Chris Papasadero | April 17, 2024

The Atmospherics Edition

On reading the room, gossip, and gathering intelligence.

Recommended Products

Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets with PA Plus
Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets with PA Plus

Iodine tablets for water purification, useful for ensuring safe drinking water during travel or emergencies.

Chris Papasadero is a Green Beret, entrepreneur, and writer based in NYC.

Chris here. Last month, WITI regular Steve Bryant wrote about the Cold War roots of the modern travel guide industry, revealing that  the genre’s biggest names, like Eugene Fodor and Temple Fielding, were also intelligence officers lending an air of intrigue and adventure to the seemingly mundane task of advising tourists on hotels and restaurants.

Why is this interesting?

There is indeed an art to ‘collecting’ on a faraway place, something that modern-day intelligence officers call “atmospherics.” Naturally, there’s a mnemonic [PDF]: PMESII-PT, used to analyze atmospherics across eight dimensions. But if those letters aren’t instantly committed to your memory, here’s the framework:

  1. Political: Who holds the real power and influence, officially and unofficially? A rural village may technically be governed from the distant capital, but the local police chief is the one who can ruin your trip or be your greatest ally. 

  1. Military: Are armed militias or organized crime syndicates active? A crowded market devoid of women and children could signal an impending attack, whereas regular and professional checkpoints might indicate a strong security presence. 

  1. Economic: What are the patterns of commerce and consumption? Bustling shops, well-stocked shelves and generous haggling may indicate a thriving economy. Shuttered storefronts and bare markets might indicate trouble.

  1. Social: What are the ethnic, religious, and cultural traditions, and the fault lines? Seemingly banal choices like clothing or cuisine could constitute a major faux pas whereas even a cursory attempt at proper honorifics in the local dialect can win fast friends.

  1. Information: How open and reliable are the channels of communication? State-controlled media and patchy cell service can constrain the flow of information. Neighborhood gossip (RUMINT) might be the most trusted news source, and can be accessed with the offer of a cigarette or even a genuine smile.

  1. Infrastructure: Are the basic needs of water, power, transportation and healthcare being met? Knowing the nearest hospital or carrying a few iodine tablets can be the difference between an enriching trip and a catastrophic bubble gut.

  1. Physical Environment: How do climate and geography impact daily life? Monsoon rains or rugged terrain dictate the rhythms of the local calendar, and can quickly upset the best-laid travel plans.

  1. Time - What significant dates loom on the calendar? Elections, holidays, and anniversaries of historic events focus a population's anxieties and joy. The local perception of time can heavily influence the number of museums you might visit, or tell you the best hours to party down with new friends.

The most revealing clues are often unspoken: a shopkeeper's scowl a child waving at a military convoy. An empty street in the middle of the day could be a sign of an ambush, or the normal lull of an afternoon siesta

For the adventurous traveler, fluency in atmospherics is better than anything you might find on the internet or in a tour guide. By attuning our senses to the unwritten rules and rhythms of a place, any far-flung destination becomes ripe for authentic exploration and cultural connections, the very essence of world travel.

The next time you find yourself an observer in an unfamiliar locale, tap into your inner intelligence analyst. You just might discover something the guidebooks missed. (CP)

Thanks for reading, 

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Chris (CP)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email fromNoah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing.

© WITI Industries, LLC.