Monday, February 23, 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015

RULE # 33

Groghe dani kez

This was an ancient Armenian joke and curse.

It means, May the scribe take you away.

Which sort of means:  Suck my pen.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

RULE # 32

There are no rules

A few days before his 75th birthday, I took CIA spymaster Clair George to lunch at Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown.

Over bacon-cheeseburgers, I excitedly told him about a new intelligence principle I’d learned with reference to liaison partnerships called the Third Party Rule.  

Essentially, it means you don’t share any secret you’ve learned from one intelligence service with another intelligence service.

Clair took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and looked at me with amusement.  “In this business,” he said.  “There are no rules.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

RULE # 31

Risus Supra Omni (laughter above all).

Look for a high L.Q. (laugh quotient) in all you do.

You need a good sense of humor for most things in life—and most especially the spy business.

When Monaco’s spymaster first started working with CIA spymaster Claire George, they had an ironclad rule about accepting assignments from billionaires and royalty:  If it ain’t funny, we don’t do it.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

RULE # 30

Keep them laughing half the time, scared of you the other half.  

And always keep them guessing.

This was CIA spymaster Clair George’s creed for survival and success in the worlds of espionage and large government bureaucracies.

Clair had a great sense of humor.  

But when he was not amused, he knew how to be scary. 

And he was a master at keeping everyone guessing.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

RULE # 29

If you are concerned about taking risks, consult an actuary:  odds are, you’ll survive.  

Not forever, but for now you’re good.  

So be bold (assuming gain outweighs risk).

Do you know why insurance companies exist?

To make money. 

They make tons of it.

An insurance company will play on your fears and take your risk every time.


Because they employ actuaries—whose job it is to figure the odds.

Odds are, your house won’t burn down and your plane won’t crash.

Odds are, you’ll live into your eighties.

So if you appreciate that the odds are generally in your favor, go for it!

(But not recklessly.)

Always assess risk.  If risk outweighs potential gain, drop it and move on.

The reason CIA spymaster Clair George became legendary among his colleagues was partly because he went to Athens, Greece, when no one else at the agency wanted the job.

Richard Welch had just been assassinated by a Greek terrorist organization and they needed a new station chief to fill the position.  

Only Clair was willing.  

The agency tried to sweeten the deal. For a start, they’d buy a new residence for the new station chief.  

Nothing doing, said Clair, I’ll live where Welch lived.  

Okay, then we’ll put up ten-foot high gates.  

Clair said, Nope.  He refused to hide himself.  Instead, he enjoyed nightly cocktails on the residence’s front porch, in full public view.  

Clair understood odds as well as any actuary and, like an actuary, he knew the odds were on his side.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

RULE # 28

Assume everything said over the phone is overheard; assume all texts, faxes and e-mail are intercepted.

Most civilized countries now possess the technological capability to pop your cell phone number into a computer and transform it into their own open microphone.

They can listen not only to your cell phone conversations, but also to your conversations with people around you, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.

Switching your phone off does not end their ability to listen in.  You must remove the battery.

(These days, organized criminals buy cheap pay-as-you-go cell phones in batches of a hundred.  They use one for a couple days, throw it in a river, and move on to the next one.)

The only way to ensure you are not overheard is a walk in the park, speaking not much louder than a whisper, and occasionally shielding your mouth with your hand (in the event that lip-readers have been assigned to you).

Monaco’s spymaster was kindly provided a STE (cryptographic telephone) by a “friendly” intelligence service, to be used for secure communication between the two services.

Monaco’s spymaster soon discovered that the STE itself was a full-time open microphone

So the STE was relegated from the large M-Base desk to a more appropriate venue:  a small table adjacent to the toilet.

Overheard conversations thereafter were, dare we say, rather flatulent.

Monday, February 16, 2015

RULE # 27

Better in a safe than sorry; the shredder the better

This rule is self-explanatory and requires little explanation.

Every spymaster needs a safe—a large one.

Monaco’s spymaster kept a large, heavy-duty safe, bolted to a closet floor in M-Base, his operational headquarters in Monaco.

M-Base also housed an industrial-strength shredder, gifted to Monaco’s spymaster by a friendly intelligence service, which transformed documents to confetti.

Both safe and shredder are fundamental for operational security.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

RULE # 26

Unlike most intelligence services, do not fear media, courts and elected representatives; embrace them.

Intelligence services are generally fearful of media enquiries, government oversight and/or being hauled into court by judges who can override confidentiality.

Many intelligence officers are risk-averse for fear of being exposed in the media for involvement in controversial operations; for them, it would be a career killer.  They are also risk-averse for fear of ending up personally prosecuted for violating some obscure statute of which their superiors were either unaware or ignored.

Intelligence bigwigs strive to avoid being grilled by Congressmen looking to enhance their political careers.

Monaco’s spymaster did not subscribe to such fears.  He believed it more strategic to solicit the assistance, witting or unwitting, of the fourth estate, to meet objectives.

After Monaco’s spymaster established a relationship between Prince Albert and the CIA, he secured U.S. government oversight by creating a relationship with a U.S. Senator serving on the Select Intelligence Committee.  

He did this so that if CIA officers misinterpreted their relationship (as they did), and wrote it up their own way for maximum advantage to the CIA (as they did), at least someone in government oversight would know the truth.

As for the courts:  when you are confident of the facts, and everything you report and write can be proven, under oath, through documents and witness testimony, the courts are your friend, not foe.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

RULE # 25

Don’t complain; unfairness is the history of mankind from the beginning.  

Just pick up the torch and do the right thing.

Do not feel victimized nor grow into a victim mentality.  We are all victims of something eventually.  The key is to rise above whatever curveballs life throws at you.

An old saying, Life hands you a lemon? Make lemonade.

Monaco’s spymaster stopped doing his job after his client, the Prince, was swayed off track by Monaco’s criminally-minded establishment and no longer responded to the spymaster.  The Prince also did not respond to the spymaster’s invoice.

So Monaco’s spymaster requested final payment through a lawyer.

The Prince ignored this request.

So Monaco’s spymaster filed a Complaint in Court that, in addition to making his case for payment, did what the Prince chose not to do:  expose corrupt government ministers and a number of money launderers resident in the principality.

In doing the right thing, Monaco’s ex-spymaster inevitably created an interactive hub of dissent.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

RULE # 24

You need formidable enemies to keep you sharp; provoke them to whack away at each other

The first part comes from Friedrich Nietzsche, who said:  “We need formidable enemies to keep us sharp.”

Nietzsche said you should choose your enemies with care; that an enemy is quite a positive and valuable influence in life, and that you very rarely get on without a few good enemies to spur you on and keep you stirred up.

The second part also comes from Nietzsche:  “The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy.”

The reason the CIA armed Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was because it knew Saddam would barge into Iran.  For eight years thereafter, both countries whacked the stuffing out of each other.

Monday, February 9, 2015

RULE # 23

Thierry Lacoste

Do not underestimate the opposition (as tempting as that may be), nor become complacent

Your targets may be better informed than you think; they may even have a spy in your camp.

The point is, you don’t know what they know.  And it may be that their jobs, their reputations, and even their freedom is at stake based on your investigations.

People get desperate when they feel threatened.

Such was the case with Prince Albert of Monaco’s personal lawyer, Thierry Lacoste.

Lacoste felt very threatened by Monaco’s spymaster.

Lacoste knew that he was engaged in serious conflicts of interest, acting for his Monaco-based clients on one hand, and trying to influence the Prince’s decision-making on the other.

Lacoste is not terribly bright, and actually rather incompetent.

But he had been friends with the Prince since childhood.  And even though the Prince’s father wanted Lacoste as far from Monaco as possible (for good reason), Lacoste had managed to stick around.

The Prince, ultimately, was more willing to believe his corrupt and incompetent childhood friend over the objective findings of his spymaster.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

RULE # 22

Never take it personally—it’s business.

Sometimes, when vipers surround you, it is hard not to take their venom to heart.

But as Clair George, former CIA spymaster, told Monaco’s spymaster, “it is just business, don’t take it personally.”

To Monaco’s vipers—public officials who should be serving, not stealing, from their people—it is bizniz, in the Russian sense.

We knew that cabinet ministers did not view investigations into their corrupt actions as personal.  

Their response, trying to get the Prince back on track—their track—was not personal, but bizniz.

Even today, nothing personal—just business.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

RULE # 21

Port Hercules, Monaco, 2006

Do not be disappointed; learn—and then teach.

This is another rule for life in general.

You cannot control others, so don’t even try.  Motivate and hope for the best.

The secret to happiness is low expectations.
When something goes wrong, view it as part of your ongoing education.

Prince Albert of Monaco pledged to fight rampant corruption and money laundering in his Principality.   

He hired a spymaster, and later, a chief-of-staff, to assist him in this endeavor.

But when faced with a little resistance from corrupt influences around him, the Prince caved and reneged on promises he made to his spymaster, chief-of-staff, subjects, foreign intelligence services, and the world—and became complicit in their corruption.

This was a learning experience—one that we transformed into a teaching experience.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

RULE # 20

Welcome crisis.  You will identify your true friends.

(When crisis calls, a martini and a cigar.)

What do you do when the floor appears to fall out from under you?  

When promises made by a ruling prince, to twenty foreign intelligence services and to his own subjects, are reneged upon?

This happened to Monaco’s spymaster after Prince Albert’s accountant and lawyer conspired behind the Prince’s back to oust the spymaster.

As usual, the Prince could not be found to rectify the situation.

And so the spymaster’s status remained unclear for several days, until the Prince finally manifested himself—and rescinded his accountant and lawyer’s fabricated instructions.

During this period of uncertainty, the spymaster took careful note about who deserted him and who remained loyal—and more especially, those who pretended to remain loyal.

And then the spymaster did what he always did when the sky seemed to be falling:  

He went to the bar of the Columbus Hotel, ordered a dry martini, up, three olives, lit a Monte Cristo No. 5 Cuban cigar, and scribbled everything (indecipherably) into a leather bound journal.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

RULE # 19

True character is revealed under pressure.  

Welcome pressure:  it is a true test of your own character.

It is easy to display character when all is going well.

True character is revealed when the sky is falling.

Do you flip out, lose your head, and blame others?  

If so, you have poor character, like Prince Albert II of Monaco.

The prince’s first chief-of-staff is a perfect example of grace under fire; of showing exemplary character in the face of tremendous and unjustifiable pressure from his boss, who removed him because he was jealous of his chief-of-staff’s abilities.

While the forces of evil tittered in enjoyment of his predicament, and Monegasques left guessing as to what had happened, the chief-of-staff made no public comment, held his head high, and worked through a long final week.

The chief-of-staff personified what Rudyard Kipling meant by being a man in his famous poem If.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

So welcome pressure, and see it as an opportunity to demonstrate your strength, conviction, and dignity in the face of whatever is thrown at you by those with lesser character.

Monday, February 2, 2015

RULE # 18

If it is not today’s problem, sleep on it, assess tomorrow with fresh eyes.  

And then act; problems do not improve with age.

This is a good rule about life in general that extends to the intelligence profession.

Ever go to sleep worried about a problem and find that the solution hits you upon awakening after a good night's sleep?

Your brain needs downtime, both to recharge and mull over difficult situations.

And so give yourself time, and rest, and sleep, before attempting to solve a problem.

But once the solution hits you, waste no time.  Be decisive.  You may not always make the right decision, but decisiveness is important.  So go for it, and don’t look back.

Indecision and procrastination, on the other hand, will lead to trouble—and ultimately kick you in the butt.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

RULE # 17

Never follow your first reaction—it is what the opposition expects

This gem came from the director of an intelligence service of a small European country.

Chances are, rival spymasters are almost as smart as you.  They certainly didn’t get their jobs by being stupid.

When your adversary does something, and you are expected to react, think long and hard about why they did what they did it, and what they anticipate you are going to do about it.

They are probably chess-players, looking three moves ahead.

Do not fall into their trap by making the move they expect of you.