Read an Excerpt
INTRODUCTION: How Much Is Business? How Much Is Espionage?
by Maryann Karinch
I began this book as a skeptic, unsure that spies could teach business pro-
fessionals a darned thing that was legal. After a few days of absorbing the
stories and other material, I was sure they could, however. One key to seeing
the connection was to ask questions that related to the actual jobs and
not to the Hollywood versions of spy work. The other key was my keeping
in mind that Peter Earnest is no ordinary spy. The breadth of his career
experiences and his ability to communicate the lessons derived from those
experiences make him a superior resource.
The result is a book offering transferable business practices from the
CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS) that support employee selection
and retention, creative and agile problem solving, mission-focused outcomes,
and learning from mistakes. Peter’s experiences in the world of
espionage illustrate core business principles. Peter and I also knew of many
events from the business world that either implemented or failed to imple-
ment those principles. Including case studies from both worlds is one way
this book capitalizes on his expertise and mine.
My initial vision of what this book would be was wrong in certain
respects and yet, ultimately, right overall. This seeming paradox evolved as
my preconceived notions about the intelligence services matured during
conversations with Peter. For example, I expected a great deal of regularity:
models for action with prescribed shapes and clean edges. Knowing
how case officers in the field must handle each covert meeting and action
with diligence, I assumed Peter would share codification of practices, formu-
las to achieve certain outcomes, and patterns and systems that could be
replicated to improve the effectiveness of any business professional. There
are some structured programs like that in the book, but for the most part
the how-to guidance takes a different form.
Instead of blueprints, the recommendations here have the tone and
shape of executive coaching. They flow from Peter’s insights about the true
success of the intelligence services: the people “on the line,” why they stay
there, and the advantages and functioning of a culture of trust. This is so
for a couple of reasons.
First, the people “on the line” are not just case officers who recruit foreign
nationals or technology wizards who will bug the lairs of terrorists
abroad. They are everyone in the National Clandestine Service.
Second, the insights on why they stay at the Agency are prescient, as
well as reflective of what has worked in the field for decades. In today’s
business world, “climbing the corporate ladder” is becoming a quaint
phrase. Many people enter the workforce today viewing career advance-
ment as a route to a purpose-driven career or simply “doing what I want
to do.” The Central Intelligence Agency has known since its inception that
it could not lure high-caliber talent with competitive salaries alone.
Intelligence officers are government employees with established pay
grades. Leisure time and an evening meal with the family may often be
hard to come by for case officers, who in many cases do two jobs: the cover
job and the covert one.
Third, from hiring processes to communications practices through
problem solving in the field, building trust both internally and externally
is vital—and doing so is a calculated and achievable action. Loyalty and
creative thinking are not random benefits of having good people on board.
Companies can foster these attributes in a series of steps.
Having tackled business issues for thirty years as an employee, an
entrepreneur, and now a writer, I especially enjoyed this project because I
came to understand what kind of relationships, culture, programs, and
leadership make it possible for a government agency with high demands
to attract and retain so many extraordinary professionals.
Most of the answers to how-to questions came from Peter, but other
sources in both the public and private sectors contributed important
details as well. Using Peter’s description of the Agency’s successes in the
key areas of personnel, operations, strategy, and learning from mistakes, I
sometimes reverse-engineered the outcomes. That is, I looked for those
areas of success in private companies and found out how they achieved the
same results. In addition to getting glimpses of how the Agency conducts
its business, therefore, I saw how companies screen employees effectively,
channel the talents of their workforce to outsmart the competition,
breathe life into a corporate culture, and maintain healthy management
For instance, sometimes the methods used by the National
Clandestine Service and by business are similar, if not identical; sometimes
they look quite different. But even though NCS officers—I’ll call them
spies for convenience, even though the term really applies to the “other
guys”—and business executives may not live similar lives, the methods
they use to get their jobs done are rarely worlds apart. So organizations in
the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors can implement every bit of business
guidance in this book.
As for my paradox, I was wrong about what shape the how-to business
information from a spy-turned-businessman would take, but I was right
that it would showcase the unique insights of a successful businessman
who used to be a spy. That unusual man, Peter Earnest, serves as narrator
in this text—he is the “I” and “we” on the pages that reference people in
the Intelligence Community. For the most part, the stories and counsel
here reflect our combined experience and research—but all those stories
about silent drills and dead drops . . . I had nothing to do with them.