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Making a Spy in a Poor Multicultural City is Tough

Berlin is known as the "poor but sexy" city, according to Mayor Klaus Wowereit. Berlin's unemployment rate is 17.20%, which is astounding. Berlin is also multicultural, drawing people from around Europe and the world. It is probably one of the more difficult environments to make a spy. Making an intelligence operator requires recognizing patterns and this is easiest in homogenous cultures.

It's a snap in Washington, where everyone is pretty much defined on what they do and where they work. In Washington, and much of the United States, people are pretty routine. It is pretty unlikely that upstanding citizens will vary from this routine very much in their course of their daily lives, especially when their livelihoods depend on it.

Berlin, however, is a city rife with artists, musicians, opportunists, and the unemployed. Even those Berliners who have good, reputable, jobs enjoy quite a lot of vacation and flexibility. To make it even harder, traveling around Berlin, Germany, and around the world is relatively cheap due to subsidized public transport and discount airlines.

Of course, added complexity comes from the richness of immigrant, expatriot, and tourist culture. The variety of languages spoken on a daily basis is dizzying. Berlin is an international, heterogeneous, city plop in the middle of one of the most homogenous countries on the planet. Even Germans are confounded since they're only good at discerning "German" and "not German."

Sometimes, this is really all that is important, even when non-German are natural citizens of Germany. If you're not ethnically German, you'll probably never be accepted as German. Whatever the case may be, this holds little bearing in Berlin where difference is not simply tolerated but celebrated.

When it comes to coercion and blackmail, Berlin is tough. One cannot gain control over another operator simply by threatening to expose dirty laundry. While that may work in the rest of Germany, in Berlin, with its culture of exploration and experimentation, most of the usual secrets and fetishes are not simply embraced but promoted.

In Berlin, prostitution is legal, drugs are not a high priority, infidelity is uncommon but no reason for panic -- most Berliners never marry and have children with more than one partner, which is pretty normal and accepted.

And, when it comes to antisocial activities, residents of Berlin are pretty low key. In a city with high unemployment but also generous social services, breaking with the generous-but-strict laws is neither amusing or rewarding.

Generally speaking, the only Berliners who are considered to be a menace are the skinheads and white supremacists and they're easy to identify -- they fly their own flag, if you will, and are covered in tattoos -- and generally politically and commercially unimportant and uninteresting. It will be interesting to see if I will be better able to tune my pattern recognition machine and maybe develop some better filters and more discernment.

Until then, I am going to err on the side of flagging false positives -- I would much prefer to be a little paranoid than getting even one false negative, that's for certain.

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