How to improve you chances of becoming a spy (2)

2) Show that you are a “people hacker.”

The essential work of an intelligence officer is to recruit sources i.e. to persuade other people to give their secrets to you. So, one of the skills you will need to show is an understanding of human psychology and how to use it – or as someone once said: “How to make friends and influence them.”

Ways to demonstrate this include showing how you have influenced people in your everyday life. This could be how you got your way at a business meeting, changed your team’s tactics in a sports match, de-escalated a conflict between strangers, talked your granny off the ledge, etc.

If you have the potential then much of your espionage training will be spent, not with guns and gadgets as people imagine, but developing this essential skill. As well as formal training in psychology and what is called “target analysis”, concepts such as proxemics and body language will be introduced as well as skills such as how to detect a liar.

Proxemics is the analysis of the effects of distance and environment on the reactions of others. Those of you who have had management training may have been told of the difference between talking to someone from behind a desk or coming around that desk and sitting on the same side. There is a difference in whether your chair is higher than the other person’s (it establishes a power dynamic). Note how Vladimir Putin seats his officials at the end of enormous tables – in part this is for fear of assassination but it is also to emphasise that he is way above them (at least in his own mind). There is also a cultural aspect to this. For instance, in many parts of the Middle East it is quite normal to touch another person, a hand on the arm or an arm around the shoulders can be a sign of trust. There are countries where it is a sign of trust to greet with a kiss on the cheek. But in parts of Asia, the reverse is true: when greeting, even a handshake can be too presumptious and any sort of physical touch between people who are not very good friends is seen as offensive. Knowledge of these cultural differences and of the influence of environment on psychology are vital if you are to win trust.

Body language is another area that is important. There are whole body moments, such as shuffling feet that indicate nervousness, crossing arms that can indicate defensiveness and so on. But even the movement of the eyes or micro-movements of the mouth can give you important clues. It is something that takes a lot of training and practice – one of the very first things you learn is that every person is different and that the first thing you need to do is establish a “baseline” for that person. The dream that you can just walk up to someone and know whether they are lying is still a thriller writers’ myth, but you can improve your chances considerably.

There is another point about “people hacking”. In order to recruit sources you need to be able to understand them. The internet comments pages are full of people who have knee jerk reactions to the views of others and instantly resort to abuse along the lines of: “you are lying”, “you are a moron”, “your mother is less than virtuous”, etc. These people have a lot of work to do before they can become spies. Notice that trying to understand your target absolutely does not mean that you must agree with them – in fact you may disagree with all your might – but until you can see what is behind someone’s thinking, it is unlikely that you will have a successful recruitment. And you will have to deal with people that you fervently disagree with: the best source on a terrorist cell is likely to be one of those terrorists. In the famous novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the lawyer Atticus Finch sums up this attitude rather nicely in terms of taking the time “to walk in someone else’s shoes.”

But all of this training can only take place if you show that you have an initial aptitude for understanding others. So, give some thought to how you do it and how you can develop it. Listening is key.

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