Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Spy School 101: M.I.C.E Make RATS!

I haven't had many opportunities to talk about what I term "my former life" as an FBI operations specialist working in counterintelligence. I tend to not spread that around. But now that I'm writing this new J.J. McCall series, all those years of experience have really become part of my writing craft, especially in terms of character development. I think it will ultimately help bring a more authentic experience to the reader.

What's Counterintelligence at the FBI?

When foreign intelligence agencies send their spies to the United States to collect information (yes they still do that--even some of our so-called allies), it is the FBI's job to thwart their efforts. Hence, the Counterintelligence program. Our job was to identify spies and neutralize them (but not in a bang bang shoot 'em up way like you see in the movies). Through a variety of methods, we tried to make sure they had a damn tough time accomplishing their missions.

One of the best ways for intelligence officers to gain classified information is to recruit human sources--or even better if they volunteer.

From M.I.C.E. to RATS!

I think one way some stories really miss the mark on telling spy/espionage tales is in the motivation. What is the motivation that makes someone betray their country? No, it's ususally not avenging a murder of a loved one or friend. This motivation will draw eye rolls from anyone in "the business" because spies (at least the ones serving under diplomatic cover in their U.S. Embassies) do. not. carry. guns! I know an FBI Agent (several actually) who used to forget theirs in their desk drawers. The spy world not about gunplay. It's more like an intriguing game of chess. With that said, there are deaths in my upcoming book The Seven Year Itch, A J.J. McCall Novel, but not due to FBI agents and spies shooting at each other. Just. Doesn't. Happen. That's so Hollywood.

In the CI world, we use the acronym M.I.C.E. to characterize motivations.

Money. Ideology . Compromise. Ego.

Usually people spy for a combination of these reasons. But, in my experience, one usually tends to dominate.

Money. Aldrich Ames, a CIA case officer in the Russia program, would probably be the best example of this. He had a wife who liked the finer things in life. He got in big financial trouble trying to give it to her and needed a fast way out. So he sold out for what, in the big scheme of things, doesn't seem like a lot of money--but it was enough to get him into trouble.

Ideology. Ana Montez, a former DIA analyst, is probably the best current example of this. She spied for the Cubans because she didn't think the U.S. treated Cubans fairly. If I'm not mistaken, I don't think she received payment, certainly nothing significant enough to make money a motivation. She was a classic example of ideological motivation.

Compromise. Clayon Lonetree, a Marine serving at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, who fell in love with a Russian woman. It started with a little violation of the no-fraternization rules (which he didn't report to the security officer), and he eventually ended up spying for "Uncle Sasha." A very slippery slope. Compromise occurs when an intelligence agency gets some kind of negative information on you (i.e., homosexuality (if you're not out and don't want to be out), gambling problem, drug/narcotics using/dealing, breaking no-fraternization rules) and they use that information to coerce you into providing classified information. In my experience, coercion is rarely used.

Ego. Best example is probably convicted spy former FBI Supervisory Special Agent Robert Hanssen. Although he turned for a combination of reasons--money being another one. To those with whom he worked that he considered to be "minions" (like analysts...and mostly everyone), he was just a plain flat out narcissitic jerk...to the tenth power. He thought himself more intelligent than...well...everybody. And the FBI, indeed no one in the world except the Russians, appreciated him for the genuis he was, so he licked his underappreciated wounds and sold secrets to the Russians. Genuis.

So that pretty much sums up my blog on spying motivation. Identifying authentic motivations for your characters in ANY GENRE is important to character development. The more informed you are about their true motivation and the more detail you can provide, the better your story will be for your audience.

What motivates your characters? Any questions?
More Spy School to Come...

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