A Master Spys Take on Gossip

Posted by jlubans on November 01, 2021

In a recent book, Spymaster Maxwell Knight (M*) advises a new agent to tread carefully around gossip.
M worries that the new agent (code named M/F**)is being tested by a recruiter for the British Union of Fascists (BUF). M/F has been working to infiltrate the BUF and to raise his participation to a volunteer worker thereby gaining access to BUF documents like a membership list.
The recruiter, a senior BUF member, befriends M/F. Soon after, he bad-mouths the current leadership, including the boss, Sir Oswald Mosley, and hopes to oust him; asking M/F to join in with him and his fellow dissidents.
What does M advise the agent to do?
In his written directions M spells out the conundrum:
You must bear in mind the possibility that the whole of this business may have been staged for your benefit. It may be in the nature of a test to see whether or not you are reliable, whether you are addicted to listening to gossip, etc etc.
Therefore it is of the utmost importance that your attitude should be one of scrupulous loyalty to the Movement and to the senior officers.
While listening sympathetically to the criticism of your friends, you should under no circumstances allow yourself to be drawn into criticizing your seniors. Dont utter a single word or phrase that could be used against you on some future occasion.
Express surprise anything you like, but not agreement.
As we find out later in the book, M was right, this was a loyalty test for M/F. Fortunately, M/F followed Ms wise counsel.
This brought to mind those dozens of times as a newbie in an organization when someone, a colleague or a client, would share gossip with me, as early as my first day on the job.
Our jobs may not be cloak and dagger (although some places I worked certainly had perfumed daggers drawn) but Ms advice applies to any and all gossip in the workplace.
Your new friend sharing gossip is not doing you any favors; what they are doing is to get you to commit to their viewpoint, faction, or clique.
The gossiper hopes to turn you a bit of tradecraft lingo there - to their side.
This is entrapment, (I almost said "tender entrapment" but there's nothing tender about it; it's manipulative) so dont get snared.
Follow the spymasters advice: listen sympathetically but dont agree. Remain neutral, and change the topic.

*Agent M: The Lives and Spies of MI5's Maxwell Knight
by Henry Hemming NY: PublicAffairs, 2017 p.138
**Identified as Eric Roberts, a bank clerk.

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Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

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