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mgnme
12-02-2011, 02:18 AM
Ok, so is there any reason that a spy would have a cover job (legend?) that has absolutely nothing to do with spying? I know that some spies have jobs where they work at the embassy of the country they're in, and then get information back to their home country when it's needed. But is there any reason a spy would have a job that has NOTHING to do with intelligence?
It doesn't have to be ultra-realistic and to-the-letter (the tone of the story is pretty fun and light) but I at least want it to be reasonable, believable, and something that could maaaybe happen in real life. (and it would be best if it is something that actually DOES happen in real life!)

(additionally, if there's anyone who can explain stuff about how spies are recruited to these sort of long-term assignments, where they live away from the home country for a long time and have jobs and lives there, I would really appreciate it.)

thanks!

Drachen Jager
12-02-2011, 02:44 AM
There are different levels of spies. Normally these days a trained agency operative will work their way into the confidences of dozens of locals who do the actual spying. The operative cultivates those contacts and relays the information back to their agency. The ones who do the actual spying don't generally have 'cover' jobs, their job is their job.

The operatives are often, as you say, diplomatic staff, but can be set-up as importers, exporters or general businessmen. That helps protect them because they can still claim their country's resources (embassy, lawyers, etc.) if they get in trouble and most countries are concerned about disrupting the business climate, so may be a little more likely to let their suspicions slide. It also gives them an excuse to travel extensively and communicate regularly.

Historically spies have been teachers, entertainers, escorts/prostitutes, pretty much anything that gets them access to the people they want information from. The CIA is especially fond of using female agents who rely on cultivating sexual relationships to gain information.

Dave Hardy
12-02-2011, 02:46 AM
When I was a kid in the '70s, I knew a former CIA agent who worked for a defense contractor in a strategic Middle Eastern county. OK, not exactly a big stretch since the dividing line between the US government and the US defense industry is a thin one, but even in the military-industrial complex there's a military side and an industrial one.

mgnme
12-02-2011, 02:55 AM
Historically spies have been teachers, entertainers, escorts/prostitutes, pretty much anything that gets them access to the people they want information from. The CIA is especially fond of using female agents who rely on cultivating sexual relationships to gain information.

Thanks, this is so helpful!

Any reason they'd have a non-diplomatic job like the ones you listed that isn't to get information, but just as something they do while waiting for their next assignment?

And also - it's obvious to me why being an escort would be a way to get information, but why would something like being a teacher or entertainer help them get information?

PorterStarrByrd
12-02-2011, 02:55 AM
I have personal knowledge of one who worked for a major food production company ... sorry I won't break my promise to him by revealing much more than general info.

He'd leave his home on a 'business trip' with a stateside destination. He left the country on a passport other than his own. Course back then air travel was a lot less identity-centric.

I wonder if this type of thing would even be attempted now.

Bing Z
12-02-2011, 03:10 AM
Anna Chapman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Chapman) had allegedly worked for NetJets and Barclays Bank when she was in England, and run a business in NYC.

Drachen Jager
12-02-2011, 03:14 AM
And also - it's obvious to me why being an escort would be a way to get information, but why would something like being a teacher or entertainer help them get information?

Because there are many men who find the idea of paying a woman for sex distasteful and the idea of sleeping with a woman who is paid for sex even more so. Entertainers are sought-after by men. Teachers have access to men through their children, and that 'motherly' vibe of taking care of children appeals to many men.

Michael Davis
12-02-2011, 05:06 AM
There are many forms of "spies". Depending on how deep you are, whether your in the states or another country, covert vs clandestine in your conops, a cover job may be necessary. In really deep, clandestine, OCONUS situations, yes, a cover job will reduce risk to discovery, a blown ops, or loss of life. Bottomline - it depends on the nature of the mission and how well the intel is protected/exploitable, and the hostility of the adversary.

backslashbaby
12-02-2011, 11:52 AM
Some are assignment contractors, but the only examples I know of are retired (from the military, usually). Or recently ex-military, actually. So you will see old Tony with his lawn mower shop pick up and go to Greenland or Saudi Arabia occasionally. They say that's where they are going, which surprises me :D

The amount of private contractors hired by the military is huge, so they are usually 'doing a contracting job for' some big company or research lab.

Of course, there are real civilian contractors, too. That's why that is all fairly obvious and still no real help to anyone who suspects them of spying. It's like the diplomatic folks spying, I take it.


eta - a young example I know of someone who could be a spy, but also might not be: a cop here in the South who was recently out of the military. He left being a cop and got a civilian contracting job in Afghanistan, teaching Afghani security how to be secure (airports and stuff). His assignment had a fixed end date, a contract. That all could be totally civilian, or it might not be, you know? Surely he knows classified things one way or the other.

Miguelito
12-03-2011, 07:12 PM
Journalist is one, because it means they can cultivate contacts and roam the country just as a real journalist would. Real journalists working in foreign, authoritarian countries hate this of course because they're afraid the not-so-nice government will start to believe they're all spies and become abusive. However, China could use Chinese journalists in the U.S. this way with little risk to the reporter.

L.C. Blackwell
12-04-2011, 04:15 AM
My perspective comes from what was Soviet intelligence in the 1980s. It's not the same game today, so if you're writing a modern novel, don't rely too much on this.


Ok, so is there any reason that a spy would have a cover job (legend?) that has absolutely nothing to do with spying? I know that some spies have jobs where they work at the embassy of the country they're in, and then get information back to their home country when it's needed. But is there any reason a spy would have a job that has NOTHING to do with intelligence?

The KGB used two types: its own officers, and agents recruited by them. Officers would again be divided into two types: legal and illegal. The "legal" officers would have diplomatic cover--attached to an embassy, etc., so that if they were discovered, they could only be expelled from the country, not arrested. They might also work for the UN.

Illegal officers were those without diplomatic cover. Preferred covers had to do with journalism or business, but any job could be used if it provided the necessary access to the people the spy was trying to recruit. Those people might include defense contract workers, scientists, politicians, or promising public figures. In general, an illegal officer would sound out promising contacts and then hand them over to an officer with "legal" cover, as the risks of arrest were considerable.

It doesn't have to be ultra-realistic and to-the-letter (the tone of the story is pretty fun and light) but I at least want it to be reasonable, believable, and something that could maaaybe happen in real life. (and it would be best if it is something that actually DOES happen in real life!)

For a list of covers and backstories used, you can Google the Russian spy ring (including the notorious Ms. Chapman) that was broken up last year. Do note however, that none of the operatives accomplished much from an espionage perspective, and that in some cases, they were quite careless of security.

(additionally, if there's anyone who can explain stuff about how spies are recruited to these sort of long-term assignments, where they live away from the home country for a long time and have jobs and lives there, I would really appreciate it.)

Where agents (people recruited and run by intelligence officers) were concerned, they would usually be operating "at home."

On the other hand, a typical officer of the KGB's First Directorate would be recruited fairly early in his career--for example, as he was finishing up university, he might be asked if he wanted to work for the State. If he said yes, it would be the beginning of a vetting process that included a stringent physical exam. He would then spend several years in the KGB's training school; and there would be a strong emphasis on foreign languages.

After completing KGB training, he might be kept to work at home, or posted to a job with diplomatic cover and allowed to take his wife, (though possibly not all of his children, who might live with relatives and attend school in Russia). Relatively few officers worked abroad as illegals, with or without their families.

thanks!

As for using spies in sexual entrapments....

While the KGB was notorious for using sex as bait, it was usually with the purpose of blackmailing the target, who would be confronted by an outraged "husband" or with compromising photos, and then offered the chance to escape by selling information.

If anybody knows of a credible resource that describes the CIA using sex as a regular recruitment practice, I'd be interested, because nothing I have in my references suggests that this was the case. There are, in fact, good reasons not to do it--one of which is the risk that the recruiter will become emotionally involved with the target to the detriment of the operation. (Edited to add: If we're talking about the CIA during the '60s or early '70s, I'd feel it was more likely. Those were some--uh--interesting days.)

Mac H.
12-04-2011, 09:42 AM
Here's an interesting anecdote from someone working for the CIA (in a technical capacity) many years ago:

One of the rules in the business was that you didn’t tell your spouse, girlfriend, significant other who you worked for or what you worked on – ever. It was always a welcome change of pace to leave the brown of the unchanging desert and travel into town and have dinner with them and have a non-technical conversation about books, theater, politics, travel, etc. But it was a bit incongruous to hear [a colleague's wife] get wound up and rail against our government and the very people we were all working for. Her husband would look at me out the corner of his eyes and then we’d segue the conversation to some other topic.

That evening I was there with three other couples cooking over the barbie in their backyard. ... The conversation happened to hit on politics and culture and my friend’s’ wife innocently offered up she had lived in a commune in California. ..

One of the other wives asked, “Well what would your friends in the commune think of you now that your husband is working for intelligence agencies x and y?”

As soon as the words came out of her mouth, I felt time slow down. The other couples laughed for about half a second expecting my friend’s wife to do so as well. But instead the look on her face went from puzzlement in processing the question, to concentration, as she was thinking and correlating past questions she had about who exactly her husband had been working for. It seemed like forever before she asked with a look of confusion, “What do you mean agencies x and y?”

The laughter in the room stopped way too soon, and the room got deathly quiet. Her face slowly went from a look of puzzlement to betrayal to horror as she realized that that the drunken silence, the dirty looks from other husbands to the wife who made the agency comment, and the wives now staring at their shoes was an answer.

She had married someone who never told her who he was really working for. She was living in a lie with people she hated. In less than a minute her entire worldview had shattered and coming apart in front of us, she started screaming.

This probably took no more than 10 seconds, but watching her face, it felt like hours.

I don’t remember how we all got out of the house or how I got back to the site, but to this day I still remember standing on her lawn staring at strange constellations in the night sky as she was screaming to her husband, “Tell me it isn’t true!”
For the rest of the blog: http://steveblank.com/2009/08/24/the-end-of-innocence/

Mac

backslashbaby
12-04-2011, 12:19 PM
^^^ OMG.

I know someone through a certain capacity where we don't see each other much at all. But when we do, there are very few secrets. There's no reason this person comes up in conversation, so it's never a problem.

Until... I was recognized by an old friend of his, in a random shop one day. He told a couple of childhood stories about the guy, and then suddenly asked what the guy had been up to. I completely froze, like an idiot. I'd never thought of what to say because nobody would ever ask me about this guy.

I said something about doing a lot of travelling! I have no idea what he really tells people he does. Next time I see him, I'll have to ask that! :ROFL:

eta: I better put the disclaimer that there are a ton of secrets, really! But I know where he's going, usually (not always, for sure). And I'm allowed to take his picture :) That's about it; I swear.

L.C. Blackwell
12-04-2011, 08:09 PM
As a corollary to the above--I'm not sure about the domestic branches, but the KGB's foreign intelligence directorate had (by the 70's or 80's, not sure which) a one-year training course for wives, particularly any who were going abroad with their husbands. The wives had to be vetted too, and any problems with their background, etc., could result in the assignment being cancelled for both partners, usually for "health reasons."

By using husband-and-wife teams, the Center was able to reduce--though not eliminate--the risks of foreign entrapments and affairs.