“Is there an ‘Art’ to losing yourself in an alias? I’ve always thought so, although I’ve had arguments about it with some of my fellow undercover buddies. Becoming someone else has always been easy for me. It’s fun. I did it all the time when I was a kid. It helped me forget who I really was and pretend just for a while, that I was a normal kid, living a normal life.”
Undercover Officer Marty Deeks of the LAPD and now liaison officer with NCIS laughed lightly after making that statement to me over the phone. He hadn’t wanted to give this interview, but after I told him it had been Hetty’s idea, he quickly agreed. He sounded vaguely self-conscious about it and I asked him if he was afraid of giving away some of his secrets.
“Secrets? No. The way I assume an alias is different than the way others go about it. We all have our own style and when I go under I go totally ‘Method’. I draw on my own emotional experiences to try and connect with the feelings and perceptions of the alias I’m creating. If this guy is supposed to be a violent man, then I call up the anger I experienced when I was young and feed it until it simmers just below the surface. I let it take over when needed during the op and the violence I would normally control is given free rein and that can get scary.”
“Controlling it is the hard part, and sometimes that makes it difficult to come back to your true self when the case is over. If the undercover operation is a long one, it’s even harder. You have to be that person twenty four seven. You can’t let your own feelings slip in there or react the way you personally would or you’re done. You have to be that alias, that person, no matter what happens and sometimes you have to do things that are at odds with your own sensibilities in order to stay in character. All of your reactions have to be true to that person you are portraying. You don’t get to go home at the end of the day and hang that alias up in the closet, you have to wear it until the job is done.”
Detective Deeks has one of the highest success rates in the department. He has been in deep undercover operations for months at a time where his only contact with the outside world is with his handler for short debriefing sessions two or three times a month. He has been wounded several times and commended for his work by the department four times. His move to liaison officer with NCIS:OSP changed the way he worked. When I asked him about the differences, he paused and got quiet and after a deep sigh he told me about being rescued by the NCIS team after he had been deep undercover for LAPD for four months with a human trafficking ring. He almost lost his own life in an explosion and his handler had been killed and I could tell it still hurt to talk about it.
“When I go undercover with LAPD, I go in alone. No one to count on if my cover is blown, like it was on that last op. The team saved my life that day. I was shocked when Callen walked in that room. I was preparing myself to die, but they all came for me, even though it wasn’t their case and I have never forgotten that.”
He asked for a moment to collect himself and I could hear the emotion in his voice.
“When I’m under with NCIS I’m never completely alone. I know they are watching and are ready to give me whatever back up I need to survive the assignment. Hell, Hetty even dresses me for the part I’m playing, and believe me, that can be quite an experience in itself. She used to be a costume designer so you don’t argue with her choices. Of course, if I get blood on anything, the cost comes out of my paycheck and she has this letter opener she likes to wave around. She knows how to use it too.”
I can hear the smile in his voice and a fondness as well for the Operations Manager who told me that I would be dealing with a charming, but “cheeky bastard”, as she put it. She told me he had a tendency to “fly by the seat of his pants” when he had to adopt an alias on the spur of the moment, but that he was the best she had seen at getting effectively into character almost instantly. Her admiration for him was evident.
I asked him how he prepared an alias and he gave a lot of the credit to the tech wizards at NCIS, Eric Beale and Nell Jones, the analyst.
“Nell usually prepares my backstory and Eric makes sure it will hold up to scrutiny, something I don’t get at LAPD. But when I have to do it for myself, then I pay attention to details. To be an effective undercover operative, you have to have great powers of observation. If you have to be a drug dealer or an addict, you better know what those people look like and how they act. So, I might spend a night observing down at the homeless shelter and pick up some of the mannerisms of the addicts there and then I practice them until they feel like second nature to me. I might adopt how they walk or a turn of phrase they use over and over again. It helps me get into character. I grew up around drug dealers, so I’ve got a good idea how those bastards operate. If you get it wrong though, you’re dead. I go under as a homeless man sometimes for LAPD and I never wash those particular clothes. My partner says they stink, but after a week or so wearing them I don’t notice. Besides they’re authentic and that gives me some measure of protection when I’m out there on my own.”
I asked him about going undercover with his partner, Kensi Blye and I heard a warm laugh explode on the other end of the line.
“Now that was dangerous. Eye opening, too.”
It was all I could get out of him about that assignment. I think there’s another story in there somewhere.
Maybe next time.
Check out Sweet Lu’s latest Deeks-centric fan fic: Judgement at www.fanfiction.net/s/8140667/1/Judgement