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Confessions of a private spy

30 42 346

"Here's the brief. Company A has hired an intel firm to spy on Company B. Company B is our client. We know who the spies are, and our task is to discover the identity of Company A".

Run of the mill so far, so I give a bored nod and take a languid drag on my cigarette.

"It's not going to be easy. They're a tight-knit outfit. There's barely any information about their MO [modus operandi] or the type of clients they work for, but we've got a list of all their employees, which is a start. I'll WhatsApp it to you now, and you can get to work".

I ask an obvious question, and I get an obvious answer. Force of habit, but a waste of time as ever.

"Who's the client then?"

Guy arches his eyebrow, tilts his head back with a sneer.

"If you needed to know, I'd have already told you"

I can't be bothered to argue, couldn't care less anyway, so I give a fake pout and act hurt. He likes hierarchy, so it doesn't hurt to stroke his ego.

That's the problem with this job - there is nothing that excites me so much, but nothing that turns me off like the chain of command. I love the sin, but hate the sinners.

Two months later I'm frantically dialling Guy. I can't wait to bask in his praise, like a puppy bounding back to his owner with the stick clamped proudly between his jaws.

Guy picks up on the tenth ring. He probably enjoys making me wait, but today I don't care.

"Guy, Guy, you won't believe what she told me, seriously man, it's gold…"

I'm rattling off my words like a Gatling gun. Guy already knows it is mission complete from the tone of my voice and the tremor in my throat.

"So, hit me with it, soldier!"

And I do, delivering all the information spilled by my source at the rival spy firm. Eight weeks of grade-A grooming, and she's ended up reading me a list of every client they work for and every target. At first, Guy is nonplussed.

"Don't be stupid, she'd never give you that list - she'd be suicidal if she did."

In theory, he's right - if anyone in our mob was that loose lipped, there'd be hell to pay and hearses to arrange - but in practise, he's wrong. She really did, and he's elated.

He doesn't stop me when I get to the name of our client. He sticks faithfully to the need-to-know principle when it comes to the rank and file like me.

But once I read him out the full list, he confirms our success with a rare show of appreciation.

"I don't know what you did to get her to sing like that, and I'd probably rather not know either, but that's a serious score - the client will love that."

Of course, they will. Not only is the case cracked, but infiltrating a rival outfit also makes us look very good indeed, and promotes our reputation into the Premier League.

I pour a full glass of scotch and down it, job done and my 100 percent strike rate still intact.

Fleeting sympathy for my prey? That disappears in a flash. It's a zero-sum game we're playing here. Dog eat dog and spy eat spy.

This is the key to it all: You've got to be a natural-born liar. You can't learn to lie, you'll always trip up, and in bandit country that's a risk your firm simply cannot afford to take.

The problem is that if lying is in your blood, then so is suspicion and paranoia. It has to be.

It still amazes me how upset people get about the footage and the tapes. I know it's hard to get perspective when this is how I live, day in, day out, but the hypocrisy is staggering.

We don't mind replacing verbal communication with written WhatsApp and Messenger chats - our thoughts and dialogue forever imprinted on phones, servers and in the ether where they can be accessed by a third party - but the minute someone knows you recorded your call with them, it's like you filmed them in the shower.

"But I don't consent to you recording my calls, so you can't!" they exclaim. Sure, you don't, but yes, I can. UK law requires one-party consent, and I consent, so that's me covered from a legal perspective.

Likewise, clandestine filming - sure, if I disseminate the footage to others, there could be a legal issue, but what difference does it make if I use my spy pen as an aide memoire, when drinks, drugs or distractions might impair my ability to remember a key fact to crack a case.

In my mind, if I was there, I was given permission to record. Thanks to modern technology, now I can outsource responsibility to the HD spy pen happily perched in my top........

© Al Jazeera