Insane Agents

This article is about the proper handling of fellow agents who show signs of mental instability, a problem of Operational Security which also has a lot to do with Stopping Leaks.

The original discussion, from 1998, started at the wrong end of the issue. As The Man in Black eventually noted:

I never said to kill people who act funny. I said Kill people who are a threat to the conspiracy. I never mentioned anything about how this threat was to be determined or by who.

Davide Mana similarly noted that “the how and who” is crucial. It is only after finding a diagnostic procedure to determine threat levels that you can really decide on appropriate consequences and develop guidelines. This should be kept in mind.

Handling unstable agents

On the topic of an agent who was noticeably running low on sanity, the only technical manifestation of which (beyond low SAN) was apparently anorexia, the DGML discussed how a case officer might deal with the situation. It was probably The Man in Black who said:

If she's a danger to the mission, then a 9mm pension is in order, if she's a liability to the mission then a restful vacation is in order, if neither then she should suck it up and keep on truckin'.

Peter Miller protested that a happy agent is a sane agent, and agents who know that their fellows might gun them down if they lost it are not going to be happy. It's not easy to gauge how far gone you are, even if you know you're going mad, so they'd be forever keeping an eye on eachother. Before you know it, you get rampant paranoia and things start to look like the final scene in Reservoir Dogs. If someone is a danger to the mission, they shouldn't be there in the first place. Failing that, tying them up and locking them in the boot of the car is usually as effective in the short term as killing them. It leaves less tidying up to do and fewer psychological issues. The Man in Black defended his position:

Not that there's anything wrong with a mass shootout, but if someone is a danger to others and more importantly, the mission, then they must be removed. The lives you save may be your own. Thinking that personnel who are clinically insane and dangerous, with intimate knowledge of DG ops and other "occult technology" can be kept "happy" is a dangerous and flawed assumption. It also happens to be an assumption based in denial and not reality.

Peter Miller said the point of keeping them happy is making sure they don't lose their minds in the first place. They might get a bit shaky, but at that point you stop sending them on missions and give them a few weeks in the sun to recover. Davide Mana posed an important question: Is the agent on the field the best judge of his colleague's sanity? Surely, he is the only one available to judge, but having shared in much of what his pal did, is he reliable? By advocating instant retirement of the "dangerous" agent you actually arm and give cart blanche to he who shoots first, which gives you no guarantee at all. Like Miller and Mana, Steven Kaye questioned the utility of a draconian doctrine, bringing up the following points:

  • Slightly unstable specialists, such as a Navy SEAL who has occasional flashbacks to being attacked, are likely to do more good on the job than at the bottom of the nearest river. (Steven Kaye)
    • Protest: It would be an act of sheer desperation to send agent Darren on any serious investigation during his current unstable phase. (The Man in Black)
  • Even after agent Nancy transformed, she wasn't shot, though she was afraid she would be. She got a new ID and is undergoing therapy. (Steven Kaye)
  • DG has enough things going against it without cell members shooting each other at the slightest twitch. If people are definitely insane to the point of endangering missions, you don't send them on further missions. "Taking care of our own" could be a major selling point for DG in comparison with how its enemies handle things (such as how James Forrestal was treated). (Steven Kaye)
    • Cell members would hardly, if ever, be assigned to kill members of their own cell, or of people they've worked with. (The Man in Black)
      • In most situations where it becomes necessary to kill rather than institutionalize an insane agent, there simply won't be time to get anyone else to the scene. (Peter Miller)
    • Taking care of your own sometimes means executing traitors. (The Man in Black)
    • Insane people usually turn against you. An insane agent can join the opposition and tell them all your dirty little secrets, selling out and destroying all of DG. An insane agent can utterly collapse the entire campaign. (The Man in Black)
      • Insane people don't “usually” do anything. If they were predictable, they wouldn't be insane. (Peter Miller)
        • Madmen are unreliable and therefore dangerous (in some situations). It's not a matter of direct menace, more of undue increase in the already too many variables in a given situation. But a badly shaken agent can still act for the general good of his side, if in a weird way. (Davide Mana)
    • There is more than lives or sanity at stake during DG missions. It's a matter of prolonging the lifespan of the human species. (The Man in Black)
      • All the more reason to have cells you can rely on. Three paranoid agents are a bigger threat to the mission than one insane one. (Peter Miller)
      • The worst way to deal with the situation is to increase the stress to which the guys are already exposed. They have enough to handle without having to constantly look back to make sure that a well-meaning friend will not misinterpret one of their actions and ice them before their time. A cell in the field has no time for self-consciousness and does not need a supplement of paranoia. (Davide Mana)
    • "Selling point" is not necessarily a good phrase here: "Hi there! We're Delta Green! Join us! We won't shoot you, and that's a promise!" (Graeme Price)
    • There is a difference between the situations of Nancy and Darren, and the problem of loose cell members shooting cops. Both Nancy and Darren are irreplaceable specialists in their given fields (Nancy in particular), and if I take the situation correctly are called on only in certain circumstances pertaining to their expertise. (Graeme Price)

Price continued:

If an agent goes whacko and starts shooting cops or civilians without reason (in the original case there were a number of ways out the situation, none of which involved violence) then it is obviously time for him to take a break from investigations (perhaps psychiatric treatment would be in order). However, if he does something really damaging to the conspiracy (like getting caught red handed doing something totally out of order - assassinating civilians who he suspects have the Innsmouth look, perhaps), then I have to side with MiB. Bringing him back is going to be too complex and expose the organization to undue scrutiny. Ballistic retirement is possibly the only option in these cases.

But such extreme measures should be a last resort, perhaps reserved for repeat offenders. Most of the time, pulling "troubled" agents out of the field would be the best option. Remember that DG ops are comparatively rare for most agents (they spend, say, 95% of their time doing their real job and only work for DG occasionally), so they could go for months or even years before realising (if at all) that they have effectively been retired. During this inactive time, they could be on the friendly list… or (if Cell A is feeling really inventive) posted to some foreign hell hole (or relaxing dream destination, if they have suffered a temporary breakdown but are otherwise reliable) to keep them out of harm's way. If you have strings with who gets assigned where, then pull them occasionally.

Note of course that one team member shooting another is going to throw the shadow of doubt over both the shot and shooter. Even if Agent BOB did go raving nuts and try to summon a Furby to destroy Manhattan, Agent BILL is probably going to face a nasty grilling on his debrief… even if shooting BOB was the right (or only) thing to do at the time. Such things do, after all, create paranoia within the ranks, which in turn places the conspiracy at risk.

The last word is going to relate one important thing. Every situation is different and has to be judged on it's merits (quite often, a snap judgement is needed). Sometimes this decision will be the wrong one, and you can't rub out every agent who makes a mistake. But keep one thing in mind: occasionally the mission will be more vital than the agents carrying it out. This doesn't mean agents are expendable, but if sacrifices have to be made…. well, I'll leave you to finish the sentence.

Reliable diagnostic procedure

  • The difference between temporary and indefinite insanity is not necessarily apparent to agents in the field. (Steven Kaye)
  • Psychologist friendlies should be used, in preference to cell leaders. (Peter Miller)

Non-lethal methods

  • An insane character can always be institutionalised unless he's endangering the mission right now. It's a matter of timing. (Peter Miller)
  • Short-term solutions lead to long-term problems. You can have them committed instead, but usually people who are far gone require a bullet. (The Man in Black)
    • Having them committed probably solves more problems than killing them. Sure, even if you covered your tracks by altering documents, enemies might still track them down and interrogate them, though their testimony is hardly going to be reliable. Similarly, investigating a dead agent may itself provide enough evidence to trace the murder back to the victim's cell. (Peter Miller)
  • It is easier to justify killing those who are a threat to the ongoing mission than those whose general instability may threaten DG as a whole. No one agent should even know enough to jeopardize DG, hence the cell structure. (Peter Miller)
  • An effective “vacation” might involve the agent being sedated in the field, so that the next thing he knows he wakes up by a swimming pool somewhere hot. That would lessen the impact of the situation he's just escaped by drawing a clear line between it and now, similar to the effect of waking up after a nightmare. A friendly of some sort would probably also be assigned to keep an eye on him, and given some idea of what to watch for. (Peter Miller)

The dangers of sanity

Daniel Harms noted that a sane agent is as great a threat to the structure, if not a greater one, than an insane agent. A sane one can sell out "to keep my family safe", "because they're not paying me enough" (or at all), "because I don't want any more blood on my hands", or that most insidious one of all, "because it's the right thing to do". In fact, the sane agents might find it easier to do so, because they still possess the clear thought and social skills to carry it off properly. Maybe we should shoot all the sane agents and get it over with.


copy.png Material relevant to this article has been archived by the Fairfield Project at Taking care of yours discussion.
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.