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Actual military pilots wear all sorts of watches. Everything from Garmins to Bremonts. But there’s such a thing as a prototypical “pilot’s watch” and it’s the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, specifically, the 43. It’s the watch that some real fighter pilots wear, but that many, many more people who wish to be a fighter pilot wear. It’s become an icon for what it represents, not necessarily for what it actually is. But what it is, is a watch that’s been at the center of the military aviation scene since before World War II.  IWC has a long history with aviation, and continues to produce Unit/Squadron watches for many aviators. The Link:  The link here is obvious–these are both the icons of their type. They’re what first comes to mind when thinking of fighter jets and pilots watches. They’re also sort of the most basic iterations of their forms as well. The Plane: A-10 Warthog  This aircraft’s primary role is CAS (close air support) and it absolutely excels at it thanks to its twin-turbofan, straight wing setup. It frequently gets “down in the dirt” and you’ve almost certainly seen memes or videos of the infamous “BBRRRRRTTTTT” that’s emitted from the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon affixed to the nose of the airplane. It crushes tanks, lights up enemies, and emerged as an absolute icon after Desert Storm. BBBBRRRRTTTT. The Watch: Tudor Ranger The Ranger is mostly considered a field watch, not necessarily a pilot’s watch. Its simple, stripped-down nature is where its beauty lies. Consider it the modern version of what the Rolex 1016 was (or the vintage Tudor Ranger)–a simple-as-hell time only tool watch that was indestructible and somewhat of an everyman’s watch. You have 3, 6, and 9, and nothing much else except fantastic legibility. It just gets the job done and doesn’t cost too much. The Link: The A-10 is cheap as chips to operate and consistently crushes the competition when it comes to fixed-wing CAS. The Ranger embodies the same ethos–value-forward, reliable, and has a “git ‘er done” way about it. They’re both simple. The Plane: Lockheed Martin F-35 The F-35 was delivered ten years late and went 1.7 trillion USD over budget, but it’s the most technologically advanced plane that has ever existed. It’s over the top in every single way, not to mention it costs $41,986 an hour to fly. But trying to find anything that rivals it. You won’t China’s J-20? Nope. Russia’s Su-57? Negative. The aircraft defines air superiority through its host of technical features, many of which are still classified (on the US-operated variants, of course). The Watch: RM 39-01 Richard Mille marketing shot If you want one of these, it’ll set you back about 150K. But you’ll also have the most feature-rich, tech-forward analog pilot’s watch that exists. A titanium case and a skeletonized carbon fiber dial characterize the watch, along with the signature Richard Mille lightweight technical look. Richard Mille is the epitome of technical mastery in watchmaking, and the RM 39-01 is the brand’s foray into pilot’s watches. It’s the opposite of legible and robust, but sometimes the most technically advanced things are just that way. The Link: The amount of engineering that goes into these two things– and the price tag– are both superlative. The Aircraft: UH-60 Black Hawk You’ve seen Black Hawk Down. Hell, we know some of you even fly the Black Hawk, which is operated in a branch-specific variant by the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. The design dates back to 1974 with Sikorsky, and now the US military operates over 2,000 Black Hawk helicopters. Roughly 30 other countries around the world also operate the UH-60 in some form or another, not to mention civilian operators that use it for firefighting, cargo transport, to search and rescue. It’s a ubiquitous helicopter when it comes to roles in the defense sector. Anyone who flies the Black Hawk knows that when it stops leaking hydraulic fluid, that’s when you have to worry. It can carry between 12 and 20 soldiers into battle and can lift 22,000 lbs. It was first used operationally in combat during the invasion of Grenada in 1983, and it’s been going strong ever since. The Watch: Marathon TSAR Cheap, chunky, and indestructible, the TSAR has been a mainstay in the inventory of issued watches of US forces over the past decade. Many models even feature the “US Government” markings on the dial in addition to the nuclear regulatory commision designation on the caseback. The watch has earned a stellar reputation by those to whom it has been issued to. It’s designed solely for utility, not looks. The tall case is meant to make it easy to operate the bezel with gloves on, and tritium tubes are employed for superior legibility and visibility in the dark. In short, it’s been a longstanding fixture in the military watch scene for good reason–it just works. The Link: The TSAR, like the Black Hawk, isn’t going to win any awards for looking good or being a hero. Neither draw a crowd. But those in the know will always choose these tools over the more sexy options.  (Marathon, Watch Maker for the Modern Military) The Aircraft: Lun-class Ekranoplan What makes this craft different from most on this list is that even though it has “wings”, it’s not an airplane, or airship even. It’s technically still just a standard maritime ship, because it only lifts about 13 feet off the water and flies in “ground effect”, meaning it takes advantage of reduced drag flying close to a fixed surface. In this case, the surface is the surface of the ocean. It’s essentially just a massive flying boat powered by eight turbofans mounted to canards near the bow of the ship. Flying in ground effect meant that unless the surface of the sea was steady, it simply couldn't fly, and that ultimately led to its demise. It’s an incredibly neat idea that’s also very Soviet–and it can certainly be debated whether or not it’s a good-looking craft or not.  The Watch: Hublot Big Bang  This is the model that’s most typically associated with Hublot, the brand that everyone loves to hate–and by most engineering and mechanical accounts, the watch is pretty strong. But most people agree–it has a very specific type of culture attached to it. The Link: Both the Ekranoplan and Hublot are loved by Russians, but that’s not all. They both had their mainstream time to shine decades ago, but still both have a small legion of loyal followers today that still live like it’s the heyday of the Ekranoplan and Hublot. But hey, they like what they like. SHOP NOW:  Five Eye Nylon Watch Strap

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U.S. Presidents and Timepieces, The Last 40 Years

U.S. Presidents and Timepieces, The Last 40 Years

The watches of the most powerful men in the world, the Commander in Chief

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The watches of the most powerful men in the world, the Commander in Chief

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"Let's Roll" - A Hero's Rolex Frozen In Time - September 11, 2001

"Let's Roll" - A Hero's Rolex Frozen In Time - September 11, 2001

Todd Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone,...

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Todd Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone, the date window–frozen in time– still reads “11.” Remembering the heroes of September 11th Attacks: On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Todd Beamer, a 32-year-old Account Manager at Oracle, rose early to catch United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco for a business trip. As part of his morning routine, he snapped the clasp shut on the two-tone jubilee bracelet of his 36mm Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph before heading out the door at 6:15 am, leaving his pregnant wife, Lisa, and their two children at home.  After a 42 minute delay, he boarded Flight 93; it departed from Gate 17 at Newark Liberty International Airport and took off at 8:42 am. At 9:28 am, the calm Tuesday morning flight was interrupted when Al Qaeda hijackers, led by Ziad Samir Jarrah, used box cutters and a supposed explosive device to take control of the plane and divert the aircraft back east towards Washington D.C. The hijackers moved Beamer and the other 43 passengers to the rear of the plane. Using cellphones and seatback phones, the passengers contacted loved ones and airport officials and learned that three other aircraft were weaponized and deliberately crashed into some of our nation’s most important buildings: the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Beamer and other passengers acted fast and stormed the cockpit in an effort to take back the aircraft. Beamer’s last words were recorded through the seatback phone. If I don't make it, please call my family and let them know how much I love them...Are you ready? Okay, Let's roll. At 10:03 am, Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, just 20 minutes flying time from the terrorists’ intended target: the U.S. Capital. Beamer and a number of other passengers had thwarted Al Qaeda’s plans.  Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone, the date window–frozen in time– still reads “11.” His watch is a two-tone 18k yellow gold Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph, likely reference 16263, with a champagne tapestry dial. Despite the use of precious metal, the watch was originally developed as a tool watch in the early 1950s with a bidirectional bezel for timing. Nicknamed the “Thunderbird,” it was issued in the late 1950s to the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron pilots, with the famed unit’s insignia on the dial. Late 1950s Rolex advertisement. Hanging on the wall of my office is an old Rolex advertisement that I see everyday. The copy, in bold, reads, “Men who guide the destinies of the world wear Rolex Watches.” The ad is clearly meant to conjure up images of Presidents, Generals and Diplomats– but what Beamer did that day is exactly what the ad says: he changed the course of history. Had he and the other brave passengers on the plane not acted, the aircraft would have continued to Washington D.C. and likely inflicted significant harm on the U.S. Capitol, the heart of American democracy. Beamer was an ordinary American who showed extraordinary courage during a time of need. He was a man of action. Like most great men, the man made the watch, not the other way around. The fact that he was wearing a Rolex is insignificant, but the watch lives on as a memorial to him and his fellow passengers that made the ultimate selfless sacrifice on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Beamer’s legacy lives on beyond his parting heroic action. Let's Roll became a unifying command, a battle cry for America in the Post-9/11 era. Troops deploying to Afghanistan months later would use this as a motivational phrase to bring the fight to the enemy. Years later when I traveled to war zones, “Let’s Roll” was still commonly heard before departing on an operation or seen painted on a gym wall at remote U.S. Government outposts. Today, Beamer’s mangled Rolex is on display in the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City, along with an Oracle business card discovered in the wreckage, both donated by his wife, Lisa, to honor his sacrifice and legacy. The date window still chillingly displays the day that the world changed forever; “11.” Let's Roll - CIA in Afghanistan after 9/11 attacks. Beamer’s father, David Beamer, would later remark to the New York Times, “The function of the watch is supposed to be to tell time. What it doesn’t tell is what time it is anymore. What it does tell is what time it was. It marks the time that a successful counterattack on Flight 93 came to an end.” There are few actions more selfless than sacrificing your life for another, and that’s exactly what the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 did. Had the airplane continued to Washington D.C. and struck the U.S. Capitol, scores of elected officials, civil servants, and innocent civilians would have perished.  Like Beamer on the morning of September 11th, 2001, countless men and women would choose to roll into action and answer the call to serve in the wake of 9/11.  This Dispatch is in honor of the 2,977 people who died on September 11th, 2001 and Todd Beamer’s wife, Lisa, and their three children.   Read Next: CIA’s JAWBREAKER Team And A Rolex Submariner This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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Does Rolex Make Mistakes? The Motley 8 - Error Batman Bezel

Does Rolex Make Mistakes? The Motley 8 - Error Batman Bezel

In Watch and Firearm Collecting, Details Matter I purchased a new Rolex GMT Master II “Batman” directly from an authorized Rolex dealer (“AD”). After photographing...

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In Watch and Firearm Collecting, Details Matter I purchased a new Rolex GMT Master II “Batman” directly from an authorized Rolex dealer (“AD”). After photographing the watch in my studio, I was surprised to see a production error that I had never seen before. In the “8” in the “18” on the bezel, the top circle is blue, while the bottom is black.

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CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a...

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As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time. Arabic Seiko Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.   Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection. Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection.  In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.” Origin Story If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece. Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating.  At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud. W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Specs The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.    There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby. Social Media and “Influence” Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales. The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it. After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022: We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks.  I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.   W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Advertising and Influencers We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example. Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Conclusion At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing. Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces   This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part II

Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part II

In this edition of the Dispatch, we answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these...

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In this edition of the Dispatch, we answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these responses can even serve as stand alone stories– and probably will at some point–but for now, here’s some additional insight on Watches of Espionage. If you have any more questions, please ask in the comments section and we will address next time. See past questions “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part I” What advice do you have for buying watches? There are more resources than ever before on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re pretty far down the rabbit hole.  Here are a few tips below for those looking to get into watches.  Also check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” as a good starting point. Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford, as “buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the hobby. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. How do I organize Unit watch? After our “Tudors of Espionage” piece, we received a lot of queries on how to organize a “unit watch” for a specific military, law enforcement or intelligence organization.  We have heard from our industry contacts that companies across the board have received an increase in these requests.  This is cool, because “unit watches” are at the heart of watch culture in the National Security community and closely tied to the idea of “Watches of Espionage.” To review, a unit watch is a timepiece that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization inside the military.  Customizations can include the unit’s insignia or motto on the dial and/or an engraving on the caseback. Occasionally, markings can be applied to the side of the case as well.   We will continue to go deeper on various unit watch programs (like Bremont Military and Special Project's Division) and guide those looking to organize a custom watch for their organization, but in the meantime, here are some initial steps: Do it: To accomplish anything in the government, you need an internal champion.  Be that champion. Nothing will happen otherwise. Build Internal Support:  For most custom watch programs, you need a minimum of 50 pieces. It needs to make sense for a manufacturer to tool up to produce a custom watch, which incurs a significant cost on their end.  Start building support within the organization and gauge interest from other unit members.  Take the opportunity to educate non-watch members why a watch is a great way to commemorate a moment in time and one's service.  Seek approval from the unit/command leadership if needed. Explore Brands: There are some great brands that provide unit watches. Each one has its pros and cons.  Decide on 3-4 that work for your unit's culture. As a starting point, look at Breitling, IWC, Omega, Tudor, Bremont Watch Company, Elliot Brown, CWC, Seiko, and Sangin Instruments. Contact the brands:  For larger brands (Tudor, IWC, Omega, etc) visit a local boutique/Authorized Dealer and explain what you're looking to accomplish.  You need someone on the inside to help shepherd you through the process, as it can often be opaque.  For smaller brands (Elliot Brown, CWC, Sangin) you should reach out directly through the website.  Some companies like Bremont have formal “Special Projects” programs and make it seamless; others are more based on personal relationships.  Ideally, have a specific idea of what you are looking for, i.e. a specific reference and design/location of the insignia. Be Patient:  These things take time.  Having spoken with some of the individuals who have shepherded Tudor pieces, these projects can take over a year for delivery. Automatic vs Quartz? There is nothing wrong with quartz movements, and anyone who says otherwise is a nerd.  Not a good “watch nerd,” just a nerd.  In general I prefer an automatic timepiece because I appreciate the craftsmanship it takes to produce an automatic movement.  Operationally, there is a strong argument for an automatic movement, as batteries will always die at the wrong time.   That said, some of the greatest military watches are quartz: CWC, Elliot Brown, and Marathon, not to mention the venerable Breitling Aerospace.  A quartz movement is likely more accurate than an automatic movement and some of these pieces are just as fashionable and robust.  There is something satisfying about picking up a watch and knowing that the date and time are set. They both have their place in the watch world.  Again, these are tools and you choose the right tool for the task. Does the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board (PCRB) censor your writing? The CIA does not “censor” my writing when it comes to beliefs, opinions, or watch content.  It does review my writing (including this piece) to ensure that it does not contain classified information.  All current and former CIA officers have a lifelong obligation to protect classified national security information, and one aspect of this lifelong commitment is submitting writing to the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board (PCRB).  This is a good thing, as it protects every party involved.  Overall, I have found the review process relatively smooth.  Like most “formers” who write about the intelligence field, I have a general understanding of what we can and cannot say and there have been no major issues with the PCRB.  There are occasionally times when the PCRB will remove a location, word, or sentence, but overall it has not impacted the core points of any of the stories I’ve written. As a private citizen, I am free to express my own opinions about the government, CIA, or watches, and I have not heard of any cases where a former CIA officer’s opinions or writings were “censored” in the traditional sense.  It appears as though the CIA has made a conscious decision to be forward-leaning by allowing formers to write (relatively) openly about their experiences.  This is also a good thing.  My personal opinion is that the Intelligence Community should protect secrets, but should also be open in educating the public on what we do.  There are a lot of misconceptions about the CIA and we are in a position to dispel those myths and educate people on the reality. By writing semi-openly, we can achieve that.  Do you sleep with your watch on? (We have received this question a lot.) I do not. Does anyone? That's weird.  I actually find myself taking my watch off often when I am at home, when typing on the computer, doing chores etc.  I haven't really put much thought into why this is but I have never slept with a watch on, and I don’t even put it on my bedside table unless traveling.  Generally, I take my watch off in the bathroom or office and have been using a W.O.E. EDC Valet in both. If anyone does sleep with their watch on, I would love to hear their rationale in the comments. Thoughts on tactical micro-brands?  Are you a poser if you did not serve in the military? When you buy a watch–any watch– you are buying into that brand and the community and reputation the brand commands.  This is especially true with micro brands/tactical brands. There are some great micro brands/tactical brands out there and several were highlighted in the “Best Watches Under $1,000” Dispatch.  That said, I do not have much first hand experience with them, so I will reserve judgment.  If you are interested in a tactical brand, I encourage you to really do your research.   In my opinion, Sangin Instruments is one of, if not the, leader in this space.  Started by a Marine Raider, they make great watches but perhaps more importantly, they’ve built a true community around the brand.  Though largely driven by the active duty military and veterans, one does not have to be a veteran to take part and you are by no means a poser if you support this brand. One other that I have also personally owned is RESCO Instruments, which was started by a former SEAL. Similar to Sangin, they have strong support from the active duty military and make a robust toolwatch. Starting a watch company is hard, really hard.  There is a reason the top watch brands have been around for over a century.  Do your research: many of these companies have good intentions, slick websites and lots of tactical dudes wearing them, but actually building a company like Sangin and RESCO is not easy or for the faint hearted. Final thought, any brand that gets you interested in watches is a good thing.  If you like the aesthetic of a watch and the guys building a brand, buy one. Try it out.  It’s all just a part of the larger process of going deeper into the hobby.  Favorite city to visit? Istanbul, Turkey; Beirut, Lebanon; Cape Town, South Africa. If you had to choose only one watch to keep forever, what would it be? From an emotional standpoint, it would likely be the titanium Royal Jordanian Breitling Aerospace, a gift from His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, but from a purely aesthetic and functional perspective, it would be my Rolex GMT-Master II, an early 2000s black and red “Coke” ref 16710. For years, I have said that the Rolex GMT–any execution of the watch– is the ultimate CIA Case Officer’s watch– a classy and refined tool that signals to others you are a man of culture, yet don’t mind getting your hands dirty. A Case Officer has been described as a “PhD that can win in a bar fight,” and that fictional person would wear a Rolex GMT.  While this is less true today with the astronomical prices of “new” pre-owned models, there is still a lot of truth to it.  When traveling, the quick-change date and GMT functionality are useful for telling the time back home, and a simple wrist check is easier than pulling out a phone. The watch also captures the spirit of the often-romanticized ‘50s Rolex GMT, originally developed in the 1950s for commercial Pan Am pilots. I have an old “Root Beer” ref 16753, but the newer model is more robust and still maintains some of the vintage aspects, including drilled lug holes and the aluminum bezel.  The “Pepsi” of course is a classic, but there is something about the red and black that I have always gravitated towards.  It is just different enough to make it stand out but still retains that timeless appeal of the classic bi-color bezel formula.  How has your interest in watches evolved over time? My personal interest in watches has evolved greatly over the past year as my collection has expanded. My collection and my interest grew together in tandem.  I’m still interested in modern tool watches, but have gone down the vintage military-issued watch rabbit hole.  I recently acquired a South African issued Tudor Milsub ref 7016 and a US Navy UDT/SEAL-issued Tudor 7928.  Both of these watches are “grail” pieces for me, and for the time being I am satisfied and have so much history to learn and uncover when it comes to the pieces I already own.  I will continue to be on the lookout for unique watches with military provenance.  There is something special about owning a piece of history and being able to wear it on your wrist. What are your thoughts on watch modifications? I have never modified a watch before, but this is something I would really like to explore in the future.  The idea of taking a Tudor Black Bay 58 or an Arabic Seiko as a blank canvas and personalizing it is incredibly intriguing.  This is still a controversial practice for much of the traditional watch community.  George Bamford originally made a name for himself by customizing Rolex watches into unconventional designs, much to the chagrin of the Swiss luxury brands. Customized “Commando” Rolex Submariner (Bamford Watch Department) That said, I am not attracted to customizing a timepiece to look like another timepiece, aka a “Homage” customization.  If this makes you excited, then I am happy for you, but it is not for me. Before selling out and going corporate, our friend and spiritual mentor Cole Pennington wrote a piece for Hodinkee defending homage pieces.  I generally agree with everything Cole writes, but when it comes to this topic I respectfully disagree.  Cole points out that there is a “big difference” between homage pieces and counterfeits, but in reality whether produced by a manufacturer or individually customized, the difference is often not that big.  I would rather purchase (and wear) a Seiko that looks like a Seiko, than a Seiko that has been retrofitted to look like a Rolex. What is the future of Watches of Espionage? What new products and will they be in stock? W.O.E is and always will be an enthusiast platform.  The reason we are successful is that we are passionate about watches (and espionage) and that’s our core fundamental driving force–not profiting from the watch community.  Our goal for Watches of Espionage is to become the number one resource for military, intelligence and national security content as it relates to timepieces.  We have just scratched the surface and have a lot more to explore. We have made a lot of progress over the past year, with the launch of the website and initial W.O.E. products.  Our main focus is building a community of like-minded individuals who appreciate history and an interest in timepieces.  Content will continue to be our main focus and our intention is to keep this free and open to everyone.   Much of the watch industry works on a “pay to play” model where brands sponsor content or invite journalists to “exclusive” press trips which inevitably influences any potential watch review. Our goal is to avoid this model and remain an impartial third party in the watch industry. We will support brands and people who are doing good things.  If we enter into a partnership with a brand, it will be on our terms and will not be just a transaction for cash to exploit our relationship with the community. Obviously this takes significant time and money and will only increase as we continue to expand.  After thoughtful consideration, we moved into the product space, and have found this equally fulfilling to create novel and exciting products for our community.  We appreciate those who have supported W.O.E.-- as this support will give us the opportunity for increased quality content.  Over the coming year, we hope to expand the number of articles per week and potentially move into other mediums.  Regarding products, we are working on some new and exciting projects and hope to have some in stock at all points.  We are in the initial steps on a coffee table book that we hope to be available in 2024. This year, we have raised over $23,000 for Third Option Foundation and we have more fundraisers scheduled for this year that will be both meaningful and interesting. As always, thank you for the support.  This would not be possible without you. Read Next: Vietnam MACV-SOG Seikos: Setting The Record Straight *Unless otherwise noted, pictures are of W.O.E.'s personal collection by James Rupley.

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Aviation “Unit Watches”: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division

Aviation “Unit Watches”: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division

One of the most common questions we receive from active duty military, law enforcement and intelligence officers is how to organize a “unit watch.”  We...

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One of the most common questions we receive from active duty military, law enforcement and intelligence officers is how to organize a “unit watch.”  We have previously profiled Tudor’s unit watch program and plan to cover all of the major players in this space.    UK-based Bremont Watch Company has made significant headway in capturing the market and providing unique watches to military and intelligence units, including the highest tiers of the US Intelligence, Aviation and Special Operations community. In order to document a first hand perspective, we asked Nic, an Australian military pilot, to write a Dispatch on his experience organizing a custom Bremont for his squadron. As always, this content is not sponsored and the views and perspectives are of the author.  At W.O.E., we are brand agnostic but do support any brand that supports our community. Aviation Unit Watch Case Study: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division The EA-18G Bremont U-2 on the wrist of a Growler pilot (Photo Credit: @outboundcourse)  In the world of horology, Bremont is a relative newcomer, having been founded by brothers Nick and Giles English in 2002. The siblings, inspired by their father’s passion for both aviation and mechanical devices, merged their interests to design, manufacture and release their first pilot's watch in 2007. Bremont arrived on the scene as a fresh contender at a time when established players were coincidently shifting their focus away from the aviation and military markets towards more mainstream celebrity brand ambassadors. In 2009, U-2 spy plane pilots from Beale Air Force Base, California contacted Bremont to see if the brand would be willing to create a bespoke watch for their squadron. Bremont subsequently produced and delivered the watch as its first ever military project in 2010. The following year, they launched a partnership with ejection seat manufacturer Martin Baker and started to garner interest from the global military aviation community. Bremont was then approached by the US Navy Test Pilot School, USAF C-17 Globemaster community and US Navy VFA-81 Sunliners Squadron and asked to produce special military watches for their members. The Military and Special Projects Bremont made for U-2 spy plane pilots was the brand’s first custom military watch. (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) Once the custom C-17 watch appeared on social media in 2012, the brand received significantly more attention from potential military clients. To cater for this increase in queries and requests for projects, Bremont’s Military and Special Project Division was established by Catherine Villeneuve. Over ten years later, Catherine – who is also Nick English’s wife – leads a sizable and dedicated team as Bremont’s Head of Military and Special Projects. The C-17A Bremont ALT1-WT (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) I first heard about Bremont from a friend who had run his own project and so got in touch with the brand’s Military and Special Projects team in 2016 to enquire about developing a watch for my Australian squadron of KC-30A air-to-air refueling aircraft. Once I’d established contact the process was straight forward. Due to the expeditionary nature of our work, I chose the Bremont World Timer as a base model and then started the back-and-forth with the Bremont design team to determine how to make the project unique and meaningful to those of us who would eventually wear it. This mainly consisted of me sending poorly constructed Microsoft Paint pictures of airplanes and crests pasted onto watches and them responding with high quality renderings of potential design options. As the military traditionally offers limited opportunities for creative expression within its ranks, I really enjoyed the opportunity to play designer with the guidance from Bremont’s professionals. Catherine explains that “The design focus is to base the client’s idea around an existing model, staying true to our brand DNA and then elegantly and subtly integrating design details within the watch dial and sometimes other watch parts, to best identify the military squadron, unit or community”. The “triple seven," an Afghan unit trained/mentored by Americans for air lift assets, most notably the Russian built Mi-17.  This watch was produced by Bremont for the American servicemen supporting that unit. Bremont distinguishes itself from many competitors’ military offerings by allowing extensive customisation options. Beyond simply featuring aircraft silhouettes on the dial or unit crests on the case back, clients can opt for a variety of modifications, depending on the size of their order. For example, the C-130J Hercules project features a small seconds hand shaped like the aircraft’s six-blade propellers; the F-14 Tomcat project has hands coloured to match the jet’s tailhook; and the movement rotors of the A-10C project are carved into the shape of the Hawg’s iconic 30mm autocannon. For our project we were able to use a GMT hand coloured to match our refueling boom and a bespoke time zone bezel that showed the ICAO codes of our frequently visited airports and air bases. The C-130J Bremont ALT1-Z (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) There are still some design rules to adhere to – Catherine notes “We have detailed documents regarding specific Terms and Conditions when it comes to designing and purchasing a Bremont Military and Special Project watch”. However, IYKYK acronyms sometimes appear on project dials that may skirt some of the restrictions (see: USAF KC-135’s “NKAWTG”, F-16CJ Super Weasel’s “YGBSM” and RAAF 75SQN’s “YKYMF”). Custom Bremont MBIIIs for F-16CJ Super Weasels and RAAF 75SQN (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) Once our design was finalized and eligibility criteria set, it was time for me to collect orders from my colleagues to meet the minimum number requirements. The amount of emotional energy invested during the design phase made this portion of the process particularly stressful. For many at military units, this is their first foray into the world of luxury mechanical watches so justifying the price tag can be a difficult feat but to help with this, Bremont offers significant discounts to it’s military customers. Once the minimum numbers were met and deposits paid, production began with the final product being delivered about nine months later. While the completion of production and delivery marks the end of the journey for most customers, a significant number of us choose to maintain a connection with the brand by engaging through social media, sharing photos of watches in action (use your tools!) or by dropping into local boutiques to share a story and enjoy a drink. It’s also worth noting the project leader can decide whether the project is a limited run or not. Even years after the first batch of deliveries, latecomers such as new squadron members or people who didn’t have the funds at the time can still get on board as Bremont maintains contact with the original project leader to ensure accurate verification of eligibility. Bremont's Military and Special Projects Division has become a pillar of the brand's success, accounting for almost 20% of its total sales. Interestingly, design ideas incubated by military projects can also overflow to Bremont’s core range. For example, the ALT1-WT was inspired by the C-17 Globemaster watch, the ALT-1B from a B-2 bomber project and the U-22 from an F-22 Raptor project. The purple, bronze and titanium-colored barrels across the MB range were all first featured on military projects. The F-22 Bremont U-22. The exposed date wheel was first for the brand and went on to inform the design of the civilian U-22 model. (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) The Bremont Military Instagram account showcases a myriad of professional and user-submitted photos, providing a glimpse into the vast number of individual projects the Military and Special Projects Division have produced with many more discreet projects remaining unseen by the public and unspoken about by the brand. When asked which projects were her personal favorites, Catherine responded “There are so many I could mention. Over the last 13 years Bremont has created and delivered almost 500 different military and special projects. Some of them are incredibly exciting but sadly the details of many projects cannot be shared. Design-wise, I would say the F-35 collection (F-35A, F-35B, F-35C and F-35 Dambuster) is very cool, the RAF Lancaster Bomber, HSM-85 Squadron, 89th Airlift, Grim Reapers 493rd Fighter Squadron, RSAF Tornado, the Royal Marine 350th, the new Royal Navy Submariners and of course the Australian KC-30A are personal favorites.” The KC-30A Bremont ALT1-WT on the beaches of Diego Garcia (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) Although military projects account for about 80% of the timepieces produced by the Military and Special Projects Division, watches are also made for civilian organizations. These clients have included BAE Systems, Oxbridge alumni, Rapha, FedEx pilots, Aston Martin Owners’ Club, Heathrow Air Traffic Controllers, REORG veterans’ charity, as well as rugby and cricket clubs. Moving forward, we can expect to see (or maybe only hear rumors of) many more bespoke Bremont Military and Special Projects watches that not only tell the time, but also tell the stories of the elite units, squadrons, ships and regiments that they have been created for.  READ NEXT: Marathon, Watch Maker For The Modern Military Author: Nic is an Australian military pilot that has been a follower of W.O.E. since the early days. He has a particular interest in custom military watch projects having designed and produced timepieces with multiple brands

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Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate...

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Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. (Photo Credit James Rupley) In Hollywood, watch decisions range from paid product placement (as seen with the Bond Omega) to actors' personal watches worn on set and prop masters making specific choices for what they deem is best for that character.  It’s a small detail, but as enthusiasm around horology grows, and viewers develop a more nuanced understanding of the details that make up a character for the growing number of watch enthusiasts, the watch becomes an element that says a lot about a character.  In this piece, we’ll take a look at several examples of W.O.E. in Hollywood and provide our thoughts on the watch choices for a given character.  Blood Diamond- Breitling Chrono Avenger: In Blood Diamond, Danny Archer, a Rhodesian smuggler and ex-mercenary, embarks on a hair-raising adventure to find a large diamond in the midst of the Sierra Leone Civil War. Leonardo DiCarprio's character wears a Breitling Chrono Avenger, with a black dial and solid titanium 44mm case on a brown calf leather strap.  Overall, this watch nails it.  We all know that sketchy dudes wear Breitling and a Rhodesian mercenary turned diamond smuggler is the very definition of sketchy.  The movie takes place in 1999, when Breitling was at the height of its sketchiness and was a go-to tool for gray area operators. Both former CEO of Blackwater Eric Prince and former British SAS turned African mercenary Simon Mann wore Breitling Emergencies.   Breitling has developed an almost cult-like following in the national security community. With strong roots in aviation, Breitling is a signal that one is adventurous but also appreciates fine craftsmanship in utilitarian tools. Breitling has cultivated this narrative through marketing and product development of unique tools for adventurers, particularly in the military and aviation space.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - Rolex Submariner In 13 Hours, Ty "Rone" Woods, a CIA Global Response Staff contractor played by James Badge Dale, wore a six digit Rolex Submariner while defending the State Department facility and the CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  As a former SEAL turned GRS contractor, this choice makes sense given the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community's long standing relationship with Rolex and Tudor.  As we have documented in the past, it is common for SEALs to commemorate a deployment or BUD/S graduation with a Rolex Submariner. In fact, according to research by Rolex Magazine, the real Tyrone had at least two watches: a Rolex Sea-Dweller reference 16660 and a Panerai Luminor Marina, which is also common in the Teams. As documented by Rolex Magazine, "On January 1st, 2010, late on a Friday night, he registered an account with RolexForums.com under the username sdfrog177. He wrote a post mentioning the sale of his Panerai Luminor Marina 44mm and a Rolex Sea-Dweller triple 6 model (1983-1984 model). Thanks, T.W., he signed at the bottom.” According to a declassified CIA document, “On the morning of September 12, the CIA Base was subjected to repeated mortar fire . . . Defending the Base from the rooftop, they died when a mortar round landed near them. Tyrone Woods loved his life, his family, and his country. All who knew him remember that he was a joy to be around and he always made people feel better. Tyrone was 41 years old.” Lord of War -  Platinum Rolex President Day-Date: Lord of War is a 2005 (mostly) fictional Hollywood account of the life of Viktor Bout, aka the "Merchant of Death," a notorious Russian arms dealer who took advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union to sell off the massive arms left over at significant profit. Yuri Orlov, played by Nicolas Cage, wears a platinum Rolex President Day-Date, overall a fitting timepiece for this uber-wealthy and charismatic character. Cage, an avid watch collector himself, has an impressive collection; it is possible this is a personal watch.  The real Merchant of Death, Viktor Bout, was arrested in a sting operation led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Bangkok in 2008.  During his arrest, Bout was wearing a Breitling B-1, a watch that he was able to wear while in detention for at least a month.  Another sketchy dude wearing a Breitling . . . in the business, we call this a pattern.  Terminal List - Oris, RESCO Instruments, IWC, Ares and more: (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Watches play a central role in former SEAL-turned-writer Jack Carr’s Terminal List book series.  Central to the story of James Reece is a legacy Rolex Submariner, purchased by his father, Thomas Reece, during an R&R in Saigon during his first tour in Vietnam with SEAL Team Two. The elder Reece went on to wear this Sub while serving as a CIA Case Officer overseas (sound familiar?). So it is no surprise that the Amazon series adaptation contains several accurate and well-placed watches for the lead (James Reece) and supporting characters.  We are told that these choices were organic and not product placements, which makes it even cooler.  (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) James Reece, played by Chris Pratt, wears several watches throughout the series, including an Oris Aquis Pro Date Calibre 400, Resco Instruments BlackFrog Gen2 Black PVD (an insider told us he wanted to wear a military watch in specific scenes), a G-Shock GA-100-1A1 and a period correct 5.11 Military Tactical Field Ops Watch.  Carr even makes a cameo in the film wearing an Ares Diver, who the founder of was former CIA. (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Overall, it is a well done series with great “watch spotting,” including several Oris, Digital Tool Watches (DTWs) and even an IWC Big Pilot IW500901 worn by Steve Horn (the villain- Jai Courtney).  Both Pratt and Carr are watch guys and it's cool to see these pieces featured, another subtle and accurate nod to our community. It’s always a joy when someone gets it right.  Magnum PI - Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master 16750: We have previously said that the Rolex GMT, any reference, is the ultimate CIA Case Officer’s watch– a classy and refined tool that signals to others you are a man of culture, yet don’t mind getting your hands dirty. The ideal Case Officer has been described as a “Ph.D. that can win a bar fight,” and this idiom covers Thomas Magnum well. (Photo Credit James Rupley) Magnum was a former SEAL, Naval Intelligence Officer and Vietnam War veteran. He’s the ultimate cool guy from the 80s and the Pepsi GMT is the perfect watch for him.  During an interview with Frank Rousseau, Selleck said of the watch: "I’ve always loved that watch. It was the perfect match for Magnum. It’s a watch that likes action, and believe me I know what I’m talking about. I’ve had my fair share of “sport” watches but never one as tough as the Rolex. It’s been underwater, buried in sand, taken I don’t know how many knocks, and never a problem. It’s called the Pepsi because the bezel colors are the same as the Pepsi logo. Personally, I thought the red went well with the Ferrari and the blue matched Hawaii’s lagoons and sky. " You might think you’re cool, and you might actually be cool, but you will never be Tom Selleck sporting a legendary mustache in a red Ferrari wearing a vintage Rolex GMT Pepsi cool. READ NEXT: Prince Harry The Military Watch Enthusiast This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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Third Option Foundation Fundraise - GBRS AOR-1 Watch Pouch and Challenge Coin

Third Option Foundation Fundraise - GBRS AOR-1 Watch Pouch and Challenge Coin

We are happy to announce the release of a special edition watch pouch and challenge coin in partnership with GBRS Group.  The pouch is constructed...

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We are happy to announce the release of a special edition watch pouch and challenge coin in partnership with GBRS Group.  The pouch is constructed with repurposed issued AOR-1 camouflage uniforms worn by GBRS co-founders and former Navy SEALs Cole Fackler and DJ Shipley.  Each order includes a W.O.E.-GBRS challenge coin.  $40 of every purchase will be donated directly to Third Option Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the CIA’s paramilitary officers of the Special Activities Center (SAC).  We expect to raise over $20,000 and will provide proof of the donation once the fundraiser is complete. Cole and DJ with donated uniforms, Panerais on the wrist. Overview:  This release is an updated version of one of our best selling products, the W.O.E. Travel Pouch and challenge coin.  Made in the USA, the single watch case is durable, compact and functional, and honors our community with subtle accents. Like a great watch, the case is a tool, made to be used and to last decades. The GBRS AOR-1 case has an updated card with red trim and the GBRS Old-English “g” is on one side of the watch card and the back of the watch case. AOR-1:  The case flap keeper is constructed with repurposed issued AOR-1 camouflage uniforms worn by Cole and DJ.  AOR-1 was introduced in 2010 for Navy Special Operations and was developed for desert/arid environments.  The pattern has been used widely throughout the Middle East and Africa. DJ wearing AOR-1 camouflage during free fall training. GBRS Group:  GBRS Group is a veteran-owned, Tier 1 training and services organization committed to imparting critical skills and real-world experiences to end-users in military, federal, state and local special operations units.  GBRS Group was founded by Cole Fackler and DJ Shipley, two former Navy SEALs who served in NSW Development Group, the Navy’s Tier 1 Special Mission Unit. Cole deployed overseas with NSW. As previously discussed in the Dispatch, Naval Special Warfare (NSW) has a long history with timepieces.  Since the early 1960’s, frogmen have utilized tool watches including Tudor, Seiko, G-Shock and various other dive watches.  Today, NSW continues this tradition with a strong culture of high end tool watches, including Panerai, Rolex, Tudor, Bremont and various other timepieces. Third Option Foundation:  The name refers to the motto of CIA's Special Activities Center: Tertia Optio, the President’s third option when military force is inappropriate and diplomacy is inadequate. Third Option Foundation is dedicated to providing comprehensive family resiliency programs, working behind the scenes to quietly help those who quietly serve. “You will probably never know the names of these silent heroes who defend our safety and freedoms in the most distant corners of the world. They’re often the first in and the last to leave many conflicts around the globe. For decades, the operators of CIA's Special Operations units have served and sacrificed in quiet anonymity.  Particularly in the years since 9/11, this small group, along with their families, has borne an unprecedented burden in the fight to protect our nation. The nature of their service means they and their loved ones cannot seek the support or relief available to military service members and their families. Third Option Foundation is the only organization that fills this gap, by providing crucial survivorship assistance and resiliency programs to heal the wounded, help the families of those we have lost, and support those who are still serving. “I was the commander of a unit that, within the span of about 18 months, sustained a number of casualties of operators killed in action overseas. There were more than a dozen children who were suddenly without fathers, and wives who had lost their husbands. As we were flying across the country notifying the families, we saw just how significant the need was for those family members for a safety net, for support and understanding. We decided to create an organization to address the really unique needs of our agency’s Special Operations community that weren’t being met. — Anonymous, Co-Founder of Third Option Foundation” At W.O.E., we are passionate about serving those who serve us and this is at the core of who we are as a business and community. We believe that doing good is good business and it would be hypocritical of us to not give back to our community. We will continue to be transparent about our support.   *Photos by James Rupley and GBRS. **W.O.E. has no affiliation with Third Option Foundation and this fundraiser is not officially endorsed by Third Option Foundation.   THIRD OPTION FOUNDATION IS A 501(C)(3) TAX-EXEMPT NATIONAL NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION.

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A Saudi Astronaut’s Rolex GMT at the International Space Station

A Saudi Astronaut’s Rolex GMT at the International Space Station

Saudi astronaut Ali Alqarni peered out the window of the International Space Station (ISS). The bright blue glow of the earth’s atmosphere roughly 250 miles...

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Saudi astronaut Ali Alqarni peered out the window of the International Space Station (ISS). The bright blue glow of the earth’s atmosphere roughly 250 miles below him filled his vista.  He slid his Rolex “Pepsi” GMT-Master II off his wrist and let it go, the watch drifting, weightless, right in front of the window. In a rare moment of serenity, Alqarni snapped a picture of the watch.  When I first came across the picture on @niccoloy’s Instagram page, I ignorantly assumed “Prince Ali '' was a wealthy Saudi, on a “mission” to the ISS.  As it turns out, Captain Alqarni was not a billionaire space tourist, but instead a professional aviator–a Captain in the Royal Saudi Air Force having logged over 2,000 hours of flight time and multiple combat deployments on the F-15.  While the Rolex GMT-Master II looked like any old Rolex, it was so much more– it was a symbol of Alqarni’s achievements, a commemorative watch purchased after his wedding and a complement to the Breitling B-1 he had worn since graduating flight school. It also pulled double duty as a true tool in the cockpit, the most fitting application of the watch considering its jet-age history.  We spoke with Alqarni, a follower of W.O.E., and found in him a passion for service to his country, and a sense of conviction that watches are meant as tools as well as extensions of our identity and symbols of our accomplishments. Like many space voyages before Axiom Mission 2, Alqarni’s trip was just as much cultural and political as it was scientific.  The Saudi Space Commission launched in 2017 as a part of Vision 2030, and Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi were the second and third, respectively, Saudis to reach space under the Saudi Space Commission. Barnawi, the first Saudi woman in space, is a stem cell researcher with a complementary skill set to Alqarni’s.  Barnawi wore a yellow “Mission to the Sun” Moonswatch on the ISS.   The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) hoped the mission would inspire the next generation of Saudi Arabian citizens to focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).    Alqarni’s commemorative Omega Speedmaster, also worn on the trip. Watches of Spaceflight (W.O.S.)? When it comes to “Watches of Astronauts” (W.O.A.?), we immediately think of the Omega Speedmaster, a watch with strong ties to space exploration and that most notably played an important role during Apollo 13.  But a plethora of other brands have exited earth's atmosphere, including a previous Rolex GMT worn on the wrist Dr. Edgar Mitchell during the Apollo missions. The Rolex GMT-Master was a logical watch given the robust movement and GMT function, and legendary US Air Force officer Chuck Yeager’s watch of choice is still prized by aviators to this day.   As with Intelligence and Special Operations, watches have a strong historical tie to space exploration, initially due to the functional aspect of a watch, but at present, their cultural significance is equally as strong.  That said, Alqarni noted that most modern astronauts relied on Digital Tool Watches (DTWs), proving more functional than mechanical watches. Fighter Pilot Turned Astronaut: Though Alqarni was passionate about watches from an early age, his real exposure to military watch culture originated during his flight training in the United States in 2011.  His US Air Force officer mentor wore a Breitling F-15 Airwolf "Eagle Driver" with his call sign engraved on the caseback.  The mentor explained the significance of squadron commissioned watches and as a result, Alqarni was hooked.  From humble roots and fresh off a scholarship from King Faisal Air Academy, Alqarni wasn’t in a position to buy a brand new watch, so he settled on a pre-owned Breitling B-1 to commemorate his graduation. As a part of the Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), Alqarni visited the  Space Center Houston and met a former F-16 pilot-turned-astronaut.  This planted the seed that eventually led Alqarni to a career as an astronaut, but with no Saudi space program at the time, future space travel seemed unlikely.  Alqarni also received his call-sign: “Prince Ali”, based on the playful assumption from US Airmen that Alqarni must be related to the Royal family, the type of culturally insensitive, but well-intentioned humor common in our community.   Over the next decade, Alqarni wore the Breitling B-1 throughout his training and combat deployments.  For the same reasons my personal Breitling Aerospace was ideal for clandestine operations around the globe, Alqarni’s B-1 was a practical tool watch for an F-15 pilot.  The digital screens and various functions allowed him to time flights and track multiple time zones.  It was a tool, but also a symbol of his accomplishments, his passion for flying and the significance of time in the world of aeronautics.  During our conversation, he proudly explained his devotion to aviation and said the tool was a symbol of that love.  He was proud of every scratch on it. The Rolex: In 2018, in preparation for his wedding day Alqarni walked into an Authorized Dealer in Jeddah and put his name on the list for the Rolex GMT-Master II on a Jubilee bracelet.  It was a logical choice for a professional pilot, the Pepsi GMT has strong roots in aviation.  For confirmation that “Prince Ali” is not a real Prince, look no further than the year he had to wait for his Rolex. Like the rest of us commoners, he had to wait a year until he received “the call” two months after his wedding.  Regardless of the wait, the watch immediately became a favorite and adorned his wrist on training missions and deployments.  The Rolex catapulted him down the watch rabbit hole, and his collection only grew over the years. Space Trip: In 2020, the Saudi Space Commission sent out the request for volunteers to travel on Axiom Mission 2, originally scheduled for early 2023.  The six month selection process whittled 200 applicants down to Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi.  It was a commercial spaceflight led by veteran NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.  As with previous spaceflights, the mission was a symbol of national pride and intended to signal that KSA was focused on the future.  The inclusion of a female member of the team was a clear message that KSA was focused on modernization.  Only in 2017 were women allowed to drive after a decree from King Salman. Alqrani’s personal effects and equipment were sent to the space station in advance, which included the Rolex GMT.  The GMT is noticeably absent from his wrist in pictures of Alqarani training for the mission.  Each spaceflight member was provided a custom Omega Speedmaster Professional.  The astronauts’ names and the team’s patch–a dragon capsule flanked with the Saudi and US flags–were engraved on the caseback. A patch honoring the mission’s focus on inspiration, education and teaching, symbolized by the five S.T.E.A.M symbols. Science represented by a DNA strand, Technology represented by a set of connected circles, Engineering represented by a cog, Arts represented by a brush, and Math represented by the Pi symbol.  The Mission: When Alqarni arrived at the ISS, he was provided access to his personal effects and equipment needed for scientific experiments in the zero gravity environment.  Alqarni nervously unwrapped the watch that he had not seen for six months, reflecting, “I was worried that the watch was not going to work.”  It was an emotional and symbolic moment: Both the watch and Alqarni had made it against all odds. And both were right on time. For Alqarni, the watch ticking embodied all that it took to get to the ISS and the sacrifice and triumph of the Saudi people. Quickly realizing that the jubilee bracelet was loose, a result of weight loss during training, Alqarni wound the watch and set the primary time to Zulu Time (Coordinated Universal Time), the time used by the ISS, and the secondary hand to Saudi Arabia (Zulu + 3).  Throughout the journey, Alqarni manipulated the bezel to quickly check the time for Tokyo, etc. as he traveled through space.    Zero Gravity: Alqarni explained that the self-winding automatic watch worked well in zero gravity conditions, the wrist movement and inertia was enough to move the pendulum.  Alqarni did not have to wind the watch again. After 10 days in space, the team splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on 30 May.  As Barnawi, the first Saudi woman to space, would say, “Every story comes to an end and this is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region.”   To commemorate the trip to space and build on the history of the Rolex GMT, Alqarni planned to engrave the caseback with the dates of the voyage as well as a note summarizing his accomplishments to date.  Alqarni currently has one daughter and has aspirations to grow his family. He hopes to give the watch to his children in the future. Who knows, they might even take it back to space one day.  Read Next: The Lasting Legacy Of The CIA’s Lockheed A-12 And The Watch That Served It

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D-Day Dirty Dozen Watches

D-Day, a Look at the Watches that Served Our Soldiers

79 years ago the most important Allied coordinated effort of WWII took place. These watches kept soldiers on time.  On Tuesday June 6th, 1944 the...

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79 years ago the most important Allied coordinated effort of WWII took place. These watches kept soldiers on time.  On Tuesday June 6th, 1944 the largest seaborne invasion in history occurred. Nearly 160,000 allied troops managed to change the course of WWII by storming the beaches of Normandy and setting off the liberation of France from the Nazis, and later, a victory. The invasion began at 6:30am, when soldiers started storming five beaches–Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword, Juno. Approximately 11,000 aircraft and 7,000 watercraft supported the invasion. Shortly before the landing, under the cover of darkness, Paratroopers, including commandos from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), were inserted into strategic spots inland in order to weaken the German defense network and provide a strategic advantage to the soldiers arriving by amphibious craft.  Operation Overlord, June 6, 1944 Today marks the 79th anniversary of the day this incredible effort took place. Roughly 73,000 Allied soldiers were lost over the course of the invasion.  “D-Day” as its known, typically refers to these Normandy landings, but in the larger military context, it refers to the exact time a combat action takes place. D-Day and H-Hour refer to the day an hour a coordinated effort is initiated. “D-Day”, in the case of the Normandy Invasion, was actually set for June 5th, but General Eisenhower made the choice to delay the attack due to rough seas and inclement weather.  General Eisenhower reportedly wore a Heuer Chronograph, as identified by @niccoloy (Government Archives)  In war, time matters. A massive concerted effort between Allied nations meant every single soldier had to be on time and operating in unison. The tool that helped orchestrate an invasion that shifted the outcome of the war? The humble wristwatch. In the 1940s, watches were hardly considered as the luxury accessories they are today. Soldiers wore watches that were issued to them as a part of the set of tools needed to do a very important job.  Photo Credit: Vertex Watches  History buffs, WWII enthusiasts, and even re-enactors pay incredible attention to details surrounding WWII, but somehow one of the most important pieces of kit–the watch–is often overlooked. At W.O.E. we care about nothing but details, so today, on the anniversary of D-Day, we’ll take a look at some of the watches that were on the wrists of soldiers, sailors, and airmen that were involved in the invasion.  The A-11 (produced by Bulova, Elgin, Waltham and others) Personal collection of former CIA Officer and W.O.E. contributor, J.R. Seeger. Commonly referred to as “the watch that won the war”, the A-11 was the most ubiquitous service watch during WWII. It’s a specification, rather than an actual watch, and that meant that various companies could produce watches to this spec and in turn, the government would purchase these watches and distribute them to service personnel. For its time, the specification set was exacting, the watch needed a black dial with white numerical indices, a manual-winding, hacking movement with center seconds, 10 minute markers, an hour and minute hand. The case came in at a compact 32 millimeters. The watches saw service with the Brits as well as the Americans.  The Army Ordnance Watch Army Time Piece (ATP) watch of the UK forces and the US Army Ordnance (ORD) on original OSS manual (Seeger’s personal collection) While the A-11 was rated for aviation operations (and specific maritime operations), the “ORD” watches were general-purpose watches issued to US soldiers en masse. The specification outlined in the TM 9-1575 War Department Technical Manual for Wrist Watches, Pocket Watches, Stop Watches allows for some variation in design, so Waltham, Hamilton, Bulova and Elgin all put their own twist on these watches meant to be mass produced for soldiers. These watches are distinguished by their white dials and “Ord Dept” engravings on the caseback.  The “Dirty Dozen” MoD Watches The Dirty Dozen - all twelve W.W.W. watches (Credit: A Collected Man) Most popular among collectors is a series of 12 watches produced by the likes of Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex. On all of these British-issued watches you’ll find W.W.W. (Watch, Wrist, Waterproof) and a broadarrow insignia engraved in the back. It’s unknown how many of each were produced because it’s believed that only WC, JLC, and Omega recorded their production at 6,000, 10,000,  and 25,000 respectively. The Dirty Dozen were general service watches, and that meant they saw service with various service roles across all functions of the military. While these pieces were not delivered until after D-Day at the conclusion of the war, they are a product of this conflict. IWC Dirty Dozen piece with original box (Credit: A Collected Man) We tend to romanticize the equipment used by service members carrying out brave efforts that changed the course of world history. Watches are certainly among the kind of things we tend to prescribe a certain importance to–and that’s not to be ignored, timekeeping is absolutely vital especially when it comes to a massive coordination such as Operation Overlord. But watches only supported the mission as a piece of gear with an assigned function. They were, and always will be, tools to get the job done. Today we honor and remember the valiant efforts of Allied service members 79 years ago to this day, and the actions taken by them that resulted in a free world that flourishes.  Read Next: CIA’s JAWBREAKER Team And A Rolex Submariner  

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Best Watches Under $1,000 - Ask the Experts

Best Watches Under $1,000 - Ask the Experts

One of the coolest parts of the W.O.E. platform is exposing people to the world of watches in an unpretentious and engaging manner.  Getting into...

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One of the coolest parts of the W.O.E. platform is exposing people to the world of watches in an unpretentious and engaging manner.  Getting into watches can be intimidating and it is difficult to know where to start. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000.  Just because you can afford a Rolex, doesn't mean you should start there.   In the “Ask W.O.E. Anything” Dispatch, I put forward my belief that a Seiko is a good place to start, and maybe end with watch collecting.  That said, there are some great watches under $1,000 and there is no right answer to this question.  In order to capture a broad collection of suitable watches, we asked a handful of our friends from both the traditional watch and NatSec communities to provide their choice for the “Best Watch Under $1,000.” This is an incredibly diverse list of individuals from former Special Operations warriors, Intelligence Officers, and divers, to some of the leading experts in the watch community.  The one thing they all have in common is a shared appreciation for watches.  While all of them have objectively more “expensive” watches in their collection, they have a genuine appreciation for these more affordable timepieces. CWC Royal Navy Jason Heaton, author, freelance writer, and podcast host, The Grey NA TO and author of Depth Charge. I’ve long contended that the CWC Royal Navy dive watch is the watch a “real” James Bond would wear, at least the 21st-century iteration of MI6’s famous “blunt instrument” spy. Issued since the 1980s to British Navy divers and Special Forces operators, it is a tough, classic, unassuming watch that can truly go anywhere and manages the balance between looking good and not drawing attention to itself. The quartz version (Approx. $930), with its 300 meters of water resistance, long-life battery, and fixed strap bars means its owner can go forth in the world on adventures, clandestine or otherwise, without having to worry about his watch. And that’s the highest of compliments, in my mind.  Seiko Prospex SNJ025 aka The 'Arnie' Chris Craighead, former British Special Air Service (SAS), @christian_craighead The Seiko Prospex ($525) has a unique and rich history. Not only was it worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies such as Commando, Predator, and Raw Deal, it was also one of the first watches issued to an East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare (NSW) unit. The watch is extremely tough and practical. The dual, analog and digital face makes it a versatile watch for whatever purpose you choose to wear it. Tornek-Rayville TR-660  Brock Stevens, Active Duty US Navy Diver, EDC enthusiast, and photographer behind @deepsea_edc.  The Tornek-Rayville TR-660 ($950) is a no-frills, straight-to-the-point tool watch. As an active duty US Navy Diver who believes in wearing watches for their intended purposes, I love that about it. With a robust movement, 200 meters of water resistance, a legible dial, and lightning bright lume, I count on this watch to get the job done during my working dives. I have beat the living hell out of this thing, banging it around on just about every type of warship the US Navy has to offer, and it just keeps on ticking. Any watch can sit in the collection and look pretty, but if you’re after ultimate function and genuine military heritage at a reasonable price point, look no further. Rowing Blazers X Seiko 5 Sports Watch (Limited Edition 2023)  Eric Wind, leading expert in vintage watches. Eric founded and owns Wind Vintage  The Seiko 5 Sports line offers some of the best accessible mechanical watches on the market. Having had a bunch over the last few years, they are solid, reliable, and attractive - a winning combination. I really like the model we have used for our latest Rowing Blazers x Seiko watches ($495) as it is 40mm, but wears slightly smaller and looks great on men or women. They are hard to argue with for under $500 and are great for travel, the pool, and whatever else you might need. Sangin Instruments “Neptune” James Rupley, Co-founder of small arms reference publishing industry leaders, Vickers Guide and Headstamp Publishing. Regular photographic contributor to W.O.E. I subscribe fully to the “buy cheap, buy twice” maxim, so buying an inexpensive watch can actually be a riskier proposition than buying a much more expensive watch. Is there a $200 watch that you can be happy with forever? It’s a fascinating question, and you can easily blow a day on YouTube watching others try to answer it.  As someone who spends so much time photographing collectibles, aesthetic merit is always going to be a dominant factor in just about anything I focus on. I think the Sangin Instruments “Neptune” ($859) is an excellent example of a watch that skillfully blends functional elements with an attractive design. I love that the Neptune comes with both a metal bracelet and a rubber strap – options that offer me plenty of variety for use in any situation. Timex Marlin Automatic Marty Skovlund, Jr., Former Army guy, avid coffee drinker, aspiring sketchy dude, current Editor-in-chief of Task & Purpose I love a classy watch that is comfortable on the wrist but doesn’t draw attention or accusations of elitism. Timex is the opposite of elite in the watch world, and they make a helluva wrist piece that you aren’t afraid of wearing as a daily driver. And frankly, I wore a digital Timex Ironman on many deployments in a past life, so a non-digital, automatic Timex with a day and date complication feels like a natural evolution. I love mine, and it’s one of the most affordable automatics on the market. The Timex Marlin Automatic ($269) rocks a 40mm stainless steel case, a beautiful deep navy blue dial, and a classic domed acrylic crystal — it looks like a compromise between an ultra-rugged sport watch and a black tie dress watch. This isn’t a go-everywhere, do-anything piece with only 50m of water resistance and a crystal that’s easy to scuff; but it’s perfect for long days at the office or hitting all of Hemingway’s old drinking spots in Madrid in a single day. Pro tip: My Timex Marlin came with a leather strap too orange for my taste. I swapped it out for a W.O.E. Jedburgh Leather strap, and that dark brown leather complements the navy dial perfectly. Seiko Turtle Dave Hall, SOCS (SEAL), USN, Ret. Retired US Navy SEAL. Watch and firearms enthusiast. @davehall1911 The Seiko “Turtle” ($300-600), a nickname for the 6309-7040, could easily be described as the “AK-47 of the watch world”. It’s simple, rugged, affordable, reliable, and has stood the test of time with little necessary improvement. The watch is at home underwater, in freefall, or running an obstacle course. It’s accurate enough to keep track of your total time of dive, calculate M700 time fuse burns, or keep track of your dune run times. You don’t have to take it off to enter a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) and it is as equally at home on a direct-action mission as it is at the hotel bar in Zangaro (“Dogs of War” cameo reference). The modern Turtle, known as the Prospex SRPE93, has all the same clean lines and durability from the original 6309 and keeps better time than ever. Tornek-Rayville Paradive  J.R. Seeger, retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer and author of seven MIKE4 espionage novels and three Steampunk Raj novels set in WWI.  T-R is a US-based watch company that builds field and dive watches that have the DNA of 1960s and 1970s MIL-SPEC watches. The Paradive ( approx. $900) is a modern take on the vintage Benrus Type 1. It is a bead-blasted stainless steel, purpose-built automatic watch with excellent luminous markings and comes with either a standard dive bezel or a 12-hour bezel providing a means to track two time zones. The watch has a depth rating of 200m. It is the most robust dive watch I own. T-R is a small company and there is a wait time while they make your watch. It is well worth the wait. Marathon Navigator Steel SSNAV-D James Stacey, Lead Editor with Hodinkee.com and co-host of The Grey NA TO podcast. If we’re talking about a great tool watch under a grand and you really want to use it, you can’t do much better than the new steel version of Marathon’s long-standing (and long-serving) Navigator ($800). Trading the common and gov’t issue-ready composite case for one in steel, this newly announced Marathon is still 41mm wide, 11mm thick, and sports a field-ready 12-hour bezel. Add to that a high-accuracy quartz movement, 100 meters of water resistance, and tritium tube illumination and you've got a worker. It’s a modernized take on a classic design that traces its lineage across some of the toughest locales that our world has (and had) to offer and it remains a watch that was primarily designed to be offered in contract to governments and special outfits all over the globe and the new steel version even has its own Nato Stock Number. If you want a go anywhere, do anything watch that remains subtle but tough enough for any sort of work, the Navigator is a natural in steel - just add your fav color NA TO. I recommend grey. Sangin Dark Professional Asha Wagner, HazMat Team Manager for a National Disaster Response Task Force and watch and gear enthusiast. @wildlander6 My pick for a sub $1,000 watch is my Sangin Dark Professional ($658). This has been my go-to work, play and travel watch for the past few years. The reasons why I keep opting for this watch are it’s durable, versatile, and comfortable. I am a full-time Fire Captain and a HazMat Team Manager for a National Disaster Response Task Force and am also pretty active with a bunch of outdoorsy hobbies in my off time. I am rough on equipment and an impact-prone individual. I need a watch that can keep up with me and that I don’t have to worry about whether I’m scuba diving or breaching and forcing entry into a building. The Dark Pro has taken everything I’ve thrown at it and come up smiling. As far as versatility it is a 300-meter dive watch with a 24-hour GMT hand, drilled lug holes for easy strap changes, a fully indexed, unidirectional count-up bezel with bright long lasting lume, and a color-matched date wheel at 4:30. The date wheel is there when I need it, and all but disappears when I don’t. The crazy bright lume is great in inclement situations, plus lume just downright makes me happy. The case comes in at 43.5 mm, but with a 20mm lug width 12 mm thickness, and 42 mm bezel, it wears sleeker than its specs might initially suggest. It’s a watch that doesn’t draw a lot of undue attention depending on where I’m traveling, but at the same time makes me smile every time I look at it.  Mine is a co-branded watch with Triple Aught Design and comes in at $795.   Halios Seaforth IV Justin Couture, “The Wristorian” Freelance blogger fascinated by the historical context surrounding vintage tool watches. @the_wristorian Being a vintage guy at heart, I am ever on the lookout for a watch that combines old-school design language with modern capability. Enter the Halios Seaforth IV ($775), the newest iteration of what could now be called a horological cult classic. With Goldilocks dimensions and a clear focus on legibility, the Seaforth IV effortlessly exudes the sort of skindiver vibes that will make you want to inexplicably take up spearfishing. Factor in the brilliant Bahama Yellow dial and the titanium case option and you’ve got the apex predator of modern microbrand divers. Pro-tip for the WOE crowd, for added utilitarianism the Seaforth can be made into a destro configuration by request. Seiko SKX Nick Ferrell, Founder DC Vintage Watches Vintage Seiko is rich in history, and none more than the venerable Seiko SKX, worn on the wrist of many military and intelligence officers I've worked with - both previously employed with the government, and now as customers - the world over.  The SKX line has long been a "gateway drug" for watch collectors just starting down the slippery slope towards obsession, as it was for me.  One of my first Seiko's, I wore the 1999 Seiko SKX007 (on the right) throughout a two-year tour in the White House Situation Room, and it served me well.  And this is a two-for-one - a savvy hunter can find both the SKX and the steel-grey dial 1960s Seiko 7625-8233 dress watch, absurdly large for the era, in good nick for under $1k.  A fantastic two-watch collection, perhaps? Scurfa Diver One D1-500 Benjamin Lowry, Writer, US Coast Guard veteran, former commercial diver, and curator of @submersiblewrist.  With my background in commercial diving, I was always going to be a fan of Scurfa Watches, a brand owned and operated by Paul Scurfield, a North Sea commercial saturation diver. Beyond our occupational connection, the watches themselves represent class-leading value for the busy diving tool watch category, pairing impressive specifications with the legitimacy that comes with having been developed and tested in the owner’s salty workplace. The Diver One D1-500 is the brand’s centerpiece, offering 500 meters of water resistance, excellent lume, an automatic helium escape valve (which, in this very rare case, makes sense), a domed sapphire crystal, and a Swiss quartz caliber from Ronda, all housed within a surprisingly restrained 40mm wide by 47.7mm long case.  While I’m nowhere near as cool as Paul, I have worn the Diver One extensively in recreational and commercial diving scenarios, including at least one near-death experience. Priced around $200, which is insane, the Scurfa Diver One is a great way to live the #useyourtools ethos we subscribe to around here without breaking the bank.  Tornek-Rayville TR-660 Owner of Soturi, - Marine veteran-owned handmade watch straps inspired by military heritage.   When I came across the Tornek-Rayville TR-660 ($950) it instantly hooked me. As an avid enthusiast of military watches, the T-R’s slab-sided case, matte finish, and lighter weight are everything you want in a field/dive watch. Simple, yet significant. Add-on T-R’s intriguing history with U.S. Special Operations (the TR-900 model) and you have yourself a winning combination that’s hard to compete with. Bonus - its integrated lug/pin holes make for easy swapping of your favorite watch straps.  “Arabic Seiko'' W.O.E., former CIA Case Officer turned watch influencer The 42mm “Arabic Seiko'' ref SNKP21J1  (aka the Seik-W.O.E. aka the W.O.E. hype watch) is popular in the W.O.E. community.  In part this is because it is a cool and unique piece at an affordable price point and received consistent coverage on W.O.E., but just as importantly because of the meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec identify with this connection. ($130-$200) READ NEXT: W.O.E. Holiday Gift Guide

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CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC

CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC

We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight...

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We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. A timepiece is a crucial and often overlooked

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EDC Travel Valet & Bottle Opener - The Story

EDC Travel Valet & Bottle Opener - The Story

Keeping your watches and tools organized is important and having a central location in your house for your wallet, keys, watch and other tools is...

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Keeping your watches and tools organized is important and having a central location in your house for your wallet, keys, watch and other tools is crucial.  So we designed our own W.O.E. Everyday Carry (EDC) Valet for at-home use or while on the move.  Each order includes a W.O.E. Surreptitious Beverage Entry Tool (S-BET), aka a challenge coin bottle opener.

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South African Issued Tudor Submariners - Making Time Podcast

South African Issued Tudor Submariners - Making Time Podcast

Our good friends Darren and Ross Povey from Tudor Collector discussed the history of military issued Tudor Submariners on the most recent episode of “Making...

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Our good friends Darren and Ross Povey from Tudor Collector discussed the history of military issued Tudor Submariners on the most recent episode of “Making Time” podcast.  We plan to do a complete W.O.E. Dispatch on South African MilSubs in the future but this is a great opportunity to learn about the history of Tudor and various military watches from the expert.  South African MilSubs are controversial pieces given the ties to the South African Defence Force, but they are fascinating snapshots into that period of history.   Pictured above is a black 7016 from approximately 1974.  I acquired this piece from Ross when I visited Zulu Alpha in Liverpool last year and it is the crown jewel of my collection.  There are fewer than 10 confirmed pieces.  As many of you know, I have spent much of my life living and working in Africa and this piece has long been a “grail” watch for me.  It’s an honor to be the custodian today.  See above for the story of the watch and how W.O.E. became the lucky owner.

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Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part III

Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part III

In this edition of the Dispatch, we’ll answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these...

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In this edition of the Dispatch, we’ll answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these responses can – and probably will at some point–serve as stand alone stories, but for now, here’s some additional insight on Watches of Espionage. If you have any more questions, please ask in the comments section and we’ll address them in a following article. See past questions “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part I” and “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part II” 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf with the SAS insignia at 9 o'clock. (Courtesy SAS Melvyn Downes) W.O.E. recently posted a SAS Breitling Avenger with the Special Air Services (SAS) insignia on the dial, do unit watches cause OPSEC issues? We have extensively covered “Unit Watches” from various Intelligence and Special Operations organizations and profiled programs from Tudor, Bremont and Omega.  To summarize, a unit watch is one that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization inside the military. Civilian organizations inside the NatSec space can also receive these watches, but the term “Unit Watch” almost exclusively applies to military units. Customizations to the watch can include the unit’s insignia on the dial and/or a custom engraving on the caseback.  While more honorific in nature, we have documented many instances of these watches worn operationally overseas.  This has caused many to question if the watch itself is an “Operational Security” (OPSEC) vulnerability.  If an individual is captured, wouldn't the “bad guys” know he was a member of the SAS? British SAS G Squadron Richard Williams wearing a custom 22 Special Air Service Breitling Avenger Seawolf in Iraq. The fact of the matter is that most elite units (even Tier One SpecOps) operate overtly most of the time.  While deployed to a War Zone, they’re generally wearing uniforms with their nation’s flags on their plate carriers and are not “under cover.”  While elite units and intelligence organizations certainly have operations where they operate under some form of cover, including posing as businessmen, most of the time this isn’t the case for someone in an “assaulter” role or even CIA Paramilitary Officer.  If an individual is operating under a “Non-Official Cover” (i.e. not a government official) then they certainly would not wear a Unit Watch.  They would pick a watch to match their persona.  Given the rapid proliferation of digital timepieces, many “operators” choose to wear a G-Shock, Suunto or other digital watch while operational, and reserve the unit watch for the garrison. What was the most dangerous thing you did at CIA?  The job of a Case Officer is to collect intelligence– to steal secrets through recruiting and running human assets (“spies”).  It's more dangerous than the average trade, but it's certainly not like it is in the movies. I never got into a fistfight in an elevator, a high-speed chase through a European capital, or performed a risky surreptitious entry into a Russian oligarch's dacha.  Most of my work was discreetly meeting with assets and liaison services in cafes, back alleys, and hotel rooms to collect intelligence. W.O.E. in Afghanistan, early 2000s.  W.O.E. in Sudan, early 2000s, Breitling Aerospace on the wrist. The easy answer to this question would be “warzone” assignments, where during the Global War on Terror, IEDs, shootings, and kidnappings were a real and present threat.  That said, in a warzone, Case Officers carry guns, wear body armor and generally operate alongside GRS and/or paramilitary officers.  The most dangerous thing I did was operate alone in Africa, and in one specific capital where crime, terrorism, and counterintelligence risks from the local service were deemed “critical.”  During this assignment, I did my cover job during the day and then at night went out on the street alone and without a phone (read CIA Officers and Apple Watches).  After a multi-hour Surveillance Detection Route, I met developmentals and recruited assets in hotels, bars, dark alleys, and cars hunkered down in low-trafficked areas of town.  Most of the time I was unarmed, as being caught with a firearm would have posed significant problems for my cover (see CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC).  The risk from terror groups and the local intelligence service was significant, but the constant exposure to the streets, and everything that comes with that, night after night over a multi-year assignment dramatically increased the probability of carjacking and violent crime, something that can generally be avoided for the average tourist or business traveler. Do you only wear your watches on straps?  How do you feel about bracelets? (Photo Credit: James Rupley) It is no secret that W.O.E. loves straps. This has led our own line of leather and nylon straps that we designed. I constantly rotate my watches through a plethora of straps and it’s a great way to change up the look and feel of a watch.  That said, it is hard to beat a well-designed bracelet and I wear my watches regularly on the original bracelet.  Rolex Oyster and Jubilee bracelets are incredibly comfortable and are probably my favorite.  Most of the watches in my collection, including Tudor, IWC, and Breitling also all come on great bracelets.  The one exception is Seiko and particularly the Arabic Seiko: the bracelet feels cheap and I threw that one in the trash as soon as I got it.  So in short, yes, I am a big fan of bracelets.  After wearing a watch on a nylon or leather strap for a while, it is always refreshing going back to the original bracelet. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) How do you store watches and do you use a watch winder? If you have more than two to three watches of value, you need to invest in a safe that is mounted to the wall or floor.  Frankly, no matter what, it is worth acquiring a fireproof safe for valuables, firearms, and important documents.  For years I have kept my watches in affordable (read cheap) plastic cases and put them inside the safe.  Like all of our designs, I have made them for myself and the 6 Watch Storage & Travel Case is exactly the type of case I have used for years (but much better quality than the ones I used to purchase off Amazon).   There are some fantastic high-end watch cases and watch boxes (like Bosphorous Leather) that are true works of art, but it is hard for me to justify spending that type of money on something that will mostly sit in a safe.  There are also some really cool “display cases” on the market, but unless you have a walk-in safe, this is a sign to the goons that reads “take me.” Bosphorus Leather “Watch Collector Case” (Photo Credit: Bosphorus Leather) I have never used a watch winder.  There is conflicting information on whether a watch winder is good or bad for watches but it generally seems like if you have new watches you should be okay.  That said, many of my watches are vintage and I would not want to keep them winding every day. It’s simply not necessary.  However, the main reason I do not use a watch winder is cost.  A 4 Piece Wolf watch winder starts at over $2,000.  I would much rather use that money to purchase a pre-owned Breitling or Tudor or multiple Seikos.  Additionally, I actually enjoy setting the time on my watch each time I pick one up to wear it.  It’s something of a ritual to take a few minutes to wind the watch and set the time.  And yes, I always set the correct time on my watches. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) In purchasing a pre-owned Rolex, do "Box and Papers" matter? Vintage watch dealer Eric Wind has famously said that, "Saying you only want to buy a vintage watch if it has the original box and papers is the equivalent of walking around a high school with a ‘Kick Me’ sign taped to your back—except it says, ‘Rip Me Off.’ ”  Given his breadth of experience, I will take this at face value. (Photo Credit: James Rupley) That said, I do enjoy having a “full set” when possible because it’s a neat historical addition to the watch, but I would not necessarily pay the extra premium for a piece of paper that can easily be forged.  A few years ago I purchased an early 1980s “Root Beer” Rolex GMT Master 1675/3 with the original box and papers from the original owner.  The receipt shows the exact day and store where he purchased the watch in the Caribbean.  It’s a piece of living history and part of the story of that watch.  While I rarely look at the paperwork, it is a something I treasure because it’s part of the ephemeral nature of ownership and a sign that the watch has seen plenty before–and hopefully after me.  One of these boxes is fake, can you tell which?  “Box and papers” can add $1,000-2,000+ to the price of a pre-owned watch, and for me, this is simply not worth it.  Of all the things to fake, the papers are the easiest to forge, and boxes are often paired with pre-owned watches and it’s difficult to determine originality. What are some good fiction spy books? There are plenty of great classic espionage fiction authors a la John le Carre and Rudyard Kipling; however, if you are looking for contemporary works, my favorite authors are Jason Matthews (former Case Officer and Breitling owner), David McCloskey (former CIA Analyst), Jack Carr (former Navy SEAL) and David Ignatious (journalist and columnist with Washington Post).  With the exception of Ignatius, all of these authors come from the IC/SpecOps and have real world experience.   (Photo Credit: James Rupley) It’s impossible to write about our community with authority if you have not lived it, and each one of these pieces contain little “if you know, you know” nuggets that cannot be faked.  Further, the fiction genre often allows the authors to include details that otherwise would have been removed by the CIA’s publication review. (there have been multiple items in the above books that were removed from my work because they were considered “classified.”) Movie adaptation of Red Sparrow Additionally, it will come as no surprise that watches are mentioned and often play a central role in all/most of these pieces. Red Sparrow trilogy- Former CIA officer Jason Matthews Agents of Innocence - David Ignatious  Damascus Station- Former CIA Analyst David McCloskey Terminal List series- Former Navy SEAL For military fiction and the future of warfare, check out 2034 and Ghost Fleet.  What do you think about the recent Moonswatch/Blancpain releases? I don’t think about them. Why has the W.O.E. platform been so successful?  What advice do you have for growing my Online Journal/Instagram page? W.O.E.’s “quick” growth and high engagement is largely due to the fact that it’s such a niche topic, with broad appeal.  But the real “secret” is authenticity.  This is a passion and a hobby and I never set out for this to be a business.  I genuinely enjoy researching topics and creating products for our community.  In fact, I don’t post on topics that will get high engagement, instead I write about things that I find interesting.  A successful article is one that I enjoyed researching and writing, not one that gets a lot of likes and comments.  The community (you) is not stupid and can see through anything that is artificial, fabricated, or click bait. If you are interested in launching a podcast, newsletter or social media page, my advice is to identify a niche topic that you are passionate about and have a unique perspective on and double down on that. Lastly, this takes time.  While W.O.E. might seem like an overnight success, I have put a lot of effort into cultivating this content to provide this resource to our community. Like with anything, consistency is key. Would you wear a fake watch/Rolex? I can think of very few instances where wearing a fake Rolex is acceptable. In response to “Trading A Rolex To Get Out Of A Sticky Situation - Myth Or Reality?” several commenters suggested traveling with a fake Rolex for bartering.  The logic may be sound, but if you are really at the point where you have decided to part with a $5-10k watch, your life is likely on the line and the cost is trivial.  Further, whoever you are giving the watch to is presumably in a position of power and likely someone you do not want to piss off should they determine the watch is fake. Seized fake Rolex by US Customs and Border Protection I have heard of some people with expensive watch collections that have “dummy” displays in their house, the idea being that if someone breaks in to steal their collection, they would take the fake watches without realizing the real collection is hidden in a safe.  This is something that could potentially make sense, but is not necessarily something I would advise.  If someone goes the distance to specifically target you for your watch collection, they are likely going to be pissed to find out they stole fake watches, and may come back for retribution.  No watch is worth your life. All that said, I do have a fake Rolex Submariner that I received as a gag gift from a wealthy friend in Dubai.  I have never worn it or even taken out the links to fit it to my wrist.  Who knows, maybe it will come in handy one day. How accurate is your portrayal of your life and W.O.E.? When it comes to long-form writing, all of my stories and personal anecdotes are 100% accurate.  I have several friends from the community that read the Dispatch regularly and my Signal messages would immediately light up if I started making up there I was stories for clout.  Of course, I do change times/dates/locations and minor details for the sake of anonymity (or if the CIA’s Prepublication Review Board advises I do so). In many ways, being anonymous allows me to be more honest in my writing.  I recently posted a picture of my entire watch collection.  This could easily be construed as bragging about material possessions and is something I would never do on a personal social media account.  In fact, most of my close friends don’t even know about the number of watches I own or the value of my watch collection.  Anonymity permits me to engage in a form of honesty that would otherwise be self-corrected.  While my portrayal of my life and thoughts are genuine, I do think a lot of people interpret this as a persona of something I am not.  I am not a commando or Jason Bourne.  I am a (relatively) normal guy who is fortunate enough to do some abnormal things with extraordinary people.  For that I am very grateful. What is the future of Watches of Espionage? Our goal for Watches of Espionage is to become the number one resource for military, intelligence, and NatSec content and products as it relates to timepieces. Long-form written articles are our main product, and we intend to keep this free and open for everyone to learn from. In 2023, we set the foundation for this expansion with the establishment of the website, development of some incredible products, and expansion of written form content. We raised $24,800 for Third Option Foundation and we have more fundraisers scheduled for this year that will be both meaningful and interesting. We have resisted offers from advertisers so that we can maintain complete editorial control of our content.  Remaining authentic and representing our community respectfully is key to our past and future success and we will not sell out for a quick buck.  W.O.E is and always will be an enthusiast platform solely for our community, and it's not for everyone. Over the coming year, we hope to expand the number of articles per week and potentially move into other mediums.  Regarding products, we are happy to now have W.O.E. products in stock and we are working on some new and exciting projects for 2024, including some EDC items.  We are also still in the initial stages of producing W.O.E. content in a print medium, something that we are being methodical about to make sure we get it right. We appreciate those who have supported W.O.E., as this support will give us the opportunity for increased quality content and products. As always, thank you for the support.  This would not be possible without you. Stay tuned, -W.O.E. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   -- This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Best Watches Under $1,000 - Ask the Experts

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Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage

Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from...

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Top Dispatch Articles of 2023 - Watches of Espionage  As 2023 comes to a close, we take a look at the top Dispatch articles from the year.  Thank you for all of your support, we look forward to a great year in 2024. -W.O.E. 10. Hollywood Watches of Espionage Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. Continue Reading 9. Trading a Rolex to Get out of a Sticky Situation - Myth or Reality? The "Escape and Evasion" Rolex The final requirement to be certified as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) is to pass the certification course at a classified government training center commonly referred to as “the Farm.”  Students learn the tradecraft to clandestinely recruit and handle assets.  The entire learning process is a surreal experience, and the atmosphere at “the Farm” is somewhere between a college campus with a constant stream of students riding by on cruiser bikes (IYKYK), a covert paramilitary base with state-of-the-art tactical facilities, and Hogwarts, a place where you learn the dark arts they don’t teach in regular school. Continue Reading 8. Bond: A Case for Omega Here, we will first share the full story of Omega’s origins with James Bond, followed by a detailed analysis of the history of product placement in Bond, and the critical role it plays in keeping the franchise alive. While this piece does not serve as a direct response to the first Dispatch, it aims to present a more thorough history of Bond, offer a better understanding of why adjustments have been made, and propose a case for why we can celebrate Omega’s inclusion in 007’s history Continue Reading 7. Remembering the Legacy of Billy Waugh Through His Watches Former CIA Paramilitary Officer Billy Waugh passed away at the age of 93 exactly one week ago; but we don’t mourn his death–instead we celebrate his incredible life of service in the best way we know how–through his timepieces. William “Billy” Waugh is the Forest Gump of CIA and Special Forces with a larger than life personality and an uncanny knack for adventure. At the conclusion of WWII he attempted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps at age 15. His age got in the way, but three years later, in ‘48, he successfully enlisted in the United States Army, launching a career that would become nothing short of legendary in the Special Operations community. Continue Reading 6. Advice for Buying a Watch The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. Continue Reading 5. The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military The History Of G-Shocks And The US Military - Benjamin Lowry Forty years have passed since the introduction of the Casio G-Shock in 1983. And while the basic formula behind the world’s most durable watch has remained largely unchanged since the legendary DW-5000C first hit store shelves, the world of warfare and the United States Military in particular have made significant strides in both equipment and tactical doctrine. Conflicts in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia/Herzegovina were waged in a bygone analog era, influenced by lessons learned in the Vietnam War. But the terrorist attacks of September 11th changed all of that, embroiling the United States in a new type of war based on counter-insurgency in the digitally-augmented age. Continue Reading 4. CIA Officers and Apple Watches Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat. Continue Reading 3. CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC A Real “Spy’s” Every Day Carry (EDC)  We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. Continue Reading 2. Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s) The Shield Protects the Crown:  W.O.E. is a watch snob–or at least I was. For years, I looked down on Tudor as an inferior tool watch existing in the shadow of its big brother Rolex. I never understood why someone with a Rolex would purchase a Tudor.  After all, Tudor is a poor man's Rolex, or so I thought. Most haters are motivated by insecurity, but my views were simply shaped by ignorance. I didn’t know much about Tudor and was unaware of Tudor’s long standing relationship with the Intelligence and Special Operations communities, a personally relevant intersection. Continue Reading 1. Casio F-91W, the Preferred Watch of Terrorists The Terrorist Timepiece - Casio F-91W The Casio F-91W’s reputation looms large in both horology and national security circles, and for good reason. The simple, cheap and effective plastic watch is likely one of the most ubiquitous timepieces on the planet, with an estimated three million produced each year since sometime in the early 1990s. However, the watch that is coveted by hipsters and former presidents alike has a more sinister utility: it has been used to deadly effect as a timer for explosive charges and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and worn regularly by members of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other transnational militant groups. Continue Reading

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Tactical Watches & Christmas Films - Die Hard, Lethal Weapon & Home Alone

Tactical Watches & Christmas Films - Die Hard, Lethal Weapon & Home Alone

Movie Watches To Watch For This Christmas Season: Watches of Espionage Edition Like we’ve always said here at W.O.E., tradition matters. It’s what builds culture...

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Movie Watches To Watch For This Christmas Season: Watches of Espionage Edition Like we’ve always said here at W.O.E., tradition matters. It’s what builds culture and forms the pillars of our community. And during the Holiday season, tradition means appreciating the cinematic masterpiece that is Die Hard. As usual, we’ll look at the movie–and a couple other Christmas movies– through the lens of watches and national security. Die Hard- “It’s the greatest Christmas story ever told”  Inside the wrist- tacticool style There are people out there that might tell you Die Hard is not a Christmas Movie. The debate has been going on for over 30 years. We’re not going to take a position on the matter other than saying that the movie is playing theaters right now. You can go see the movie, in 2023, during the holiday season. It doesn't matter what naysayers think. It’s a Christmas movie. A family comes together, a Christmas holiday is saved, and everything is merry and bright in the end. Re-creation Die Hard layout using a Tag model 932.206 from our friend @movementsofaction With that being said, let’s get into why the TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph is a fitting watch for protagonist John McClane, masterfully played by Bruce Willis. McClane is a NYC cop, and in 1988 when the movie came out, the city was grappling with a massive crack cocaine problem and a record number of homicides–1,842 in total. The streets were tough. McClane was tougher. He’s a little rough around the edges, and that unpolished element of his character was exacerbated by his newly-estranged wife moving his family to Los Angeles. While visiting her for her company’s holiday Christmas party, all hell breaks loose as a group of German terrorists hold the entire party hostage, killing a few employees in the process. With his skills learned from being a cop on the mean streets of New York and his knack for improvisation, McClane jumps into action…and you know the rest. Yippee Ki Yay, motherf*cker! TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph - worn inside the wrist allows McClane to check the time while putting in work. Worn inside the wrist in true tacticool fashion is a TAG Heuer 3000 Series Quartz Chronograph. It’s the perfect watch for McClane. The NYPD isn’t issuing watches, so this is a private purchase–or a gift from his ex-wife. It has a blue-collar character to it, and it’s the sort of watch that’s charming because it isn’t really a watch guy watch. It’s exactly the kind of watch you wear if you don’t care about watches. For McClane, it was a tool.  The Actual Tag worn by John McClane (Photo Credit: PropstoreAuction) If McClane wore a Rolex or Patek, it wouldn’t telegraph the right message. McClane is effortlessly cool because he just doesn’t give a damn. In a world where we fetishize what watches are worn on screen, there’s a certain charm to a guy wearing a quartz TAG Heuer while using a Beretta 92F/S and a Heckler & Koch MP5 (actually a modified HK94s) acquired from the terrorists he eliminated to eventually get to Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman–his breakout role. In addition to McClane’s TAG, Watches play a significant role in the plot. In fact, one crucial W.O.E.-related scene was reportedly left on the cutting room floor. In the original script, the members of the terrorist group synchronized their own black TAGs prior to entering Nakatomi Plaza. McClane would go on to remove one watch from the body of a dispatched terrorist, and use this small detail to identify Gruber as the leader of the group when he pretended to be a hostage. McClane’s ex-wife Holly wears a Rolex DateJust, a gift from her coworker and a not-so-subtle signal that she has moved on from the more “common” lifestyle of the wife of a cop. Gruber’s Cartier Tank says everything you need to know about him–he has good taste and wealth to match. And he probably didn’t earn it the right way. After all, how do you fund a massive “terrorist plot” to kill innocent Americans? Lethal Weapon - A Christmas Story Speaking of guns and TAG Heuers in the late ‘80s, there’s another Christmas Movie that showcases a law enforcement officer showing us how to make an otherwise mundane watch cool. Martin Riggs, played by Mel Gibson in all four Lethal Weapon movies, wears a black plastic TAG Heuer Formula One. It’s 35mm, minuscule by today’s standards. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the man that makes the watch. (Photo Credit Unknown) Riggs is a former Army Green Beret turned cop, and that explains the spec of the Formula One on his wrist. It’s black on black on black–black dial, case, and plastic strap. The color echoes his inconsolable attitude after the death of his wife. The plastic Formula One was incredibly popular in the era, almost like the Moonswatch of today. It was cheap, it was relatively cool, and it was ubiquitous. It was launched in 1986, one year before Lethal Weapon was released. We also have credible intelligence that the Formula One will be making a comeback in the not-too-distant future as well. Home Alone - Rolex the Escape and Evasion Tool And of course a look at Christmas movies through the scope of W.O.E. wouldn’t be complete without a mention of one key moment that we’ve discussed before: trading a Rolex to get out of a sticky situation. Kevin at high port practicing questionable trigger discipline, Breitling concealed under the Christmas sweater cuff. In Home Alone, Kate McAllister, mother to the protagonist of the movie, 8 year-old Kevin, needs to get back to Chicago from Paris as quickly as she can after realizing she forgot him at home. At the airport she barters with an elderly couple for a seat on the plane back to CONUS with two first class tickets, $500, gold jewelry…and most relevant to W.O.E., a watch. But not just any watch, a Rolex. The elderly woman asks Kate if it’s a real Rolex and she’s met with Kate’s non-answer “Do you think it is?” immediately followed with “But who can tell, right?” The interaction points to the nature of Rolex watches as universal currency- a tool. In this case it’s to get out of France, but a Rolex will most likely work as a bartering chip just about anywhere. It’s not just a tactic for those in SpecOps and the intelligence community. But of course, the repercussions of someone finding out it’s fake could be much more dire in that line of work. Luckily for Kate, she found her way back to the US and lived to fight another day. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to the W.O.E. community.  Get out there and use your tools. Read Next: Hollywood Watches of Espionage

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W.O.E. 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

W.O.E. 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

In preparation for the holidays, we provide the W.O.E. stamp of approval on the following products.   We have closed up “shop” for the year but...

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In preparation for the holidays, we provide the W.O.E. stamp of approval on the following products.   We have closed up “shop” for the year but will be back next year with some exciting tools for our community.  Please sign up for “Notify Me When Available” for anything that interests you.  In the meantime, check out the following items as gifts for loved ones, friends or yourself.  There are no affiliate links or discount codes.  We are highlighting these tools because we believe in them, not for financial gain.  None of these are sponsored products. Please highlight any other gift ideas in the comment section.  We are always in the market for new tools and specifically love support small businesses and people doing innovative things. Watches We chose three watches at different price points.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best Watches Under $1,000” for a more comprehensive list. Seiko: SEIKO 5 Sports- SRPG35 - $210 A simple field watch and perfect first mechanical watch for yourself or a friend.  Purchasing a watch for a father/son/daughter or nephew?  The Seiko 5 Sports line is a great place to start. Elliot Brown - HOLTON: 101-001  - $511 The Holton Professional was developed in response to a request from a specialist branch of the UK military who demanded a fit-for-purpose professional watch capable of a life in the field.  We will do a more thorough write up on EB at some point, lots of history here! Omega Seamaster Diver 300M - Green - $5,600 The Omega Seamaster has a long history with our community, as we have documented with the British Special Boat Service (SBS) Seamaster.  Since 1993, the Seamaster Professional Diver 300M has enjoyed a legendary following. Today’s modern collection has embraced that famous ocean heritage and updated it with OMEGA’s best innovation and design. This 42 mm model is crafted from stainless steel and includes a green ceramic bezel with a white enamel diving scale.  Gear and Community The Grey NA TO - Supporter Subscription  - $100 year TGN is a community of like-minded individuals who believe in using their tools.  Hosts Jason Heaton and James Stacey break down their love for adventure, their addiction to watches, and also discuss travel, diving, driving and gear.  A subscription to The Grey NA TO includes a NA TO strap (grey, of course), stickers and access to additional content.  At $100 a year, a unique gift for someone who has everything. Field Ethos - Magazine Subscription - $15.00 - quarterly  The premier lifestyle publication for the unapologetic man is here. Enjoy a mix of modern adventure, historical context, and perspectives forged through global travel while staying current with the latest products that elevate an unapologetic life. Eagles and Angels Ltd - Signature Hats & Tools - $39.00 and up We salvage the old uniforms of our brave men and women, transforming them into high-end accessories to be proudly worn by those who support our troops. Each piece is beautifully crafted in the US and carries the story of the soldier who wore it first. Each purchase helps support the families of fallen heroes. The Observer Collection - Piecekeeper - $30.00 The Piecekeeper is designed to halt hostilities between your watch and laptop. The same natural dyed Italian suede used in the Observer Collection bags creates a comfortable barrier between watch bracelet and workspace preventing scratches to both watch and laptop. Leather Works Minnesota - No. 9 Wallet - "Coral" Mahogany - $110 So named for the number of pockets this wallet has, the No. 9 boasts the most capacity out of any wallet in our line. It’s easy to see why it immediately became one of our best sellers. This is the wallet for the ultra-organized, the one who needs to keep it all with them, or the person who has a card for everything. Art Ad Patina - The best in the game when it comes to vintage watch advertisements.  Prices vary.  Bad Art Nice Watch - Custom Print Commission a piece on your favorite watch.  North Carolina artist, Bryan Braddy, combines his passion for watches with his love for art.  What started as a doodle at his kitchen table with his daughters has blossomed from a hobby into a business. Embracing the concepts of wabi-sabi, the acceptance, and contemplation of imperfection, guide the principles of his style. “I want you to see my artistic choices, good or bad, with the pen or the brush.” King Kennedy Rugs - Driver Rug-  prices vary We have no idea who runs this company, but his rugs are incredible. Check out these “Vintage Rolex Hand Woven Rugs” rugs from Pakistan. $325  Prairie Fire Art Company - "The Professional" Billy Waugh MACV-SOG Art Print - $65.00 Billy Waugh had a 50 year career in Army Special Forces and as a paramilitary officer.  He patrolled the jungles of Laos and Vietnam. He hunted down Carlos the Jackal. He was the first to put sights on UBL and he invaded Afghanistan when most said he was too old for the mission. "Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young". Knives Winkler Knives, WK Huntsman - $300.00 The Huntsman is an adaptation of a Small Hunting Knife I made back in the 1990’s. Perfect for hunting and everyday carry. This model is fast becoming one of our most recommended designs. Sangin Knives - Carbon Fiber Corsair - $699 Sangin is known for their watches, but they also recently stepped into the knife game with a premium blade, the Corsair.   The Corsair is a 9.0” blade, made from premium Crucible Metals CPM M4. The blade is finished in an ultra-corrosion resistant black KG Gunkote. The Corsair is fitted with premium Camo Carbon Fiber handles, giving it a unique design with a sturdy feel, ready to be used in any scenario. With precision-turned titanium tubing, we can hold incredibly tight tolerances which allow our handles to be press fitted and secured using friction. This is a significant upgrade, solving the issue of handle scale fracturing and separation from the steel. Half Face Blades, Brad Cavner signature series - $375 Half Face Blades was founded by Andrew Arrabito, Navy SEAL (ret.), to meet the need for high-quality, “go-to” knives and axes – usable, personalized, functional, versatile tools that work for every person in every walk of life.  Toor Knives - Field 2.0 - $295.00 Toor designed the Field 2.0 with every day use in mind and it has quickly become known as the workhorse of our Outdoor Series. Its small size allows for all day carry comfort, while having the capability to handle almost any task out on the trail. Tools Soturi - The ‘Diplomat’ Strap - $185 Our most refined Cordura strap, The Diplomat is a tailored addition to our lineup that is just at home in the field as it is the office. Featuring a fully rolled edge, tapered design, and supple nubuck leather lining; it’s built to suit your every endeavor. Bergeon - 7825 Spring Bar Tweezer Spring Bar Removal Fitting Tool - $170 Bergeon 7825 is a tweezers, special watchmaker tool for inserting and removing spring bars in difficult to access end links and the short spring bars in the inner link.  Jack Carr - Signature Whiskey Glass - $23.00 Handblown by Mexican Artisans and made from recycled glass Coca-Cola bottles.  Crossed Hawks etched emblem on front of glass. Ball and Buck - Arthur Zippo - Brushed Brass - $68.00 Originally made in 1941, Zippo served as an essential accessory to American soldiers fighting in World War II and on. Their heralded tradition continues wherever men roam, igniting in every condition it encounters; the lighter's metal ring sweetly sounding in an American echo. With The Arthur Zippo, you can proudly display your support of American quality and manufacturing. Whether you're enjoying a smoke or building a fire in the woods, the Ball and Buck Zippo lighter is sure to become a staple for your everyday carry. Books G-SHOCK 40th Anniversary Book - $65 Celebrating the story of G-SHOCK, a truly unique watch whose pioneering innovation, function, and versatile design has made it a cult-collectible worn by devoted fans across the globe as well as by cultural icons in the worlds of fashion, sports, music, and popular culture for the past forty years. The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal - $15.99 It was the height of the Cold War, and a dangerous time to be stationed in the Soviet Union. One evening, while the chief of the CIA’s Moscow station was filling his gas tank, a stranger approached and dropped a note into the car. In the years that followed, that man, Adolf Tolkachev, became one of the most valuable spies ever for the U.S. But these activities posed an enormous personal threat to Tolkachev and his American handlers.  Watchistry  - Marine Nationale Book - $77.00 An exploration of a collection of 34 watches and instruments issued to the French Navy. 224 pages of photos and text cover vintage military watches from Tudor, Omega, Longines, Breguet, Auricoste, Doxa, Triton and others are featured, along with detailed provenance and commentary. It represents an unprecedented look at the nuance and breadth of the pieces used by the Marine Nationale. A Die Hard Christmas - $19.99 True story.  All John McClane wants for Christmas is to reunite with his estranged family. But when his wife’s office holiday party turns into a deadly hostage situation, he has to save her life before he can get home in time for Christmas!  The unconventional fan-favorite movie Die Hard is now an illustrated storybook- complete with machine guns, European terrorists, and a cop who’s forced to rely on all his cunning and skills (and the help of a fellow officer) to save the day.  Small Arms of WWII: United States of America, James Rupley, Ian McCollum-  $98.00 The Second World War was a fascinating and dynamic time in the history of firearms – a period that began with revolvers and bolt-action weapons, and ended with the first generations of modern select-fire combat rifles. We detail these developments in Small Arms of WWII, discussing not just what the weapons were, but why they were developed and how they performed in the field. If you want to get a better understanding of how these weapons changed warfare and were in turn themselves changed by warfare, this is the book series for you!  A Man & His Watch: Iconic Watches and Stories from the Men Who Wore Them, Matt Hranek - $28.49 Paul Newman wore his Rolex Daytona every single day for 35 years until his death in 2008. The iconic timepiece, probably the single most sought-after watch in the world, is now in the possession of his daughter Clea, who wears it every day in his memory. Franklin Roosevelt wore an elegant gold Tiffany watch, gifted to him by a friend on his birthday, to the famous Yalta Conference where he shook the hands of Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. JFK's Omega worn to his presidential inauguration, Ralph Lauren's watch purchased from Andy Warhol's personal collection, Sir Edmund Hillary's Rolex worn during the first-ever summit of Mt. Everest . . . these and many more compose the stories of the world's most coveted watches captured in A Man and His Watch.  The Wrong Wolf, Chris Craighead and Matthew Klein $19.99 From the very start, the Wrong Wolf knew he was different. Over the course of a journey marked by loss, mercy, courage and self-sacrifice, he learns that where and how you are born does not always determine where you end up. Sweetwater - Jason Heaton - $14.99 With an American presidential election looming, a decades-old plane crash is once again thrust into the news. Old secrets threaten to expose dangerous truths and underwater archaeologist Julian "Tusker" Tusk finds himself at the center of a mystery with the highest of stakes. With time running out, Tusker is forced to come to terms with not only his own past, but that of his father, in an adventure that spans two generations and hits close to home in more ways than one.  Moscow X, David McCloskey - $25.49 CIA officers Sia and Max enter Russia under commercial cover to recruit Vladimir Putin’s moneyman. Sia works for a London law firm that conceals the wealth of the superrich. Max’s family business in Mexico―a CIA front since the 1960s―is a farm that breeds high-end racehorses. They pose as a couple to target Vadim, Putin’s private banker, and his wife, Anna, who―unbeknownst to CIA―is a Russian intelligence officer under deep cover at the bank. Clothes Relwen - Quilted Insulated Tanker Jacket - $318  This will be your go-to, so don’t fight it. Our Tanker is that one jacket that fills all the voids, whether tailgating, going out for dinner, or off to work. The soft peached nylon/cotton shell utilizes a water-resistant polyurethane coating, ideal for all weather conditions. Lightweight quilting provides warmth across temperate conditions making for highly pragmatic style. Clarks, Desert Boot Suede - $150 Cultural cachet and design DNA: no shoe is quite like the Clarks Originals Desert Boot. Nathan Clark’s 1950 design was inspired by a rough boot from Cairo’s Old Bazaar, and its minimal, progressive style sparked a worldwide footwear revolution GBRS Group - Set Point Flannel - $75.00 The Set Point by GBRS Group MD Approach Flannel is a multi-purpose flannel for everyday use. Combining the crisp look of a heavier flannel with the comfort of a lighter one makes this flannel resourceful on any occasion. Vuori- Strato Tech Tee - $54 The Strato Tech Tee is the softest piece of workout apparel on the planet, doubling as your go-to t-shirt. With next-level comfort, our softest performance knit is quick drying and moisture wicking. Goodr - Bosley's Basset Hound Dreams - $25 Tortoiseshell sunglasses? More like houndshell shades. These sunnies were named in honor of Bosley, king of the basset hounds. So every time you wear these no slip, no bounce brown frames with non-reflective polarized brown lenses, you’ll be in the presence of royalty. Hot sauce Tabasco: Priceless, available at your local convenience store, this delicious nectar of the gods.  Tabasco. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.   -- *W.O.E. has received no financial compensation for the above products and these are NOT/NOT sponsored.  Please do your own research before making any purchases.

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Advice for Buying a Watch

Advice for Buying a Watch

The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those...

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The Watches of Espionage community can be broken down into two segments: professional watch nerds tired of the traditional watch media; and complete newbies, those initially attracted by Military and Intelligence content but with little interest in watches.  Over time, the latter group usually develops an interest in watches and regularly asks where to begin.   This Dispatch is for you, newbies.  It’s a cheat sheet for breaking into the world of watches. Our goal is simple: to cultivate and preserve watch culture in the NatSec community.  We have no commercial relationships with any of the brands mentioned, and we’re brand-agnostic. (James Rupley) Step 1: Do your research:  There are more resources than ever on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re far enough down the rabbit hole and you want to know more.  We at W.O.E. do not do traditional watch reviews- but other platforms do and do it well.  Hodinkee, Bark and Jack, Teddy Baldassarre, Fratello, aBlogtoWatch, etc.  There are plenty of great outlets with different perspectives putting out content on Youtube, online editorial platforms, and podcasts. But it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to any enthusiast media, as much of the content on these sites are paid advertisements and/or heavily influenced by the watch brands.  Read our Covert Influence In Watch Media piece so that you approach it with a skeptical eye. Step 2:  Talk with people. The simple lost art of conversation.  Ask your friends, coworkers and family members about their watches.  See a guy with an interesting watch on at a bar, coffee shop, or even at the urinal? Ask him what he is wearing.  Why did he buy that specific watch?  What does he like and dislike about it?  Ask to try it on. Most people into watches want nothing more than to talk about them. Major cities likely have watch meetups. RedBar Group is the largest and most well-known of these group meet ups.  I have never been to a watch meet up but know a lot of people enjoy this community and it is a great way to get your hands on lots of watches in the wild. Step 3:  Visit an AD.  An “Authorized Dealer” is a store that sells watches from major brands, and they have an official relationship with said brands.  We recommend visiting a dealer with a larger selection of brands so that you can physically try on different watches to see what works for you.  Tourneau, Watches of Switzerland, and Bucherer are some of the largest ones, but chances are even your local mall has a store that sells watches. Sales associates can be notoriously pretentious and they’re not always “watch guys” but there is something to be learned from everyone.  At a minimum they should have the training to explain the range on the market. Step 4:  Buy your first watch.  After spending a few weeks/months on steps 1-3, you should have a general idea of what interests you.  It’s time to buy your first watch. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000, and even under $500 is better.  Just because you can afford a Rolex doesn't mean you should start there.  Check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” for some thoughts from a broad range of practitioners with experience. (James Rupley) Step 5:  Pause - wear your watch, repeat steps 1-3.  It’s tempting to immediately focus on the next watch, always wanting more.  But wear your watch, find out what you like/dislike about it. Sometimes you learn things about your taste only after wearing a watch for a while. Think about how it feels on your wrist, how it works with your lifestyle, etc. Most importantly, however, is to make sure that the watch works as an extension of your own life philosophy. Maybe the values of the brand don’t line up with your own–or maybe they do. This is the time to learn. (James Rupley) Step 6: Accessorize.  A strap is a great way to change up the feel of your watch.  We have a host of straps in the W.O.E. shop, but don’t let us limit your options.   In the strap game, you generally get what you pay for. Like most things in life.  Stay away from Amazon and pay a few extra dollars for something of quality.  Most of the major watch content outlets also sell straps and are a good one-stop-shop.  Buying a strap from a smaller business is a great way to show your support and rep that brand/community.  Here are some of the different straps you should consider: 2 Piece Leather: These should be handmade in the USA or Europe, nothing mass produced. There are some great craftsmen out there making one off and small batch straps like our Jedburgh and Leather and Canvas DNC Strap.  A good leather strap can work on mostly any watch. Affordable Nylon:  You can buy these anywhere and should be somewhere in the $20-40 price range.  Our Five Eye is on the higher end of this but in return you get quality. The better ones are well-made but cheap enough that you can use and abuse them and throw them out like a pair of good socks.  A simple nylon strap is a great way to support a group/person that you’re interested in. (James Rupley) High-End Fabric Strap:  In my opinion, Zulu Alpha is the best quality fabric strap on the market. The Quantum Watch Strap from TAD has great hardware and Tudor has some great fabric straps (see Hodinkee video). None of these are cheap but you get what you pay for. Single piece leather is tricky, most are thick and I do not like to use bent spring bars on my watches. These do fit some of my pieces with a wider gap between the spring bar and I wear them. I am a big fan of both Soturi and Zanes. Rubber: I have owned a few from Everest and overall have been happy with them. There are plenty of options on the market here and quality generally coincides with price. Elastic MN Straps: I have a MN strap from NDC straps which I like and have heard great things about Erika’s Originals.  A great way to change up your watch. A new strap can completely change the feel of your watch.  Most watches are 20 mm or 22 mm so if you buy a handful of straps you can rotate them between your watches. (Photo Credit: @navs.watch) General Advice & Tips: As you look to expand your collection, here are some general tips that we use as a north star.  Remember, none of these are hard and fast rules: Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford.  “Buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch.  DO NOT FINANCE YOUR WATCH. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate in value, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the passion. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Sinn, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville, Sangin Instruments, Elliot Brown etc), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either.  When you do decide to go into the micro-brand space, do your homework. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. (James Rupley) As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. Remember, those Speedmasters that went to the moon and the 1675 GMT-Master examples that our pilot heroes wore were all value buys back in the day. They weren’t luxury products in that period.  As we have said many times, the man makes the watch, not the other way around. Vintage Watches: Lastly, if you are just starting out, we recommend staying away from vintage watches.  While there are some great deals out there and it is a lot of fun, it is not for the uninitiated.  There are plenty of fakes at every level and it is easy to get ripped off if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.  Additionally, old watches come with old problems, this can be exciting once you have a handful of watches in your collection, but sending your sole watch off for service for 3 months doesn’t make for a good time.  Happy hunting, -W.O.E. Read Next: Blackwater Breitling - The Story

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What Watch Pairs With What Military Aircraft?

What Watch Pairs With What Military Aircraft?

Honoring an age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. At W.O.E., we cover all sorts of subjects relevant to our community, ranging from...

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Honoring an age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery. At W.O.E., we cover all sorts of subjects relevant to our community, ranging from in-depth profiles of impactful Intelligence Community and military practitioners to breaking down geopolitical conflicts through the lens of watches. Today, however, we figured we’d go a little lighter and engage in an age-old tradition that, while slightly more juvenile than most of our content, continues to be relevant and just plain fun. Just about every watch platform has matched up the Rolex Submariner with the perennial watch-guy favorite–the air cooled Porsche 911. But we’ll leave that to the popular watch style blogs. We’re here to talk about metal with a purpose beyond simply looking cool. We’re going to match up iconic watches with well-known aircraft. Many of you will be intimately familiar with both of these subjects, and finding the intricacies and characteristics that tie a watch to an airplane and vice versa is an exercise in diving deep into the engineering characteristics, legacy, and function of both the plane and the watch.  Tom Cruise wearing Porsche Design Chronograph 1 (Photo Credit: Paramount) Before we apply full nose down inputs and dive in, we’d like to acknowledge that folks will have very serious opinions about these pairings, and that this list is just a starting point. If you disagree, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. We eschewed the traditional “rules” for pairings using things like country of origin or physical appearance to pair watches and cars and instead focused on the core ethos of each piece of equipment and the character and reputation it has developed in both aviation and horology circles. Now let’s roll, pitch, and yaw right into it: The Plane: Lockheed C-130 Hercules The “SUV of the sky” is ubiquitous and tough as nails. It’s been in service since 1956 and the fundamental design of the aircraft hasn’t changed much over more than half a century. It can land and take off from unprepared airstrips, it can operate in hot and high environments, it can be fitted with skis to land on ice, it can use JATO (jet assisted take off), it can act as an aerial refueling platform, it can serve as a command and control platform, it can even be kitted out for long-range search and rescue, and maybe most importantly, the AC-130, the gunship version known as the Angel of Death, can absolutely rain down hell on the enemy. The Watch: Seiko SKX007  You won’t find this steadfast tool watch on the wrist of anyone wearing a suit. It’s not particularly accurate, and it’s not known for superior fit and finishing, either. But it’s where a lot of us started our watch interest, and it’s where it can end, too. You don’t need another watch. This one is tough as hell and just keeps on running. Like the C-130, it’s spawned a bunch of variants.  The Link: The same places you’ll find the SKX007 being worn, you’ll find the C-130 being used. They’re both the standard unit of toughness that all other watches and utility aircraft are measured against. The Plane: Boeing C-32A  This is the plane that the highest officials in the US Government use for executive transport. You’ll typically find the Vice President (Air Force Two) and the Secretary of State aboard. It can also serve as Air Force One when the President’s 747 is considered overkill for a specific destination. It’s a symbol of American might and democracy that you’ll find all over the world. The Watch: Rolex GMT-Master and GMT-Master II Photo Credit: James Rupley The Case Officer’s watch. It can get dirty and take a beating, but has a certain polished cache that’s elevated it to iconic status. It can tell time in three different time zones at once; and the design hasn’t changed much since 1954, when it was first worn by Pan-Am pilots. The model became popular with military pilots and was even famously worn by Chuck Yeager.  The GMT-Master II serves as a stand-in for worldliness The Link: Both of these at first appear polished and proper, but they’re also some of the most capable and bad-ass platforms around. The C-32A has a whole host of classified defense systems. And the guy wearing a GMT-Master probably isn’t a stranger to doing what it takes to get it done. The Plane: Lockheed Martin F-16 For the last 30 years, when someone says “fighter jet”, it’s most likely the F-16 that many people–familiar with military aircraft or not–think of. It’s the most widely operated fighter in the world. In other words, it’s the OG fighter aircraft of the modern era. It’s a multi-role aircraft, and there’s even a project led by the US Air Force, Project Venom, to operate F-16s autonomously. The F-16 has come a long way since its first flight in 1973. The US Air Force had once said that it would be retired in 2025, but then signed on to keep the F-16 flying for another 20 years. It’s not going anywhere just yet. And that’s a great thing. If it ain't broken, don’t fix it.  The Watch: IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 Actual military pilots wear all sorts of watches. Everything from Garmins to Bremonts. But there’s such a thing as a prototypical “pilot’s watch” and it’s the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, specifically, the 43. It’s the watch that some real fighter pilots wear, but that many, many more people who wish to be a fighter pilot wear. It’s become an icon for what it represents, not necessarily for what it actually is. But what it is, is a watch that’s been at the center of the military aviation scene since before World War II.  IWC has a long history with aviation, and continues to produce Unit/Squadron watches for many aviators. The Link:  The link here is obvious–these are both the icons of their type. They’re what first comes to mind when thinking of fighter jets and pilots watches. They’re also sort of the most basic iterations of their forms as well. The Plane: A-10 Warthog  This aircraft’s primary role is CAS (close air support) and it absolutely excels at it thanks to its twin-turbofan, straight wing setup. It frequently gets “down in the dirt” and you’ve almost certainly seen memes or videos of the infamous “BBRRRRRTTTTT” that’s emitted from the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon affixed to the nose of the airplane. It crushes tanks, lights up enemies, and emerged as an absolute icon after Desert Storm. BBBBRRRRTTTT. The Watch: Tudor Ranger The Ranger is mostly considered a field watch, not necessarily a pilot’s watch. Its simple, stripped-down nature is where its beauty lies. Consider it the modern version of what the Rolex 1016 was (or the vintage Tudor Ranger)–a simple-as-hell time only tool watch that was indestructible and somewhat of an everyman’s watch. You have 3, 6, and 9, and nothing much else except fantastic legibility. It just gets the job done and doesn’t cost too much. The Link: The A-10 is cheap as chips to operate and consistently crushes the competition when it comes to fixed-wing CAS. The Ranger embodies the same ethos–value-forward, reliable, and has a “git ‘er done” way about it. They’re both simple. The Plane: Lockheed Martin F-35 The F-35 was delivered ten years late and went 1.7 trillion USD over budget, but it’s the most technologically advanced plane that has ever existed. It’s over the top in every single way, not to mention it costs $41,986 an hour to fly. But trying to find anything that rivals it. You won’t China’s J-20? Nope. Russia’s Su-57? Negative. The aircraft defines air superiority through its host of technical features, many of which are still classified (on the US-operated variants, of course). The Watch: RM 39-01 Richard Mille marketing shot If you want one of these, it’ll set you back about 150K. But you’ll also have the most feature-rich, tech-forward analog pilot’s watch that exists. A titanium case and a skeletonized carbon fiber dial characterize the watch, along with the signature Richard Mille lightweight technical look. Richard Mille is the epitome of technical mastery in watchmaking, and the RM 39-01 is the brand’s foray into pilot’s watches. It’s the opposite of legible and robust, but sometimes the most technically advanced things are just that way. The Link: The amount of engineering that goes into these two things– and the price tag– are both superlative. The Aircraft: UH-60 Black Hawk You’ve seen Black Hawk Down. Hell, we know some of you even fly the Black Hawk, which is operated in a branch-specific variant by the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. The design dates back to 1974 with Sikorsky, and now the US military operates over 2,000 Black Hawk helicopters. Roughly 30 other countries around the world also operate the UH-60 in some form or another, not to mention civilian operators that use it for firefighting, cargo transport, to search and rescue. It’s a ubiquitous helicopter when it comes to roles in the defense sector. Anyone who flies the Black Hawk knows that when it stops leaking hydraulic fluid, that’s when you have to worry. It can carry between 12 and 20 soldiers into battle and can lift 22,000 lbs. It was first used operationally in combat during the invasion of Grenada in 1983, and it’s been going strong ever since. The Watch: Marathon TSAR Cheap, chunky, and indestructible, the TSAR has been a mainstay in the inventory of issued watches of US forces over the past decade. Many models even feature the “US Government” markings on the dial in addition to the nuclear regulatory commision designation on the caseback. The watch has earned a stellar reputation by those to whom it has been issued to. It’s designed solely for utility, not looks. The tall case is meant to make it easy to operate the bezel with gloves on, and tritium tubes are employed for superior legibility and visibility in the dark. In short, it’s been a longstanding fixture in the military watch scene for good reason–it just works. The Link: The TSAR, like the Black Hawk, isn’t going to win any awards for looking good or being a hero. Neither draw a crowd. But those in the know will always choose these tools over the more sexy options.  (Marathon, Watch Maker for the Modern Military) The Aircraft: Lun-class Ekranoplan What makes this craft different from most on this list is that even though it has “wings”, it’s not an airplane, or airship even. It’s technically still just a standard maritime ship, because it only lifts about 13 feet off the water and flies in “ground effect”, meaning it takes advantage of reduced drag flying close to a fixed surface. In this case, the surface is the surface of the ocean. It’s essentially just a massive flying boat powered by eight turbofans mounted to canards near the bow of the ship. Flying in ground effect meant that unless the surface of the sea was steady, it simply couldn't fly, and that ultimately led to its demise. It’s an incredibly neat idea that’s also very Soviet–and it can certainly be debated whether or not it’s a good-looking craft or not.  The Watch: Hublot Big Bang  This is the model that’s most typically associated with Hublot, the brand that everyone loves to hate–and by most engineering and mechanical accounts, the watch is pretty strong. But most people agree–it has a very specific type of culture attached to it. The Link: Both the Ekranoplan and Hublot are loved by Russians, but that’s not all. They both had their mainstream time to shine decades ago, but still both have a small legion of loyal followers today that still live like it’s the heyday of the Ekranoplan and Hublot. But hey, they like what they like. SHOP NOW:  Five Eye Nylon Watch Strap

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U.S. Presidents and Timepieces, The Last 40 Years

U.S. Presidents and Timepieces, The Last 40 Years

The watches of the most powerful men in the world, the Commander in Chief

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The watches of the most powerful men in the world, the Commander in Chief

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"Let's Roll" - A Hero's Rolex Frozen In Time - September 11, 2001

"Let's Roll" - A Hero's Rolex Frozen In Time - September 11, 2001

Todd Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone,...

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Todd Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone, the date window–frozen in time– still reads “11.” Remembering the heroes of September 11th Attacks: On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Todd Beamer, a 32-year-old Account Manager at Oracle, rose early to catch United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco for a business trip. As part of his morning routine, he snapped the clasp shut on the two-tone jubilee bracelet of his 36mm Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph before heading out the door at 6:15 am, leaving his pregnant wife, Lisa, and their two children at home.  After a 42 minute delay, he boarded Flight 93; it departed from Gate 17 at Newark Liberty International Airport and took off at 8:42 am. At 9:28 am, the calm Tuesday morning flight was interrupted when Al Qaeda hijackers, led by Ziad Samir Jarrah, used box cutters and a supposed explosive device to take control of the plane and divert the aircraft back east towards Washington D.C. The hijackers moved Beamer and the other 43 passengers to the rear of the plane. Using cellphones and seatback phones, the passengers contacted loved ones and airport officials and learned that three other aircraft were weaponized and deliberately crashed into some of our nation’s most important buildings: the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Beamer and other passengers acted fast and stormed the cockpit in an effort to take back the aircraft. Beamer’s last words were recorded through the seatback phone. If I don't make it, please call my family and let them know how much I love them...Are you ready? Okay, Let's roll. At 10:03 am, Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, just 20 minutes flying time from the terrorists’ intended target: the U.S. Capital. Beamer and a number of other passengers had thwarted Al Qaeda’s plans.  Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone, the date window–frozen in time– still reads “11.” His watch is a two-tone 18k yellow gold Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph, likely reference 16263, with a champagne tapestry dial. Despite the use of precious metal, the watch was originally developed as a tool watch in the early 1950s with a bidirectional bezel for timing. Nicknamed the “Thunderbird,” it was issued in the late 1950s to the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron pilots, with the famed unit’s insignia on the dial. Late 1950s Rolex advertisement. Hanging on the wall of my office is an old Rolex advertisement that I see everyday. The copy, in bold, reads, “Men who guide the destinies of the world wear Rolex Watches.” The ad is clearly meant to conjure up images of Presidents, Generals and Diplomats– but what Beamer did that day is exactly what the ad says: he changed the course of history. Had he and the other brave passengers on the plane not acted, the aircraft would have continued to Washington D.C. and likely inflicted significant harm on the U.S. Capitol, the heart of American democracy. Beamer was an ordinary American who showed extraordinary courage during a time of need. He was a man of action. Like most great men, the man made the watch, not the other way around. The fact that he was wearing a Rolex is insignificant, but the watch lives on as a memorial to him and his fellow passengers that made the ultimate selfless sacrifice on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Beamer’s legacy lives on beyond his parting heroic action. Let's Roll became a unifying command, a battle cry for America in the Post-9/11 era. Troops deploying to Afghanistan months later would use this as a motivational phrase to bring the fight to the enemy. Years later when I traveled to war zones, “Let’s Roll” was still commonly heard before departing on an operation or seen painted on a gym wall at remote U.S. Government outposts. Today, Beamer’s mangled Rolex is on display in the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City, along with an Oracle business card discovered in the wreckage, both donated by his wife, Lisa, to honor his sacrifice and legacy. The date window still chillingly displays the day that the world changed forever; “11.” Let's Roll - CIA in Afghanistan after 9/11 attacks. Beamer’s father, David Beamer, would later remark to the New York Times, “The function of the watch is supposed to be to tell time. What it doesn’t tell is what time it is anymore. What it does tell is what time it was. It marks the time that a successful counterattack on Flight 93 came to an end.” There are few actions more selfless than sacrificing your life for another, and that’s exactly what the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 did. Had the airplane continued to Washington D.C. and struck the U.S. Capitol, scores of elected officials, civil servants, and innocent civilians would have perished.  Like Beamer on the morning of September 11th, 2001, countless men and women would choose to roll into action and answer the call to serve in the wake of 9/11.  This Dispatch is in honor of the 2,977 people who died on September 11th, 2001 and Todd Beamer’s wife, Lisa, and their three children.   Read Next: CIA’s JAWBREAKER Team And A Rolex Submariner This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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Does Rolex Make Mistakes? The Motley 8 - Error Batman Bezel

Does Rolex Make Mistakes? The Motley 8 - Error Batman Bezel

In Watch and Firearm Collecting, Details Matter I purchased a new Rolex GMT Master II “Batman” directly from an authorized Rolex dealer (“AD”). After photographing...

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In Watch and Firearm Collecting, Details Matter I purchased a new Rolex GMT Master II “Batman” directly from an authorized Rolex dealer (“AD”). After photographing the watch in my studio, I was surprised to see a production error that I had never seen before. In the “8” in the “18” on the bezel, the top circle is blue, while the bottom is black.

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CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

CIA Officer’s Love Affair with the Arabic Seiko

As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a...

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As I type this Dispatch, I am on a transatlantic flight to London for a short visit, a mix of business and pleasure.  As a former CIA Case Officer, separating the two can be difficult.  In my W.O.E. travel pouch is my Rolex GMT Master II 16710.  On my wrist is the Arabic Seiko, the understated watch that I plan to wear while in London due to the increased watch theft in the city. Why I am bringing the Rolex at all is a story for another time. Arabic Seiko Once an obscure watch, the “Arabic Seiko” (aka the "Seik-W.O.E." and the W.O.E. hype watch) is a popular reference within the W.O.E. community, and for good reason.  In part, its popularity is owed to the fact that it’s just a downright cool and unique piece at an affordable price point–but it’s also received consistent coverage on W.O.E. to bolster its reputation.   Just as important, however, is the deep meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I personally have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that specific period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec folks can identify with this connection. Additionally, while I never wore a Seiko in any operational capacity during my time at the CIA, the Japanese brand has a long history in the Intelligence and Special Operations community. Our predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s wore "SOG" Seikos during covert operations carried out during the Vietnam War. Maritime Special Operations units (including the Navy SEALs) were issued Seiko Divers until at least the mid-1990s and the CIA even modified a digital Seiko with a covert camera for intelligence collection.  In short, the ref Arabic Seiko connects with every facet of the community in one way or another, and that’s what makes it so popular. It is a great conversation starter, and you can’t go wrong with this W.O.E. “hype watch.” Origin Story If this is the first time you are hearing about the Arabic Seiko, you are probably wondering how a former CIA Case Officer came across this unique timepiece. Did W.O.E. pick it up at Khan el-Khalili Souk in Cairo to support a cover legend, or receive it as an honorary gift from a Middle Eastern intelligence service after an impactful operation?  The truth is, it was purchased online.  Amazon’s algorithm served it to me in early 2022, something that I even wrote an article about for Hodinkee.  It is not a daring spy story, but it does say a lot about the state of technology and (commercial) surveillance.  Amazon knew I would like this watch before I even knew it existed, and that is fascinating.  At the time I had two Arabic-dial watches in my collection: A Breitling Aerospace (a gift from King Abdullah of Jordan), and an Arabic Breitling Aviator 8 Etihad Limited "Middle East" Edition in black steel, both watches that a treasured, something that would make my Arabic tutors in Beirut proud. W.O.E. personal Breitling and Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Specs The Arabic Seiko is a simple black dialed Seiko 5, with large Eastern Arabic numerals.  The day feature is in Arabic and English, with the Arabic word for Friday (الجمعة) in Red, English “SAT” in blue and “SUN” in red, presumably honoring the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.    There are actually two readily available Arabic dial Seiko’s, the 42mm SNKP21J1 and the smaller 34mm SNK063J5.  Beyond the size, the main difference is the smaller version has an integrated bracelet, making it difficult to change out straps.  I own the 42mm and while it is larger than most watches in my collection, the 12.5mm thickness makes it wear much smaller and lie flat on the wrist.  There is a wide gap between the watch and the spring bar, making strap changes easy.  The visible caseback showing the 7S26 automatic movement is something that is always fun for those new to the hobby. Social Media and “Influence” Chrono24 video discussing correlation between W.O.E. posts and Seiko Arabic dial sales. The watch is also a story of social media “influence” and subliminal advertising.  After a month on the wrist, I posted it on the @watchesofespionage to my (then) 30,000+ followers in February 2022. Over the next 24 hours, Amazon’s price for the watch incrementally rose from $140 to well over $200, as followers were quick to visit the everything store. Within 48 hours demand surpassed supply, the watch sold out.  At time of writing, Amazon’s price for the watch is $213.01, nearly double what I paid for it. After analyzing purchasing data on Chono24 and other sites, Thomas Hendricks of Chrono24 crowned the Arabic Dials the top selling Seikos for 2022: We looked at the data and we saw spikes in sales correlating to posts from one popular account.  Watches of Espionage is a niche but influential account covering the intersection of watches and spycraft, run by an anonymous former CIA operative.  Followers of the account will remember that WOE published an article detailing his love for these Seiko references in early August of this year.  Subsequently, sales for these two references spiked significantly on Chrono24 and other platforms in the following weeks.  I now wonder how many people have purchased the Arabic Seiko watch after seeing coverage on the Watches of Espionage platform, my guess is in the thousands of pieces, most purchased online or the lucky few able to secure one in a more memorable place like Dubai.   W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Advertising and Influencers We are bombarded with advertising, especially on social media, however the modern consumer (you) is not stupid.  The “wisdom of the crowd” can see through most marketing schemes and identify platforms that are genuine.  One of the reason’s the Watches of Espionage community continues to grow is authenticity, and the increase in sales of this watch is a perfect example. Despite a proposal from a major retailer for an official “affiliate” relationship (which we declined), W.O.E. hasn’t received financial remuneration from Seiko or any other company for promoting this timepiece.  This is authentic and organic promotion for altruistic reasons.  One of our goals at Watches of Espionage is preserving and promoting watch culture in the National Security space, and this watch is a fun entrée to the world of automatic watches, especially for those who wore Digital Tool Watches during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). W.O.E. personal Arabic Seiko, Photo Credit: James Rupley Conclusion At the end of the day, I do not care if you buy this watch or any other for that matter.  But if this unique and affordable timepiece catches your interest and expands your view of time, that is a good thing. Despite my now extensive and growing watch collection, the Arabic Seiko will continue to adorn my wrist on a regular basis, including this visit to the United Kingdom.  This watch has been on my wrist in 8 countries on three continents.  It has flown in helicopters, skied down mountains and been inside more than a few SCIFs.  If it is lost, stolen or damaged, it can be easily replaced at an affordable price, even if slightly inflated after the release of this article. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces   This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part II

Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything, Part II

In this edition of the Dispatch, we answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these...

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In this edition of the Dispatch, we answer some common questions we get about W.O.E., timepieces and the Intelligence Community at large. Many of these responses can even serve as stand alone stories– and probably will at some point–but for now, here’s some additional insight on Watches of Espionage. If you have any more questions, please ask in the comments section and we will address next time. See past questions “Ask W.O.E. Anything Part I” What advice do you have for buying watches? There are more resources than ever before on watches, and if you are reading this then you’ve already demonstrated that you’re pretty far down the rabbit hole.  Here are a few tips below for those looking to get into watches.  Also check out our previous Dispatch on “Best watches under $1,000” as a good starting point. Buy what makes you happy; no one else cares what you are wearing and 99.9% of people will not notice the watch you have on your wrist. (This one is cliché but it’s entirely true.) Buy the watch you can afford. You won't be happy if you spend more than you can afford, as “buyer’s remorse” is real and can undermine the sense of satisfaction from wearing the watch. Don't buy for investment. Your watch may appreciate, but buy with the expectation you will wear it until you die (and a loved one will wear it after you die). Values are generally trending downward in the watch world anyway. That’s not what they’re made for, and treating a watch like a financial instrument takes away something from the hobby. When in doubt, stick with a known brand: Seiko, Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tudor, JLC, IWC, Bremont, Patek, etc.  There are some great micro brands out there (like Tornek-Rayville), but also a lot with smoke and mirrors, especially in the “tactical” space. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any worthwhile watch company wasn’t either. Buy the seller and build a relationship with that person. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.  A lot of people have had great experiences with Ebay and other online forums, but there is something about building a relationship with the actual person selling the watch that makes it special. Plus, it’s very easy to get burned on Ebay. It’s less easy to get burned by someone you know and trust. Take your time. Do your research. Even if you have the money to buy the watch you want right away, spend time learning about the different variations and history of the reference or brand. This will likely change your outlook and make you appreciate the watch you end up with even more. As a closing remark, don't feel like you need a "luxury watch," a ~$500 watch can be just as meaningful as a $5,000 watch. How do I organize Unit watch? After our “Tudors of Espionage” piece, we received a lot of queries on how to organize a “unit watch” for a specific military, law enforcement or intelligence organization.  We have heard from our industry contacts that companies across the board have received an increase in these requests.  This is cool, because “unit watches” are at the heart of watch culture in the National Security community and closely tied to the idea of “Watches of Espionage.” To review, a unit watch is a timepiece that is customized by the manufacturer for members of a specific unit or organization inside the military.  Customizations can include the unit’s insignia or motto on the dial and/or an engraving on the caseback. Occasionally, markings can be applied to the side of the case as well.   We will continue to go deeper on various unit watch programs (like Bremont Military and Special Project's Division) and guide those looking to organize a custom watch for their organization, but in the meantime, here are some initial steps: Do it: To accomplish anything in the government, you need an internal champion.  Be that champion. Nothing will happen otherwise. Build Internal Support:  For most custom watch programs, you need a minimum of 50 pieces. It needs to make sense for a manufacturer to tool up to produce a custom watch, which incurs a significant cost on their end.  Start building support within the organization and gauge interest from other unit members.  Take the opportunity to educate non-watch members why a watch is a great way to commemorate a moment in time and one's service.  Seek approval from the unit/command leadership if needed. Explore Brands: There are some great brands that provide unit watches. Each one has its pros and cons.  Decide on 3-4 that work for your unit's culture. As a starting point, look at Breitling, IWC, Omega, Tudor, Bremont Watch Company, Elliot Brown, CWC, Seiko, and Sangin Instruments. Contact the brands:  For larger brands (Tudor, IWC, Omega, etc) visit a local boutique/Authorized Dealer and explain what you're looking to accomplish.  You need someone on the inside to help shepherd you through the process, as it can often be opaque.  For smaller brands (Elliot Brown, CWC, Sangin) you should reach out directly through the website.  Some companies like Bremont have formal “Special Projects” programs and make it seamless; others are more based on personal relationships.  Ideally, have a specific idea of what you are looking for, i.e. a specific reference and design/location of the insignia. Be Patient:  These things take time.  Having spoken with some of the individuals who have shepherded Tudor pieces, these projects can take over a year for delivery. Automatic vs Quartz? There is nothing wrong with quartz movements, and anyone who says otherwise is a nerd.  Not a good “watch nerd,” just a nerd.  In general I prefer an automatic timepiece because I appreciate the craftsmanship it takes to produce an automatic movement.  Operationally, there is a strong argument for an automatic movement, as batteries will always die at the wrong time.   That said, some of the greatest military watches are quartz: CWC, Elliot Brown, and Marathon, not to mention the venerable Breitling Aerospace.  A quartz movement is likely more accurate than an automatic movement and some of these pieces are just as fashionable and robust.  There is something satisfying about picking up a watch and knowing that the date and time are set. They both have their place in the watch world.  Again, these are tools and you choose the right tool for the task. Does the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board (PCRB) censor your writing? The CIA does not “censor” my writing when it comes to beliefs, opinions, or watch content.  It does review my writing (including this piece) to ensure that it does not contain classified information.  All current and former CIA officers have a lifelong obligation to protect classified national security information, and one aspect of this lifelong commitment is submitting writing to the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board (PCRB).  This is a good thing, as it protects every party involved.  Overall, I have found the review process relatively smooth.  Like most “formers” who write about the intelligence field, I have a general understanding of what we can and cannot say and there have been no major issues with the PCRB.  There are occasionally times when the PCRB will remove a location, word, or sentence, but overall it has not impacted the core points of any of the stories I’ve written. As a private citizen, I am free to express my own opinions about the government, CIA, or watches, and I have not heard of any cases where a former CIA officer’s opinions or writings were “censored” in the traditional sense.  It appears as though the CIA has made a conscious decision to be forward-leaning by allowing formers to write (relatively) openly about their experiences.  This is also a good thing.  My personal opinion is that the Intelligence Community should protect secrets, but should also be open in educating the public on what we do.  There are a lot of misconceptions about the CIA and we are in a position to dispel those myths and educate people on the reality. By writing semi-openly, we can achieve that.  Do you sleep with your watch on? (We have received this question a lot.) I do not. Does anyone? That's weird.  I actually find myself taking my watch off often when I am at home, when typing on the computer, doing chores etc.  I haven't really put much thought into why this is but I have never slept with a watch on, and I don’t even put it on my bedside table unless traveling.  Generally, I take my watch off in the bathroom or office and have been using a W.O.E. EDC Valet in both. If anyone does sleep with their watch on, I would love to hear their rationale in the comments. Thoughts on tactical micro-brands?  Are you a poser if you did not serve in the military? When you buy a watch–any watch– you are buying into that brand and the community and reputation the brand commands.  This is especially true with micro brands/tactical brands. There are some great micro brands/tactical brands out there and several were highlighted in the “Best Watches Under $1,000” Dispatch.  That said, I do not have much first hand experience with them, so I will reserve judgment.  If you are interested in a tactical brand, I encourage you to really do your research.   In my opinion, Sangin Instruments is one of, if not the, leader in this space.  Started by a Marine Raider, they make great watches but perhaps more importantly, they’ve built a true community around the brand.  Though largely driven by the active duty military and veterans, one does not have to be a veteran to take part and you are by no means a poser if you support this brand. One other that I have also personally owned is RESCO Instruments, which was started by a former SEAL. Similar to Sangin, they have strong support from the active duty military and make a robust toolwatch. Starting a watch company is hard, really hard.  There is a reason the top watch brands have been around for over a century.  Do your research: many of these companies have good intentions, slick websites and lots of tactical dudes wearing them, but actually building a company like Sangin and RESCO is not easy or for the faint hearted. Final thought, any brand that gets you interested in watches is a good thing.  If you like the aesthetic of a watch and the guys building a brand, buy one. Try it out.  It’s all just a part of the larger process of going deeper into the hobby.  Favorite city to visit? Istanbul, Turkey; Beirut, Lebanon; Cape Town, South Africa. If you had to choose only one watch to keep forever, what would it be? From an emotional standpoint, it would likely be the titanium Royal Jordanian Breitling Aerospace, a gift from His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, but from a purely aesthetic and functional perspective, it would be my Rolex GMT-Master II, an early 2000s black and red “Coke” ref 16710. For years, I have said that the Rolex GMT–any execution of the watch– is the ultimate CIA Case Officer’s watch– a classy and refined tool that signals to others you are a man of culture, yet don’t mind getting your hands dirty. A Case Officer has been described as a “PhD that can win in a bar fight,” and that fictional person would wear a Rolex GMT.  While this is less true today with the astronomical prices of “new” pre-owned models, there is still a lot of truth to it.  When traveling, the quick-change date and GMT functionality are useful for telling the time back home, and a simple wrist check is easier than pulling out a phone. The watch also captures the spirit of the often-romanticized ‘50s Rolex GMT, originally developed in the 1950s for commercial Pan Am pilots. I have an old “Root Beer” ref 16753, but the newer model is more robust and still maintains some of the vintage aspects, including drilled lug holes and the aluminum bezel.  The “Pepsi” of course is a classic, but there is something about the red and black that I have always gravitated towards.  It is just different enough to make it stand out but still retains that timeless appeal of the classic bi-color bezel formula.  How has your interest in watches evolved over time? My personal interest in watches has evolved greatly over the past year as my collection has expanded. My collection and my interest grew together in tandem.  I’m still interested in modern tool watches, but have gone down the vintage military-issued watch rabbit hole.  I recently acquired a South African issued Tudor Milsub ref 7016 and a US Navy UDT/SEAL-issued Tudor 7928.  Both of these watches are “grail” pieces for me, and for the time being I am satisfied and have so much history to learn and uncover when it comes to the pieces I already own.  I will continue to be on the lookout for unique watches with military provenance.  There is something special about owning a piece of history and being able to wear it on your wrist. What are your thoughts on watch modifications? I have never modified a watch before, but this is something I would really like to explore in the future.  The idea of taking a Tudor Black Bay 58 or an Arabic Seiko as a blank canvas and personalizing it is incredibly intriguing.  This is still a controversial practice for much of the traditional watch community.  George Bamford originally made a name for himself by customizing Rolex watches into unconventional designs, much to the chagrin of the Swiss luxury brands. Customized “Commando” Rolex Submariner (Bamford Watch Department) That said, I am not attracted to customizing a timepiece to look like another timepiece, aka a “Homage” customization.  If this makes you excited, then I am happy for you, but it is not for me. Before selling out and going corporate, our friend and spiritual mentor Cole Pennington wrote a piece for Hodinkee defending homage pieces.  I generally agree with everything Cole writes, but when it comes to this topic I respectfully disagree.  Cole points out that there is a “big difference” between homage pieces and counterfeits, but in reality whether produced by a manufacturer or individually customized, the difference is often not that big.  I would rather purchase (and wear) a Seiko that looks like a Seiko, than a Seiko that has been retrofitted to look like a Rolex. What is the future of Watches of Espionage? What new products and will they be in stock? W.O.E is and always will be an enthusiast platform.  The reason we are successful is that we are passionate about watches (and espionage) and that’s our core fundamental driving force–not profiting from the watch community.  Our goal for Watches of Espionage is to become the number one resource for military, intelligence and national security content as it relates to timepieces.  We have just scratched the surface and have a lot more to explore. We have made a lot of progress over the past year, with the launch of the website and initial W.O.E. products.  Our main focus is building a community of like-minded individuals who appreciate history and an interest in timepieces.  Content will continue to be our main focus and our intention is to keep this free and open to everyone.   Much of the watch industry works on a “pay to play” model where brands sponsor content or invite journalists to “exclusive” press trips which inevitably influences any potential watch review. Our goal is to avoid this model and remain an impartial third party in the watch industry. We will support brands and people who are doing good things.  If we enter into a partnership with a brand, it will be on our terms and will not be just a transaction for cash to exploit our relationship with the community. Obviously this takes significant time and money and will only increase as we continue to expand.  After thoughtful consideration, we moved into the product space, and have found this equally fulfilling to create novel and exciting products for our community.  We appreciate those who have supported W.O.E.-- as this support will give us the opportunity for increased quality content.  Over the coming year, we hope to expand the number of articles per week and potentially move into other mediums.  Regarding products, we are working on some new and exciting projects and hope to have some in stock at all points.  We are in the initial steps on a coffee table book that we hope to be available in 2024. This year, we have raised over $23,000 for Third Option Foundation and we have more fundraisers scheduled for this year that will be both meaningful and interesting. As always, thank you for the support.  This would not be possible without you. Read Next: Vietnam MACV-SOG Seikos: Setting The Record Straight *Unless otherwise noted, pictures are of W.O.E.'s personal collection by James Rupley.

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Aviation “Unit Watches”: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division

Aviation “Unit Watches”: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division

One of the most common questions we receive from active duty military, law enforcement and intelligence officers is how to organize a “unit watch.”  We...

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One of the most common questions we receive from active duty military, law enforcement and intelligence officers is how to organize a “unit watch.”  We have previously profiled Tudor’s unit watch program and plan to cover all of the major players in this space.    UK-based Bremont Watch Company has made significant headway in capturing the market and providing unique watches to military and intelligence units, including the highest tiers of the US Intelligence, Aviation and Special Operations community. In order to document a first hand perspective, we asked Nic, an Australian military pilot, to write a Dispatch on his experience organizing a custom Bremont for his squadron. As always, this content is not sponsored and the views and perspectives are of the author.  At W.O.E., we are brand agnostic but do support any brand that supports our community. Aviation Unit Watch Case Study: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division The EA-18G Bremont U-2 on the wrist of a Growler pilot (Photo Credit: @outboundcourse)  In the world of horology, Bremont is a relative newcomer, having been founded by brothers Nick and Giles English in 2002. The siblings, inspired by their father’s passion for both aviation and mechanical devices, merged their interests to design, manufacture and release their first pilot's watch in 2007. Bremont arrived on the scene as a fresh contender at a time when established players were coincidently shifting their focus away from the aviation and military markets towards more mainstream celebrity brand ambassadors. In 2009, U-2 spy plane pilots from Beale Air Force Base, California contacted Bremont to see if the brand would be willing to create a bespoke watch for their squadron. Bremont subsequently produced and delivered the watch as its first ever military project in 2010. The following year, they launched a partnership with ejection seat manufacturer Martin Baker and started to garner interest from the global military aviation community. Bremont was then approached by the US Navy Test Pilot School, USAF C-17 Globemaster community and US Navy VFA-81 Sunliners Squadron and asked to produce special military watches for their members. The Military and Special Projects Bremont made for U-2 spy plane pilots was the brand’s first custom military watch. (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) Once the custom C-17 watch appeared on social media in 2012, the brand received significantly more attention from potential military clients. To cater for this increase in queries and requests for projects, Bremont’s Military and Special Project Division was established by Catherine Villeneuve. Over ten years later, Catherine – who is also Nick English’s wife – leads a sizable and dedicated team as Bremont’s Head of Military and Special Projects. The C-17A Bremont ALT1-WT (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) I first heard about Bremont from a friend who had run his own project and so got in touch with the brand’s Military and Special Projects team in 2016 to enquire about developing a watch for my Australian squadron of KC-30A air-to-air refueling aircraft. Once I’d established contact the process was straight forward. Due to the expeditionary nature of our work, I chose the Bremont World Timer as a base model and then started the back-and-forth with the Bremont design team to determine how to make the project unique and meaningful to those of us who would eventually wear it. This mainly consisted of me sending poorly constructed Microsoft Paint pictures of airplanes and crests pasted onto watches and them responding with high quality renderings of potential design options. As the military traditionally offers limited opportunities for creative expression within its ranks, I really enjoyed the opportunity to play designer with the guidance from Bremont’s professionals. Catherine explains that “The design focus is to base the client’s idea around an existing model, staying true to our brand DNA and then elegantly and subtly integrating design details within the watch dial and sometimes other watch parts, to best identify the military squadron, unit or community”. The “triple seven," an Afghan unit trained/mentored by Americans for air lift assets, most notably the Russian built Mi-17.  This watch was produced by Bremont for the American servicemen supporting that unit. Bremont distinguishes itself from many competitors’ military offerings by allowing extensive customisation options. Beyond simply featuring aircraft silhouettes on the dial or unit crests on the case back, clients can opt for a variety of modifications, depending on the size of their order. For example, the C-130J Hercules project features a small seconds hand shaped like the aircraft’s six-blade propellers; the F-14 Tomcat project has hands coloured to match the jet’s tailhook; and the movement rotors of the A-10C project are carved into the shape of the Hawg’s iconic 30mm autocannon. For our project we were able to use a GMT hand coloured to match our refueling boom and a bespoke time zone bezel that showed the ICAO codes of our frequently visited airports and air bases. The C-130J Bremont ALT1-Z (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary) There are still some design rules to adhere to – Catherine notes “We have detailed documents regarding specific Terms and Conditions when it comes to designing and purchasing a Bremont Military and Special Project watch”. However, IYKYK acronyms sometimes appear on project dials that may skirt some of the restrictions (see: USAF KC-135’s “NKAWTG”, F-16CJ Super Weasel’s “YGBSM” and RAAF 75SQN’s “YKYMF”). Custom Bremont MBIIIs for F-16CJ Super Weasels and RAAF 75SQN (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) Once our design was finalized and eligibility criteria set, it was time for me to collect orders from my colleagues to meet the minimum number requirements. The amount of emotional energy invested during the design phase made this portion of the process particularly stressful. For many at military units, this is their first foray into the world of luxury mechanical watches so justifying the price tag can be a difficult feat but to help with this, Bremont offers significant discounts to it’s military customers. Once the minimum numbers were met and deposits paid, production began with the final product being delivered about nine months later. While the completion of production and delivery marks the end of the journey for most customers, a significant number of us choose to maintain a connection with the brand by engaging through social media, sharing photos of watches in action (use your tools!) or by dropping into local boutiques to share a story and enjoy a drink. It’s also worth noting the project leader can decide whether the project is a limited run or not. Even years after the first batch of deliveries, latecomers such as new squadron members or people who didn’t have the funds at the time can still get on board as Bremont maintains contact with the original project leader to ensure accurate verification of eligibility. Bremont's Military and Special Projects Division has become a pillar of the brand's success, accounting for almost 20% of its total sales. Interestingly, design ideas incubated by military projects can also overflow to Bremont’s core range. For example, the ALT1-WT was inspired by the C-17 Globemaster watch, the ALT-1B from a B-2 bomber project and the U-22 from an F-22 Raptor project. The purple, bronze and titanium-colored barrels across the MB range were all first featured on military projects. The F-22 Bremont U-22. The exposed date wheel was first for the brand and went on to inform the design of the civilian U-22 model. (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) The Bremont Military Instagram account showcases a myriad of professional and user-submitted photos, providing a glimpse into the vast number of individual projects the Military and Special Projects Division have produced with many more discreet projects remaining unseen by the public and unspoken about by the brand. When asked which projects were her personal favorites, Catherine responded “There are so many I could mention. Over the last 13 years Bremont has created and delivered almost 500 different military and special projects. Some of them are incredibly exciting but sadly the details of many projects cannot be shared. Design-wise, I would say the F-35 collection (F-35A, F-35B, F-35C and F-35 Dambuster) is very cool, the RAF Lancaster Bomber, HSM-85 Squadron, 89th Airlift, Grim Reapers 493rd Fighter Squadron, RSAF Tornado, the Royal Marine 350th, the new Royal Navy Submariners and of course the Australian KC-30A are personal favorites.” The KC-30A Bremont ALT1-WT on the beaches of Diego Garcia (Photo credit @bremontmilitary) Although military projects account for about 80% of the timepieces produced by the Military and Special Projects Division, watches are also made for civilian organizations. These clients have included BAE Systems, Oxbridge alumni, Rapha, FedEx pilots, Aston Martin Owners’ Club, Heathrow Air Traffic Controllers, REORG veterans’ charity, as well as rugby and cricket clubs. Moving forward, we can expect to see (or maybe only hear rumors of) many more bespoke Bremont Military and Special Projects watches that not only tell the time, but also tell the stories of the elite units, squadrons, ships and regiments that they have been created for.  READ NEXT: Marathon, Watch Maker For The Modern Military Author: Nic is an Australian military pilot that has been a follower of W.O.E. since the early days. He has a particular interest in custom military watch projects having designed and produced timepieces with multiple brands

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Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Hollywood Watches of Espionage

Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate...

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Mercenaries, Arms Dealers, CIA Contractors, and Navy SEALs – a timepiece can complement a fictional character. Watches play a significant role in film. An accurate depiction of a character often includes a watch they might actually wear, and this is especially true in the military, intelligence and espionage genre. When this happens, it lends a sense of credibility to the work.  This is likely a mixture of art imitating life and vice versa.  Believe it or not, we know plenty of real “spies” and “operators” whose watch choices were influenced by movies.  The Bond Omega and Bond Rolex are obvious ones. But other watches are also featured on the silver screen, and we’ll explore them here. (Photo Credit James Rupley) In Hollywood, watch decisions range from paid product placement (as seen with the Bond Omega) to actors' personal watches worn on set and prop masters making specific choices for what they deem is best for that character.  It’s a small detail, but as enthusiasm around horology grows, and viewers develop a more nuanced understanding of the details that make up a character for the growing number of watch enthusiasts, the watch becomes an element that says a lot about a character.  In this piece, we’ll take a look at several examples of W.O.E. in Hollywood and provide our thoughts on the watch choices for a given character.  Blood Diamond- Breitling Chrono Avenger: In Blood Diamond, Danny Archer, a Rhodesian smuggler and ex-mercenary, embarks on a hair-raising adventure to find a large diamond in the midst of the Sierra Leone Civil War. Leonardo DiCarprio's character wears a Breitling Chrono Avenger, with a black dial and solid titanium 44mm case on a brown calf leather strap.  Overall, this watch nails it.  We all know that sketchy dudes wear Breitling and a Rhodesian mercenary turned diamond smuggler is the very definition of sketchy.  The movie takes place in 1999, when Breitling was at the height of its sketchiness and was a go-to tool for gray area operators. Both former CEO of Blackwater Eric Prince and former British SAS turned African mercenary Simon Mann wore Breitling Emergencies.   Breitling has developed an almost cult-like following in the national security community. With strong roots in aviation, Breitling is a signal that one is adventurous but also appreciates fine craftsmanship in utilitarian tools. Breitling has cultivated this narrative through marketing and product development of unique tools for adventurers, particularly in the military and aviation space.  13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - Rolex Submariner In 13 Hours, Ty "Rone" Woods, a CIA Global Response Staff contractor played by James Badge Dale, wore a six digit Rolex Submariner while defending the State Department facility and the CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  As a former SEAL turned GRS contractor, this choice makes sense given the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community's long standing relationship with Rolex and Tudor.  As we have documented in the past, it is common for SEALs to commemorate a deployment or BUD/S graduation with a Rolex Submariner. In fact, according to research by Rolex Magazine, the real Tyrone had at least two watches: a Rolex Sea-Dweller reference 16660 and a Panerai Luminor Marina, which is also common in the Teams. As documented by Rolex Magazine, "On January 1st, 2010, late on a Friday night, he registered an account with RolexForums.com under the username sdfrog177. He wrote a post mentioning the sale of his Panerai Luminor Marina 44mm and a Rolex Sea-Dweller triple 6 model (1983-1984 model). Thanks, T.W., he signed at the bottom.” According to a declassified CIA document, “On the morning of September 12, the CIA Base was subjected to repeated mortar fire . . . Defending the Base from the rooftop, they died when a mortar round landed near them. Tyrone Woods loved his life, his family, and his country. All who knew him remember that he was a joy to be around and he always made people feel better. Tyrone was 41 years old.” Lord of War -  Platinum Rolex President Day-Date: Lord of War is a 2005 (mostly) fictional Hollywood account of the life of Viktor Bout, aka the "Merchant of Death," a notorious Russian arms dealer who took advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union to sell off the massive arms left over at significant profit. Yuri Orlov, played by Nicolas Cage, wears a platinum Rolex President Day-Date, overall a fitting timepiece for this uber-wealthy and charismatic character. Cage, an avid watch collector himself, has an impressive collection; it is possible this is a personal watch.  The real Merchant of Death, Viktor Bout, was arrested in a sting operation led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Bangkok in 2008.  During his arrest, Bout was wearing a Breitling B-1, a watch that he was able to wear while in detention for at least a month.  Another sketchy dude wearing a Breitling . . . in the business, we call this a pattern.  Terminal List - Oris, RESCO Instruments, IWC, Ares and more: (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Watches play a central role in former SEAL-turned-writer Jack Carr’s Terminal List book series.  Central to the story of James Reece is a legacy Rolex Submariner, purchased by his father, Thomas Reece, during an R&R in Saigon during his first tour in Vietnam with SEAL Team Two. The elder Reece went on to wear this Sub while serving as a CIA Case Officer overseas (sound familiar?). So it is no surprise that the Amazon series adaptation contains several accurate and well-placed watches for the lead (James Reece) and supporting characters.  We are told that these choices were organic and not product placements, which makes it even cooler.  (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) James Reece, played by Chris Pratt, wears several watches throughout the series, including an Oris Aquis Pro Date Calibre 400, Resco Instruments BlackFrog Gen2 Black PVD (an insider told us he wanted to wear a military watch in specific scenes), a G-Shock GA-100-1A1 and a period correct 5.11 Military Tactical Field Ops Watch.  Carr even makes a cameo in the film wearing an Ares Diver, who the founder of was former CIA. (Photo Credit: Justin Lubin) Overall, it is a well done series with great “watch spotting,” including several Oris, Digital Tool Watches (DTWs) and even an IWC Big Pilot IW500901 worn by Steve Horn (the villain- Jai Courtney).  Both Pratt and Carr are watch guys and it's cool to see these pieces featured, another subtle and accurate nod to our community. It’s always a joy when someone gets it right.  Magnum PI - Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master 16750: We have previously said that the Rolex GMT, any reference, is the ultimate CIA Case Officer’s watch– a classy and refined tool that signals to others you are a man of culture, yet don’t mind getting your hands dirty. The ideal Case Officer has been described as a “Ph.D. that can win a bar fight,” and this idiom covers Thomas Magnum well. (Photo Credit James Rupley) Magnum was a former SEAL, Naval Intelligence Officer and Vietnam War veteran. He’s the ultimate cool guy from the 80s and the Pepsi GMT is the perfect watch for him.  During an interview with Frank Rousseau, Selleck said of the watch: "I’ve always loved that watch. It was the perfect match for Magnum. It’s a watch that likes action, and believe me I know what I’m talking about. I’ve had my fair share of “sport” watches but never one as tough as the Rolex. It’s been underwater, buried in sand, taken I don’t know how many knocks, and never a problem. It’s called the Pepsi because the bezel colors are the same as the Pepsi logo. Personally, I thought the red went well with the Ferrari and the blue matched Hawaii’s lagoons and sky. " You might think you’re cool, and you might actually be cool, but you will never be Tom Selleck sporting a legendary mustache in a red Ferrari wearing a vintage Rolex GMT Pepsi cool. READ NEXT: Prince Harry The Military Watch Enthusiast This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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Third Option Foundation Fundraise - GBRS AOR-1 Watch Pouch and Challenge Coin

Third Option Foundation Fundraise - GBRS AOR-1 Watch Pouch and Challenge Coin

We are happy to announce the release of a special edition watch pouch and challenge coin in partnership with GBRS Group.  The pouch is constructed...

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We are happy to announce the release of a special edition watch pouch and challenge coin in partnership with GBRS Group.  The pouch is constructed with repurposed issued AOR-1 camouflage uniforms worn by GBRS co-founders and former Navy SEALs Cole Fackler and DJ Shipley.  Each order includes a W.O.E.-GBRS challenge coin.  $40 of every purchase will be donated directly to Third Option Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the CIA’s paramilitary officers of the Special Activities Center (SAC).  We expect to raise over $20,000 and will provide proof of the donation once the fundraiser is complete. Cole and DJ with donated uniforms, Panerais on the wrist. Overview:  This release is an updated version of one of our best selling products, the W.O.E. Travel Pouch and challenge coin.  Made in the USA, the single watch case is durable, compact and functional, and honors our community with subtle accents. Like a great watch, the case is a tool, made to be used and to last decades. The GBRS AOR-1 case has an updated card with red trim and the GBRS Old-English “g” is on one side of the watch card and the back of the watch case. AOR-1:  The case flap keeper is constructed with repurposed issued AOR-1 camouflage uniforms worn by Cole and DJ.  AOR-1 was introduced in 2010 for Navy Special Operations and was developed for desert/arid environments.  The pattern has been used widely throughout the Middle East and Africa. DJ wearing AOR-1 camouflage during free fall training. GBRS Group:  GBRS Group is a veteran-owned, Tier 1 training and services organization committed to imparting critical skills and real-world experiences to end-users in military, federal, state and local special operations units.  GBRS Group was founded by Cole Fackler and DJ Shipley, two former Navy SEALs who served in NSW Development Group, the Navy’s Tier 1 Special Mission Unit. Cole deployed overseas with NSW. As previously discussed in the Dispatch, Naval Special Warfare (NSW) has a long history with timepieces.  Since the early 1960’s, frogmen have utilized tool watches including Tudor, Seiko, G-Shock and various other dive watches.  Today, NSW continues this tradition with a strong culture of high end tool watches, including Panerai, Rolex, Tudor, Bremont and various other timepieces. Third Option Foundation:  The name refers to the motto of CIA's Special Activities Center: Tertia Optio, the President’s third option when military force is inappropriate and diplomacy is inadequate. Third Option Foundation is dedicated to providing comprehensive family resiliency programs, working behind the scenes to quietly help those who quietly serve. “You will probably never know the names of these silent heroes who defend our safety and freedoms in the most distant corners of the world. They’re often the first in and the last to leave many conflicts around the globe. For decades, the operators of CIA's Special Operations units have served and sacrificed in quiet anonymity.  Particularly in the years since 9/11, this small group, along with their families, has borne an unprecedented burden in the fight to protect our nation. The nature of their service means they and their loved ones cannot seek the support or relief available to military service members and their families. Third Option Foundation is the only organization that fills this gap, by providing crucial survivorship assistance and resiliency programs to heal the wounded, help the families of those we have lost, and support those who are still serving. “I was the commander of a unit that, within the span of about 18 months, sustained a number of casualties of operators killed in action overseas. There were more than a dozen children who were suddenly without fathers, and wives who had lost their husbands. As we were flying across the country notifying the families, we saw just how significant the need was for those family members for a safety net, for support and understanding. We decided to create an organization to address the really unique needs of our agency’s Special Operations community that weren’t being met. — Anonymous, Co-Founder of Third Option Foundation” At W.O.E., we are passionate about serving those who serve us and this is at the core of who we are as a business and community. We believe that doing good is good business and it would be hypocritical of us to not give back to our community. We will continue to be transparent about our support.   *Photos by James Rupley and GBRS. **W.O.E. has no affiliation with Third Option Foundation and this fundraiser is not officially endorsed by Third Option Foundation.   THIRD OPTION FOUNDATION IS A 501(C)(3) TAX-EXEMPT NATIONAL NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION.

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A Saudi Astronaut’s Rolex GMT at the International Space Station

A Saudi Astronaut’s Rolex GMT at the International Space Station

Saudi astronaut Ali Alqarni peered out the window of the International Space Station (ISS). The bright blue glow of the earth’s atmosphere roughly 250 miles...

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Saudi astronaut Ali Alqarni peered out the window of the International Space Station (ISS). The bright blue glow of the earth’s atmosphere roughly 250 miles below him filled his vista.  He slid his Rolex “Pepsi” GMT-Master II off his wrist and let it go, the watch drifting, weightless, right in front of the window. In a rare moment of serenity, Alqarni snapped a picture of the watch.  When I first came across the picture on @niccoloy’s Instagram page, I ignorantly assumed “Prince Ali '' was a wealthy Saudi, on a “mission” to the ISS.  As it turns out, Captain Alqarni was not a billionaire space tourist, but instead a professional aviator–a Captain in the Royal Saudi Air Force having logged over 2,000 hours of flight time and multiple combat deployments on the F-15.  While the Rolex GMT-Master II looked like any old Rolex, it was so much more– it was a symbol of Alqarni’s achievements, a commemorative watch purchased after his wedding and a complement to the Breitling B-1 he had worn since graduating flight school. It also pulled double duty as a true tool in the cockpit, the most fitting application of the watch considering its jet-age history.  We spoke with Alqarni, a follower of W.O.E., and found in him a passion for service to his country, and a sense of conviction that watches are meant as tools as well as extensions of our identity and symbols of our accomplishments. Like many space voyages before Axiom Mission 2, Alqarni’s trip was just as much cultural and political as it was scientific.  The Saudi Space Commission launched in 2017 as a part of Vision 2030, and Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi were the second and third, respectively, Saudis to reach space under the Saudi Space Commission. Barnawi, the first Saudi woman in space, is a stem cell researcher with a complementary skill set to Alqarni’s.  Barnawi wore a yellow “Mission to the Sun” Moonswatch on the ISS.   The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) hoped the mission would inspire the next generation of Saudi Arabian citizens to focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).    Alqarni’s commemorative Omega Speedmaster, also worn on the trip. Watches of Spaceflight (W.O.S.)? When it comes to “Watches of Astronauts” (W.O.A.?), we immediately think of the Omega Speedmaster, a watch with strong ties to space exploration and that most notably played an important role during Apollo 13.  But a plethora of other brands have exited earth's atmosphere, including a previous Rolex GMT worn on the wrist Dr. Edgar Mitchell during the Apollo missions. The Rolex GMT-Master was a logical watch given the robust movement and GMT function, and legendary US Air Force officer Chuck Yeager’s watch of choice is still prized by aviators to this day.   As with Intelligence and Special Operations, watches have a strong historical tie to space exploration, initially due to the functional aspect of a watch, but at present, their cultural significance is equally as strong.  That said, Alqarni noted that most modern astronauts relied on Digital Tool Watches (DTWs), proving more functional than mechanical watches. Fighter Pilot Turned Astronaut: Though Alqarni was passionate about watches from an early age, his real exposure to military watch culture originated during his flight training in the United States in 2011.  His US Air Force officer mentor wore a Breitling F-15 Airwolf "Eagle Driver" with his call sign engraved on the caseback.  The mentor explained the significance of squadron commissioned watches and as a result, Alqarni was hooked.  From humble roots and fresh off a scholarship from King Faisal Air Academy, Alqarni wasn’t in a position to buy a brand new watch, so he settled on a pre-owned Breitling B-1 to commemorate his graduation. As a part of the Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), Alqarni visited the  Space Center Houston and met a former F-16 pilot-turned-astronaut.  This planted the seed that eventually led Alqarni to a career as an astronaut, but with no Saudi space program at the time, future space travel seemed unlikely.  Alqarni also received his call-sign: “Prince Ali”, based on the playful assumption from US Airmen that Alqarni must be related to the Royal family, the type of culturally insensitive, but well-intentioned humor common in our community.   Over the next decade, Alqarni wore the Breitling B-1 throughout his training and combat deployments.  For the same reasons my personal Breitling Aerospace was ideal for clandestine operations around the globe, Alqarni’s B-1 was a practical tool watch for an F-15 pilot.  The digital screens and various functions allowed him to time flights and track multiple time zones.  It was a tool, but also a symbol of his accomplishments, his passion for flying and the significance of time in the world of aeronautics.  During our conversation, he proudly explained his devotion to aviation and said the tool was a symbol of that love.  He was proud of every scratch on it. The Rolex: In 2018, in preparation for his wedding day Alqarni walked into an Authorized Dealer in Jeddah and put his name on the list for the Rolex GMT-Master II on a Jubilee bracelet.  It was a logical choice for a professional pilot, the Pepsi GMT has strong roots in aviation.  For confirmation that “Prince Ali” is not a real Prince, look no further than the year he had to wait for his Rolex. Like the rest of us commoners, he had to wait a year until he received “the call” two months after his wedding.  Regardless of the wait, the watch immediately became a favorite and adorned his wrist on training missions and deployments.  The Rolex catapulted him down the watch rabbit hole, and his collection only grew over the years. Space Trip: In 2020, the Saudi Space Commission sent out the request for volunteers to travel on Axiom Mission 2, originally scheduled for early 2023.  The six month selection process whittled 200 applicants down to Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi.  It was a commercial spaceflight led by veteran NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.  As with previous spaceflights, the mission was a symbol of national pride and intended to signal that KSA was focused on the future.  The inclusion of a female member of the team was a clear message that KSA was focused on modernization.  Only in 2017 were women allowed to drive after a decree from King Salman. Alqrani’s personal effects and equipment were sent to the space station in advance, which included the Rolex GMT.  The GMT is noticeably absent from his wrist in pictures of Alqarani training for the mission.  Each spaceflight member was provided a custom Omega Speedmaster Professional.  The astronauts’ names and the team’s patch–a dragon capsule flanked with the Saudi and US flags–were engraved on the caseback. A patch honoring the mission’s focus on inspiration, education and teaching, symbolized by the five S.T.E.A.M symbols. Science represented by a DNA strand, Technology represented by a set of connected circles, Engineering represented by a cog, Arts represented by a brush, and Math represented by the Pi symbol.  The Mission: When Alqarni arrived at the ISS, he was provided access to his personal effects and equipment needed for scientific experiments in the zero gravity environment.  Alqarni nervously unwrapped the watch that he had not seen for six months, reflecting, “I was worried that the watch was not going to work.”  It was an emotional and symbolic moment: Both the watch and Alqarni had made it against all odds. And both were right on time. For Alqarni, the watch ticking embodied all that it took to get to the ISS and the sacrifice and triumph of the Saudi people. Quickly realizing that the jubilee bracelet was loose, a result of weight loss during training, Alqarni wound the watch and set the primary time to Zulu Time (Coordinated Universal Time), the time used by the ISS, and the secondary hand to Saudi Arabia (Zulu + 3).  Throughout the journey, Alqarni manipulated the bezel to quickly check the time for Tokyo, etc. as he traveled through space.    Zero Gravity: Alqarni explained that the self-winding automatic watch worked well in zero gravity conditions, the wrist movement and inertia was enough to move the pendulum.  Alqarni did not have to wind the watch again. After 10 days in space, the team splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on 30 May.  As Barnawi, the first Saudi woman to space, would say, “Every story comes to an end and this is only the beginning of a new era for our country and our region.”   To commemorate the trip to space and build on the history of the Rolex GMT, Alqarni planned to engrave the caseback with the dates of the voyage as well as a note summarizing his accomplishments to date.  Alqarni currently has one daughter and has aspirations to grow his family. He hopes to give the watch to his children in the future. Who knows, they might even take it back to space one day.  Read Next: The Lasting Legacy Of The CIA’s Lockheed A-12 And The Watch That Served It

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D-Day Dirty Dozen Watches

D-Day, a Look at the Watches that Served Our Soldiers

79 years ago the most important Allied coordinated effort of WWII took place. These watches kept soldiers on time.  On Tuesday June 6th, 1944 the...

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79 years ago the most important Allied coordinated effort of WWII took place. These watches kept soldiers on time.  On Tuesday June 6th, 1944 the largest seaborne invasion in history occurred. Nearly 160,000 allied troops managed to change the course of WWII by storming the beaches of Normandy and setting off the liberation of France from the Nazis, and later, a victory. The invasion began at 6:30am, when soldiers started storming five beaches–Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword, Juno. Approximately 11,000 aircraft and 7,000 watercraft supported the invasion. Shortly before the landing, under the cover of darkness, Paratroopers, including commandos from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), were inserted into strategic spots inland in order to weaken the German defense network and provide a strategic advantage to the soldiers arriving by amphibious craft.  Operation Overlord, June 6, 1944 Today marks the 79th anniversary of the day this incredible effort took place. Roughly 73,000 Allied soldiers were lost over the course of the invasion.  “D-Day” as its known, typically refers to these Normandy landings, but in the larger military context, it refers to the exact time a combat action takes place. D-Day and H-Hour refer to the day an hour a coordinated effort is initiated. “D-Day”, in the case of the Normandy Invasion, was actually set for June 5th, but General Eisenhower made the choice to delay the attack due to rough seas and inclement weather.  General Eisenhower reportedly wore a Heuer Chronograph, as identified by @niccoloy (Government Archives)  In war, time matters. A massive concerted effort between Allied nations meant every single soldier had to be on time and operating in unison. The tool that helped orchestrate an invasion that shifted the outcome of the war? The humble wristwatch. In the 1940s, watches were hardly considered as the luxury accessories they are today. Soldiers wore watches that were issued to them as a part of the set of tools needed to do a very important job.  Photo Credit: Vertex Watches  History buffs, WWII enthusiasts, and even re-enactors pay incredible attention to details surrounding WWII, but somehow one of the most important pieces of kit–the watch–is often overlooked. At W.O.E. we care about nothing but details, so today, on the anniversary of D-Day, we’ll take a look at some of the watches that were on the wrists of soldiers, sailors, and airmen that were involved in the invasion.  The A-11 (produced by Bulova, Elgin, Waltham and others) Personal collection of former CIA Officer and W.O.E. contributor, J.R. Seeger. Commonly referred to as “the watch that won the war”, the A-11 was the most ubiquitous service watch during WWII. It’s a specification, rather than an actual watch, and that meant that various companies could produce watches to this spec and in turn, the government would purchase these watches and distribute them to service personnel. For its time, the specification set was exacting, the watch needed a black dial with white numerical indices, a manual-winding, hacking movement with center seconds, 10 minute markers, an hour and minute hand. The case came in at a compact 32 millimeters. The watches saw service with the Brits as well as the Americans.  The Army Ordnance Watch Army Time Piece (ATP) watch of the UK forces and the US Army Ordnance (ORD) on original OSS manual (Seeger’s personal collection) While the A-11 was rated for aviation operations (and specific maritime operations), the “ORD” watches were general-purpose watches issued to US soldiers en masse. The specification outlined in the TM 9-1575 War Department Technical Manual for Wrist Watches, Pocket Watches, Stop Watches allows for some variation in design, so Waltham, Hamilton, Bulova and Elgin all put their own twist on these watches meant to be mass produced for soldiers. These watches are distinguished by their white dials and “Ord Dept” engravings on the caseback.  The “Dirty Dozen” MoD Watches The Dirty Dozen - all twelve W.W.W. watches (Credit: A Collected Man) Most popular among collectors is a series of 12 watches produced by the likes of Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex. On all of these British-issued watches you’ll find W.W.W. (Watch, Wrist, Waterproof) and a broadarrow insignia engraved in the back. It’s unknown how many of each were produced because it’s believed that only WC, JLC, and Omega recorded their production at 6,000, 10,000,  and 25,000 respectively. The Dirty Dozen were general service watches, and that meant they saw service with various service roles across all functions of the military. While these pieces were not delivered until after D-Day at the conclusion of the war, they are a product of this conflict. IWC Dirty Dozen piece with original box (Credit: A Collected Man) We tend to romanticize the equipment used by service members carrying out brave efforts that changed the course of world history. Watches are certainly among the kind of things we tend to prescribe a certain importance to–and that’s not to be ignored, timekeeping is absolutely vital especially when it comes to a massive coordination such as Operation Overlord. But watches only supported the mission as a piece of gear with an assigned function. They were, and always will be, tools to get the job done. Today we honor and remember the valiant efforts of Allied service members 79 years ago to this day, and the actions taken by them that resulted in a free world that flourishes.  Read Next: CIA’s JAWBREAKER Team And A Rolex Submariner  

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Best Watches Under $1,000 - Ask the Experts

Best Watches Under $1,000 - Ask the Experts

One of the coolest parts of the W.O.E. platform is exposing people to the world of watches in an unpretentious and engaging manner.  Getting into...

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One of the coolest parts of the W.O.E. platform is exposing people to the world of watches in an unpretentious and engaging manner.  Getting into watches can be intimidating and it is difficult to know where to start. Regardless of one's socioeconomic status and access to disposable income, we recommend starting with a watch under-$1,000.  Just because you can afford a Rolex, doesn't mean you should start there.   In the “Ask W.O.E. Anything” Dispatch, I put forward my belief that a Seiko is a good place to start, and maybe end with watch collecting.  That said, there are some great watches under $1,000 and there is no right answer to this question.  In order to capture a broad collection of suitable watches, we asked a handful of our friends from both the traditional watch and NatSec communities to provide their choice for the “Best Watch Under $1,000.” This is an incredibly diverse list of individuals from former Special Operations warriors, Intelligence Officers, and divers, to some of the leading experts in the watch community.  The one thing they all have in common is a shared appreciation for watches.  While all of them have objectively more “expensive” watches in their collection, they have a genuine appreciation for these more affordable timepieces. CWC Royal Navy Jason Heaton, author, freelance writer, and podcast host, The Grey NA TO and author of Depth Charge. I’ve long contended that the CWC Royal Navy dive watch is the watch a “real” James Bond would wear, at least the 21st-century iteration of MI6’s famous “blunt instrument” spy. Issued since the 1980s to British Navy divers and Special Forces operators, it is a tough, classic, unassuming watch that can truly go anywhere and manages the balance between looking good and not drawing attention to itself. The quartz version (Approx. $930), with its 300 meters of water resistance, long-life battery, and fixed strap bars means its owner can go forth in the world on adventures, clandestine or otherwise, without having to worry about his watch. And that’s the highest of compliments, in my mind.  Seiko Prospex SNJ025 aka The 'Arnie' Chris Craighead, former British Special Air Service (SAS), @christian_craighead The Seiko Prospex ($525) has a unique and rich history. Not only was it worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies such as Commando, Predator, and Raw Deal, it was also one of the first watches issued to an East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare (NSW) unit. The watch is extremely tough and practical. The dual, analog and digital face makes it a versatile watch for whatever purpose you choose to wear it. Tornek-Rayville TR-660  Brock Stevens, Active Duty US Navy Diver, EDC enthusiast, and photographer behind @deepsea_edc.  The Tornek-Rayville TR-660 ($950) is a no-frills, straight-to-the-point tool watch. As an active duty US Navy Diver who believes in wearing watches for their intended purposes, I love that about it. With a robust movement, 200 meters of water resistance, a legible dial, and lightning bright lume, I count on this watch to get the job done during my working dives. I have beat the living hell out of this thing, banging it around on just about every type of warship the US Navy has to offer, and it just keeps on ticking. Any watch can sit in the collection and look pretty, but if you’re after ultimate function and genuine military heritage at a reasonable price point, look no further. Rowing Blazers X Seiko 5 Sports Watch (Limited Edition 2023)  Eric Wind, leading expert in vintage watches. Eric founded and owns Wind Vintage  The Seiko 5 Sports line offers some of the best accessible mechanical watches on the market. Having had a bunch over the last few years, they are solid, reliable, and attractive - a winning combination. I really like the model we have used for our latest Rowing Blazers x Seiko watches ($495) as it is 40mm, but wears slightly smaller and looks great on men or women. They are hard to argue with for under $500 and are great for travel, the pool, and whatever else you might need. Sangin Instruments “Neptune” James Rupley, Co-founder of small arms reference publishing industry leaders, Vickers Guide and Headstamp Publishing. Regular photographic contributor to W.O.E. I subscribe fully to the “buy cheap, buy twice” maxim, so buying an inexpensive watch can actually be a riskier proposition than buying a much more expensive watch. Is there a $200 watch that you can be happy with forever? It’s a fascinating question, and you can easily blow a day on YouTube watching others try to answer it.  As someone who spends so much time photographing collectibles, aesthetic merit is always going to be a dominant factor in just about anything I focus on. I think the Sangin Instruments “Neptune” ($859) is an excellent example of a watch that skillfully blends functional elements with an attractive design. I love that the Neptune comes with both a metal bracelet and a rubber strap – options that offer me plenty of variety for use in any situation. Timex Marlin Automatic Marty Skovlund, Jr., Former Army guy, avid coffee drinker, aspiring sketchy dude, current Editor-in-chief of Task & Purpose I love a classy watch that is comfortable on the wrist but doesn’t draw attention or accusations of elitism. Timex is the opposite of elite in the watch world, and they make a helluva wrist piece that you aren’t afraid of wearing as a daily driver. And frankly, I wore a digital Timex Ironman on many deployments in a past life, so a non-digital, automatic Timex with a day and date complication feels like a natural evolution. I love mine, and it’s one of the most affordable automatics on the market. The Timex Marlin Automatic ($269) rocks a 40mm stainless steel case, a beautiful deep navy blue dial, and a classic domed acrylic crystal — it looks like a compromise between an ultra-rugged sport watch and a black tie dress watch. This isn’t a go-everywhere, do-anything piece with only 50m of water resistance and a crystal that’s easy to scuff; but it’s perfect for long days at the office or hitting all of Hemingway’s old drinking spots in Madrid in a single day. Pro tip: My Timex Marlin came with a leather strap too orange for my taste. I swapped it out for a W.O.E. Jedburgh Leather strap, and that dark brown leather complements the navy dial perfectly. Seiko Turtle Dave Hall, SOCS (SEAL), USN, Ret. Retired US Navy SEAL. Watch and firearms enthusiast. @davehall1911 The Seiko “Turtle” ($300-600), a nickname for the 6309-7040, could easily be described as the “AK-47 of the watch world”. It’s simple, rugged, affordable, reliable, and has stood the test of time with little necessary improvement. The watch is at home underwater, in freefall, or running an obstacle course. It’s accurate enough to keep track of your total time of dive, calculate M700 time fuse burns, or keep track of your dune run times. You don’t have to take it off to enter a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) and it is as equally at home on a direct-action mission as it is at the hotel bar in Zangaro (“Dogs of War” cameo reference). The modern Turtle, known as the Prospex SRPE93, has all the same clean lines and durability from the original 6309 and keeps better time than ever. Tornek-Rayville Paradive  J.R. Seeger, retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer and author of seven MIKE4 espionage novels and three Steampunk Raj novels set in WWI.  T-R is a US-based watch company that builds field and dive watches that have the DNA of 1960s and 1970s MIL-SPEC watches. The Paradive ( approx. $900) is a modern take on the vintage Benrus Type 1. It is a bead-blasted stainless steel, purpose-built automatic watch with excellent luminous markings and comes with either a standard dive bezel or a 12-hour bezel providing a means to track two time zones. The watch has a depth rating of 200m. It is the most robust dive watch I own. T-R is a small company and there is a wait time while they make your watch. It is well worth the wait. Marathon Navigator Steel SSNAV-D James Stacey, Lead Editor with Hodinkee.com and co-host of The Grey NA TO podcast. If we’re talking about a great tool watch under a grand and you really want to use it, you can’t do much better than the new steel version of Marathon’s long-standing (and long-serving) Navigator ($800). Trading the common and gov’t issue-ready composite case for one in steel, this newly announced Marathon is still 41mm wide, 11mm thick, and sports a field-ready 12-hour bezel. Add to that a high-accuracy quartz movement, 100 meters of water resistance, and tritium tube illumination and you've got a worker. It’s a modernized take on a classic design that traces its lineage across some of the toughest locales that our world has (and had) to offer and it remains a watch that was primarily designed to be offered in contract to governments and special outfits all over the globe and the new steel version even has its own Nato Stock Number. If you want a go anywhere, do anything watch that remains subtle but tough enough for any sort of work, the Navigator is a natural in steel - just add your fav color NA TO. I recommend grey. Sangin Dark Professional Asha Wagner, HazMat Team Manager for a National Disaster Response Task Force and watch and gear enthusiast. @wildlander6 My pick for a sub $1,000 watch is my Sangin Dark Professional ($658). This has been my go-to work, play and travel watch for the past few years. The reasons why I keep opting for this watch are it’s durable, versatile, and comfortable. I am a full-time Fire Captain and a HazMat Team Manager for a National Disaster Response Task Force and am also pretty active with a bunch of outdoorsy hobbies in my off time. I am rough on equipment and an impact-prone individual. I need a watch that can keep up with me and that I don’t have to worry about whether I’m scuba diving or breaching and forcing entry into a building. The Dark Pro has taken everything I’ve thrown at it and come up smiling. As far as versatility it is a 300-meter dive watch with a 24-hour GMT hand, drilled lug holes for easy strap changes, a fully indexed, unidirectional count-up bezel with bright long lasting lume, and a color-matched date wheel at 4:30. The date wheel is there when I need it, and all but disappears when I don’t. The crazy bright lume is great in inclement situations, plus lume just downright makes me happy. The case comes in at 43.5 mm, but with a 20mm lug width 12 mm thickness, and 42 mm bezel, it wears sleeker than its specs might initially suggest. It’s a watch that doesn’t draw a lot of undue attention depending on where I’m traveling, but at the same time makes me smile every time I look at it.  Mine is a co-branded watch with Triple Aught Design and comes in at $795.   Halios Seaforth IV Justin Couture, “The Wristorian” Freelance blogger fascinated by the historical context surrounding vintage tool watches. @the_wristorian Being a vintage guy at heart, I am ever on the lookout for a watch that combines old-school design language with modern capability. Enter the Halios Seaforth IV ($775), the newest iteration of what could now be called a horological cult classic. With Goldilocks dimensions and a clear focus on legibility, the Seaforth IV effortlessly exudes the sort of skindiver vibes that will make you want to inexplicably take up spearfishing. Factor in the brilliant Bahama Yellow dial and the titanium case option and you’ve got the apex predator of modern microbrand divers. Pro-tip for the WOE crowd, for added utilitarianism the Seaforth can be made into a destro configuration by request. Seiko SKX Nick Ferrell, Founder DC Vintage Watches Vintage Seiko is rich in history, and none more than the venerable Seiko SKX, worn on the wrist of many military and intelligence officers I've worked with - both previously employed with the government, and now as customers - the world over.  The SKX line has long been a "gateway drug" for watch collectors just starting down the slippery slope towards obsession, as it was for me.  One of my first Seiko's, I wore the 1999 Seiko SKX007 (on the right) throughout a two-year tour in the White House Situation Room, and it served me well.  And this is a two-for-one - a savvy hunter can find both the SKX and the steel-grey dial 1960s Seiko 7625-8233 dress watch, absurdly large for the era, in good nick for under $1k.  A fantastic two-watch collection, perhaps? Scurfa Diver One D1-500 Benjamin Lowry, Writer, US Coast Guard veteran, former commercial diver, and curator of @submersiblewrist.  With my background in commercial diving, I was always going to be a fan of Scurfa Watches, a brand owned and operated by Paul Scurfield, a North Sea commercial saturation diver. Beyond our occupational connection, the watches themselves represent class-leading value for the busy diving tool watch category, pairing impressive specifications with the legitimacy that comes with having been developed and tested in the owner’s salty workplace. The Diver One D1-500 is the brand’s centerpiece, offering 500 meters of water resistance, excellent lume, an automatic helium escape valve (which, in this very rare case, makes sense), a domed sapphire crystal, and a Swiss quartz caliber from Ronda, all housed within a surprisingly restrained 40mm wide by 47.7mm long case.  While I’m nowhere near as cool as Paul, I have worn the Diver One extensively in recreational and commercial diving scenarios, including at least one near-death experience. Priced around $200, which is insane, the Scurfa Diver One is a great way to live the #useyourtools ethos we subscribe to around here without breaking the bank.  Tornek-Rayville TR-660 Owner of Soturi, - Marine veteran-owned handmade watch straps inspired by military heritage.   When I came across the Tornek-Rayville TR-660 ($950) it instantly hooked me. As an avid enthusiast of military watches, the T-R’s slab-sided case, matte finish, and lighter weight are everything you want in a field/dive watch. Simple, yet significant. Add-on T-R’s intriguing history with U.S. Special Operations (the TR-900 model) and you have yourself a winning combination that’s hard to compete with. Bonus - its integrated lug/pin holes make for easy swapping of your favorite watch straps.  “Arabic Seiko'' W.O.E., former CIA Case Officer turned watch influencer The 42mm “Arabic Seiko'' ref SNKP21J1  (aka the Seik-W.O.E. aka the W.O.E. hype watch) is popular in the W.O.E. community.  In part this is because it is a cool and unique piece at an affordable price point and received consistent coverage on W.O.E., but just as importantly because of the meaning it has for our community.  Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East over the past 20+ years.  I have a strong affinity for the rich culture and language of the Arab world and this piece is a constant reminder of that connection and that period in my life.  A lot of veterans and NatSec identify with this connection. ($130-$200) READ NEXT: W.O.E. Holiday Gift Guide

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CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC

CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC

We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight...

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We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. A timepiece is a crucial and often overlooked

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EDC Travel Valet & Bottle Opener - The Story

EDC Travel Valet & Bottle Opener - The Story

Keeping your watches and tools organized is important and having a central location in your house for your wallet, keys, watch and other tools is...

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Keeping your watches and tools organized is important and having a central location in your house for your wallet, keys, watch and other tools is crucial.  So we designed our own W.O.E. Everyday Carry (EDC) Valet for at-home use or while on the move.  Each order includes a W.O.E. Surreptitious Beverage Entry Tool (S-BET), aka a challenge coin bottle opener.

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A Mystery Death in Oslo, an Intelligence Op Gone Wrong?

A Mystery Death in Oslo, an Intelligence Op Gone Wrong?

An unidentified woman was found dead in a luxury Oslo hotel.  Was “Jennifer Fairgate” an assassin, spy or a troubled woman looking to disappear? Her...

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An unidentified woman was found dead in a luxury Oslo hotel.  Was “Jennifer Fairgate” an assassin, spy or a troubled woman looking to disappear? Her timepiece is a clue to solving a complex puzzle that reads like a Hollywood thriller. 3 June 1995, Oslo Plaza Hotel, Room 2805 The woman’s body was sprawled out on the bed, a pistol lay awkwardly in her right hand with her thumb still on the trigger– a single entry wound to her forehead. An apparent suicide; but investigators quickly noticed several anomalies: the woman had no identification and the room was absent of any clues to her true identity.  In fact, she had gone to great lengths to conceal her identity, first by checking into the room in alias and paying cash, and further, she removed the labels from the limited clothing in the room and even the serial numbers on the Browning 9 mm pistol that was found with her.  There was no way of telling who she was or what she was doing, except for one obscure clue. The only item that was not modified to remove identifiers was her watch, a Citizen Aqualand worn on her left wrist. VG/Police Evidence Photo By any definition, the Aqualand is a robust tool watch and specifically a dive watch with strong military provenance with versions issued to many units including the British Special Boat Service (SBS) and Danish Frogman Corps. The clunky Aqualand was not the expected watch of a young fashionable Belgian woman; it was seemingly out of place.  Oslo Mystery Nearly three decades later, the death of “Jennifer Fairgate” is still a mystery.  Some theories about her death are certainly influenced by Hollywood's portrayal of the intelligence world–many speculate that she may have been an “operative” or “assassin.”   At W.O.E., we offer a fact-based assessment of her tradecraft (and watch) in an effort to better understand the reality of these so-called “operative” theories.  The more we explore this incident, the more we’re left with questions rather than answers. However one thing is for sure–her Citizen is a piece of the puzzle that could offer clues to her identity and trade.  Artistic rendering of “Jennifer Fairgate” (Harald Nygård) 29 May 1995, Oslo, Norway The woman checked into an upscale hotel three days prior without a credit card, using the throwaway alias “Jennifer Fergate.”  Conflicting reports indicate she may have been with a man, “Lois Fairgate'', who was later added to the room registration.  ‘Jennifer’ provided a nonexistent address in Belgium on the registration card, and she wrote down a date of birth that indicated she was 21 years old, though forensic pathologists would determine she was approximately 30 years old.  As detailed in a Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries, she spent the next few days outside the room with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door.   On June 3rd, a number of days after she had checked in, hotel staff knocked on room 2805 in an attempt to collect payment from Fairgate. While a member of the hotel staff was at the door, a gunshot was heard inside. The employee left the room unsupervised for 15 minutes as he retrieved the head of security.  When they returned, the room was locked from the inside.  When they entered the room they reportedly smelled gunpowder, presumably from the recent shot fired in a confined space, and saw the dead body lying on the bed, shoes still on. VG/Police Evidence Photo While Occam's razor would lead to the conclusion that this was a distraught woman set on committing suicide and disappearing forever, many have speculated that she was in fact an “intelligence operative,” maybe even an “assassin” disposed of after a failed assignment.  In the documentary, former Norwegian Intelligence Service officer Ola Kaldager assessed ‘Jennifer’ was an intelligence officer and her death was meant to look like a suicide, even though she was, according to Kaldager, executed.  Intelligence Officer Tradecraft? From a tradecraft perspective, Fairgate’s profile is potentially consistent with that of an intelligence officer.  The use of hotels for operational purposes is as old as espionage itself and is still a common practice today (though much more difficult with the rise of Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance).  Based on logs from the keycard reader, she was absent from the room for extended periods of time, at one point for approximately 20 hours, which could indicate operational activity.  While at CIA, I often leveraged similar tradecraft to what was used by ‘Jennifer’ when it came to hotel meetings and operational travel.  The use of “throwaway aliases” is common, and Russian “illegals” even go as far as to assume the identity of a deceased child, the name and date of birth collected by Directorate S assets from graveyard or church registries. Another element that points to “Jennifer” having utilized tradecraft has to do with her clothing. A search of the room revealed few personal items, except for several changes of clothes for her upper body including sweaters and trenchcoats, which could be used for profile changes while operational.  While removing tags from clothes is not necessarily common, intel collectors are trained to remove all pocket litter or anything identifiable when in alias. Assassination? There was a 15-minute gap between the sound of the gunshot and the arrival of hotel security.  The room was locked from the inside, something that in theory could have been done by a professional during a hasty escape. Investigators have pointed out the awkward grip of the pistol and the fact that there was no blood splatter on “Jennifer’s” hand as possible indications that there was another shooter.  There was a second bullet hole through a pillow and into the mattress, which in theory could have been a test shot from Jennifer or a warning shot to scare the hotel attendant at the door.  Of note, many intelligence services have carried out targeted killings (assassinations) with the goal of making it look like a suicide, most notably the Russian KGB/FSB and Israeli Mossad, two services with a history of operational activity in Norway. The Watch The Citizen Aqualand is a purpose-built and robust tool watch, designed specifically for subaquatic duty, complete with a depth gauge and a no-decompression limit (NDL) chart on the strap. When it comes to tool watches, this is about as tool-like as it gets.  Various references of the Aqualand have been issued to and worn by Special Operations maritime units throughout Europe, including the Italian Navy, UK Special Operations, and notably, the Danish Frogman Corps (Frømandskorpset). That the watch is issued to the Danish Frogmen Corps is noteworthy, as it neighbors Norway, where the “Jennifer” was found.  Tony, a British SBS operator, 25 November 2001, Qala-i Jangi, Afghanistan wearing a Citizen Aqualand Dive Pro Master, which was issued to SBS “Z-Squadron" which specialized in underwater attack and insertion using Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV) While correlation doesn't equal causation, the Citizen Aqualand is not a watch one wears by accident and wearing it starkly contrasts the semi-fashionable outfits found with the woman.  In the intelligence business, a robust watch is a must and the dual analog/digital features would be an effective tool of espionage.  In the 1990s, the Aqualand was popular amongst divers.  It is entirely possible the woman behind Jennifer Fairgate was a diving enthusiast who lived by or traveled frequently to the coast.  As Jason Heaton, diving enthusiast and friend of W.O.E., would later say, “the Aqualand became, in effect, the last dive watch built for, and bought by, real divers who needed a tool for timing dives.” No-deco limits printed on the strap (Jason Heaton) It’s an analytical leap to conclude that because the watch has strong ties to the military and is an issued watch, that “Jennifer” was an intelligence officer.  But what can the watch tell us? To know, we have to look beyond simply the make and model of the watch. Tracing the Watch According to an investigative report by newspaper VG, the Citizen Aqualand reference CQ-1021-50 was manufactured three years prior in January 1992 with the serial number C022-088093 Y, 2010779, GN-4-S. This was confirmed by Citizen at in Japan. The watch contained three Swiss-made Renata 370-type batteries made in December 1994.  The batteries were crudely engraved “W395,” which investigators believed means they were installed March 1995 and “W'' may indicate the initials of the watchmaker.   Some online outlets have suggested the watch was purchased in Germany, but there is no substantial proof of this claim.  The watch was reportedly later sold at a police auction.  Of note, Watchmakers often record their work on the inside caseback of a watch with a light engraving, or in this case, on the battery itself with a hand-engraved note. It lets other watchmakers know in the future what’s been done and when.  Wilderness of Mirrors The intelligence world is often referred to as the “wilderness of mirrors,” a  space where the truth is complicated and nothing is as it seems.  We spoke with John Sipher, who ran the CIA’s Russia operations, for his assessment in the incident.  Sipher, who also served in Nordic countries during the 90s, explained that Norway and Scandinavian countries have long been of interest to Russia due to the proximity and strategic issues including the Baltic Sea, oil, and as an opening to Western Europe.  In fact, as recently as October 2022, Norway’s domestic security agency arrested Mikhail Mikushin, a suspected Russian GRU (military intelligence) “illegal” posing as a Brazilian academic, José Assis Giammaria. Anna Chapman, A Russian “Illegal” arrested in the US as part of the Illegals Program, a Ulysse Nardin on her wrist.   Given the information available, Sipher said that it is possible Fairgate was a Russian intelligence officer or asset, but that it’s just as likely she was involved in organized crime, and that the two were not always mutually exclusive during that period.  Russian Organized Crime Sipher explained that in the 1990s many former KGB officers had gone on to work for organized crime after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  KGB “formers'' were some of the few Russians that knew how to use international banks and could effectively carry out tasks in Europe. In fact, in the post-Cold War years there was “much more overlap of Russian organized crime and intelligence and the two were often synonymous.”  Sipher pointed us to a quote by former Director of CIA James Woolsey from 1993-1995: “If you should strike up a conversation with an articulate English-speaking Russian… wearing a $3,000 suit and a pair of Gucci loafers, and he tells you that he is an executive of a Russian trading company…then there are four possibilities. He may be what he says he is. He may be a Russian intelligence officer working under commercial cover. He may be part of a Russian organized crime group. But the really interesting possibility is that he may be all three and none of those three institutions have any problem with the arrangement.” While she may fit the profile of a Russian intelligence officer, asset or “illegal,” there is a lack of indicators connecting Fairgate directly to Russia.   East German Intelligence Former East German Intelligence “Stasi” compound in Berlin. Sipher further explained a similar phenomenon with former East German intelligence officers leveraging their skills for employment after the unification of Germany and disbandment of the East German Stasi (Ministry for State Security).  Stasi officers had close contact with Soviet officials, were renowned for their sharpness and capabilities, and were often recruited by Russian services to carry out operations in Europe.  German nationals could easily move around Europe without raising suspicions. Stasi ID card used by then-KGB officer Vladimir Putin from 1985-1990 in Dresden, East Germany.  The card was found in a Stasi archive. While this is informed speculation, it’s possible that Fairgate was a former East German intelligence officer working on behalf of Russian intelligence or a criminal organization.  There are several indications that Fairgate had ties to East Germany including her accent when checking in and forensic analysis of her DNA.  Some of her clothes, including potentially her watch, originated in Germany. This links back to the theory that the watch was serviced in Germany. Mossad, Israel and The Oslo Accords The Oslo Plaza Hotel was also reportedly one of the locations of secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian authorities for the Oslo II Accord, signed a few months after Fairgate’s death.  While evidence is only circumstantial, it is possible that there is some nexus to this event and that Fairgate was an Israeli operative or the target of a Mossad assassination.  Mossad has a long history of both deep cover operations and targeted killings.  In January 2010, a team of Mossad operatives (many under European alias) assassinated Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his hotel room in Dubai using an injection to make it appear to be of natural causes.  They locked the room from the inside and the body was not discovered until the following day. Israeli operative (tennis players) track Mahmoud al-Mabhouh to his hotel room. In fact, Mossad has carried out at least one botched assassination in Norway: in 1973, when a hit team mistook a Moroccan waiter for that of Black September member Hassan Salameh, they shot him 13 times with a 22-caliber pistol, in what became known in intelligence circles as the “Lillehammer Affair.”  While there is nothing directly connecting Fairgate to Israel, Mossad is widely known to use dual-citizens for covert and clandestine operations.   It is important to note, while Israel has issued several dive watches to elite units, we are not aware of any direct tie between the Citizen Aqualand and Israeli Defense Forces or Mossad. Black September member Hassan Salameh, target of Israeli assassination program after Munich attack. Conclusion While we cannot say definitively, there are several anomalies with this case that suggest the woman known as “Jennifer Fairgate” may have been involved in intelligence activity. That said, it’s also entirely possible that she was involved in some other illicit activity or potentially worked as an escort.  Espionage is often referred to as the “world's second oldest profession” and at times has a similar profile to the first. The reality of the intelligence world is more mundane than portrayed in Hollywood.  That said, assassinations, deep cover, and high-stakes movie-like operations certainly do happen.  In intelligence collection, the mosaic of puzzle pieces are rarely all collected and for now the picture of this event is opaque. We’re only seeing part of the story, and perhaps it’s not even the ending.      This could have been a covert operation carried out by the Russians, Israelis or a host of other services, but it is just as likely it was the case of a desperate woman, looking to leave this world behind without a trace.  If that is the case, she certainly achieved her goal. The watch is still an outstanding clue and may be the only lead to her identity.  Somewhere there is a watch maker who installed the battery in that watch, which may provide additional information on her origin. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   *For more information on this incident, check out the Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries and the comprehensive investigative report by VG, “Mystery at the Oslo Plaza”  -- This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Special Boat Service OMEGA Seamaster

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CIA Timepiece Analysis: President Putin and Tucker Carlson

CIA Timepiece Analysis: President Putin and Tucker Carlson

Last week, former Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson interviewed former KGB officer and current Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.  While much of...

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Last week, former Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson interviewed former KGB officer and current Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.  While much of the coverage surrounded the controversy of Tucker himself, we will focus on what we know best: the watches present at the meeting in the Kremlin.  It’s not just W.O.E. who will be analyzing Putin’s watch, members of the American Intelligence Community will be scrutinizing it, too. As we previously discussed in “CIA Analysis of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces”, CIA Directorate of Analysis (DA) analysts will scrutinize this video frame-by-frame in order to inform policy makers.  Like we aim to do at W.O.E., they too will ignore the noise and rely on ruthless objectivity to produce an actionable product. Putin Takes off the Watch: Minutes into the interview, Putin, dressed in a dark suit and maroon tie, removed his watch (potentially a Blancpain Léman Aqua Lung Grande Date) and placed it on the side table next to him, facing the camera.  At face value, this subtle gesture could have several meanings.  In an interview that lasted over two hours, it was clear that Putin was very generous with his time and it could be a conscious signal that he was in no hurry to end the interview.  Additionally, taking off one's watch and laying it on the table is a clear indication that it’s Putin’s home turf, i.e. the Kremlin.  In general, people only take off watches in their home as the risk of leaving a watch behind is a mistake you only make once.  Putin is in a position of power; he's in control in his home.    Whether this was a calculated move or a subconscious habit, we can only speculate, but these are exactly the type of questions analysts ask.  We have seen Putin take off his watch and place it on the table in the exact same manner as recently as October 2023. Putin Health Issues: After removing the watch, Putin vigorously rubbed his wrist for a few seconds. This could be a regular habit of his, but it could also be a potential indicator of health issues. Rumors have been swirling around concerning President Putin’s health for years.  Many of these rumors have been disproved; they’re either fabricated or amplified as a part of disinformation campaigns by Ukrainian intelligence services, Russian opposition, or other third party actors.  That said, there are some indications of deteriorating health, stiff or painful wrists are among them and could be a symptom of a plethora of medical issues, including carpal tunnel syndrome and Rheumatoid Arthritis.  In a vacuum, the gesture is totally inconclusive, however if paired with other information, it could paint a clearer picture of Putin’s health. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information—getting the facts wrong. Disinformation is false information which is deliberately intended to mislead—intentionally misstating the facts. Putin's body double?   Past videos of Putin and his watch have caused some to question whether the Kremlin uses a body double in public appearances.  In one video he appears uncomfortable wearing a watch on his right wrist, and in another video he appears to glance down at his left wrist to check the time, presumably looking at the place the body double normally wears his watch.  While it’s certainly possible, it appears this “body double” theory was likely disinformation from Ukrainian services to create questions about Putin's health and mental fitness.  This narrative has been promoted by those close to Kiev, amplified on social media, and even picked up by some Western news outlets. Of note, several Dictators have used body doubles in the past (including allegedly Iraq’s Saddam Hussein) and it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Putin would use one.  That said, most of the known use cases of body doubles are for security purposes (dummy motorcade) as opposed to recorded interviews that can be heavily scrutinized.  We see no indications that this or any other interview was conducted by a “body double.” A million dollar collection? The “expensive watch collection” owned by Putin that’s often cited in the media is estimated to be valued over $1 million although we can assume this number is low for one of the wealthiest men in the world. Putin appears to favor silver watches on a black strap as seen during the interview.  In recent years Putin has consistently worn a Blancpain Léman Aqua Lung Grande Date but has also been photographed wearing an unknown (presumably) Russian produced watch.  The one in the interview is potentially the Blancpain given the butterfly clasp.  For a full rundown of Putin’s watch collection see: “Watches of the War in Ukraine.” Tucker and CIA Troll: Another striking W.O.E. moment in the conversation was when Putin seemed to troll Tucker with a backhanded compliment about not being accepted to CIA: “CIA of course, the organization you wanted to join back in the day as I understand. We should thank God they didn’t let you in. Although it is a serious organization I understand.  My former vis-a-vis in the sense that I served in the First Main Directorate, Soviet Union's intelligence service; they have always been our opponents, a job is a job.” According to press reports, Carlson did in fact apply to CIA after graduating from Trinity College.  As an apolitical platform, we are neither pro-nor-against Tucker Carlson, however we will note that not being accepted to CIA is by no means a failure.  While we can only speculate on acceptance rates for CIA officers, the number is minuscule and many have speculated that it is easier to get into Harvard than CIA.  Regardless, the President of Russia’s preplanned troll of the TV personality is on another level, just another example of once a KGB officer, always a KGB officer. During the interview, Tucker wore his “Buckley Dial” Rolex Datejust on a steel and gold Jubilee bracelet.  Tucker appears to be a one-watch-man and the “Buckley dial” is a unique Datejust with printed (not applied) Roman numerals.  The watches were produced in the 1970s and 80s and the name is reportedly linked to John Buckley, a vintage watch dealer. There is no shortage of stories to cover in the Watches of Espionage niche, and this article is an example of that.  At most historic moments, there are watches present and they offer insight into the men and women wearing them. If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   --Read Next: The Lasting Legacy of the CIA’s Lockheed A-12 and the Watch That Served It  

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The Real Spy Gadget Watches of the CIA, KGB, MIT and German Intelligence

The Real Spy Gadget Watches of the CIA, KGB, MIT and German Intelligence

The Real Spy (Gadget) Watches of the CIA, Soviet KGB, Turkish MIT and German Intelligence While Hollywood's depiction of lasers, knockout gas, and grappling hooks...

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The Real Spy (Gadget) Watches of the CIA, Soviet KGB, Turkish MIT and German Intelligence While Hollywood's depiction of lasers, knockout gas, and grappling hooks disguised as Rolex Submariners and Omega Seamasters is entertaining, it’s largely all a fantastical product of a screenwriter's imagination.  In fact, at CIA I was never issued a watch and there were only a handful of times in my career that I used “spy gear;” instead, I regularly relied on low technology solutions to build relationships, recruit spies and steal secrets.  The art of human intelligence (HUMINT) has changed little over thousands of years. That being said, there are several historical examples of intelligence officers leveraging timepieces as tools for concealment, surveillance, and listening devices.  In the hyper-niche genre of watches and espionage, it is important to separate fact from fiction and break down the widespread notion of spies wearing gadget-focused watches. In this dispatch, we’ll get into the rare instances where spies did in fact use these sorts of watch-appearing gadgets.  From the Collection of H. Keith and Karen Melton. We have profiled one instance when CIA Technical Officers modified a digital Seiko to conceal a Tropel T-100 camera inside, however there isn’t any solid evidence that this was actually fielded in clandestine collection.  Since that article, we’ve spoken with several officers knowledgeable on the program and none of them were confident it was ever used in such a capacity.  Many real “spy watches” are on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C, however. And much of their history is documented and proven.  Omega Seamaster 300m with a laser embedded in Goldeneye, 1995. Hanhart Protona: One well known example of “spy gear” embedded in a timepiece is the Protona Minifon, which contained a microphone to surreptitiously record conversations during the Cold War era.  The case was perforated and contained a microphone and a cord ran out of the 9 o’clock up the wearer's arm to the tape recorder. The “watch” itself did not actually keep time and the movement was removed to make space for the microphone. Recent descriptions of these at auction have suggested that they were used by CIA and other intelligence agencies, many pointing to an operation with detained Moscow-based CIA Case Officer Marti Peterson.  The narrative of the “microphone watch” during the detainment of Marti continues today and is repeated in both historical publications and watch media outlets, a myth we debunked in a previous Dispatch (Read Here: Moscow Rules).   But the watch certainly does exist, and was presumably designed and fielded to surreptitiously record conversations.  But was it ever actually used for intelligence collection or was it just a gimmick? The device was designed in the 1950s and produced until Protana closed up shop in 1967.  Numerous online forums claim the watch was issued to “German agents on both sides of the Berlin Wall” and involved in the defection of KGB officer Vladimir Petrov in Canberra, Australia in 1954.  While there does appear to be a recording device in the latter, we have seen no documented evidence of it actually being this specific tool.  In fact, in our conversations with numerous Cold War era CIA Ops and Technical Officers, none of them had heard of Hanhart (including Marti Peterson). In contrast to the CIA modified bespoke Seiko, the Hanhart was a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product, something that intelligence services are often hesitant to use without significant testing, evaluation and modification.  Further, while the device was advanced for its time, the watch was bulky and impractical. Wrist watches on display at "Contact Istanbul" exhibition at Istanbul's Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) (Photo Credit: Daily Sabah) That said, a recent exhibition from Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) displaying espionage artifacts revealed that MIT indeed used several wristwatches with recording devices for “various operations,” and the watches appear to be Protona Minifon. So we do have some confirmation that this model was used by an intelligence agency, just not the ones that the internet forums would have you believe.  While listening devices and recording conversations are definitely an occurrence in the Intel world, it’s rare at CIA.  I don’t recall ever being trained in surreptitiously recording conversations and the only conversations I recorded were in specialty debriefing rooms for “walk ins”- individuals volunteering information to the US  government, and they were aware they were being recorded.  Steineck ABC Wristwatch Camera: Steineck ABC Wristwatch Camera, From the Collection of H. Keith and Karen Melton at the International Spy Museum. In surveillance operations, photographic evidence of the target can be a valuable piece in the mosaic of intelligence collection and analysis.  In the present day, miniscule digital cameras can be embedded in just about anything and long-range cameras are capable of capturing real-time imagery in poor conditions.  But that wasn’t always the case.  In the early days of the Cold War, capturing photographs of a target required up close surveillance tradecraft.  To fill this gap, West German based Steineck produced the ABC Wrist Watch Camera.   Steineck ABC Wristwatch Camera, From the Collection of H. Keith and Karen Melton at the International Spy Museum. The watch was developed after WWII and produced from 1949 until the late 1950s.  The tool is worn on the wrist as one would a watch, but doesn’t tell time.  In theory, the metallic dial and leather strap would allow it to pass initial scrutiny at a distance or in low light conditions. The watch would likely require significant training and practice to capture an acceptable image while appearing to casually check the time. With a press of a button in the side of the case, the surveillant could photograph clandestine meetings or a target conducting an operational act.  With a fixed exposure and focal length, not to mention a limit of eight images, the watch would likely need to be used only in ideal conditions and lighting. Again, we have no documented evidence of this actually being fielded by an intelligence service, but that does not mean it never was. KGB Pocket Watch - Concealment Device: KGB concealment device pocket watch. From the Collection of H. Keith and Karen Melton at the International Spy Museum. (International Spy Museum) The passage of sensitive information between the asset –“spy”-- and the handling Case Officer is a crucial part of a human intelligence operation.  In the Cold War, tradecraft involving the transfer of film or microdots was common, often through Dead Drops or other impersonal agent handling methods.  A concealment device (CD) with a cavity disguised in a benign item would allow the agent or intelligence officer to securely transfer the information across international borders or to the local Embassy for transmission back to headquarters.  This pocket watch was (reportedly) designed by the Soviet KGB (Комитет государственной безопасности -КГБ) for this purpose.  At first glance, it is a normal pocket watch that would not draw attention or scrutiny when carried by a diplomat or government official in any western capital.  While ostensibly produced in the Soviet Union, the watch contains English writing “TAKE YOUR CHANCE” as it would have been issued to an asset working in an English-speaking country.  But the watch contains a secret cavity to hold and conceal film, microdots or a folded note.  CIA Clock with Concealed Receiver (1970s) for covert signaling.  A Moscow agent could request an unscheduled meeting by activating a transmitter as he drove past the home of his CIA case officer, who kept this clock on his desk. (International Spy Museum) The Apple Watch: While the days of leveraging a traditional timepiece as a piece of spy gear may be obsolete due to technological advancements, the smartwatches, including the Apple Watch, offer endless possibilities for espionage both offensively and defensively.  Leveraging “zero day” exploits, hostile intelligence services can remotely and surreptitiously compromise a smartwatch to activate the microphone, camera or pull locational data in real time.  Given these technological advancements, spies of the future will continue to rely on low-tech solutions for timekeeping. Thank you to the International Spy Museum for the assistance with the background and research for this article.  These and other watches are on display at the museum for your next visit to Washington D.C. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.   This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Special Boat Service OMEGA Seamaster  

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Watches as Tools of Money Laundering and Illicit Finance

Watches as Tools of Money Laundering and Illicit Finance

Luxury timepieces are one of the most effective mediums to move illicit funds around the globe and a tool to integrate those ill-gotten gains into...

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Luxury timepieces are one of the most effective mediums to move illicit funds around the globe and a tool to integrate those ill-gotten gains into the financial system.  Transnational criminal networks, terrorists, narcotraffickers and corrupt politicians have used watches to launder money as a part of global illicit finance. The Weight of a Million Dollars – 22 pounds A million dollars weighs just over 22 lbs.  I learned this during one of my first tours as a CIA Case Officer.  Like any other morning, I mounted my Gary Fisher mountain bike and rode out the gate of our compound for a quick exercise ride in the hills surrounding the African capital where I was working.  This activity was “in pattern,” should I have surveillance, they would note the departure, but it would not warrant further investigation.  A trained eye might have seen that something was different, however. The dead weight of ten thousand $100 bills in my backpack made the bike top-heavy and awkward to ride.  The operation was simple and routine. After a long Surveillance Detection Route (SDR) through the hills and side streets of the third world capital, I worked my way to a predetermined ops site.  The watch on my wrist would have (probably) been a Timex Ironman, my go to Digital Tool Watch (DTW) for exercise over the past two decades.  I would have checked the time before moving into the site, confirming that I would hit the operational window.  In espionage, timing is everything. Right on time. I identified a couple in the alley.  We established bona fides with a verbal parole -- a predetermined phrase and response.  I then handed them the heavy backpack in exchange for a similar one and rode off in the other direction, the entire exchange lasting less than a minute. In tradecraft lingo it was a “BE” (Brief Encounter).  A standard CIA Case Officers EDC, read more HERE Except for the backpack stuffed with cash, it was a routine day for a case officer. Certainly not the stuff of Hollywood but instead a crucial operation for the global network of intelligence collection. Due to compartmentalization, I didn’t know who the individuals were that I handed the backpack to or why they needed the large sum of cash, though I have my suspicions.  They had likely just arrived in the country and could not bring the cash in through customs without drawing scrutiny. Watches as a Currency: One takeaway from this operation is that money is heavy.  It’s inconvenient, bulky and difficult to transport, not to mention having to explain it away if discovered.  This is why many illicit actors, spies and criminal networks rely on expensive but innocuous luxury items to move funds across borders.  Given the significant increase in value of timepieces, watches are a favored currency when it comes to illicit activity.  I easily could have handed off a single watch to transfer that same value to the couple that morning. The value-to-weight ratio of a Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet or other premium brands is exceeded only by precious gems, making it easy to physically transport a watch across international borders. The vast, unregulated, and fragmented gray market makes converting timepieces into cash relatively easy. Unlike vehicles, gold, and diamonds, there is no oversight or registration for timepieces and a million dollar Patek can be worn on your wrist, easily breezing through customs. Lebron James wearing a "Tiffany Blue" Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711, a watch that has sold for 100 times its original price at $5,350,000 at auction.  Luxury Watches – Money Laundering: The international financial system is heavily regulated and monitored by law enforcement and intelligence services to identify illicit activity. Transactions over $10,000 are automatically flagged and international border law restricts the amount of cash one can bring in/out of a given country undeclared.  By contrast, watches are a perfect medium for exploitation by bad actors.  They are innocuous and liquid, and pawn shops, auction houses and high-end dealers often turn a blind eye to these activities. Every major auction house has been involved in a controversy where profitability triumphed over ethics at some point. This isn’t to say that they’re willfully supporting money laundering, rather that it is simply a frequent occurrence. Eight days after 9/11, CIA officers pick up $3 million cash in three cardboard boxes. This money would enable the Northern Alliance (NA) commanders to pay their troops and convince other tribes to rally to the NA rather than fight them. (Photo Credit: CIA) Moving Illicit Funds - A Case Study Imagine, you need to move $1 million from the United States to Turkey.  The logical choice is a traditional bank transfer, which would require you to deposit it in a financial institution.  This would alert the authorities who would request an explanation for how you came about the funds, for both tax purposes and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) enforcement. Carrying cash would require a 20 pound duffel bag, making hand-carrying it cumbersome and again would cause scrutiny from customs officials, resulting in questions and import tariffs and complications. Additionally, you introduce a major security risk by carrying that much cash around and potentially becoming a target.  Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer processes a passenger into the United States at an airport. (DHS Photo by James Tourtellotte) So, what do you do?  You could convert it to diamonds and hide them in a tube of toothpaste (or concealed in your body), but again, if caught, this cannot be explained away.  So, you visit the diamond district in New York, purchase a dozen Rolex and AP watches, each of which could be worth up to $500k per watch.  You use couriers to “smurf” the watches on commercial flights, each one wearing a watch on the wrist and a couple in a carry-on bag.  For the cost of a few round-trip tickets, the watches could be relocated to Istanbul relatively risk-free.  A single (new) Rolex Dayton can have a street value of $30-$50k, vintage significant higher (James Rupley) Once you arrive in Turkey, you find the local watch dealer and offer to sell for cash, or a bank transfer to integrate them into the financial system, the first step of money laundering (placement, layering, integration).  Given the illicit activity, you may lose some money on the sale, but this is simply the cost of integrating illicit funds.  The dealer is happy to purchase them below market value and not ask questions. Well over $100k in Rolex Watches (Photo Credit: Jame Rupley) Hezbollah’s Illicit Finance: In 2015, an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed that Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia terrorist organization, purchased large quantities of watches in Europe, which were then transported by couriers to Lebanon where they were sold for cash.  Hezbollah reportedly purchased €14 million in watches from a single store in Germany, thus evading international monitoring.  (The movement and exchange of expensive goods has long played a role in informal Middle Eastern “Hawala” money transfer networks throughout the globe.) This practice is so common that Dutch law enforcement has urged watch dealers to refrain from cash transactions.  Several high profile arrests of criminal networks in Spain, Netherlands, Romania and Belgium revealed luxury watches as integral to the movement of illegal funds, and closely associated with the recent increase in watch crime in the region. Money Laundering: The 3 Stages of Money Laundering (Image Credit: Alessa) Money Laundering (ML) is the act of integrating illegally acquired cash to legitimate financial institutions with the goal of concealing the illegal origins of those funds.  While this is traditionally associated with criminal networks, in the intelligence world, cash is king and most intelligence services practice some form of benevolent money laundering.  Watches can play a crucial part in each step of the money laundering process. Placement: Step one is introducing illicit gains into the financial system.  In the example above, this can occur with the sale of the watch and the depositing of those funds into a bank account by the purchasing party.  At initial scrutiny, this will appear to be a legitimate transaction. Breaking Bad- money laundering (AMC) Layering:  Step two is the process of moving those same funds through multiple transactions to conceal the origin of the funds.  Once funds are converted, one could use the illicit funds to purchase watches, and then resell them in a manner to distance the original transaction and repeat this process.  The example above of transferring watches overseas could be another example of layering in addition to potential placement.  Integration:  The final last step is returning the funds to the criminal organizations for personal use, thus appearing legitimate.  Embezzlement and Money Laundering- Former Brazilian President Bolsonaro  According to press reporting, in 2022, Former Brazilian President Bolsonaro found himself in hot water for (reportedly) selling a gifted Saudi Rolex and a Patek Philippe watch, netting him $68k.  Bolsonaro used a third party (smurf) to transport the watches to the United States and quickly found a buyer in a relatively obscure Pennsylvania mall. If true, Bolsonaro used the same technique as above to transfer the value from Brazil, convert it into dollars and then (supposedly) repatriate that cash to Brazil.  This is an example of Money Laundering by disguising an unreported diplomatic gift and converting that gift into a usable currency. This is not the first scrutiny of Bolsonaro's gifts from foreign governments, in 2021, a Brazilian government official was reportedly detained at the border with more than $3 million in jewels from Saudi Arabia in a backpack, allegedly gifts for Bolsonaro and his wife.   The world is not all flowers and rainbows and we expect to continue to see the use of luxury timepieces in the global illicit finance network, particularly as prices for these luxury goods remain high. -- If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for our weekly free newsletter for further updates HERE.  This Dispatch has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: CIA Analysis of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces

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A Question of Time: The Time Pencil Explosive Fuze in World War II

A Question of Time: The Time Pencil Explosive Fuze in World War II

In intelligence operations, time matters.  While our Dispatch articles traditionally focus on watches, today we look at another tool to measure time, the time pencil. ...

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In intelligence operations, time matters.  While our Dispatch articles traditionally focus on watches, today we look at another tool to measure time, the time pencil.  It’s a short time fuze detonator used for explosive charges in covert operations in World War II.  We have profiled watches of the Glorious Amateurs of the Office of Strategic Service (OSS) officers in World War II, this is another time measuring tool they used to accomplish their mission. By JR Seeger  The allied support to resistance operations in Occupied Europe focused on sabotage operations before D-Day and then more aggressive combat operations after the fact.  The challenge for sabotage operations was to conduct said operation but live to fight another day.  Some of the most effective sabotage operations took place inside factories where enslaved workers would periodically insure whatever came off the assembly line was not quite to specifications.  Still, the most dramatic of the resistance operations before D-Day focused on using explosives against roads, bridges, and railways.   In 1939, with the Nazi blitzkrieg closing in on Warsaw, Polish military intelligence officers provided the small British contingent with intelligence and technology to be taken to England. Officers from the Secret Intelligence Service and the military intelligence contingent, including Lieutenant Colonel Colin Gubbins, returned to England with a treasure trove of intelligence including prototypes of a chemical time delay fuze. The prototypes were shared between SIS Section D (D for destruction) and Gubbins unit military intelligence unit focused on resistance operations. In 1940, these two offices were combined to become a new, independent organization, the Special Operations Executive (SOE). British Irregular Warfare:  When the British SOE started their resistance training in England in 1940, explosives training was one of the primary classes.  The SOE training on demolitions in the first years of the war was based entirely on military demolitions techniques including the use of standard military blasting caps and fuzes lighted either by a match or a simple friction plunger system known as a fuze ignitor.  Based on this training, a resistance team had to emplace explosives and remain quite close to the actual blast – certainly no more than a few minutes away depending on the length of fuze used.  While this technique worked well for combat engineers supported by infantry, it was not designed for a resistance group that wished to conduct sabotage and avoid capture.   British scientists were already working on multiple time delay mechanisms, but their work focused on supporting other British irregular forces like the Commandos and other Small Scale Raiding Forces associated with the SOE.  The Polish design was modified to create “time pencils” that used a chemical process as a time delay.  Time pencils were used in the commando raid on the dry docks in St. Nazaire in March 1942.  However, the reality was that British scientists simply did not have the resources to create a standardized time delay device that could be used by resistance forces across Europe. British Commandos, 1942 (Wikipedia Commons) Enter the Americans:  After Pearl Harbor, William Donovan expanded the capabilities of his new office, the Coordinator of Information (COI), to include irregular warfare.  Donovan provided the President with an irregular warfare plan in the summer/fall of 1941, but the US was still neutral, and President Roosevelt was not about to approve Donovan’s plans for special operations.  By mid-December 1941, Roosevelt approved Donovan’s plans and he began to recruit America's counterpart to the SOE.  Sabotage and subversion were central to Donovan’s strategic plan. In the early months of 1942, the COI and its successor in June 1942, Office of Strategic Services (OSS), were criticized at the time by generals at the Pentagon as simply a gathering of Ivy League intellectuals with little or no understanding of modern warfare.  Donovan did gather some of the great minds of the American universities and industry and focused their skills on what he saw as a key part of modern war – irregular or partisan warfare.  One of the key individuals in this new type of warfare was Stanley Lovell.  Lovell was a successful industrial chemist and professor at Harvard when Donovan recruited him to use American technology in support of irregular warfare.  Lovell was the chief of the OSS unit known as Research and Development and R&D designed and produced dozens of special weapons and equipment for the OSS and the SOE.  One of the most useful and probably the smallest of Lovell’s devices was a modification of the British version of the “time pencil.” Lovell’s time pencil was an ingenious blend of chemistry and technology that could be mass produced and shared with resistance groups throughout Europe.  It was a combination of a standard fuze ignitor at one end and a corrosive chemical compound at the other.  When the corrosive compound was crushed inside the tube, it slowly eroded a fuze ignitor.  The amount of the chemical mix allowed for time pencils to be created that delayed ignition from a few minutes to up to 24 hours.  That meant that the saboteur could emplace the demolitions, lay out the camouflaged fuze, mix the chemicals by crushing one end of the time pencil and then leave.  At a precise time, the time pencil would ignite the fuze, and start the explosive chain that would end with an explosion of plastic explosives.  With the delivery of the time pencils, saboteurs and their resistance security partners could be miles away from the site when the explosion occurred and the inevitable Nazi investigation would begin.  They could even conduct multiple operations in the same night. Of course, time pencils were not foolproof, and the chemical reaction would be affected by ambient temperature and other environmental factors.  Still, the use of this new sabotage technique, coupled with an accurate wristwatch for keeping track of the time before the explosion made the resistance more effective.  The time pencil was another example of cooperation between the US and UK teams supporting special operations.  Like the easily ignored watch or the suitcase radio that made air and coastal delivery of resistance men and equipment possible, the time pencil was a small device with a big impact on special operations in World War II.  Magnetic charge with Time Pencil placed on a vehicle (Imperial War Museum) READ NEXT: The Pragmatic Journey of a SEAL Through Watch Collecting  -- J.R. Seeger served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and as a CIA officer for a total of 27 years of federal service. He served 17 years in multiple field assignments focused on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and irregular warfare.  During his final, 3-year assignment in CIA Headquarters, he first served as a chief of operations for a geographic division in the Directorate of Operations and then served as a deputy director and deputy chief of the CIA Counterterrorism Center.  Seeger led multiple, small unit teams during his service, including leading one of the CIA teams that infiltrated into Afghanistan after 9/11. Since his retirement, J.R. has written articles and book reviews in the CIA professional journal “Studies in Intelligence” and the T.E. Lawrence Society newsletter. His eight-part MIKE4 series is about a family who have served in the special operations and intelligence community from World War II to the present.

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Moscow Rules: Watches of the Widow Spy

Moscow Rules: Watches of the Widow Spy

Spy Watches, Women and Espionage - At the height of the Cold War, a female CIA officer operated with impunity on the streets of Moscow,...

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Spy Watches, Women and Espionage - At the height of the Cold War, a female CIA officer operated with impunity on the streets of Moscow, free from the ever-present KGB surveillance. But it all changed one warm summer night when she was ambushed while servicing a dead drop for a sensitive asset, TRIGON. The Seiko on her wr

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Watches of the Middle East and the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict

Watches of the Middle East and the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict

The latest Israel-Hamas war began one month ago with the October 7 terrorist attacks.  It’s another conflict that will have significant impacts on the future...

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The latest Israel-Hamas war began one month ago with the October 7 terrorist attacks.  It’s another conflict that will have significant impacts on the future of the region and potentially the world.  While the nature of a conflict changes over time, one constant is the presence of timepieces on the wrist of those making decisions.  Our content is often influenced by current events, so today we’re looking at watches of the Middle East. As usual, we take an intelligence officer’s approach–devoid of opinion– as we explore the wrists of decision-makers, past and present, in the Middle East.  Analysis of Foreign Leaders Timepieces As discussed in the previous Dispatch, “CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces,” a foreign leader’s or warfighter's timepiece can tell us a lot about their character, how they perceive themselves, and how they want to be perceived by others.  Analyzing a practitioner's watch can provide unique insight into both their personality and what they are trying to telegraph to their own constituents as well as the larger world, something especially true in today’s information war, which is something both Hamas and the Israelis engage in with varying efficacy. 1 September 2010. During Middle East negotiations, Egyptian President Mubarak and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel check their watches to see if the sun has set; during Ramadan. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons) Watches and the Middle East In the Middle East, watches play a significant role in diplomacy and business.  They are just as much a status symbol as anywhere else; however, in diplomacy and intelligence circles, senior government officials present Swiss watches as gifts to recognize and honor a personal relationship. As a personal touch, many Middle Eastern governments special-order watches with the royal or national military crest on the dial or caseback to present as gifts.  Prior to joining CIA, I was given a Breitling Aerospace from King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein and I have since acquired a second Jordanian Breitling Aerospace from Abdullah’s father, his Majesty Hussein bin Talal. Additionally, on one of my first days at CIA as a junior trainee, I was provided $20,000 in cash and sent to an authorized dealer in McLean, Virginia, to purchase a timepiece for the Director of CIA to give as a gift to the visiting head of a Middle Eastern intelligence service.  War: To Study, Not Glorify While we often explore the dark corners of horology, we do not seek to glorify war or take a side on this particular conflict or any other.  Coverage does not signify endorsement; watches are simply our prism for looking at history and current events in the way we know best: analyzing the wrists of those involved. Israel  Israel has a long history with military timepieces.  Everything from Rolex and Omega to Seiko can be seen on the wrists of Generals, spooks and Prime Ministers.  Isser Harel was reportedly awarded this Rolex Submariner ref 5512 at the conclusion of his 11 year tenure as Director of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad in 1963.  The watch was complete with an engraving containing his name and the Mossad insignia on the caseback. Rolex Sub 5512 belonging to former Mossad Director Isser Harel, (Photo Credit: Antiquorum) Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu- Panerai PAM048 Prime Minister Netanyahu regularly wears a Panerai Luminor PAM048, as was seen when he met with Israeli Defense Force (IDF) personnel while planning the response to the 7 October attacks. The PM served five years in a Special Operations unit of the IDF, Sayeret Matkal, with multiple combat deployments including a 1968 operation into Lebanon and the rescue of Sabena Flight 571. Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin- Rolex Submariner 1680 Photo Credit: Tiroche Auction House Yitzhak Rabin served as the Israeli Prime Minister from 1974 until 1977 and again from 1992 until his assassination in 1995 by ultranationalist Yigal Amir.  Rabin was a career military officer. He oversaw Israeli operations during the 1967 Six-Day War and ultimately served as Minister of Defense for much of the 1980s. Rabin reportedly purchased this Rolex Submariner 1680 in Washington, D.C. when he became Israeli Ambassador to the US in 1972.  The watch sold at auction for $95,000 in 2021. Former Minister of Defense Benny Gantz - Breitling Aerospace Breitling has long adorned the wrists of military personnel in both Israel and Arab nations.  Pictured below is Former Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister Benny Gantz wearing a Breitling Aerospace. Breitling has also produced several limited editions for Israel, including a Breitling Aerospace featuring the Star of David for the fifty year anniversary of Israel. Photo Credit: AAG Auctioneers Palestine Yasser Arafat- Rolex Datejust Yasser Arafat (kunya- Abu Ammar) was Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) from the late 1960s until the early 2000s and wore several watches, including a Rolex Datejust (pictured). A number of profiles have noted his obsession with time, constantly checking his watch. In a 1989 Vanity Fair article, the author mentioned Arafat's lack of personal possessions, except for toiletry items and an expensive watch. When asked about the watch, Arafat replied: “It’s a Rolex, and works well.” Then he laughed and said, “But I don’t want to do propaganda for them.” Jordan King Abdullah II - MTM Black Falcon King Abdullah II of Jordan wearing a tactical MTM Black Falcon, which appears to be his daily wear.  He embodies a "Warrior-King" ethos and judging from my limited personal experience seems to truly live this philosophy.  His Majesty attended Sandhurst (British Royal Military Academy) in the UK and spent a career in the military. In 1994 he assumed command of Jordan's Special Operations Forces and built the Joint Special Operations Command.  He is western-educated, attended Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and a course at American Naval Postgraduate School.  He’s also a Black Hawk pilot, as you may recall from a previous Dispatch article on the Jordanian Breitling. King Hussein bin Talal - Breitling Cosmonaute 809 Jordanian King Hussein bin Talal is pictured below wearing a custom Breitling Cosmonaute 809 during a military exercise in 1969.  While we’re not entirely certain, the young boy is likely the current King Abdullah II, as the then-prince would have been seven years old at the time. According to Breitling aficionado Fred Mandelbaum ( @watchfred ), the connection between Breitling and King Hussein bin Talal started in 1965 and 1966, when he ordered several Navitimer 806s and Cosmonaute 809s in steel and had this Special Edition solid gold Cosmonaute 809 made for his personal collection. (Photo Credit: @ watchfred) The "King Hussein" in lustrous 18k gold, manufactured “ex ledger” without serial number and model reference for the private collection of Hussein bin Talal, the King of Jordan, with only his coat of arms on the caseback. Syria Hafiz Al-Assad - Commissioned Rolex “Syrian Submariner” Hafiz Al-Assad served as the President of Syria from 1971 until June 2000.  During his tenure, he commissioned several Rolex pieces, including a “Polar dial” Explorer II (ref. 16550), Sea-Dweller (ref 1665) and this Submariner (Ref. 5513).  Notably, each reference contains Al-Assad’s signature in red Arabic script, which have led some to refer to this as the “Syrian Submariner.” (Photo Credit: Hairspring) (Photo Credit: Hairspring) The below Sea-Dweller was reportedly a personal watch of Assad, and was gifted to his chef in return for a Ramadan meal. (Photo Credit: 10 Past Ten / Eric Ku) Egypt Hosni Mubarak - Rolex GMT Former President and Egyptian Air Force commander, Hosni Mubarak wore a Rolex GMT-Master on a steel and gold Jubilee bracelet during a meeting with Yasser Arafat.  Mubarak reportedly owned several Rolex watches, including another Pepsi GMT and a Rolex Date-Just. Photo Credit: Unknown, sourced from Jake’s Rolex World Major General Abbas Kamel, the Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate (EGID), wearing a not-yet-identified watch during a visit to Gaza.  Palestinian security detail wearing a plethora of Digital Tool Watches.   READ NEXT: Tudors of Espionage (T.O.E.s)  

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Esquire Profile: The Mysterious Story Behind 'Watches of Espionage'

Esquire Profile: The Mysterious Story Behind 'Watches of Espionage'

Watches of Espionage was recently profiled by Andrew Harrison for Esquire's "The Big Watch Book." The Mysterious Story Behind 'Watches of Espionage' The Instagram account...

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Watches of Espionage was recently profiled by Andrew Harrison for Esquire's "The Big Watch Book." The Mysterious Story Behind 'Watches of Espionage' The Instagram account and website has become a runaway hit by revealing the surprising links between luxury timepieces and spycraft. One detail remains classified. The identity of the former CIA officer who runs it by Andrew Harrison Which watch would you choose to wear on the day you die? It’s not a question that many of us face too often. But then our day’s work seldom involves flying in secret by Black Hawk helicopter from Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan to the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, there to locate and kill Osama bin Laden. Will Chesney was the dog handler with SEAL Team Six, the US special-forces unit selected to carry out “Operation Neptune Spear” in 2011. His chances of being shot down by Pakistan’s air defences en route or killed by an explosion in bin Laden’s compound were, he calculated, high, for Chesney and his dog Cairo were tasked with locating IEDs on the compound perimeter. So for this operation only, Chesney put aside his workaday digital and wore his prized Rolex Submariner instead. It was a special watch, reference 14060, engraved with the SEALs’ “red man” logo. Rolexes and Tudors had been engrained in SEAL culture since Vietnam; Chesney had bought his own watch when he passed the infamously harsh selection process to join Team Six. It was, by certain measures, impractical for the mission. But what exactly, he reasoned, was he saving it for? “I thought it would be fitting to wear the watch on that operation since it was my gift to myself for making it there,” he would say later. “I figured we wouldn’t be making it back so I might as well die with it on.” But they got their man, Chesney didn’t die and neither did Cairo. When Chesney told this story — of how the two would later be presented to President Obama, how Cairo would help him rehabilitate after he was seriously wounded in a grenade attack in Afghanistan in 2013, how Chesney commemorated his canine partner in the book No Ordinary Dog after Cairo died of cancer in 2015 — he told it to Watches Of Espionage. (Read the full post, it’s fascinating.) Launched in February 2021 by a former CIA intelligence operative with an itch for timepieces, the Watches Of Espionage Instagram feed has gained some 130,000 followers and its website has a cult audience unlike anything else in the horological universe. “WoE” readers range from hardcore watch aficionados who want to know exactly why SEALS love Panerai and how Delta Force guys get their custom Breitlings; to fans of the vicarious military experience, from the knowledgeable to what you might call the Gareth-from-The-Office demographic; to another, more select, harder-to-reach group: anonymous men who do anonymous things in the service of their country. They might not be allowed to talk about what they’ve done — many a WoE post ends with the words, “This has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information” — but they want to communicate their watch lore to others in the know, and maybe leak a little to the rest of us. WoE is both their community centre and a window into their world. Continue Reading: The Mysterious Story Behind 'Watches of Espionage'

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Israeli Spy Eli Cohen’s Eterna-Matic Centenaire Recovered by Mossad

Israeli Spy Eli Cohen’s Eterna-Matic Centenaire Recovered by Mossad

By Toby Harnden The announcement in July 2018 of a successful “special Mossad operation” to recover a watch came more than 53 years after its...

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By Toby Harnden The announcement in July 2018 of a successful “special Mossad operation” to recover a watch came more than 53 years after its owner had been publicly hanged in Damascus, Syria.  The Eterna-Matic Centenaire 61 had been purchased in Geneva in 1961 by a Syrian called Kamel Amin Thaabet, who would wear the timepiece for almost four years. But Thaabet was a fiction. In fact, he was a Mossad officer called Eli Cohen, an Egyptian-born Jew who became Israel’s most legendary spy. Cohen has been depicted in numerous books and screen treatments, including by Sacha Baron Cohen in Netflix's The Spy in 2019. The Centenaire 61, then marketed as “thin…elegant…new…time and date at a glance, automatically” and retailed at $135 ($1,389 today) was a finishing touch to his cover. It seemed to befit his identity as Thaabet, a wealthy, flamboyant businessman bound for Buenos Aires. To this day, the remains of Cohen, who operated in Damascus for three years until his capture in January 1965, have never been recovered. His watch was returned to his wife Nadia in Israel. Like the family of CIA contract pilot Norman Schwartz, killed in Manchuria in 1952, who received a Rolex Oyster Datejust from the U.S government in 2019, the Cohens have no body to bury and only a timepiece from his final mission. The lengths to which Mossad went to locate the Centenaire and the simmering national anger over the failure by an Arab enemy to return his body speaks to the centrality of espionage and enduring enmities in the psyche of the Jewish state. (Photo Credit: NetFlix) With Mossad facing criticism for the intelligence lapses that led to the surprise, barbaric attacks of October 7th by Iran-backed Hamas, Israeli leaders will doubtless consider stories of bravery and sacrifice in the wars against Arabs by the likes of Cohen to be as important and potent as ever. "We remember Eli Cohen and do not forget,” Yossi Cohen, then Mossad chief—and born in the year the executed spy bought the Centenaire—said in a statement when the watch was found. “His heritage, of dedication, determination, courage and love of the homeland, is our heritage. We remember and have maintained a close connection over the years with his family, Nadia and the children. “This year, at the conclusion of an operational effort, we succeeded in locating and bringing to Israel the wristwatch that Eli Cohen wore in Syria until the day he was captured. The watch was part of Eli Cohen's operational image and part of his fabricated Arab identity." (Photo Credit: Eli Cohen Museum) Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister—a position he now occupies once again—added: “I commend the fighters of the Mossad for the determined and courageous operation, the sole objective of which was to return to Israel a memento from a great fighter who greatly contributed to the security of the state." Thaabet, as created by Mossad, had been born to parents who were of Syrian origin but had immigrated to Lebanon. After his parents had died, he went to Argentina to work with his uncle, who had emigrated there in 1946. Eli Cohen, a devout Jew born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1924. His father had moved to Egypt from Aleppo in 1914. His parents and brothers had moved to Israel in 1949. Cohen remained to carry out underground Zionist operations and followed later. Cohen in Damascus, Syria (Photo Credit: Eli Cohen Museum) Cohen had initially been rejected as too arrogant for undercover work but was recruited to Unit 188, a military intelligence unit dedicated to operations outside Israel, at the end of 1959. Mossad trained him to speak Arabic with a Syrian dialect as part of his cover story as Thaabet. Cohen landed in the Argentine capital in February 1961 and began learning Spanish with a private teacher, reaching a proficiency that would convince Syrians he had been living in Argentina for 16 years. On January 10, 1962, Cohen, as Thaabet, boarded a tourist ship that set out from Genoa, Italy, on a passage to Beirut. From Lebanon, he was helped by Majeed Sheikh al-Ard, a CIA asset from 1951 to 1959, to enter Syria. Sacha Baron Cohen plays Eli Cohen in The Spy (Photo Credit: Netflix) Cohen did not try to hide or operate in the shadows. His role was to insinuate himself into the high society of Damascus, renting a luxury villa near the Syrian army headquarters and the diplomatic district.  Soon, he was throwing parties attended by generals and politicians. Cohen had a remarkable memory and he was skilled at pretending he was drunk while keeping a mental note of everything that was being said. Although there were prostitutes and alcohol at his parties, Israeli sources insist that Cohen cover did not extend to having sexual relationships with Syrian women or taking a girlfriend, as was depicted by Sacha Baron Cohen in The Spy. Each morning, Cohen radioed out back to Mossad, his transmissions covered by those from the nearby Syrian army base. He dispatched backgammon pieces, modified to contain microfilms of documents he had copied, to “friends” in Argentina.  His intelligence reports tracked the rising influence of the Ba’ath party, which came to power in a coup in March 1963. Amin al Hafiz, who Cohen had befriended when Hafiz was military attache in Buenos Aires, became defense minister. Mossad now had access to the heart of the Syrian government.   Cohen reported details of the Syrian order of battle and border defenses. He was said to have learned about the Jordan River engineering works—designed to divert water from Israel—from Mohammed bin Laden, a Saudi engineer who had won the contract. One of Bin Laden’s sons, Osama, later became the leader of al-Qaeda.   When Israel was able to capture the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War of 1967, credit was given to Cohen’s reporting. Cohen (in the middle) at the Golan Heights (Eli Cohen Museum) According to his daughter Sophie Ben-Dor, Cohen was the ideal Israeli spy. “He was a conservative person,” she said in a 2020 documentary. He was very Zionist, very loyal and very honest. “He was very brave and sociable, but he also really liked his own company. He was very thorough. He knew more than just Arabic. He knew a number of languages to a very high level. He was very intelligent and trustworthy.” Controversy still rages over how Cohen was caught. Some charge that his Mossad handlers pushed him to produce more, others that Cohen was reckless in transmitting for longer than the two minutes—easily timed by glancing at his Centenaire—he had been told was his limit of safety. Mossad has accepted a degree of responsibility in recent years. In 2015, then Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said: “In retrospect, it’s clear that his last return to Syria was a mistake. In the profession of secret warfare, we know that from the first moment of an operation, we’re in a countdown to its end.” (Photo Credit: Eli Cohen Museum) On January 24, 1965, Syrian troops stormed into Cohen’s apartment while he was transmitting. The Syrians forced him to send bogus messages back to Israel but Cohen was able to indicate he was being coerced. Mossad finally realized the game was up when they received a final message addressed to the Israeli prime minister: “Kamal and friends are our guests for three years. Calm down about the fate of what is to come. Military organization of Syria.” Cohen, like any intelligence officer behind enemy lines, especially one operating under non-official cover, had already sacrificed an immense amount. Ben-Dor described in the documentary his arrival at the airport in Israel during one of her father’s last visits home. “I saw him from a distance, wearing a suit and a coat,” she said. “He was nervous. He took my hand and squeezed it. He hardly recognized me. He was so nervous that he hurt my hand but I was too embarrassed to tell him. He was always a stranger to me.” Eli Cohen executed by hanging in Damascus, Syria- May 1965 He almost certainly endured torture at the hands of the Syrians, who forced him to submit to a show trial and then hanged him before a baying crowd in Marjeh Square. A parchment filled with anti-Zionist slogans was attached to his body, which was left swaying from the rope for six hours. The Centenaire is said to have been recovered as part of a new push to locate his remains that began in 2004, according to former Mossad chief Meir Dagan. While the Israeli government hinted in 2018 that the watch was found during a daring undercover mission in Damascus, the Cohen family has suggested that it was bought from a Syrian seeking to profit from its provenance. Eterna Centenaire 61 (Photo Credit: Invaluable) Mossad is believed to have kept documentation of the purchase of the Centenaire—perhaps connecting a serial number—that confirmed Cohen purchased it in Switzerland when his cover as Thaabet was being established. Eterna is a Swiss brand that was founded in Grenchen, Switzerland in 1856 and initially called Dr. Girard & Schild. It gained a reputation for producing high-quality and reliable watches and in 1948 Eterna introduced a revolutionary innovation—the Eterna-Matic automatic movement, featuring a ball-bearing rotor system, which improved accuracy and reliability. In the 1960s, Eterna became a leader in developing diving watches, introducing the KonTiki line, named after the explorer Thor Heyerdahl's famous raft expedition across the Pacific.  The brand would later provide watches to the Israeli Navy, most notably the Shayetet 13, a maritime commando unit to the IDF. Nadia, widow of Israeli spy Eli Cohen, shows a photograph of herself with her late husband, during an interview with Reuters in Herzliya, Israel October 6, 2019. Picture taken October 6, 2019. (Photo Credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen) The Centenaire has been added to the Eli Cohen legend. In 2019, one television reviewer used it to describe the limits of Sasha Baron Cohen’s Netflix portrayal: “Like the watch, the show is durable, handsome, expertly engineered, but predictable in its movements.” It has, however, provided the Cohen family with a degree of comfort, if not closure. Cohen’s wife Nadia, now 87, described in 2018 being told that the Centenaire, now on display in a new Eli Cohen museum at Herzliya, had been found. “The moment that they informed me, my mouth went dry and I got the chills. At that moment I felt that I could feel his hand, I felt that part of him was with us.”   READ NEXT: Jordanian Breitling: The Gift From A King That Spawned A CIA Case Officer's Love Of Timepieces   About the author: Toby Harnden is the author of First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11. He is currently working on a new book about courage and the CIA, due to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2025. He can be followed on X at @tobyharnden and on Instagram at @tobyharnden1 and @espionage_bookshelf.

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DARPA’s Take on the Next Generation of Military Watches

DARPA’s Take on the Next Generation of Military Watches

How Has DARPA Imagined the Future of Wristwatches? The unquantifiable nature of watches is that these little mechanical objects can be imbued with stories of...

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How Has DARPA Imagined the Future of Wristwatches? The unquantifiable nature of watches is that these little mechanical objects can be imbued with stories of service, sacrifice, and relationships. When W.O.E. covers watches, we often shy away from product reviews and instead look at the human element that makes watches meaningful. But to DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a watch certainly isn’t a vessel for men and women who have served the nation to mark their achievements or service. It isn’t actually about the stories. A watch can only play one role: to provide the United States with a technological advantage against adversaries. DARPA’s mission is simple: To make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security. When it comes to modifying and creating watches for the purpose of gathering intelligence and performing counterintelligence operations, the Agency’s in-house Directorate of Science & Technology (DS&T) is responsible. More on that HERE. (The name of the Center/Directorate has changed over the years, but the mission remains the same). DARPA’s scope is much different. It spans the entire Department of Defense, meaning the projects they lead have a much broader national security application beyond intelligence collection. As an Agency solely dedicated to Defense, the mission of the organization is not linked to a single operational capability, instead it serves as a “technological engine” that supplies the entire DoD with advanced solutions to maintain US technological superiority. The lead picture of this article is RoboSimian during a DARPA robotics challenge, designed to advance the use of robots in disaster situations. In Hollywood, DARPA is often depicted as the secret underground laboratory that’s reverse engineering alien spacecraft or working on time travel machines. This isn’t an accurate portrayal, instead DARPA is headquartered in the DC burbs and works on sometimes-mundane projects that serve the entire DoD, not just the stuff having to do with propulsion systems borrowed from little green men and global weather modification platforms.  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Headquarters  Arlington, Virginia, United States DARPA is credited with playing a pivotal role in creating the internet, providing the world with GPS technology, and even HAARP, a research station in Alaska that gathers data about the ionosphere. It’s also a popular subject of conspiracy theories, even more so today in the age of podcasts and social media. If there’s a piece of equipment the military uses, DARPA looks to optimize it and provide the United States with a competitive advantage when it comes to national security and defense, and that even means the humble wristwatch has been scrutinized by DARPA to maximize its role on the battlefield. The Atomic Clock–From Laboratory to Soldiers’ Wrists Patek Philippe & Hewlett Packard Atomic Clock (circa 1960s) (Image Credit: M.S. Rau Antiques  / @DrGarcia) Neophytes in the watch world often use accuracy and precision interchangeably. Accuracy in timekeeping is how close a clock or watch can come to a constant true and accepted value. Precision, on the other hand, is how much variance there is in measuring said time. Here’s where it gets interesting–both the most accurate and most precise clock is the atomic clock. An atomic clock works by taking cooling down cesium-133 atoms and then measuring the oscillations at the atomic level with specialized lasers. Cesium-133 “vibrates” at 9,192,631,770 times a second, providing a standardized unit to measure time. This produces the most accurate–and most precise clock in the world. A number of universities and research labs maintain atomic clocks around the world, like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Colorado and Maryland; and the National Physical Laboratory in the United Kingdom. Of course, Switzerland is home to one as well, at The Time and Frequency Laboratory at the University of Neuchâtel. NIST physicist Judah Levine with the NIST time scale that maintains official U.S. civilian time. NIST atomic clocks are used to calibrate the time scale. (Photo Credit: NIST) These laboratories occupy entire wings of campus buildings and research centers, but DARPA has the vision of using Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology to shrink down the system and install it on a single chip. A chip-scale atomic clock would benefit DoD by not only creating a near-perfect time reference across all military forces, but greatly reducing the footprint increases the mobility of military communication systems. Additionally, it’s impervious to jamming. The first time this technology was mentioned was in a 2004 fiscal report prepared for the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities, House Armed Services Committee, U.S. House of Representatives.  DARPA’s Projected Future Wristwatch Applications This chip-scale atomic clock technology most recently became part of a larger DARPA initiative called Robust Optical Clock Network (ROCkN) in 2022. But instead of a theoretical study, the objectives are clearly defined: The clock was to be used aboard fighter jets, Navy ships, satellites, and eventually a wristwatch.  Modern GPS systems, communication systems, and even the internet, operate down to nanoseconds, and this is exactly why synchronization is still important. Timing matters here because packets of data need to be exactly where they need to be, when they need to be there. If it’s even slightly off the packets get scrambled or lost. Add in the threat of cyberwarfare and timing becomes even more important. Most atomic clocks have a +1/-1 variance over a time span of 31.71 million years. The idea with ROCkN is to get them down to an accuracy of a trillionth of a second. And every single device would be on one network, running at this level of accuracy. This is exactly the kind of moonshot idea the DARPA specializes in. As with most of their projects, this technology exists in the future.  After all, we’ve come a long way in 2023 from DARPA’s initial early-’90s vision for the wristwatch. Before the miniaturized atomic clock, DARPA conceptualized what would eventually become something functionally similar to the smart watch of today.  Patent document for wearable computer packaging device Celebration and Skepticism Around Wrist-Computing In 1998, Military+Aerospace Electronics magazine ran a piece titled DARPA Describes Vision of Wearable Computing. In it, author Chris Chinnock describes a DARPA-led program about a decade earlier, that allowed soldiers of the future to utilize “wearables”, like a wristwatch, to plug into a MIL-STD 1553 bus interface and run tests to determine feasibility of repair and maintenance in the field. The idea was that “Interactive electronic technical manuals would be on the wearable computer, and wireless communications would enable the operator to order replacement parts via the World Wide Web.” Wearables are still being researched and developed, during the Covid-19 pandemic, DARPA has invested in an early-detection projection leveraging the Oura Ring.  Air Force 18th Component Maintenance Squadron wearing a Garmin watch and an Oura ring as part of a 2021 study(Photo Credit:/ U.S. Air Force) Beyond interacting with machinery on the battlefield, DARPA’s vision carried over to large-scale communication, much like the 1940s Dick Tracey model of using your wristwatch like a two-way radio and tracking device. DARPA-backed ViA Inc. of Northfield, Minnesota came close to developing a wristwatch that doubles as a folding computer, much like a laptop. The user would raise their wrist, flip open the screen, and type messages and commands with the other hand in addition to using voice commands. But the idea wasn’t widely adopted. Wearing technology on your body–or wrist–took some getting used to, the story states: People felt uncomfortable talking to the computer," says Dick Urban, deputy director of the electronic technology office at DARPA…There was a cultural barrier that was inhibiting the use of such a novel computing platform. Those early users were certainly on to something. Not only is interacting with an inanimate object inherently difficult, it also introduces a security threat. In 2017, More than 3 trillion data points were compromised and used to reveal the location of sensitive military locations in Syria, Niger, and Afghanistan. Open-source data from Strava, an app designed for the Apple Watch, was used to pinpoint these locations. Now it’s second nature to interact casually with a so-called smart watch, and one day DARPA’s atomic wristwatch will adorn the wrist of service members. But for now, the military will have to make do with G-shocks, Tudors, and Marathons. And that’s just fine with us here at W.O.E.    READ NEXT: Trading a Rolex to Get out of a Sticky Situation - Myth or Reality?  

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Covert Influence in Watch Media

Covert Influence in Watch Media

A CIA Case Officer’s job is to steal secrets by recruiting and running assets - penetrations of a foreign government or hostile non-state actor. At...

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A CIA Case Officer’s job is to steal secrets by recruiting and running assets - penetrations of a foreign government or hostile non-state actor. At the core of this trade is manipulating an individual to report on his or her organization and spy on behalf of the US Government.  A significant step in the “development” of a clandestine relationship is the acceptance of an expensive gift, something that will make that individual feel indebted to his “friend,” the Case Officer. As the Watches of Espionage platform has grown, we have been offered significant “gifts” and “favors” from brands and accessory companies in the form of “lending” a watch for a review, invitations to lavish parties in Geneva and even cash payments in return for coverage.  From the brand’s perspective, the goal is simple; to exploit the relationship we have developed with our community (you) to sell more products.   Like a clandestine developmental, the offers are flattering and appeal to my ego, but having spent my professional career manipulating others, I understand this is a dangerous path. How can we objectively cover the watch industry if we feel indebted to a brand?  How can we maintain our authenticity if we mislead our community in return for financial remuneration?  From experience I know a small favor can quickly develop into a dependent relationship. Nothing in life is free, and upon reflection, the marketing of watches and influence of public opinion on timepieces has more in common with the clandestine world than initially apparent. Covert Influence Covert Influence (COVIN) is the act of influencing a population’s political sentiment or public discourse, all while concealing the hand of the actor, a foreign government.  In short, it is a government’s messaging disguised as organic content intended to influence a segment to take a certain action.  All major intelligence services engage in COVIN to further their country’s political and military objectives. Photo Credit: IWC Information, Misinformation, Disinformation While there is and always will be tension between journalists and intelligence officers, the reality is the two trades have much in common. At the core of both disciplines is the process of collecting information, analyzing it, and then reporting it for the sake of decision-making. On the journalism side, the general public is the decision-maker and the decision is often simply public opinion. On the intelligence side, Intelligence Officers collect and analyze information to inform policy makers to (hopefully) make sound decisions.   According to now declassified documents, during the Cold War, some prominent journalists and media outfits were aligned with the CIA and helped carry out Agency goals in both reporting from foreign nations as well as influencing the populace through placed stories.  US Embassy, Moscow, USSR Today, claims of the CIA’s mass media control and “spooking the news” in the US have very little factual basis.  Contrary to Hollywood, CIA’s current use of the media and COVIN is heavily regulated by US law under Title 50 authorities and only occurs under significant congressional oversight, most notably that it cannot be used to influence the US public opinion. Watch Journalism: To inform or influence?   While W.O.E. is still new to the watch media landscape, it is easy to identify the same tradecraft used by intelligence services to influence you as the consumer.  There are very few impartial actors in this space and traditional marketing is supported with a sophisticated COVIN-like campaign to manipulate the consumer (you) to take a certain action (buy a certain watch).   Understanding how niche media–particularly in the watch community– works, and recognizing influence, can help identify partial and impartial actors. This isn't entirely different from what happens in the intelligence world. Intelligence agencies constantly seek to identify, analyze, and counter hostile foreign intelligence services COVIN campaigns targeting the US and our allies. sexy (Photo Credit: Tudor) Brand Capture of Enthusiast Platforms What separates “Enthusiast Media” from the typical “Fourth Estate” (media meant to hold people in power accountable, i.e., big media) is that enthusiast platforms are driven by access. And access is typically granted at the will of the subjects being covered (in the watch world, that’s the big watch companies). This Enthusiast model creates a symbiotic relationship between journalists/watch personalities and the subjects they cover, which inherently results in a bias when reporting. Like a Case Officer providing a gift to a developmental, brands provide watch influencers “gifts”, most notably in the form of access. To gain and maintain access, the published narrative must be consistent with the established communication direction of the powerful players in the watch world. This is at the core of understanding watch media: As the digital age caught up with the traditional world of watch enthusiasm and platforms started cropping up, there was a very sharp shift from scholarship and reporting to advocacy. We’ve seen this happen in mainstream media as well–and as a result, there is a growing distrust of the major news media conglomerates. Part of this change in watch media was intentional, but most of it was a byproduct of how the shifting model allowed for more participation, and in turn, more engagement of enthusiasts by brands. All the sudden there was a comment section, and consumers could openly voice their dissent or admiration directly to the brands. Tribalism–which as anyone in the IC can relate to–exists on every level. There are fewer “watch guys” and more and more “Rolex guys” or “Omega guys”, or whatever brand one developed an allegiance to. The “flame wars” erupted on comment sections and forum threads as collectors engaged in heated debates about certain elements of watch enthusiasm.  (Photo Credit: Panerai) Swiss Brands - The Puppet Masters  Watch brands, long masters at marketing, quickly figured out how to manipulate organic advocacy and create communication strategies that brought the leaders of those advocacy movements front and center. Prominent collectors and “tastemakers” were compensated to influence taste, or rather influence “mass opinion” of the watch community at large.  This led to the modern watch “influencer” model, but something even more impactful happened. The emergence of blogs that cashed in on their influence. Banner ads in the early days were commonplace, and that was the most obvious form of advertising. But the game has evolved. This is where it takes a discerning eye to distinguish what’s meant to influence–and what has roots in scholarship and enthusiasm.  Watches and Wonders (Photo Credit: Unknown) Scholarship vs Advocacy Big watch brands spend large budgets on “native content” packages that wrap up banner ads, sponsored content, and sometimes events all into one package. Absent is one line item: coverage, as in stories, on the brand’s new releases. It’s implied that the digital platform will cover the release favorably when the brand signs a six-figure ad deal. That’s how big watch platforms can technically remain “independent” while still being influenced by watch brands. It’s the same sort of “soft power” one might see in the intelligence world. There’s always a part of the deal that’s bound by an implied handshake rather than a written contract.  Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. To make things even more complicated, most large watch platforms now sell the very watches they cover so there’s even more opportunity for the platform to be influenced by brands (as a channel to push their watches) and to influence consumers (to sell more watches).  As a platform starts to carry more brands, there are fewer brands that would be subject to criticism–and if the platform aspired to carry a brand, of course it wouldn't be subject to criticism either. The pattern that occurs is that every article is positive and very few publications offer any earnest scholarship when it comes to a watch or watch manufacturer. (Photo Credit: Tag) If one were to look for an objective watch review–it would be notably absent from any of the big watch publications. This isn't by accident. At W.O.E., we celebrate the stories of the community–and we suggest ways to get further into watches, but we generally leave the “reviews” for the blogs. They always seem to be positive, because there is general commercial interest involved, whether overt or clandestine. We’ve looked at how the conflict in Ukraine is an information war. This ties into how we can think about media–whoever controls the narrative controls public opinion. In enthusiast media, whoever sways opinion controls the consumer purchases.  The World As it Is To be clear, we are not criticizing any major watch platform or brand for that matter.  We believe in a free market and actors should make decisions on what is best for their shareholder’s interests.  In a perfect world, all major news outlets and watch platforms would cover events in an objective manner.  That said, we observe the world as it is, not how it should be. At W.O.E., we’ve long ago established that we will not follow the model of traditional watch media in the sense that we will not take money in exchange for allowing our platform to be used as a tool to influence our community. (Photo Credit: Breitling) W.O.E. is brand agnostic.  To date, we have profiled several brands including Tudor, Casio G-Shock, Marathon and Bremont and covered examples of many more (Breitling, Seiko, Omega, Panerai etc). While these are not necessarily endorsements, each brand maintains a connection with our community and our goal is to document that history.  We plan to cover many more and we will continue to do it on our terms without a hidden hand on the libra scale. We’re not closing the door of collaborating with a major watch brand one day–but it would be for the sole purpose of designing with the scope of our very specific community in mind, and again, on our terms. READ NEXT: Criminal Rolex Gangs And Traveling With Watches, Part I This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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Watches and Commercial Espionage: Waltham Watch Company

Watches and Commercial Espionage: Waltham Watch Company

The connection between watches and the military, the dangers of commercial espionage and the influence of firearms manufacturing on the watch industry. by Aaron Stark...

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The connection between watches and the military, the dangers of commercial espionage and the influence of firearms manufacturing on the watch industry. by Aaron Stark In December 2022 I published Disrupting Time: Industrial combat, espionage, and the downfall of a great American company. I got started on this mission of exploration after inheriting a pocket watch from my great grandfather and wanting to learn more about it and the Waltham Watch Co. 1903 Waltham Watch, which I inherited from my great grandfather - author’s photo On the surface it tells the never-told story of two Swiss spies who came to America in 1876 and stole the secrets of the American watch industry, used it to transform the Swiss to mechanized watch production, and how the recovering Swiss watch industry overwhelmed their main target – the Waltham Watch Co of Waltham, Massachusetts. However, the story runs much deeper, touching on the dangers of insider threats and espionage to corporations, the role of timekeeping in the development of modern society, and the impacts of strategic choices made by companies and entire industries that impact their survival or failure. Accordingly, the book has found a wide and diverse audience including historians, business professionals, intelligence professionals, watch enthusiasts, and those who follow the impact of industrial espionage in current events.  Despite the many themes explored in the book, three stand out most saliently to me. These are covered in the book, but the nice thing about writing articles like this is that there are so many more anecdotes that you come across in researching for which there is not room in the book. You can also check out my website to see additional photos and read some of the historical sources I mention.  Waltham Watch dial from an Ellery watch – author’s photo The dangers of industrial espionage One must only read the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times for a week or two before they will see some reference to industrial espionage and its impact, typically related to technology related companies. The concept of stealing technology is well known in history. Some of the most famous targets of industrial espionage were porcelain, silk, and textile manufacturing. The Lowell Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts resulted from Francis Cabot Lowell stealing trade secrets from the English. However, the term industrial espionage is relatively new – it began appearing in historical documents in the early twentieth century and became a mainstream term in the second half of the twentieth century.  In many respects, our view of it has been shaped by the passage of the 1996 Industrial Espionage Act, though many laws touched on the concept, dating back to the 1700s in England. Regardless of the technical legal definitions, there is no doubt that industrial espionage plays a role in economic development and the success of companies. A 2016 economic study found significant evidence of the effects of industrial espionage between East and West Germany. The authors concluded that East Germany would not have been able to maintain its economic near-parity with West Germany had it not been so successful in stealing trade secrets. Thus, the authors conclude: “Our results provide evidence of significant economic returns to industrial espionage.”  Disrupting Time tells one of the most well-documented and illuminated stories of industrial espionage from pre-World War I. While a new story to most – Disrupting Time was the first published research to tell the story –the spies documented their work in copious detail. Jacques David was the main spy, accompanied by his partner Theo Gribi, a watchmaker. David was an engineer and watchmaker who had a strong understanding of emerging mechanized industries. These two men were dispatched by the Society of Jura Industries (SIIJ), a trade association representing the businesses and industries of western Switzerland. They were in America for approximately three months, using this time to sneak into America’s technology leader – the Waltham Watch Co, and also recruiting company insiders and acquiring company documents.  Gribi – left, from “Horology,” June 1937 During their time in America, they wrote letters back to Switzerland giving insight into the mind and method of 19th century industrial spies. They concluded their mission by writing a 130-page report. Their report would remain secret until 1992 but became more widely known when it was translated to English in 2003. From David and Gribi’s 130-page report, it was obvious they had abnormal access to detailed financial information about Waltham, but I couldn’t figure out how, and skeptics kept telling me that maybe Waltham naively shared this information with the Swiss.  The story of their work as spies did not come together until the report could be combined with a key letter they wrote. In David’s letter back to Switzerland from September 1876, he wrote “I sped through [the Waltham factory] quickly and incognito and saw the poor arrangements that I already knew about.” He also wrote about an inside source he recruited: “we tried to work out [Waltham’s] outgoings without reaching a precise result. Mr W, the former director on the mechanical side who is helping us in this respect…” (see page 113 of Disrupting Time). This letter connected many dots that were missing between David’s report just being an interesting document, to identifying it as a product of espionage. Mr W referred to Ambrose Webster, Waltham’s former assistant superintendent and one of the early Waltham godfathers who invented much of the company’s automated production.  Ambrose Webster - The Keystone, December 1892, public domain Knowing of the Webster connection led to a second historical mystery to explore – Webster’s financial gain. When David published his report in 1877, he recommended Webster as the best maker of tools for watchmaking and suggested the Swiss purchase from him. Accordingly, Webster, who retired from Waltham in the summer of 1876, quickly invested heavily in a venture that would produce watchmaking equipment. It is no surprise that during the fall of 1876, in David’s letter back to the SIIJ, he noted: “I cannot recommend wholeheartedly that W. [Webster] be engaged by a group of manufacturers or by one company, but I still believe this man will be a great help in any reorganization measures that we decide to implement.”  While Webster was providing sensitive information to David, David was securing Webster’s long-term involvement in the Swiss transformation through business opportunities. Webster’s involvement remained a secret until 2022. In many pocket watch and Waltham history circles, Webster is considered one of the founding fathers who is revered, thus his involvement with the Swiss is stunning to many Waltham historians. Waltham would not have existed without Webster, but his defection through a probable quid-pro-quo arrangement with the Swiss resulted in Waltham’s eventual downfall. Connection of watches and the military As a veteran of the Army, I especially connected with the heritage of watches and the military, and their resulting impact on society. The Waltham Watch Company gained much of its early fame for its production of the Ellery model, which quickly became known as the Soldier’s Watch during the American Civil War. It cost about two months wages for a private in the Union Army, yet there is much evidence to indicate that soldiers bought them anyway. Their ubiquity in the Army during the Civil War had much to do with an increased emphasis on synchronization during warfare, combined with the fact that there were few clocks in the field. If a soldier wanted to keep track of the time, they needed a watch.  My own timekeeping in combat - an Omega Speedmaster X-33. I could easily relate to the Civil War soldier’s desire to know the time - and spending more than necessary to do it - author’s photo As I was putting together my book, one anonymous reviewer questioned the idea that soldiers would pay two months salary for a watch – it seemed like too much money for an unnecessary item. When I read that comment, I knew this reviewer had never served in the military! Even now, soldiers spend disproportionate amounts on watches whether they be a nice G-Shock, Rolex, or Breitling. I often attribute this military connection to watches to be much more than a need to know the time; rather it is the one item that a soldier can take with them, it reflects their identity, and it is a valuable tool. These were all attributes expressed by Civil War soldiers as well. Much of the research I came across felt like a multi-century connection between soldiers and their love of watches.  A Massachusetts's 13th Infantry Regiment Soldier from the Civil War, showing off his watch. Provided courtesy of Clint Geller, author of The Appreciation and Authentication of Civil War Time Pieces. (Liljenquist Family Collection, Library of Congress Archives).  The connection of soldiers to their reliable-but-affordable Waltham Watches during the Civil War began a societal transformation. As millions of soldiers left the service, they took their watches and concept of time-consciousness with them. The year for which Disrupting Time is centered – 1876, Americans and the world were experiencing a revolution in timekeeping making the watch industry central to society and the tech industry of its day. By 1880, it was said that people were now expected to be someplace on time, whether that be work or the theater. In 1870, about 1-in-20 American adults owned a watch. By 1900, this per-capita ownership would quadruple to 1-in-5.   Connection of firearms to watches Springfield Model 1873 Trapdoor Rifle (from Gromitsonabarth, Wikimedia,  CC-BY-SA-4.0) In an earlier section, I mentioned Ambrose Webster, an American inventor who became a recruited agent for the Swiss watch industry. Webster actually got his start at the Springfield Armory where firearms were being mass produced by the 1850s. Webster left the armory and joined Waltham shortly after its founding as a chief mechanic. Webster began to reorient the entire factory at Waltham to be more than just a collection of highly-skilled watchmakers operating in the same building. He introduced early automation that allowed Waltham to hire semi-skilled workers who knew little to nothing about watchmaking. He became the principal inventor of many machines, allowing Waltham to quickly scale its production. In 1857, it took Waltham twice as long as the Swiss to produce a watch. Within a few short years, Waltham produced watches in half the time that it took the skilled Swiss watchmakers.  Inside the Waltham Watch Co around the time David and Gribi targeted the company – W.A. Webster, public domain Webster’s ability to bring the concept of firearms mass production to watches completely revolutionized the watch industry. It was also what alarmed and motivated the Swiss when they saw these novel systems in 1876. Waltham’s systems continued to become more automated as they invested heavily in invention and capital. By 1890, Waltham’s systems would be near-fully automated with handling systems. It was probably around this time that Henry Ford would visit the factory and get the idea for the assembly line for automobiles. Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II said “I think - I always understood...[Henry Ford] got the idea from the Waltham Watch Company originally by seeing watches going down on an assembly line and he felt that [technique] could be applied to the manufacture of automobiles. There are some other stories prevalent, but that is the one I always heard. So that is the one I believe to be the truth.” (source: “Sidelights of the Day: Show the Boss the Ad,” New York Times, May 9, 1953, 253). In conclusion Disrupting Time is a book that weaves together many themes. This era was truly one of revolutionary change in society. As one reviewer noted, the espionage discussed in the book occurred because watches and timekeeping were so central to the economy of that time. If you find any of the topics discussed in this article to be of interest, I encourage you to check out the book, either on Amazon, Audible, or iTunes. It tells the story of cutthroat competition, industrial espionage, societal development, and a great world’s fair. The competition in this era was so intense it was even referred to as “combat of industry” by one contemporary observer.  The Swiss watchmakers and Waltham viewed their situation through such a lens, using similar bellicose imagery. David would refer to the American watch companies as “a courageous and well armed adversary.”  Meanwhile, Waltham’s chief executive also viewed the situation as a protracted war: “if we can't live in peace we must live on a war-footing…I propose to make the fighting as effective as possible.” You can find more information about Disrupting Time on Aaron’s website, aaronstarkbooks.com. He enjoys hearing from readers and talking with groups about the book. You can contact him through the website.  Aaron Stark is the author of Disrupting Time: industrial combat, espionage, and the downfall of a great American company. He is a former assistant professor of economics at West Point and a veteran of the US Army. READ NEXT: Jordanian Breitling: The Gift From A King That Spawned A CIA Case Officer's Love Of Timepieces

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Watches of the War in Ukraine

Watches of the War in Ukraine

Mercenaries, Presidents, Generals, and Oligarchs - a conflict of timepieces We are now in the second year of Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine, a...

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Mercenaries, Presidents, Generals, and Oligarchs - a conflict of timepieces We are now in the second year of Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine, a conflict that will go down as one of the most significant geopolitical developments of the 21st century.  In the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, watching the conflict in real time and attempting to understand its complexities can be overwhelming.  Through writing this piece, we seek to take a step back and look at some of the men involved in the conflict through the lens of their timepieces.  As discussed in the previous Dispatch, “CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces,” a foreign leader’s timepiece can tell us a lot about their character, how they perceive themselves, and how they want to be perceived by others.  Analyzing a practitioner's watch can provide unique insight into both their personality and what they are trying to telegraph to their own constituents as well as the larger world, something especially true in today’s information war. In war, a simple wristwatch is a crucial piece of kit. The watch has remained a seminal tool on the battlefield despite the huge technological advancements in military equipment and weapons. It’s no surprise that several notable timepieces adorn the wrists of those leading the various parties involved in this conflict.  Really? Watches of the Ukraine War? Looking at something so complex as the Ukraine War through the lens of wristwatches–what essentially amounts to a hobby, might seem diminishing at first. What do watches have to do with the war in Ukraine? As it turns out, a lot.   At the onset of the conflict, notoriously neutral Swiss brands including Rolex, Swatch Group, LVMH (particularly the Swiss-based watch division) and Richemont suspended exports to Russia. In response, the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, reportedly seized millions of dollars of Audemars Piguet (AP) watches from a Moscow affiliate of AP. Meanwhile, Russian citizens purchased large quantities of Swiss timepieces as a measure to store value as sanctions took hold and devalued the ruble.  It is logical to conclude many of these have left the country with the mass migration out of Russia as a form of money laundering and wealth transfer.  Further, watches reportedly liberated from Russian military personnel have found their way to Ebay for purchase. Battle field pick up?  A watch reportedly worn by a Russian solider, now for sale on Ebay. To be clear, we do not intend to glorify war.  I have seen the ill effects of war and there is absolutely nothing glorious about it.  At W.O.E., we cover all types of people and stories, many of whom could be described as “evil.”  Coverage does not signify endorsement, this is simply our prism for looking at history and current events in the way we know best, through the timepieces on the wrists of those involved. Wagner Group: Yevgeny Prigozhin -Ulysse Nardin Michelangelo $3,000-$4,000 Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, formerly known as "Putin's Chef," regularly wears a Ulysse Nardin Michelangelo. This piece has been seen on Prigozhin’s wrist at black tie dinners in Moscow and on the battlefield worn with fatigues, including during the June 2023 attempted mutiny.  Prigozhin began his career in Leningrad/Saint Petersburg in organized crime before moving into the catering business (as one does) which gave him the nickname "Putin's Chef." He quickly branched out to more lucrative (and questionable) ways of making money- running the world's most notorious mercenary force. Prigozhin’s forces have been leveraged globally in Syria, Ukraine, Madagascar, Venezuela, and the Central African Republic.  Prigozhin also recently admitted to founding the Internet Research Agency, which was leveraged by Russian Intelligence services to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election. Prigozhin was allegedly sent into exile in Belarus after an aborted march towards Moscow in June. (Although press reporting indicates he is potentially still in Russia at time of publication.) President Volodymyr Zelensky - TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre HEUER 01 Chronograph $3,000-$5,000 It’s been one year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.  Few could have predicted the course this conflict has taken and the strong resistance put forth by the Ukrainian people and President Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky is pictured here (pre-conflict) wearing a TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre HEUER 01 Chronograph.  Zelensky was reportedly a Ukrainian brand ambassador for the TAG prior to the conflict. According to financial disclosures, Zelensky also has a Rolex, Breguet and a Bovet Château de Môtiers. Despite his extensive collection, a watch is noticeably absent from his wrist since the onset of the conflict. In addition to the kinetic war, this is an information war.  Ukraine has been masterful in this area. Zelensky’s appearance, actions, and demeanor are a key strategic part of this information war. Zelensky has consciously dressed down in a military green t-shirt. We can assume that this is no accident. Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin - Blancpain Léman Aqua Lung Grande Date approx. $10,500 Analysts assess Russian President Vladimir Putin is one of the wealthiest men in the world, with shaky estimations putting his net worth in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Putin has been photographed wearing numerous expensive watches, including a 18k yellow gold Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Moon Phase and a platinum A. Lange & Sohne – watches fitting for a man of his supposed fortune. But in recent years, Putin has appeared to favor a more modest limited edition Blancpain Léman Aqua Lung Grande Date and a IWC Mark XVII.  Putin has also been known to give away watches to Russian citizens, including a Blancpain to a factory worker in 2009. Casual wrist shot from the lucky factory worker. Putin’s expensive watch collection is estimated to be valued over $1 million dollars, which is hard to explain given the Kremlin's claimed salary of $140k per year, something that Putin has drawn significant criticism for in recent years. By flying in the face of norms and wearing a flashy watch in public, Putin might have been demonstrating that he believed he would not be held accountable for past corruption. Similarly, Putin’s more recent outings wearing a modest and explainable timepiece may indicate he has concerns for the criticism and his domestic image. President Putin wearing F.P. Journe Chronometre Bleu (Photo Credit: Kremlin) Commemorative Watches:   The presentation of watches as commemorative gifts has a long history in intelligence, diplomacy, and military circles.  This tradition extends to the present conflict, with both Ukrainian and Russian officials presenting watches to their forces and partners. Ukraine: Photo Credit: Ukrainian President’s Office In June 2021, Zelensky visited the frontline troops on Ukraine's Armed Forces Day and presented soldiers with Ukrainian-produced Kleynold KFS-820s ($220).  Zelensky has also given watches to sailors that were returned from Russian captivity. Russian Forces: Denis Vladimirovich Pushilin, the head of the disputed “Donetsk People's Republic” (DPR), recently presented Wagner mercenary forces with watches in response to their actions in the conflict.   The watches and values are unknown, although it is reasonable to assume they may be of Russian origin, although they do not appear to be Vostok or Raketa, common Russian brands.  Pushilin remarked about Wagner forces: “By your actions, by your deeds, you show what the Russian spirit is, what the strength of Russian weapons is, which is why now you, your units are setting an example for many in the area entrusted to you, freeing the Russian land.” Ukrainian Colonel Oleksandr “Grey Wolf” Oksanchenko - Kleynod "Independence Insignia" edition $390 Ukrainian fighter pilot Colonel Oleksandr “Grey Wolf” Oksanchenko was killed when his aircraft was shot down during the Battle for Kyiv in late February 2022. President Volodymyr Zelensky posthumously awarded him with the Order of the Gold Star. The Grey Wolf is pictured here wearing a Ukrainian made watch, a Kleynod "Independence Insignia" edition which was developed on the 15th anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence. Oksanchenko was a legendary Ukrainian Su-27 Flanker pilot who retired in 2018, but like many Ukrainians, returned to service to defend his nation when the conflict kicked off. He was reportedly shot down by a Russian S-400 air defense system, although some reports suggest it may have been a friendly fire incident.  In the information war, it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction. Dmitry Peskov - limited edition Richard Mille 52-01, approx. $600,000 Putin aide, advisor, and Russian press secretary Dmitry Sergeyevich Peskov has been photographed wearing a Limited Edition Richard Mille, most notably during his wedding where he claimed the watch was a gift from his wife, former Olympic figure-skating champion Tatiana Navka. With an eye watering estimated value of $600k+, the value of this watch likely exceeds the cumulative value of the salary he has drawn throughout his entire career as a civil servant. Minister of Defence Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoigu, Porsche Design Black Dashboard Chronograph P6612 approx. $8,000 Minister of Defence, Sergei Kuzhugetovich Shoigu wears a Porsche Design titanium Black Dashboard Chronograph P6612.  Shoigu is largely responsible for overseeing the conflict in Ukraine, which has come under direct criticism from Wagner boss Prigozhin. After Prighozin’s failed mutiny attempt, Shoigu was filmed at a high level Russian Ministry of Defence meeting; however, the watch itself was blurred out, potentially meant to conceal the time and date of the meeting. Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox church, Breguet approx. $30,000 Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church, was sanctioned by the US and NATO partners and described by the EU as “one of the most prominent supporters of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine.” In 2012, an official church picture appeared to show the reflection of a $30,000+ gold Breguet watch on the polished table, the only problem was that the watch itself was photoshopped off the wrist of Kirill. The original photo was later released depicting the watch.  Kirill described Putin’s fraudulent election in 2012 as a “miracle of God” and was recently referred to by the Pope as “Putin’s altar boy.” For authoritarian governments, harnessing support from the religious elite is crucial.  The Breguet was supposedly a gift from a wealthy member of the church. Kirill has also been photographed wearing a Ulysse Nardin Dual Time, which appears to be a favorite of Russian elites. Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich, Polar M61, Sub-$100 Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich is known for wearing a modest sub-$100 Polar M61 watch, which is notable given his estimated net worth of $7-15 billion. An interesting note about Abramovich: In 2010 he commissioned 50 Breitling SuperOcean automatics with "Eclipse" on the dial, the name of one of his 533 ft super yachts. Sketchy dudes wear Breitling . . .  (Photo Credit: Chiswick Auctions) The Eclipse cost an estimated $700 million and is one of two of Abramovich's superyachts. READ NEXT: Third Option Foundation Fundraise - GBRS AOR-1 Watch Pouch And Challenge Coin This article has been reviewed by the CIA's Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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Watches of Diplomatic Security

Watches of Diplomatic Security

Special Agent Mel Harrison served in the US State Department for twenty-eight years, mostly as a Regional Security Officer in the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS)....

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Special Agent Mel Harrison served in the US State Department for twenty-eight years, mostly as a Regional Security Officer in the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). The role of a DSS Agent overseas is to advise the U.S. Ambassador on all security matters and to protect U.S. personnel, facilities, and information.  One common theme throughout Mel’s career was the presence of a situationally correct timepiece on his wrist. The relationship between Diplomatic Security's Regional Security Officer (RSO) and the CIA Station is vital to keeping Americans safe abroad. The RSO has the benefit of the US Marines and contract guard force under his command, but with vital intelligence assessments from the CIA Chief of Station, the RSO is able to assess the severity of the threat and can credibly request specific host government assets to protect the Embassy and its personnel congruent to the threat level.  Mel at Handy Side Gate, Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan wearing Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date 1500, circa 1988 Watches of Diplomatic Security When I joined the old Office of Security in 1971, watches held no fascination for me. Serving in Saigon and Quito from 1973-76, I owned an ordinary and inexpensive Seiko, and later added my first automatic Seiko Diver’s watch with both day and date. My watch addiction began to grow when I returned for a DC assignment and purchased a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date 1500 and a Hamilton manual-wind military-style watch. The Rolex served me well in the office, and the Seiko and Hamilton were perfect while assigned to VIP protective details where punctuality was vital, and events might get rough and tumble. I was satisfied with this trio until assigned to the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy in 1982. I noticed a Canadian Air Force pilot and fellow student who wore a wristwatch with luminescent hands and indices, but there was no brand name on the dial. The watch was issued to him by the Canadian government and it was the first time I became aware of military issued watches. My onward assignment was to London, where I discovered a large number of books on historical military watches, and antique markets filled with actual service watches. In my view, above all else, watches are tools. Whether one values accuracy, toughness, functionality, dependability, or just plain looks, the choices should match the needs of the job, the work environment, and do so without breaking the bank. Before arriving for a three year assignment in Islamabad, Pakistan in 1987, I added an Omega Speedmaster to my small collection. It was amazingly accurate and legible. But without a date function, I wore it somewhat less than I would have liked. I eventually sold it in London. Mel in Darra Adam Khel weapons bazar, Pakistan circa 1988. My Seiko divers watch on a rubber strap became my favorite in Pakistan. I was wearing it in February 1989 when a mob of 8,000 rioters attacked the American Center in Islamabad, where I was leading a small staff in its defense. The police tried their best to keep the rioters out of the Cultural Center, but they were overwhelmed and we were forced to do some hand-to-hand fighting to keep the mob from coming through the broken windows. US Embassy attack Islamabad, 1979 The toughness and dependability of a watch are important for me, whether protecting visiting congressional VIPs in the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan, or running twice weekly drills with the Embassy Marines, which can get physical, depending on the type of drill. The job of a Regional Security Officer is to prepare the embassy to handle mob violence, terrorist attacks and bombings, among other duties. It’s fair to say these are “come as you are parties.” No RSO can call a timeout while they change their dress watch to a more rugged model. You go with what you are wearing. Years later from 1996-99, I was assigned for the second time to London, this time as the senior Regional Security Officer. From the US Navy PX in London, I bought a rugged and gorgeous Rolex Submariner, which I wore on and off for the next twenty years. However, during that time I took several vacation trips to India, Kenya, and other third world places. There was no way I would wear my valuable Submariner and risk being robbed. Because I had sold my original Seiko diver’s watch a few years before, I bought a new one (model SKX031K2) with the day and date, and wore it when I traveled. I still have it today.  I liked to explore the London antique markets looking at classic old watches. One day, with the dollar to British pound exchange rate reasonably strong in my favor, I purchased a handsome mid-1960s Omega Seamaster with date from the Grays Antique market. Because of the era in which it was manufactured, it was more a dress watch than the modern rugged model. I’ve had it serviced once and still frequently wear it. I mentioned earlier that watches should blend in with the needs of the job and the environment. During my London tour, I noticed that my contacts in Scotland Yard, whether they were senior officers or patrolmen, usually wore “non-macho man” watches. The same applied to officials in the Foreign Office and Home Office. Their culture meant most wore plain no-fuss watches on leather straps, and definitely avoided large, bulky watches. After-all, who needs a dive watch in central London? So, despite owning several military related watches, I adapted by often wearing either my original Rolex 1500 on a black leather strap or the old Omega Seamaster, also on a black leather strap. I felt it more important for my contacts to focus on what I was saying than to stare at my watch. With my watch addiction still not satiated, I obtained two British military watches. The first was the CWC diver’s watch used by the Royal Marines and the second was the CWC model G-10, used throughout the British military. Unfortunately, they were both battery powered, and while the original batteries lasted many years, that wasn’t good enough. As I said earlier, dependability is a vital quality for a tool watch. So, I eventually parted ways with those two models. U.S. Embassy London Retirement beckoned. I eagerly embraced the private sector. At the same time Casio was making solar-powered watches. I had avoided battery powered watches for decades (other than the CWC) because I didn’t want to be in a remote part of the world when my battery died. Now I could buy a Casio that never died. It had alarms, a back light, separate time zones, stopwatch and countdown functions, and oh, yes, it told the time. I bought the Casio G-Shock model 5600 and wore it in Sanaa, Yemen for four months when I was working as a contractor, and wore it again in Karachi, Pakistan, and Jidda, Saudi Arabia while serving on the State Department Accountability Review Boards. I also used it on business trips in the South American countries of Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. Having multiple alarms on the watch was invaluable for meetings and getting out of bed on time. Having world time zones is helpful, but most people can calculate the difference between home time and where they are located abroad. I now carry this watch on vacation trips abroad. (Read: The History Of Casio G-Shocks And The US Military) Casio G-Shock 5600 A few years ago I sold my Rolex Submariner because after twenty years the luminosity on the hands and indices was fading. Although perhaps, it was my eyes that were getting old. I traded it in for a new Rolex Explorer II. It is a great looking watch with excellent legibility. But, the Explorer II was slightly bigger and heavier than the Submariner. Several years before, I had hurt my wrist and I found out that if I wore the Explorer full-time for a week or two my wrist got sore. Rather than leaving it in the drawer, I sold it for what I paid. Mel with his wife, Irene in Yemen wearing a Casio G-Shock, 2001. For those interested in reading Mel Harrison's five thrillers with RSO Alex Boyd as his protagonist, I suggest beginning with Mel's last book, Spies Among Us. It is set in London and shows the close relationship of the RSO to the CIA station. In Mel's books, Alex Boyd is wearing either a Seiko Diver day/date model or a Casio G-Shock. Read Next: Forget Bond, A Real CIA Spy Watch The author of this article, Mel Harrison, served in the US State Department for twenty-eight years, mostly as a Special Agent/Regional Security Officer in the Diplomatic Security Service (originally called the Office of Security). His overseas assignments were Saigon, Quito, Rome, London (twice), Islamabad, and Seoul. Temporary postings included Beirut, Caracas, Lima, and Bogota. Washington tours of duty included Regional Director for the Middle East and South Asia, and the Director of the Anti-terrorism Assistance Program. In retirement, he traveled on business to Sanaa, Baghdad, Cairo, and elsewhere. During his assignment to Islamabad, Pakistan, he received the State Department’s Award for Valor and the worldwide Security Officer of the Year award. For the last few years, Mel has written and published five fictional thrillers set in embassies around the world.

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CIA Officers and Apple Watches

CIA Officers and Apple Watches

Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to...

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Counterintelligence Risks of Smart Watches “Apple watches are for nerds.”   Though we don’t actually think this, it’s easy to understand how one could come to that conclusion. The Apple Watch of today could be seen as the “calculator watch” of the ‘90s–in other words, a product with a nerdy association. One thing we can say is that smart watches are NOT/NOT for intelligence officers.  Smart watches, like the Apple Watch, offer significant lifestyle benefits: fitness tracking, optimizing communication, and sleep monitoring.  However, for CIA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collectors who rely on anonymity to securely conduct clandestine operations, the networked device is a counterintelligence (CI) vulnerability and potential opportunity for exploitation. For every benefit the Apple Watch provides, it also comes with a threat.  In general, we are not against smart watches at WOE. In my post-CIA life I have worked in emerging technology and the benefits of “wearables”, including smart watches, are limitless.  Even though their high-tech functionality runs counter to much of the analog-inspired stories that we put out at W.O.E., smart watches are great tools. They provide immediate and actionable data to increase one’s health, productivity, and situational awareness.  To effectively provide this resource, the watch constantly collects data on one’s location, surroundings, vitals, and movement.  That data is held on the device or sent to a cloud for storage and analysis.  Depending on the applications on the device, much of this data is packaged and sold to third parties for targeted advertisement. Strava Fitness App: In late 2017, open-source fitness tracker data from Strava, an application that allows users to track their fitness activity, was used to reveal the location of sensitive military locations in countries including Syria, Niger, and Afghanistan.  More than 3 trillion data points were available for analysis, posing a potential vulnerability for operational security (OPSEC), revealing sensitive government locations of importance to the US Government’s operations in the area. It’s important to note that this data was relatively rudimentary, simple GPS data points with map overlay– a fraction of the data collected by smart watches today. Even so, researchers from Bellingcat were able to manipulate and combine the information with other datasets to reportedly reveal the identities of British Special Air Service (SAS) personnel, proving that “anonymized” data often isn't. Strava heat map showing sensitive government location. (Strava Data) Clandestine Operations: A CIA Case Officer’s core competency is to recruit and securely handle “agents” for strategic intelligence collection.  This activity ideally occurs in face-to-face clandestine meetings with the foreign government penetration or non-state actors in back alleys, parks, seedy hotel rooms and safe houses.  To securely collect human intelligence, the Case Officer must be “black” –free from hostile surveillance–to protect the identity of the asset.  Traditionally, this requires a multi-hour Surveillance Detection Route (SDR) to determine one’s status.  The rise of networked devices and “smart cities” with facial recognition and ubiquitous surveillance make the Case Officer's job more difficult than ever before. In these so-called “smart cities” movements are easier to track.  Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance (UTS): The Internet of Things has permeated our everyday lives.  Everything from your car to your toaster and baby monitor constantly collect data in order to provide a better user experience through the “smart” network.   Graphic Credit: Ridgeline International A smart watch is just one vector in what has become known as “Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance (UTS).”  According to defense contractor Ridgeline International:  UTS refers to the collection and long-term storage of data in order to analyze and connect individuals with other people, activities, and organizations. Because our data is stored indefinitely, these records are always accessible. In the case of Ubiquitous Technical Surveillance, this data can be used to forensically reconstruct events, no matter how long ago they occurred. Most of this data is collected for commercial purposes, either to make the product more effective for the customer or to be packaged and sold for advertising.  “Data is the new oil”. Collecting, storing, and processing data has never been easier or cheaper, and this ubiquitous network of technical surveillance can be exploited and analyzed in real time or after the fact, potentially revealing the time, location, and identities of those involved in a clandestine act.   CI Risk: Counterintelligence, or “CI”, is any potential risk to an intelligence officer, asset or operational activity.  For Case Officers, this boils down to revealing the identity, location or tradecraft of an officer, Agent or clandestine act.  The rise of technology has increased the potential points of collection (threat vectors) and exploitation, making secure agent handling more difficult.  Not long ago, a hostile intelligence service would have to surreptitiously implant a listening device in an office or a beacon on a vehicle.  Today, vehicles are integrated into a smart network with constant telemetric collection and everything from TVs to toasters and your watch now has a microphone that can be remotely activated known as “hot mic.” When Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by the Saudi government in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, initial reporting suggested his murder was recorded by his Apple Watch, something technically possible given the microphone and record feature.  While it turned out this was disinformation (REDACTED), this is something that is technically possible and may potentially become more common in the future. Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul 2 October 2018 The Future is Now: Not long ago, an intelligence officer could simply leave his or her phone (or smart watch) at home while operational; however, today even this lack of activity is an indicator.  How often is your phone or smart watch sitting idle while you are at home for hours at a time? The lack of movement is just as telling as movement itself.  When it comes to wearables, if an intelligence officer wore a smart watch 24-7, but removed it when operational, this could clearly be analyzed as an anomaly to identify suspected periods of operational activity.  Should a pattern emerge, a hostile intelligence service may allocate physical (or technical) resources to further monitor that individual during a given time, hoping to exploit a vulnerability. Pattern of Life Analysis: Understanding a target’s “Pattern of Life” (POL) is crucial for intelligence collection and a smart watch is the ideal tool to collect POL data.  A Russian intelligence officer’s regular visits to a casino, brothel or liquor store may indicate vulnerabilities for exploitation.  Knowledge of regular visits to a gym or park for exercise presents an opportunity for a Case Officer to facilitate a seemingly innocuous encounter.  For non-state actors and terrorists, patterns provide an opportunity for a capture-or-kill operation. Smart watches and other wearables present an opportunity for unprecedented “Pattern of Life” collection in real time but at an even deeper level of analysis including heart rate, sleep patterns and other physiological responses.  Further, if the device is compromised, the microphone and camera can be activated, providing insight into that individual's home life, relationships and mental state. Traditionally, this type of compromised technical system was limited to capabilities by advanced state actors, specifically hackers known as “APTs” (Advanced Persistent Threats).  However, with the growing private sector intelligence industry, these capabilities are now available to companies, governments and non-state actors.  Notably, Israeli firms including NSO Group have developed and commercialized these capabilities.  NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware can be covertly installed on an individual’s Apple IOS software, exploiting previously unknown “zero-day” vulnerabilities in the software. The US government openly acknowledges the risk of smart watches and prohibits the wearing of any Bluetooth, wireless or WIFI-enabled device in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), a secure government facility where classified government information can be discussed and transmitted.  For intelligence officers who spend much of their time working in a SCIF, they are not permitted to bring their cellphones or any device that receives or transmits a signal, including smart watches. Counterintelligence Risk = Collection Opportunity: While smart watches present a vulnerability for CIA Case Officers, they present an equally interesting opportunity for the US Intelligence Community’s computer exploitation “hackers” to target foreign entities for intelligence collection.  Exploiting a foreign intelligence officer’s smart watch could facilitate his or her pattern of life, allowing a CIA Case Officer to “bump” the foreign official to strike up a conversation in hopes of recruiting that individual as a penetration.  Remotely activating the camera and microphone on a foreign President’s staffer could result in collection of Foreign Intelligence (FI) or valuable assessment data on that individual. Despite the CI risks, foreign politicians including Former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have been photographed wearing Apple and other smart watches.  U.S. elected officials are not immune from this type of analysis by foreign intelligence organizations.  Interestingly, current President Joe Biden was the first U.S. President to wear an Apple Watch in the Oval Office while President Obama reportedly chose the Fitbit for security reasons–it was a less “smart”, smart watch.  For Biden, a certified watch nerd with a collection of Seiko, Rolex and Omega, this was no accident.  It is possible that this was a signal from Biden that he is “hip” and focused on modernity.  For a President criticized for his age, it would be a logical message to send.  US Senators and Congressmen have been observed wearing smart watches in sensitive meetings where cell phones were prohibited.  We can assume this is something that foreign intelligence services are watching closely. President Joe Biden wearing Apple Watch in Oval Office (White House) The Future: In 2022, Apple sold approximately 50 million smart watches, and we can expect this number to increase as the adoption of the Apple Watch becomes more widespread.  That said, Case Officers will likely continue to rely on simple quartz and automatic timepieces to conduct an operational act (agent meeting) at the exact time and place without leaving behind a digital footprint that can be pieced together by a competent hostile intelligence service. Sometimes it’s best to do things the old-fashioned way. This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. READ NEXT: Casio F-91W, The Preferred Watch Of Terrorists   Submissions from the W.O.E. community:  Jason Heaton testing the limits of the Apple Watch Ultra @chando_bear

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Watches for the Modern CIA Case Officer

Watches for the Modern CIA Case Officer

We asked former senior Case Officer, J.R. Seeger to write a piece on advice for a young Case Officer/Intelligence Officer for shopping for a watch. ...

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We asked former senior Case Officer, J.R. Seeger to write a piece on advice for a young Case Officer/Intelligence Officer for shopping for a watch.  Spoiler alert: it is not a Rolex. CIA Case Officer: The Ideal Timepiece by J.R. Seeger When I joined the CIA in the 1980s, my supervisors all served in Southeast Asia during the ‘60s and ’70s. Almost all men and they wore what might have been considered a “headquarters uniform:” short sleeved white or blue oxford shirts, ties always loose at the throat, and khaki pants.  On one wrist was a gold chain known as a baht chain because each link was of a certain value in the Thai currency.  On the other wrist was a Rolex watch.  Usually, the watches were Rolex GMT Masters or Rolex Datejust watches. No Rolex or other Mil-Spec watches for them. They did not need to pretend to be commandos. They were commandos.  Vintage Rolex sign, Tawila District in Aden, Yemen (Photo Credit: Unknown) I had just left the Army and had a Bulova watch given to me by my mother when I graduated from high school over a dozen years earlier.  By the early 1980s, a Rolex – any Rolex – was more than a two month’s salary and I wasn’t about to spend that sort of money on a tool when my Bulova still worked well and my backup watch, a Casio digital watch, was under $50. The Swiss tool watch train had left the station and I was still on the platform. I have previously written about my experience with watches as tools in the Afghan war-zone. Black acrylic watches, accurate quartz watches, were my choice. Twenty years later, when we talk about watches for the field, we are looking at a world where Case Officers (C/Os) are less likely to be in forward operating bases in warzones. They are more likely to work in traditional postings in major cities around the world. It is a different environment and it calls for a different sort of kit. When we are talking about “watches for the field,” we are not using the term in the same way that most watch companies might. After all, the CIA Case Officer in the field is going to face challenges that are not consistent with a mountain climber, a yacht racer, a member of the armed forces, or a first responder (i.e. police officer, fire fighter, or EMT). That doesn’t mean that a “field watch” used by one of these avocations and professions won’t work with Case Officer tradecraft.  It just means that there are other, different requirements.   Seeger and General Dostum on the night of insertion in Afghanistan, 16 October 2001, Casio F-91W on Seeger’s wrist. (Photo Credit: Seeger) So, what are the basic requirements for a CIA field watch?   The watch must be reliable.  That means it must work all the time, every time; The watch must be easy to read at a glance; The watch must be readable in the dark either through luminous hands or a LED backlight; The watch must be rugged enough to withstand dust, water, and shock. Arabic Seiko (Photo Credit: James Rupley) Here is where the requirements shift when shopping for a C/O: The watch must be low profile. A C/O walking on the streets with an expensive Swiss or Japanese watch is a target for criminals and, just as important, easy to spot by surveillance. Expensive and/or out of place items – sports cars, watches, shoes, clothes, a bag – make it easy for surveillance to spot their target and keep on their target.  On the street, a C/O must disappear into the crowd.  Just as a fine European sports car is not appropriate for a C/O in the field, a large, polished dive watch on a steel bracelet stands out and gives surveillance another point of reference when they are tracking a C/O; As a corollary to the above point, the watch must be consistent with the C/O’s cover. A C/O must be able to transition quickly from cover duty to clandestine work. While there may be time to go home and change, it isn’t as if the C/O on the street can assume an entirely different persona (an outfit more suited to a Special Operations night raid for example). Therefore, a large PVD or black acrylic watch that can withstand over 20 ATMs underwater and has tritium luminous markers is unlikely to be a good choice unless the C/O’s cover supports that sort of watch; The watch must not be a “connected” watch. If your watch helps you connect to the outside world through Bluetooth or directly through a wireless signal of any sort, it also means your watch can be used by an adversary to track you.  A few years ago, US military force protection studies demonstrated that fitness tracker smart watches could be used by an adversary to determine precisely where an individual serviceman was and, then by extension, where his unit was in the field. Smart watches are off limits to case officers because case officers never want to help adversaries track them. A map of activity in Djibouti.  “A map of fitness-tracker data may have compromised top-secret US military bases around the world” (Source: Business Insider) What are the options for a C/O who doesn’t have a large, personal budget but needs a watch that fits in all the parts of his/her life? Among my colleagues, I am a notorious cheapskate, so I’m offering the following choices for under $1000.  Please note:  We have experience with most if not all of these watches, but none of the companies involved have any commercial links to W.O.E.  At the lowest end of the spectrum are Casio, Timex and Seiko watches. These companies all make inexpensive, rugged watches. Some of the higher end Casio G-shocks and Timex Ironman watches are monsters on the wrist and probably not ideal for a C/O.  That said, a 5610 Solar G-shock, a Timex Expedition or even the smaller Ironman watches, or any selection from the Seiko 5 collection are all good choices for well under $200.  There may have been a time when a black acrylic watch was not acceptable for daily business wear.  That time is long passed; (Photo Credit: James Rupley) At the mid-range ($200-600), the choices expand exponentially. There are American Assembled watches, European and Japanese models that all work in this category.  Most are “dress tool” watches that have over 10ATM or more of water resistance, sapphire crystals and reliable movements.  At this price point, it is possible to find US firms such as Vaer, Shinola, Sangin or Cincinnati Watch company, Japanese firms Seiko, Orient, Citizen or Bulova, and Swiss firms like Davosa and Tissot.  Other European watch companies including the French firm Wolbrook and the German firm LACO also make watches that fit the requirements. All pass the C/O test of looking like a watch a “normal” person might wear but still provide reliability, ruggedness and good visibility during night work; Sangin Overlord and W.O.E. numbered coin (J.R. Seeger) When you approach $1000, the c/o crosses the threshold from tool to luxury tool watch. Formerly a US company and now part of the Swatch Group, Hamilton Khaki line– especially when paired with a leather strap or steel bracelet are hard to beat for the blend of day work wear and night street operations.  Seiko has their own options with the Seiko Alpinist and other sport watches in the Prospex line.  And, once again Tissot watches at this price range answer all of the requirements. Seiko Alpinist (Seiko) Conclusion:  There are dozens of other watches out there that a C/O can use in the field. Most Case Officers answer direct questions with two words: It depends. That is because every human is different and what is ideal for one person is useless for another. Some will want quartz watches for the “set it and forget it” nature of the watch.  Others will want a mechanical watch that requires slightly more care in setting the time but does not rely on a battery. C/O work is not about gunfights, explosions, or car chases (leave that image for our favorite thrillers), but that doesn’t mean a case officer’s watch isn’t an essential piece of kit. Time is everything for a Case Officer and a watch is what keeps a C/O on time. Read Next: Ask Watches Of Espionage Anything  J.R. Seeger's personal watch collection and memorabilia. J.R. Seeger served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and as a CIA officer for a total of 27 years of federal service. He served 17 years in multiple field assignments focused on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and irregular warfare.  During his final, 3-year assignment in CIA Headquarters, he first served as a chief of operations for a geographic division in the Directorate of Operations and then served as a deputy director and deputy chief of the CIA Counterterrorism Center.  Seeger led multiple, small unit teams during his service, including leading one of the CIA teams that infiltrated into Afghanistan after 9/11. Since his retirement, J.R. has written articles and book reviews in the CIA professional journal “Studies in Intelligence” and the T.E. Lawrence Society newsletter. His seven-part MIKE4 series is about a family who have served in the special operations and intelligence community from World War II to the present. This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

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CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC

CIA Case Officer’s Everyday Carry - EDC

We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight...

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We get a lot of questions about “everyday carry,” commonly known as “EDC.” So in light of these requests, we want to provide some insight into our typical EDC and what I carried as a CIA Case Officer (C/O) in Africa and the Middle East. A timepiece is a crucial and often overlooked

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Espionage & Family: A Tale of Two Watches

Espionage & Family: A Tale of Two Watches

Chris Costa is the Executive Director of the International Spy Museum and a 34-year veteran intelligence officer, with extensive experience working in counterintelligence, human intelligence...

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Chris Costa is the Executive Director of the International Spy Museum and a 34-year veteran intelligence officer, with extensive experience working in counterintelligence, human intelligence and with special operations forces (SOF).  Chris has worked in numerous operational positions throughout the globe and was the first civilian squadron Deputy Director at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and the Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council.  The one common thread throughout his career is the presence of a Rolex Submariner on his wrist. A Tale of Two Watches  By Christopher P. Costa I came from humble roots.  My mother raised me and my two siblings alone as a single parent after my dad passed away far too young. I was always into watches, but it was my younger brother who caringly kept my father’s watches and much later in life gave them to my two sons at special milestones in their lives; he continued this tradition by gifting watches to our grandsons.  The idea of me or my siblings having a Rolex of our own was far-fetched until much later in our lives. I spent most of my career as a U.S. Army intelligence officer.  After the Panama invasion and then the first Gulf War, I thought maybe I could afford to buy a Rolex Submariner; I wanted something meaningful to leave for one of my boys.  Like many soldiers, I saw early on in my army career the untimely service-related deaths of troops, way more often than I like to talk about.  In one of my first assignments, I dealt with the tragic aftermath of the Gander, Newfoundland plane crash that killed 248 soldiers.  Two of the fallen troops who perished in the crash were from my rifle platoon as part of the 101st Airborne Division.  This disaster was an early reminder in my career that life was precious and fleeting.  December 12, 1985, Arrow Air Flight 1285 crashed during take-off in Gander, Newfoundland. The chartered flight was transporting 248 soldiers from the 101st Airborne back to their base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, ending a six-month peace-keeping mission in Sinai, Egypt. (Photo Credit: DOD) After returning home from the first Gulf War, my wife ended up getting me the Rolex Submariner that I had always wanted, and I wore it for the rest of my intelligence career, ever-mindful of its deeper meaning.  I wore it for decades– during training to be a Case Officer; during hurried meetings in cars with sources; in remote villages, cities, and safehouses.  I wore it during surveillance and countersurveillance.  I wore it in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa.  I even wore that Rolex when I briefed the President on terrorism and hostages at the White House.  I often quipped to my sons that if my Rolex Submariner could talk, many of the stories it could tell would be classified.  It was a critical piece of my gear and part of my clandestine work.  Costa (L) serving as Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council. (Photo Credit: White House) Case Officers carefully, even obsessively, focus on their operational time windows for meetings with their sources.  Precision is important in both clandestine work and in special operations.  So is operational adaptation, when necessary. I sheepishly smile when I think of an improvisation featuring that Rolex Submariner during an important meeting that I had with an influential Afghan tribal leader.  The ambassador, a general officer, senior intelligence officers – and even the president of that country – were all anxious to hear the results of that particular meeting, which was very much choreographed to achieve our objectives, namely to change the malign behavior of a tribe and its fighters.  I was frustrated and weary of the lengthy, lecturing tone of the tribal chieftain during my excruciating meeting with him, so along with a little unrehearsed drama, I tersely cut the chieftain off in mid-sentence.  I told him that I will see him thirty days from that very moment, and, somewhat theatrically, I tapped my Rolex and told him the exact time I expected him back to see me.  He protested that al-Qaeda would kill him if he came back.  I told him that was not my problem.  No one aware of that meeting believed this warlord would be back thirty days from the moment that I registered the time out loud by glancing at my Rolex.  Surprisingly, the tribal chief came back thirty days later at the exact time I had directed, then he returned again – and again. During another combat deployment, I woke up in the middle of the night with pangs of anxiousness, something I suspect is universal among people operating in combat zones.  I worried that an improvised roadside explosive and a fiery ambush would destroy my watch and my son would never get it.  In the aftermath of a particularly tough night in a combat zone, where a lethal ambush had taken place, I contemplated taking the watch off and leaving it behind at a forward operating base. I was going out again to the same village where the attack had taken place the night before, and I thought it was prudent to leave the watch behind, having a premonition of bad things ahead.  In the end, I just decided to wear the watch anyway.  I was once again fortunate and incredibly grateful to get through another deployment.  After all those years, that Rolex made it, and in good time, it will be passed on to my oldest son with a few tales attached to it. As it turned out, my younger brother turned his passion for watches into a successful professional career at Tourneau Watch Company and Rolex. He traveled across the United States as well as internationally to Switzerland, at the request of manufacturers looking to expand their market share, and was a brand ambassador for Breitling.  My brother loved watches – and people – and his unflinching optimism for life is more a parable of his character perhaps, rather than a tale about a second Rolex. Coming up on my 60th birthday I really wanted another watch, albeit I was self-conscious that perhaps one Rolex was enough for me.  But I really wanted a second watch so that I could leave it to my youngest son someday.  My brother – always selfless – engineered a conspiracy with my wife and his watch store colleagues for a 60th birthday surprise.  So, my wife bought me a Rolex GMT-Master II, and my whole family chipped in to get me a very nice watch winder.  I was serenely at peace knowing that I could someday leave a Rolex for each of my sons.    Still, I was a little regretful that the GMT-Master would not be on my wrist during any clandestine meetings, in combat zones, nor with any tribal leaders.  My GMT-Master would never have the history of that first watch.  Or so I thought. Just about a year to the day that my brother and wife arranged to get me that Rolex GMT-Master, fulfilling my plan of being able to pass the watch on to my second son, my brother died unexpectedly. Through my personal grieving, I realized yet another gift my brother gave me.  The GMT-Master does not need to be on my wrist for clandestine work; this second watch is my brother’s legacy, it’s part of our family story now – our lore – that will get told and passed on.  My brother never had his own Rolex, or his own children; he was simply a loving brother, son, friend, uncle and a treasured colleague for those loyal co-workers that sold watches alongside him in Boston.  He was satisfied with being happy for others.  So, every morning that I put on that watch, it’s a treasured reminder of my brother’s selflessness and the precious time he shared with us.    READ NEXT: CIA Analysis Of Foreign Leaders’ Timepieces Colonel Costa is the Executive Director of the International Spy Museum, and a 34-year veteran of the Department of Defense. Previously, he served 25 years in the United States Army working in counterintelligence, human intelligence and with special operations forces (SOF) in Central America, Europe, and throughout the Middle East. He ran a wide range of intelligence and special operations in Panama, Bosnia, the first and second Iraq wars, and Afghanistan. Costa earned two Bronze stars for sensitive human intelligence work in Afghanistan. Later assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, he served as the first civilian squadron Deputy Director. In 2013, Costa was inducted into the United States Special Operations Commando Hall of Honor for lifetime service to US Special Operations. Most recently, he served as the Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council.  

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Watches of Espionage - Casio Timex CTC

Digital Watches of Espionage, The Role Watches Played in the Early Days of the CIA's War in Afghanistan

by J.R. Seeger For this week’s Dispatch, former senior CIA Case Officer J.R. Seeger writes about the role his watches played in the early days...

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by J.R. Seeger For this week’s Dispatch, former senior CIA Case Officer J.R. Seeger writes about the role his watches played in the early days of the conflict in Afghanistan. As Seeger outlines, watches are tools, and one should choose the best tool for the job. In the world of espionage, the tool is not always a Rolex. We often worry that W.O.E. gives the perception that every Case Officer, Navy SEAL or Special Forces operator is running around the world with a luxury timepiece on their wrist.  While that is largely the focus of this platform, the truth is many of the best practitioners rely on digital tools to accomplish their task. Sometimes cheap, reliable digital watches are the best tools for espionage. Digital Watches of Espionage - The Role Watches Played in the Early Days of the CIA’s War in Afghanistan October 2001: I was the team leader on one of the first CIA teams into Afghanistan. Other, more articulate writers have related the story of our team and work with US Special Forces. 12 Strong by Doug Stanton and First Casualty by Toby Harnden are detailed accounts of the Fall of 2001. Instead, this is a short essay about the watches I wore during that deployment behind the Taliban lines in the Fall of 2001. For most of my deployments in the 1990s, I wore either a Timex Ironman or a Casio G-shock. My watch choice was based on two requirements: accurate timekeeping and low cost.  During travels in the Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia, the idea of wearing something other than an expendable watch was out of the question.  Plus, my only “good” watch, a 1971 Bulova Deep Sea Chronograph, was engraved with my initials, not always something you want on your wrist when you might be someone else. CIA’s Team Alpha Prior to Insertion into Afghanistan. Seeger Back Row, Third From Left As the team headed to our intermediate stop in Uzbekistan, our level of kit was minimal. I often say our team picture (above) looks like eight bikers with Kalashnikovs. Jeans, work shirts, boots and fleece jackets, weapons, radios and money. Everything you would need for a successful trip into a war-zone. During my pack-out, I didn’t pay any attention to the watch on my wrist. Of course, I should have realized that I was probably pushing the envelope on the battery in my Timex, but I had a couple of other things to worry about as we designed a campaign plan for five provinces in Afghanistan. As we completed our final briefings in isolation at Karshi Khanabad Airbase (aka KKUZ), I realized my watch had quit. No warning. Just a blank screen. Less than ideal when precision is required. Casio F-91W, w/ AKS-74U (Photo Credit James Rupley) One of my teammates laughed and said, “Boss, you forgot that two is one and one is none.” He reached into his ruck and pulled out a Casio F-91W.  Probably the least expensive piece of kit in all our inventory. He tossed it to me, and it went on my wrist.  A cheap watch is better than no watch at all! We loaded into MH-60 helicopters in the early morning of 16 October for our insertion.  That’s a story that has nothing to do with watches. Lessons: - two is one and one is none- you may never know when a piece of kit is going to be essential Tool Watches as Operational Gifts to Afghan Warlords In November 2001, we were in a consolidation phase of the effort to defeat the Taliban. By this time, we had consolidated the two teams, Alpha and Bravo and had a full complement of eleven to handle the region. We often split into buddy teams to travel with our Afghan and Army Special Forces colleagues, hunting Taliban and building tribal alliances.  Early in November, in one of our parachute resupplies, I received a Suunto watch - an early version of the Suunto tool watch series.  Someone on the team decided I needed a better watch and put in the request. The early Suunto watches were large plastic timepieces that served as a compass, thermometer, and barometer as well as the standard multiple time zones display, timers and alarms.  It was a bit more of a commando watch than I thought I needed, but I was certainly ready to use it.  It was big and regularly got caught on rucksack straps as we loaded on horseback and/or trucks.  Still, it was light and had a large display.  At 47 with already aging eyesight, I was ready to enjoy a larger screen. “Suunto on my wrist in the Darya Suf Valley”, J.R. Seeger pictured left, (Photo Credit: Toby Harnden/Unknown) In mid-November, two of us went with Afghan warlord and then CIA partner - Abdul Rashid Dostum on a tour of the Uzbek region of Northwestern Afghanistan.  More than anything else, it was a “victory lap” for our Uzbek ally and that meant traveling miles on dirt roads between Sheberghan and cities and towns in northwest Afghanistan. A Toyota Land Cruiser for us, two Toyota Hi-Lux pickups for the security detachment.  Washboard roads punctuated by public events made for a very long ride. At the end of the day, Dostam decided to take a shortcut by traveling on what he said was an old smugglers’ trail running through the desert and ending back in Sheberghan.  We were all tired and dozed off as the headlights of the Toyotas cut through the dust raised by our vehicles. I don’t know exactly what woke me from my dozing, but when I finally cleared my head, it seemed like I recognized the terrain.  Of course, desert terrain is not all that distinctive, so I would have been willing to accept the fact that it was a trick of memory and fatigue. Still, I used the Suunto compass feature to check our heading. After twenty minutes, I realized we were slowly circling a prominent hill.  The drivers were following a track that circled the hill.  The compass showed our heading.  Sheberghan was east.  We were going north, then west then south…. Well, that was enough to convince me we were lost. Seeger Center, Dostum looking at him, Casio F-91W (Photo Credit Unknown / Toby Harnden) I woke up Dostum.  He was incredulous.  There was no way we could be lost on his turf.  I took off the watch, showed him the compass readings.  He was furious.  This was smugglers’ country.  Wandering about might not get us in a battle with remnants of the Taliban, but it certainly could get us in a firefight with smugglers.  Dostum put the watch on his wrist, dope slapped his driver, and took charge of the navigation. Dostum wore the Suunto for the rest of our time in Afghanistan. I wore the F-91W for another two years and then switched to a G-shock.  At the end of the day, a good tool watch is important.  What you need depends on where you are.  Today, I have far more watches than I need.    Most of which are inexpensive mechanical tool watches and I enjoy wearing them. I recently had the 1971 Bulova serviced, and it will remain a cherished possession. But, I still have an F-91W in the inventory – just in case. Seeger and Dostum on the night of insertion, 16 October 2001, Casio F-91W on J.R. Seeger’s wrist. (Photo Credit: Unknown Toby Harnden) J.R. Seeger served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and as a CIA officer for a total of 27 years of federal service. He served 17 years in multiple field assignments focused on counterterrorism, counterintelligence and irregular warfare.  During his final, 3-year assignment in CIA Headquarters, he first served as a chief of operations for a geographic division in the Directorate of Operations and then served as a deputy director and deputy chief of the CIA Counterterrorism Center.  Seeger led multiple, small unit teams during his service, including leading one of the CIA teams that infiltrated into Afghanistan after 9/11. Since his retirement, J.R. has written articles and book reviews in the CIA professional journal “Studies in Intelligence” and the T.E. Lawrence Society newsletter. His seven-part MIKE4 series is about a family who have served in the special operations and intelligence community from World War II to the present. This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information. Further Reading:CIA’s JAWBREAKER Team And A Rolex Submariner

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CIA’s JAWBREAKER Team and a Rolex Submariner

CIA’s JAWBREAKER Team and a Rolex Submariner

At the entrance of the CIA's Counterterrorism Mission Center (CTMC, formerly CTC) is a sign that reads, “Every day is September 12, 2001.” While most...

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At the entrance of the CIA's Counterterrorism Mission Center (CTMC, formerly CTC) is a sign that reads, “Every day is September 12, 2001.” While most of the country moved on from the horrific days immediately following September 11th, the men and women of CTMC continue to live this motto, serving quietly in the shadows to prevent another mass casualty event. One of these men was Gary Schroen, a legendary CIA Case Officer who led the initial Northern Alliance Liaison Team –codenamed JAWBREAKER– into Afghanistan in late 2001. When he returned from that historic assignment, he commemorated the accomplishment by purchasing a two tone Rolex Submariner with a brilliant blue dial. Schroen passed away in August at the age of 80, after a career at the CIA lasting five decades. Schroen’s widow, Anne McFadden, recalls that the Submariner was a constant presence on Schroen’s wrist, and now she keeps the watch on the dresser in her bedroom next to a picture of Schroen as a memento of her late husband. Rolex Submariner visible during Schroen’s 2005 appearance on NBCs Meet the Press. (Photo credit: NBC) After the attacks of September 11th 2001, Schroen, then 59 years-old, delayed his retirement to lead the team of CIA officers who were among the first on the ground in Afghanistan. Within 15 days of the attacks, Schroen and six other CIA officers linked up with the Northern Alliance in the Panjshir Valley. The JAWBREAKER team would establish the foundation for the swift defeat of the Taliban and deal a significant blow to al-Qaeda. As publicly documented by CIA, “by early December 2001–in less than three months–the Taliban regime had been overthrown, a significant number of the al-Qa’ida leadership had been killed or captured, and a major terrorist safe haven had been eliminated.” This was made possible by the heroic actions of Schroen and his team, and the decades of work in preparation for that pivotal moment. Schroen, realizing the historical significance of the operation, documented his experiences in the 2005 book, First In. According to a recent Washington Post article, Schroen also commemorated his successful mission against the Taliban by purchasing a Rolex Submariner. At the time, Schroen reportedly said, “I’ve always wanted a Rolex and I survived Afghanistan and I am buying one.” And so he did. Schroen’s widow, Anne McFadden, holding her husband's Rolex Submariner 16613. (Photo credit: Bill O’Leary, Washington Post) The watch is a Rolex Submariner 16613, nicknamed the “Bluesy” for the unique sunburst dial. Produced from 1988-2009, the reference showcases a striking blue dial and two-tone “Rolesor” bezel and bracelet. (Rolesor is Rolex’s term for two-tone gold and stainless steel.) The drilled lug holes match the purchase date of the early 2000s as Rolex phased out drilled lugs shortly after. Despite the Hollywood depiction, even legendary CIA officers are normal people. Like the real estate agent who commemorates his accomplishment as “salesman of the year” with a new watch, CIA officers are no different. In fact, at CIA, there is even an informal name for this, the so-called “war zone watch.” W.O.E. wrote about this in a Hodinkee article, after returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, or one of the undeclared expeditionary locations, many officers take a portion of their savings and purchase a watch to discreetly commemorate the accomplishment. The Submariner reference 16613 with the blue dial is an interesting choice by Schroen; I've generally viewed this reference as flashier than the subtle black Submariner. Having crossed paths with Gary several times throughout my career, he was a humble guy. He could easily be mistaken for an accountant, small business owner or stay-at-home dad if you met him at a neighborhood bar-b-que. He was not flashy, and this watch appears at odds with his more traditional demeanor and quiet professional ethos. But as true watch connoisseurs know, a watch is (or should be) a deeply personal choice. It is something one buys for oneself and not for others. We can only speculate on his reasons for purchasing that specific reference, but something about the gold and blue dial clearly spoke to Schroen. This story underscores the notion that seemingly insignificant tools are a part of our identity when we are alive and our legacy when we pass. Sure, It is easy to say, “it's just a watch,” but to McFadden, it’s so much more. Like Todd Beamer’s Rolex found in the rubble of Flight 93, the Submariner is a permanent piece of her husband, a memento she will cherish and a symbol of both his service and the CIA’s response to 9/11. CIA Medals earned by Gary Schroen. (Photo credit: Bill O’Leary, Washington Post) In a rare statement by CIA Director William J. Burns, the CIA honored Schroen’s service to the nation, calling him “a legend and inspiration to every Agency officer. . . . Gary embodied the very best of our organization. We will never forget his unwavering dedication, loyalty, and perseverance to protect and defend our country.” In fact, Gary was one of the few officers I am aware of that was able to write a book and still maintain his credibility within the CIA. In our world, that’s a rare occurrence. Gary, thank you for everything you have done for our nation, you have made your mark on the history of the United States and we are forever in your debt. Read Next: The Lasting Legacy Of The CIA’s Lockheed A-12 And The Watch That Served It This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.   Bonus: Mi-17 Helicopter Clock, used to insert the initial 7 member CIA Team in Afghanistan. Currently at the CIA museum in Langley, VA. CIA Museum Poster commemorating Jawbreaker Team. “Because of the relationship the CIA had developed with the Northern Alliance in the years leading up to the September attacks, the Agency was in a strong position to be first on the ground in Afghanistan. The CIA proposed a plan to send seven highly trained officers into the field to renew relationships with Afghan partners and collect real-time, actionable intelligence. By Sept. 26, 2001, just 15 days after the attacks on U.S. soil, the Northern Alliance Liaison Team-codenamed "JAWBREAKER"-was on the ground and operating in Afghanistan.”

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