Finding Inspiration for Espionage Games – SpyCast Podcast

SpyCast Podcast

Hosts: Peter Earnest (former) & Historian Dr. Vince Houghton
Produced by International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
SpyCast can be found here or on your favorite podcast application


“Hello from SpyCast,
From the secret files of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. I’m Peter Earnest the Executive Director of the museum. I served for some thirty-six years in the Central Intelligence Agency. Largely as a what is called an operations officer or case officer. Every month we will be bringing you interesting talks with visitors, with authors, with others who have something to do with the world of intelligence and espionage.“

– Peter Earnest  SpyCast


SpyCast features interviews and discussions from ex-spies, intelligence experts, and espionage scholars. The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. produces the podcast. Peter Earnest, the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum and a 35 year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), founded SpyCast. Peter was the podcast’s first host starting with their first episode in November of 2006 and he hosted for several years until current host Historian Dr. Vince Houghton took over. Peter launched Spycast to share stories and the history of espionage in the hopes of inspiring the next generation of agents. SpyCast has released 300+ episodes with each episode running anywhere from 30-60 to minutes.

I’ve listened to SpyCast for a few years now and in that time I’ve listened to most of its episodes. My interest in SpyCast started when I went searching for information and inspiration to use in a future Top Secret campaign. It didn’t take long to discover that this podcast wasn’t the honey hole I hoped for. Instead of learning cool tradecraft or buzzword that I could throw into a game, a good amount of the episodes featured talks with authors and historians or about historical events. The podcast does have a few good interviews with people who have close ties to intelligence work or worked for an intelligence agency.

Not all were dry and fruitless. I did find some episodes really interesting. The podcast has a great two-part series interview with Tony Mendez, the CIA officer who led the daring mission to rescue American diplomats trapped in Iran called “Escape from Tehran, 1979”, with part one in September 2010 and part two the following month. In those episodes, Tony recounts the operation and extraction. My personal favorite is “Peter Earnest: My Life in the CIA” released in May of 2014. Historian Mark Stout interviews Peter as he reminisces about his life with the intelligence service. Peter entertains the listener with an exciting tale of bugging a source’s home during a small party dressed in a tuxedo with a “Woodblock” bugging device about a foot in length strapped to his leg. There are other good episodes that I liked and that is what kept me listening. In those interviews, I did learn a few things to use in my game. Like a good intelligence analyzer, I kept on listening, pulling out little nuggets of information that I could use in-game. Here are twelve lessons I learned by listening to SpyCast.

Lesson One: Checkpoints
When traveling by car in hostile territory fill the car up with candy bars, soda, and cigarettes. Make sure each item is clearly visible. Stack the items on the dash or on an open seat. You’ll use these items at checkpoints. At checkpoints, the worst danger comes from the nervous, trigger-happy, usually inexperienced guards. At checkpoints, an agent’s best defense is to get the guards’ hands occupied and off his weapon. First, offer the guards at the checkpoint a cigarette. If they refuse or don’t smoke use the candy bars next. Then follow it up with sodas. If you’re lucky they will take at least two and the guards’ weapon should now be safely cradled in their arms. Fingers nowhere near the triggers.

Lesson Two: Vehicle Modifications
When clandestinely gaining information by a vehicle in PRA’s, Permanently Restricted Area, or other sensitive areas you should modify your vehicle. First, disable the brake lights as to not give away your position. Next, modify the front headlight to where you can turn one off giving the illusion that the car is a motorcycle. Finally, install a winch on the front to get out of trouble spots.

Lesson Three: Two-man rule
When shredding classified material agents must have two people witness the destruction of classified information. Then they must sign a sheet listing, their names, what documents were destroyed, what day, and exact time.

Lesson Four: Burn Bags
If burning classified material, an agent must use a Burn Bag. It’s a plain brown shopping bag with red striped that says burn only.

Lesson Five: Compartmental documents
Classified materials have various level of security clearances. Classified materials within documents are compartmentalized based on security level. A group of classified documents is known as a Package.

Lesson Six: Courier card
A person with a Courier card allows them to leave a secure area without being searched.

Lesson Seven: Tarps
When transporting equipment use a tarp to hide the type of equipment being moved from prying eyes.

Lesson Eight: SDR – Surveillance detection route
An SDR is a procedure which is usually done in hostile territory to make sure one is not followed. If you had a meeting at 3 pm you would leave at 12 pm and drive around to make sure you aren’t being followed.

Lesson Nine: Pumpkin soup
Pumpkin soup can hide the taste and smell of poisons.

Lesson Ten: Motive of spies
People commit espionage against their own country out of greed, revenge, or disgruntlement. The acronym  M.I.C.E. – Money, Ideology, Coercion, Ego are things that get people to commit espionage.

Lesson Eleven: Cardboard silhouette
Place a cardboard silhouette in a car in place of an agent to create the illusion the agent is still present in the car. Rig the silhouette to pop up easily with one hand.

Lesson Twelve: Clandestine
Clandestine is not hiding your identity or allegiance but using tactics to hide your actions to gain information.

Spycast is not for everyone. It’s for that special person who has a really deep interest in the people and history of intelligence work. SpyCast is a good look behind the scene of the real world espionage. Like me, you may pick up a thing or two to use in game but the majority I didn’t find useful for roleplaying. I encourage anyone who travels to the Washington, D.C. area to visit the International Spy Museum. They have a very large collection of spy gadgets and history of spying.

~ Stephen Pennisi

Follow Stephen on G+ or on Twitter at @DadsAngry
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