Spy

Part 5 of 7 in the series Manchurian Candidates

The perfect deep-cover agent…is the one who doesn’t know he or she is an agent. — Telefon (1975)

“Spy is a British television programme originally made by Wall to Wall for BBC Three in 2004,” write’s the Wikipedia encyclopedia:

It has been one of the most-exported United Kingdom television shows of the present decade; according to the Producers’ Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT), it had been sold to 129 countries by April 2005.

The series follows a group of real-life volunteers as they are trained by former spies in espionage techniques, including maintaining a false identity, surveillance, persuasion and recruitment. The programme’s psychological challenges, dramatic tension, high production values, and personable cast led to its being called ‘the most addictive thing on TV at the moment’ by The Daily Telegraph.

The series further develops a format that first appeared in the Wall to Wall television productions Spymaster (2002; UK) and Spymaster USA (2003; USA).

SPY: A Handbook, a companion book written by Harry Ferguson, a trainer featured on the show, was published in 2004 by Bloomsbury in the UK (ISBN 0-7475-7523-1).1

“Frumentarius is a former Navy SEAL and a former Clandestine Service officer with the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counter-Terrorism Center,” according to his profile on the SOFREP.com website for news and analysis from military and special operations veterans. Frumentarius writes:

Working in the intelligence field, and specifically, for the CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS), is a kick-ass job, and a great way to serve your country. You will find little else as intellectually stimulating, challenging, and thrilling—on a regular and sustained basis—as a career in the NCS. You can make a direct and critical contribution to your nation’s security while simultaneously making money doing a job you would probably do for free if they let you.i With that in mind, I offer below a list of five qualifications that will help you secure a job working for the NCS, if you are so inclined.… If you think you might have what it takes to spot, assess, develop, recruit, and operationally run a human spy, or penetration of a foreign entity (terror groups, foreign governments, and criminal enterprises, for example), then the NCS is for you. Before you can secure yourself a job there, though, you might want to make sure that you have some or all of the qualifications listed below:

Spy vs Spy
  1. Military experience. Just as in the private sector, the CIA/NCS places great value on military experience.…
  2. Language skills. Speaking a foreign language is not a requirement to get hired by the NCS, but it sure helps.…
  3. Experience abroad. It only makes sense that an organization that puts 90% of its focus on events and developments abroad would prefer its potential employees to have experience living overseas.…
  4. Higher education. I am absolutely not one of those people who thinks that a college education somehow makes one more qualified for life than does vocational training, or just good old-fashioned real-world life experience.… In certain circumstances, you might be able to sidestep this degree requirement—for example, if you are a master computer programmer or a 20-year special operations veteran moving over to do paramilitary work—but, for the most part, this one is non-negotiable.…
  5. Life experience. This should go hand-in-hand with #4 above, in that one should be required to have both of these qualifications for employment in the NCS. However, the agency does hire a number of graduates right out of college each year. These young people have little to no major life experience, but plenty of them do just fine in the NCS.…

So, that’s it. Sounds easy, right? All you have to do to work for the United States’ premier human intelligence collection agency is have the desire, and a good mix of the qualifications listed above, and you are well on your way there. That assumes, of course, that you actually apply, and that they are hiring when you do so. After all, nothing is guaranteed in life, but for those who never risk anything, nothing valuable will ever be won. Good luck.2

James Powell of SOFREP writing for Business Insider adds “some of the internal qualities that the Agency looks for in a candidate, and that a successful intelligence officer must possess and maintain throughout their career and even into retirement”:

  • Integrity
    Probably the most important of all of the attributes, this is also the most difficult to maintain, as attested to by the fact that, despite the Agency’s strenuous vetting and hiring process, it has endured such traitors as Philip Agee…and Aldrich Ames.… In essence, integrity comes down to the unofficial definition of “doing the right thing even when no one is looking.”
  • Honor/courage
    Honor and courage don’t always happen on a battlefield. Sometimes they are shown when an operation goes wrong, or when an asset has to be extracted through an extremely non-permissive environment. Sometimes it shines brightest from the cell of a dark and wet prison in a far-off place where no one even knows you are being held, and…you stick to your cover story.
  • Flexibility
    If you have been in the military, run a business, or been a parent, then you know all about flexibility.… Things can change in a heartbeat, and most certainly in the intelligence community.
  • Confidence
    Having done my homework,…I walked out of the exercise with a pass and a new lesson for working in this business: Walk in with confidence, and you’ll walk out with your freedom.
  • Humility
    Seems weird to list this given the above-listed trait, but humility does not mean timidity or lack of self-confidence. It simply means that you realize that you are human, that you are not (despite what your parents, your high school yearbook, or what you wore on your uniform tells you) invincible, and that you will make mistakes. In the intelligence business (and the military, hell, in life) it is called self-assessment.
  • Amiable (friendly)
    As those of us who have spent any time in the military or the intelligence community know, being friendly, especially to those who deserve anything but, is never easy.… “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” holds true, from the boardroom to intelligence operations.
  • Subjective
    In this case, the definition of the word is: “(of a person or their judgment) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.” We all have our opinions, formed by a variety of sources including our upbringing, talking to friends, books, TV and the Internet. But here’s the thing: In the intelligence world, we deal in facts. Period.… There is no place for generalizations, stereotypes, racism, or prejudice when it comes to intelligence gathering.
  • Objective
    Quite simply, the opposite of the above. As I said, there is nothing wrong with having and voicing your opinion (in most cases). Just know when and where to use that tool.
  • Sense of humor
    Last, but certainly not least, is maintaining a sense of humor. If you can’t laugh at a situation or even at yourself, you may not be cut out for this gig. I thrive on self-deprecation in a humorous way, because it keeps things light, reminds me that I am human, and keeps me focused.…

Self-assessment is the key.3

Natalie Robbins discusses the transformation of the FBI from merely law enforcement to gathering intelligence in her book Alien Ink: The FBI’s War on Freedom of Expression:

Congress had created the Department of Justice in 1870, and in 1908 it set up the FBI (or Bureau of Investigation, as it was called until 1935), strictly as a law enforcement operation to aid the Department of Justice in uncovering crimes committed against this country.

The FBI was eventually charged with investigating kidnappings, bank robberies, frauds against the government, acts of sabotage and espionage, and civil rights and security violations. Nowhere are there any statues that mention intelligence authority. According to The Lawless State by Morton H. Halperin, et al., “FBI intelligence has its roots in war and its authority to engage in intelligence activities derives not from statutes, but from executive orders and instructions issued during war time emergency.” 4

“The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) mostly operates outside the United States to gather intelligence via a network of spies whereas the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) predominantly operates within the U.S. to both gather intelligence as well as tackle federal crimes,” writes the diffen.com website.5 The site notes the FBI’s 2010 budget was $7.9 billion whereas the CIA’s budget is classified.

“CIA headquarters is a typical government structure in many ways,” describes author T.J. Waters:

It is concrete and steel, with wide pedestrian channels and well-lit parking areas. At the same time, it has a certain shadowy mystique.… The Original Headquarters Building was constructed in the mid-1950s. A cafeteria jutting out of the backside became a conduit for the add-on, the New Headquarters Building, or NHB, which was added in 1991. The NHB reflects everything that the United State has learned about designing a facility to thwart electronic intrusion. It is essentially a building under glass. The entire seven-story structure is housed under a permanent layer of thick glass plates.…

The glass defeats laser microphones, which can pick up the minute vibrations of window glass that come from conversations going on near them. It also defeats overhead peeking by satellites or low-flying aircraft equipped with other listening devices.6

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i After the cold war, the agency began contracting out thousands of jobs to fill the perceived void created by the budget cuts that began in 1992. A CIA officer could file his retirement papers, turn in the blue identification badge, go to work for a much better salary at a military contractor such as Lockheed Martin or Booz Allen Hamilton, then return to the CIA the next day, wearing a green badge. After September 2001, the outsourcing went out of control. Green-badge bosses started openly recruiting in the CIA’s cafeteria.
– Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (New York: Anchor Books, 2008), p. 592.


1 Spy (2004 TV series), Wikipedia.org, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spy_(2004_TV_series) (retrieved: 9 February 2013).

2 Frumentarius, “Top 5 Qualifications for CIA’s Clandestine Service,” SOFREP.com, 16 November 2014, at http://sofrep.com/37973/top-5-qualifications-cias-clandestine-service/ (retrieved: 18 August 2015).

3 James Powell (SOFREP), “8 attributes you need to be an effective spy,” Business Insider, 18 August 2015, at http://www.businessinsider.com/8-attributes-of-an-effective-intel-officer-2015-8 (retrieved: 18 August 2015).

4 Natalie Robins, Alien Ink: The FBI’s War on Freedom of Expression (New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1993, 1992), p. 16.

5 CIA vs FBI, Diffen, at http://www.diffen.com/difference/CIA_vs_FBI (retrieved: 27 December 2013).

6 T.J. Waters, Class 11: Inside the CIA’s First Post-9/11 Spy Class (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2000), pp. 132-133.

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