How to be a Spy


The Occasional's Definitive Guide to: Espionage, Coverts Operations, Covert Ops, Being Covert, Double Agents, Surveillance, Interrogation, Deception, Lexicon, and Other Things Your Government Does Not Want You to Know

With the success of Homeland, Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall, the world is going spy crazy! How can you spy up your life? This will serve as an introduction to the dos and don’ts of becoming, spotting and loving spies


How to Dress like a Spy

First things first, you need to look like a spy in order to spy on things. You can get a tuxedo and a wet suit, sure. But what if you can’t afford these expensive items? Then here’s an alternative that will get you into any government party or international grey zone.

  1. Buy two hula hoops and a large sheet of cardboard, and some red, black, and white paint. (Sometimes you can find cardboard for free behind Pier One; they get a lot of big shipments.)
  2. Build a three-­dimensional disc out of the hula­ hoops and cardboard, and cut five holes in it along the circumference at equal distances.
  3. Paint one side of the disc red and the other side black. Around the rim of the disc, alternate red and black in a roulette pattern.
  4. Finally, paint “$10,000” in the middle of both sides of the disc. Let it dry. Then, climb inside the disk and stick your head, arms, and legs through each of the holes.
  5. Congrats! You’re a casino chip. Walk into any party and tell people you’ll be at the tables. Don’t move too fast or the hula hoops will make that sandy­ shuffling noise and give you away. SPY MODE ACTIVATED!



The first thing a spy must do is protect on the domestic front. Even your home could be filled with double agents.

Suspicious of your couch? Here’s how to interrogate it to make sure it’s on your side.

Suspend your couch from the ceiling by binding its legs. Splash cold water on it, and ask it when it last saw Bin Laden. If the couch refuses to cooperate, sexually humiliate it by pulling off its lining in front of a woman. Take photos of your couch’s genitals with an instant camera. Burn a copy of the Ikea catalogue in front of it, and tell your couch it has been abandoned by God. Sleep-deprive your couch by blasting Queensryche and Do The Bartman for 72 hours, then confuse it into cooperation by offering it a nice lunch. When the couch finally offers up a lead, render it to Libya, where it will never be heard from again. Follow up by broadcasting to the world that your policies represent modern democracy, justice and fairness. Sell the story of your couch’s interrogation to Hollywood, and cross your fingers that it gets made into a film by the woman who got an amazing performance out of Bill Paxton in a vampire movie.


By now, your home should be safe. Before venturing out, make sure you've mastered the following.

Can’t come up with your own code phrases? These phrases are available under the creative commons license; make sure your contact has the appropriate response phrase.


“The crow rides a larger crow at 7 p.m.”
RESPONSE: “That’s ridiculous, but OK.”


“15, 20, 21, red.”
RESPONSE: “I thought it was 22.”


“How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
RESPONSE: “How did you get in my bedroom?”


“Sure are a lot of websites these days.”
RESPONSE: “Yep. Sure are.”


“There are too many toilets in this town.”
RESPONSE: “Yeah, but just enough assholes.”

Spy Recipes

Got that? Great, but it's still not enough. You're going to have to rely on not just your words, but your guile.

Whether or not you’re a spy, you can eat and drink like one! Here are a couple recipes to get you started eating like a spy.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cup Butter

1 Cup Sugar

1 Cup Packed Brown Sugar

2 Eggs

2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour

1 Teaspoon Baking Soda

1 Tablespoon Cyanide

2 Teaspoons Hot Water

½ Teaspoon Salt

2 Cups Semisweet Chocolate Chips

1 Cup Chopped Walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C if you’re in eastern Europe like you should be).

2. Combine ingredients, using the hot water to dissolve the baking soda and cyanide.

3. Bake for 10 minutes in preheated oven, until golden-brown.

4. Give cookies to impostor prime minister, run.

5. Fire-bomb apartment complex where you made the cookies. 



1 Ounce Vodka

Dry Vermouth



Ask bartender to combine ingredients in a shaker. Tell him to serve it “straight up; do I look like a joker?” Make sure to call the bartender “a real joker,” and wear platform shoes so that you are taller and, thus, older. Drink martini while pointing at the bartender, make a “gunshot” sound, and put the empty glass on the bar. Walk away after saying, “Such a joker.” Make out with two adult ladies.

That's it. Everything you need to know. But if you're pressed for time, here's a crash course.


  1. Go to another country.
  2. Hide.
  3. Write down everything you see in code. 1 = B, Giraffe = Triangle, etc.
  4. Send code to the Pentagon. Do not include a key.
  5. Kill yourself. A spy is never captured alive.

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This article was originally published February 2013