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14 July 2014

Spies may need codes, but they need plain English too

I learnt pretty much everything I know about how to be a spy shortly after I turned 7. That was the year I got The KnowHow Book of Spycraft for my birthday.

The KnowHow Book of Spycraft — cover
I had hours of serious fun with this book. It taught me how to make invisible ink and how to write messages in code. It taught me how to carry my messages safely ­­— inside pens or secret pockets — and how to plant them discreetly for my 'contacts' to find. Most importantly, it taught me that to avoid suspicion I should always wear a large trench coat with many pockets, and a fedora in a complementary colour.

What I didn't realise at the time was just how much this book wasn't teaching me. It made no mention of how to write up my spy reports in clear, concise language. It did not teach me that the 'intelligence' I gathered about my family and friends meant little if I could not convey it effectively.

Over 30 years later, I’m finally able to close this gap in my knowledge. The Guardian reports that America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has a style guide for spies. It's available online.

At long last, I’ll be able to write convincingly and correctly about who really did steal that last cookie from the cookie jar. It wasn’t me. Honest.

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