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Work Like a Spy: Business Tips From a Former CIA Officer. By J.C. Carleson. Portfolio; 197 pages; $25.95. To be published in Britain in April by Penguin; £16.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

Trading Secrets: Spies and Intelligence in an Age of Terror. By Mark Huband. I.B. Tauris; 260 pages; $29.50 and £20. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

SPIES are often wrongly presumed to work in a shadowy and exotic world. In fact they are more like unusually crafty bureaucrats than James Bond. Their skills would be quite handy for business executives, according to J.C. Carleson, a former CIA officer. In “Work Like a Spy”, her gripping layman’s guide to spycraft, she shows how adopting an intelligence officer’s mindset can make managers more efficient and better at handling people.

In her eight years undercover, Ms Carleson (not her real name) ran agents in hostile countries, getting them to risk their lives to steal secrets for America. Targeting and recruiting such people offers lessons in what might be called “strategic networking”: gaining information about customers and competitors. How do you make contact without seeming pushy? What is the hook, and what are the incentives? It turns out that offering consultancy fees and lavish entertainment rarely works; appealing to the ego is far more effective.

While steering clear of real secrets, Ms Carleson gives an accurate account of how intelligence officers operate. Her “strategic elicitation exercise”, in which she pushes readers to get random information from a stranger, is particularly well described.

In a trade in which deceit is a tool, knowing when to be honest is important. Ms Carleson describes the ideal CIA officer as a “Boy Scout with a secret dark side”. Her terse remarks on ethics sound convincing, not preachy. She explains, for example, why fiddling expenses leads to instant dismissal in the CIA: if you cheat your country out of money, you may betray its secrets too. Readers doing business in places where sleaze is endemic will find these points instructive. It is wise to work out in advance the red lines you and your company will not cross—and make sure everyone involved knows what they are.

While Ms Carleson’s book highlights the skills of individual intelligence officers, Mark Huband’s “Trading Secrets” gives a glimpse of what spy agencies actually do and how they are evolving to combat new 21st-century threats. A former journalist who now runs a security consultancy, he argues that undercover agents are often most useful not when they are spying on a country’s enemies, but when they are talking to them. He gives new details about the role that Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, commonly called MI6) played in opening channels of communication with the IRA in Northern Ireland, and with Colonel Qaddafi’s regime in Libya.

Mr Huband also deals with fiascos, such as the political misuse of the sketchy intelligence available about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programmes. Spies rarely provide solid answers, he says, but offer confusing bits of a jigsaw puzzle of unknown size and shape. At best, secret intelligence removes an element of surprise from foreign affairs, but it rarely makes it clear what to do.

The picture he paints is tantalisingly incomplete. His reporting, based on his years as a journalist, hops across decades and between fronts, chiefly in the “war on terror” (he neglects, sadly, China and Russia). He concludes that spooks are “awash with more information, insight and knowledge than ever before”, but that the “intrinsic power” of intelligence has waned. One reason is that some of the finest spies are being lured away by the private sector. It greatly rewards those with a background in secret government service—and not only because spycraft has given them exceptional people skills.

source: http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21571856-what-business-executives-can-learn-intelligence-officers-success-stealth?fsrc=rss%7Cbar


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