Espionage 101: What It’s Really Like to Be a Spy
Do you have what it takes to be a modern day spy? Can you handle keeping your job top secret and going on life-threatening missions? We've gathered some of the confessions of former and current spies who work for some of the most popular spy organizations in the world.
Find out exactly what the recruitment process looks like, how spies cope with losing their secret identities after they retire and all sorts of other crazy facts. Here’s your top-secret intel!
Infiltrating Terrorist Networks
One of the most dangerous parts of being a spy is undoubtedly going undercover in some of the most high-profile organizations to find out their plans and top-secret information. An MI6 spy revealed that getting inside those networks involves plenty of research, strategizing and relationship building.
Getting a Job as a Spy
Many people seem to think that being recruited as a spy is reserved for those already working in a similar environment. The truth is that sometimes you might get lucky and find a job ad on the official organization’s website. A former MI6 spy revealed that was exactly how he was recruited.
Blend in at All Costs
Anonymity is an important factor to consider when you're a spy. You have to be aware of every move you make and everything you do in order to make sure you don’t arouse suspicion. Blending in is what makes those around you trust you. Failing to do that could be fatal for you and many others.
No License to Kill
So, let's debunk the most common movie-based myth. Many seem to believe that a license to kill is something all spies possess. Like it’s okay to kill someone without any consequences or questions asked. Nope, it's really not that easy. Sorry, James Bond.
Vetting Process of up to Nine Months
Spy recruitment is absolutely brutal and intrusive. It can take between six to nine months to get hired. The vetting officers are incredibly skilled at their jobs and require all new recruits to face a three-hour to eight-hour interview. Every part of your life is scrutinized to make sure you're able to handle the job.
No Prior Drug History
One of the biggest reasons people get rejected for their dream spy career is any kind of prior drug use. Drug testing is a huge part of the vetting process, and it involves submitting a hair sample.
Excellent Secret Keeping Required
This one seems pretty obvious, right? But did you know that spies can't really talk about their job to anyone outside of their closest circle? Some choose to be very picky about who knows their information. One spy admitted that she didn’t tell her husband about her work until six months into the relationship.
Not All Serious All the Time
Have you ever seen a show like Brooklyn 99? It turns out that the office environment of a modern spy can be very similar and sometimes even just as fun as any other corporate place — when the spies aren’t on a mission, of course.
No Mobile Phones
It's something you wouldn't think about, but MI6 employees aren't actually allowed to carry mobile phones inside the building. Of course, if they have to be reached in case of an emergency, the company provides them with technology so they can be contacted.
The Appeal of Spy Shows
Relax! Just because spies deal with some serious work, it doesn't mean they don’t enjoy pop culture. Although the details are often inaccurate, many spies just love to be entertained by spy movies and TV series like Killing Eve.
No Consent Needed to Record
It's often said that you need a person's consent if you want to record them. Is it the same for spies? Not in the U.K., at least. Recording calls doesn't require permission due to the nation’s one-party consent law. That pretty much covers spies from a legal perspective.
Hello, Trust Issues
One of the most difficult parts of spy work is having a personal life. Spies have revealed that you can't really trust anyone, and some even follow elementary school advice and make sure they are always alert when crossing the street.
Crazy Dangerous Missions
Good spies get the inside scoop on some of the most dangerous organizations the world has ever seen. A spy known as Abu Khaled was able to gain unique insight into operations behind ISIS, from who is really in charge all the way to their exact locations and missions.
Utilizing Your Secret Talents
Khaled was a valued member of ISIS because of his extraordinary linguistic talents. As a spy, he was fluent in many different languages, and the organization used him as an interpreter. His talents enabled them to trust him enough to involve him in almost all aspects of their strategies and missions.
Strength to Handle Traumatic Events
As a spy, you get to experience many sweet victories, but not all of them are risk-free, and traumatic events can stay with you forever. An MI6 agent suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder revealed that he was a victim of ISIL, who intended to kidnap the agent and behead him while broadcasting online.
Multiple Identities and Personas
Being a spy is tough work. Not only are you involved in dangerous work situations, you also have to remember your alter ego for each situation. A spy known as Mr. Ross, who was recruited from Israel's military, reportedly had six different identities over the course of 14 years.
Russian Espionage in Britain
Spies have revealed that one of the top places where you can find corrupt Russians at work is actually the United Kingdom. One of the spies followed the lives of high-profile Russians residing in London and came across pro-Putin groups as well as plenty of other Russian-based organizations.
Spy Memoirs on Hold
Spy memoirs are often kept under wraps for years. For example, Anthony Blunt's memoir was released 25 years after his death. It was hidden in the British Library until then. Being a part of the Cambridge Five spy ring made him one of the most interesting spies in U.K. history.
Constant Fear of the Truth
Anthony Blunt thought he was free from his Russian past. He wanted to return to his normal academic life, and he confessed everything he knew about Russian activities. A decade later, his confessions were revealed in an unexpected book that revealed his espionage activities.
Becoming a Publicly Hated Figure
The book caused public outrage, and Blunt was despised for betraying the Queen. He admitted he considered taking his own life over the sudden public exposure of information. Although he tried to move on from his former spy life, the revealing of his identity made that impossible.
Brutal Imprisonment for Spies
Although he wasn’t a spy, British academic Matthew Hedges was accused of being one by the UAE and was arrested at Dubai’s airport and imprisoned for several months. During that time, he was force fed a cocktail of drugs that caused him to have intense dreams of ending his life.
Official Spies Currently in Prison
Speaking of spies currently imprisoned, the official list seems to include 10 spies. One of them, David Sheldon Boone, sold secret documents to the Soviet Union. Robert Hanssen spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services, and Ronald Pelton sold secret documents without physical evidence due to his photographic memory.
Forever Hidden Spies
Like most things in life, there are good spies, and there are bad spies. Many who have betrayed huge secrets have never been caught. For example, it’s not known who was behind the betrayal of MI6 agent Oleg Gordievsky, who was in the middle of a mission when he was outed as a spy.
Plenty of Female Spies
When you think of spies, you probably automatically think of men. The truth is female espionage is in as great demand as male. One of the most famous spies was Mata Hari, who operated during World War I. She was originally only an exotic dancer until she was hired by an army captain to gather military information.
Betraying a Country for Money
FBI agent Earl Pitts was one of those spies that fell to the wrong side, all while working for the good. He was caught selling information to the KGB, and he earned a pretty good amount of money — more than $220,000 — for doing it. After his arrest, he received a 27-year sentence.
Notorious Lady Double Agent
One of the most famous female double agents, besides Mata Hari, is Marthe Cnockaert. She operated during World War II against Germany and was first a nurse before she was recruited by a spy ring.
More About Marthe Cnockaert
When Marthe Cnockaert was a nurse, she gained the trust of everyone around her. Because of her involvement in spy work, she was eventually arrested, but her hospital friends had her back and testified for her honest character. This helped her case, as she worked to betray the enemy while also saving the lives of many people.
FBI's Fake Russians
In order to break through Russia's scene, the FBI recruited several fake Russian agents. Dimitry Droujinsky led a double life as a KGB impersonator. He revealed that he worked for the FBI as well as the CIA and even the military due to his Russian-speaking abilities.
Unrealistic High-Speed Car Chases
You know how movies always show a high-speed car (or two or three) in spy-themed movies? Well, it's not really a thing in the lives of actual spies. This type of thing would only happen on a mission if the situation went really bad really quickly and you needed to escape.
Movie Technology Behind the Times
Spies have admitted that movie technology sometimes doesn't accurately represent what is available in actual organizations. This is mainly due to confidentiality and trade secrets that can only be revealed to select individuals. So, when you see James Bond use a really cool gadget, the truth is it probably existed at least a decade before the movie in organizations like the CIA.