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The Skills You Need to Become a Spy

A spy looks through binoculars.

Perhaps the coolest job in the world, it is not surprising that many of us growing up wanted to be like James Bond, Britain’s most famous fictional spy. Looking into the world of Bond and other classic characters, the role of a spy is definitely something which is glamorised, and, of course, made to look so easy! It’s rare that we actually get an insight into the real-life world of spies (probably because the job calls for secrecy), and it got us thinking; what does it take to become a spy?

According to our internet search, it takes quite a lot! We outline some of the skills spies need in the life of espionage:

Utilising Sources

Perhaps the one thing that makes a spy good at their job is knowing everything. They gain this in-depth knowledge from obtaining information from an array of sources; collecting information to not only gather facts but to determine motivations and vulnerabilities that can be used, if necessary, to manipulate people to get what they want.

Although, a former MI6 spy has noted that asking prying questions, especially to the wrong people, is a good way to get oneself killed! So, a spy is subtle when collating their intel, which leads us  us nicely onto our next point…

Remarkable Memories and Observation Skills

Spies should be able to remember a wealth of information, utilising a technique the MI6 class as “family home” (an image association technique). This is when new information is combined with old memories, picturing the known and linking it with the ‘unknown’ (i.e. the information that you need to remember).

Keen observation and a sharp memory are the first skills that spies learn in their training, moulding their minds to take on more information than the average person, at the same time as observing their subjects without being detected.

Warren Reed, a former British Secret Service MI6 agent, stated: “The worst things you can do while on assignment is say, ‘Oh sorry… please excuse me, I’ll just get a pen and paper and get all that down.’ ”

But a good memory and shadowing are not only for success on a mission but survival tactics to avoid being caught.

The Ultimate Liar

Spies need to be able to know both how to lie and how to tell when someone else is lying. As revealed in an article about German’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) spy school, officers learn how to pick up cues and practice creating elaborate stories to perfect their own lying skills.

Driving Daredevils

In BND, like other schools, all areas of driving are covered as spies need to be able to both catch and lose people. Trainee spies are taught tricks and tips such as how to handle high-speed chases.

Spies even used equipment to escape surveillance. One such tactic was known as the “Jack-in-the-Box”, a simple device that contained a dummy- designed to look like an agent from the shoulders up. Waiting for a sharp turn, the spy would open the Jack-in-the Box and then roll out of the passenger side! A method that was utilised by CIA officers in 1982 to slip away from KGB surveillance when they needed to reconnect with an informant.

Mind of a Genius

Classes involve an array of topics including psychology, law, international politics, geography, psychology, photography and languages. Classes stretch way into the night, so as well as being super smart, aspiring spies are motivated to achieve. This is a gruelling process, and of a classroom of 800 men and women applying to the BND, only 40 students make it to graduation!

Quick Decision-Makers

Secret agents must be mentally agile; the ability to make split-second decisions could be the difference between life and death. They need to be able to rely on their intuition when there are gaps in information. The CIA website says secret agents are, “people and street smart.”

Specialised Skills

As well as moulding their minds, secret agents will also need to obtain a wealth of other specialised skills in order to complete missions, from computer hacking and martial arts to impersonations and weapon-handling, including guns and pocket knives that are easily concealed when carried.

These are just a handful of the skills it takes to become just like 007. Have you got what it takes to become a spy? Let us know on our social media channels!

Image credit: Edith Soto

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