Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
A good spy never leaves any stone unturned. To successfully complete your mission, you must learn everything there is to know about the person, place or problem on which you are trying to gain intelligence.
This may sound fascinating, but the reality is the job of a spy can be very lonely. And it’s made only more difficult when you learn that an asset may have been tortured or killed because you missed an important detail or overlooked a crucial piece of information.
That being said, today I want to discuss what there is to be learned from the way spies research their targets. Because even if you aren’t a spy, these methods could still come in handy.
Start From Square One
Average citizens have one of the fastest, easiest, most convenient research tools at their disposal: the internet. Spies, on the other hand, have to be very careful when using the internet. Browser histories, cookies and personal account details are easily hackable, so a spy would never use an online search for intelligence gathering.
Imagine you’re a spy working undercover in Russia and counterintelligence sees that you recently performed an internet search on “Russian missile technology.” This is a surefire way to burn yourself, and I guarantee it won’t end well for you. Just keep this in mind when doing your own research, because your internet history could instantly give you away.
The first thing a spy does — and the first thing you should do too — is establish your objective. Create a list of the goals you want or need to accomplish. For example, let’s say you want to get the inside scoop on a certain gun manufacturer. Write down what you want to learn, such as where the company sources their parts, the quality of their materials, product reliability, etc.
Next, figure out who has the knowledge you need or where you can go to acquire the necessary information. Using the same example as above, I would start with reading popular gun magazines. Take notes on who’s writing in this space, industry trends, upcoming conventions and anything related to the specific company.
Perhaps the gun manufacturer you want to learn about will be at a gun show next month. This could be a golden opportunity to get more information straight from the source.
Now, let me pause for a moment and mention a critical resource spies working for the government have access to that you may not: funds. It’s easy to travel and spend what money you need to on gathering intelligence when someone else is footing the bill. Obviously, the average person doesn’t have the same financial backing — although if you do, it can make a big difference in the depth and scope of your research.
Be a Know-It-All
All right, let’s say you go to the gun show knowing that the company you are interested in will be there. Before you talk to anyone from the company, you must be well-versed on your chosen topic. Basically, if you show up to talk to the gun manufacturer about their Model X firearm and you only know a little bit about it, they will write you off in a matter of minutes.
It’s up to you to put in the time to learn everything there is to know before you put yourself out there. Use any and all means possible. Spies spend months doing deep research to find a target’s vulnerability. A really good spy will know the target better than the target knows their self.
When you are ready to make contact, remember the words “Give to get.” If you overhear an employee saying they would kill for a cup of joe, show up later with an extra cup of coffee and use is as a pretext to strike up a conversation. Don’t be afraid to go out of your way to help someone out if you think they could help you down the line.
To build a solid relationship with this person, plan ahead and find an excuse to get together again. If you’ve done your research, you should know their hobbies. Ask them, “How’d you like to go fishing next Saturday?” If someone views you as a friend, they’re more likely to help you get the information you need to accomplish your objective.
The Bottom Line
Let’s recap. To gather intelligence like a spy, you need to:
- Establish your objective.
- Identify who has the knowledge you need.
- Learn everything there is to know about the target.
- Make contact.
- Develop a reason to meet again.
But remember, the most important step above is to study and learn everything you possibly can about the target. In this case, knowledge is definitely power.
As you can see, gathering intelligence takes an awful lot of time and effort. But the payoff for the U.S. government is huge, and if you take the time to do this in your own life, it could be a huge benefit to you as well.