Spy Tricks

Recently, my job has had me doing some spy work.  Not real spy work (obviously), but work that in my creative and over-active brain could pass for spy work.  (A real spy would never say she’s a spy…or would she?  It’s something to think about.)  In DC, one in four people are estimated to be spies…or is that one in four people hold a JD?  Anyway, in my two spy dealings in the last two weeks, I’ve learned a few things that I thought I’d share in case you find yourself needing some spy advice.  My other qualifications include a fun visit to the Spy Museum with Cosette Z over two years ago, working on the same block as the Uniformed Secret Service (which cracks me up everytime) and being a snoopy big sister.  Clearly I know what I’m talking about here…I’m practically a professional.

Lesson 1: Observing without being noticed.  I spent 1.5 hours watching how security screens cars before entering a secure building (it all comes down to parking, right?).  I sat for 90 minutes out in the open within 20 feet of this operation and not one of them even noticed me.  Here were my tricks:

  • Have a watertight story created in case someone asks, and add extra imagination for added fun.
  • Arrive on foot.  I could have been on my bike, but that would have been too conspicuous.  Drop-offs are even more mysterious.
  • Dress average and plain and do not call attention to yourself.  At 8:00 on a Monday morning, this was pretty easy to do.
  • No earphones and no eating.  You need all your senses in peak condition.
  • Look distracted, but watch out of the corner of your eye.  Don’t be distracted, just look distracted.
  • Write stuff for the hell of it in your notes.  Like drafting your next blog post.  Pretend to be a pensive writer because no one ever messes with them.
  • Suspect everyone as a counterspy.  Sidewalk sweepers, pipe smokers, smokers in ties.  Say hello to people that say hello to you.  Just because you are a spy doesn’t mean you can’t be polite.
  • Find a cool shady spot to sit.  Granite in this town can be found everywhere.
  • As Salsa would say, “Stay alert!”  If the observations are slow, find something similar to observe to keep your mind awake.  And get a good nights sleep the night before because it isn’t always fast paced like it is in the movies.
  • Carry a phone with a timer application, not a stop watch, for ultimate undercover work.  Look texty.  Make sure the phone battery is fully charged.

Lesson 2: Gaining access.  I went to have a look around in a building under construction without permission.  The shell of a building had security people.  I showed my ID and walked in the hard hat area, no questions asked, almost like my ID was psychic paper.  A construction worker walked me around and gave me directions.  Seriously, what kind of operation is this?  Basic tricks:

  • Act like you know where you are going.  Don’t look lost or confused…it’s a dead giveaway if you do.  I typically use this trick to get by most security in lobbies in DC.
  • Do a minor bit of background work, like knowing the future tenant of the building.  Just say you are with them.
  • Dress appropriately and plain.  Again.
  • If you take photos, don’t have the camera sound on.  Duh.  I learned this the hard way.

That’s all I have tonight.  If you have your own tricks, feel free to share them!  DC can be a fun place to live, even with these extra pains.  But, it makes for more of a challenge to try to get your spy work done.  Oh, and one additional note, don’t mess with the Department of Homeland Security because they don’t mess around.  Play it cool.

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