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How to Become a Spy

Updated on June 17, 2010

Spy Training Course

Have you ever wanted to become a spy? Well, if so there are a few things you need to learn.

Disguises and cover are essential. Being able to blend into a crowd is a key skill spies have to learn. Next, knowing the basic procedures (or "tradecraft") used by spies for things like communication will help prevent you from getting caught.

In addition, it's always nice to have an overview about how to get hired at an Intelligence (or spy) Agency. Of course, learning the standard terminology used in the field is also important.

Advanced skills you should learn include covert surveillance, and the basics of police interrogation (for when you're caught.) After learning these, you'll be on your way as the next James Bond in no time!

CIA Jobs

Getting hired at a spy agency is no easy task, though thousands of people do it each year.

Depending on the Intelligence Agencies available where you live, you might have an option to apply (such as with the CIA in the US and MI6 in the UK), or you may only get chosen if you meet certain skills deemed useful by the Agency.

Once you've applied, you'll be subjected to a battery of tests.

These could things as wide ranging as a polygraph to ensure you're not working for a rival Intelligence agency or harbouring negative thoughts about your government, and psychological assessments to determine your real motivation to work for the Agency.

Background checks to determine your personality and lifestyle, and to determine possible weaknesses. a credit check to ensure you don't have money woes, and reference checks on all the information you've provided are also common, as are several interviews.

Once all of this is completed, you just might be offered a job! Only a very small amount of people who apply to work for an Intelligence Agency ever get hired, and an even smaller amount of them work in clandestine or secret jobs.

The training spies go through is very rigorous, and can take many months or even years depending on the Agency.

Getting Hired

It can take up to a year and many background checks before you get hired at an Agency.

Intelligence Officer

Before you walk the walk, you have to talk the talk

Tradecraft

Most people probably haven't heard of the term "tradecraft" unless they've read books like those of John le Carré. Tradecraft is a blanket term that describes all the things used by a spy to commit espionage.

These skills include things such as covert photography, surveillance, secure communications and the "handling" of Intelligence Agents.

While certain skills such as hand to hand combat, computer hacking, and demolitions and explosives can be useful to a spy, they can't be used effectively by a spy without first learning the fundamentals of Intelligence gathering and the fundamentals of Espionage.

Secret Agents, Spies, and Intelligence Officer

One of the terms most misunderstood by amateurs in Intelligence and espionage is the term "spy."

Because of the proliferation of spy-fiction such as James Bond, and real-life TV shows such as Spooks in Britain, and movies such as The Recruit in the United States, the terms have taken on new meanings.

By definition Spy-Fi (spy fiction) uses the word "spy" to refer to the Intelligence Officer, the James Bond of the novel; this is the protaganist and the one using the gadgets and performing the stunts.

The term Secret Agent is also commonly used to refer to an Intelligence Officer in such a position. This may have developed in relation to "Special Agent", which is the term used in the United States to refer to several types of investigators.

When compared to the official use of these terms however, a different picture emerges. The term "spy" is used in official circles (if it's used at all) to refer to Intelligence Agents.

An Agent is separate from the Intelligence Officers that are employed by a service such as MI6 or the CIA. Instead, the Agent is the person giving information to the Officer.

In practice this means that the Agent often puts himself in much more danger than the Officer and very well can be called a spy, however he's not a member of the Service.

Of course, the fact that the term "Agency" is used to refer to various departments of the government (including the CIA -- the Central Intelligence Agency) complicates things further.

The simplest way to avoid this confusion is to use the official terms: Intelligence Officer to refer to an employee of an Intelligence Service, and Intelligence Agent (or simply Agent), to refer to the people the Officer recruits to give him information.

It's also helpful to define the term "espionage" and it's relation to Intelligence. Espionage is the act of gaining secret information. A person who engages in espionage is considered a spy.

A spy uses learned tradecraft while gathering this information. The information the spy gains is subjected to the Intelligence Cycle, which then produces valuable Intelligence. The Intelligence is then acted on by whoever requires it.

Terminology

Intelligence is information, collected by an Agent, given to an Officer, and run through the Intelligence Cycle.

The Spying Game

The Dead Drop

A dead drop is a location used by two people to communicate covertly. The idea behind a dead drop is that a spy can't be seen with his handlers (the people he's working with, his bosses) without compromising both who he is and what he wants with them.

In order to protect items that were left in areas where they could potentially be found (by squirrels or other animals in trees, by hunters or curious kids), various methods were invented to protect them. An example of this was the dead drop spike.

The spike looks like a thin stake or a thick pencil, and had an end that could be removed in order to add items; this spike would then be stuck in the ground where it would remain until the spy or his handlers retrieved it.

In the Internet Age, a new type of dead drop is emerging as well, the digital dead drop. Like their physical counterpart, digital dead drops aim to allow people to communicate in secret without exposing themselves

Dead Drop

The dead drop is used by an Agent and an Officer to communicate without having to meet face-to-face.

Covert Photography

Every spy at one point or another is going to need to know how to take photographs without being noticed. There are several methods of taking photographs without being noticed, depending on your situation.

If you're on foot, you've got several options. You could use a simple digital camera or you could use a more sophisticated approach. Cameras are available that fit into watches, pens, and even sunglasses!

If you'd like to get especially spy-like, there are cameras that fit into your button. All of these are surprisingly inexpensive, with the pen running for $99, the watch for $159.99, the sunglasses for $229.50, and the button cameras running from $119.50 up to $229.99.

If you're far away, a telephoto lens is extremely useful. This type of lens allows you to be "zoomed" in from extremely far away and still maintain the quality of clarity of the original image, as if you were standing there. These lenses can run the gamut from $200 all the way up to $10,000 should you be willing to spend the money.

Don't underestimate the power of satellite imagery either; using services such as Google Earth can help you during surveillance. This allows you to get a bird's-eye-view of the area, plan entry and exit routes for operations, and mark important buildings like Police and Government buildings that may pose a problem to your mission.

Secret Photography

Learning how to take photos and properly perform surveillance is essential tradecraft for any spy.

How to Disguise Yourself

The easiest part of any disguise is the clothing. A change of clothes (from a worker's outfit to a suit and tie for instance) can dramatically alter a person's appearance. In addition, the dying or cutting of hair, the use of contact lenses in the eyes, the growing of a mustache (time permitting), and the modification to teeth can all be used with dramatic effect.

Growing your hair longer than normal is normally helpful, as you can cut it if you need a snap disguise (see below.) In addition to contact lenses to change the colour of the eye, they can also be used to change the shape.

A mustache or beard can be used to conceal crucial parts of a person's face, and the use of iodine can very quickly stain someone's teeth yellow (for example, if you were acting like a homeless person for a disguise.)

Realize that fake mustaches, beards, and wigs are usually not advised. While people can pass wigs off as being realistic, the vast majority of false beards and moustaches look fake and will arouse suspicion.

You may also use a snap disguise, a one-off disguise that you come up with quickly. Snap disguises don't have to be physical modifications to yourself (such as the addition of a hat or a cane), but can in fact also involve your voice, your gait (the way you walk), or almost any other part of you.

The reason the snap disguise is useful is because you may be following a suspect and realize he suspects you're following him. While the golden rule of surveillance is not to freak out, if you know you're dealing with someone skilled in surveillance detection it can be helpful to change your appearance to blend into a crowd or disappear from his "radar."

Disguise Techniques

When disguising yourself, try to blend in with those around you, and keep their attention off your memorable features.

CCTV in Britain

Spying Software

If you're interested in spying on a computer system, there are a variety of software options that you can utilize. Keyloggers and RAT (Remote Access Trojans) can be used to monitor the keys typed in, or the entire activity of the computer. In addition, there exists software for hooking into specific programs such as Skype for spying on them.

While there's a variety of software that can be found on the Internet for various prices, they all come down to one of those two categories above (RAT or keylogger.) The software also has a variety of price points, from free up until several hundred dollars.

The Intelligence Cycle

From Information to Intelligence

Intelligence Officers and Agencies use a term called the Intelligence Cycle to describe a set of actions used to work through Intelligence.

The Intelligence Cycle is comprised of the following 4 or 5 actions:

1. Determine a need for Intelligence

2. Collect the Intelligence

3. Process the Intelligence (get it all together)

4. Analyze the Intelligence for It's value

5. Disseminate a Completed Report

Occasionally steps 3 and 4 are combined, depending on the Intelligence Agency. Every spy learns to follow these 5 steps to create Intelligence, or "actionable information" -- information you can use to make decisions. It is this information that the spy collects.

Intelligence Cycle

Even if you never explicitly use the Intelligence Cycle, you'll probably run through the steps while analyzing Intelligence anyway.

Spy Training Courses

The Spycraft Manual: The Insider's Guide to Espionage Techniques
The Spycraft Manual: The Insider's Guide to Espionage Techniques

A guide to basic Tradecraft. If you buy only one book (aside from my own Tradecraft for Spies) to teach you tradecraft techniques, it should be this one.

 
Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda
Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda

This book is all about spy gadgets. While it doesn't teach you how to make them, it does give you a broad overview (with many case studies) on how to use various pieces of technology.

 
Moscow Rules (Gabriel Allon)
Moscow Rules (Gabriel Allon)

This is a piece of very good spy-fiction. It's a good James-Bond style thriller. The "Moscow Rules" are a set of rules adopted by the CIA for use in Moscow.

This book also features a good overview of tradecraft.

 
101 Spy Gadgets for the Evil Genius
101 Spy Gadgets for the Evil Genius

This book contains 101 different spy gadgets, from miniature cameras to lasers and microphones and everything in between. It's really quite neat, can teach you quite a bit about electronics, and you'll find a million uses for the gadgets detailed in here.

 
Kill Or Get Killed: Riot Control Techniques, Manhandling, and Close Combat for Police and the Military
Kill Or Get Killed: Riot Control Techniques, Manhandling, and Close Combat for Police and the Military

Written by a Marine Corps instructor (and still used by US Marines today), "Kill or Get Killed" is the premier hand-to-hand combat book. If you need to learn how to kill (quickly, easily, and effectively) without the use of weapons, this is the book for you.

 

How to Interrogate People

When you're captured, you have to know how a police officer is going to interrogate you. Police use four stages, which are detailed below:

Stage I. Calm you Down

Stage II. Establish a Rapport

Stage III. Theme Development

Stage IV. Elicit a Confession

Stage I is asking them basic facts and information to calm them down, because being in a police interrogation room can stress them out (and you're supposed to be controlling the stress.)

Stage II is to watch if they lie (watch their face for any subconscious eye movements, face-touching, etc. while you're asking them questions you know are true, and then questions you think they'll lie on.)

Determining a common ground is important here.

Stage III is taking advantage of the lies and suggesting an alternative "Theme development" is used. They pick something like, "It was an accident, right?" and they push it for a little.

If the accused is receptive, they continue on that track. If not, they switch to a new one until they find one that the accused will agree on.

Stage IV is after you've got that receptiveness, and now you pressure them to get the whole story. They're beginning to crack, and you keep the heat on, until the inevitable confession.

Police Interrogation

Interrogation is all about trickery. Hold your ground, and don't say anything.

Spy vs Spy

What's your opinion of spies in this modern day?

I think they're important and valuable

I think they're important and valuable

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    • Your Adoption Gateway 2 years ago

      Great read and very in depth! I have studied a lot in counterintelligence and all source intelligence. Another good book that I recommend is "Thwarting Enemies at Home and Abroad: How to Become a Counterintelligence Officer."

    • craig 2 years ago

      I am in the buss baron investigave group indiana it's

      A job you can die with

    • craig 2 years ago

      I am in the buss baron investigave group indiana it's

      A job you can die with

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      there awesome ive always wanted to become one and trust me i will i will wait until im old enough than ill take all the tests

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      I love them. I have a surveillant in training living above me. He is very professional. I have been under longstanding surveillance with no basis in any wrongdoing by me. I have to be kept isolated because I am a human experimental subject, used by the military. I think that I was sold by my biological mother and uncle when I was under five years of age and that she gets kickbacks as the experimentation proceeds. (I had a swastika mark etched on my left arm; I did not think that it was an accident because there are six etched lines. My C.S.I.S. file is just a backup to keep me isolated. I need to have my file looked into, so that I can get help from the experimentation and false allegations ; but I am afraid to try to ask relatives and others for help because I have been tortured with electronic weapons for seeking information. I would be very grateful if you can post what a person can do if in this rare situation.

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      hi

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      i want to be a spy, please help me..!!!!

    • TravelingRae 6 years ago

      I feel like EditionH, but I do think they're important.

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      They can be a valuable resource as information is far more powerful than even the greatest standing armies. For a prime example in the 20th century look no further than when google forced China to accept their terms.

    • anonymous 7 years ago

      Getting Intel for the greater good. To assist a country from a threat. To ruin a plot before it starts. To learn the strength and weakness from a Corp to Government

    I think they're dangerous and

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      • sharppencil 4 years ago

        According to the Canadian Gov't the Chinese and the Russians have many spies in our country. Spies don't seem to get the same amount of attention that they did in the Cold War. For every spy there apparently need to be 10 agents to monitor them. Canada does not have the resources to do this and that is why we have too much espionage taking place in this country.

      • Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

        I think spies are part of our world but i don't think they are good part.

      • editionh 7 years ago

        Being a spy must be a terrible existence as you need to lie to other people day in day out. In the end it will destroy your life, I feel sorry for those people.

      I'd Love your Feedback

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          anonymous 7 years ago

          "Depending on the Intelligence Agencies available where you live, you might have an option to apply (such as with the CIA in the US and MI6 in the UK), or you may only get chosen if you meet certain skills deemed useful by the Agency." ... choosing the agents for an Agency is best way find the ones it needs, I believed it was the case for the CIA and the MI6