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TSCM History - Spy Quiz, 1980 - Do you have what it takes to be a good spy? Take the spy test and find out. Find out if you could be a good spy.

Test yourself for fun. Learn what makes a good spy. Before you hire any TSCM inspection / counterespionage consultant make sure they know what makes a good spy, too. This quiz was originally published in, A Handbook for Spies, 1980, Wolfgang Lotz (a real spy), Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, NY and is available at

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The following questionnaire has been designed to determine the degree of your suitability as a prospective secret agent. The results of this test will also indicate what type of spy or agent you are likely to become – for example, an informer, a “stinker”, a double agent, a resident, master spy, a spymaster.

These terms will be explained later. For the present you should approach the test with an open mind. You will not have to show your answers to anyone, and therefore you can afford to be absolutely honest in your replies.

There are three to five possible answers to each question. Mark the one that is closest to the truth, and after you have answered all ten questions, award yourself the number of points indicated in the key that follows the questionnaire. An evaluation of your point total and an analysis of each of the questions follows. You may study it at your leisure only after completing the test. (If you want an honest and comprehensive appraisal, don’t look ahead now.)

1. What is your principal motivation for wanting to become a good spy?

a. Adventure

b. Money

c. Ideals

2. How old are you?

a. Under 20

b. 20-24

c. 25-35

d. Over 35

e. Over 45

f. Over 55

3. How good a liar are you?

a. You usually blush when you tell a lie

b. You can tell an occasional fib without too much trouble, but you hate telling really big lies

c. You can lie pretty convincingly as a rule

d. You love telling a good big lie

e. You never lie

4. How courageous are you? Assume that you see someone (let’s say, a man much bigger and stronger than you) committing as offense you feel strongly about, such as beating a child brutally or torturing a puppy. Would you…

a. Try to talk him out of it

b. Stop him by any means, even attack him physically

c. Inform the police

d. Mind your own business

5. How would you go about collecting information? Assume that you suspect your wife (husband, companion), of being unfaithful to you. Would you…

a. Employ a detective

b. Ask close friends to supply you with information

c. Conduct discreet inquiries on your own without involving anyone else

d. Make a scene and browbeat her (him) into admitting her (his ) guilt

e. Do nothing and hope things will straighten themselves out

6. What is the extent of your willingness to break the law?

a. To drive through a red light at 2 A.M. with no one about

b. To do anything, as long as it serves your purpose

c. To do nothing illegal under any circumstances

d. To cheat on your income tax return

7. How good a friend are you? Assume that a close friend needs your help, but giving it would cause you considerable trouble and expense. Would you…

a. Rush to the aid unasked and act without consulting the individual

b. Ask how you can best be of help and then act accordingly

c. Give only as much help as will not inconvenience you a great deal

d. Explain that you are sorry, but you are in no position to be of much help

8. How good a mixer are you?

a. Fond of social life, but only within your own circle

b. At home in any crowd

c. Able to strike up quick “friendships” with strangers

d. Shy and withdrawn, not a good mixer

9. How would you describe yourself as a drinker?

a. A heavy drinker

b. A light drinker

c. A social drinker, but able to take it

d. A teetotaler

10. How unscrupulous are you? Do you believe in the maxim that the end justifies the means?

a. Yes, unreservedly

b. Not when the means or methods are illegal and/or objectionable

c. Only under certain circumstances

d. One must judge each case individually


Now that you have answered all the questions to the best of your ability, score your answers according to the following key, add up the points, and let us see just what kind of a good spy / secret agent you are likely to make.


1. a:25, b:5; c:5

2. a:0; b:10; c:25; d:20; e:15; f:5

3. a:5; b:10; c:25; d:10; e:0

4. a:10; b:0; c:5: d:25

5. a:5; b:0; c:25; d:5; e:10

6. a:10; b:25; c:0; d:15

7. a:10; b:25; c:10; d:5

8. a:10;, b:15; c:25; d:5

9. a:5; b:10; c:25; d:0

10 a:20; b:0; c:5; d:25

235-250 points: You are selfish, unscrupulous and mean. You will do practically anything to gain an advantage. You are wily and cunning but not too clever. As a professional spy your bulldozer attitude will be an asset – up to a point. Your superiors in the service will find you quite useful for certain types of operations, but few of them will either like or respect you. However, being what you are, you won’t care a fig about that. Your chances for survival are good, although it is doubtful that you will ever be entrusted with a position of major responsibility.

205-230 points: You’re a toughie, all right. You know what you want and your are determined to get it. You don’t mind employing unconventional methods if and when the occasion warrants it. At the same time you are sufficiently sensitive and circumspect not to go about your business like a bull in a china shop. You will probably like the service and get on well with your superiors and colleagues, although you will take no nonsense from either. With a little luck you could easily get to the very top of the profession.

105-200 points: You are average; most people are. To a large extent you are hamstrung by conventions. In the service this often presents an obstacle, although it is not necessarily an insurmountable one. You have your uses even in a profession such as ours. If you apply yourself, you may in time become a passable agent, or good spy.

55 – 100 points: Let’s face it, friend, you’re a bit of a softie. No harm in that – as long as you keep out of the secret service. Should you by some quirk of fate get in, you are bound to remain forever a hewer of wood and drawer of water. In other words, you are not likely to rise above the position of part-time informer or fulltime office worker in the lower brackets. If this is what you aspire to, best of luck! We suggest, though, that you confine your interest in intelligence work to the reading of spy thrillers.

50 points or less: You are probably a very beautiful person, kind, sensitive, good to your mother. You believe in mankind and the United Nations. As for espionage, you have never given the matter a single moment of serious consideration – not in connection with yourself, that is: bless you. You probably picked this book at random from the shelf of a friend. I do hope you will go on reading it to the end, just to prove to yourself how right you were.

Let us now analyze and evaluate the answers to each of the questions.

Question 1: Motivation

I have enumerated only the three major motives that usually move a person to become a good spy, or secret agent: lust for adventure, greed and whatever one believes to be ideals. Other reasons for seeking a secret service career – boredom, frustration, the desire to serve one’s country in some extraordinary way, the wish to “make something of oneself” – can usually be placed under one of the three main headings.

On the whole, adventure is a good motive as long as you remember that, apart from the excitement and the romantic appeal of the unusual, the job involves not only considerable danger to yourself but also a great deal of humdrum routine and a lot of very unromantic hard work and personal inconvenience. Although there are those who disagree with me on this point, I have always found that the truly great agents were also great adventurers by nature. It is that extra little bit of imagination, the inability to resist the challenge of danger, and the refusal to give up in an apparently hopeless situation that makes them so.

Money is also a reasonable enough motive. Hard cash for hard work is a good principle in any job. There is only one catch: Very few secret agents – perhaps one out of thousands – come into the real big money, either legitimately or otherwise. Intelligence services, in spite of huge budgets that are freely spent on all kinds of operations, are chronically and notoriously stingy where the salaries and expense accounts of field agents are concerned. As a rule, the best you can hope for is a fairly good living while you work and a pitifully modest pension on retirement – if you are lucky enough to get that far. It varies, of course, among countries, but I have yet to meet the retired agent who is generously provided for. I have read newspaper reports about former Soviet spies, such as Fuchs, Philby, and Colonel Abel, living it up in their private dachas in Russia and stuffing themselves with caviar, but there is no way of verifying such stories. (And who wants to live in Russia anyway?)

Then there is the “idealist,” one who is motivated solely by the desire to serve his country. He cares not for money and looks scornfully upon mere adventures. Chances are that his country will not have much use for him as a spy. If he succeeds in pestering the authorities into having him interviewed by a recruiting officer of the secret service, that gentleman will probably suggest, tactfully but firmly, that the applicant make himself useful in some other capacity. Mind you, I have nothing against idealism in small doses and within limits; it should in fact be considered an asset. The person with a cause, who believes in what he is doing, will in most cases make a better and more reliable agent than one whose motives are purely mercenary or adventure-oriented. He may not like the occasional dirty job, but he will do it to the best of his ability, saying “my country, right or wrong” – and that’s fine. The one to be wary of, the one no intelligence service will touch, is the all-out idealist who wants to change the world into a better place. This type of person is either a confirmed fanatic who will go far beyond a given assignment or objective and try to “improve” on it or a high-minded individual who believes in purity of purpose and chivalry in combat. The former is hard to control and likely to mess up the works; the latter will shy away from any assignment that is not strictly aboveboard and played according to the rules. Both types, of course, are completely useless as espionage agents.

When I was in the service, I used to do a little bird-dogging now and then. That is, I used to point out people I though should be recruited into our organization. And more than once my boss the general, said to me, “Rusty, I don’t care whom you get, as long as they are in a position to be useful to us, bankers or pimps or duchesses or whores. But, for God’s sake, stay away from idealists! Don’t waste your time and risk your neck for nothing.” The crafty old bastard was an expert at judging people, and I learned a lot from him.

Question 2: Age

The importance of being the right age is too obvious to warrant lengthy discussion. Persons under twenty years of age will rarely be sufficiently mature, and those over fifty may not be able to meet physical requirements. There are no hard and fast rules, but the best age to enter the service is probably between twenty-five and thirty-five.

Question 3: Ability to Lie

There should be no need to explain the reason for this question. A good spy in action must lie – his entire life may in fact be one big lie – and he must be able to lie glibly and convincingly. Yet it is a fallacy to believe that the biggest liar is necessarily the best agent. All of us have met people who are compulsive liars. The least they do is to “improve on the truth,” whatever they tell us. We are amused or we become annoyed, but we take everything they say with a grain of salt. Then there are the professional liars whom we meet in the course of the day. Think of car dealers, insurance agents, journalists; they wouldn’t be able to make much of a living without fibbing a bit. We accept that as a matter of course, and we are prepared for it when we deal with them. Even perfectly nice and honest people will find it quite difficult to speak the absolute truth at all times. There is the “excuse” for being late at the office, the “polite untruth” of telling your hostess how wonderfully tasty her horrible chicken salad is, and the “white lie” of swearing to your new boyfriend that he is the first man you have ever been in love with. Whether we like it or not, it is a fact that modern society cannot get along without lying; just how to lie and how much to lie is a matter of terminology and degree.

In a society composed of liars, big and small, clever and clumsy, charming and obnoxious, the secret agent must be the grand master of the lie. It is his stock in trade, a major instrument of his profession, and often the means of saving his life. I have been asked whether one can learn how to lie. Well, not from scratch perhaps, but the art of lying can be perfected if one has a natural talent for it. What you need to start with is acting ability, and excellent memory, and plenty of practice.

I shall discuss this fascinating subject as some length when we learn to construct a cover. One thing is certain, though: Unless you are an accomplished liar you will never make the grade as a spy.

Question 4: Courage

No one will deny that it takes courage to be a secret agent. But in connection with intelligence work people usually think in terms of the wrong kind of courage, such as being dropped from a helicopter into a stormy sea or engaging in shooting matches or fistfights. In other words, plain physical courage. Movies and cheap spy thrillers are to blame for this misconception; spectacular feats of this kind are their bread and butter. Such things do indeed take place in real life, but far less frequently than is generally assumed. While physical bravery is an admirable and useful character trait in all walks of life, it is rather a different type of courage that is required of the secret agent. To do something that runs contrary to your every instinct or is directly opposed to your most cherished convictions – or not to do something you feel you have to do – calls for a very rare and special kind of courage.

Take for example the situation described in question 4. Highest marks are given to the man who minds his own business, who does not interfere with the person ill-treating the child or puppy. Under normal circumstances we should feel nothing but disgust for such cowardly behavior, let alone praise it or give it high marks. But in most cases there are different standards of behavior for the secret agent. By interfering he may involve himself in a situation detrimental to his assignment. He may draw undue attention to himself, he may be held up and miss an important appointment, or he may even end up in a police station, being questioned. It’s all very well to be a person of principle, but a good spy’s first consideration must be his mission.

I have often watched with bleeding heart the Egyptian peasants beat and maltreat their cart horses. Being a passionate horseman, my blood boiled every time. Indeed, on one occasion I lost control of myself and gave the peasant a sound thrashing with his own whip. That was a mistake, of course, and it was an example how a good spy should not behave. Luckily, my rash action had no unpleasant consequences for me.

Question 5: Collecting Information

The five alternative replies to this question speak for themselves; highest marks (answer C) go to the man who personally conducts his inquiries and verifies the facts, who is discreet and does not unnecessarily involve outsiders.

It may surprise you that second highest marks are given to the man who does nothing and hopes for the best. That, of course, is no way to tackle an assignment, but it is better than doing the wrong thing (the other three possible answers).

Later I shall go into detail about the ways and means of collecting information, the very essence of espionage. This questionnaire should not be regarded as a guideline; it is simply a means of testing your basic approach to certain subjects.

Question 6: Breaking the Law

Breaking the law is like lying: It may not be nice, but everybody does it to some degree. The most upright citizens will on occasion contravene traffic regulations, thoughtlessly discard an empty paper bag in the street, or hold a noisy party long after midnight. It does not make them criminals, but it is against the law. Even cheating on one’s wife is illegal in some countries. Anyone who claims that he never under any circumstances breaks the law is either a moron or a clumsy liar. Espionage has no use for either of them. The question is, just how far are you prepared to go in breaking the law?

Most people – let’s face it – will do just as much law-breaking as they think they can get away with. It is the purpose of your training as a spy to teach you means and methods to break most laws with impunity – all but the written and unwritten laws of the service, and you usually get around to breaking some of those later, when you have had a little practice. I shall teach you that, too, in good time.

This does not mean, of course, that as a secret agent you may or should place yourself above the law of the country in which you are operating or that you may commit any number of offenses as you go along, whenever it seems convenient. Just the contrary; an agent in he field must carefully avoid committing even a minor infraction. No parking ticket, no jumping onto a moving train, no crossing the street where it says one shouldn’t. Save your lawbreaking for the big moment when your assignment calls for it, and then do just as much of it as you have to do and no more. And if there is a way of doing what you have to do legally, do it. Committing a crime for the fun of it is stupid and dangerous.

While a good spy should avoid breaking the law as much as possible, he must be prepared to do as much of it as may be necessary whenever the need arises. Your reply to this question will indicate the degree of your readiness to turn to crime in a good cause.

Question 7: Friendship

Here I speak of friends in the tightest possible sense, not casual acquaintances, drinking companions, or friendly neighbors. True friends are a rare commodity indeed and worth their weight in diamonds. The secret services are no exception; you don’t make many friends in the service, but once you do, there should be no compromise about it. Without wishing to sound unduly dramatic, I have to emphasize that your capacity for friendship may save your life one day. That is a fact, and I have seen it happen.

Question 8: Social Life

It will depend on the individual assignment, but social life is liable to be an important part of your cover. The ability to “mix” is a definite asset, yet it can be overdone. We have all been repelled on occasion by the pushy heartiness of strangers who try to get acquainted too fast too soon.

Shyness, on the other hand, will prove to be a major handicap for an agent.

Question 9: Drinking

Drink, they say, is a great loosen-er of tongues, and I have found this to be true. Many a piece of valuable information can be obtained from a person who is under the influence. The trouble is that this works both ways, and it may boomerang on you. When you have to match a man drink for drink, it only becomes a question of who can take more. Drinking people have the habit of distrusting teetotalers, so by abstaining entirely or by drinking only very little you may lose valuable sources of information.

One cannot very well advise a good spy as to how much he should drink on a given occasion; it depends on many factors. A good rule is to stay well within the limits of your known drinking capacity.

Question 10: Unscrupulousness

This one’s a lulu; no wonder it scared you. It has scared me too, at times. We have discussed lawbreaking, but this is different, having to do something that revolts you does not necessarily include the commission of a crime in the legal sense. The dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima was by international law a perfectly legal and proper act of war; it was necessary, and it probably saved thousands of American lives. Yet one wonders what went on in the minds of the pilots who had to carry out the mission.

They say that some of them went insane years later, which is not surprising. To the best of my recollection, the pilots who dropped the bomb were either volunteers or were given the option to refuse to fly the mission. As far as we know, none refused. How would you have reacted in their place? Would you have gone? And afterward, would you have felt like a hero or a mass murderer?

Perhaps those are not fair questions. However illustrious a secret agent you may one day become, it is unlikely that you will ever be given an assignment of this magnitude. But you may well be faced with a situation in which the chief himself will ask you to dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town and have you served with the very best the house can provide. Then, while you are still wondering what brought about the special treatment, he will pour you another Remy Martin and say in an offhand sort of way, “Look, there is something I want you to do for me. It’s not a regular thing, you know. In fact, it may sound pretty terrible to you at first. I don’t like it too much myself, but it is absolutely essential for the security of our country. I hate doing this to you, you know, but you’re the best man for the job, so you’re elected. Of course, there’ll be a bonus and perhaps a promotion…”

And there you will be, sitting with the thing in your lap, and the decision will be yours alone. You don’t like it one bit, but if you refuse, it may very well mean the end of your career. What will you do? Throw the whole thing in his face or invoke the old conscience-saving formula, “my country, right or wrong”?

Only you will know, and only when the time comes, how you will decide. And I am certainly in no position to tell you, now or ever, how you should decide.

I have known agents who as a matter of principle would never go beyond routine assignments. They won’t have much of a conscience problem; at the same time, they will never go very far in the service. Others will do anything – and I mean anything – without giving it a second thought. Look at Yasir Arafat’s Fatah saboteurs, who will throw a couple of bombs into a school bus full of small children.

Speaking from my own experience, I was never asked to release an atom bomb, let along kill kids. But I have had my share of assignments I was not too happy about. If I carried them out, as I did, it was never in a spirit of blind obedience but with the firm conviction that the operation was necessary and that I was the man best placed and best qualified to do the job.

This, then, is the only piece of advice I can give to anyone engaged in intelligence work: When they ask you to play rough, you must be the sole judge of just how far you are prepared to go. Spies are unconventional people; their rules and ethics are not those of ordinary citizens. But the rules do exist, even through they may differ from service to service and from agent to agent.


So, how did you do?

Extra Credit: How Spying Works in Real Life.


Murray Associates is an independent security consulting firm, providing eavesdropping detection and counterespionage services to business, government and at-risk individuals.

Headquartered in the New York metropolitan area, a Murray Associates team can assist you quickly, anywhere in the United States, and internationally.

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