Tradecraft: Practices

Tradecraft  Organization
return to home

Dead Drop, More About


What's a Dead Drop?

A Dead Drop uses a Dead Letter Box (or DLB), a physical location where material is covertly placed for another person to collect without direct contact between the parties.

Good locations for dead letter boxes are niches in walls, in and around public trash receptacles, in and around trees and shrubs, inside vegetables such as pumpkins, in someone else's mail box, between books in a public library, inside a paper towel dispenser, etc. The key to success is ingenuity, so none of those mentioned are good ideas.

  DLB in Hanssen Case
Hanssen Drop site under this footbridge over Wolftrap Creek at Foxstone Park (Hanssen Case, February 2001)


The KGB devised and perfected this method for use in the UK and US during the cold war. But the technique is so effective it's still in use today. More than 30 intelligence agencies and underground groups worldwide use this technique.
When used by two people who have basic skills in countersurveillance, this method has confounded surveillance.


You need to know three pieces of tradecraft:

  1. Pick a good site for your DLB. This means choosing a spot where you're momentarily hidden from view while you pass by (and either load or empty the box). It also means selecting a site that is easily accessible and in a public location.
  2. Use a separate set of sites to signal when you're ready to place something in the DLB, or retrieve something from the DLB.
  3. Use a foolproof signal that tells both parties that material in the site has been picked up. The first agent can then go back and recover the items if the second agent is unable to make the pickup for some reason.


Robert Philip Hanssen

Also, US cases involving Aldrich Ames, Jonathan Pollard, and John Walker Jr.

Updated Wednesday, February 21, 2001