The Office for Strategic Analysis (OSA) [Part II]

(Note: Read Part I here.)

Mission and Organization

The OSA has a reputation for uncannily accurate predictions about the future. No one knows what precise methodologies its analysts use. Rumors variously cite Artificial Intelligences, powerful divination magics, or complex sociological algorithms. (Alternately, psychic visions and alien visitors are common node-talk.) Collectively, OSA analysts are referred to as “The Oracles”.

Though the OSA provides reports to state governors (through intermediary organizations), its primary focus is to serve as the long-term strategic planning office of the Federal government, tasked with identifying emerging threats and neutralizing them. The Director reports directly to the President, no other individual has jurisdiction or oversight of its operations.

The CIA collapsed in 2010, along with nearly all the Federal government. In 2016, OSA began a foreign intelligence program, to gather information from the most likely strategic threats, including Mexico, China, and India (the three emerging powers of the post-VITAS world). It soon expanded those efforts world-wide. The first regional Task Groups (specialized think tanks focused on specific regions or tasks) were founded during this period. The OSA is the only foreign intelligence service of the defederalized United States, replacing the CIA entirely.

Moreover, in 2019 the OSA began serving as an alternative to DARPA, providing seed funds and prizes to academic and commercial researchers working in areas the Office’s analysts deemed of vital national importance. Such research developed the semi-autonomous Expert System UAV’s deployed on the NAN border and the ubiquitous Satnodes, developed in conjunction with several Indian computer companies. The OSA also supported research into thaumaturgical areas; the world’s first physical adept training program began at a private institute and came to fruition under OSA patronage. Over its 13 years of operation, the OSA’s Special Research Task Group has proved adept at identifying fruitful avenues of research and developing practical applications of same.

OSA began deploying special forces units in 2021, using them to help shape events in many key hotspots. They served as advisors to the Eastern Alliance during its war with the Holy Islamic Caliphate, and were suspected of the assassinations of key HIC leaders, including Turk general Asil Kaya (called “The Demon of Athens”). OSA forces operated with Indian units in the anarchic Pushtun areas of former Pakistan, helped secure Kurdistan against deserting HIC units, and worked with Israeli forces in former Syria and Iran, during the breakup of the HIC.

After the conquest of the Pueblo-Navajo Coalition in 2029, Task Group Aztlan became the primary focus of the small agency. TG-Aztlan has developed and deployed technology unknown to the rest of the world, including the Direct Neural Interface and working cybernetic implants. Novel magical weapons and countermeasures are also a key focus for TG-AZ.

Within the last year (2031) TG-AZ has increased its recruitment efforts, bringing into the OSA skilled soldiers, police officers, magicians, and other prospects from across North America and forming them into small Special Task Squads, trained in espionage and special ops. The looming war with Aztlan has focused the efforts of the Office, and the Director is determined to win the war at all costs.

Funding

As with the rest of the greatly reduced Federal government, the OSA is funded by tariffs and fees (as the Federal Income Tax has proven difficult to reinstate). It receives a disproportionate share of Federal funds, something of a sore spot with surviving Federal agencies.

Each President has continued funding the agency despite complaints, as each has relied heavily on its accurate forecasts and effective and sparse use of force. No other agency could replace the OSA, and no President has ever tried. The Director has survived four Administrations, and looks likely to survive many more.

The Office for Strategic Analysis (OSA) [Part I]

The Office for Strategic Analysis is a Federal United States intelligence, research, and special operations directorate. In 2032 (“present” for the campaign), it is the only US intelligence service still functioning.

OSA was founded to predict future trends and develop contingency plans for the Federal Government to respond to predicted events. Gradually it began to directly address the predicted crises, taking steps no other government agency could.

Lead by the enigmatic Director, the OSA has a small group of highly trained agents, divided into Special Task Squads, that travel the globe protecting the interests of the nearly-Balkanized United States of America. Though the agency’s focus is world-wide, the most critical oncoming crisis is the looming war with Aztlan. The agency predicts a war with former Mexico within the next two years, a war the US cannot survive.

History

In 2010, just before the Red Days (VITAS in America) began, a Pentagon planning group met with the stated purpose of either preventing or recovering from the kind of chaos that followed VITAS as it spread across the globe. It was given the unwieldy name of the Emergency Military Supplies Acquisition Program (EMSAP). EMSAP developed Reclamation, the plan to restore military and civilian infrastructure after the Collapse, and the commodity rationing plan that provided much of America food, power, and warmth throughout the last few months of 2010 and nearly all of 2011.

Reclamation, as the effort became known, was transferred to state authority in early 2012, after the military became embroiled in fighting the NAN War. Anti-insurgency units, recalled from Afghanistan and Iraq, had been key in Reclamation, and those units formed the backbone of the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains assault forces. They also suffered the highest casualties.

During the conflict, EMSAP itself coordinated with various governors to keep the front-line troops supplied. As supplies of key parts ran low, they began the effort to retrieve stores from Diego Garcia, Germany, and surviving supply caches in Afghanistan and Iraq.

After the Night of Ghosts in late 2012, the President negotiated the Treaty of Wounded Knee, and the surrender to the NAN forces. In the aftermath, the impoverished Federal government was forced to demobilize the national military structure, gutted by the war. Responsibility for maintaining military forces fell on state governments, and many cashiered soldiers and officers joined the National Guard and state militias (as well as Private Military Companies and other mercenary organizations).

EMSAP transitioned into a purely predictive role, providing incredibly accurate strategic, economic, and political forecasts for governors and the President. It was during this time that the mysterious Director came to command EMSAP. Under his auspices it became the OSA, the Office for Strategic Analysis.

(Note: Read Part II here.)

Patron for a Technothriller Campaign

In Altered States, my alt-history technothriller Shadowrun campaign, Player Characters are Intelligence Officers and Special Forces “Operators” working for the mysterious Office for Strategic Analysis. The OSA serves as a campaign patron, offering material support, intelligence, and mission assignments for the party. (For example, the “in-game” campaign background documents, complete with classic Shadowrun-style annotations, are excerpted from OSA briefings.)

The reasons for this are two-fold. First, in the genre most protagonists work for some sort of intelligence organization. Jack Ryan (from Tom Clancy’s novels) works for the CIA, James Bond for Britain’s MI6, the protagonists of Harold Coyle’s novels work mainly for the military.

Second, the nature of the campaign requires some sort of support network. If ordered to India, the players need contacts, information, and equipment, and a patron organization is best suited to provide it. In this game, the OSA replaces the grab bag of “Mr. Johnsons” seen in Shadowrun.

As an agency, the OSA us uniquely suited to that purpose. It’s a multi-function agency, specializing in gathering and analyzing intelligence, making strategic projections, dispatching covert special forces units (akin to the CIA’s Special Operations Group), and even providing financial support to special research projects (much like DARPA). Its multiple operations are designed to provide Special Officers (including the PC’s) with the support they need to carry out dangerous missions around the globe.

The OSA is much less bureaucratic than the modern CIA, NSA, or Department of Homeland Security. In spirit it calls back to WWII’s Office of Strategic Services under “Wild Bill” Donovan, and it carries out many of the same functions. (In fact the name of the agency is a deliberate name check of the OSS.)

I must also confess that the OSA takes specific inspiration from the Department of Military Sciences in Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series. The nature of the DMS is perfectly suited to a technothriller campaign, and I borrowed elements and ideas freely. The OSA also bears some similarities to Clancy’s “Campus”, from his later books featuring Jack Ryan, Jr.

That said, the OSA is entirely my creation, and errors in the forthcoming writeup are entirely mine. No blame falls on either Clancy or Maberry on that front.

Points of Divergence

I’m writing Altered States as an alternate history, which hews fairly close to real world institutions and people (as it is a technothriller setting, and verisimilitude is critical). Alternate histories ask the question “Given event Y, what might happen?” (The unstated parenthetical being “…that makes a good story.”) For example, “What if John F. Kennedy was never assassinated?” The critical event is called the point of divergence.

In the case of Altered States, there are two: VITAS and the Awakening of Magic. The campaign background is built around deciding how the real world might react to those two events. (The unstated parenthetical being “…in such a way that it creates an interesting campaign setting.”)

The first point of divergence occurs in July 2010, when VITAS begins spreading. Up until that event, the campaign world and the real world are nearly identical.

(I say “nearly” because I use fictional characters and organizations in building the background. Other than those, the background material uses real world elements and facts as much as possible.)

The second point of divergence is the Awakening of Magic, which begins in 2011 and culminates in the events of Dec. 24, 2011 (the first public appearance of dragons, and the escape of Howling Coyote from Leavenworth). The Awakening underlies much of the drastic changes in the world, including the NAN rebellion and the emergence of Feral Europe.

Taken together, these two points of divergence underlie the world of 2032. How each of them affects the world is the subject of most of the campaign documents of Altered States.

An Alt-History Technothriller Shadowrun

My current “live” project is Altered States, an Alt-History Technothriller Shadowrun. Let’s break that down.

Alt-History: This doesn’t occur in the canon Shadowrun timeline. Altered States has its own timeline, with many events that are similar to the canon (such as a VITAS plague) and many others that are wholly new. There are several differences, among them being:

The US still exists (but is almost balkanized). The NAN has collapsed (plus it had different boundaries in America, and never existed in Canada). There was no Resource Rush and no Seretech and Shiawase decisions, so no corporate extraterritoriality. Mexico, India, and Coastal China (the Republic of China) are the top three nations. UGE and Goblinization occurred at the same time in 2012 (an event called the Emergence). No Immortal Elves or “4th World” Great Dragons. No Toxic Shamans. And so forth.

Technothriller: Altered States is a technothriller campaign, best described as “Shadowrun, as written by Tom Clancy”. Technothrillers are military- and spy-oriented. They focus on national clashes, espionage, special forces units, and bleeding edge developments. James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Evelyn Salt (from Salt) are all inspirations (as well as Clancy’s novels, obviously).

Player characters are specially trained agents of the government, instead of criminals. Other than that, it’s pure Shadowrun.

Play involves stealing data, blackmail, wetworks, destroying facilities, infiltrating installations, extracting people, and all the other Shadowrun goodness players have come to know and love, just in a different context: instead of breaking into a Renraku gene lab, you’re breaking into an Aztlan air force base.

Many of the changes in the history of the campaign are to support the themes of the campaign (countries instead of corporations) and to develop some aspects of the setting more than in the official material (such as the alt-VITAS post, forthcoming).

Shadowrun: This is a cyberfantasy setting, just like Shadowrun’s. It has hermetic mages and shamans, paranatural creatures, and Orks, Trolls, Dwarves, and Elves. It has hacking, rigging, and cyberware. It is still Man meets Magic and Machine.

It isn’t a -punk setting, and draws inspiration from other sources. But it is definitely Shadowrun.