If you have been reading this column long enough you have a sense of where we’ve been and what we’ve done.
Along the way we devised a master set of rules we call Spymaster Rules.
#1: Don’t stiff your spymaster, he probably knows too much.
A spymaster knows the deepest secrets of the leader of the country for whom he work, as well as knowing the secrets he and his operatives have uncovered at the request of their boss; secrets that might be embarrassing if ever revealed.
#2: Nothing is more cutthroat than a royal court.
Through the ages, worldwide, courtiers and relatives of a sovereign king or prince have regularly murdered one another for closer access to him/her—or to replace him/her as sovereign.
The Principality of Monaco is one of the last absolute monarchies in the world and today it provides a strong example of Machiavellian backstabbing within a royal court.
Royal relatives, courtiers, government ministers, subjects and residents of the principality play an endless game of “who can attain the brownest nose” by ingratiating themselves with the prince through flattery, compliments and gifts.
Everyone wants the ear of the sovereign whether for social prestige or financial gain or both. They want to be his best friend and/or chief adviser; their seating positions at social events involving the sovereign attest to others their importance or lack thereof.
Murder and mayhem have given way in modern times to vendetta and character assassination.
Courtiers content with the criminal status quo conspire to quash those retained to clean up corruption. Such was the case in Monaco of Prince Albert first chief of staff following the prince’s enthronement.
With the assistance of the prince’s spymaster, the prince’s new chief of staff attempted to implement, at the prince’s direction, a new code of ethics for his principality.
Corrupt courtiers and government ministers were mortified by the advent of such change and, fearing the worst for their livelihoods, conspired to oust the chief-of-staff from his palace perch.
The metaphorical knives were plunged, the chief-of-staff cast out and a new ethical code became only a cover for more corruption than ever before.
#3: There is history, her-story, your story and my-story—truth exists only in the moment. Keep a journal and document the moment.
History is his story. Her story counts, too. You’ve got yours, I’ve got mine. Rarely does anyone agree on exactly what is said and done; everyone has their own version of events.
Courts seek to get at the truth by dissecting contracts, hearing testimony under oath and studying documents from all parties and witnesses in an attempt to establish what really happened.
Memories fade with time. But if you keep a regular journal and jot down interaction with others as it occurs, this record becomes both a memory-jogger and a document from which others may attempt to discern truth between quarrelling parties with opposing viewpoints.
#4: Embrace all, trust none.
Sidney Reilly is reputed to be the greatest spy of all time and is celebrated as the Ace of Spies. It was Reilly who coined this motto: Trust no one. (Reilly eventually got himself killed, by the Bolsheviks in Russia, for trusting someone running something called The Trust.)
The only real secret is one that you know and tell no one else.
The FBI’s National Security Division operates by this dictum: “Tell one, seven find out.”
#5 Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.
People like to talk. Listen to them.
You rarely learn anything from talking (unless
you’re talking to a therapist). There is much to learn from listening to others.
Often, there is no reason to talk at all. Let the person you are with talk and talk and talk. Not only will you learn much about them but they will also adore you for listening. (People love to talk about themselves.)
There is almost no reason to ever say anything aside from, “That’s fascinating, tell me more.”
This is how you learn secrets. People eventually get round to telling you what you want to know. Don’t push; they will get there on their own.
And if you feel tempted to tell them about yourself?
But suddenly there is silence?
Keep your mouth shut. The person talking to you will fill it if only out of nervousness because human beings are generally frightened of silence in conversation and it prompts them to talk some more.
#6: Do not share the secrets of one liaison partner with another.
This is known in the intelligence business as Third-Party Rule.
These days, good intelligence is about international cooperation i.e., liaison relationships between special services.
The Monaco Intelligence Service (MIS) was created on a shoestring of a budget but with much wit and resourcefulness. As a small service, it needed valuable intelligence from those willing to provide it.
So we created liaison relationships with the CIA, the British MI6 and many other foreign special services strategic to the MIS mission.
The ironclad Third-Party Rule is this: You do not, under any circumstances, share what a foreign intelligence service tells you with a third party i.e., another intelligence service (or anyone else).
Liaison relationships were extremely important to MIS. Monaco’s population comprises of 125 nationalities. Through foreign intelligence services, MIS was able to run traces on suspect foreign residents and prospective residents and investors.
Foreign intelligence services provided such intelligence to MIS at no cost. It was a brilliant deal for Monaco. Upon request, 20 intelligence services stood ready to send a representative to Monaco at a few days’ notice to brief the prince and his spymaster on any subject of their choosing.
#7: Never trust anyone with a secret that has entertainment value
We got this one from Miles Copeland, a founding officer of the CIA and author of several books on intelligence.
Miles got it from Nicholas Elliot, a senior officer with MI6 renowned within the business for two things: 1) Unmasking Kim Philby as a traitor and 2) Writing a book about his career—Never Judge a Man by His Umbrella—without once mentioning that he was an intelligence officer.
Nick Elliot was apparently great at one-liners, once telling Mr. Copeland that Israel’s Golda Meir was really Lyndon Baines Johnson in drag.
Boring secrets are easy to keep to yourself. The real challenge is holding onto secrets so entertaining, so funny, it would make you the star of any social occasion.
#8: Sometimes a bark is more effective than a bite. But keep your teeth sharp.
The saying goes, “His bark is worse than his bite.”
Most people perceive barking as a bluff. It sends them a warning signal, which defeats the essential element of surprise. If an enemy can be frightened into submission, go for it. But be scary. Be mental. People are frightened of mental.
Carry a weapon just in case. G. Gordon Liddy recommended that women always carry a hatpin or a sharpened lead pencil.
I recommend pepper spray and/or a stun gun, preferably one with over a million volts.
# 9: The enemy will give away 98 percent good intelligence to induce you to swallow two percent disinformation
We once believed the equation was 90-10.
MI6 set us straight. “It is amazing what the Russians will give away just to get you to believe something they want you to believe.”
Hence, no matter how much truth emanates from a source, especially a defector, you cannot take for granted that all is true because of a source’s track record for veracity.
Everything must be validated.
#10: Steer clear of anyone with a James Bond complex. (The spy biz attracts sociopaths.)
When people think of espionage they naturally think of James Bond, the super-suave creation of Ian Fleming.
So naturally, the intelligence business attracts would-be James Bonds. However, the intelligence business does not welcome such persons.
Intelligence work is patiently determined by committee and carefully executed by teamwork. Intelligence services endeavor to recruit team players, not mavericks.
Occasionally someone with a James Bond-complex slips through. This is the individual who disappears for three days, believes he has license to do as he pleases and returns gleefully trumpeting whatever success he single-handedly imagined.
But even if his success is genuine it is over-shadowed by his complex—and he will be shown the exit ramp.
# 11: Beware duplicate sources—endeavor to uncover your source’s sources.
You learn something. You yearn for it to be true, perhaps because it fits your hypothesis. And then, from another second source, you hear the same thing.
So you think it must be true.
Then it arrives from a third source—making it even truer?
From where are your sources getting their information? Is it possible, though your sources do not know one another, they are getting their information from the same source?
Before you believe anything you must identify your source’s sources and endeavor to discover if they are one in the same.
#12: Play the skeptic with sources to determine their motivation. (It is almost always money or revenge—ideology and conviction are like rubber bands.)
This I learned directly from Maurice Buckmaster who, during World War II, was leader of the French section of Britain’s Special Operations Executive.
You’ve got an authoritative source in front of you and you believe everything he says because it fits with what you already believe to be true.
Don’t show it. Instead, pooh-pooh it. Push for the source to fully explain how he got the information and why he believes it to be true. Make him convince you.
People like to be believed. If the source is holding something back, he will come out with it.
There are only two motivations for betraying secrets: Money and revenge.
As Johnny Staccato, a fictional creation of jazz critic Mike Zwerin, used to say, “Reality is money.”
Everyone needs it. If the price is high enough and the risk diminished, people will sell.
Revenge is another story. If a person is mistreated, it is natural for him to want to strike back.
We recruited a former Palace insider who refused to be paid; he wanted only to settle a score with another the Palace insider who caused his expulsion.
People think they have conviction. But they allow it to be stretched when they need money or revenge.
#13: Stay in motion.
If you stay in place you are a sitting target.
Learn from Cuba’s Fidel Castro: Never more than three nights in the same place—his key to survival in the country he ruined.
Very few people knew that Prince Albert of Monaco employed a spymaster. But those who were aware might have told others, who might have had reason to squirm based on their misbehavior.
To be “invisible,” I traveled constantly, motioning in and out of Monaco, to London, Paris, Brussels, Luxembourg, San Marino, Washington DC and elsewhere.
I did not tell assets when I would arrive in Monaco. Upon arrival they would be summoned.
By the time word got around that I was in town—figure three days—I’d be gone, no one knew where.
#14: Saturate & dilute.
You cannot in this age erase your footprints. So instead, create many false sets leading in all directions.
Your whereabouts are easy to discover in computerized records and savvy investigators can penetrate much deeper.
Furthermore, you have no control over what exists about yourself on Google and other search engines. Cyberspace has become the domain of anonymous cowards. That said, only fools believe what is posted anonymously and there is nothing to fear from fools.
But you can confuse whoever is trying to track you down by using subterfuge.
Create a bunch of addresses for yourself in multiple cities. Do so by phoning multiple mail-order companies and requesting catalogs, requesting they be sent to a dozen locations (UPS stores) around the country. Of course, once the catalog arrives it will be discarded. But your address shall live on in the mail order company’s mailing list, which will be sold repeatedly to other merchants.
The investigator’s job is made more difficult when faced with multiple addresses and it increases the cost of his service to the client, who may be unwilling to spend beyond a certain budget.
As for the internet: Don’t bother trying to get the garbage about you deleted. Instead, dilute search engines with positive data. No one has the patience anymore to look beyond the first page of hits.
#15: Arrive early for a rendezvous, scout the setting, remain in control of your environment—and have an exit ramp.
When you arrive for a meeting with a source anything can go wrong. A two-timing source could set you up. Or you could be set up by a rival intelligence service.
In other words, it is dangerous.
The solution is situation awareness.
Do not accede to a source’s choice of location; choose your own for a rendezvous, ideally somewhere in public, chosen for its appropriateness based on security and contingency options.
Arrive 30 minutes before a scheduled meeting. Observe the meeting place from an obscured position, watch for anything unnatural or suspicious. When your source has arrived approach with caution. Know in advance, if you must flee, how best to do so. Any back exits? Do buses pass by? Where is the nearest subway station? Any department stores or hotels with elevators and staircases you can slip into and lose yourself?
#16 The best intelligence is not packaged in a glossy report but derives from a single sheet of crucial information in someone’s back pocket.
The biggest and best secrets do not need detailed explanation or embellishment.
You’ve seen them before: Slick, glossy reports padded with fluff and statistics. And all that really mattered was its first and last few paragraphs.
Anything that is truly important and sensitive does not belong in a report, whose circulation you probably cannot control.
The best way to impart a secret is by telling it, directly to the client who needs to know. And if you need help remembering: A single sheet of notes in your back pocket.
Such notes should be in your own handwriting, which, of course, is so bad nobody can decipher it. And when your briefing is done the notepaper goes back into your pocket to be torn into 33 pieces and dumped into a public garbage bin (not your own) after ensuring you haven’t been tailed.
#17 Never follow your first reaction—it is what the opposition expects.
This gem came from the director of an intelligence service of a micro-European country.
Chances are that rival spymasters are almost as smart as you. They certainly didn’t get their jobs by being stupid.
When your adversary does something and you are expected to react, think long and hard about why they did what they did it and what they anticipate you are going to do about it.
They are probably chess-players looking three moves ahead. Do not fall into their trap by making the move they expect of you.
#18 If it is not today’s problem, sleep on it, assess tomorrow with fresh eyes. And then act because problems do not improve with age.
This is a rule about life in general that extends to intelligence.
Ever go to bed worried about a problem and find that the solution hits you after a good night’s sleep?
Your brain needs downtime both to recharge and mull over difficult situations. So give yourself time—and sleep before attempting to solve a problem. But once the solution strikes, waste no time. Be decisive. You may not always make the right decision but indecision leads only to trouble.
#19: True character is revealed under pressure. Welcome pressure: It is a true test of your own character.
It is easy to display character when all is going well. True character is revealed when the sky is falling.
Do you flip out, lose your head, blame others?
Read If by Rudyard Kipling: If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
Welcome pressure as an opportunity to demonstrate your strength, conviction and dignity in the face of whatever is thrown at you.
#20: Welcome crisis. You will identify your true friends. (When crisis calls, a martini and a cigar.)
During any period of crisis or uncertainty, take careful note about who deserted you and who remained loyal—and more especially, those who pretended to remain loyal.
Then go to a good bar, order a dry martini and light
up a Cuban Monte Cristo No. 5.
#21: Do not be disappointed; learn.
This is another rule for life in general. You cannot control others so don’t even try. Motivate and hope for the best.
The secret to happiness is low expectations. When something goes wrong, view it as part of your ongoing education.
Prince Albert of Monaco pledged to fight rampant corruption and money laundering in his principality. He hired a spymaster and later a chief of staff to assist him in this endeavor. But when faced with resistance from corrupt influences around him, the prince caved and reneged on promises he made to his spymaster, chief of staff subjects, foreign intelligence services and the world—and became complicit in their corruption.
#22: Never take it personally—it’s business.
Sometimes, when vipers surround you it is hard not to take their venom to heart.
But it is just business, nothing personal. Same as when you bite back.
#23 Do not underestimate the opposition or become complacent.
Your targets may be better informed than you think; they may even have a spy in your camp. You do not know what they know. And it may be that their jobs, their reputations and even their freedom is at stake due to your investigations.
People get desperate when they feel threatened. And desperate people become dangerous.
#24: You need formidable enemies to keep you sharp.
This comes from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who said you should choose your enemies with care; that an enemy is valuable to have in your life and that you rarely get on successfully without a few good enemies to spur you on.
Also, this gem from Nietzsche: The best weapon against an enemy is to discover that enemy’s biggest enemy—and get them both whacking away at one another.
#25: Don’t complain; unfairness is the history of mankind from the beginning. Just pick up the torch and do the right thing.
Do not grow into a victim mentality. We are all victims of something eventually. The key is to rise above whatever curveballs life throws at us.
An old saying: If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.
When the prince got swayed by his criminally minded establishment, I packed up the intelligence service I’d created for him and left town.
And when the prince did not respond to my final invoice, our intelligence files were transformed into an interactive hub of dissent so that, ultimately, truth would prevail.
#26: Unlike the insecure personnel of most intelligence services, do not fear media, courts and elected representatives; embrace them.
Intelligence services are generally fearful of media enquiries, government oversight and/or being hauled into court by judges who can override confidentiality.
Many intelligence officers are risk-averse for fear of being exposed in the media for involvement in controversial operations; for them, it would be a career killer. They also fear prosecution for having violated some obscure statute of which their superiors were either unaware or ignored.
Intelligence bigwigs strive to avoid being grilled by Congressmen looking to enhance their political careers
I never subscribed to such fears, believing it more strategic to solicit the assistance, witting or unwitting, of the fourth estate to meet objectives.
After establishing a relationship between Prince Albert and the CIA I sought out and secured U.S. government oversight by establishing a relationship with a U.S. Senator serving on the Select Intelligence Committee.
As for courts: When you are confident of the facts and everything you report and write can be proven through documents and witness testimony under oath, the courts are your friend not foe.
#27: Better in a safe than sorry; the shredder the better.
Every spymaster needs a safe—a large one. We kept a large heavy-duty safe in our operational headquarters bolted to a closet floor.
We also possessed an industrial-strength shredder (gifted to us by a friendly intelligence service) that slashed documents into confetti.
#28: Assume everything said over the phone is overheard; assume all texts, faxes and e-mail are intercepted.
Most countries possess the technological capability to transform your smart phone into their own open microphone. They can listen not only to phone conversations but also your conversations with people around you, wherever you are. Switching off your phone off does not help.
The only way to ensure you are not overheard is a walk in the park (without your phone), speaking in a whisper and occasionally shielding your mouth with your hand (in case lip-readers have been assigned to you).
I was provided a STE (cryptographic telephone) by a “friendly” intelligence service to be used for secure communication between the two services. But I soon discovered that the STE itself was a full-time open microphone. Thus, the STE was relegated to a small table adjacent to the toilet.
Overheard conversations thereafter were, shall we say, rather flatulent.
#29: If you are concerned about taking risk, consult an actuary: Odds are you’ll survive. Not foreve, but for now you’re good. So be bold (assuming gain outweighs risk).
Do you know why insurance companies exist?
To make money. They make tons of it.
An insurance company will play on your fears and take your risk every time.
Because they employ actuaries—whose job it is to figure the odds.
Odds are your house won’t burn down and your plane won’t crash.
Odds are, you’ll live into your eighties.
So if you appreciate that the odds are generally in your favor go for it! (But not recklessly.)
Always assess risk. If risk outweighs potential gain, drop it, move on.
The reason CIA spymaster Clair George became legendary among his colleagues was partly because he went to Athens as station chief when no one else at the agency wanted the job. Richard Welch (station chief) had just been assassinated by a Greek terrorist organization and they needed a new chief to fill the position.
Only Clair was willing.
The agency tried to sweeten the deal. For a start they’d buy a new residence for the new station chief. Nothing doing, said Clair, I’ll live where Mr. Welch lived. Okay we’ll put up ten-foot-high gates. Clair said, nope. He refused to hide himself. Instead, he enjoyed nightly cocktails on the residence’s front porch, in full public view.
Clair understood odds as well as any actuary.
#30: Keep them laughing half the time, scared of you the other half. And always keep them guessing.
This was Clair George’s creed for survival and success in the arenas of espionage and cumbersome government bureaucracies.
Clair had a great sense of humor. But when he was not amused he knew how to be scary.
And he was the master at keeping everyone guessing.
#31: Risus Supra Omni (laughter above all); look for a high L.Q. (laugh quotient) in all you do
You need a good sense of humor for most things in life and most especially the spy business.
When I first started working with CIA spymaster Clair George,we had this ironclad rule about accepting assignments from billionaires and royalty: If it ain’t funny, we don’t do it.
#32: There are no rules.
A few days before his 75th birthday, I took Clair George to lunch in Georgetown. Over bacon-cheeseburgers, I excitedly told him about a new intelligence principle I’d learned with reference to liaison partnerships called “The Third-Party Rule.”
Clair took off his glasses, rubbed his sore eyes and looked at me with amusement. “In this business,” he said, “there are no rules.”
#33: Groghe dani kez
This is an ancient Armenian joke and curse that means, May the scribe take you away.
In other words, a good writer always has the last word.
Or as Winston Churchill put it, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”