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.