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My name is Grant Rayner, and I’m the founder of Spartan9.
This is our monthly newsletter for December 2022, which we use to keep our clients, partners and friends updated on what we’re up to.
Spartan9 has now been in business for 10 years. Quite the milestone as an independent consultant. Lots of ups and downs along the way, but the challenges are what makes it worth the effort.
This is an end of year review of sorts. I’ll work through different aspects of what I’ve been working on over the year, then will provide a preview of plans for 2023.
Travel, writing, speaking, photography, products and consulting.
After spending 2021 entirely in my home country, I’ve finally managed to get out and about this year. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, I spent some time in Romania, Moldova and Hungary. A month later, I took a corporate team into Central Kalimantan in Indonesia to explore opportunities in some of the more remote parts of the province. Later in the year, I travelled to Southern Thailand, exploring the provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani and Songkhla. After North Korea fired an errant missile over the Northern Limit Line, I flew to Busan in South Korea to help an organisation finalise their contingency plans just in case the situation continued to escalate. And to cap off the year, I took a short trip to Japan to visit clients and catch up with old friends.
I’ve revised and updated nine of my ten books this year (I updated one in 2021). Sales continue to be steady, and I’ve been fortunate to have had a few major companies and educational institutions purchase my books for their teams/classes. Along the way, I’ve also received positive feedback, which is always nice.
Aside from updating the books, I’ve been writing one article a week on crisis management, writing a total of 51 articles (hence the title - 51CM). Committing to one post a week was ambitious, but weekly writing has turned out to be a good habit. As I’d hoped, pushing myself to write 51 different articles has forced me to dig deep into the topic of crisis management and explore different aspects of the field.
I’ve also been sending out a monthly newsletter. For the last three years, I’ve produced this newsletter using Mailchimp. For the last few months, I’ve been sending out the same newsletter using Substack (what you’re reading here). There will be a few changes to my approach in 2023. More on that shortly.
I presented to a Harvard MBA class in April, recounting my experiences during the evacuation operations from Afghanistan in 2021. The theme of the presentation was how we deal with ambiguity as professionals, and balancing ethics with the need to get things done. Always a challenging dilemma, particularly when lives are at stake.
I also presented a series of seminars to one of the US tech majors, focusing on reslience, handling travel emergencies, responding to major crisis events, and worst case scenario planning. All important topics.
All of these sessions were online, which has become de rigour. I’m hoping to ease back into face-to-face presentations in 2023.
I’ve slowly gotten back into photography this year, after taking almost no photos of consequence in 2021. A set of my photos from Syria was exhibited in the Leica Gallery in Singapore from September to November. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to present a workshop for Leica on photography in challenging environments.
If you’d like to see some of my work, you can check out my Instagram account.
This year saw the launch of our first bag - the Street_Satchel Mk I. I spent many months last year testing different prototypes for this bag, before final production in March.
I’m now prototyping Mk II of the Street_Satchel, which will be available for pre-order in January 2023. Mk II brings some minor adjustments to design and materials. I’ve also completed prototypes for a new product—the Street_Belt—which will be available in Q1 2023. Two other bags remain stuck in the prototyping stage. I’m not completely happy with the designs, so taking my time to get it right.
Product design is hugely enjoyable. Prototyping is also fun. I’m using some of the most advanced materials available for bags, which is super interesting. Manufacturing is considerably less fun, and is complicated and fraught with cost and risk.
Aside from everything above, I’ve also been massively busy on the consulting front this year. Delighted to be working on longer-term projects, where I’ve been working on interesting problems with good people.
There’s been a lot going on in the region this year. I’ve spent quite a bit of time focused on the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan Strait. The latest challenge has been China’s re-opening. In addition, there’s been a lot of small incidents happening here and there as well.
I’ve had to change some aspects of the business to mitigate against the affects of the pandemic. These changes are now part of our DNA and will ensure continued resilience no matter what the future brings.
So, that was 2022. What’s in store for 2023?
Website, books, newsletter, articles, products.
First, I’ll be updating the Spartan9 website. The current iteration of the website was lovingly hand coded in Sinatra and HAML. It’s been a great website and I’ve received lots of positive comments. But it’s due for a refresh (plus, Heroku has changed their pricing plans, so it’s time to move on). I’ve started the process of building a new website from the ground up using Jekyll (a static site generator). Overall, my aim is a simple visual design combined with plain language.
If all goes well, I should have at least a basic site up and running in the first week of January.
I’m already well into writing the Field Guide to Information Security, and hope to release this book in Q1 2023. Not holding myself to that, but the timeframe seems about right.
I’ve also started writing a book on physical intrusion testing and another on the ‘business of security’. No timeframes provided on these, but it’s possible at least one may be completed by the end of 2023.
As I mentioned earlier, after this month, I’ll be moving away from Mailchip and from January 2023, my monthly newsletter will be only on Substack - the S9 Dispatch (you’re here now).
Substack seems to provide a better experience for me as a writer and hopefully also for you as a reader. I’ll try to bring you all with me (you can unsubscribe at any time if this isn’t your thing). I’ll also see if I can maintain an archive of the old newsletters on the new website.
I’ve decided to continue my weekly writing habit in 2023. However, I’m going to move away from writing about crisis management (51CM was a one-year effort) and move to the topic of travel security. The new Substack will be called Dangerous Travels. I’m aiming to explore different aspects of how to stay safe while travelling, providing useful information for individuals and for organisations running travel security programmes. This will be relevant for many organisations, given we’re emerging out of the pandemic and business travel is picking up again.
This time I plan to write over the weekend but will take advantage of Substack’s scheduling feature to send the post on Mondays rather than on Sundays. I’ll also be adding a paid subscription feature in case people want to support my work. Payment will be optional.
So, if you’re interested in travel security, you can subscribe to Dangerous Travels here.
I have some interesting travel plans, but nothing fixed as yet. Lots of places I’d like to get to but I’ll need to balance my desire to get out and about with other priorities.
On the product side, I’ll be releasing the Street_Satchel Mk II and the Street_Belt. I might release a few other products as well, provided I’m able to dial in the designs.
I’m also thinking of selling prints of some of my better photos. Not sure how to go about this, so if anyone reading this has experience selling prints, it would be great to learn from your experience.
I’m not sure how many of you reading this are independent consultants. For those that are, you’ll understand that it’s a hard road.
The challenge for me has been to balance providing the types of products and services companies actually want and are willing to pay for, with my highest goal of simply wanting to do things that are interesting and fulfilling.
After 10 years in business as an independent consultant, I’m still learning to apply focus and rigour by leveraging my strengths.
It’s been hard, but I continue to believe what I do - crisis management, travel security and security evacuations - are fundamentally important and worthwhile.
A huge thank you to clients, past and present. I appreciate your trust and support. Particular thanks to those clients that continued to support us during the pandemic. Trying times for all, but we got through it and will be stronger for the experience.
Our latest articles and updates on selected publications.
This year, I’m wrote one article each week on crisis management in a newsletter titled ‘51CM’.
Here’s a list of the articles I published in December:
48/51 Responding to Unrest in China
49/51 Crisis Management and Artificial Intelligence
50/51 Orientating and Responding to China’s COVID-19 Reopening
51/51 The End of the Road (for now)
And that’s it for 51cm. You can view the full archive here.
Links to articles covering hacking on planes, Chinese disinformation, good reasons not to use Telegram, plus other interesting topics worth your time.
GPS Signals Are Being Disrupted in Russian Cities. Navigation system monitors have seen a recent uptick in interruptions since Ukraine began launching long-range drone attacks. Read here
Graffiti, flyers, word of mouth: China’s protesters embrace low-tech organizing to escape surveillance. First-time protesters battle a powerful surveillance apparatus to express dissent. Read here
Hacking on a plane: Leaking data of millions and taking over any account. Read here
Preparing for a Russian cyber offensive against Ukraine this winter. Via Microsoft. Read here
How China became a global disinformation superpower. Beijing is working to influence public opinion through state media’s partnership agreements abroad. Read here
How to Stop Chinese Coercion. The case for collective resilience. Read here
Inside the tech markets of global cities. Read here
Russia is spying on Telegram chats in occupied Ukrainian regions. Here’s how. Thanks to a Ukrainian in occupied Kherson, we now know how Russian occupiers are using Telegram to surveil Ukrainians — and how dangerous its design flaws are. Read here
It’s worth subscribing to Matt’s Substack. Good stuff.
That’s it for this month and for this year folks.
All the best for a happy and successful 2023.
Grant Rayner Spartan9