Here's What It's Really Like To Be A CIA Spy

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While often on the front lines collecting valuable intelligence for the nation’s decision-makers — and risking their lives in the process — the life of a CIA officer is far from what’s often depicted in movies.

As former officer Lindsay Moran reveals in a recent interview with Pursuit Magazine, the focus of a spy sounds less like James Bond and more like your average salesman.

“A lot of tradecraft training focused on how to convince people to commit espionage,” Moran tells Pursuit’s Kevin Goodman. “It’s basic psychology … So much of what you do as a CIA operative is psychology-based. On the most basic level you’re acting — almost — as a clinical psychologist for your assets. They come to you with their problems, and you have to listen, and talk them through their issues.”

CIA tradecraft often boils down to reading people, selling them on an idea, and closing them. But unlike sales, the hard sell of a spy is “to establish strong human relationships and trust that provides the foundation needed to acquire high-value intelligence from foreign sources,” according to the CIA’s own job listing.

“You also have to figure out what motivates people, and what their vulnerabilities are,” Moran told Goodman. “Because this is the information you will use to manipulate them to get what you want — which is secret information.”

Still, as Moran notes, there is always danger lurking around the corner, as an operative in a foreign land can come under surveillance themself. But unlike a Hollywood spy-thriller with spectacular car chases and shootouts in the streets, that’s the last thing a CIA officer — who doesn’t want anyone to actually know they are a spy — wants to have happen.

Moran explains:

We had courses dedicated only to surveillance detection, but surveillance detection training was also incorporated into ALL of the training. They teach you tricks, such as making left-hand turns so you can see if there are cars behind you. The theory behind a surveillance detection route is: Do you see the same person or the same vehicle over distance and time? The ideal surveillance detection route will take you into rural areas and into congested urban areas, and you’re basically driving around to make sure you’re not being followed.

Now, if you are being followed, you don’t want whoever is following you to know that you’re doing a surveillance detection route. You do what are called “cover stops” — if you drive twenty-five miles out to some rural area, you’d better have a reason. It should not be, say, a 7-Eleven, but it could be a tack store for equestrians or a bait and tackle shop for fisherman — someplace where there’s a legitimate reason that you would have driven that far.

Now check out the full, fascinating interview with Lindsay Moran >

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