The Splinter Cell Program was a black-ops project and training program created by Third Echelon, a top secret initiative of the National Security Agency. It was also an operational unit composed of lone field operatives, code-named "Splinter Cells". The program produced and deployed units of highly-trained forward operators as the ultimate intelligence gathering force, with the support of a cutting edge technological team to retrieve information through traditional espionage techniques, but with 21st century technology. Sam Fisher was the first person selected into the program to operate in this role.
When critical intelligence could not be obtained by passive means, NSA's Third Echelon resolved the situation by conducting so-called "physical operations" — a euphemism for direct action. To do so, they introduced the "Splinter Cell" program, which was created to produce an elite recon-type unit comprised of highly-trained covert operators, who were then deployed to areas deemed either too sensitive or too risky for traditional entities such as the CIA or military Special Forces. These agents can gain access and control all information that are vital to the security of the United States.
These units, individually known as "Splinter Cells", were small, elite intelligence-gathering forces consisting of a lone field operative supported by a high-tech remote team. They were used in situations where more than one operative — even though highly secret — would arouse too much attention. They infiltrated secure installations, seized critical intelligence, destroyed dangerous data or equipment and neutralized the enemy as needed, without leaving a trace. The doctrine of Third Echelon was that although killing may compromise secrecy, "the choice between leaving a witness or a corpse is no choice at all".
The field operatives of the Splinter Cell program were very unusual people, even when compared with "ordinary" special operators or "ordinary" agents without official cover. They had extraordinary training and skill, were mind-numbingly precise, they dealt with grave stress and risk and were aware that a single mistake could be fatal to them. Due to the complexities of their operations, they underwent rigorous and very extensive additional training, beyond their special forces background. Stealth skills and hand-to-hand combat skills were stressed due to the fact that they must remain invisible while conducting extremely close quarters covert operations. Splinter Cell operatives were capable of moving through areas completely undetected, by both human and electronic means.
Due to political concerns, sometimes triggering a single alarm could mean mission failure, depending on the importance of the particular mission at hand. When an enemy was encountered, these agents needed to be able to silence them quickly and quietly. They received excellent hand-to-hand combat training, which was vital when snatching specific targets or seeking to extract intelligence from guards. In close combat situations, Splinter Cells expressed great control and skill when applying such techniques. Their combat training was centered around remaining silent while engaging.
The original Splinter Cell program was conceived with a single trial field agent, although as of 2007, an NSA official indicated that at least two-man squads were being used. These agents have the ability to operate in a manner that is referred to as the Fifth Freedom" — the freedom to do whatever is deemed necessary to protect the Four Freedoms, seen as cornerstones of American moral thought, as defined in one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous speeches. Roosevelt articulated these as "Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear." Under the (unofficial) Fifth Freedom, an operative could disregard any law, agreement or framework of ethical behavior in order to protect the previous four. For example, the operative could kill in combat or by assassination, torture or kidnap people, deploy on U.S. soil, spy on other U.S. government agencies, et cetera. The downside was that if an operative were captured or killed, the U.S. government would disavow them — either by claiming that the person has gone rogue or by denying that they even existed.
Mission objectives and locations varied, but a Splinter Cell's basic goal was to infiltrate the area of operations (AO), complete any objectives assigned and then extract without being detected. Special Reconnaissance (SR) was their core competency.
Third Echelon's Splinter Cell agents were sent to physically infiltrate dangerous and sensitive hostile locations to collect the required intelligence by whatever means necessary. Their prime directive was to conduct their operations while remaining invisible to the public eye. They were authorized to work outside the boundaries of international treaties, but the United States would neither acknowledge nor support their operations. Officially, Third Echelon and its agents did not exist.
Third Echelon's methods made use of "classical" methods of espionage powered by the latest technology for the aggressive collection of information. Splinter Cell operatives were recruited from the U.S. Special Operations communities of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. They were then shaped into the "ultimate covert operators": specially-trained individuals capable of not only working alone in hostile environments, but of doing so without leaving a trace. Like a sliver of glass, a Splinter Cell was small, sharp, and nearly invisible. Thus, Third Echelon, a sub-agency of the NSA, consisted of an elite group of strategists, hackers and field operatives that worked together as a team to respond to any information warfare crises with the highest degree of secrecy humanly possible.
The "Splinter Cell" program was an initiative developed as part of Third Echelon's formation in response to ever improving digital protection of information. As cyber security became increasingly advanced, there was a recurring need for traditional espionage methods to physically recover intelligence otherwise unobtainable. The purpose of the program was to acquire information critical to the American national security by combining highly-trained individuals, ranging from field operators to support and intelligence personnel, as singular units. It recruits elite operators from the U.S. Special Operations communities of the Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Air Force, and turns them into the "ultimate covert operators" by teaching them how to move through areas completely undetected, both from human eyes and ears and from technological detection methods. At the time, retired U.S. Army Colonel Irving Lambert, Third Echelon's Operations Coordinator, selected Sam Fisher as a candidate for the prototype position (Splinter Cell) of this experimental program. Fisher's successful completion of the training, coupled with his ability to utilize his extensive skills in the field, gave Lambert the reasoning to expand upon the program for further operations in the future. From his first mission during the Georgian Information Crisis in 2004, Fisher and his support team's accomplishments were invaluable in maintaining the national security of the U.S. and it was inferred that his recommendation to Lambert about the Splinter Cell program was a positive one.
In 2011, the Splinter Cell program was extended under the management of Third Echelon's final director and coordinator Tom Reed into different areas that exceeded the mandate for which it was originally conceived.
Recruitment and training
Due to the highly classified and extremely secretive nature of Third Echelon, potential candidates could not apply to join the Splinter Cell program as they were unaware of its existence. Instead, they were selected by Third Echelon and had to go through an evaluation before they were given the green light to be fielded as the program's forward operatives. It was unknown what exactly this evaluation consists of, but it is suggested that candidates had to have an impressive background in their field, with the operators requiring extensive experience in special clandestine operations. Just as special forces units recruit from regular infantry, the field operators of the program were generally recruited from U.S. Special Operations Forces. The case of Archer may suggest that NSA analysts with no military or clandestine training or field experience could also become Splinter Cells, though his high level of intelligence obviously played to his advantage along with the Splinter Cell training he received before being deployed into the field. Other support and technical staff were also selected specifically for their role within the program and had to have been deemed "elite" within their field to be considered for the role.
Third Echelon selected specific individuals for the program based on their service merits and capabilities. Afterwards, a recruit went through extremely rigorous and very extensive training necessary in their conditioning to serve in covert Information Warfare. From hand-to-hand combat, advanced proficiency and use in modern weaponry, interrogation resistance, explosives handling and defusal, advanced computer hacking (cryptography), covert intelligence gathering (special recon), advanced stealth tactics (i.e. concealment, infiltration techniques, exfiltration, silent movement, and silent combat on a solo operating scale), combat diving, to advanced escape and evasion (SERE) methods, among many other useful skills vital to their survival in the field during the war. Having completed the initial training program, a recruit could be joined with a partner where they learned further co-operative infiltration techniques. One such instance was when rookie John Hodge paired up with veteran operator Sam Fisher during the operation in Iceland in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Version 1), which ended tragically for Hodge, who was not trained for such a mission. These teams were deployed to high-risk areas. They were also known to assist other Splinter Cell field operations in the same AO (Area of Operations). Agent One and Agent Two operated as one such team during the Korean conflict, when they assisted Sam Fisher during his mission in the South Korean capital of Seoul.
Parkour is also studied as a way to get over obstacles, and newer, more controversial training from Chinese acrobats.
Under Reed's administration, Third Echelon recruiters could flag the personnel files of analysts at Fort Meade for potential field duty, with Anna Grímsdóttir approving admissions to the group's grueling eighteen-month training program. Upon completion, graduates were assigned call signs.
The SC-20K M.A.W.S. (modeled after the FN F2000) held 30 rounds per magazine and was equipped with an integral 1.6× magnified telescopic sight, flash/sound suppressor, and grenade launcher which was modified to launch non-lethal devices such as ring airfoil projectiles, sticky cameras, sticky shockers, gas grenades, and EMP ammunition. The SC-20K rifle was eventually replaced by SC3000 in 2011.
The SC Pistol (modeled after the FN Five-seveN tactical model) was a semi-automatic pistol with a single-action trigger and 20-round magazine equipped with a silencer/flash suppressor. Its 20 5.7×28mm SS190 rounds offered good penetration against modern body armor, while keeping the weapon's weight, dimensions, and recoil at reasonable levels. In 2011, the SC Pistol is re-modeled after the Five-seveN USG model.
Beginning with Chaos Theory Sam carried a combat knife called the SC Protector on his missions. In Chaos Theory it was modeled after the Gerber Guardian Back Up and in Double Agent it was modeled after the Master of Defense Keating Hornet, giving a slightly longer length of the knife and a single-edge blade instead of the double-edge bladed knife.
In Blacklist, Sam conspicuously carries a curved, claw-like blade known as a karambit, a combat blade that originated in the Philippines as a peasant's farming tool. The karambit evolved into a versatile weapon as its use was adopted throughout southeast Asia. While the karambit now exists in many variations, especially after finding increasing popularity in the west, there are certain characteristics that remain consistent in a true karambit. These are: a curved, claw-like blade that is typically approximately 2 inches in length; a curved grip that includes one or two ring guards (depending on how the knife is gripped - blade up or blade down, the rings will protect the index finger, little finger or both, but typically not the middle two); a cutting edge on the inside of the claw blade; a highly penetrative blade point. Blades may or may not be double-edged; Sam's karambit in Blacklist is definitely double-edged, allowing him his versatile attacks from all directed arm swings. The karambit is an exceptional blade for attacks to the neck and throat, as ably demonstrated by Sam during all of his lethal melee attacks in the game. This is due in part to the blade's typical design and also in the way it is therefore gripped: the blade is always held point-out, either blade-up (protruding between thumb and index finger) or blade-down (protruding from the blade of the hand). The blade-up style will enable attacks to an opponent's extremities with ease, as the blade-down style will easily accommodate stealthy attacks from what is apparently a fist that can gouge the face and other sensitive areas. During stealth attacks against the throat or neck, either style will work as long as one possesses a double-edged karambit.
The karambit becomes something of an iconic symbol for Sam, in addition to the three green lights of his iconic night-vision goggles, throughout the game. It is found on him by Sadiq when he is captured and interrogated after inhaling VX nerve gas, whereupon he remarks to Sam "...picked up some training abroad, I see." Briggs recovers the knife for him but still has it when Sadiq captures him in the COG bunker and, because Sadiq finds it in Briggs' possession, remarks "...you are very tenacious," mistaking him for Sam. He later returns it to Sam on the Paladin.
Sam's stealth suit was a specially designed outfit that helped him out on a number of missions. In the first three games, Version 2 of Double Agent and Essentials, there were a series of photocells in his suit wired into a heads-up display (HUD) that included a light meter to provide real-time visibility data. In Chaos Theory, a sound sensitivity/ambient noise meter was added.
The novels go further in-depth into discussing the suit's technical information. They explain that the suit is equipped with a thermo-regulation system which Sam can control his body temperature. It was also outfitted with water packs within the skin of the suit which help keep Sam sustained for up to twelve hours. The body armor of the suit is made of Kevlar, RhinoPlate, a DARPA-invented version of Dragon Skin, and seventh-generation Gore-Tex, which helped prevent bullets from penetrating within Sam from long range. However, the suit's body armor is ineffective at very close range. In addition to his standard stealth suit, Sam's suit comes in different colors and camouflages to fit the mission profile for certain conditions, such as white for winter conditions, green for jungle conditions, etc. He sometimes wears a Nomex balaclava, other times he wears some other headgear.
The following list of suits were uniforms issued to Splinter Cell agents:
- Upper Echelon Suit
- Third Echelon's Mk 7 Special Ops Suit
- Third Echelon's C1C9 Casual Concealment Suit
- Third Echelon's T1C9 Tactical Concealment Suit
- Third Echelon's Elite Special Ops Suit
- Third Echelon's Enhanced Special Ops Suit
Equipment and gadgets
The following is a list of equipment and gadgets issued to Splinter Cell agents:
Known Splinter Cells
The following list are known members of this elite cadre of "SIGINT ninjas":
- Sam Fisher (callsign Panther) was the program's first trial Splinter Cell agent who was recruited to spearhead the experimental operational arm of the NSA's Third Echelon initiative as well as the agency's primary agent. After a long career, he left Third Echelon after Irving Lambert's death in 2008. Three years later, he went to Malta to investigate a rumor that his daughter's death hadn't been an accident, which later led him to uncover a conspiracy within Third Echelon and thwart an assassination attempt against the President of the United States (Patricia Caldwell), later become a commander and field operative of Fourth Echelon.
- Dan Lee was a Splinter Cell stationed in China. He was killed while tracking illegal arms sales conducted by The Shop. Lee was mentioned by Sam Fisher during his mission in Macau in Splinter Cell (novel).
- Rick Benton was a Splinter Cell stationed in Iraq. He asked Lieutenant Colonel Dirk Verbaken to give him a file on Gerald Bull but was murdered along with Verbaken by Vlad and Yuri in his hotel room in Brussels. He appeared in the beginning of Splinter Cell (novel).
- Marcus Blaine was a Splinter Cell stationed in Israel (presumably). Blaine was killed by members of The Shop (most likely Vlad and Yuri). He was briefly mentioned by Andrei Zdrok in Splinter Cell (novel).
- Agent One and Agent Two were two "Splinter Cells-in-training" who formed the program's first Splinter Cell team. They assisted Sam Fisher during the East Asian Crisis in 2007 and the JBA Operation in 2008.
- John Hodge was a trial Splinter Cell who accompanied Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Version 1) during a mission to investigate a geothermal plant in Iceland. Hodge was shot to death by terrorists after he alerted them to his presence.
- Ben Hansen first appeared in Splinter Cell: Conviction (novel) as one of the agents assigned to hunt down Sam Fisher. He was Archer and Kestrel's handler in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction during the takedown of Valentin Lesovsky.
- Kimberly Gillespie appeared in Splinter Cell: Conviction (novel) as one of the agents assigned to hunt down Sam Fisher.
- Nathan Noboru was a Splinter Cell who appeared in Splinter Cell: Conviction (novel).
- Maya Valentina was a Splinter Cell who first appeared in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction (novel). She also appeared in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Conviction as Archer and Kestrel's handler in Moscow after Hansen was reassigned.
- Allen Ames was one of the agents trained by Sam Fisher who later turned rogue and became a fugitive. He appeared in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction (novel).
- Daniel Sloane-Suarez (callsign Archer) was initially an NSA intelligence analyst when his personnel file was flagged for potential field duty by Third Echelon recruiters. His training admission to the Splinter Cell program was finally approved by Anna Grímsdóttir. Archer was later assigned with tracking down four stolen Russian EMP warheads with Voron field operative Mikhail Loskov (callsign Kestrel) two months prior to the events in the single-player campaign of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction. Archer has been killed by Voron agent Kestrel.
- Leon Coltrane was a Splinter Cell who appeared in the short story crossover The End Begins: Splinter Cell.
- George and Thomas Voeckler were two twin sibling Splinter Cells featured in the novel EndWar: The Hunted. They are depicted as they're working with a Ghost Recon team. George was killed during an operation in the United Kingdom.
- Shadownet Spy (light green) and Shadownet Spy (dark green), two Splinter Cell agents involved in Third Echelon's Shadownet program.
- "Splinter" is defined as a fragment of a larger object, while "Cell" can be defined as a single unit.
- The only playable Splinter Cell agents in the entire Splinter Cell game series during single player and cooperative modes are Sam Fisher, Archer, Kestrel, Isaac Briggs, Agent One and Agent Two.
- Sam Fisher is the first Splinter Cell to be recruited into the program, while agents were later recruited and trained as the years passed. The first appearance in the games of other agents was in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Agent One and Agent Two.
- It was reveled in Chaos Theory that Douglas Shetland was one of Lambert's top candidates for the program, but he was sidelined in favor of Sam Fisher.