SpyCast 4.26.22
Ep 536 | 4.26.22

“CIA Case Officer, Cyber Entrepreneur, Burning Man Volunteer” – with Mike Susong (Part 1 of 2)


Andrew Hammond: Hi, and welcome to "SpyCast." I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, historian and curator here at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. "SpyCast's" sole purpose is to educate our listeners about the past, present and future of intelligence and espionage. Every week, through engaging conversations, we explore some aspect of a vast ecosystem that looms beneath the surface of everyday life. We talk to spies, operators, mole hunters, defectors, analysts and authors to explore the stories and secrets, tradecraft and technology of the secret world. We are "SpyCast." Now sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Andrew Hammond: Mike Susong is a consummate gentleman, a real class act. He was also a U.S. Army major who completed multiple combat tours and a CIA case officer who won the Intelligence Star for heroism in the field. It doesn't end there, though. In the private sector, Mike created competitive intelligence programs for Fujitsu and Ernst & Young. These aimed to support business decision-making as opposed to national security decision-making. And he was a pioneer and entrepreneur in the field of cyber threat intelligence, or CTI, creating the first programs for Visa and Pacific Gas and Electric. As someone who has a couple of Visa cards, I, for one, am particularly grateful for that. He's equally at home at the regal dining room of the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., the most prestigious military officers club in the United States, or in the Nevada desert as a Burning Man volunteer, which, for those of you who don't know, is an annual clothing-optional event that focuses on artistic expression, spiritual regeneration and radical inclusion, culminating in the symbolic burning of a large wooden effigy known as the man. Now, if all of that is not the making of a great podcast guest, I don't know what is. 

Andrew Hammond: This is the first episode of a two-parter - part one focusing on Mike's time working for Uncle Sam, especially his time at CIA and in human intelligence, while the second part will focus on his time in the private sector in the cyber threat intelligence and competitive intelligence spaces. In what follows today, Mike and I discuss his journey from a curious kid hanging a shortwave radio wire out of his window to a case officer for the CIA, his transition from tactical intelligence to the big picture of strategic intelligence, the outgrowth of intelligence from a nation-state discipline to a mainstream corporate activity, and also his view that, just as in business, you can get people who are good at closing a deal and people who are good at the day-to-day management of a deal, so in intelligence, you can get someone who is good at recruiting an agent and someone who is good at running that agent, with them not necessarily being the same person. Enjoy this episode. I know I loved speaking to Mike. 

Andrew Hammond: I thought a really good way to start off, Mike, would be to just discuss what you're up to at the moment, and then we can use that as a marker to go back and dig into your past because you've had such a varied and interesting career where you've had to move across different spheres. So just tell us a little bit more about what you're up to just now, and then we can jump back to the beginning. 

Mike Susong: Sure. Be more than glad to, and certainly appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today here at the International Spy Museum. Currently, I oversee a group of risk intelligence analysts, about a hundred and thirty around the world. We work for a private company, and we oversee risk concerns for about 1,200 global corporations. 

Andrew Hammond: That's one of the things that I want to dig into, the way that intelligence has slipped the bonds of being mainly a - something that people think of when they think of nation-states. It's moved over into corporations and threat intelligence and all these other types of things. So it'd be quite interesting to discuss the evolution or the migration of intelligence from government to corporations. 

Mike Susong: No, would be glad to. And fact is, that's kind of one of my favorite topics, that what we've seen evolved from intelligence as a discipline of the nation-states to being used within corporations. Sometime when I talk with groups, I say, I can give you the history of intelligence in 10 minutes. But it all evolves, and we'll see where the conversation takes us today. But I would say one of the key factors - and I'll give the abridged version - is intelligence obviously evolved for the nation-state as of World War II. I mean, you could argue historic events prior to that. But that's when it became a profession, at least within the U.S. In 1962, the Defense Intelligence Agency was formed. And, actually, the Defense Intelligence School, which is now the National Intelligence University, opened to all of the U.S. intelligence community. So if you look at the early '60s as when the profession was formed and then you take a generation of individuals who had "formal schooling," quote-unquote, they then began to be available, if you will, into the private sector. So the timing comes around to the '80s. And you begin to see individuals and corporations - a few - begin to see how intelligence in a very ethical and appropriate way could be used to support corporate decisions and risk mitigation. And that's really, to your point, how this has all evolved and where I am today. 

Andrew Hammond: One of the classic definitions was, I think, Michael Warner, secret state activity. And then even recently, I saw the editor of the Journal of Intelligence and National Security, he offered a definition of intelligence, and it was basically - it's information that is used by the government to aid decision-making. So, you know, that made me think - do you find old colleagues or people that are still in or that have left that are still wedded to this idea that if it's not involving the government or the nation-state, then it's not intelligence, that are of kind of more proprietorial on behalf of institutions like the CIA or the NSA? You know, they do intelligence; this is not intelligence. Do you ever get that? Or are people pretty open-minded? 

Mike Susong: I would say we're probably halfway there... 

Andrew Hammond: OK (laughter). 

Mike Susong: ...To being open-minded. Understandably and with great respect to all my colleagues globally in the profession, when national security and the decisions with the gravity of those decisions are about you, that's your focus. You know, you could jokingly say when all you have is a hammer, all the world's a nail. 

Andrew Hammond: (Laughter). 

Mike Susong: But you do see the colleagues that appreciate how to maybe modify that definition is - intelligence is information that helps a decision-maker. And then you broaden the aperture to a business leader or an NGO, someone who is in a risky environment and needs to make a smart decision. So you see the colleagues moving in that direction. And whether we talk about it today or another time, that opens the conversation into open-source intelligence. So I think, fundamentally, that's a direction that's reshaping both the IC as well as the private sector. 

Andrew Hammond: Let's do a jump-cut back. How did you first get involved in the world of intelligence? 

Mike Susong: That's a good question. 

Andrew Hammond: (Laughter). 

Mike Susong: I started out as an infantry officer, combat arms officer, in the Army. I had the opportunity after command to come to the National Intelligence University to get an advanced degree here in Washington, D.C. And I'd always - I'm a kid who grew up with reading "Casino Royale" and the TV shows of the early '60s that, you know, glamorized the intelligence service. And I guess we're all drawn a little bit to that. At some point, reality sets in, and you see what the work is really like, and it's all the more exciting and all the more interesting. So it was from the military. And then I was an officer during the '80s, spent a lot of time in Central America, which were - as people recall, were the insurgency wars in Central America and the drug wars in Latin America. So the evolution there was for me to get more and more involved with intelligence work in support of those operations. So that's kind of how the evolution came about. 

Andrew Hammond: And you were in the Army for 14 years, you said? 

Mike Susong: That's correct. 

Andrew Hammond: Yeah. What years were you in? 

Mike Susong: The late '70s into the - what would be what - the '90s. 

Andrew Hammond: OK. And one of the things that's interesting is 14 years - how difficult was that decision to leave? Because that's the point where you're kind of thinking about, if I stay a bit longer, I can get a pension, and that's going to be my career; that's going to be my life. How difficult was that decision to shift? 

Mike Susong: Sure. And at some level, it's always a difficult decision. But I'd had the luxury to really be involved with intelligence work. And I - again, I'll respect my colleagues who were more focused on the Cold War in Europe. And, you know, my desire was not to be a tank commander and try to plug the Fulda Gap against the Soviets. And so when I had the opportunity to really do intelligence work on the ground in El Salvador and other places, I was drawn to that. And at a place in your career, you're still certainly engaged, but it becomes more administrative. It's more of a staff officer role. And I loved being involved in the intelligence operations. One of my mentors at the agency always said those - there are those of us who ride to the sound of the guns, and so that's what I wanted to stay involved with. And so I had the opportunity to join the Central Intelligence Agency and stay very active in the role. 

Andrew Hammond: You were seduced by the types of activities on the area of operations. It wasn't so much, this is an institution that - you know, the Army that I want to be on for my life. It was more just, I joined the Army, found this work really, really intriguing. And I wanted to continue this work. And that's why I made the shift. Is that right? 

Mike Susong: Yeah. Yeah, that's that's more than fair. And, in fact, as my last last assignment in the military was at Fort Bragg, which is the home of both the airborne, as well as the special operations community. And if our listeners remember their history, the origin, at least within the U.S., of the intelligence profession and the special operations profession was born out of the OSS. So there was always a parallel and a partnership between those two organizations. So to leave Fort Bragg and then to go into as an operations officer with the CIA, it was a lot of common ground and a lot of common mission. 

Andrew Hammond: I know that that's one of the talks that you gave on the OSS and on the early days. Do you think that being in the U.S. Army, being an infantry officer and then transitioning over to intelligence, your career is very, quote, unquote, "OSS?" It's thw fusion of military, you know, involved in Central America, which wasn't, as you alluded, two big, armored columns, you know, opposing each other. It was a very different type of operation. So, yeah, I just wondered how you interpret the OSS in light of your own career. 

Andrew Hammond: Wouldn't want to flatter myself as far as the extent of my involvement as a special operator. But being focused on the tactical application of intelligence to national security was very much a focus. And you could argue, as Churchill said, set Europe ablaze, it was certainly a role where you felt like what you did each day - you know, you could certainly draw the line from what you did to how it may have helped secure your nation or the community. 

Andrew Hammond: OK. So you're in the Army. You make the transition to intelligence and set the scene for us. So you joined. Are you the typical kind of officer, a little bit older, some time in the military? Are you atypical? What type of intelligence community did you find when you joined it? Obviously, you're someone that's kept abreast of developments and intelligence, so you'll be keenly aware of some of the evolution or the growth or the changing of the field. So tell us what kind of intelligence community you encountered that makes you sort of join. 

Mike Susong: That's a good point. And I made the transition in the early '90s. And if you look at history, that's also with the with the collapse of the Soviet Union. So the two evolved, and I had the opportunity to grow into that new role. If you look at the comment I made earlier about being more interested in tactical intelligence in Latin America, then the ground war in Western Europe that most of the military was prepared for when the Soviet Union collapsed. It really opened up the aperture for the more tactical operation. So in other words, the mission of the intelligence community shifted from a bipolar world to a multipolar world and different threads. And obviously, we saw how those evolved in the early 2000s. So I guess inadvertently, I had prepared for that transition. And so in that sense, it was seamless. And the missions, whether it was Somalia or other places in the world that the intelligence community became involved with, it was, in that sense, a seamless transition. 

Andrew Hammond: What kind of agency did you encounter? Who were the kind of leading personalities? What was the culture of the community at the time compared to where it's been more recently? Tell us about the scene that you encountered. 

Mike Susong: Again, I would say it was at a transition, respecting the old tradecraft in the ways that had served the intelligence community well for decades. Again, it was a new mission, a new enemy. And so you were seeing the innovators, whether they were in leadership roles or the young Turks, coming up with new ideas. You think of that time drones, operating with new communications capabilities. The internet was about to become a thing, both for information, how would an impact cover? - how it would avail information that would have been much more difficult to obtain previously is suddenly available at the click of a mouse. So this was a transition period, and I was lucky to be able to be part of that transition. 

Andrew Hammond: How much did you have to learn because you have got this previous experience? Did you have to - was a huge learning curve, or was it, it was tough, but my previous experience meant that it wasn't as tough as it was for other people? 

Mike Susong: I guess in one sense, I was neither fish nor fowl since while I was in the military, I'd had the opportunity to get my master's degree in strategic intelligence. So I had already started to think in a wider aperture as far as national security in the broader intelligence community. So that was certainly beneficial in that regard. So I already kind of was able to step into from the tactical to the strategic view of our nation's concerns. At the same time, within the agency, there's a healthy sprinkling of prior military. I wouldn't say it's hierarchical maybe as the military is, but there was that structure and common experience, whether it was in the military or otherwise. So there were enough touch points to kind of lead you through the transition. And again, the military mission and the intelligence community missions may be just different in the absolute sense, but they're both national security missions. So you're - everybody was still rowing in the same direction. 

Andrew Hammond: You know, your interest in national security, is that something that everybody that you came across shared? I mean, I guess at some level, you have to know it because your job is impacted by it. But for you, is it - was it something that you were really fascinated by or was it more this is something I need to understand for professional knowledge? Or has it grown or shifted or evolved over the years? 

Mike Susong: In my case, I think it evolved out of interest in cultures and history. As a kid, I remember saving errand money to buy a shortwave radio, stringing the wire out the window to listen to languages in places where I really didn't know where they were. But that was intriguing. And so I think I grew out of it from how do other people see the world? Why do armies cross borders when commerce stops crossing borders? And so that evolved into the - it's very easy then to connect the next dot as to why is that important to my nation? 

Andrew Hammond: Wow. And tell us more about that experience of doing the master's degree in strategic intelligence. That must have been quite interesting for someone that, as you said, was very much involved in the tactical application of intelligence for national security. 

Mike Susong: It was a great education for me. You know, I would argue that I had a reasonable appreciation of what the field commander needs and what the war-fighting commanders need. But then how does it impact the broader national security process was brilliant for me. And also at that time, I began to work with service members from the other branches of the service. The National Intelligence University brought in naval officers and Marines and the Air Force as well. John Allen - General Allen was one of my classmates as well. So it just - it gave me an exposure to the questions that concern our nation. 

Andrew Hammond: We'll be right back after this. 

Andrew Hammond: If you could think back on your early career in intelligence after you made the transition, is there a particular experience that you can share that would not necessarily exemplify but just give us a flavor of Mike Susong and the IC back in the '90s? 

Mike Susong: Well, at that particular time, we were supporting the Salvadorian government in Central America. And so when I was finishing my graduate work, I had the opportunity to work in Washington, D.C. with, at that time, what was an organization trying to provide appropriate support to the country team, the American diplomatic representative and military attaches in El Salvador. So that was a great transition for me. It was a tactical role, but it was a national security mission, so that was a good transition point. 

Andrew Hammond: Help us understand the evolution of your career through the '90s, up to 9/11. So you mentioned El Salvador. What were some of the other things that you can share that you were up to, any stories, vignettes, humorous or interesting kind of things that happened to you? 

Mike Susong: Sure. When I made the transition to the agency and became an operations officer - and as we all know, the mission is to recruit spies and steal secrets. And so I worked in most of the regions of the world. This is always a point where you have to be a little coy. But again, it was - I will characterize it as whereas prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the mission and the focus was bipolar. The agency and a lot of my missions were in regions, countries against targets, whether it was proliferation - the range of proliferation - radiological, chemical, biological - that before had kind of been contained within the two superpowers and they were responsible for it. But when countries or nation-states then had some autonomy and the knowledge or the actual systems that could cause harm were kind of thrown - the doors were thrown open and people had access to those. And so that was very much a part of the mission was what happened? Who has control? Is there a brain drain? Has a party, another country, who's always desired to have, whether it was a nuclear program or develop a biological weapon, who might they be, the highest bidder, to someone who has that expertise? So it was a really very dynamic time. 

Andrew Hammond: This is somewhere where you may have to be coy again, but how did you find the job of a case officer - the assessing, identifying, making the pitch, running? Was that something you enjoyed? Help us understand your experience of becoming a case officer for the agency. 

Mike Susong: And I think it's a common, maybe, misconception that that is a very manipulative and callous endeavor. And I would argue quite the contrary. As I made the point before, when someone, the potential asset, is going to commit treason, and regardless of the country they're from could have catastrophic and almost biblical effects on their family and their colleagues, their emotional and psychological radar lights up. And so your integrity, your ability to communicate to them, to understand what motivates them and to - to use the word protect might sound a little too grand, but do they have confidence in your partnership and your leadership? It's critical. So it's a very - intimate starts to maybe too strong of a word, but it is a very close, personal relationship with that asset. They are, in fact, putting their lives and the lives of their family in your hands. So that's a burden you should bear strongly and seriously. 

Andrew Hammond: I can't remember who it was that said it, but I think someone recently said that it's an unethical profession in pursuit of an ethical goal. Would you - yeah, would you agree with that? 

Mike Susong: Yes, in the sense that the case officer and any intelligence officer has to know where true north is. They have to know right from wrong. And when you have to - if we want to use the word ethics, if they have to act unethically in pursuit of the national strategy, they never lose their bearings. That's very important. 

Andrew Hammond: You mentioned intimacy there. We had Doug London in on a podcast. And he was saying that ultimately, espionage is about the human soul. Help us understand that just from your perspective. And he spoke about that you need to be able to connect with someone on a deep, human level and let them know that you're going to look after them. And there's almost, like, this bond that can be shared or that can build up. 

Mike Susong: It's absolutely true that, as I said earlier before, it is a personal relationship. And again, if you want to look at it from the pragmatic point of view, my objective was always the pursuit of the national security question. But it has to be pursued also, then, in consideration of that asset and the trust they've given to you. So it's fundamental to the career. 

Andrew Hammond: And I've heard people have different views on the whole lifecycle of an asset. So some people have said to me, agents, assets and you get people that are good at recruiting them, and sometimes, the two don't meet. But then I've had someone else say, I disagree with that because running an agent is a continual process of re-recruiting them. So I just wondered if you had any thoughts on that kind of recruitment, running, managing? 

Mike Susong: I would say it is the former, that there's different skill sets that are better at different parts of that process. And I would say it's analogous to business, you know? There's closers. There's people who are really the salesmen - and if we want to use this scenario as selling - and are really good at closing. But then they're not good at the - kind of that long-term relationship, you know, mentoring, reassuring, working over time. And so I would say that there are case officers who are better at spotting and recruiting. And there are case officers that are better at handling, because I'm not the expert, but just my own education and experience on, to your point, the lifecycle of an asset but also from the asset side is kind of the psychological waves they go through. And there's better case officers that do a better job of detecting that and pulling the asset through to the next phase. 

Andrew Hammond: And one thing that I've often been fascinated by as someone that says the hand-off process - so if you spot, assess and recruit someone and you build this very close, human relationship with them and they're like, OK, now, it took me a while to get there, but I trust Mike; he's going to look after me, and then the CIA say, OK, you're getting posted elsewhere or you're coming back to headquarters. I find the handing-off process very, very fascinating. In fact, I was rereading Ben Macintyre's book on Oleg Gordievsky, and the guy who recruited him had to hand them off to someone else who was a completely different type of personality. So I just wondered if you could give our listeners a bit of an understanding about that handoff process? 

Mike Susong: Sure. In a perfect world, you find that receiving case officer, if you will, who either matches your skills on how you initially recruited the asset or - depends on what the assets expertise is and their value is - you find someone who that can really resonate with. Let's say I recruit an asset whose expertise is in chemical weapons, to use that as a topic. Although I managed to get through organic chemistry, I'm certainly not the guy to have detailed discussions about the topic. So if you can then hand off to someone who does, certainly the asset feels validated and feels like they now have a peer in that relationship. So in a way, it's a little bait and switch. But at the same time, you've actually validated to the asset that what you've approached them for is very important. So it could be done. 

Andrew Hammond: So there's a - it sounds like there's a spectrum from seamless handover, all the way through to a very clumsy handover. And I'm sure those have happened, as well. 

Mike Susong: They always do because any organization is still an organization and there are non-operational factors that force the process. I'm trying to be diplomatic. So of course there is, but you - that's why it's human intelligence. It's a human game, and hopefully you're drawing on all your skills and, you know, you're reading the asset and where they are emotionally to get them through that transition, as well. 

Andrew Hammond: Another thing that I find quite interesting is the workload. You know, I came from academia, and there, there is no upper limit. There's always a new book you could read or a new book you could write or something. And, yeah, with recruiting and running agents, there's always new information that you can get, you know? So how do you manage that? How do you manage the workload - and I guess bearing in mind that many case officers are under diplomatic cover, so they might be involved in a day job or - how do you balance all of that? It just seems like a hell of a lot of work. 


Mike Susong: It is, in fact, a hell of a lot of work, to use your phrase. And that's the mission you sign on for. Certainly, I would not place it above first responders or military or other people in our community who have - who do a hell of a lot of work. But I will say that, yes, you do have to do so under the rules of tradecraft. And you have to - it's not like you can just put on your CIA hat and go do that job. You have to be conscious of your day job, as you said, depending on if you're undercover - anything that impacts the perception of how you're doing your day job and, in tradecraft, do your agency job. So it is a challenge. But those of us, then and today, who signed on for that mission wouldn't have it otherwise. The reward - or, arguably, it's sometimes the excitement of it, in a healthy way - it keeps us on task. 

Andrew Hammond: I remember reading that, you know, sometimes you would maybe have to spend a very long period of time trying to make sure that you haven't been tailed or the people that are surveilling you are not on you anymore before you meet with someone. It sounds exhausting, having to spend two hours just to meet someone for, like, a brief interaction and then, you know, have to, like, try to go back. 

Mike Susong: Well, it is, and depends on the environment that you're operating in. You always maintain operational tradecraft. But to your example, in some hard-target environments, it's very strenuous. The local service has a lot of resources. Whether you've been clearly identified as an intelligence officer or they're just suspicious, you'll - you may or may not ever know. So your vigilance has to be complete. And to the point we made earlier, if you're - if you have a public-facing job and then you have to go operational to do your intelligence job, you don't want that transition to be abrupt, too, because that would potentially signal to the service that you're now operational. So it's constant. 

Mike Susong: It's - I was just the other day commenting to someone - completely casual conversation with a couple we had met. And later, we saw them at a place where we were going for the day. And my first thought was, did I tell them where we were going, or did they tell me where they were going? In other words, did they follow me? - not in this case - or did I go there on purpose? Sorry, a little circuitous, but the point being is, did I say something that signaled what I was going to do? And you have to do - that's 24 hours a day you have to be aware of. 

Andrew Hammond: That sounds very mentally taxing. 


Mike Susong: And it's never perfect. Regardless of what someone might say or what the movies present, it's never perfect. 

Andrew Hammond: Yeah. And how does this work again? One of the things I love about our podcast is that it ranges from the person on the desk working the issue at CIA or NSA through to the average person on the street that just loves a good spy story. So I think one of the things that I'm quite interested in, as well, is being a case officer overseas under diplomatic cover. This is maybe, like, a stupid way of looking at it, but say you're in Moscow. Do they just say, OK, here's all of the diplomats that are in Russia at the moment? Here's all the ones that are working at the Moscow Embassy. CIA case officers typically are X or Y or Z. So we can score out all of those people. And then we surveil all of the other people, and it's clearly not the ambassador, so we can score him off. But the second political secretary or, quote, unquote, "counsel" or - you know, is there - you know, whether he's from the United States, if it's the FBI surveilling targets in D.C. or if you're a case officer, and you're the focus of targets, there must be some kind of process where they rule people in and rule people out. And then you end up with a smaller and smaller cadre of the people that are case officers. So I guess one of the things I'm also trying to get is they kind of know, but they don't know. Or is it they really don't know; they just have no clue who it is, and they're constantly trying to find out? And I know that that can vary, I guess, on embassy or time or the types of people. But help us understand that process of being the person that's surveilled and trying to not stand out from the crowd, trying to blend in and try to have people buy into your cover. 

Mike Susong: Well, you bring up a good question. And short of me explaining how to identify the case officer in the embassy... 


Mike Susong: ...It is a process of elimination. As we said earlier, it's a bureaucratic organization. There's a finite number of diplomats that can be assigned to that country. So, as you said, you can start down the list and kind of - and you can look at an individual's career. You know, where did they serve before? On the other hand - and I would say that this is as significant - is the use of nonofficial cover and the ability to operate cross-border, if you will - gives a lot more flexibility to the intelligence service and makes it more difficult to identify who might be the spy. And, of course, it's common in every service, in every counterintelligence service to try to identify those individuals. And it hearkens back to what we said before - tradecraft, how well you can do your job under the eye of the other service. It's just that factor hasn't changed. It's gotten more challenging in some ways and more easy with technology. But the mission has never changed. 

Andrew Hammond: And how does that work for people that are there on the ground? You know, like, you having gone to the farm, doing your training when you were at a diplomatic party or something in some embassy, can you sniff out the people that are at your adversaries' - you know, can you be like, no, they're definitely they're definitely like, you know... 

Mike Susong: With the service. 

Andrew Hammond: They're definitely with the opposing service. There's just - there's, like, a tell, or there's like, ways that they telegraph what they do or... 

Mike Susong: It's certainly possible on occasion that I guess you could say maybe someone is not very good at their job, kind of telegraphs the role. Or they're less obtuse in the way they ask the question to begin to spot or assess an individual. So in that regard, yes, I guess that's accurate. I guess the beauty of a good case, officer is it's - the other party walks away, and they never were suspicious, or they never were concerned as to why he asked that conversation or why the conversation got steered in that direction. 

Andrew Hammond: And I know that the CIA's charter mean that it doesn't operate in the United States. But it seems to me that like, say, in Washington, which is an epicenter of global espionage, you've obviously got the FBI counterintelligence people that are extremely skilled at what they do, at surveillance and trying to spot people and basically just do their job. But is they're like a case of - well, I mean, if you want to catch a poacher, sure, you can, like go to the game keeper, but you could also ask some other poachers, and they might be able to get - show you some tells. So yeah, I guess, like, for the FBI doing countersurveillance here in Washington, do they ever go to CIA case officers because they're the poachers in the other country? 

Mike Susong: If I understand your question, would they talk to a case officer as to ask the question, hypothetically, how would you do this, or how would you avoid our surveillance? Certainly, you know, colleagues, trade notes to see - and as I alluded to earlier, as technology and other techniques have evolved, that's the way to keep countersurveillance current on what may be a new technique. Let's say the classic chalk mark on the lamp post to indicate a dead drop is being serviced - why do that when you can go online to a fake internet account and leave a message or even a gaming console and take a certain action that would - to the observer who was watching, would tell you that a drop has been loaded? So all those new techniques. 

Andrew Hammond: That's fascinating. And walk us up to when you - what year do you leave the agency, Mike? 

Mike Susong: Right around 2000, prior to 9/11. 

Andrew Hammond: OK. And those - the 1990s - that was a personally fulfilling time for you? You enjoyed being a case officer? 

Mike Susong: Oh, immensely so. There's - as I say, there were days I regretted, but I never for a moment regretted the career and the opportunity to serve in the service. 

Andrew Hammond: And one of the things that's really interesting about your career is you were in the Army for a good length of time. You were in the agency for a good length of time. But then you go on to do a whole variety of other things after you leave the agency. So, you know, you get people that want to get to the bottom of the ladder and climb - just climb as fast as they can, as high as they can. And then you got other people that try out different ladders and then compare experiences and so forth. So yeah. Is there something about you that makes you not want to just get comfortable and feather your nest and bed down for the long haul? Is there a kind of internal restlessness or drive that makes you, like, keep changing and metamorphosizing and learning your skillsets and so forth? 

Mike Susong: Other than Dr. Hammond saying, I can't keep a job. 

Andrew Hammond: That's not what I'm saying at all. 


Mike Susong: I would say I like the challenge, and I would lump that into probably what draws a lot of case officers, too. It's - the expression is, you know, operating with a high degree of individual decision-making. When you're a case officer, you are, you know, unarmed and unafraid, as we would say. And so I think that draws a certain personality, if you will. And I'm not sure how successful I've been, but it's certainly - I've never feared trying the new opportunities. I think that's a fair characterization. How effective - people could argue otherwise. 

Andrew Hammond: It wasn't a slight at all. If anything, it was admiration because most people are quite happy just to kind of bed down and, you know, get ready for the long haul and get complacent. And it's difficult to transition to a new field. And you - when you go to that in your field, people look at you, and they're like, well, I've been doing this longer than you. And you're like, well, you may have been doing this specific thing longer than me, but I've been done a lot of different things. And I know a lot that you don't know because of that. So there's always a trade-off, isn't there? 

Mike Susong: There certainly is. And I think successful of any transition is, initially, shut up. Listen and learn. And then to your point, see what can be applied in a new way, and see what's worked before. You know, you're not going to reinvent the game of football, soccer, because it's done well. But there may be new aspects of it - like you said, having different experiences you may bring to the problem. 

Andrew Hammond: And so you leave in 2000. Help us understand the rest of the 2000s. What kind of things are you up to? Why do you leave? Or what do you go on to do? Or help us understand the 2000s. 

Mike Susong: Sure. This was right on the cusp of 9/11. And to be fair, it was prior to. So that was not a - significant event as it was, it wasn't a career decision for me. The kids were getting older. The embassies where we were assigned to - as the kids matriculated in higher education, it was more difficult. Or the alternative is - the words that escape me, but - boarding school. And so that wasn't really an American thing. And so the opportunity to come back to the states presented itself, and that's when I began to transition to the private sector. 

Andrew Hammond: And tell us what you got up to in the private sector because you've done some really interesting things. 

Mike Susong: Well, again, we're just going to drive the point home that I can't keep a job. 

Andrew Hammond: (Laughter). 

Mike Susong: After the government service, I went into - it still is, but at that time, kind of an emerging field of intelligence in the private sector, competitive intelligence. 

Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast." Go to our webpage, where you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes and full transcripts. We have over 500 episodes in our back catalog for you to explore. Please follow the show on Twitter at @INTLSpyCast and share your favorite quotes and insights or start a conversation. If you have any additional feedback, please email us at spycast@spymuseum.org. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, and you can connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter at @SpyHistorian. The show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence- and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. The "SpyCast" team includes Mike Mincey and Memphis Vaughn III. See you for next week's show.