The way the CIA operates is a mystery to most of us. Primarily informed by sensationalist films and TV, few of us know what really goes on – and that’s how they like it.
Ex-CIA spy Amaryllis Fox, however, hopes to shed some light on the realities. In her memoir, Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA, former CIA clandestine officer Fox talks about her life.
She served from 2003 to 2010, deployed to 16 countries to “infiltrate terrorist networks in the post-9/11 world”. One trick she was taught by a CIA instructor weirdly involved Starbucks gift cards.
The cards were used to help assets to indicate that they needed to meet:
He gives one [gift card] to each of his assets and tells them, 'If you need to see me, buy a coffee.' Then he checks the card numbers on a cybercafé computer each day, and if the balance on one is depleted, he knows he's got a meeting.
She went on:
Saves him having to drive past a whole slew of different physical signal sites each day [to check for chalk marks and lowered window blinds]. And the card numbers aren't tied to identities, so the whole thing is pretty secure.
She added that, more generally, restaurants are integral to espionage.
Restaurants offer the opportunity to meet those with access to a government or terror group that might be able to help us predict or prevent the next attack. Sometimes those meetings are accidental. Mostly, they are planned to look accidental.
They also allow you to prepare in advance: "[M]ultiple entrances and exits can be helpful and private seating such as booths or hidden corners is a plus. ... Perhaps most important of all, the presence of security cameras and the type of clientele that frequent the joint.'
And provide you with ample opportunities to choose a seat with our back towards a wall, it helps with: "situational awareness and ensure the face of your conversation partner is turned away from onlookers in the room."