The tools in a spy's arsenal are more varied than you might think. But they all come under one name: Tradecraft. In our fourth round of insights from the world of espionage, we meet brave investigators, wily whistleblowers and whip-smart spycatchers in the ultimate digest of the series so far.
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True Spies: Tradecraft, Part 4

NARRATOR: 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?

SARAH EDMONDSON: Everything in my body was on full, hyper-vigilant alert. I could barely eat. I could barely sleep. All I knew was I had to get out. I had to save these women.

NARRATOR: This is True Spies Tradecraft, Part 4.

BILL BROWDER: It's actually much more dangerous to become irrelevant because if you're irrelevant they will kill you and then nobody will care.

NARRATOR: For this episode, we’re not starting with an operative, but a civilian. Two civilians in fact. The next True Spies are proof there is a dormant spy in all of us - waiting to be awoken, and thrown into the world of espionage. Sometimes all it takes is a cause worth fighting for, to stir the sleeping operative within.

NINA JACKEL: Nami is probably the bravest person I've ever met. She's fearless and dedicated and will do absolutely anything to help dogs. Saving dogs is her life and it's what she does. I don't know how many dogs that she's saved from the meat trade.

NAMI KIM: This was just too shocking for me, you know, I've never really had that exposure to such cruelty. It was about time for me to really quit teaching and come into this full-time. 

NARRATOR: Meet Nami Kim and Nina Jackel, from Episode 66 of True Spies. Nami is South Korean, a retired professor of religious studies turned dog rescuer. Nina is an American journalist and animal rights activist. They teamed up to expose the illegal side of the dog meat trade in South Korea. And it’s a dangerous business. 

NINA JACKEL: The message that I received was: “I will slaughter you the way I slaughtered dogs.”

NARRATOR: Just as a side note - eating dog meat in South Korea is legal - but some of the farms that produce this meat do so illegally. This is what Nina and Nami wanted to expose. So, in the summer of 2019, Nina and her boyfriend Ben, boarded a plane heading to South Korea to join Nami. The first thing they did, in terms of tradecraft, was extremely practical. Nina and Nami set about gathering hard evidence that these places were illegally farming dogs. With Nami at the wheel, and Nina and her boyfriend in the back, they headed to the Gimpo Valley - also known as the ‘dog meat valley’ - to gather evidence.

NINA JACKEL: We drove around the area where we thought it might be until we saw some signs that it was close. We saw a pile of dog bones and skulls on the side of the road and we knew that it was probably nearby. A little bit further and we started to hear the sounds of dogs barking, a lot of dogs. And then we knew that it was pretty much right there. It was very well hidden. There was a wall. And then behind the wall was the farm, which was mostly covered in tarps because they didn't want the public to see it. We'd brought a ladder. We set the ladder up against the wall. And Ben climbed up at first with his camera and he saw the dogs. He took out his camera to check out his zoom lens because it was hidden a little bit away from the road and started taking photographs and videos. Nami climbed up the ladder, she took video with her cell phone. I climbed up. We all kind of took turns.

NARRATOR: This is the least covert example of evidence-gathering you are likely to find on True Spies. But it was vital evidence. These farms are strictly required to provide appropriate water, food, and exercise space for their livestock. But this was not what they were seeing over the wall.

NINA JACKEL: It was horrifying and sad and kind of hard to really accept all at once. There were up to 1,000 dogs trapped in these cages. 

NARRATOR: This evidence gathering comes with danger. These people are bad news. Remember, the people behind these farms have threatened Nami on numerous occasions. You don’t want to hang around. Gather your evidence and go. And then, the sounds of footsteps on gravel...

NINA JACKEL: They were two very muscular men. And in tight shirts, they looked almost like club bouncers or something.

NARRATOR: Party’s over. Not only are you trespassing but you’re spying on them. And they’re mad. How are you going to worm your way out of this one? You’re up a ladder with a camera in your hands. It's pretty incriminating.

NINA JACKEL: When we saw them getting closer, we grabbed our gear and started to pack up and get back into the van. Nami got into the driver's seat. I got to the passenger side. Ben was putting the ladder back in the truck and then the men reached us and they tried to grab the ladder away from Ben. They were looking for a physical altercation. It was starting to get pretty scary. And the back door of the van was open because Ben was sliding the ladder into it when they approached us. And so he just jumped into the back and he said: “ Drive, Nami, drive!” And now we hit the gas and we got away.

NARRATOR: An unofficial entry in the tradecraft secrets manual - sometimes it’s better to just run. But what if the best chance of survival is not running, but doing the complete opposite?

BILL BROWDER: It's totally counterintuitive, most of the advice I've gotten from almost everybody I know is: “Keep your head down. Don't poke the bear. Stop doing all this stuff, Bill. It's really dangerous.” And my response to that is: “No, it's actually much more dangerous to become irrelevant because if you're irrelevant they will kill you and then nobody will care.”

NARRATOR: Our next true spy appeared in Episode 53, Russia’s Most Wanted.

BILL BROWDER: My name is Bill Browder. And for more than a decade, I was the largest foreign investor in Russia before I fell out with the Putin regime and became the biggest enemy of Vladimir Putin.

NARRATOR: And why does Bill Browder believe that he’s Putin’s biggest enemy?

BILL BROWDER: Because I found his Achilles heel. I found the thing that he cares about most, which is his money and the money of those people close to him. 

NARRATOR: Say no more. This was in 2007. And, even to this day, the Russians are still after Bill.

BILL BROWDER: They've applied to have me extradited on numerous occasions, they've sued me, they made movies about me, and I'm now one of their prime targets, probably the number one foreign enemy of Vladimir Putin.

NARRATOR: Think he’s exaggerating? In the past nine years, they’ve put out eight Interpol warrants for his arrest. If you’re Bill, nowhere is safe. Not even 2,500 miles from Moscow, in Spain, where our next example of a quite unexpected tradecraft skill takes place. 

BILL BROWDER: At the end of May 2018, I checked into a hotel in central Madrid. And the next morning, as I was going to breakfast before my meeting with Prosecutor Grenda, I opened my hotel door. And I'm standing outside the door as the manager of the hotel and two policemen are about to knock on the door. And I ask what's going on, and the manager says: “Excuse me, but can you give them some sort of identification?” I put my passport out of my pocket. I handed it over to them. They compared it to a piece of paper they had and they said: “You're under arrest.” And I said: “What for?” And they said: “Interpol, Russia.”

NARRATOR: Interpol had caught up with him. You know, if they take you and hand you over to the Russians, you could go to prison. They’ve been after you for years. You’re their number one enemy. The police are waiting for you outside the door while you pack your bags, you’ve got maybe a minute to make a move. What can you do in that minute that will save you?

BILL BROWDER: While I was packing, I tweeted out: “Being arrested on a Russian Interpol warrant.” And I then went downstairs with the police. They threw me into the back of the police car. I'm freaking out and thinking: “Maybe the people don't believe me on Twitter because anyone could say anything on Twitter.” And these policemen hadn't confiscated my phone so I surreptitiously took a picture from the back of the police car and tweeted out in the back of the police car on the way to the police station in the city.

NARRATOR: The more people know what’s happened to you, the harder it’ll be to cover it up.

BILL BROWDER: This set off a total firestorm where the whole world was just like watching in real time to see what was going to happen. And probably 100 journalists called Interpol, more called the British government, more called the Spanish government. And I get to the police station and they're all pretty excited. They think they've got some big international fugitive. And you could almost feel the electricity in the air at about an hour into it. I could feel the whole police station deflate and they came to me shortly thereafter and said: “We've just been informed by Interpol that your warrant has been canceled. You're free to go.” 

NARRATOR: And breathe. You’re trending. Those retweets won your freedom.

BILL BROWDER: If I hadn't tweeted it out, if there hadn't been this huge storm of indignation around the world, I might have been sitting in a Spanish jail cell for six months fighting extradition from Russia. And under the wrong circumstances, I could have been sent back to Russia. And if I had been sent back to Russia, I would be killed.

NARRATOR: Staying visible is an interesting tradecraft technique. In the world of espionage, it’s what you're trained not to do - you're trained to blend in - or going gray, as it’s known. Which is exactly what our next true spy did.

RYAN HILLSBERG: My name is Ryan Hillsberg and while I was at the CIA, I was an operations officer, and I was in the agency for about 13 years.

NARRATOR: Ryan featured in Episode 67 of True Spies, You Me, Same Same.

RYAN HILLSBERG: What really makes a good operations officer is your ability to live in the gray. A lot of people that have a black-and-white mentality don't do well. 

NARRATOR: A tradecraft term that comes up a lot in True Spies - ‘living in the gray’ ‘or ‘going gray’ - being somebody you are not, in order to blend into your surroundings. Ryan used this to full effect to secure an asset. This is the basis of our next tradecraft secret - the six-step cycle of recruiting assets, or as it’s known in the CIA as…

RYAN HILLSBERG: SADRAT: Spotting, Assessing, Development, Recruiting, Agent handling, and then Termination. That's the recruitment cycle from A to Z.

NARRATOR: Ryan needs to recruit an asset that works in a suspicious-looking company, which is involved in illicit financing activities, within a country of extreme interest to the CIA. He’s going to use SADRAT to do it. Here’s a breakdown. Step one: Spotting.

RYAN HILLSBERG: We looked at the company and we tried to figure out: “Okay, which three individuals would most likely have access to the information that we were looking for based on the previous intelligence and the relationship between this company and the country of interest? Which three individuals would be the most bang for our buck? So we identified those three. We found them, and then we did a deep dive on those individuals. And we wanted to know everything about them.

NARRATOR: Step two: Assessing. Think of it as the most intense professional background check you’ve ever had, for a job you never even applied for. Ryan and his colleagues looked at public records, social media pages, and any classified information they could dig up for their top three contenders. Any scrap of information they could find would be a clue to who their targets were and how likely they were to be recruited.

RYAN HILLSBERG: So once we did that with those three individuals, we looked at all the information we had and then we decided to go after one of them. And once we made that final selection, we did an even deeper deep dive to see if there was anything else that we were missing.

NARRATOR: A ‘deep dive’ is an apt choice of words. As it turned out, Ryan’s target seemed to have just the right frame of mind for recruitment. He also had one notable hobby that caught Ryan’s attention.

RYAN HILLSBERG: The one thing that let him sort of come out of his daily doldrums, the one thing that helped break him out of the daily monotony was scuba diving.

NARRATOR: Scuba diving is where Ryan focuses his attention for the third step of the SADRAT cycle: Developing.

RYAN HILLSBERG: And in the city that we were living in, there were several different scuba clubs. And he was a prominent member of one of these scuba clubs. And they had weekly meetings. I think it was Wednesday night. They'd meet for a couple of hours, and this dude would never miss. I really thought this was the perfect recipe to really start building that trust. And so, that's what I proposed to the chief of station. And it was approved.

NARRATOR: So it starts with striking up a conversation with him at the scuba diving club, and over the coming months, develops into a full-blown friendship. They become real friends. He’s even met the family. Now all that’s left is to pop the question. Step four: Recruiting. Unfortunately, there’s no Hollywood ending here, but there is a cliffhanger. Ryan had to be rather cagey with the details. But he did offer this.

RYAN HILLSBERG: There are people out there in this world that propose marriage to someone without knowing for sure what the answer will be. They're crossing their fingers. They're hoping: “Man, I hope she says yes, I hope he says yes.” You know, if you don't know if someone is going to say yes to a marriage proposal, you don't propose. Most normal people aren't going to propose to someone unless they know they're going to say yes. And I think the same can be said with espionage.

NARRATOR: I think he said yes. What do you think? As it happens, Ryan’s obligations to the agency forced him to leave his friend, and his posting, behind. The final letters in the SADRAT cycle - agent handling and termination - we will come to at the end of the episode. But first, what about when you need to do the reverse of Ryan? When it’s you that needs to be recruited?

MICHAEL GERMAN: I was asked to go undercover as a Nazi skinhead. My name is Mike German, I am a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, and prior to that, I served 16 years as an FBI special agent. 

NARRATOR: Mike’s story begins in the mid-90s. It’s L.A., America. The city is a tinderbox of civil unrest. Race riots are a common occurrence. The FBI has to stay one step ahead of the white supremacists, otherwise, it could get really nasty. To avoid a bloody war, they had to put someone on the inside. It fell to Mike to do the job. This was his first-ever undercover operation. It’s what you call being thrown in at the deep end. Why Mike though?

MICHAEL GERMAN: I think the case agent was attracted to me because I was relatively young and then I could have passed for a high school kid. They used to call me 21 Jump Street, which was a TV series about undercover cops in high school, when I started at the FBI because I was so young-looking. So, I had a youthful appearance, and as the case agent said to me: “You have blond hair and blue eyes. You can be a Nazi.” 

NARRATOR: Ah yes, looking the part - tradecraft 101. But, now he actually has to be recruited by them. First things first; knowing your enemy will help you to understand their motives. Which in turn means you can mold yourself into what they want - like Ryan before, it involves the most common tradecraft technique - going gray.

MICHAEL GERMAN: The movement is very fractured. There are a number of different philosophies and theologies and ideologies within the white supremacist movement that have different bases. So some are religious, and then within the religious community, some are Christian, some are pagan, some are unique belief systems that were formulated by white supremacists.

NARRATOR: Which meant, Mike had to do his research and figure out the special characteristics of the cell he was trying to infiltrate. What’s more, these groups aren’t all buddy-buddy.

MICHAEL GERMAN: I couldn't join any one group because if you joined one group, the other groups wouldn't work with you anymore, and our goal was to identify the broader range of crimes within the Los Angeles area.

NARRATOR: Fortunately for Mike, these groups do have one thing in common - a thirst for new blood.

MICHAEL GERMAN: They are desperate for support from anyone, and so they really have no barrier to entry. And the only difficulty is they know they are targets of law enforcement scrutiny. So they try to be discerning in identifying informants and FBI agents, feds, as they call them.

NARRATOR: So, this group made it clear they wanted Mike. But he made clear that he wanted to keep them at arm’s length.

MICHAEL GERMAN: It sort of worked to my benefit because it completely subverted their concept of what an infiltrator would look like. It's like, wait a minute. This person can't be trying to infiltrate our group. He won't join. And I would say: "I'll help you. I'll help you do what you want to do if it works out with what I'm doing. I support your goals, but I'm just not interested in membership." And there were a lot of people in the militant side of the movement who are that way because as a tactical matter they realize that once you become part of a group, it creates broader criminal liability. You become responsible for the crimes of the other group and you become open to broader infiltration.

NARRATOR: Remember: Mike was the one being wooed. He was the catch. Another entry into the tradecraft manual - sometimes playing hard to get is the best way to attract a mate.

MICHAEL GERMAN: Instead of me knocking on the door: “Can I come in?” They were saying: “Hey, kid on the street, can you come over here? We'd like to talk to you.”

NARRATOR: Knowing your enemy is something that comes up time and time again in True Spies. But you now have to use that knowledge, and immerse yourself into a group you have nothing in common with - in fact you actively despise them. How do you hold your nose and suspend your morals?

MICHAEL GERMAN: It was always hard to start a case because you would get this file to start preparing, and basically the FBI file is every bad thing this person has ever done or said and none of the good things. Right? So this person sounds horrible. You feel like: “I have to find something likable about this person in order to be able to interact with them.” And I always used to imagine they all have a mother who loves them, and I just have to figure out what the mother sees.

SARAH EDMONDSON: My mama bear instinct to protect and destroy this motherfucker was so enraged in me, I can't even tell you. 

NARRATOR: For our next true spy it’s exactly what she saw that forced her to act.

SARAH EDMONDSON: That's what set me on this warpath of trying to expose them and take them down.

NARRATOR: This is Sarah Edmondson, from Episode 46 of True Spies, Surviving NXIVM. Like Mike, she was trying to bring down an organization from the inside. And no, she’s not a spy in the traditional sense. But, like Nami and Nina who you heard from at the beginning of this episode, she’s a shining example of how ordinary people can use espionage techniques to manage extraordinary situations. 

SARAH EDMONDSON: The indoctrination happens very easily and in a very subtle way. You wouldn't know it was happening at the time. In fact, they might even say: “Sure, this is brainwashing, but we're washing the bad stuff out.” You know what I mean? 

NARRATOR: It was only once she had been inside NXIVM for 12 years, she realized the organization was actually a cult. The branding of some members also occurred. There was possibly sex trafficking involved because women were being blackmailed to then have sex under the auspices of a personal growth program. And now she wanted to burn it to the ground, saving the other women in the process. So she went undercover. As time went on, her patience began to wear thin. She accelerated her efforts to discredit the founder, Keith Raniere​, and the NXIVM organization. Sarah reached out to the press.

SARAH EDMONDSON: We told this local blogger who had been trying to expose Keith for years. His name's Frank Parlato. He has a website called the Frank Report. And I went to him and I told him about the branding.

NARRATOR: Another tradecraft tip. When you’re mounting an operation, it helps to figure out exactly who your potential allies are. And you have to be certain of their allegiances. For Sarah, Frank Parlato was one such ally.

SARAH EDMONDSON: And that was enough to stop the next round of branding except, we found out later, one continued anyway.

NARRATOR: A spy's work is never done. There is always evidence to be gathered.

JOE NAVARRO: Information, information is the most valuable thing in the world. 

NARRATOR: This is Joe Navarro, from Episode 72 of True Spies, The Armageddon Papers. Information may be the most important thing in the spy world, but how does an operative get the information they need from a subject, legally. Well, one technique is to use subtle power plays. Something Joe is a master of. He and his partner, Mrs. Moody, used a range of techniques when getting Rod Ramsay, a key asset, to open up.

JOE NAVARRO: 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, for instance. If he wanted to drink, he would have to go through us to get a drink. And he was obviously entitled to a drink any time he wanted. So we would be the ones that would say: “Hey, Rod, do you want a drink?” or “Hey, Rod, do you want to go to the bathroom now?” 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. We always set the controls for the temperature and everything like that. And what that does is at a subliminal level, it establishes a higher hierarchy, which actually works to everybody's benefit. Because when you don't do that, it's very easy to have people all talking at once and there is no order. We had order. We had control. But we also wanted to have psychological comfort so that Rod always felt comfortable coming to us.

NARRATOR: Another technique Joe picked up over the years, a street-wise tradecraft skill, if you will.

JOE NAVARRO: It's called a ‘door jam’ confession. And what you do is, you conduct an interview and you exploit everything that you need to talk about. You save one question until the last minute. And you save it until you're near the door jam. So, as Rod was getting ready to go out, I waited for him to put his hand on the door handle and I said: “Oh, Rod, by the way, did Clyde Lee Conrad ever give you anything?” And he stops, he looks at me, he furrows his forehead and he looks down and grabs his wallet and he opens up his wallet and he says: “Well he gave me this.” And I go: “What is that?” And so he goes to hand it to me. And I'm already thinking like a law enforcement officer. I don't want to touch this. I want to preserve it as evidence trying to figure out how to gingerly touch it and without causing apprehension. So I said: “Well if you don't mind.” And I just had him lay it down on a piece of paper that was in the room, a notepad. And I looked at it and it just had a few numbers on it and I said: “What is that?” And he said: “Well, in the future, if I ever want to get a hold of him, just call this number.” I said: “Okay. Can I keep it?” And he said: “Sure.” So I just left it there and he exited.

NARRATOR: Worked like a charm.

JOE NAVARRO: Of course, as soon as he leaves, we're writing down the number and I'm folding the paper around it to protect the fingerprints that may be on there.

NARRATOR: Joe is also a master of reading people, and by laying invisible traps that the subject walks right into, forces the subject to give information unwittingly. But our next true spy reads crime scenes, not people. Then, he uses that information to track down the culprit. It's a discipline known as ‘profiling’.

JIM CLEMENTE: I’m Jim Clemente. I’m a retired FBI supervisory special agent and profiler. I spent 22 years working for the FBI. Profiling is nothing more than reverse-engineering the behavior exhibited by the offender at the crime. Their choice of victim, their choice of crime location, what they actually do during the course of the crime. All of these things leak out information, because an offender picks out a particular victim at a particular place at a particular time for a particular purpose.

NARRATOR: We all do this when watching or listening to our favorite true-crime series. There are 10 suspects but which one is guilty? We can all be armchair operatives, but have you got what it takes to be an FBI profiler? Well, according to Jim, you are going to need two things. First up, a brilliant imagination.

JIM CLEMENTE: By being imaginative, you can put yourself in the place of the offender, so you’re not really looking at it from the outside. You’re actually experiencing it in your own mind. The crime, the pre- and post-offense behavior, the interactions with the victims, the escape routes. All those things, you try to play them out in your mind and then do self-analysis to figure out why you would do those things and what you would be thinking during those times. Again that reveals information about the choices that the offender makes, and gives us better insight into the kind of person that could do that.

NARRATOR: Secondly, loyal, authority respecting do-gooders need not apply. Profiling is for the renegades amongst you.

JIM CLEMENTE: It’s also important to be a rebel. In other words, 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. 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.

NARRATOR: Jim is very much an example of the human element of catching culprits. And we finish the latest installment of True Spies tradecraft secrets, with an example from the espionage world that is very much about the human side of spying. Very much about the real-life friendships that are formed under the umbrella of information gathering. What has become a common thread throughout the True Spies series, is the close bond that is formed between case officer and asset.

DOUG PATTESON: It wasn't a comfortable experience. I actually cared about the individual. I wanted to make sure that he was okay.

NARRATOR: As Ryan explained earlier, the CIA recruitment of an asset has different stages. Our next True Spy is here to talk us through the last two stages in the SADRAT cycle - asset handling and termination.

DOUG PATTESON: My name is Doug Patteson, and I spent 10 years as a CIA case officer working across a range of targets from high-threat posts to denied-area environments. 

NARRATOR: As a 23-year-old, Doug was sent to an active, hostile territory in Southeast Asia. He was gifted a first asset, who had more real-world knowledge about leading a clandestine existence than he did. Little did Doug know, he would learn a lot over the course of their time together. But how did this man in his fifties help shape a bright-eyed, eager new case officer?

DOUG PATTESON: Success for handling an asset is going to depend on the nature of what they're doing. In this particular case, success for handling would be the provision of information of a secret nature that would inform US policy interests and US policy decisions. It was information that was going to help keep Americans safe from threats in this environment was one significant aspect of it. And so, learning which threads to pursue or learning how to task him to gather additional information, to flesh something out, those are the sorts of things that define successful handling in that while trying to encourage him not to increase risk to himself by doing that... And so you have to manage that balance and make sure that you're keeping them safe, even in what they're asking questions about.

NARRATOR: A mutual respect and understanding was being formed. This is a good example of how to handle an asset carefully and successfully. I hope you’re taking notes.

DOUG PATTESON: We had built a relationship where we trusted one another. He trusted me that I would keep him safe and that I would take care of the promises I made to him while I was with him. He was going to help keep me safe by doing the things he was supposed to do to ensure that we would be able to meet unobserved and that sort of stuff. So we had established a relationship. And, it is often the case when you're working with assets overseas, you actually develop a pretty tight connection with folks. Because of that risk and because of the trust that's involved, they end up being very intimate relationships and sometimes with very strong emotional connections between officer and asset as well.

NARRATOR: But like all good things, they must come to an end. It’s time for the final stage in the SADRAT cycle - termination. Remember that word ‘promises’ earlier on? Well, those promises put Doug in a very difficult position.

DOUG PATTESON: Very early on in a relationship, at least on our side of things, we make plans for what that termination might ultimately look like and figured out how do we think through the issues that might be of concern because even after the relationship is ended, there's still risk to him, to us, etc. And so, inevitably you want those to go well, whether it's a recruitment pitch, handling of an asset or a termination… You do always want them to go well because that reduces risk. 

NARRATOR: Don’t make a promise you can’t keep. And, in this case, they had made a promise to the asset about the financial compensation he would receive for his work following his termination.

DOUG PATTESON: And, in this case, there wasn't a contract per se, but it was a document within his file that said: “Hey, here's the discussion we had with him about what we would do and what we would promise him and those sorts of things when the relationship ended. The risk you're taking here is a high risk. I need to make sure that you're appropriately compensated for that. And therefore, we're going to do this. We're going to pay you ‘x’ amount.” So we had made a promise we would pay this individual a month's pay for every year of service. And so, that meant that we were going to be paying him a pretty significant chunk of money, money that would be significantly more than he would normally have access to. And so I drafted it up, sent it back to headquarters and said: “Here's the plan. Here's what's going to happen.” But headquarters came back and denied our request and, in essence, reduced what we were going to be able to pay him by 75 percent. 

NARRATOR: This man has helped the CIA for over 20 years. Not only had he put his own life in true jeopardy to do so, but he’d also been gracious enough to recognize a new recruit when he saw one, and try to make life easier for his young case officer. Not only is Doug effectively going to have to fire him, but Doug’s also going to have to tell him that the payout he was promised is going to be a quarter of what was agreed. Some thanks.

DOUG PATTESON: And so I felt like it was my job to advocate for doing the right thing. And I was convinced that the right thing was to honor what we said we were going to do. And I still believe that, inevitably well, the right path is always to do what you say you're going to do. It's a core tenet that that underscores who we are and why you should trust us. But I came to recognize that there are realities that sometimes force you to make choices as well. And I was angry - and I was upset as well as angry - and upset, as a first officer can be, while facing folks that had literally been involved in covert operations since the Korean War.

NARRATOR: Even if your work is covert, sometimes your faith can be tested overtly.

DOUG PATTESON: Absolutely. I felt that it was my integrity that was undermined somewhat. I certainly felt that the organization's integrity was undermined. So, as a young officer, I was looking at it and I was questioning: “How can I trust this? How can I make promises on behalf of this organization if, so easily, they're willing to overturn and change a previously made promise?”

NARRATOR: Sometimes what the espionage world doesn’t prepare you for is the moral conundrums you will face in the field. When you can’t depend on the tradecraft training to get you out of a sticky situation, and it just comes down to how professional the person sitting across from you is.

DOUG PATTESON: I knew that there were no options. I had to deliver on this. But I also didn't fully believe in it yet. And fortunately, he was such an incredibly pragmatic individual that he saw almost immediately that I was grappling with and struggling with it, and he just made it easy by accepting it very quickly and saying: “Yeah, no. I totally understand this. These things happen.”

NARRATOR: And like that, it was done. Asset terminated. Even with all the tradecraft tools at your disposal, the only thing getting you out of this one is your ability to prioritize the mission over your promise, and with that, your morals. What would you do? I’m Vanessa Kirby. Join me next week for another edition of True Spies.

Guest Bio

Bill Browder is the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, investment adviser to the largest foreign investment fund in Russia until 2005 when Bill was declared a ‘threat to national security’.

Nina Jackel
is the founder of Lady Freethinker, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exposing and stopping the suffering of animals and humans.

Nami Kim
is the founder and leader of Save Korean Dogs, a non profit group based in Gimpo, South Korea.

Doug Patteson
is a former CIA officer certified in HUMINT (human intelligence) collection and counterterrorism.

Sarah Edmondson
is an actress who started noticing irregularities at NXIVM. Before long, she would be spying on the group she once held dear.

Jim Clemente
was a New York prosecutor and FBI agent for more than 20 years going undercover.

Joe Navarro
is a Cuban-born American author and former FBI agent who specializes in nonverbal communication and body language.

Ryan Hillsberg
is an ex-CIA operations officer with a background in human intelligence, counter-terrorism, and cyber security.

Michael German
is a former FBI agent who spent 16 years in the FBI working undercover investigating white supremacists, right-wing militants, and financial crime.

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