Delta Green after 9/11

Delta Green is a contemporary setting, closely tied to the intelligence community. Almost nothing of its canon deals with the sweeping changes to this community that took place after the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. So far, there is the following quasi-canonical material:

There is also a whole bunch of fan speculation as to way to how GMs can bring the DG environment up to the minute.

New millennium series

See THE NEW MILLENNIUM, a series by the Man in Black.

Shan W. Bush

On 2007-10-30, James Haughton wrote to the DGML (message 18297, "Delta Green Post 9/11 (long, rantlike and spoilerish)"; it spawned long thread):

If you haven’t read “Through a glass darkly”, or the most recent “directives from A cell” preview, stop reading now.

OK? Good.

I want to discuss the direction(s) Delta Green might go in a post 9/11 setting. This is invariably going to involve politics. I will try and keep it neutral in tone, but this isn’t a political discussion list, so if I err on the side of post-keynsian left co-operativist transhumanism deal with it, and try to keep game-focused.

“The greatest fear of all is the fear of the Unknown”. That’s what horror gaming and particularly Call of Cthulhu is all about. In that light, pre-millenial DG’s main meta-plot has definitely become dated, because the horror is no longer unknown.

Secret quasi-military, quasi-private organizations (MJ-12 and its spinoffs) taking the law into their own hands? We’ve seen it (Halliburton, Blackwater, Wakenhut et al).

Mysterious alien abductions involving strange surgical procedures? Not really very terrifying in the light of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” torture program – at least the Mi-Go are aliens whom we have no reason to expect will behave humanely.

Mysterious collaborations between the high levels of government and those who are supposedly our enemies? Whether or not you believe it, the understanding that the CIA and various past administrations armed and trained Al-Quaeda and the Taliban (to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and stop them making trouble in Saudi Arabia) is now widespread.

Strange, secret cults lurking just down the road, trying to kill us all by summoning horrible monsters? Substitute “making home-made dirty bombs” with “summoning horrible monsters” and you’ve got “home-grown terror”, as seen particularly in the UK, in a nutshell.

All of these things are still horrifying. But, with the possible exception of the last, they’re horrifying in daylight. We have names, dates, places, facts. We no longer need the myths of the mythos to tell us that we do these things to ourselves. It’s not the fear of the unknown any more.

So the old tropes aren’t going to work so well in summoning existential terror. Of course, we could just go back to more traditional CoC cult-busting, which works fine with terrorist cells. We can even chuck in some swarthy arabs to keep HPL spinning happily in his grave. But that strikes me as too easy, too clichéd, to be blunt. It’s the lazy way, it means taking the game backwards rather than forwards.

What then is the new threat, the new menace that’s going to keep us awake at night? Looking over the list, a few prominent themes that keep popping up spring to mind.

1) Zombies. Don’t laugh. Zombie movies are big these days. Zombies are a great symbol – mindless consumerism, environmental threats (strange diseases caused by human genetic/ecological meddling in particular) and Xtian rising from the dead themes, all chained together in one rotting, drooling, shambling package.
2) The unknown in our midst. I think most people find the “home-grown terrorists”, the idea that the kids down the road might suddenly pick up a gun and shoot their classmates or put together a bomb and blow up the local subway, or that the kids might be kidnapped and molested then put on the internet by some normal-seeming neighbour, far more frightening than a bunch of middle-eastern fanatics. We know that they’re the enemy. We don’t know who on “our” side is really on “their” side.
3) Religious hysteria. Whether Xtian or Islamist, the number of people willing to believe and do hideous things for their religion seems to be at an all-time high. There’s a fairly legitimate suspicion that a lot of the middle east isn’t driven by any form of quasi-rational realpolitick but by prophecies about what has to be done to ensure the Second Coming (or the almighty Caliphate/ The eternal kingdom of Zion /etc). That’s immanentizing the eschaton, people, and it’s a no-no. The prospect that people with power are trying to bring about the end of the world is scary enough in this universe. In the DG-verse, it’s a lot worse. Which leads into
4) Abuse of power. Although its not as existentially scary, the way governments, in particular the current White House, has centralized power in the name of “national security” legitimately worries a lot of people. The idea that this or some future administration could stage a coup using their new powers is farfetched, but not nearly as unthinkable as it once was. And now it’s not “we don’t trust the govt” but “we have no option but to trust the govt”, because who else is going to keep us safe from terror? If they abuse their power again, what can we do? Like Zombies, we have to shamble along to the beat of the big drum.
5) We’re being hung separately rather than hanging together. Most people realize that the world is facing genuine global threats. Climate change is the big one, but lots of other world-spanning environmental issues (disease, food supply, etc, see 1, hordes of zombies) seem to be coming to a head these days, and yet the major powers (Russia, US, China, Europe – with the curious exception of Britain who seem to be playing all ends against the middle) are becoming steadily more belligerent and less co-operative with each other. People feel helpless and want to do something, but don’t know what. Hence the popularity of “grassroots” politics like and that promise you can do something by clicking a mouse (yeah, right).

Now, I’m not going to suggest that all these things are caused by Mythos threats. I am going to suggest that some elements of the Mythos lend themselves more easily to use by desperate, ambitious, unscrupulous people driven by these factors than others. How do we pick them? One way, indulged in by this list all the time, is to look at the mistakes, the things which seem odd, which don’t really fit with realpolitik or indeed reality, round the edges of the big things.

Here’s a few, culled from the current US administration.
1) Strange failures of intelligence: The whole WMD thing. In particular, an obsession with probably non-existent nukes. This ties into:
2) An inquisitorial attitude. “Guilty until proven innocent”. Now, there are justice systems which run quite effectively on an inquisitorial/roman law basis (eg france), but it’s an odd tack for the US to take in the way it formulates law and approaches foreign policy.
3) An irrational attachment to torture. There’s never been any evidence that it works as an interrogation (as opposed to fear and suppression of rebellion) tool, and indulging in it has squandered a lot of international good will.
4) Unilateralism: Similarly, squandering lots of international good will without really getting anything to show for it.
5) Religious zealotry and pre-millenialism (see above).
6) A decided interest in space flight and space-based weaponry (missile defence) that seems a) at odds with an anti-science attitude (see 5), b) not much use against the kind of low-level improvised terror that caused 9/11, and c) guaranteed to piss off other power blocks (see 4).

Now, who do we know who
a) Likes torture.
b) Is religiously fanatical
c) Wants to bring about the end of the world, preferably with nukes
d) Wants to get into space
e) Makes no compromises, never surrenders or negotiates
f) Infiltrates Intelligence agencies and military forces, and privatizes their functions
g) Can turn normal people into Zombies and/or secret cells of fanatic terrorists?

A free trepanation to the first person with the right answer, and a bonus pickled herring for fingering the European organization which will back them every step of the way.

So, lets agree that the MJ-12/Delta Green rivalry is due to be wrapped up. Hell, given the way things are going in “for a glass darkly”, much of MJ-12 has been reduced to smoking holes in the ground. If DG can come into the steering committee level, it should be surprisingly easy to wrap MJ-12 up. The Accord is pretty clearly dead and most of the personnel can be re-“reassigned” back to whatever their legitimate government job was, which is the sort of maneuver DG excels at anyway. The funky weapons can be presented to the White House as the result of various “black budget” research programs, which is basically what they were. Hey, DG/MJ might even be the ones pushing for space-based weapons to fend off any future Grey attack.

Let them push. It doesn’t matter a damn when the Insects from Shaggai have crossed the Atlantic and are eating the brains behind the War on Terror. When Euro-Severn Airspace merges with the European Space Agency and the Transcendent arms dealers to sell nukes to countries occupying key points in a pattern that spells Azathoth. When the Army of the Third Eye joins Al Quaeda to assassinate western leaders they claim are possessed by demons, and cell A tells you to stamp their passports, whose side are you on? When the sky is so polluted that the sun can’t shine through in certain wavelengths; when new-variant Creuzfeld-Jacobs really hits (we’ve just seen the test runs; it’s made by mincing rebellious young Shan in the brains they occupy) and reduces infectees to cannibalistic worshippers of the Idiot God; when anyone – your friends, your family, your cell mates, cell A – could harbor the enemy inside their head, what good will your super-secret space-based laser cannon do? The more you crack down, the more the fear and loathing of your shiny, new, legitimate badge spreads; the more the fear spreads, the harder it becomes to tell the difference between the “real” enemy and all the other world powers, concerned citizens, and terrorist ratbags you’ve pissed off as collateral damage; the harder it is to tell the difference, the more you crack down.

Oh, and of course, this will give rise to a directive from A cell I’ve been waiting for for a long time:

As of now, all cell members will line their hats or other head coverings with tinfoil, and wear them at all times.

Be seeing you.

BOX TOP and similar unaccountable hitmen

On July 17th 2009, Gil Trevizo wrote to the DGML:

I have been catching up on the past month of posts on DGML, and I'm really surprised that there's been no discussion concerning the latest revelations about Dick Cheney and "his" CIA/Pentagon assassination squads during the Bush Administration. I don't want to get into the specifics (Google is your friend), but from what I've read it basically comes down to this: around 2002, the CIA created a paramilitary unit called BOX TOP that would go around the world either assassinating terrorists or capturing them for rendition. For a variety of reasons (CIA leadership got antsy, the Special Activities Division was too involved in Afghanistan to provide personnel), BOX TOP never went operational, but the idea was picked up by the Pentagon. These DOD units used military personnel (SFOD-Delta has been named by one source), grouped in "operational support elements", gave them false passports as businessmen (not always American), moved their weapons through diplomatic pouches, and then had them kill the prescribed target. The problem was that these teams operated independently of both the State Department and the CIA, so there was no sharing of intelligence or coordination, resulting in at least two botched hits. Another issue is that the targets were not necessarily Al-Qaeda but also "Al-Qaeda supporters" which meant that virtually anyone could end up on the hit list. Unlike BOX TOP, these DOD operational support element teams did carry out a number of hits.

All of this is very sketchy, but that doesn't matter for the purposes of an RPG. What matters is how it plays into the way Delta Green operates in the post-9/11 environment. Whereas I'm unenthusiastic about an "official DG", there's a ton of juicy scenarios to work out when the government starts throwing around licenses to kill. A DOD undersecretary in a high-placed cell could easily fiddle with the hit list so it includes the names of individuals A-Cell has identified as cultists, placing a target on them by tying them to a bank account that made off-the-book donations to "humanitarian aid" agencies in the Middle East. It also makes an entirely new infrastructure for DG: a bunch of completely deniable black ops assassination squads that think they killing terrorists but in actuality are committing hits for DG is a good way to draw PCs into the conspiracy.

On the plausibility and DG usefulness of this, he later added:

A key element here is that the programs, particularly the DOD one, was, according to some sources, not simply designed to assassinate terrorists so much as "terrorist supporters" - people who have supposedly financed terrorist operations. Although not explicit in these stories, I do know that, from 9/11 onwards, the government's definition of what qualified as "terrorist support" could be very loose. Islamic-based humanitarian aid agencies could and have been targeted (although, like I said, not necessarily by either BOX TOP or the operational support elements) as funneling money to terrorist organizations. I point this out because it's a lot easier for DG to use these kind of operations as cover for an anti-Mythos hit if all they have to do is show that the target pushed money to a Palestinian children relief fund (a simple bit of creative accounting), as opposed to creating the intel required to make them look like a high-ranking ember of al-Qaeda.

[This sounds implausible only] to folks who get their history of intelligence operations from fictional fantasies like 24 and paperback thrillers. Assassination was banned under Executive Order 11905 between 1976 and 2001, and, although Bush used weasel words to try to circumvent the ban, he didn't outright lift it and the ban is technically still in effect. That can explain just how ill-prepared both the CIA and the military were to carry out assassination missions. The CIA lacked the personnel and tactical know-how, while the DOD seemed to lack experience in foreign undercover operations as well as intelligence coordination. While all this is still sketchy, it does provide a more realistic background for DG scenarios than Hollywood-fueled fantasies of ultra-competent shadow warrior killers who've been dusting al-Qaeda supervillains on a regular basis for years.

On the abuse of these ideas to make DG legitimate once more, as traceless assassins with experience and very special tools, Adam Scott Glancy himself answered:

And here's another good reason why you don't want DG becoming legitimate or even TRYING to become legitimate. If DG tries to mend fences with the DoD by performing an "impossible" assassination (maybe using Breath of the Deep or Worms) on a target, they've just demonstrated the slippery slope that turns dabblers into cultists. Now the results become more important that the means and before you know it someone's suggesting that summoning Cthugha would be an dirt cheap and thoroughly deniable way to take out North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Using Mythos magic to advance national policy is what the Karotechia was doing. Any DG agents caught doing the same this are going to get warned, if it seems like it would do any good, and assassinated if they don't get the message.

Upcoming Information

On October 31, 2016, The Official Delta Green website uploaded a blogpost detailing the timeline of Delta Green, including information from the upcoming source book funded via Kickstarter:

Late 2001 to 2002: Major overhaul of US intelligence community. MJ-12, which has been slowly losing contact with the Greys, is disgraced and disbanded. Members of the Delta Green conspiracy are ‘brought in from the cold’ and pardoned and folded in with the remaining elements of MJ-12 that haven’t left for the private sector or were eliminated by DG. Delta Green is then re-legitimized by the US Govt, and exists as a uneasy partnership of former enemies, fanatically and fatally devoted ex-conspiracy members, and jaded yet ignorant and shortsighted new Govt bureaucrats.

This last entry has been gathered from available information about the new version of the game and is not concrete until the release of the core rulebook. If you can get a hold of a copy, the original Delta Green rulebook contains an exhaustive history of the organization and it’s many enemies.

External links

The intellectual property known as Delta Green is ™ and © the Delta Green Partnership. The contents of this document are © their respective authors, excepting those elements that are components of the Delta Green intellectual property.