Monday, April 16, 2012

Spies Like Us


I bet it would be absolutely amazing to be a secret agent.

It’s understandably a hard gig to get. From my extensive research of five minutes of Internet searching and reading one fifth of a Blackford Oakes novel, as far as I can tell the only way to become a spy is to either be born to wealthy parents in New England or be a petty criminal who is good with knives and amorality. But I’m firmly of the belief that it could be done even if you don’t know/kill the right people. It’s a tough slot to fill and the skill set, as it were, is in demand. It’s also occasionally amusing that you’ll hear recruitment ads on the radio, mostly to a listening audience assuming they are going to be assassinating dissidents in Moscow when in reality they will be sitting in a gross dimly lit pale blue room listening to 100 hours of audiotape each day trying to pick out someone saying the phrase “dirty bomb” in Arabic.

One would think that they heyday of the superspy is over. Gone are the days when Soviets and American spies crossed each other, planting double agents and running safe houses and toppling third-world nations. No more playing the Great Game, fussing about the colony system and easily penetrating nations where you have a plausible historical justification for showing up at a Turkish barbershop talking in a British accent and getting away with it. With a new international enemy that doesn’t recognize governments or borders or the normal rules of play (MUSLIM TERRORISTS. I’M TALKING ABOUT MUSLIM TERRORISTS), how can the old system of espionage survive? I don’t know the answer, but I’m pretty sure the answer is money.

Still, the world needs spies. And just what are the perks for becoming a secret agent? Believe it or not, there are plenty:

You get all the power: One of the best parts about being a secret agent is that you’re pretty much on your own. Sure, you get a mission objective and there are rules, but once you’re dispatched to the field and your boss initiates plausible deniability, you can pretty much do what you want. That bodyguard getting on your nerves? BOOM! He’s gone. You want to use C4 or ram a diesel-filled truck through a concrete wall? Depends on whether you want precision or drama. That stop sign? You can’t read Bosnian! Optional traffic law it is! If anyone ever questions you after the fact, you can just claim that the pressure of meeting the objective required snap judgments and they can’t know because they weren’t there. Just keep within the fiscal quarter's budget and the possibilities of your freedom are endless.

You get all the technology: The childish things you see in the James Bonds movies are just props and toys. Any task that requires a real-life remote control car or a car-battery-run heart re-starter is a mission that only exists in XBoxistan. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not first in line to use the latest and greatest from whatever major industrial corporation the government pays to invent things that let us find people and kill things more efficiently. I have no idea what is out there these days, but I bet they are less like poison-dart cufflinks and more like FourSquare for terrorists.

You get full license for cultural insensitivity: Sure, you need to respect the culture in order to infiltrate it. And anymore, when your enemy is of a different, ah, complexion as yourself, you may need to dip your hand in the sad-looking local pool of talent to get recruits, and they are probably not OK with violating the local laws and customs they’ve grown up with. But that doesn’t mean you have to! You want to take a shortcut and desecrate the local spiritual grounds so you don’t have to walk an extra three blocks to the local “masseuse”? Have at it! You want to eat a double-stack hamburger in Madras or a ham on rye with a snootful of whiskey in Medina? Go for it! The world is your oyster, which, by the way, Orthodox Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists can’t eat.

You get all the chicks: If there is one thing that ladies love—and I am basing this off of a Harvard study that watched all of the episodes of The Prisoner, in order—is that they love mystery, they love power, and they love being heartlessly used and tossed aside by mysterious powerful men. (Although, apparently, secret agents no longer hold a monopoly on being mysterious and powerful; the same thing now applies to advertising executives.) So what secret agent wouldn’t use such benefits to his advantage? Female and homosexual spies, that’s who.  I think the allure of the mysterious and powerful  applies to them, as well. But who knows? After all, we all have our secrets.

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