Introduced in Redemption (Ryan Drake 1)
Initiated in 2001 in response to increasing Agency commitments worldwide, the Shepherd program was created with the goal of recovering lost, kidnapped or rogue Agency resources. Current manpower stands at six permanent teams of varying size and strength.
Teams are each based around a single Case Officer (usually referred to as a Team Leader) whose job it is to select Specialists from a pool of approximately fifty operatives with varying skill sets. Team Leaders are given considerable latitude in their choice of Specialists, with teams varying in size from two to as many as ten operatives.
Shepherd teams are expected to operate in extremely hazardous environments, usually with little to no backup, and are always treated as Deniable Operators (the CIA and State Department will deny all knowledge of their existence if compromised or captured). For this reason, Shepherd operatives are usually from military and special forces backgrounds, highly trained, motivated and self-reliant, able to adapt to rapidly changing situations and respond to threats with deadly force.
All operatives are given a wide remit and considerable authority while on active operations. They may not be searched or detained by US Government personnel, they are able to carry weapons in secure facilities and may, if the situation calls for it, requisition vehicles, logistical support and human resources to pursue their objectives.
The Shepherd program incorporates a relatively high number of foreign operatives to facilitate the CIA’s plausible deniability in the event they are captured.
Trail by Fire
One unique aspect of the Shepherd training programme is the final test that all prospective candidates are put through. Referred to as the Trial by Fire, it generally takes the form of a simulated mission into a foreign country in which candidates will be put through a number of challenging situations, in the belief that what they are experiencing is real.
The Trial by Fire is described in detail only once in the series from the perspective of Keira Frost, in which the trial takes place in the abandoned city of Pripyat in Ukraine. The actual scenario and location can vary from candidate to candidate, but the general parameters are usually that the mission will encounter numerous difficulties that the candidate has to navigate through, and will usually culminate in them being captured, interrogated and threatened with execution if they don't admit their true purpose and affiliation. The test ultimately culminates in a mock 'execution', after which the candidate will be debriefed on the true nature and purpose of the mission.
There is no specific way to 'win' this scenario since any actions the candidate takes will ultimately result in the same outcome. However, it is possible to fail the test by breaking quickly under interrogation or demonstrating poor judgement/performance during the mission phase of the test. Both factors demonstrate a candidate who lacks the mental fortitude to perform the hazardous job of a Shepherd.
Whatever the details, the goal remains the same - to push candidates to their mental and emotional limit, test their ability to operate under extreme pressure and to overcome possible character flaws identified during their training process. In Frost's case, this was specifically her difficulty with authority and tendency to lose her temper under pressure - two flaws which she successfully overcame.
Current Status: Active
Task Force Black
Special paramilitary group formed by the CIA’s Special Activities Division in the mid-80’s to take part in clandestine operations against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Helped supply Mujahedeen groups with weapons and equipment, as well as staging raids against Red Army convoys and forward bases, including assassinations.
The group was re-tasked following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, and used for special operations in Eastern Bloc countries, particularly in helping Soviet defectors.
Anya was appointed acting leader of the task force in 1991. Following this, Task Force Black saw action in Operation Desert Storm, and in various conflicts in Africa and the Balkans during the 1990’s.
Current Status: Unknown, believed to have been disbanded in 2003.
Introduced in Sacrifice (Ryan Drake 2)
14th Special Operations Group
Special task force formed in 2002 to combat Afghan insurgent activity, composed of special forces operatives from both the UK and US. Their specific goal was the kidnap and assassination of senior Taliban leaders, known as Operation Hydra.
Not much is known about this highly secretive group except that Drake was a member from 2002 until 2003.
Current Status: Classified
Horizon Defence Solutions
Horizon Defence is an international Private Military Company (PMC) specialising in prividing security contractors in global hot-spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Horizon was founded in 2003 by Richard Carpenter, a retired US Army general. Since then, they have grown rapidly in both size and reputation, able to field several hundred frontline operatives by late 2008.
Unlike most PMC's, Horizon is composed entirely of former Special Forces operatives, allowing them to operate with greater tactical flexibility and take the fight to their enemies. Well funded, well equipped and with a large pool of highly trained manpower to draw upon, Horizon are a formidable military force able to project power where and when they need to.
The impending withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) units from Afghanistan had made Horizon one of the prime candidates to take over security in the war-torn country. However, following the shooting down of a Black Hawk chopper in August 2008, Ryan Drake and his Shepherd Team uncovered evidence of links between Horizon and the terrorist leader Kourash Anwari.
Current Status: Operations suspended pending Congressional review
Introduced in Black List (Ryan Drake 4)
A computer hacking group formed around 2003, by founding members Alex Yates, Arran Sinclair and Gregar Landvik. Each member was named after a Scandinavian deity, reflecting Sinclair’s passion for Norse mythology. Later four other members were recruited, thus giving the group their final name Valhalla 7.
The group enjoyed considerable success, hacking a number of high profile companies and organisations, but as their notoriety grew, the three founding members began to differ as to the group’s purpose, with Landvik wishing to venture into corporate espionage, Alex trying to turn them into legitimate security experts and Sinclair focussed on exposing corruption and wrongdoing. Experiments in all three fields eventually resulted in Alex being caught and arrested for computer crime. Despite being offered amnesty in return for revealing the identity of the rest of the group, Alex kept silent, resulting in a two year prison sentence.
Meanwhile Sinclair soon discovered that Landvik was the one who had betrayed his erstwhile colleague, having grown jealous of Alex’s influence within the group. He was immediately expelled for his actions.
With two of its key members gone, Valhalla 7’s activities
and influence declined, though Sinclair was able to at least stay in touch with
the remainder of the group. Several years later, he would approach Alex Yates
with the aim of reforming Valhalla 7 for the biggest job they had ever
attempted. Alex however was unwilling to risk his tenuous freedom on such a
dangerous venture and turned down the offer, forcing Sinclair to take a very
Current Status: Disbanded
The Circle (also known as The Group, The Syndicate)
Little is known for certain about the shadowy group loosely referred to as The Circle, as the true nature and even the name of this covert organisation is shrouded in a veil of secrecy, lies and disinformation.
What is known, based on testimony from Anya, is that the Circle appears to be made up from a number of highly-placed officers in the intelligence and military communities. The exact size and composition of the group is unknown, but is believed to include representatives from CIA, NSA, FBI, branches of the military, private industrialists and even members of foreign governments.
It is not known if there is a single overall leader, but the group’s activities appear to be directed by a ruling council of its most elite and powerful members, known as the Inner Circle. Marcus Cain and William Carpenter are known to have been affiliated with the Inner Circle at various times in their careers.
Like their composition and history, the overall purpose and objectives of this group are difficult to discern. Their actions are sometimes contrary to established national policy and frequently illegal in nature since the Circle operates outside of any official power structures and reports to no one. Indeed, its very existence is a closely guarded secret – the Circle handles most dealings with subsidiaries through proxies and anonymous contacts.
However, based on Anya’s remarks, it is believed that they act as a complex series of checks and balances, stoking the fires of revolution and unrest in one country while averting a crisis in another, ultimately working to maintain a sense of balance in the world.
The power and influence of this group are vast; they are able to draw on nearly unlimited financial, military and intelligence assets, and despite their possibly benevolent aims are completely ruthless in the pursuit of their goals. They have proven themselves capable of launching all manner of operations and employing tactics ranging from assassinations to kidnappings, extortion, disinformation, promotion of chosen subordinates to key positions and destroying the careers of those who pose a threat.
In this manner the Circle has consolidated and gradually expanded their influence over the years. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people worldwide unwittingly help to further their goals, and many more learn of them only when they are taken out by one of their assassins.
Current Status: Active