What do spies do in real life?


Both in a modern and historical sense

In: Other

They get info. They steal documents, track troop movements, gather info on supply shipments, anything you can think of.

Annie Jacobson was on Joe Rogan’s [podcast](https://youtu.be/5VoVIpIzj_c). She wrote a book on the subject. She gives some good info in the video.

Gather intelligence in different forms, communicate that information back to others, and sometimes try to stop the “enemy” from getting certain info, and sometimes spread false info. If you ever get the chance to visit DC, there is a spy museum you might enjoy.

Wouldn’t you like to know?

Spy has many meanings. Most common spies are people who happen to have intelligence, then they offer that information to someone who might be interested. Sometimes for money.

OP, you should check out some fiction by Le Carrè. He was a spy for a bit and his books seem realistic compared to other spy works out there.

The movies are a bit slow because it’s mainly men and women talking about plans and whatever. But the books are great and informative.

* A *Spy* is the person that gets recruited to actually obtain and then pass along classified information. Basically, a *Spy* is the person betraying their country ok?
* An *Officer* (pretend it’s you) is the person from the CIA who works and lives in the *Spy*’s country, spots the *Spy* as being a likely recruit, befriends or gains the trust of the prospective *Spy* and eventually convinces them to…you guessed it… SPY for the *Officer* by obtaining information that the *Officer* needs or the *Spy* has access to

For a really cool real-life spie story, check out this guy: [Juan Pujol Garcia](https://bigthink.com/matt-davis/juan-pujol-garcia-the-wwii-double-agent-who-invented-a-fake-army) a WWII double agent, rejected by the allies, he tricked the nazi’s into paying his spy education, ultimately saving a TON of allied lives, and becoming one of the most influential, yet lesser-known, actors in WWII.

Edit: (copied from linked article) He basically convinced the nazi’s that he had travelled to London, to infiltrate the Allies, while actually going to Lisbon, he told them he had ‘created a network of spies’, to report on activity in London. He wrote tons of reports based on news articles an TV, inventing stories of London life, as reported by his non-existent spie network. He went as far as creating fake armadas in Malta. Garcia’s reports consisted of a mixture of misinformation; true but useless information; and true, high-value information that always arrived too late. For instance, he provided accurate information on Allied forces landing in North Africa in a letter postmarked before the landings but delivered afterwards. The Nazis apologized to Garcia for failing to act on his wonderful intelligence in time. To account for why he failed to provide key information he would ostensibly have access to, Garcia needed to fabricate a variety of different excuses. When he failed to report on a major movement of the British fleet, Garcia informed his Nazi counterparts that his relevant sub-agent had fallen ill and later died. Bolstered by a fictional obituary in British papers, the Nazis were obliged to provide the fictional man’s fictional widow a very factual pension. To support Garcia’s spy network, the Nazis were paying him $340,000 US (close to $6 million today). Garcia’s greatest moment came to during Operation Overlord, which began during the invasion at Normandy on D Day. Having built up trust with the Nazis over the course of the war, Operation Overlord represented the opportunity to exploit that trust.

Through a flurry of reports, Garcia convinced German High Command that an invasion would take place at the Strait of Dover (which Hitler believed to be the case anyhow). In order to maintain his credibility, Garcia told the Nazis to wait for a high-priority message at 3 AM: this was designed to provide the Germans with information on the actual target, Normandy, but just a little too late to prevent the invasion.

In a stroke of luck, the Nazis missed the 3 AM appointment and didn’t respond until later that morning. Garcia chastised his handlers for missing the critical first message, saying “I cannot accept excuses or negligence. Were it not for my ideals, I would abandon the work.”

With this extra layer of credibility, Garcia invented a fictional army—the First U.S. Army Group—led by General Patton himself and consisting of 150,000 men. With a combination of fake radio chatter and—no joke—inflatable tanks, German High Command was convinced of the presence of an army stationed in south Britain. Garcia convinced the Nazis that this was the true invasion and that Normandy was a diversion. Two Nazi armored divisions and 19 infantry divisions were withheld at the Strait of Dover in anticipation of another attack, allowing the invading force from Normandy to establish a stronger position in France. Without these extra troops, the Axis failed to beat back the Allied invasion.

By inventing a fake army and controlling the flow of information to the Nazis, Garcia ranks among one of the most influential figures of the war. His identity as a double agent was never revealed until decades after, which might explain why so little is heard of him. To be safe, he faked his death from malaria in 1949 and moved to Venezuela to run a bookshop.

First, off let’s get rid of the word ‘spy.’ This has a multitude of meanings that confuses things. Usually people talk in terms of ‘agents’ and ‘officers.’ The agent is someone who lives in a country and has information. The agent makes contact with the officer (aka case officer, handler, etc) and gives that information to them.

Examples are helpful:

1. Robert Hanssen was an FBI agent and also an agent for the Russians. He volunteered to give FBI information to a Russian case officer.
2. Aldrich Ames worked for the CIA, and was also an agent for the Russians. He gave CIA information to a Russian case officer.
3. Shakil Afridi was a Pakistani doctor. He gathered information about Bin Laden and gave that information to a CIA officer.

You might notice a pattern here. In each case, the person actually collecting the information is a native resident of their country and an employee of the target organization. They almost never try to infiltrate the target organization with one of their own people. It is waaaaay easier to find someone who is already in position and wants to provide information. Most of what we call ‘spying’ is just this pattern of locating someone who wants to provide information and then getting that information from them.

There are three flavors of spies: OC, NOC, and assets. “OC” is “official cover.” This is primarily diplomats, people working at the embassy, or maybe military officers in the area. They are there as employees of the government and both governments know they are there. “NOC” is “no official cover.” This could be an American with a business in China or an American professor at a Chinese university. They are an American citizen spying for their home country but they are not government officials. They do not have diplomatic immunity if they are caught (this is where “if you or your team are caught, the Secretary [of Defense] will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” comes from.) You are on your own but also you can fly a bit under the radar in comparison to somebody with official cover who is automatically suspected of being a spy. Valerie Plame was NOC, working for the CIA while posing as an employee of an international energy company.

Then there are assets. These are actually the bulk of the people who do the work we would consider “spying.” They are citizens of the country we are spying on. They have jobs in the military, in a defense contractor developing weapons, are the mistress of a political figure, etc. They have access to secret information and another country wants it. They rarely begin as spies. They usually are people that the spying country gets dirt on and exploits or people who become disillusioned with their country and give secrets away for ideological reasons. Aldridge Ames didn’t start spying for the Russians until he got a bunch of debt from a messy divorce. Julius Rosenberg sold state secrets to the USSR because he had an ideological affinity for communism, having been a former member of the Communist Party of the United States.

During the Cold War, there was what was called “the lavender scare,” where the US and many other countries went on a witch-hunt for homosexual people, primarily men, in their own ranks. The thought was that they could be blackmailed and thus would be more likely to spy on the US for the Russians out if fear of being outed. There is a John let Carre novel that features a gay man who it is revealed is a spy.

This is why background checks are supposed to be very thorough for people who get access to classified information: if you’re prone to gambling, have a mistress, are a heroin addict, have a ton of debt that a foreign government has covered for you, then you are a bigger risk for being an asset. My father worked at the Pentagon and his background check to get clearance had them calling childhood friends, old co-workers, extended family, etc. After he got clearance, he was warned about strangers who become overly friendly or other methods where agents would try to create a relationship to get information.

Of course, there’s electronic surveillance and other forms of intelligence gathering but often all of it goes back to some member of the country being spied on planting a chip, giving codes to their handler, or some other work that assets do at great risk to themselves. Remember, Valerie Plame’s cover was blown and her career with the CIA was over but she made out okay financially and with her life and limbs. Her host countries definitely screened who was talking to her and some of her assets probably didn’t fare as well.

Most work to acquire ‘assets’ – people who have jobs that give them access to sensitive information.

Think of them as scouts. Go into an enemy or rival territory, and (without them catching on what you’re doing) take note of what they have and what they’re up to. Then send this info back. Possibly some other tasks too.

There’s a book called stiletto the perspective of a German spider world war II and Scotland yard detected traffic in pretty interesting but it hasn’t whore real life perspective of what I’ve spy would be doing really good read.

drink coffee, hold very dull meetings, and manage a small team of people that do basic admin tasks.

So one of my clients was a ‘spy” in germany in the late 80s, she worked in the I.T industry but was trying to build business links with East Germany. (she worked for the UK) She said it was very dull most of the time, with some networking meetings where pretty much everybody knew or thought everybody else was also a spy.

From what she has told me it was just like any senior/ middle management position, not enough pay, too may managers giving opinions and once or twice a year a bit of a debrief with some bosses from the UK.

It’s not 5 minutes, but this podcast is great! https://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts/how-spies-work.htm