Work Like A Spy

Title:                      Work Like A Spy

Author:                 J. C. Carleson

Carleson, J. C. (2013). Work Like A Spy: Business Tips From a Former CIA Officer. New York: Portfolio/Penguin

LCCN:    2012036951

HD31 .C3437 2013


Date Posted:      April 13, 2016

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

After returning to private life, former CIA case officer J. C. Carleson realized that many of the skills acquired during 10 years in the clandestine service could be used to enhance performance in the corporate world. Work Like a Spy identifies those skills and illustrates their application. But Carleson is quick to emphasize that her book is not about, nor does it advocate, industrial espionage. And it is not a traditional memoir, though the examples she uses to draw parallels with business practices are based on firsthand experience.

The book has three parts. The first is a review of the basics of human intelligence, the practices involved, and how they relate to business. Of particular interest is a chapter on business counterintelligence, or security, in which corporate and personal vulnerabilities are discussed.

In part two Carleson reviews personnel recruiting and screening techniques for forming good teams. The work ethic is important here, and the 12 principles she introduces were drawn from lessons she learned in dealing with agents and intelligence officers. The final chapter in this part considers crisis management strategies and how leaders and corporate managers can implement them successfully.

Part three deals with getting people-targets as she calls them-to make a sale. Carleson describes a number of techniques, then considers various methods of control or supervision likely to enhance success while underlining the merits of “the unorthodox approach” she recommends. She reviews techniques for handling suppliers and competitors and in each case draws on her CIA experience to illustrate her ideas.

In conclusion, Carleson points out that good case-officer tradecraft produces results in the business world, as demonstrated by her own experience since leaving the CIA. Dirty tricks are not the answer, she writes: “Today’s rival can be tomorrow’s ally.” (p. 192) The key to acquiring information in the business world is finding the right people and adhering to “firm ethical parameters … while maintaining your integrity.” (p. 192) Work Like A Spy is interesting and provides a valuable, if unfamiliar way of thinking about the intelligence and corporate worlds.

[1] Peake, Hayden B. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (20, 2, Fall/Winter, 2013, p. 127). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found online at

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