Nerd Arise!

I love this month’s topic. In my previous life (maybe in this one, too), I must have been a real nerd. The card-carrying kind, with the pen clip for my blouse pocket and a baseball cap turned the wrong way, bill forward.



I probably had red hair in kinks that stuck out all over. And definitely freckles.

My idea of fun was to collect “Resources.”

Maybe I landed a job at MI-5. Or maybe I was a librarian, before they got cool with computers.


This is Thames House, MI-5 Headquarters. Could also be just a library. Unless you’ve been inside, you wouldn’t know the difference.

Whatever I was, I had Resources coming out the yin yang.

I still do.

For my newest thriller, ESCAPE TO PANAMA, as with its predecessor, MESSAGE FROM PANAMA, the Darien Jungle here in Panama is a luscious, always surprising, tantalizing, unending resource. I’ve written about the Darien before on this blog, so I won’t say much more about it, but it does offer a good lesson that places can be excellent repositories of all sorts of different information.

Whoever made this map really needs to read a John Sandford book for a geography lesson. Credit:

To wit – at the moment, I’m reading SHOCKWAVE, a Virgil Flowers novel by John Sandford. Sandford is known for mining Minnesota for lots more than its minerals. So far, we’re into trout, muskie and some other types of fishing, waterways, lakes, Indian names (Shirley Good Thunder, a crackerjack attorney, another Good Thunder, a hoops man), Big Box stores, Minnesota geography, bomb-making, and I’m only halfway through the book.

I like Sandford because you learn a lot. Ditto Lisa Gardner, who’s heavy into police procedural and other topics, and documents them well. Michael Crichton was, of course, the master at that. As soon as you finished one of his novels, you stepped into a treasure trove of related books and articles and people – and places, where you could stay busy for days, if not weeks.

choco 2Finishing with the Darien: In MESSAGE, I introduced Marxist narco-terrorists (in ESCAPE I go deeper into their truly extraordinary organization), now I’m onto the Choco Indigenous tribes, still semi-nomadic, still relying on poison dart blow guns and snares to bring down game. I’m working through uncharted, un-named rivers that meander like snakes, constantly coiling back on themselves, making travel by water (there are no roads) an intense experience.

The topic of rainforest development by Big Pharma has caught my eye, and I’m having a serious go at jungle medicine. Lots of good things to read about and marvelous pictures in the Darien. I’ve just stumbled on a secret lagoon where hundreds of crocodiles gather. Yum, yum.

Look for the heads. I counted 63 and there’s one real close to the fella.  Ouch.

Look for the heads. I counted 63 and there’s one real close to the fella. Ouch. Credit:

Another resource that gives and gives and gives is the U.S. Government. Uncle Sam loves to spend our tax money telling us about things and places and people.

Maybe you’d like a little help organizing your own private army? Have no fear, will show you step-by-step.

Wonder what GITMO is like behind the hype?

To Mecca. One of many "Prayer Arrows."

To Mecca. One of many “Prayer Arrows.”

Some items in a Gitmo goody bag. The so-called “comfort items” go to the most compliant inmates. Those throwing feces and other sharp objects at the guards need not apply. gives you a picture gallery, plus extensive explanations of the camp and its makeup, including a list of items in the terrorists’ goody bags.

These have been especially developed to make life behind bars easier for your average fly a plane into a tower kind of person.


Say your taste runs to hacking, you’ve got the itch to crack some big government site, impress your friends at your next backyard barbecue. So, why not start at the top? The Department of Defense will thoughtfully tell you which wireless devices, services, and technologies are approved for DOD use. And walk you through them.

Or perhaps you’re curious about spying in general and want to know if there might be other alphabet agencies even more secret than the CIA or the DIA. Well, you’re in luck. How about the National Ground Intelligence Center(NGIC)? Here’s only a teeny tiny smidgen of what our government tells us about NGIC . This, from

“National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC)
2055 Boulders Road
Charlottesville, VA 22911

tel. (434)980-7000”

(BV: Yes, in letters THIS BIG!)

“The NGIC. . .provides scientific and technical intelligence (S&TI) and general military intelligence (GMI) on foreign ground forces in support of the warfighting commanders, force and material developers, DA, DOD, and National-level decisionmakers.”

National-level decisionmakers. That means you know who.  This is serious stuff going on at the formerly secret NGIC.

NGIC and other so-called covert agencies are housed in a brand-spanking new building called the Joint Use Intelligence Analysis Facility (JUIAF). Here tis, one of five views put out in the cyber world by the construction company hired to build the complex. juiaf-4I mean it just makes you sick when you can read this kind of stuff from our own government. Excellent for thriller novelists but, really, isn’t there a time to shut up and turn off the spigot? And, yes, I know that Snowden outed a lot of this, but does the government have to blab the rest? (Okay, okay, rant ended.)

A great resource I’ve plumbed recently is The Olive Group, , a company that does what Russell Crowe did in “Proof of Life.” They’re remarkably candid about their work. My hero needs them in his corner.

Hope I never do.

Another top-drawer source is This is a well-researched, professional journal which reports on crime in Latin America. When I want to know what the latest trends are down here (head lopping off seems quite popular); what’s going on in the drug war; or how many submarines FARC currently has shooting cocaine to the U.S., InsightCrime is my go-to source. Some days, reading it will half scare you to death.

Doesn't look like much on the outside but wait'll you get a gander at the schematics in the next picture. Courtesy:

Doesn’t look like much on the outside but wait’ll you get a gander at the schematics in the next picture. Courtesy:

This was captured off the coast of Ecuador. Panama's seen them, too. Courtesy:

This was captured off the coast of Ecuador. Panama’s seen them, too. Courtesy:

I’m getting some good intelligence from the folks at http://www/ They fly in and out of the jungle and all around Panama, shuttling almost-billionaires like my hero to important, maybe clandestine meetings. A walk in the park for them. They don’t tell tales about their clients but they do know who all the important players are.

moises4On a lighter note, I’ve gotten chummy with two of Latin America’s best fashion designers, Jaime Luna and Moises Sandoya, so far only online but I’m hoping to meet them soon. My protagonist’s love interest is a Panamanian fashionista and I’ve been picking up great tips. And wondering if I can afford the little purple number with sequins….


That’s it for current resources to commend, except for the always useful, when you come right down to it indispensable Wikipedia and its gazillion offshoots. They’re so ubiquitous, you almost don’t need to mention them. But here’s a hat tip to them anyway.

Because they really are FAB.

~~Britt Vasarhelyi

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