Design the ultimate ransom drop

In the movie Thunderball, SPECTRE manages to steal two nuclear bombs and and threatens to detonate them unless the British government pays a huge ransom. There’s a brief scene with the details of how the ransom is to be delivered; a container of diamonds airdropped at a particular location.

Which got me wondering, is it possible to design a method by which a government could deliver a large sum of money (or valuable commodity) to someone who could get away without being caught or traced?[sup]*[/sup]

A few constraints:

  1. Assume that the governments of the world would bring all resources to bear to stop you; navy, surveillance satellites, etc. Also assume that you have significant, but not unlimited, resources of your own to travel and collect the ransom.

  2. Obviously, you could not be apprehended while collecting the ransom. The bombs (or whatever) are still under the control of your co-conspirators, with instructions to detonate them if you do not collect the payoff safely. Ideally, though, you’d like to not be observed or identified while collecting the ransom. You will eventually have to turn the bombs over, and you’d like to not be picked up five seconds later.

  3. Also assume that you have untraceable means of communicating your demands, and of delivering things to the world power in question.

So, can it be done?

  • So as not to run afoul of board rules prohibiting the encouragement of illegal activity, let me say that I post this for purposes of discussion only, and that in no way do I support or advocate global-scale nuclear extortion.

Make a deal with the North Korean government to pay them 10% of the ransom in exchange for conducting the deal in their territorial waters. One unarmed vessel, bearing a white flag of truce and carrying no monitoring equipment, is escorted into territorial waters after being boarded and inspected by the North Korean navy, whereupon it shall rendezvous with my submarine and make the exchange. I then dive, eject Kim’s share out the main hatch in a water-proof container, and make my escape into international waters.

Payment in heroin or cocaine.

This could be re-sold to criminals around the globe, with no serial numbers to trip you up.

That’s not bad. I’d be a bit reluctant to trust another government to help out, though. There’s nothing preventing them from taking it all. And the British (or whoever) could possibly get a submarine into the area (but still in international waters) to follow you after the pickup. If North Korea was willing to shelter you for a while, you could lie low and no one could tell when you left, so they wouldn’t know who to follow.

That’s not bad. I suppose a part of this question is what’s the most valuable, untraceable commodity per pound?

There are some speciality “designer drug” hallucinogens that would be worth nearly a million dollars a pound, if not much more (if it could somehow then be sold at so-called street prices), including pure crystal LSD, a pound of which would easily make a couple million doses.

Problem is, finding someone who actually wants/needs a million hits of a drug that perhaps only one in a thousand people alive has any interest in taking…

I once read in a science fiction story about a computer hacker who broke into a government computer and stole ten billion dollars. He then took the money and deposited a million dollars apiece in bank accounts belonging to ten thousand different people. 9999 of these people were just random people; the hacker was the other one. So even if the government was able to discover the missing money and track down where it went, they could only suspect he was one of the people who received the money without knowing which one he was.

But he wouldn’t get a chance to use it. When money not belonging to you is deposited in your account they don’t just let you spend it, and those that do face legal problems. Either the money would end up right back where it started, or he’d be looking at charges for theft.

Transactions like that would likely require multiple electronic approvals and in today’s systems would probably be ‘held’ for a period of hours at certain funding switches.

Digital currency is a crappy thing for payment because it is highly traceable and there are a lot of anti-laundering checks and international agreements that would make it hard to get at without being found out.

What is the USD value of the ransom that you’re talking about?

If they actually do exist, I would say bearer bonds. For me the problem is that the world has moved on since thunderball, simply imprinting an RFID chip on the goods or cash, and the government would simply wait until you cashed in.

It would not surprise me if the US gov had ransom kits waiting for deployment, with set quantities. Your all paranoid about getting busted by Jack, and in reality there is no cops or surveillance in light years, they want you to cash in so they can view the CCTV camera footage of the place you dealt with.

This scheming would be better against a lower tier country.


Precious metals, gold is at $1700+ and platinum is at $1600+. Both are good targets because they can be easily altered and sold to multiple industries (jewelry, electronics, automotive, etc, etc). The question is, what is the USD value that you’re looking to match, that will determine the size/weight of the drop.

Diamonds are serialized as far as I know and altering them would decrease their value. I think almost any gem stone becomes less valuable if you cut it down to smaller sizes. I doubt you’d want rare gemstones that would make news if sold.

I don’t think I’d touch anything that relied on documents.

I don’t recall all the details and it was only a throwaway line in the story. But it was implied the hacker had set it up to look like legitimate money transfers.

Paid in uncut diamonds. Big cases full of them. Dropped into the ocean by a helicopter at a specific point, where I have divers waiting. The cases have external flashing beacons to help find them. My divers detatch the beacons and drop them there, open the cases, confirm the contents and transfer the contents to my nearby stealth-submarine. Escape.

That might depend on the method of delivery. I’ve considered a sort of Dirty Harry/Amazing Race thing as a possibility. Deliver a satellite phone to the country you’re extorting. The phone has been modified so it can detect if the person carrying it is broadcasting any other signal. (That’s cheaper than a stealth submarine.) They will select a person to carry the ransom and the phone; and I will periodically call him with instructions on where to go next. I will send him on flights through multiple countries until I am sure he is not being followed. He will rent a car, drive to an isolated location and leave the vehicle and ransom. I will get in the vehicle and drive away. By the time he is able to contact anyone, I will have made good my escape.

One problem with that is it limits the ransom to what can be carried by one person.

Before you’ve even contacted anyone with the ransom demand, create a tunnel under a busy train station locker. When it’s completed, make the demand, and when they are ready to comply tell the delivery guy by phone where to find the key and then where to leave the suitcase in the locker. He has x minutes to put it there. After the goods have been delivered to the locker, flip the switch and the locker false floor drops the goods into the tunnel, where you are waiting with a new bag. Put the goods in the new bag and exit from your hidden tunnel while the government agents are still scoping out who comes to the locker.

Only works for items you can carry, of course.

Seems like there are four strategies available:

(1) Transfer the loot from the dropoff to your possession in a way that is totally unexpected by the authorities

(2) Create a wide enough set of options that tracking all of them is not possible

(3) Create (through threat or circumstance) a survelliance bubble around the dropoff that you can enter or exit unseen

(4) Create a way to invisibly collect the ransom

(1) is your standard cinema plot device. Collect by aircraft, secret tunnel to the mailbox, snatch the ransom before it gets dropped off. Works only if you can outsmart the authorities - no guarantees.

(4) is your ultimate solution, not possible if the loot is a physical object.

Logically (2) and (3) seem feasible but hard to guarantee certainty.

How about - put the ransom inside a vehicle, under the control of the villian. Vehicle contains equipment to detect radio emissions. Prohibit close survelliance by other vehicles, and drive the vehicle around enough to check this. Create a large number of opportunities where the vehicle is momentarily out of view. During one of these opportunities replace the vehicle with an identical vehicle and make-off with the loot. Continue to drive the vehicle around, turn off the controller, and walk away.

Become head of a major bank.

Make such a screw up of it they pay you off handsomely just to get rid of you, seems to have worked well enough for the current crop of criminals

I sell short against GM stocks.

The US government announces they are calling in all their loans against GM. I get my ransom from the profit on the short sell.


PS - I don’t give back the nuclear bombs.

RFID chips aren’t necessarily inconspicuous enough to go completely unnoticed, and are easily disabled. By design, passive RFID chips receive power via an antenna. Overload the antenna and you fry the chip.

They’re only useful against an adversary if the functional RFID chip is a necessary to the value of the item. Casino chips, for example. If the RFID isn’t working, then the chip is useless. Money and (most) goods don’t work that way.

The obvious problem with ransom drops is you’re basically telling the people who are pursuing you where you are going to be at a specific time and place; you may as well just surrender.

Your best bet is to use the ransom drop as a distraction while you commit some other crime.

I say just follow the “Quick Change” bank robbery plan, only know how to get to the airport.

I’d just have the ransom FedExed to my neighbors house while they are on vacation. Let it sit on the stoop all day. Then later, under cover of dark, run over there like hell and scoop it up.