Black Ops in Thrillers
A Brief History of Black Ops
The National Security Act of 1947 authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to carry out covert operations to meet U.S. national security objectives while keeping the missions secret from allies, enemies, and the American public. However, through the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Congress provides the requisite oversight. Other countries, such as Britain, France, and Germany, have their own methods.
A variety of entities carry out black ops. Although most missions are executed by government agencies, military or paramilitary organizations, others are outsourced to private groups and companies, depending upon the nature of the identified mission and skill requirements. Although covert operations are not made public, they are conducted by official government agencies within specified limits, while black ops are shrouded in greater levels of secrecy, including information about who is conducting them.
Black Ops vs Covert Ops
Although common practice uses the terms ‘black ops’ and ‘covert ops’ interchangeably, there is a distinction between the two. Both are clandestine, but black ops are cloaked in greater secrecy. In many instances, they are devoid of any official government oversight and could violate various U.S. and international laws. Any knowledge of these operations outside of the immediate ‘need to know’ circle could be detrimental to the country.
Black Ops in Fiction
There’s justification for black ops in military, political, or spy thrillers. They frequently are the main feature of the story, whether in Hollywood films such as Black Hawk Down, Zero Dark Thirty, Act of Valor, and American Sniper, or novels by Brad Thor, Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, and W.E.B. Griffin.
Why do black ops missions make for great fiction? The use of tension and high-stakes operations within the plots play a part, especially when there appear to be insurmountable obstacles. Action-packed scenes grab the attention of viewers and readers, and keep audiences on the edge of their seats by creating an unforgettable story.
Will the main characters win in the end? How do they handle setbacks? Is it all out against the odds for them, with the hopes of saving someone? These things keep avid readers turning the pages to find out what happens next. This also creates jeopardy for the characters, with no sense of certainty that all of the ‘good guys’ will survive.
The Ideal Black Ops characters
In real life, multi-talented operatives who are multi-lingual, can blend into target environments, can work alone or in small groups, and will do so for pittances of remuneration are harder to find.
When creating a fictional story, a screenwriter or an author can blend the necessary traits into a single operative or two, or even a small team, who can take on any mission with high potential for success.
Fictional black-ops agents have a standard skillset that includes fluency in multiple languages, prior military or intelligence experience, and martial arts training. Agents are loners by nature but can function in social and group settings. They possess the ability to compartmentalize in order to deal with their feelings after violent episodes.
The ideal operative has non-descript features, boundless courage, and a stalwart commitment to duty and country. These individuals or teams should be supported by an experienced cadre of personnel, including logistics, communications, weapons, and research experts, and perhaps even drone pilots. This could describe numerous characters in multiple plots and would appeal to thriller aficionados.
Black Ops Thriller Characters
It might be time to present black ops as more sophisticated and minimize the ‘knuckle-dragging’ stereotypes. Yes, readers of Mack Bolan stories will still enjoy them, but today’s audiences are more savvy, and by evolving the operatives, writers increase the appeal of the genre to those seeking more complex storylines and characters. While there will always be readers who enjoy these stereotypes and continue to follow them, it’s also worth noting there should be more diversity among the protagonists to keep the genre from getting stale. Otherwise, anyone with the aforementioned talents can be an agent, but the genre might be stuck in the past.
Should black-ops characters be humanized a bit more? Giving the reader a familiar character or two they can relate to is critical to the success of the work. It’s essential the writer populate the story with participants who possess ‘human’ traits.
Showing humor during mission downtime creates a more likable character. The same applies when showing kindness and generosity, when mission parameters allow, despite the seriousness of their activities. Whether dealing with an individual character or a small team, there are almost always opportunities to do so without detracting from the story. These traits should appeal to readers, as there will be more opportunities to relate to the characters.
Is it time to shake things up and add more interest? Perhaps include a character who confides in a friend or struggles internally with doubts. A character can show their humanity while still ensuring mission success.
Romance in Black Ops Thrillers
Another area of interest in modern black ops fiction is romance. Traditionally, there was no room in the life and times of a tough guy or gal operative for attachments. Of course James Bond always seemed to have a sexy woman waiting for him, a stereotype that, in my opinion, belongs in history. Along with increased diversity, an increasingly full personal life is also creeping into the area of black ops entertainment, even if only on the fringes at this time.
Should a black ops hero experience romantic tendencies, or should it all be stereotypical gung-ho behavior? What’s wrong with showing a romantic side to the protagonists? Although their relationships are understated, many Special Operations personnel are married with children and must deal with the same challenges that any family person faces. The talents and skills of a black ops operative may not apply when faced with the ‘terrible twos’, a parent-teacher conference, or a daughter’s first boyfriend, yet many readers will relate to these normal activities. Why not show their other side–they’re human, after all.
Female Black Ops Characters
In the past, the spotlight has fallen on male operatives, yet even in WWII, female operatives were instrumental in the Allied victory. Women have been and are still involved in covert operations, so why not in black ops? They’ve been displayed in numerous movies and books throughout the decades. As the genre evolves, women operatives are coming into their own, as exemplified in the Black Ops Inc series by Cindy Gerard.
Realism in Black Ops Thrillers
An important aspect of the genre is realism. The operatives in a story need to show appropriate expertise with surveillance methodologies and use advanced-level communications gear and cutting-edge weapons. Genuineness also applies to the characters themselves—it would be hard to envision any single operative being proficient with every technology. Skill sets can be augmented by the introduction of a sidekick two, rather than creating an unrealistic ‘super-human,’ although that might work on the big screen.
The use of realism is an important part of the focus of the stories. Plots, grounded on Earth, should feature realistic settings. This may introduce readers to a variety of areas of the world that are foreign to them, or kindle memories of areas they may have lived in or visited. It’s worth noting that in the regions in which these operations occur, it’s politics, people and culture that are germane and bring the stories to life. Even if writing in a futuristic setting, it’s important to establish the ‘rules’ that govern the environments and are consistent in adherence to them.
The Future of Black Ops in Fiction
What does the future hold for black ops in fiction? As long as real-world events continue as they are, I expect the use of black ops individuals (males and females alike) and teams will continue in fiction for decades to come, as these events create the backdrops for new plots. That is my hope. I would love nothing more than for audiences to engage with the ideas these stories reveal and expand readers’ comprehension of the diverse communities and cultures of the world. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading a well-written black ops story.
We live in a dynamic, ever-changing world. Younger people are searching for wider representation and diversity. What better way to explore this than through the written word? There’s no end to imagination, so of course, there’ll always be opportunities for more technical and futuristic black ops stories. The genre will expand, and with it, competition, and perhaps greater satisfaction, for readers. After all, there are no barriers when it comes the imagination.
About the Author
Randall Krzak is a U.S. Army veteran and retired senior civil servant, spending almost thirty years in Europe, Africa, Central America, and the Middle East. His residency abroad qualifies him to build rich worlds in his action-adventure novels and short stories. Familiar with customs, laws, and social norms, he promotes these to create authentic characters and scenery.
He holds a general Master in Business Administration (MBA) and a MBA with an emphasis in Strategic Focus, both from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland. Originally from Michigan, Randall and his wife, Sylvia, and five cats reside in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland.