Sunday, February 12, 2012

What makes a perfect spy tick?

On a rainy day in the spring of 1967, I shuffled into a classroom at the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, Md., in a grimy industrial area of East Baltimore. There were about 30 of us, mostly college graduates, including newly minted lawyers and a few erstwhile hippies who had received draft notices. It was the first day of a seven-month course blandly titled “Area Studies.”

In fact, we were going to learn to be spies.

Truth be told, few of us expected to be turned into James Bonds. Most of us had volunteered for an extra year’s enlistment in intelligence to avoid being shipped off to South Vietnam with a rifle.

Of course, intelligence did sound exciting, and only vaguely dangerous. I doubt that any of us knew exactly what to expect. A cross between “Mission: Impossible” and “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” maybe.

The shades were drawn. A rectangular red sign, “SECRET,” was slid into a bracket on the front wall. An instructor stepped to the podium.

I remember him saying something like: “This is the only thing in the Army that you can volunteer for and then get out of if you change your mind.” That’s because we had signed up for something illegal, even immoral, according to some people, he said.

It was called espionage. We were not going to be turned into spies, he explained, but “case officers” — the people who recruit foreigners to be spies. Put another way, he went on, we were going to persuade foreigners to be traitors, to steal their countries’ secrets. We were going to learn how to lie, steal, cheat to accomplish our mission, he said — and betray people who trusted us, if need be. Anyone who objected, he concluded, could walk out right now.

He looked around. One man got up and left. The rest of us, a little anxious, stayed put.
Read the rest here.

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