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  • Spying Commandments, 1918 July 30, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    black hat spy

    Britain’s foreign intelligence body MI6 (aka SIS) was one of the reasons that the Allies won WW2. In its early days MI6 though had practically to invent the spying rule book: founded in 1909 it was put through its paces in WW1 where it had only mixed achievements. The boiled down and often painfully acquired wisdom from those early years was set out, in 1918, in a book that really should be published today for a wider public: Notes on Instruction and Recruiting of Agents. There were all the banal tips, of course: disguises, drop points, invisible inks etc etc. But it also offered a series of spying commandments. What I find fascinating about these is that anyone who has ever watched the groteseque caricature of spying found in, say, James Bond or 24 knows most of these things instinctively. Yet these principles had to be spelt out for intelligent young men (and eventually women) preparing to serve their country in the most dangerous of arts in territories where failure often meant death.

    Don’t get cold feet, but if you do get caught keep your mouth shut and don’t give anybody away

    In writing or wiring to sub-agents don’t use your own handwriting or name. Always type.

    Destroy carbons after typing incriminating matter. (The text here goes on to describe an agent who had had to committ suicide after his name had been revealed on a carbon. For those of our younger readers who are asking: ‘what’s a carbon’, follow the link and thank the gods you were born too late to know at first hand.)

    Think as much of the safety of your colleagues as of your own.

    As to cover there was: ‘nothing to beat sound commercial cover’. The spy as travelling salesman didn’t really make it into spy literature: by the time Fleming and co were writing spying had become part of the diplomatic system of attaches. However, the commercial agent must know and understand ‘the article he is supposed to sell and also really transacts business in such article’.

    A final point was any agent should have a professional thief on call. The thief should be ready to take the fall if caught: might have been a steep call.

    These citations come via Jeffrey’s excellent history of MI6: as noted above the original has not yet been published which is a pity. Other basic advice from the early years of spying (British or otherwise?) drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com