Spies are coming in for a lot of heat now that the shah of Iran has been toppled and the Middle East is in chaos. A. U.S. congressional committee has issued a report strongly criticizing American spy agencies for their failure to properly evaluate the strength of opposition to the shah. And the newspapers report that because of the failure, America's entire spy network, including the Central Intelligence Agency and other cloak-and-dagger outfits, are undergoing an overhaul.
I think this is an excellent ides. So I offer here seven basic rules of the game from the Iconoclast's "Handboock for Spies."
1.) Discontent runs directly proportionate to the number of pictures of the head of state displayed in homes and shops. This indicator is one of the most easily misinterpreted of all the signs that spies try to decipher. Trenchcoat, who worked for the CIA in Iran for many years, used to tally all the pictures of the shah displayed along Avenue Shah Reza. "I though the more pictures of the shah, the more people liked him," Trenchcoat said. "But I guess I got it backward."
2.) The press never gets anything right. Therefore, if the press is unanimously praising its nation's ruler, you can bet most people don't like him very much. This is one of the most reliable but deceptive facts in the spy business. Spies who sit in the Hilton bar and send back dispatches based on the press often get into trouble. If you're going to crib from the press, best insert the word "not" where it's absent and delete it wherever it shows up.
3.) A king's standing among his people usually runs in inverse proportion to the number of medals he wears with his dress uniform. This isn't always true. Spies must be careful to sort out the genuine military heroes from the charlatans. But they should keep in mind that a king's subjects usually have ways of finding out how the king got his medals. They tend to nurse resentments of kings who wear chests full of fruit salad.
4.) The greater the proportion of a parliament composed of the opposition, the stronger the government. Most spies get his backward, on the theory that if a parliament is made up 100 percent of pro-government members the electorate must support the government. There is a certain beauty to this logic. It assumes that the democratic process produces parliaments that mirror society. This is true enough. But modern spy techniques have shown that they mirror society much as a looking glass mirrors writing -- invariably getting it backward.
5.) Torture turns people off. Too many spies fail to grasp the significance of this fact. This is because they have been reading too much modern sociology with its disclosures of new trends toward mass masochism. But generally the sociologists make bad spies. And you can pretty well bet your microdots that if a government is torturing its citizens, some of them will end up resenting the government and sooner or later they will talk about it to their friends. Such rumors are hard to control and shouldn't be ignored.
6.) College students aren't dumb. Granted this is sometimes a bit hard to take, particularly the way college students are behaving these days. And many spies fail to perk up when they hear of rumblings on campus. But the fact of the matter is that in many cases youngsters who go on to college are some of the more thoughful members of the population. And unless they are protesting in favor of the government, the chances are high that when they grow up the government could be in trouble.
7.) Many people take God seriously. This might seem blasphemous in this age of secular materialism. And it can come as a shock that some people would give their loyalties to God rather than to their government. Some feel it's preposterous that religion could ever be stronger than nationalism. But the human mind is sometimes surprising. And so it behooves the prudent spy to go to church.
These seven rules might sound too simple. But all too many spies forget them. This is what happened in the case of Iran. Now the U.S. government -- and lots of others -- are faced with an oil crisis, the loss of an ally, and the possibility of increased chaos in the Middle East. If the spies had followed a few of these simple rules, Washington wouldn't have been caught by surprise.