The tools in a spy's arsenal are more varied than you might think. But they all come under one name: Tradecraft. In our third round of insights from the world of espionage, Vanessa Kirby meets daring undercovers, sweet-talking case officers, and spies who shaped history.
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True Spies Episode 88: Tradecraft, Part 3

Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position?

SHAWNEE DELANEY: You're in a place where they're trying to enlighten you, and educate you, and train you. But they're also trying to break you down and build you up the way they want you to be.

NARRATOR: This is True Spies Episode 88: Tradecraft, Part Three. You’re about to dive into the secret world of espionage, peer behind the curtain of tradecraft secrets. Are you ready?

GUY STERN: So they feared retribution. And so that was a threat which we played to the hilt.

NARRATOR: What do you do for a living? Are you good with numbers? Can you multitask? Are you a team player? Whatever the cliche, there’s a high chance you had to do some training for the job you’re in. Apart from the threat of death or imprisonment, in the spying world, it’s not much different. However, the skills you learn to be an operative have a name: Tradecraft. But where do you go to learn the skills that will give you these tools? Well, in the FBI they call it ‘the School’, and for any budding operative, this is where they send you. But having your lunch money stolen is the least of your worries.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: I'm telling you right now, it's not going to be easy. It's not going to be easy at all. And it was not easy. You know, we had other agencies and other establishments come in and tell us: “You guys are crazy for doing this kind of stuff.”

NARRATOR: This is Giovanni Rocco, from Episode 77 of True Spies. He worked for years as an undercover FBI agent in some of the most dangerous gangs in the US. But to get to that, he had to go through some rigorous FBI training.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: It took my previous training before I had the FBI school and injected steroids. The first thing they're going to do is strip you down. Some of the candidates don't even make it past the first few days. They'll deprive you of sleep, and then they'll just strip you physically of everything you have in you. And then they'll begin to train you. Because it almost mimics the extreme stress of having to negotiate under extreme pressure. Your body's pumping adrenaline. You're not negotiating corporate trades on Wall Street. You're in some crack den or sent in with some sicarios or some heavy hitters. So you have to learn how to do these things under extreme pressure. So they give you the proper training to prepare you for conducting any kind of operation.

NARRATOR: Skills like identifying when someone is showing fear or weakness through subconscious body language. Or ‘tick and tells’, as it’s known in the spy world. Noticing when someone is lying or nervous is vital to an undercover operative's success - noticing a weak point that can be squeezed for information.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: Maybe I would have a pen and I would tap that pen on my hand or something. You know, in my world, if I read you and I sit there and I'm watching you tap, it's just: “Why are you tapping?” You know?

NARRATOR: Useful in situations, say, when you’re talking about illegal drugs, with potential clients and buyers.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: So now I could tell. If I was to start talking numbers - and I start talking prices - for whatever I'm moving with you and the business we're doing, and that price is not the number. I could tell by your tick and tell.

NARRATOR: What do you do when you're nervous? Is there something you do that shows others you’re feeling uncomfortable? This wasn’t an option for Giovanni. To be a really good undercover operative and stay alive, you need to hide your tick and tell. But how? Well, everything is easier when you remember to breathe.

GIOVANNI ROCCO: Heart rate variability is everything. Breathing is everything. Everybody's been in a situation where you have that Jackrabbit heart, it's racing a million miles a minute and you can't control it. And next thing you know? Your voice gets elevated. Your voice starts to crackle. You start to stutter. Well, if you just take a deep breath and you slow your speech. You can think clearer. You kind of regulate yourself. And then you can actually have a full conversation without saying something stupid that you should not say.

NARRATOR: Breathing. Okay, got it. Thanks, Giovanni. So you’ve been to ‘the School’. What now? 

JIM LAWLER: They wanted me to manipulate, to exploit, to subvert, to suborn people, foreign people, to get them to commit treason, to betray a trust. 

NARRATOR: Oh yes, the nitty-gritty. Betrayal features heavily in True Spies. 

JIM LAWLER: Your parents probably taught you to never betray your country, never betray your family. And yet the CIA expected me to do exactly that. And I found out that not only was I pretty good at it but I enjoyed it a lot.

NARRATOR: Enter Jim Lawler, CIA operations officer for 25 years. He’s a self-confessed sociopath, which does help in his line of work - an unofficial entry into the Book of Tradecraft Secrets.

JIM LAWLER: A good psychiatrist friend of mine once said: “Jim, you're nothing but a sociopath but one within lanes. And those lanes are US laws.”

NARRATOR: A sociopath, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is a person who lacks empathy, who feels little to no genuine remorse for their immoral or amoral actions, a person for whom manipulation is as natural as breathing and deceit is second nature. And how he recruited his most valuable asset is a prime example of this. But let’s rewind a little. A quick recap from Episode 63, The Sociopathic Spy. Jim has an asset that is giving him golden information. However, this asset has an asset of their own - a secretary working for a high-ranking official in a hostile nation. Jim’s asset suggests cutting out the middleman, going straight to the source. The initial meeting goes swimmingly and lays the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship. Now, this is where it gets interesting, as Jim now has to now pitch to the potential asset what he wants from her and to make her take the bait, he has to sweeten the deal. But how? Well in the world of tradecraft it’s all about leverage. What have you got that they need?

JIM LAWLER: This young woman had a medical condition that required a procedure that was going to cost her the equivalent of about $5,000.

NARRATOR: And she didn’t have the money, so it helps to be a bit of a sociopath in these circumstances.

JIM LAWLER: Well, when I found out that she needed this medical procedure and that it was going to cost about $5,000, I knew that this was the kind of thing that would sweeten the whole moment and would make it more palatable.

NARRATOR: You have to look at the bigger picture of what Jim is trying to do, serve his country, one lunch date at a time.

JIM LAWLER: So on the second meeting, I made her a commercial consulting proposal. I said: “Look, I'm willing to pay you so much a month to be my consultant. And you know what? To sweeten the deal, I'll throw in $5,000 as a little signing bonus.” She was overjoyed. I was happy. She was happy.

NARRATOR: However, there’s a problem. Jim has to do the right thing and tell this new asset that she is really working for the CIA. So on a third meeting, he tells her. She backs out of the deal. Fair enough. It’s not over though. Is he really willing to give up this hugely valuable asset when he was a hair’s breadth away from securing her? Would any good operative worth their salt? Give up? Of course not. Jim turns up the sociopathy levels to 11 for the fourth meeting. 

JIM LAWLER: And I got down to the train station in the city in which she lived. And I trudged through that train station kind of thinking: “This is doomed.” And I saw a little gift shop and I thought: “Well, the decent thing to do would be to go buy her a little farewell present.” So I went into the store and I saw about an eight-inch-high bud vase, very delicate, an Imari bud vase that must have cost me $50. And so I put it in a little plastic bag and went off to my hotel. And then I went to dinner. 

JIM LAWLER: Now the dinner was in a restaurant that is absolutely one of the best restaurants in Europe. It has spectacular cuisine, a spectacular wine list, fabulous mountain scenery. It is just absolutely the pinnacle of haute cuisine.

NARRATOR: The perfect setting for a bit of undercover seduction.

JIM LAWLER: Low music, absolutely fabulous cuisine, fabulous wine. Extremely, extremely romantic.

NARRATOR: From the time he’d already spent with the asset, he had a feeling that she’d be susceptible to a little well-placed male attention. She was living with her mother here.

JIM LAWLER: She was in her early 30s, not married yet, which in her culture basically meant that she was probably going to be living with her mama for the rest of her. Charming. But not, technically, untrue. Another weak point was spotted. Jim exploits it.

JIM LAWLER: I set this gift-wrapped box in front of her and she said: “So what's this?” I said: “Well, just open it.” So she opened it and she put it in front of her. And I said: "I'd like you to take this back when you go home in a few weeks. And you could even take it to the foreign ministry and put it on your desk. And when you look at it, you could think of me." And she started looking at it.

NARRATOR: He’s flirting, isn’t he?

JIM LAWLER: And then I heard her say something under her breath, and by this time she was crying. I could see tears coming down and I thought: “What did I say to upset her?” And I heard her say something and I leaned in close and I said: “What did you say?” And she said: "I can do this." 

NARRATOR: Creating characters as Jim did is Tradecraft 101. But these days, there are other ways you can create different identities.

CHARITY WRIGHT: We are digital spies. We go undercover, we create false personas. We take on different personalities.

NARRATOR: Creating characters to fool people is a thread that runs through espionage. But this is the 21st century. This is the online world. This isn’t your old-school, wine-and-dine, Roger Moore-era spy work. This is cyber espionage. 

CHARITY WRIGHT: My name is Charity Wright and I'm a cyber-threat intelligence analyst. What happens is, any time you conduct an activity or a transaction on the Internet, you leave some type of trace behind. Most people do not anonymize their presence on the Internet well enough, so those traces can be found if you know how to look and where to look. 

NARRATOR: Charity’s specialty is monitoring China. More specifically, how they are developing and conducting cyber espionage. But how did Charity draw China in? How do you catch someone in the act of digital espionage, red-handed? Here’s a Not-So-Dummies' Guide.

NARRATOR: Step one: figure out who you’re going to be.

CHARITY WRIGHT: When I conduct research on China, I have a set of false personas that I adopt to log in to certain sites, to read original sources on Chinese government websites and to track Chinese state-affiliated media, and monitor what's happening in the state-affiliated media, what their narratives are, any bias that is coming through. And I use those false personas to protect my identity as well as using technology that anonymizes my Internet connections so that the Chinese government is unable to track me.

NARRATOR: Step two; know what, or who, you’re looking for.

CHARITY WRIGHT: We know that - through evidence-based studies and through investigations - we know that the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has infiltrated government networks and private networks alike to steal data, to steal proprietary information, science and technology, to then implement in their own country, in their own markets, in their own military technology. 

NARRATOR: Step three, know your enemy.

CHARITY WRIGHT: Knowing how our enemy thinks, what drives them, motivation, culture, all of these things feed into the psychology of intelligence analysis. We cannot counter a threat unless we understand the threat deeply. So for us, as threat researchers and analysts. It's just a matter of: Do we know what their intentions are? And does the behavior and the tactics and techniques and procedures that they're doing? Does that align with what they've stated they're going to do?

NARRATOR: Step four, get on the internet.

CHARITY WRIGHT: From there, you'd be surprised. It starts with simple Google searches. Start with Google. See what pops up. See what people are talking about.

NARRATOR: Step five, follow your gut.

CHARITY WRIGHT: I found an area that I excel in that I just can't explain very well, and that is intuition. And I think a lot of spies around the world have that intuition. Maybe it's learned. Maybe it's training. Maybe it's just being a person who doesn't trust very easily. I always encourage junior analysts and people that are new to the field that during your investigation, if something is telling you: “What about this?” or, “What about that?” or, “Maybe you should look over here.” Go take a peek. I mean, there's no harm in following that instinct. And you never know what you'll uncover. 

NARRATOR: Getting to know your enemy in the 21st century is very different from getting to know your enemy, say, 70 years ago. These days you can do a lot through Google, but back then it was much more old-fashioned. Much more about treading tarmac. Much more analog.

TAKEO YOSHIKAWA: I think I ought to go out and do a little sightseeing.

NARRATOR: Cute. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t your usual tourist. And this isn’t your usual sightseeing. This is Takeo Yoshikawa. His story was brought to life by True Spies in Episode 62: The Mouse At Pearl Harbor. Yoshikawa worked in Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in 1941, as a Japanese undercover agent during World War Two.

TAKEO YOSHIKAWA: It was completely mad. Basically, it wasn’t going to work. And you have to remember, Hawaii was thousands of miles from any other major force. People had called it “an impregnable and indestructible fortress”. But I had to challenge its enormous military might. And this is something I would do primarily by knowing the enemy. 

NARRATOR: Knowing the enemy. Much like Charity Wright. However, Takeo's method posed a much more imminent danger to himself, his nation, and ultimately, in the end, the enemy. To become undercover, Takeo became Morimura. His official job while in Hawaii? Working at Japan’s Foreign Ministry. However, he was really there to gather intel on America's presence in the 50th state, at a period before the US became involved in the war. 

TAKEO YOSHIKAWA: How many American naval vessels entered and exited Pearl Harbor? How many military aircraft were moving through the airfields there? What were their missions? Those are the sorts of questions that couldn’t be answered without my help. 

NARRATOR: This is World War II. The threat is real and the danger is constant. But Morimura had to do the day job he was there to do, plus the undercover work. So, every time he left the office he would don his pair of khaki shorts and floral shirt, and repeat the same line.

TAKEO YOSHIKAWA: “I think I ought to go out and do a little sightseeing.” Very casual, like that. Like it just occurred to me. “Oh, I should do some sightseeing, that would be nice!”

NARRATOR: Beginning with Pearl Harbor, he tried to find out as much as he could about the ships at the Americans’ disposal, and the movement of troops. He would then feed the information back to Japanese headquarters. This was key information for what was to follow. Another way he got to know the enemy was by chatting them up. Our 20-something spy loved a bit of whiskey and a good time. After a long day of pretending to work, Yoshikawa would head downtown to carouse with some of the American sailors, deftly prying for information. He also befriended one particular taxi driver. As he shuttled him around, Yoshikawa played dumb and asked questions.

TAKEO YOSHIKAWA: I would say things like: “Hey! There’s a great big plane over there. Is that for tourists?” But the thing was, Mikami had an incredible amount of information at his fingertips. He could say when a certain aircraft had arrived, for example, or what it was for, or what its schedule was.

NARRATOR: The driver also introduced Yoshikawa to a refreshment shop. A spot with an uninterrupted view of Pearl Harbor’s aircraft carriers and heavy cruisers. Sightseers and spies could kick back with a Coca-Cola, whilst keeping an eye on the unguarded rear flank of the harbor.

TAKEO YOSHIKAWA: I told myself that I would be returning there frequently. 

NARRATOR: Suffice it to say he did. On the morning of December 6, 1941, Yoshikawa took a drive to Pearl Harbor. What he saw there made his heart start to race. The entire enemy fleet was gathered in one place.

TAKEO YOSHIKAWA: Eight battleships, two aircraft carriers, 10 heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and 17 destroyers. Everything. 

NARRATOR: You know what happens next. The next day, on the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked the US forces at the naval base at Pearl Harbor. Over 2,400 US personnel died including 68 civilians. Knowing your enemy is a common theme through all episodes of True Spies and, in Takeo’s case, it turned out to be incredibly deadly. And knowing your enemy was slightly easier for our next True Spy, because he was undercover at an early age. He just didn’t know it at the time.

PETER BLEKSLEY: Those teenage years when I was off the rails gave me an insight into how not to get caught. And it gave me quite a grounding in crime, criminality, and evading the police. My name is Peter Bleksley. I was born and raised in a fairly leafy part of South London.

NARRATOR: This early experience of ‘undercover’ would set Peter in good stead for his very successful career as a detective for the Metropolitan Police. However, to get to that point, he did do some actual training, taming the lion, if you will.

PETER BLEKSLEY: I walked through the front gates of the Metropolitan Police Cadet Training College. And in stark contrast to school, I suddenly discovered self-discipline, respect for others and myself, mainly because a lot of the instructors there were former Royal Marines. And when they went: “Oy Bleksley. I saw you leaning on that wall. Get down for 10 press-ups!” Or what? wasn't an option. I loved it. I relished the discipline. I got fit, learned how to iron my trousers, press my shirt, polish my boots, and do what I was told - most of the time.

NARRATOR: Peter rose through the ranks of The Met to eventually become a detective in the drug squad as an undercover agent. He worked covert operations to bust drug gangs who were selling vast quantities of illegal drugs. But, how do you convince the crooks that you’re one of them? How do you con a conman? Well, for Peter it started with being himself, or a caricature version of himself.

PETER BLEKSLEY: I always stuck close to my true personality. There was no point, me trying to pretend to be a public school-educated expert in fine art, for example. That just wouldn't have washed. So I used to stick to talking about the things that I knew about, which were the three F's - pardon the language - fighting, f***ing, and football. Right? I had some degree of knowledge about those.

NARRATOR: Okay, so you’ve got the chat down. What about the look?

PETER BLEKSLEY: One of my bosses described me as an imaginative dresser. Well, at the time, Miami Vice was on the TV, so there was Don Johnson in Miami with his white linen jackets and Hawaiian shirts. And I've got to confess, I did copy a bit of that.

NARRATOR: Are you getting a good impression of Peter in his pomp as an undercover agent? How would you look and sound if you were to follow Peter's helpful guide? Well, one thing is certain. You won’t pull it off if you don’t believe in yourself.

PETER BLEKSLEY: There had to be a bit of swagger. If you were going to convince people that you'd got a £100,000 to invest in illegal drugs, then you had to be the part. I would say that I ran a bar or a snooker hall and I made a few quid. I always had cash in my hand and would sometimes flash a bit of that. And I was just basically a cocky kind of South London boy done good.

NARRATOR: And, last but not least from Peter’s tradecraft arsenal? Well, we’re not on Hollywood gadget budgets here, so you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. In Peter’s case, it was his hair. Masses of the stuff.

PETER BLEKSLEY: Having long hair was very helpful because I could have it pinned back, looking relatively smart, tied back in a ponytail. Or alternatively, because I had a mass of long, brown, curly hair, I could have it as wild as you like, blowing in the wind, looking like some kind of rock star. Some of the crooks I operated against did want to meet in posh hotels, but many of them wanted to take me to a safe house on a sink estate in a very dangerous part of London. So adaptability was key. 

NARRATOR: So that’s undercover, but what if an enemy surveillance unit identifies you, and deploys a team to tail you? For former British Cold War spy Dave Butler it was a common occurrence. 

DAVE BUTLER: In the heat of the moment, picture yourself rushing through a wood, doing about 60 miles an hour down a wooded track, and you're trying to map read telling the driver when to turn left when it was a bit like rally driving in really close proximity. If we had been shot at, we wouldn't have heard it. I mean, you never hear the bullet that kills you. 

NARRATOR: Dave featured in Episode 63 of True Spies, Catch Me If You Can.

DAVE BUTLER: I served in Brixmis - the British commander-in-chief's mission to the Soviet forces in Germany from 1986 to 1989.

NARRATOR: Brixmis was a deliberately boring name disguising a bizarre arrangement. That arrangement allowed both East and West to gather military intelligence in each other’s territory by pretending - for more than 40 years - that the Second World War had only just finished.

DAVE BUTLER: The British government basically didn't recognize the East German government. So, therefore, that meant we - in a sort of a diplomatic role - could basically go where we want, to do what we want in our vehicles. And we could basically break all those speed limits, ignore police, never stop for an East German, anybody in authority. And so, yes, it was a rather unique position in that we could actually break all the laws. We could steal things - and with Her Majesty's Government's blessing. 

NARRATOR: This didn’t stop them from being followed by not only Soviets but also the Stasi. However, they had a few tradecraft techniques up their sleeves.

DAVE BUTLER: It was not uncommon for one tour vehicle to have up to 10 Stazi vehicles tailing it. In their mind, this was how surveillance was done. What we started to do, of course, was to record all their number plates. And we had actually had what we call a ‘narc list’ with us. So if we were being followed or we passed a vehicle and the best way of ‘de-narcing’ - as we used to call it - was to drive down a road for a couple of kilometers and then turn around for no reason and just drive straight back up the road again. And as soon as the car that was following you - because they wouldn't have a chance to do anything - they always put their hands up to their faces because they thought you were going to photograph them. It was the worst thing you could do to a narc would be to take his picture or her picture, because what that basically did was, it struck them off from then ever working undercover in the West because they would consider that we would pass those photographs back to our own intelligence communities. And then if they tried to come into West Germany, or wherever they would be, their covers were blown. And it was always a favorite trick of ours to point a camera at a vehicle and see them go into panic mode. And even if you were on foot, they would just absolutely panic if you pointed a camera at them.

NARRATOR: But if you really can’t shake them, why not stir them instead?

DAVE BUTLER: The vehicles were very well set up in that we could isolate the brake lights, all the indicators at any time by flicking a switch. So if we were being chased at high speed by the Soviets or by the narcs and you went round a particular hairpin bend, then what we do is flick the brake lights. Our driver would brake hard. But, of course, the vehicle following us wouldn't see any bright lights coming on. So they would think that they could take the corner at the same speed because they couldn't judge. And very often you'd see the vehicle go flying off into the undergrowth because the corners they should have braked on they didn't because they couldn't see our brake lights working. I suppose that was a fun thing to do as well.

NARRATOR: The Bond gadgets are good, a key in the world of espionage. But when you need information from someone, you need their trust, and how do you gain their trust? You find a connection, a common ground. But in the world of espionage, more often than not, the asset you’re trying to recruit is from a very different world to you, and that common ground is hard to find.

SHAWNEE DELANEY: And that first meeting, I think a lot of it was my lack of self-confidence and hearing the voices in my head over and over again like: “He's never going to want to work with you.” He's never going to give you intelligence. And he's probably sitting there thinking: “Who is this white chick?” 

NARRATOR: This is Shawnee Delaney. She worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2005 to 2014. Shawnee was tasked with gathering tactical information on America’s enemies in the Middle East. It fell to her to recruit this asset. We will call him the Mullah who had close ties to Osama bin Laden, the golden goose. A bit of background on the Mullah and how he came to be sitting in an interrogation room across from Shawnee will help to understand what comes later. The Mullah was a committed fundamentalist but he was a complicated one.

SHAWNEE DELANEY: He was very close with his father. After the attacks on 9/11, his father called him up and berated him and knew that he was involved to some degree and told him that he needed to get out of al-Qaeda, that this was a bad organization. It was toxic. It was killing innocent people, etc, etc.

SHAWNEE DELANEY: And that really cut this guy deep. It really hurt him. He took it to heart. He mulled it over for a very long time. 

NARRATOR: Before you come over all misty-eyed, we should reiterate that, fundamentally, the Mullah’s politics hadn’t changed.

SHAWNEE DELANEY: He did believe. He wanted the Islamic State. But the way that al-Qaeda was going about it, he just couldn't support it. His father then moved to the United States, so that was an additional pull like: “Now my father lives there.” His father then died and is buried here in the United States, and it just always ate away at him. And so he ended up breaking from the organization and walking away.

NARRATOR: It was after this ideological break that the DIA had identified the Mullah as a potential source, and why he and Shawnee are now in a room together. So, Shawnee and this Mullah have been having meetings for a while, but he had not been formally recruited, yet. The only way to make this official is if he takes money. Why?

SHAWNEE DELANEY: It's a psychological motivation. Right? Like you're now indebted a little bit. It's a little bit of control. It's a little bit of just part of the process where you want to see if that person is going to follow your directions or kind of fall under your spell if you will.

NARRATOR: Money makes the spying world go round. But this Mullah keeps refusing the money. How are you going to get him to take it? Well, you first need to understand the motivations of the person opposite you. And Shawnee identified three things. He’s a family man. His kids are everything. He’s a scholar, a hafiz - someone who knows the Quran by heart. Thirdly, he is, or was, very close to his father. His father’s respect means a lot to him.

SHAWNEE DELANEY: It took me about five months to figure out how I could recruit him and how I could get him to take money.

NARRATOR: Shawnee was pretty sure she had a foolproof plan. The first part of that plan? Go shopping.

SHAWNEE DELANEY: I went to a bookstore and bought the biggest, fanciest Koran I could find. Very, very fancy. And he unwrapped it. And I don't remember the speech, but I had in my mind prepared just a really beautiful, heartfelt speech about our relationship and how much I appreciated getting to know him because I truly did. And I knew that this would be special to him and he was special to me. And he teared up like it really hit him. So I think that gift was actually a big contributing factor to him accepting as well because I had empathy and he saw I understood him as a person and he felt heard and respected and valued.

NARRATOR: Isn't this what anyone wants? And once you get it from someone, a mutual understanding is formed, and with that, trust. And this is where Shawnee hits him with the second part of the plan.

SHAWNEE DELANEY: And what it was, was his motivation for his kids and their education.

NARRATOR: He’s a scholar and a hafiz. He values education deeply, and he wants the same for his children. Can you see a similarity with Jim, who appeared earlier on? An element of sociopathy has to run through every operative in the clandestine world, otherwise, you’re not going to get very far. And in Shawnee’s case...

SHAWNEE DELANEY: I had a fat envelope with a wad of cash and I had it kind of hidden and after I did the pitch. I told him: “Look. This money is not for you.” And he just kind of looked at me with a little smile and I said after this meeting: “I want you to go straight to the bank and I want you to open a bank account with your eldest son's name on it. And I want you to take this money and I want you to put it in that bank account. You are not allowed to spend it and you are not allowed to keep it.” And he just got this happy smirk on his face and he kind of leaned back. And I said: “This money is for your kids’ college education.” And he leaned back, he took it, slid it back and put it in his pocket and said: “Thank you. I think that's great.”

NARRATOR: The last part of the plan, act three if you will, Shawnee knew that his beloved father, who had emigrated to the USA, had recently passed away.

SHAWNEE DELANEY: And he had lamented several times that he never got to see his father's grave. You know, he knew he was in the US. He hoped one day to be able to visit, but he was really sad that he could never see where his father lay to rest. I told him: “You know, I understand that you have never been able to see where your father was laid to rest. And I know that weighs heavily on you. I would like to be your eyes. And I give you my word that I will go to his grave and I will pay my respects on your behalf.” And he again teared up. He was emotional and he was like: “Thank you, thank you so much. That would mean the world to me if you did that.” And that got him. He was hooked.

NARRATOR: And she followed through on her promise, commitment to the cause. And with that last masterstroke, the Mullah signed on the dotted line. Identifying a weakness in an asset, and exploiting that weakness is key to the success in recruiting that asset. But why do people divulge information in the first place when their backs are up against the wall? Fear. Fear of death. Fear of being exposed. Fear of knowing less than your enemy. Fear of not having enough information. Why gather that information in the first place? You could say fear is, and always has been, the main driver of all espionage.

GUY STERN: Prisoners who didn't respond to our questions were told that they were going to be turned over to Russian captivity.

NARRATOR: We’re back in World War II. It’s 1944, the last embers of the war. But it’s more dangerous than ever. Guy is working for the Survey Section and his job is to interrogate German prisoners of war.

GUY STERN: So they feared retribution. And so that was a threat which we played to the hilt. 

NARRATOR: Why would this strike fear into the hearts of German POWs? When Hitler’s forces had mounted their invasion of Russia, they had committed war crimes against POWs. That invasion had ultimately failed, but the Russians were out for blood. A Soviet prison would not be a welcoming place for a German soldier. Fear.

GUY STERN: We had to prove that the danger of being shipped to Russian captivity was not an idle threat.

NARRATOR: Enter Fred Howard, one of Guy’s comrades in arms. Born Manfred Ehrlich, he was a German Jew who had found shelter in the USA before the outbreak of war.

GUY STERN: And so we became a team, Fred and I, and he became - when we interrogated - he became the soft-hearted, good-hearted, running-over-with-the-milk-of-human-kindness kind of American. And I became the hot-headed nasty Russian with a Russian accent borrowed from an American comedy show that I watched when I was still a civilian with my aunt and uncle.

NARRATOR: Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. Good cop, bad cop. And to play the part of the hot-headed Russian, Guy spared no expense.

GUY STERN: And so I had a Russian accent in my German. And the realistic outfit, that uniform, the medals, and my accent convinced him that I was really what I pretended to be - Commissar Krukov, a name that was later translated for me because it meant Commissar Hook.

NARRATOR: Stern by name, stern by nature. You did not want to make Commissar Krukov angry.

GUY STERN: So Fred would start, and the prisoner would just say: “I don't have to answer that. The Geneva Convention only requires name, rank, and serial number.” And that was that. Then, Fred would say: "Oh, I feel so sorry for you. I see you have just started a new family." Or, "You have a very good job in civilian life in Germany." Much of that was taken from documents that the German carried with him. And: "You know, I hate to tell you this, this Russian is horrible and the prison, what I hear from that prison where they incarcerate prisoners of war, it is frightfully primitive and people die there."

NARRATOR: Nice-guy Fred Howard has laid the groundwork. By now, the prisoner is sweating. Who is this Russian, anyway?

GUY STERN: He called the prisoner over who had been turned over to this horrible Russian - me - and I had a fit of anger for some reason or other at the prison saying to Sergeant Howard: “What kind of a specimen are you giving me? He won't even make it halfway to the salt mines!”

NARRATOR: Confronted with the fury of the ersatz Commissar, most prisoners would shrink away. And why wouldn’t they? Even the Americans seemed shocked by his brutality.

GUY STERN: Fred then said: “Look, I just hate what you are doing. That's not the spirit of the Geneva Convention’ and so forth.”

NARRATOR: Disgusted with his Soviet colleague, Fred moved to take the prisoner away, back to safety.

GUY STERN: And the prisoner would follow or come closer to Fred and the Russian would have another fit. “This is my prisoner and this is Russian soil.” You know, that kind of thing - in German, of course.

NARRATOR: Now, your prisoner is ready for the killing blow. Killing with kindness, of course.

GUY STERN: And so Fred would say: “Look, give me some information and I can tide us over.” And, of course, that would become a very full-fledged interrogation that Freddie then staged.

NARRATOR: A wolf in sheep's clothing if ever there was one. I’m Vanessa Kirby. Join me next week for another edition of Tradecraft Secrets with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com

Guest Bio

Shawnee Delaney worked as a Defense Intelligence Agency officer gathering tactical intelligence and finding weapons caches to stop terrorist attacks.

Guy Stern was a German-born US Military Intelligence sergeant who interrogated German soldiers as one of the so-called Ritchie Boys, named after Camp Ritchie.

Peter Bleksley was a founding member of Scotland Yard's undercover unit in the 1980s.

Dave Butler, awarded the British Empire Medal, is a former Army officer who served with the British Military Liaison Mission in Berlin until 1989.

Takeo Yoshikawa was an ensign in the Imperial Japanese Navy and a naval intelligence officer assigned to spy on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Charity Wright is a Texas-based Chinese linguist and cyber threat intelligence analyst with experience working g with the US Army, NSA, and in the private sector.

James ‘Jim’ C. Lawler is a US national security consultant and former CIA operations officer for 25 years.

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