Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Spying Trade: Success by stealth

SPIES are often wrongly presumed to work in a shadowy and exotic world. In fact they are more like unusually crafty bureaucrats than James Bond. Their skills would be quite handy for business executives, according to J.C. Carleson, a former CIA officer. In “Work Like a Spy”, her gripping layman’s guide to spycraft, she shows how adopting an intelligence officer’s mindset can make managers more efficient and better at handling people. 

In her eight years undercover, Ms Carleson (not her real name) ran agents in hostile countries, getting them to risk their lives to steal secrets for America. Targeting and recruiting such people offers lessons in what might be called “strategic networking”: gaining information about customers and competitors. How do you make contact without seeming pushy? What is the hook, and what are the incentives? It turns out that offering consultancy fees and lavish entertainment rarely works; appealing to the ego is far more effective.

While steering clear of real secrets, Ms Carleson gives an accurate account of how intelligence officers operate. Her “strategic elicitation exercise”, in which she pushes readers to get random information from a stranger, is particularly well described.

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