Cipher Security- Part 2, by East Sierra Sage

I’m talking about cipher security. In review, I am a Retired Marine Infantry Staff Non-Commissioned Officer who has served multiple combat tours in Iraq, as well as most of the “skirmishes” the U.S. got involved in leading up to the global war on terror. I have taught “Survival in the Mountains” and have trained combat staff members in command post operations. I have taught Navy SEALS, Army Special Forces, Army Rangers, and Air Force Para-rescue operators, as well as many numerous foreign military personnel. During my career I was “voluntold” to write ground-up Intelligence reporting to higher headquarters. These tasks taught me many ways to deliver “secure” messages via plain text or open source communications formats and more.

I live in the East Sierra mountains where the population is sparse, yet in Orange and San Diego counties of California, I have family and friends who comprise my “network”. In part 1, I shared about the value of brevity in communications as well as the my network’s use of cipher sheets for secure communications. As part of the information already detailed about how my network and I use cipher sheets, I disclosed our rollover cycle system under both normal circumstances as well as emergencies. Names have been addressed as well.

My Network Getting Out of Densely Packed Region

My network would have a very difficult time getting out of that densely packed region, should there ever be civil unrest, a collapse of the economy, or, as all Californians fear, the “big one” shakes us beyond immediate repair. Given the population density and the nebulous highway system of Southern California, I am almost sure of the fact that my network would face many challenges getting out of the Southern California region. My mountain home is the place that they will all come to if necessary.

Highway Collapse and Closed Borders

Our network members and anyone reading this knows that if the “big one” hits the state, California’s highways will collapse and make most of the routes impassable. It could be argued that the states bordering California may also have severe damage to their own roadways. Those other states will likely attempt to close the highways at the state line, at least until the Federal Government mandates them to open the borders, or they become over run by the millions of Californians trying to escape. If this is so, we are talking about I-5, US Hwy 395, I-80, I-50, California 88/89, California Hwy 4, California Hwy 108, California Hwy 120, California Hwy 6, I-40, I-10, and I-8 all getting blocked.

This is an unprecedented amount of space to cover for the bordering states law enforcement or even their National Guard troops. If network members routed to other states before arriving at my mountain home, then we will expect them later, according to our “Time-Distance Formula”.

Bug Out Plans With Multiple Courses of Action

Any bug out plan needs to have multiple courses of action, or (COAs). My network has pooled resources and rented numerous storage units, in order to create cache sites to “sustain” the members. These supplies include fuel, sustenance, ammunition, and batteries and additional handheld Ham radios. One member went so far as to buy a piece of open desert land, so that the family could bury the items they think they may need.

Regardless of COA selection, network members will broadcast to home base, (my home) what the prevailing conditions are at their current locations, and how those conditions will affect their individual plans and arrival times. Monitoring these communications, other members may avoid local hazards, based on this information.

Color Coded Phonetic System Words in Cipher

In the cipher that is displayed below, I have color coded certain words. This is because we may need to actually spell things out via the military method. The letter A is Alpha. B is Bravo. This is called the “phonetic” system. To keep it easy, instead of typing the word “Alpha”, they type “W8”.

Typing Out Messages

One of the adult children of our network members used a cell phone and typed out their message. For people over a certain age, this is extremely time-consuming! During practice I realized that my personal typing skills are poor at best. To remedy my slow typing, I asked my adult daughter to do the typing during a practice session. The lesson learned was that young people are like lightning when it comes to text based messages, probably because most people under twenty five years old are glued to their personal cellular device and have been for years.

Cell “H-0”

I would like to call the reader’s attention to cell “H-0”. In this cell, we have the four words: Bunker (one), Cache (two), Stash (three), and Safe (four). Did you notice how I listed this? I listed the words clockwise. In my network, we do it this way every time for a reason, because the items in that cell are arguably similar in nature. This way, we can refer to our needs in our messaging in a codified manner.

If a network member was specifically referring to a “safe”, then the spoken message would be broadcast: “Hotel-zero-four” or “H04”. (We use brevity, remember?)

In the cells that contain three items, we number them top to bottom. In cell “W2”, we see the words: Primary (one), Alternate (two), and Supplementary (three). If a member makes a “mistake”, we treat it as if that person is under duress and is alerting the network that they have been compromised, so we “roll over”.

Built-in Redundancies

When I built-in redundancies, I was concerned that the member alerting the network of compromise would be killed, harmed, or seized by malevolent actors who had them in custody and insisted that the member “give up” the network. Members of the network are given ciphers about two weeks before standard rollover on the 7th of the month, in order for them to become familiar with the new ciphers cells. We do not require memorization, but we do require familiarity.

A Good Drill

Here is a good drill for the reader, codify the word OPSEC: O “G6”- P”F8”- S”V5”- E”S0” – C “U4”. Here is a hidden nugget; what “honorary” member to the network do I mention in “E51”? The founder of this Blog, that is who!

Making Sense

I am sure that readers are nodding their heads and thinking that this makes sense. Our networks SOPs and TTPs are based on the KISS principal– “Keep-It-Simple-Stupid”. Keep in mind I was a grunt, so we like to keep things elegant by keeping them clean and easy. Being a career infantryman, I tried to “grunt-proof” all my methods, as there are many ways to make mistakes on a cipher sheet. I am also training network members who never served in the military (most of them). They don’t know what they don’t know! In many ways, they are far easier to train, as they are empty vessels who are actually willing to learn our network’s established TTPs to enable themselves and their family members to “Surthrive”.

Any reader can add or subtract to the methods of securing messages via day to day means of communication. All it takes is the desire to design a communications plan that address and fulfills your network’s needs.

The East Sierra Sage sends: Semper Fidelis. That is all. Carry on!

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 75 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
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  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
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Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
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Round 75 ends on March 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. Can you comment on the advantages or disadvantages of a Book Cipher (using word position on pages… i.e. using some given title, 48-37-12 means on page 48, on the 37th line, the 12th word is “tomorrow”…
    It seems like this would be an almost unbreakable code, even with super computers.

    1. Finding the words that you need to build the message could take a very significant amount of time. The book that you chose may not even contain the words necessary to convey the particular information that you wish to convey. An obscure out of print dictionary might be the best option – if you can find two or more identical copies.

      For absolute security one time pads are your best bet.

    2. If, instead of the entire word that 48-37-12 equates to, you only used the first letter of that word, then encoding and decoding would go much quicker and you wouldn’t have to hunt for the right word, only the correct first letter of a word.

  2. If your people can make it to Nevada via the 15, it should be pretty clear sailing NB on 95. I would take 127 north from Baker to get to 95 to avoid what would be a mess in LV.

    They could take the old road (Lucky Boy) site south of Hawthorne into Bridgeport or go north at Fletcher and take 208 to Holbrook Junction the south on 395 into Walker/Coleville. They would have to pre stage a fuel re supply stop or carry enough with them. It would take some navigation but is very doable, although winter snow could be an issue.

    Prearranged check in times for HF NVIS using 40, 60, or 80 meters should keep you in touch as they travel. They can pull over, stretch a wire antenna 10-15 feet off the ground, check in, and be on their way.

    The southern route would be the easiest. I don’t think the MWTC would be closing 395 for a while. You would know more about that.

    OBTW, excellent article. It is a knowledge area that I don’t know much about. Good luck “neighbor”.

  3. Thanks, East Sierra MTN MAN!!! I try to produce information that may help those who lack formal training. If My Network were to remain in place, we would use the Book method, My method intends to use a BRIEF message, via an open source communication format for QUICK/Brief transmissions, while On the Move (OTM) or, “Oscar Mike”

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