How to Run Your Own Espionage Mission

by Anne Dorko

Espionage is the art of information gathering.

But what is espionage, really? An espionage mission is when you set out to get a specific set of information, all at once. You then use that information to create a plan of attack and perform a critical hit on your enemy.

Clearly, the information you are gathering will be against the will of your enemy. Espionage happens on a battle ground. There are high stakes, but the risks are often worth it.

(For better effect, play this YouTube video while reading the rest of this article.)

You don’t know what you don’t know.

You always begin here. Right now there are limitless things that you don’t know you don’t know. So, how do you begin moving to the next stage? You just have to open your eyes.

What will be the target of your espionage mission? Who is your enemy?


pirate ninja espionage observation

You don’t know an infinite amount of things. You can improve your life by choosing to learn some of those things.

So, what could you stand to learn most right now? Each espionage mission should only focus on one target. The acquisition of intelligence for a single quest. Any more and your mission will surely fail.

Answer these questions with the simple act of observation.

  • What would make your life at work easier?
  • What could save you money at home if you learned to do it yourself?
  • What would make you feel more confident in social situations?

If you’re still not finding the right answers, you can dig a little deeper.

  • What did you always want to learn about as a child?
  • What skills did you imagine yourself galavanting around the earth with?

If answering questions like this doesn’t help on its own, journal about all of your problems over the next five days. Spend an hour on day six looking for patterns:

  • What could you learn that would make the problems easier to bear?
  • What could you learn that would make the problems go away?

Enemy Detection

pirate ninja espionage detection

Around every corner, an enemy is hiding. An enemy is lying in wait, plotting your demise. The ambush could come at any moment.

The enemy will use anything to stop you from carrying out your mission.

  • Disappointment.
  • Discouragement.
  • Procrastination.
  • Boredom.
  • Excuses.
  • Distractions.

Every time you find yourself abandoning the cause, check that it’s not just the enemy launching an ambush.

Enemy detection will be critical, particularly during the planning part of your mission (when things are less exciting). Particularly if you are working as a lone wolf with no backup, you have to stay alert.

You know what you don’t know.

Once you have selected the topic of your mission, this is where the espionage really begins.

At this stage, your goal is to gather as much information on your target as possible.


pirate ninja espionage intelligence

The first stage in carrying out your espionage mission should be to gather what intelligence you have available to you.

Is your target easily available online? Does your target require lots of bribes to gain access to? Who knows your target? Will they be easy to turn?

Write down your resources.

Some example espionage missions and how you might get started with this:

  1. Learn Hip Hop dance: YouTube videos (free), local classes ($8/class), friend who dances (trade skills), find meetups and instructors on and (will vary), outfit for dancing ($20-$40)

Notes: Will require intense physical training and a better diet. Will require space to practice regularly.

  1. Learn Photoshop: YouTube tutorials (free), (free, paid version), DeviantArt tutorials (free), Adobe Photoshop (30 day free trial), wacom tablet (optional, starting at $23)

Notes: Will require basic computer skills and a willingness to bang head on desk for sustained periods of time.

  1. Learn Travel Hacking: Travel blogs (free), travel forums (free), (free), transportation (will vary)

Notes: Will require taking time to actually travel, even if only close to home.

As you can see, even though I don’t have the first clue how to actually perform Hip Hop dance, I can start with my basic intel and start working up a profile.


pirate ninja espionage tracking

Tracking will come in handy for multiple stages of your espionage mission.

Tracking New Leads: Don’t have any friends that already know the skill you’re interested in? Time to start tracking them down.

First, you can shake your existing network to find people you didn’t know could help out (track them down using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc).

Secondly, track down the places where these sorts of people hang out. Sometimes it’ll be a physical place in your area (try Meetup or Craigslist), but if you’re learning something like a computer skill, you may find your best bet is in online forums.

Tracking Assets: Once you’ve found your leads, it’s time to track specific assets. By tracking them you will learn the best approach to take when you ask them to lend you a hand.

Never just ask for help. You should always be willing to offer something in return – whether it is monetary or a barter.

Tracking Locally: Not having luck with your usual suspects? Try websites like Foursquare and Yelp to discover new locations that may be useful in your searches.


pirate ninja espionage surveillance

Once you’ve developed and established your assets, it’s time to begin surveilling them so that you can learn what they have to offer.

This may involve further tracking, trailing and other tactics that all come back to surveillance. There are many tools you can use for this, depending on who and how you are gathering your intel. It’s best if you can set up automatic surveillance.

Online Surveillance:

1) IFTTT (If This, Then That) is one such great resource.

It allows you to check for certain keywords (or other requirements) on different sites such as Facebook Pages, Craigslist, Evernote, Google Reader, Tumblr, YouTube, and more. Once that keyword or requirement triggers, IFTTT will shoot you an email with the relevant information.

This way, if there’s a particular person or website you’re trying to follow, you can get updates when they talk about the topic you’re researching.

2) Feedly is my favorite way to get all of my blog subscriptions in one place.

If you’re not familiar with RSS, it allows you to subscribe to a blog without have to actually visit the website. So, for instance, if you found several websites during your intelligence research, you could subscribe to them with Google Reader, and use Feedly to present it to you in a easy-to-follow format.

IRL Surveillance:

You’ll probably need to do some surveillance in real life.

1) Visual learning.

Can’t afford to take classes? Find 6-8 different venues in your area that teach classes you could sit and watch. Rotate through each venue and go watch classes once per week.

2) Active learning.

Taking classes? Found a friend who can help? This goes under surveillance, too. Watch closely, and pay attention. Take notes during or afterwards, if you can. Journalling your experience, writing down wisdom and tips will help you remember (even if you never read them again). If you’re doing something physical, it will also help you to take video.

Follow, watch and learn.

General Surveillance Tips:

1) Be specific.

Your intake should be detailed down to the way they tilted their head, half-smiled, or shifted their weight on their foot. Obviously, the relevance of different techniques will vary depending on your mission. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

2) Be prepared.

Before you go into a surveillance session, make sure that you’ve done all the prep work.

Ready for notes? Is your camera ready? Did you do what independent research you could to be on top of your game? If you’re going somewhere new, make sure you’ve prepared directions, and if possible, scout out the area ahead of time. Do whatever you can so that you can focus on your subject when the session starts.

3) Vary your position.

If you’re always watching from the same position, they’ll catch on to you. But more importantly, you may be missing something. Keep moving, keep looking for new information, and gathering as much intel as you can.

4) Track the facts.

Unless you’re studying something subjective, make sure that you focus on and retain the facts – whether it’s mentally, in your notes or on camera.

Tools of the Trade:

  1. Camera (Smart Phone)
  2. Audio Recorder (Smart Phone)
  3. Evernote
  4. Pen & Paper


pirate ninja espionage articulation

Being able to concisely ask a question and get the right answer doesn’t come naturally.

We’re human, and as humans we are easily sidetracked. You have to learn what you sound like to other people. When you ask a question, it can probably be interpreted about five different ways, and you won’t always get the answer you’re looking for.

The only way to get better at asking questions is to keep asking more questions until you learn what works. Pay attention to the questions that get answered the way you expected them to. What was different? Why do you think you got the right response? Try to imitate those questions in the future for best success.

Whether you’re writing or speaking, getting better at communicating with people on any topic will help you during your mission.

During your mission, you should also be learning to understand and pronounce the lingo that applies to your mission. Do you know what “Clean”, “Isolation” or “Levels” mean? If you’re learning dance, you better learn add those to your vocabulary. You should keep an eye out for relevant words during your intel gathering.

A Note On Written Words:

You’re not always interacting with people in the real world. A lot of our communication is done online.

You will get a lot farther by doing a basic grammar check and running Spell Check from whatever software you’re using. Try pulling out the thesaurus and dictionary if you’re even a little confused about what you’re trying to say.

Some resources for keeping things straight:

Pro tip: Read this article on high impact emails by Chris Brogan.


pirate ninja espionage impersonation

So you’ve found assets. You’ve gathered intel. You’ve begun surveillance. Now it’s time to begin learning the art of impersonation.

Impersonation is the act of behaving like someone else. You have to begin imitating your teachers. Keep following and imitating their movements until you can replicate them perfectly.

You should be able to walk into a room and assume their position without raising suspicion. Could you pull it off? No? Keep practicing.

You don’t necessarily need to be able to perform or do anything crazy at this point – you just need to be able to impersonate someone who fits into the group. You’ll need it to fly under the radar as you continue your mission, and it will put you in the right position to move forward with the third phase without detection.

You don’t know what you know.

Now you have all sorts of new information, but you don’t know whether it’s any good.

Check the information you’ve gathered. You’ll return to base and connect the dots. In doing so, you’ll ask a lot of questions and go into the field to test whether your intel is valid.


pirate ninja espionage forgery

So you think you understand the group. You know how the best students behave. You’ve observed the teaching styles.

Can you make it look legit?

If you’ve ever heard the term, “Fake it till you make it”, this is what we’re talking about here. Obviously, forging anyone’s information is illegal, but we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about your skills and your confidence.

You’re forging the skills and talent you’ve been observing. Based on what you learned intel gathering, you should be up to speed on basic vocabulary and expectations from the community you’re introducing yourself to. Your job here is to go in, show them your newfound intel and see whether you’re able to pull it off.

This doesn’t mean putting yourself on the platform (unless the situation calls for it specifically).

If you’re a student in class, you just want to fake being a student who gets it… until you do, in fact “get it” – because then there’s no faking anymore. If you’re learning Photoshop, you’re just fudging it and making it work… until you do, in fact “get it”.

Whatever you do, your goal is to imitate what you’ve seen and learned from, until it all clicks into place through practice and experience.

Body Language

pirate ninja espionage body language

For those of you participating in a mission that involves real-world interaction, you can get a lot of feedback just by reading body language.

Reading the reaction of those you’re asking to help you connect the dots. How well did they believe your forgery? Are they impressed, or do they think you could use some work? Do they want to help you?

There are a lot of resources on reading body language (and in fact it could be an espionage mission in and of itself). Here’s a few resources to get you started:


pirate ninja espionage interrogation

It’s not just about body language though. Sometimes you just have to dive in and start checking your facts. Interrogation will be the process of finding reliable sources that you can cross reference the data you collected against.

(This is where good articulation will really come in handy.)

Before you get started, you need to write decide who your reliable sources are. Sometimes, this will be your favorite forums, blogs and online friends you’ve made. Maybe it’s some of the people that fell out of the network from earlier in the mission.

Get your intel, and put together questions that linger from your intel gathering. Write a short summary of what you’ve learned and the direction you’re hoping to take once the mission is over.

Don’t just start throwing out questions at random.

For highest effect, spread out your intel and ask about bite-sized facts. Cross reference your intel.

For example: If you learned X from, don’t go to the forum to as whether X is true. If John Doe told you Y, you wouldn’t email him to ask whether he really meant Y was true. Make sure to check each fact separate from where you found it.

If you work best with physical pen and paper, write out your questions, dates and facts on individual sheets (and include where they came from). Once you’ve done that, write out your reliable sources to cross-reference with. Then, start pairing them together until every fact has a reference to check it with.

At that point, you can pick up the phone, start writing emails or posting questions to your forums.

You know what you know.

You have now reached the final stage of your espionage mission: You planned your mission, executed it and tested new intelligence you’ve gathered.

It’s time to take the final shot.


pirate ninja espionage sniper

Your enemy is now in your sights. You’ve uncovered new intelligence and put together an entire profile about your target.

You know who you want to be at the end of this, and you know what you have to do to make that happen. All you have to do is pull the trigger.

This is your mission, should you choose to accept it.

First published December 03, 2012

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