by | Nov 13, 2016 | Uncategorized | 13 comments

by Sonja Stone

Because one day it might.


Every spy must master a few key skills. The art of disguise, for example. Here’s the trick: Become the grey man (or woman). The less noticeable you are, the better. This video from the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. exemplifies how a clever makeup artist can completely alter a person’s look.

Another critical skill is defense. Specifically, armed combat. If you find it necessary to carry a weapon, choose one that matches your level of lethal. What I mean is this: don’t carry a gun if you aren’t confident you could take a life. You might end up being relieved of your weapon at an unfortunate time.

The number one skill every good spy (and every cautious citizen) should master is paying careful attention to one’s environment.


Everywhere we go we see the same thing: people walking, sitting, riding the bus or the subway, driving a car, all while texting. As a society, we aren’t paying attention (I’m gonna let the obvious jokes slide by…). Lawrence A. Kane and Kris Wilder talk about the levels of Situational Awareness in The Little Black Book of Violence (What Every Young Man Needs to Know About Fighting).

situational awareness (
White: Oblivious to your surroundings. 

You should never be on white. Ever. Not even at home. Unless you have a Doberman (or equally alert dog). White means walking through the mall looking at your phone. Or crossing the parking lot alone at night, arms laden with packages. Or jogging through the woods with the music cranking through your earbuds.

Yellow: Aware and relaxed. Live on Yellow. 

Your head isn’t buried in your phone. You’re aware of the people around you. Not suspicious, just aware. You’ve perceived no immediate threat.

Orange: Alert. You’ve noticed a non-specific danger.

I believe that intuition is actually grounded in fact. The brain picks up millions of signals throughout the day that we don’t consciously register. But if the brain gathers information that it deems threatening, it sends a signal. We might have an odd feeling, a hunch that something’s about to go down. More likely, we saw (without noticing) something peculiar; irregular body language, or some other anomaly in the environment. Something put us on orange: a shout, angry voices, a threatening gesture… Check the area for cover, exits, and try to get a sense of the larger picture. If you discover the shout was a laugh and not a threat, go back to yellow. Otherwise…

Red: Concerned. Somewhere in your immediate environment, you’ve noticed a clear and present danger.

The threat may or may not involve you. Perhaps it’s directed toward the guy standing behind you in line. Either way, this is a great time to move toward the exits you’ve already identified. Know the difference between cover and concealment (cover is a brick wall, concealment is a line of bushes). GET OFF THE X. This means move immediately from the kill zone (as in the case of an active shooter). Cade Courtley’s SEAL Survival Guide has an excellent section on evading active shooters (as well as how to survive a plane crash, a nuclear bomb, getting lost in the desert… those SEALs are resourceful).

Black: Under Attack.

There’s not much to do at this point except fight back. Again, don’t carry a weapon you aren’t willing to use. Pepper spray is a good option, but only if it’s already out and in your hand (and there’s no wind). A taser is non-lethal—most of the time. Taser also sends you a replacement weapon if you’re forced to use yours to stop an attacker.


This last point takes us back to my theory on intuition. If you have a funny feeling, go with it. There’s probably a legitimate reason. I prefer to err on the side of caution.

What spy tips do you incorporate into your daily life? Leave your comments below.

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Gayle Lynds

    Great post, Sonja. I love the color designations. It's a terrific way for all of us to analyze and take care of ourselves!

  2. S. Lee Manning

    Great post, Sonja. Great tips.

  3. Sonja Stone

    Thanks, Gayle and S. Lee! It's unfortunate that we need situational awareness, but such is life.

  4. Chris Goff

    I'm with you–"Live on Yellow." I think in today's world it's too easy to live on orange, and sometimes the perceived threat becomes a situation only because the threat was perceived and someone reacted. I'm going to now spend my time when suffering writer's block walking around assessing everyone I pass and labeling them white, yellow, orange and red. I'm just hopeful I never encounter Black.

  5. Karna Bodman

    What a great post, Sonja — and haven't we all seen way too many people "loitering" through life — texting, phoning, or just plain "zoning out" when they should be "aware." As for the disguises at the top — that was a terrific video – those make-up artists are indeed extremely talented! Thanks for writing this article!

  6. Sonja Stone

    Christine, that's such a great point. Living in a state of anxiety and paranoia is no less damaging to health than being completely oblivious!

  7. Sonja Stone

    Karna, that's one of my favorite videos from the International Spy Museum. They really do a great job!

  8. Jamie Freveletti

    Nice post and very helpful. Thanks!

  9. Francine Mathews

    OK, my spy techniques for living are posted on my favorite refrigerator magnet. I've suggested to my sons that The Moscow Rules are actually Rules to Live By:

    1. Assume nothing.
    2. Never go against your gut.
    3. Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
    4. Don't look back; you are never completely alone.
    5. Go with the flow, blend in.
    6. Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
    7. Lull them into a sense of complacency.
    8. Don't harass the opposition.
    9. Pick the time and place for action.
    10.Keep your options open.

  10. Unknown

    Hey, ask our girl Deniese I am sure she'd agree I am at least mid-scale here. Thanks for the post.

  11. Sonja Stone

    Francine, I love the Moscow Rules! I have the printed list on my desk; I look at them every day. 🙂

    Mark, thanks for dropping by the blog! I'm glad to hear you're on yellow!

  12. Jean Jenkins

    Two things I never do: wear colorful clothing with slogans written on, and I hate sitting someplace with my back toward the door. Unless, of course, I'm meeting with a cop to discuss writing. In that case, I reluctantly give up my corner seat — but know they'll tell me to duck if I need to. Sit-awareness at all times!

  13. Sonja Stone

    Ooh, Jean–so true! I hate sitting with my back to the door! Great tip.