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Little Grey Men

As a man, if you're between 5-foot-eight and maybe six-foot and between 135-200 pounds and have never been described as particularly handsome or beautiful—not ugly, that's a problem, too—but probably more like that generic guy who is on the track or soccer team, the guy who gets a date for prom but who would never make King—then you might be the perfect spy field operative.

Just put your studies first and be blessed with at least a 130 IQ—more is better to a point—and some common sense, some situational awareness, and the gift of physicality—and be so average and normal and mediocre-looking that you have a God-given cloak of invisibility—and you're most of the way there.

Think Cameron Frye instead of Ferris Bueller; actually, Ferris would be fine as a spy if he weren't so attention-seeking because let's be honest, Bueller was way more personality than prowess or beauty.

What every intelligence agency really wants for field officers is the little grey man. Smart, clever, possibly brilliant, but blessed with natural invisibility. Neither handsome nor ugly, neither well-dressed (with the strange exception of the homeless, who are de facto invisible because while you recognize their existence, you still avert your eyes and tend to not really look at them unless they're sleeping on your stoop) nor especially unkempt (think Charlie Brown and not Schroeder or Pig-Pen—and for heaven's sake, not Linus van Pelt—good grief!).

The grey man isn't exclusive to spycraft anymore. Anyone smart who carries a gun concealed—even legally—aspires to not telegraph "I'm carrying a pistol on my right hip at 4-o'clock under my shirt in an inside the waistband holster" in exactly the same way that anyone who is undercover doesn't want to telegraph "narc" or "spy" or "Fed" or "cop."

While I'm no CIA Chief of Disguise, Jonna Mendez, everyone knows how to ID 80% of the kind of civilian American guy who legally carries a pistol concealed. Loose unbuttoned overshirt (they call it a cover garment), some form of cargo shorts or pants, some form of a tactical boot in tan or black, a thick leather or nylon gun belt, and probably a SUUNTO CORE watch, tacticool shades, and then there's the undershirt with the Punisher skull logo. Paracord bracelets. A bag with molle or a velcro patch with a flag. And there are are some nice khaki trousers out there but beware of buying anything from 5.11 Tactical except maybe your underwear. Even as an operator or as an assassin, the only thing more obvious than a 5.11 wardrobe is wearing an actual tuxedo.

Instead, buy all your tacticool gear at REI or Patagonia instead. The only difference between the sort of tacticool kit that shows your hand and an invisible wardrobe that turns you invisible is the label. Cover your performancewear with North Face labels and, all of a sudden, your a weak and harmless vegan hippy.

Here in DC, invisible is button-down Oxfords, khakis, blue blazers, Oxford shoes or penny loafers, jeans, New Balance sneakers, and even surprisingly elite college and law school sweatshirts. Dime-a-dozen. And a pair of eyeglasses, even with plain glass lenses, can obfuscate intent and easily obscure where you're looking and what you're looking—or that you're looking in the first place. Hell, when Washingtonians are off the clock, they pretty much only wear North Face and Patagonia with dibs and dabs of sports team, university, grad school, professional school, home town, and maybe the firm they work for (Booz, Deloitte, Ernst, Accenture).

That said, it's a fine line, right, because, in too many cases as has come to light in the last decade, the Central Intelligence Agency oftentimes DBA Booz, Deloitte, Ernst, and Accenture, so maybe don't push your luck, if I were you.

Sure, every spy of stage, screen, and story comes straight from the SAS or the Navy Seals. Even James Bond is a Veteran of Her Queen's Royal Navy. With broad backs, tall statures, and the bolt-upright esprit de corps beat into a man through training, you and everyone else can spot a military man at a million miles. Add to that a series of very unfortunate tattoos that come with the job and the thousand-yard stare that follows you home from active duty, vets and soldiers are terrible spies and are often used as operators that tap into tradecraft and spycraft instead of being actual spies and intelligence officers. For example, James Bond is an assassin. While it's an ugly word, assassin, why else would he otherwise need a license to kill? Bond's an operator. He does wet work.

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