Spying, as a profession, is probably one of the few jobs in the world that many people still know very little about. We love to imagine a glamorous and exciting lifestyle. Our most famous spy icon, James Bond, never has a dull moment in his whole life. He’s usually abroad in some exotic location, cleverly foiling the evil plans of outrageous villains with little more than a fast car and a quick wit. Similarly, forgetful old Jason Bourne only needs a pen to get out of a sticky situation. I think it’s safe to say we all take those books and movies with a pinch of salt but that still leaves us with a great mystery and a thirst for excitement- what is it really like to be a spy?
Firstly not all spies are out in the field and certainly not all the time. There are some brilliant spying minds that work in offices like yours and mine, fulfilling seemingly mundane tasks to uncover the smallest piece of intelligence. Facilities like Bletchley Park saw mathematicians and computer scientists turn spies by developing a computer that could figure out the coded messages of German and Japanese sides during WW2.
However according to journalist Peter Taylor, who interviewed several British agents, there is plenty of movie-esque action involved, just not with the same dashing protagonists. A real life spy has to be totally unassuming by necessity. The ability to blend in with the regular Joes on the street is the key to overhearing information and gaining confidences.
Just like the rest of us?
Spying is the task of collecting, analysing and reporting useful information- rather similar to wide range of other jobs right? Indeed one key way that this information is gathered is the same as the techniques of police, the military and even business intelligence personnel, through HUMINT, aka Human Intelligence. HUMINT refers to information gathered from human sources, something journalists and countless other ‘investigative’ professions rely on. This info may be gathered by simple interview, by gaining the confidence of a source (undercover or transparently) or in an interrogation situation.
So if the spies are using the same methods and look just like the rest of us what else do they possess that sets them apart? Secret agents also need to excel in the following areas:
Enormous capacity for problem solving
An excellent memory
The ability to adopt and maintain a seamless cover story
The guts to take necessary risks
Many spies find the story Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy a far more accurate representation of their roles. There’s a significant amount of office meetings, planning and clearance procedures alongside the thrill of field work.
Why not test your skills on the Secret Intelligence Service website and see if you’ve got what it takes?
Sergio Bonaducci is a blogger writing on behalf of Focus Training, the leading providers of inexpensive investigation and fraud training courses and solutions. Visit their website today if you’d like to learn more about their HUMINT courses.