It’s not often we get a look inside the secret world of spies.
While intelligence officers continue to operate in the shadows, a fantastic article by Josef Hufelschulte of Focus Magazine gives a rare look inside their secret training regimen.
We picked out the five most interesting skills new recruits learn at Germany’s version of the CIA, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND).
Spies need to learn their most important skill: how to recruit sources to give up secrets.
The bread and butter of a spy is acquiring secret information from sources. In the Focus report, one intelligence officer was given the location of a visiting lord and after 90 minutes, the young woman had learned the lord’s marital status, occupation, career, hobbies, and daughter’s college exam grades. By the end of the rendezvous, the officer had accomplished her mission while the lord had fallen in love.
“You also have to figure out what motivates people, and what their vulnerabilities are,” former CIA officer Lindsay Moran revealed in an interview with Pursuit Magazine. “Because this is the information you will use to manipulate them to get what you want — which is secret information.”
They need to know how to lie — and to tell when someone else is lying.
The world of secrecy includes a lot of lying and officers better be good at it. Not only do they have to be good at lying, but they must be able to spot when someone else is. This starts from day one, as friends and family are kept in the dark.
Officers even create elaborate stories to use to practice lying when their fellow officers ask them personal questions. In examples of how to spot a liar, former U.S. President Bill Clinton is presented as a textbook example, and students pored over the tells the former president made during the Lewinsky scandal.
Spies are taught advanced driving skills, like how to lose someone who may be following them.
All aspects of driving are covered. Officers are taught how to avoid being followed, how to tell if someone’s on their tail, and how to shake them.
“They teach you tricks, such as making left-hand turns so you can see if there are cars behind you,” former CIA officer Lindsay Moran revealed of her CIA vehicle training.
BND officers are taught not only how to avoid suspicion but also how to handle high-speed and violent chases. Three officers credit their survival of a gunshot-filled chase through the streets of Saudi Arabia to the skills learned in driving classes.
Spies must be able to conduct espionage operations in crisis regions.
For six weeks, students are relocated to a hidden compound to complete operations training. The training includes explosions and realistic scenarios that mirror conditions in countries with high levels of terrorist activity.
Everything from how to handle an attack on an embassy, to first aid and helicopter evacuations is covered. Weapons proficiency is also taught but from a defensive mindset: If you have to engage with a weapon, something has gone terribly wrong.
Classwork is an all-day event and covers everything from languages to psychology.
20% of classroom curriculum includes law classes with practical applications like how to respond to a kidnapping in a foreign country — a situation particularly dicey for a spy. Their classwork stretches deep into the evening and covers subjects as diverse as international politics, Islam, geography, psychology, observation, photographic technology and foreign languages. English proficiency is required and other language skills are developed.
According to the class subject to the Focus report, of 800 men and women who applied to the BND, only 40 made it to graduation.