Max and I were on an operation that required deep cover. The government even had special gear designed and built specifically for what we were tasked with accomplishing.
You may have heard the saying we have in the military, “We aren’t fighting to kill the enemy as much as we are fighting to protect our buddies”.
Well, there was a bit of that sentiment instilled into this op. To get this mission from concept to out of the starting gate required the devoted service of analysts, engineers, linguists, targeting officers and a myriad of other highly specialized technical and operations officers.
Max and I knew that our success or failure on this mission would have a significant impact on the members of all of the teams back at headquarters and other field personnel.
This mission was at least as much about validating their concepts, analyses and strategic mission planning parameters as it was about bringing home the bacon.
If you have ever traveled, you have experienced that disturbing event of not having something you need, despite all of your best planning and preparations.
Situations develop, conditions change, destinations get altered, stuff breaks, gets lost or just doesn’t work. It happens to spies too.
Max and I were set up in our ops site and we were ready to do the deed. We were doing our final “walk through” to make sure every step, action and item was fine-tuned before we launched.
That’s when we discovered that the target’s environment changed and it had changed big-time.
It was totally unforeseeable. The analysts and targeting officers had prepared us for every known possible configuration in which we might find the target. And the target had changed his environment drastically.
He had hardened his access to a level that we did not have the gear we needed to defeat his protections.
What we needed was one of those items that Uncle Sam just does not want out in the field, especially overseas and doubly especially where the conditions might allow it to fall into enemy hands.
To be issued and permitted to use this device required a series of approvals with justifications and signatures all the way up the line. Even “hand walking” the approval forms usually takes weeks.
Yes, there is ample bureaucracy in the intelligence community. A large portion of the management are more concerned with a bad mark on their report card than they are interested in pushing the boundaries to accomplish high risk goals.
As requests for high risk operations wind their way through the labyrinth of administrators, each administrator feels the need to “run it by staff” before signing off on the action.
Then, they are compelled to include a memorandum for the record which can serve as their scapegoat if things go sideways. Everybody wants credit, nobody wants responsibility.
Often, the administrators will further delay processing of the request because since they know that it is going way up the line and many powerful senior executives are going to be laying eyes on the package, they want to add a page illustrating their patriotism, intellect, courage and support for operations officers way out at the point of the spear.
They want their bosses to see their brilliant comments. All the while, guys like me and Max are blowing in the wind in extreme danger waiting on some signatures.
That’s where the One Button Solution comes into play. Just for historical perspective, you should know that the original term was “One Hairy Button”.
One (Hairy) Button does not refer to some secret communications device. It refers to a person, someone with a (Hairy) Belly Button. When we are overseas, we have someone in the unit to serve as our One Button Solution.
Here’s the way it works. In our case, we needed a highly restricted, senior executive approved item. We could have used our pre-established covert communications with a local officer and submitted an urgent request for mission-essential special items.
The local officer would have run it by his Chief of Station, who would have then sent it high priority to the Directorate of Operations Chief of the Security Operations Watch Center or at NSA it was called NSOC (National Security Operations Center).
They would have begun feverishly trying to get it up the line. They would have a watch officer from the Center hand-walk-it through each hoop by getting it “chopped off on” either by the actual senior manager or their designated, authorized night watch officer.
This would still take a long time. There are lots of questions the managers ask before they will sign-off on a request of this magnitude and before they will move it up the line.
The poor schmuck from the ops center has virtually no background or intimate knowledge of our clandestine need-to-know op.
So, the devoted watch officer sends messages expressing reasonable questions and supporting information via high priority channels back to the field.
Our One Button Solution bypasses almost all of the regular channels.
And because the ops officer from our unit who is serving as our One Button Solution knows exactly what we are doing, having done very similar things in the past themselves, they are able to answer every question and provide all of the supporting information each executive needs, even if our One Button has to pull the answers right out of the hole behind his/her belly button.
And what normally takes weeks can be accomplished in hours just by pushing that one button.
In the civilian world, we are usually able to rely on our spouses, siblings, in-laws, best friends, work colleagues or other very close acquaintances. But, here is what you need to know to establish your very own One Button Solution.
First, your One Button must be extremely capable and competent. Do not expect your baby sitter or neighbor to be a viable Button.
Second, they have to know to expect your call for help and they need to know that you would not be pushing the button unless the issue was extremely critical and there is no way to solve the problem without their intervention.
Third, they already need to know how and where to go to fix your problem – in advance of your need for help.
Fourth, they need to be deeply invested in you personally, so deeply invested that they will be willing to sacrifice, risk, and do just about anything for you. For me and Max, Mary was our One Button Solution.
Mary was a good friend of ours and an experienced and capable Ops officer. All we had to do was use our emergency covert communication plan to get this message to Mary, “Sure wish we had … right now”.
She took it from there. Although it took nearly 48 hours to actually arrive on-site for us to retrieve it, it sure beat weeks or months of waiting and wondering if it was ever even going to be approved and sent to us.
While this concept of a One Button Solution is common in the military and law enforcement, it is extremely rare for a civilian to have a One Button Solution ready to push when needed.
But now that you know what one is, how it works, and the pre-requisites for a reliable One Button, start thinking about who your One Button should be.
Talk to them and explain exactly what it means to be your One Button and exactly the kind of help and intervention you may need from them.
I would also suggest that in return, if you are qualified, that you offer to reciprocate and be their One Button should they have that need.
Maybe you need to give them a set of your house keys, office keys, or car keys. Perhaps you may need to give them a debit or credit card with the pin.
Perhaps the special help you might need from your One Button Solution might be more esoteric. Maybe you need them to hold on to a firearm for you and be ready to deliver it at any time of the day or night.
Maybe you need to give them your family code names, distress signals, bug out location, routes of travel or other things.
The point is that it is futile to push your One Button if you have not already pre-staged everything they need to ensure you get the help you need.