Be a Spy

Whether you dream of being a professional spy or simply want to pass the time pretending to be a spy, learning how to watch other people and decipher a string of events definitely has its uses. To be a spy, you'll need to improve your mental and physical abilities, learn to go unnoticed in a crowd, master eavesdropping and other techniques of the trade, and establish a basic protocol to make your missions as safe and successful as possible.


Becoming Spy Material

  1. Get gutsy. When you go off doing your spy-like deeds, you're going to be forced into situations that aren't the safest (collectively known as "the danger zone"), could have consequences, and will definitely be filled with the unknown. Can you handle that? And make sure you have something to listen in with or record like a hidden microphone or camera.
    • The answer is "yes," you can handle that. Start putting yourself into foreign situations now -- the more capable you are of handling whatever gets thrown at you, the less likely you'll be able to get phased by the information you'll learn and the strange people you're bound to meet.
  2. Get smart. This is more than just a thinly-veiled reference to the 60s spy TV show -- you need to be of superior intellect to actually get any good spying done and done well. It isn't called "gathering intelligence" for nothing! Expand your skill set and become a master of all trades. After all, knowledge is power.
    • Know a little bit about everything. That way, when your target says something like, "I just love everything from Picasso's blue period," you can chime in with something pertinent, sustaining the conversation and getting you further with your lead. The more you know, the more you can follow potential sources of information.
    • Read nonfiction spy and espionage books. Basing all your spying know-how in James Bond lore won’t get you very far in the real world. They're fun but unrealistic; choose books and websites that detail what real spies actually learn and put into practice. TV shows may offer some insights as well, but take everything fiction-based with a grain of salt.
  3. Get creative. It's in your best interest to start relying on yourself for the answers to everything. You probably won't be equipped with gadgets from headquarters for a while, so being able to process situations and problems only using what's at your disposal is key to your success.
    • Techniques and recommendations can be found further down this page, but a simple mindfulness of thinking outside the box is your first step to looking through the eyes of a spy. Everything can be a clue and everyone can be of potential use to you. How can you manipulate your environment to get you closer to your goals?
  4. Get a day job. You know how Clark Kent had the Daily Planet even though being Superman was a full-time gig? That's you. Unfortunately, for most spies, you'll need a cover gig that gives you a real-person's grounding and habits. If you wind up telling even one person a day that you "do" something and you don't, eventually that trail is gonna lead back to you. And on the plus side, it's an automatic go-to story and not even a lie.
    • But it does mean you'll be working overtime all the time. C'est la vie of a spy. No one said it was going to be easy -- but they might've said it will be awesome. So put the effort in, get a day job, and start working on your John Smith/Jane Doe personality.[1]
  5. Get in shape. Though physical confrontation is something a spy avoids at all costs, keeping fit will still be necessary for staying on your feet all day, tailing someone, or making a quick getaway. Emphasize walking/running long distances, strengthening your arms and legs, and possibly learning self-defense.
    • Parkour has its place in spying, too. Not only do you need to move deftly between obstacles as you move, but you need to think of your world in the same respect. When a problem presents itself, what's the quickest way you can get around and resolve it? In the same way that you would train your body with Parkour, train your mind as well.

Going Unnoticed

  1. Hide in plain sight. The number one objective of a spy is to blend in. Don’t try to assemble a “spy outfit” with a fancy suit and sunglasses; have different everyday wardrobes for different places and situations. Put on a dark, grungy outfit if you want to scope out that punk café, but bring a handbag and a camera if you want to blend in with that tourist group.
    • If you're not privy to the "look" of a certain scene, this is when you fall back on your day job. You're just a regular Joe grabbing a cup after work. Get your paper, got your briefcase, and nothing is suspect. Round out your "spy-drobe" with the necessary, everyday accessories.
  2. Keep your gear to a minimum. Less gear means better mobility, so carry only essential items vital to your operation and survival. Don’t carry weapons, which are not only dangerous and illegal, but will also incriminate you and unravel your secret identity if caught.
    • If you're attacked, improvise your own weapons from everyday objects; better still, get good training in martial arts to defend yourself (never be on the offensive as an amateur spy).
    • If you sense a conflict arising, lean on your words before anything else. Spies are masters of manipulation and can get anybody to believe anything. And you might want to throw in a smile and a wink for good measure.
  3. Partake in the activities around you. If the people around you are eating ice cream, drinking coffees, or having corn dogs, get one for yourself to blend in. Even people watching is a permissible activity, but don't overdo it. Keep your choice of activity simple, or you may appear obvious (especially if you can't do it well). Along that same line, you won’t be able to make a quick getaway if caught up in something too complicated, such as being stuck in a room with locked doors or having to get through a crowded place.
    • When mothers have new babies, they often report sleeping with "one eye open." You'll need to master looking entrenched in the glory of your hot dog while still monitoring the questionable bearded-man at your 4 o'clock. Practice first in normal circumstances with friends and see if anyone reports you seeming distracted or, less eloquently, weird. Monitor your own body for giveaways.
  4. Delete yourself from the Internet. Staying incognito in the real world won’t do you much good if anyone can pull up your online profiles, photo albums, and blog posts. By all means be online but do it with greater stealth. You can't afford having anyone recognize you.
    • It is doable. You can live without Facebook. It might not be easy, but you can do it. If people ask, you need simply tell them you're shunning the crutch of technology that modern man so easily seeks -- no, needs -- to rely on. In most cases, the questions will stop there.
  5. Never run in a crowd. This is the universal signal for Look at me! I’m trying to run away. If you must, look and act like a hassled worker in a hurry to get back to the office on time for a meeting, saying things like "I'm late for my meeting, please excuse me!"
    • Really, you should attract as little attention as possible. It's safe to assume that means as far as not even looking that attractive. After all, the more people you have looking at you, the less you can get away with. But know that not attracting attention doesn't mean being silent and still -- it means being silent enough and still enough so as to pass for unremarkable.
  6. Don't be nervous or react if you are seen. Staying cool and casual can go an incredibly long way in convincing people to dismiss their suspicions. If you notice you're being watched too, getting up automatically and leaving may only worsen your problem. Wait for an opportunity make your leisurely escape.
    • The human mind is malleable. If you think someone is onto you, simply change your tune. Maybe you hid behind your paper too long and your furtive glances above it were less than subtle -- that's when you call up your pal Benny and ask him where the heck he's been -- you've been having to sit here alone with this darned paper for nearly 30 minutes!
      • The other alternative is to walk up to said party and ask them their story. With good intentions, of course, Your directness will probably make them ill at ease, turning the tables.
  7. Know when silence is necessary. If you're literally stalking someone from 25 paces, absolute silence is key. Don't breathe too deeply, tread too heavily, or wear clothing that jingles, jangles, or swooshes. You can match the sounds of your environment (open, public areas will be easier), but if you're alone in a park -- well, that risk is up to you.
    • To make things easier on yourself, before starting a mission, scout out the area for things like creaky floorboards and doors, watch animals, place cameras, and, in general, familiarize yourself with your environment. It'll pay off later.
  8. Get a disguise. Alright, this one isn't mandatory, but it can be useful -- and it doesn't necessarily have to be good! In fact, sometimes looking outrageous will remove all sources of doubt or suspicion. If the event calls for it, consider it as an option.
    • Wear ugly sweaters, big glasses and, if you have noticeable hair (like bright red, or blonde, or sleek long black hair) consider a poorly cut, brown wig. More fun for you, too!

Using Spy Techniques

  1. Start eavesdropping. It’s hard to conceal the fact that you’re listening in on a nearby conversation when there’s no one else around, but it’s even harder to single out individual voices when you’re trying to blend in with a crowd. Learning how to eavesdrop will help you gather intelligence in even the trickiest places.
    • Technology here will be your best friend. Throw on a pair of headphones or simply get "side-tracked" by a game of Candy Crush. Do something, but make sure that it keeps your noises to a minimum -- otherwise you won't be able to hear for yourself!
  2. Learn how to read lips. Whether your subject is beyond earshot or is simply being drowned out by other noises, reading lips can give you a huge eavesdropping advantage. You may even be able to follow distant conversations using a pair of binoculars or a camera lens.
    • To practice, watch a DVD on mute with the subtitles on to get used to the way mouths form words. Once you get good, take off the subtitles and see what you can catch. Use a movie you know well to start off.
  3. Master the art of lying and detecting lies. After all, that intelligence you’ve gathered won’t mean much if it’s filled with misinformation. To truly and comprehensively read people, it will help to learn body language as well.
    • The hardest part here is that you cannot accuse those who've lied of their dishonesty. Same goes for body language -- you can't go up to them and ask them if they're standing like that because they're talking to their mistress and not their wife. In order to find out if you're right, you've got to pry (or eavesdrop) a bit further.
  4. Learn how to tail someone. People don’t stay still for long, so be sure you know what to do with a subject who’s on the move. What's your reasoning for going along their same path?
    • Always have a backup plan if you’re observed. For example, try to keep objects like drinking fountains or newspaper stands in your trajectory so that, if someone suspects you’re following them, you can simply go about your supposed “business.”
  5. Steal things without getting caught. The suspect may be carrying evidence that could be a very useful clue, or, if you want to get darker, you might need to steal something of the suspect's to use as a ransom to convince him to give you information. As mentioned, you need to use your surroundings in tricky situations, so it's helpful to be able to steal a helpful tool to get yourself out of a tricky situation without drawing attention to yourself.
    • Try stealing something little of your friends, like a pen or a folder, and return it without being noticed for practice.
    • Do not take this as an endorsement for stealing. This article is supposing that you are ultimately working on the side of good, not evil.
  6. Get tech-savvy. You do not have to resort to hiding in and around corners or reading lips with binoculars anymore. With the amount of technology you have at your disposal, it can practically do the spying for you!
    • Though you may face certain legality issues (fair warning), set up cameras where you know your target will be for review later. Come early to the scene, get everything rolling, and then go on your merry way. Evidence? Check.
    • Spy with your computer. Nowadays being able to hack isn't reserved for the cream of the techie crop. If you get access to someone's personal files, you hardly need to tail them in your '96 Geo Metro. And all from the safety of your keyboard.
  7. Improve your night vision. The best covert work takes place under cover of darkness, so be sure you can actually see what’s going on. Though you are human (...right?) and therefore subject to poor night vision, there are a few things you can do to refine it.
    • Start working in the dark. Your eyes, over time, will adjust a bit faster and you'll become less nervous about having your sense of sight depleted, allowing for quicker movements and quicker thinking.
  8. Improve your memory. All the intelligence in the world won’t help you if you don’t have a mind like a steel trap. Consistently work with memory games and quiz yourself on details of events. In time, you'll become more observant and the facts will start sticking.
    • There are a number of tricks (chunking, rhymes, mnemonics) that you can employ to your benefit. If your memory is like a goldfish, don't fret. You won't have to tattoo the information on yourself anytime soon.

Establishing a Protocol

  1. Have predetermined locations to meet up with your associates. Be sure not to keep your meetings in one place, as doing so will garner suspicion and attract unwanted attention. People think that spies meet in dark alleys and such, so try casual places (cafes, eateries, libraries, etc.) or public areas (parks, museums, etc.).
    • There are lots of reasons for discussions but a "business" meeting is a typical good cover. Also: this is the one time a loud environment will help you; the last thing you want to be is overheard.
    • Remember that public places will keep you safe. Most public places are too big to search (let alone control) and are full of potential witnesses. Do, however, avoid areas with security cameras.
  2. Have another change of clothes on hand in case you are pursued. This will allow you to dissolve into a crowd. At the very least, carry a hat or jacket to throw on with ease.
    • On the flip side, you may want to wear layers that you can easily take off. If you foresee this as being useful, wear clothes that you're comfortable parting with -- you may have to toss them in your earnest.
  3. Do not carry any form of identification on you. If the situation demands it, carry false information designed to mislead. Keep in mind that technology and vehicles are attached to you, so if you are with these things too, your story needs to stay straight.
    • Don’t make a fake ID card or anything that’s easily verifiable and/or can get you in trouble with the law; instead, carry a postcard or piece of mail with your fake name and address on it and say you left your ID at home.
  4. Gather intelligence before going on a mission. Use the hours, days or weeks beforehand to casually scout the area, learn the common routes, and get people used to seeing you. You'll be more comfortable to boot.
    • It's good to have satellite maps of an area so you can keep your bearings; at the very least, familiarize yourself with Google Maps. You can even see house fronts and lawn manicuring now -- what more could you ask for?
  5. Learn the habits of anyone you're spying on. This will enable you to anticipate their next move. Know what kind of car they're driving, their license plate number, who they associate with, etc. If you can stay one step ahead of the game, all the better.
    • Research them on the Internet as well. Depending on how connected they are, you may get a better picture of their social network and the activities they're involved in -- which may ultimately lead you to the right places.
  6. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Learn to think on your feet and be resourceful, preferably while looking casual (or even a bit dumb). Try to practice new, useful ways to use items you carry with you, or replace them with other ones that cover a broader range of useful functions.
  7. Always have a backup plan or cover story. Even the best plans have the risk of failing. And if you wind up being questioned, you'll want to be prepared. Confidence may be able to get you off the hook.
    • If you sense the need to abort, listen to it. If you wait too long, you may get exposed. However, if you abort before things go awry, you can always try again tomorrow.
  8. Consider finding partners. It's good to have more than one spy to observe the area and watch your back. Teamwork is crucial to all spies. Communications makes this possible; simple everyday gestures, a predetermined action, or simply an electronic communicating device is recommended. Anything discrete and unnoticeable is favored.
    • With partners, plans must be laid out in more detail. Alone, you can, to a point, wing it. But with partners, you must establish viewpoints, communication protocol, possible movements, and a plan B. However, there is strength in numbers.


  • Develop hand signals that only you and your team can understand, but don't make them too complicated or conspicuous.
  • Keep in mind that you want to leave an area exactly as it was when you entered. If you turned the lights on, turn them off when you are done, and so on.
  • Instead of avoiding police or people who might suspect you, go up to them and act dumb when asking for directions. If they don't see you as a threat, they won't look to you as a suspect.
  • If you are spying indoors, try to wear something soft (or just your socks) on your feet to move silently.
  • If you don't have a good memory you can use a phone or voice recorder to record a conversation.
  • If you're spying for a real purpose (such as unearthing environmental damage), be sure to document things with photos, notes, etc., because you'll have some convincing to do.
  • It helps to know a different language. If you're working with others, work out your own language or codes to use.
  • Give each person in your group a particular job. For example, a reporter, a bodyguard, and a scout to see if the coast is clear.
  • Professional spies are trained in many techniques over a long period of time and under difficult conditions. You can adapt some of the training they receive to improve your amateur spying; just remember that you're only ever going to be adept at spying if you practice the techniques a lot.
  • Learn to sketch quickly; it will help draw certain areas you may need to revisit. If you take photos, make sure it's not obvious.
  • If you know the place that you're spying in well, it will be good to plan a way to get in and out. It will come in handy. (Don't forget the security beams and/or security cameras if it has any).
  • Write things down in a note pad, transcribe them to the computer, and throw away the original papers. Remember that your computer can be stolen or seized though, so consider digital storage elsewhere.
  • Learn to pick locks.
  • If you're doing a mission in the dark, black clothes don't help; use dark clothes like gray, dark purple and navy blue. Black makes you look sneaky and stand out unless you live where all the workers wear black (usually central business districts). Brown is even better because most people don't notice it as well.
  • Don't necessarily act immediately on any info you might randomly overhear. Always suspect that it's a plant until you have proof. Just because you're the good guy doesn't mean the bad guys are stupid.
  • Make sure that nobody is spying on you.
  • Go spying when fewer people are around, such as in the evening. There will be less people to see or report you to anyone.
  • Always have a plan B!
  • Don't act weird or hide from people every time you see them. It makes you stand out more than just walking around.
  • If you're tailing someone, be sure to keep a distance between you and them. If they go into a shop, you can busy yourself with something in there, and then wait for a little bit after they leave to follow them again.
  • You should always have a bag to carry your gadgets. You don't want to be caught spying.
  • You can actually buy cameras disguised as regular objects online, as well as recording devices. Try to act casual.
  • You can put headphones/earphones in whilst eavesdropping.
  • When taking pictures turn the flash off.
  • If you have a minor or major bladder problem and your tailing someone keep a tube attached to you so you can go anytime.
  • It is possible to get a voice recording pen.
  • Get to the area early and open doors so that it's easy to sneak in and out of places.
  • Do whatever you have to do as long it is not illegal and make sure you keep all secrets to yourself unless they are something the government may need.
  • If you are spying on someone who is on the move, stop when they stop, and move when they move. This way, it won't seem like you are trying to gain on them. Also, try to put some distance between you and the suspect, but be close enough so you can hear/lip read what they're saying and see them.


  • Even with your closest friends, you should still be cautious. You never know who will be near you in certain situations, and your friends might reveal your whereabouts or identity. The bad guy might be even your boss! So be careful, don't trust anyone too much.
  • Remember: you may face moderate to severe legal repercussions from partaking in most forms of spying. You may, for example, be charged with stalking. Be careful.
  • If you're spying to gather evidence, avoid committing crimes in doing so, such as breaking and entering, damaging property, etc. It will be obvious who did these things if you start publishing information about the issue online or in print.
  • Always obey the law. Going to jail with the defense "I was trying to help" very rarely earns you respect.

Things You'll Need

  • Your gadgets: (optional, of course)
    • Monitoring and surveillance software (optional, as some cameras take videos)
    • Notebook for sketching and writing things down
    • Pencils and pens
    • Sunglasses/colored contacts (unless spying at night)
    • Research databases
    • A hidden camera
    • Night-vision goggles
    • A digital watch with timer
    • A dust rag in case you leave fingerprints
    • Flashlight (unless spying in the day)
    • A map of the area
    • A wig, an extra change of clothing, and make-up (to disguise yourself)
    • A book, so whenever someone looks at you, you can hide
    • Walkie Talkies
    • Baby Powder to see finger prints

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Sources and Citations