Tradecraft Secrets From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More


SPYSCAPE’s True Spies podcasts put you in the danger zone, riding shotgun with operatives from the CIA, KGB, Mossad and more as they share their most closely guarded espionage secrets.

Follow along as ex-CIA case officer Ryan Hillsberg lays out SADRAT - the recruitment cycle for courting foreign spies. Spy on a covert operation as Mossad sets up a diving school on the Red Sea, and live the intrigue of undercover, Russian sleeper agent ‘Jack Barsky’ sent to spy on Americans.

Tradecraft is a combination of techniques, methods, and technologies used in the field. The tools for each mission - disguises, cameras, listening devices - depend on the assignment. Intuition and a curious nature are assets, but there are no short-cuts when it comes to intelligence gathering.

Tradecraft: The Inside View From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Ryan Hillsberg’s True Spies podcast: You Me, Same Same

The CIA recruiter

Ex-CIA case officer and SPYEX consultant Ryan Hillsberg knows what it takes to be a top-notch operations officer: The ability to live in the gray - a black-and-white mentality just doesn’t work well in the field. Operatives need to blend into their surroundings and Ryan used this technique to full effect to recruit foreign spies to work for the CIA.

He lays out the basis of his tradecraft secrets - the six-step cycle of recruiting assets, or as it’s known in the CIA, SADRAT: Spotting, Assessing, Development, Recruiting, Agent handling, and then Termination.

That's the recruitment cycle from A to Z but Hillsberg fills in the gaps in our True Spies podcast: You Me, Same Same.

Tradecraft: The Inside View From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Shawnee Delaney’s True Spies podcast: Me and the Mullah

The spy handler

When Shawnee Delaney worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency she was tasked with gathering tactical information on America’s enemies in the Middle East. It fell to her to recruit a Mullah, a committed fundamentalist who had close ties to Osama bin Laden but who started having doubts about al-Qaeda after 9/11. 

The Mullah had not been formally recruited yet for a simple reason: he wouldn’t agree to take money, and money makes the spying world go around.

How could Shawnee convince him to go on the DIA’s payroll? First she needed to understand the Mullah's motivations for providing intelligence. Then, Shawnee needed another five months until she finally figured out how to close the deal.


Tradecraft: The Inside View From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Eric O'Neill's True Spies podcast: Gray Suit & The Ghost


The FBI ‘ghost’

FBI investigative specialist and SPYEX consultant Eric O'Neill's job involved learning all of the tradecraft of every spy who might operate in the US. If he was suspicious of the target, O’Neill followed the person, hoping to catch the enemy in an act of espionage or terrorism.

O'Neill was also tasked with catching the most notorious mole in the FBI's history: double agent Robert Hanssen, who spied for the Soviet Union and Russia for more than 20 years. During the op, O’Neill went undercover. He was a 'ghost'.

"We worked from the shadows, so we were trained in all of the traditional clandestine techniques... disguises and how to use photography to capture a target from a long distance," O’Neill said.

True Spies
reveals how O’Neill uncovered the FBI agent turned Russian mole.


Tradecraft Secrets From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More

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SPYSCAPE’s True Spies podcasts put you in the danger zone, riding shotgun with operatives from the CIA, KGB, Mossad and more as they share their most closely guarded espionage secrets.

Follow along as ex-CIA case officer Ryan Hillsberg lays out SADRAT - the recruitment cycle for courting foreign spies. Spy on a covert operation as Mossad sets up a diving school on the Red Sea, and live the intrigue of undercover, Russian sleeper agent ‘Jack Barsky’ sent to spy on Americans.

Tradecraft is a combination of techniques, methods, and technologies used in the field. The tools for each mission - disguises, cameras, listening devices - depend on the assignment. Intuition and a curious nature are assets, but there are no short-cuts when it comes to intelligence gathering.

Tradecraft: The Inside View From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Ryan Hillsberg’s True Spies podcast: You Me, Same Same

The CIA recruiter

Ex-CIA case officer and SPYEX consultant Ryan Hillsberg knows what it takes to be a top-notch operations officer: The ability to live in the gray - a black-and-white mentality just doesn’t work well in the field. Operatives need to blend into their surroundings and Ryan used this technique to full effect to recruit foreign spies to work for the CIA.

He lays out the basis of his tradecraft secrets - the six-step cycle of recruiting assets, or as it’s known in the CIA, SADRAT: Spotting, Assessing, Development, Recruiting, Agent handling, and then Termination.

That's the recruitment cycle from A to Z but Hillsberg fills in the gaps in our True Spies podcast: You Me, Same Same.

Tradecraft: The Inside View From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Shawnee Delaney’s True Spies podcast: Me and the Mullah

The spy handler

When Shawnee Delaney worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency she was tasked with gathering tactical information on America’s enemies in the Middle East. It fell to her to recruit a Mullah, a committed fundamentalist who had close ties to Osama bin Laden but who started having doubts about al-Qaeda after 9/11. 

The Mullah had not been formally recruited yet for a simple reason: he wouldn’t agree to take money, and money makes the spying world go around.

How could Shawnee convince him to go on the DIA’s payroll? First she needed to understand the Mullah's motivations for providing intelligence. Then, Shawnee needed another five months until she finally figured out how to close the deal.


Tradecraft: The Inside View From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Eric O'Neill's True Spies podcast: Gray Suit & The Ghost


The FBI ‘ghost’

FBI investigative specialist and SPYEX consultant Eric O'Neill's job involved learning all of the tradecraft of every spy who might operate in the US. If he was suspicious of the target, O’Neill followed the person, hoping to catch the enemy in an act of espionage or terrorism.

O'Neill was also tasked with catching the most notorious mole in the FBI's history: double agent Robert Hanssen, who spied for the Soviet Union and Russia for more than 20 years. During the op, O’Neill went undercover. He was a 'ghost'.

"We worked from the shadows, so we were trained in all of the traditional clandestine techniques... disguises and how to use photography to capture a target from a long distance," O’Neill said.

True Spies
reveals how O’Neill uncovered the FBI agent turned Russian mole.


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Tradecraft Secrets From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Jim Clemente’s True Spies podcast: The Profiler

The rebel profiler

Have you got what it takes to be an FBI profiler? According to Jim Clemente you are going to need two things.

First, a brilliant imagination, the ability to put yourself in the place of the offender so you’re actually experiencing the crime and aftermath in your own mind. Secondly, you’ll need to be rebellious.

“If you’re very dogmatic and can only think one way, then it’s going to be very difficult for you to put yourself in the place of the offender and figure out, really, what makes him tick,” Clemente tells True Spies. “Because if we look at how the crime was committed, that leads us to why the crime was committed, and that leads us to who committed the crime.”

Tradecraft: The Inside View From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Marthe Cohn's True Spies podcast: The Survivor

The French spy behind enemy lines

Marthe Cohn, who turned 100 in 2020, has fond memories of her time as a French spy during World War II. She infiltrated Germany pretending to be a local nurse. Cohn’s colleagues couldn’t imagine that a short, thin, blonde, blue-eyed woman was a threat and dismissed her as insubstantial. Cohn’s legend (spy-speak for a cover story) helped her deliver a big victory. 

Knowing Allied soldiers were advancing on the Black Forest, Cohn struck up a conversation with a German doctor while standing near an ambulance on the roadside. After chatting for a while, he mentioned the exact location of the German Army in the forest. Cohn then ran to the nearest customs office with a message for her commanding officer. 

“He could read it. It was in French, I didn’t take the time to code it. I had no time for that,” she recalled. 

Tradecraft Secrets From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Joe Navarro’s True Spies Podcast: The Armageddon Papers 

The body language expert

Information may be the most important thing in the spy world, but how does an operative legally get intelligence from a subject? One technique is to use subtle power plays - something ex-FBI body language expert Joe Navarro has mastered. He and his partner Mrs. Moody used a range of techniques when getting a key asset to open up.

Whenever we would enter the hotel room, I would enter first or let Mrs. Moody enter first. Then I would enter and then Rod would enter last. But prior to him even getting there, we had already arranged the room so that Rod always sat on a couch which sat lower than the chairs that Mrs. Moody and I would sit on,” Navarro explained to True Spies. “And even if he said: ‘Can I get up for a bathroom break?’ We would say: ‘Oh, one second.’ And then just delay him by a few seconds so that psychologically we never lost control over him.”

Tradecraft: The Inside View From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Gad Shimron's True Spies podcast: Operation Brothers

The Mossad diver

SPYEX consultant Gad Shimron was born in Tel Aviv and, during a long career with Mossad, he was stationed in Sudan. He helped smuggle persecuted Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the early 1980s but it was slow going, less than 10 people a week. Mossad was getting impatient. That's when Shimron and his colleague developed a plan to ramp up the extractions. 

They found an abandoned diving school on the Red Sea and scaled up covert operations to bring in operatives from Israel and smuggle out Ethiopians. Mossad paid the local government money to lease the property. Everybody was happy.

“The idea was that this diving resort will enable the Mossad to bring operatives to Sudan. It’s a good cover story," Shimron told True Spies


Tradecraft: The Inside View From the CIA, KGB, Mossad, and More
Listen to Jack Barsky's True Spies podcast: The Illegal


The KGB sleeper agent

Albrecht Dittrich was an East German sleeper agent for the KGB and arrived in the US in 1978 with instructions to embed himself in American life. His alias was Jack Barsky and his contact with the Soviet Union was through a shortwave radio. He received his instructions in double-encrypted Morse code. 

“I got a transmission about once a week on a particular day at a particular time, Thursdays at 9:15 pm,” the SPYEX consultant said. “To receive and decrypt, it would take me roughly about two-and-a-half hours.”

Outgoing messages were more laborious. Dittrich would compose a letter but also put text in secret writing. After posting it by regular mail to South America or Europe, the letter would be picked up by a KGB collaborator and forwarded in a diplomatic pouch to Moscow: “You ask a question and you get an answer three weeks later."

Listen to Valerie Plame's True Spies podcast: Fair Game? 

The spy who was outed

Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operations officer, started as an overseas case officer and ended up managing secret programs dealing with nuclear proliferation. Before her cover was blown in a game of political football, Plame learned to go 'gray'. She was a diplomat's wife and played the part of the devoted spouse with no career aspirations. 

"All I had to say was, ‘Oh you know, I’m a consultant, I travel.' And then people, they glaze over," she said. "Many people, frankly, discount women. What could they possibly be up to, other than, say, shopping?"

Intrigued? Think you could learn the tricks of the trade? Listen to True Spies to find out more about what happened to Plame and other real-life spies. 

True Spies host Vanessa Kirby won best actress at the Venice Film Festival for her role in Pieces of a Woman (2020). She is perhaps best known for her BAFTA-winning portrayal of Princess Margaret in The Crown, and for her roles in Mission: Impossible and Hobbs & Shaw.

The True Spies series is produced by SPYSCAPE, the number-one rated museum and experience in New York which uses intriguing and entertaining stories and experiences based on secrets to inspire ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

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