Unwrapping the Miraculous Logistics Behind Operation Christmas

Let’s be honest: There is no jolly old elf with flying reindeer who slides down chimneys and leaves gifts for every good little Christian boy and girl on Earth. That’s ridiculous.

But then, where do the presents come from?

Here’s our theory: There is, in fact, a nonsupernatural Santa. It’s a transnational corporation with one mission-critical fulfillment goal: Every kid who celebrates the holiday gets a toy on Christmas eve.

Wired spoke with business process consultants, surveillance experts, shipping pros, and a former Navy SEAL to piece together the basic outlines of the operation — focusing, for purposes of this exposé, on points of service in the continental US. From command and control at the North Pole to secret manufacturing facilities in China and Eastern Europe, from the Pacific shipping lanes to the deployment of domestic-access operatives, Santa owns the silent night. With NSA surveillance tech, they see you when you’re sleeping, and they know when you’re awake. They know when you’ve been bad or good — thanks to algorithms that make Google look like Pong. You better not shout. You better not cry. Operation Santa is coming to town.

Command and Control
Why the North Pole? Originally, isolation. The old manufacturing facilities are still there for emergencies. Also, like everyone in the information business, Santa runs space-saving, stackable blade servers. Keeping them cool usually means enormous energy bills — Santa just opens the windows.


The operation’s annual budget exceeds $27 billion. Luckily, Santa has secret deals with the major Hollywood studios. In the past 25 years, Christmas-themed films have made more than $1.7 billion, and Santa gets points off the gross. But the real revenue source: several multibillion-dollar hedge funds with an average return of 20 percent.

Santa works with all the big toymakers — after all, Mattel and Hasbro plan their entire year around Christmas. That lets the organization demand — and get — input into design. Over the course of six months, 30.6 million toys, dolls, and other knockoff items are made in low-cost Chinese factories. Santa sources production to numerous firms to mask the scope of the operation.

Specialty Items
In fall, 3.4 million handmade toys — wooden puzzles, rocking horses — are shipped by rail from small manufacturers in Eastern Europe, then loaded aboard Newark, New Jerseybound container ships in Germany.

Distribution By Air
In remote locations — or in emergencies, when standard distribution procedures face delays — High Altitude/Low Opening (HALO) parachute teams move in. Crates of toys are pushed out of high-flying C-130 cargo planes.

The Naughty/Nice Algorithm

Santa has operatives inside the NSA or can hack into its systems. Spy satellites record evidence of bullying, vandalism, and other forms of naughtiness. Servers cross-check this information against phone and Internet chatter. School databases have also been infiltrated.

Shipping By Sea
In the months leading up to C-Day, eight massive ships, each carrying 6,625 containers (with 640 toys per container), make their way from ports in China to Long Beach, California, and Tacoma, Washington. It all happens early to absorb delays due to customs, tariffs, and homeland security.

Distribution By Land
At US ports, some containers are loaded onto trucks for West Coast distribution. The rest are transferred onto trains and moved to warehouses in Sparks, Nevada, where there’s plenty of space and few questions asked. From here, the containers will eventually be moved to roughly 100 distribution centers throughout the US, with a dense concentration in the northeast and south.

Christmas Eve: Home Invasion
Heavy Equipment/Light Package Emergent Response (Helper) units deliver the toys. These special-ops agents are trained for home ingress/egress. Team leaders get naughty/nice lists downloaded to their PDAs at 2300 hours, C-Day minus one. About 80,000 mobile command centers — each staffed by four agents — use jamming systems to knock out cellular communication in their target neighborhoods and temporarily cut phone and Internet lines.

Each command center supports 15 two-person Helper teams. The infiltrators, outfitted with night-vision goggles, tote a variety of gifts. Given the three-hour window to complete all deliveries, Helpers have an average of 5 minutes to get in and out. Most homes take less time; those with alarms take more. Approaching the tree, one operative scans the gifts already in place with a terahertz-wave device to avoid duplicates. The other Helper places an appropriate toy. Very naughty kids get a Zune.
The Helpers’ objective is to leave a gift for each deserving child, but never at the expense of being discovered. If encountered, children and adults alike are distracted with a cookie, gassed with a mild hypnogogic/hallucinogenic agent, and given a hypnotic suggestion that “it was all a dream.” Obviously, casualties are totally unacceptable. If a team has to evacuate in a hurry, they fling a couple of iTunes gift cards under the tree as they bug out.


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