November 30, 2006

Psychology of a Spy
— Ace

Fun little piece on what drives people to spy against their own country.

Preserved in the permafrost of the Cold War is a piece of advice given by Pavel Sudoplatov, Stalin’s master spy, to an apprentice agent. Sudoplatov’s career in the Soviet secret service spanned three decades of Stalinism, and few understood better the brutal and complex psychology of spying.

When seeking to recruit a spy, Sudoplatov advised his underling that one should “search for people who are hurt by fate or nature — the ugly, those craving power or influence but defeated by unfavourable circumstances. In co-operation with us, all these find a peculiar compensation. The sense of belonging to an influential, powerful organisation will give them a feeling of superiority over the handsome and prosperous people around them.”

...

For decades, the KGB operated its spy networks on principles represented by the acronym MICE: money, ideology, compromise (as in blackmail) and ego. By far the most important was ego. Spymasters on both sides of the Iron Curtain awarded their spies exotic codenames, the better to flatter their self-esteem. Ideological belief is a useful attribute in a spy; but belief in one’s own importance is essential.

Alongside the arrogance of the spy lies a remarkable capacity for self-delusion. The espionage world has always drawn people with a tenuous grip on reality: fantasists, paranoiacs, conspiracy theorists, fraudsters and fakers. The British secret service, in particular, seems to have attracted a disproportionate number of people who were at best eccentric, and at worst entirely mad. Yet an overactive imagination is not unique to the British spy.

I think he's referring to actual spies rather than case-officers or spymasters (i.e., CIA or KGB operatives), though the writer of the piece then goes on to apply this idea to Litvinenko, who was actually, I think, just a defector. Not a spy remaining in place to transmit secrets to the west.

Posted by: Ace at 03:46 PM | Comments (27)
Post contains 325 words, total size 2 kb.

1 you means spys aren't all hot & stuff?

Nobody tell Entropy!

Posted by: hobgoblin at November 30, 2006 03:53 PM (p1s9n)

2 a remarkable capacity for self-delusion. The espionage world has always drawn people with a tenuous grip on reality: fantasists, paranoiacs, conspiracy theorists, fraudsters and fakers.

Sounds like most of the left. Or, all of Kos and DU.

Posted by: mesablue at November 30, 2006 03:58 PM (DzeyU)

3 I was going to be a spy...

...But I missed it by that much.

Posted by: Gunslinger at November 30, 2006 04:01 PM (x0jT7)

4 Sounds like most of the left. Or, all of Kos and DU.

That's funny -- I thought that the part that described the Left most accurately was this:

people who are hurt by fate or nature — the ugly, those craving power or influence but defeated by unfavourable circumstances

Posted by: Phinn at November 30, 2006 04:03 PM (sapeO)

5 When seeking to recruit a spy, Sudoplatov advised his underling that one should “search for people who are hurt by fate or nature — the ugly, those craving power or influence but defeated by unfavourable circumstances.

Makes it hard to explain the Cambridge Five, Hiss, Coplon, Berkely, Remmington, Chambers (though not pretty definitely smart and connected through friends), etc.

Posted by: at November 30, 2006 04:03 PM (fVE3j)

6 I thought the whole thing about spies was tied to Saint Sully?

Posted by: TC@LeatherPenguin at November 30, 2006 04:05 PM (roWez)

7 Makes it hard to explain the Cambridge Five

Ideology.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at November 30, 2006 04:06 PM (p9O/F)

8 I'm pretty sure having two brothers assassinated, but not being worth an assassin's bullet yourself, might do it, too.

Posted by: a4g at November 30, 2006 04:15 PM (lKzx+)

9 Ideology.

Which contradicts:

When seeking to recruit a spy, Sudoplatov advised his underling that one should “search for people who are hurt by fate or nature — the ugly, those craving power or influence but defeated by unfavourable circumstances.

Though it can be argued that all but one was tey ghey and they hated straight people.

Posted by: at November 30, 2006 04:24 PM (fVE3j)

10 Makes it hard to explain the Cambridge Five, Hiss, Coplon, Berkely,
Remmington, Chambers (though not pretty definitely smart and connected
through friends), etc.

Oh, I don't know....these guys seemed like the type to be bitter, possibly for not receiving the rewards or positions of power that they felt they deserved, emotionally needy and/or stricken with an self-important, elitest, superiority complex. 

Sounds to me like they would be perfect candidates to be traitors, if not full-blown spies.

Posted by: wiserbud at November 30, 2006 04:54 PM (2+/7m)

11 all but one was tey ghey and they hated straight people.

Sounds like an ideology to me...

Posted by: Purple Avenger at November 30, 2006 05:08 PM (p9O/F)

12 Philby always had a real superiority complex; espionage was his way of proving he was smarter than the fools he worked for.

Posted by: richard mcenroe at November 30, 2006 05:13 PM (w+ipT)

13 Oh, I don't know....these guys seemed like the type to be bitter, possibly for not receiving the rewards or positions of power that they felt they deserved, emotionally needy and/or stricken with an self-important, elitest, superiority complex.

But, they did receive high positions and rewards because of their upper class status.

Sounds like an ideology to me...

They felt like outsiders. However, homosexuality wasn't a stigma with the British Secret Service or public school boys.

Philby always had a real superiority complex; espionage was his way of proving he was smarter than the fools he worked for.

Well, he sure made fools of us.

Posted by: at November 30, 2006 05:21 PM (fVE3j)

14 What a crock of shit. Do spies have devious intentions? Of course they do, that's their job.

Ideology means nothing to a spy.

Posted by: ErikW at November 30, 2006 05:25 PM (pyPeZ)

15
But, they did receive high positions and rewards because of their upper class status.

But perhaps not as  high as they felt they deserved.

Why are you trying so hard to defend or find alternate reasons for these people who decided to betray their countries?  Ya know, other than the one that an expert in the field has proposed.

Posted by: wiserbud at November 30, 2006 05:47 PM (2+/7m)

16 I've always heard the C in MICE was "conscience".

Posted by: at November 30, 2006 05:50 PM (Cdw8j)

17 Ideology means nothing to a spy.

Tell it to Beria. Political reliability means everything.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at November 30, 2006 08:08 PM (p9O/F)

18 Ego. Ideaology and Ego, are very dangerous things.

Ideology motivates a person to think that they are right, ego makes someone with ideology believe that noone else is.

edcucation makes someone think that only they have the capacity of understanding their idea's.

Basicaly the plan was to find failures who think they should be great.

Posted by: Wickedpinto at November 30, 2006 11:20 PM (QTv8u)

19 DOH! entered too early.

People who are content in their lives, "normal" people, are less likely to be "turned" than people who are oppressed, or who seek a false impression of oppression.

"Educated" people tend to suffer from that false impression more than "normal" people, since they are just knowledgeable to fabricate excuses for their failures. "lets see you do it!!" common response "I never said I could." and such. It's everyone elses fault in the eyes of the "educated" egoist idealogues.

Posted by: Wickedpinto at November 30, 2006 11:24 PM (QTv8u)

20 Why are you trying so hard to defend or find alternate reasons for these people who decided to betray their countries? Ya know, other than the one that an expert in the field has proposed.

There are numerous published experts in this field. Why are you so eager to accept a theory that on its face applied to some of the most famous spies is wrong? Just because you like the sound of an explanation does not make it correct.

Posted by: at November 30, 2006 11:53 PM (fVE3j)

21 Forgot: Where did I defend any of the spies, asshole?

Posted by: at November 30, 2006 11:54 PM (fVE3j)

22 numerous published experts in this field.

If they're so good at spotting people with these vulnerabilities, why do spies still manage to operate?

Sounds like a social science -- which is to say largely bullshit.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at December 01, 2006 12:08 AM (p9O/F)

23 Really, if we are to dismiss ideology as motivation for spying, then there's no reason for these expensive, time-consuming background checks for Muslims in sensitive positions, right?

Keeping an eye on their checking accounts should be enough, I guess.

Posted by: spongeworthy at December 01, 2006 05:16 AM (uSomN)

24 Nobody tell Entropy!

No, of course not. In real life most "spies" are the more pathetic of the disgruntled employees who are used like a cheap whore by those who pay them. They do nothing exciting, they don't break into places and take pictures of secret documents with a camera hidden inside a ball-point pen, they just stick a Xerox of a memo in their pocket and give it to somebody over lunch.

That's why we have movies.

Real life is fuggin boring. You know what else happens in real life? I take huge, half hour long craps.

You want I should go get a camcorder for your viewing pleasure? It will be very realistic movie based on the true story of a microwave enchilada.

Posted by: Entropy at December 01, 2006 09:59 AM (m6c4H)

25 Aldrich Ames

Posted by: Lars at December 01, 2006 01:50 PM (PoGDx)

26 The pathetic thing about the ones who spy for money is how little they actually make for the goods they provide...

Posted by: richard mcenroe at December 01, 2006 04:34 PM (w+ipT)

27

Richard,


 


No kidding. Consider what that family of spies (Name escapes me at the moment. Father & son Navy officers as I recall...) gave the Soviets during the Cold War: Our version of Purple or Enigma. They weren't too worried because without the machine, the code-keys they were giving the Sovs were useless. Then the Norks snagged the USS Pueblo and got the machines, and by that time they were stuck. "You stop sending us the code-keys, tovarsitch, and we let our double-agents leak that you work for us. We loose the ability to read your messages for a while, but you go to "Federal Pound Me Up The Ass" prison for the rest of your life." It's never a one-time thing when you get compromised like that. It's like a roach motel, one you're in, you can't get back out.


Posted by: Cybrludite at December 02, 2006 02:13 AM (XFoEH)

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