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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

The Paladins scales for agent skills and reliability

Agents, or assets, are run, managed, handled or supervised, by runners, managers, handlers or supervisors. We will adopt the terminology 'agents' and 'handlers'. In all cases these terms denote the relationship between a source of intelligence or other useful services; and the person into whom they ostensibly report.

Of course it is a lot more complicated than the above sentences suggest. Consider the following:

  1. In some cases handlers may be civil servants (i.e. direct employees of a country's security or intelligence agencies). We will call these people 'officers'. In other cases the handler may be an agent.

  2. Agents are intelligence personnel who are not officers; i.e. they have some other job or profession (usually; there are full time agents) under cover of which they undertake their intelligence activities.

  3. In fact it turns out that agents may not be so different from officers, because officers often have cover stories. The distinction between officers and agents turns out to be fungible; it depends on something so vague as primary loyalty or adherence to a civil service code. Moreover people can move from being officers to agents and back again during their intelligence careers.

  4. An agent may not know whether his handler is an officer or an agent. The handler may simply not tell him; or the handler may deceive him.

  5. Or - and this is where intelligence work gets complicated - the handler may be an agent of one intelligence organisation but an officer of another one. In other words they are a double agent.

  6. The agent reporting to a handler with such split ethical responsibilities (if we can put it like that) may or may not know of their split responsibilities; may suspect; may know and may be hiding from the handler that they know.

  7. Officers who end up posted abroad often become agents for other intelligence organisations; and indeed the originator organisation may encourage that, to facilitate closer relations between the intelligence agencies.

  8. If an officer of one agency goes too far towards being an agent (or even officer) of another agency, then the originating agency may cease to maintain them as an officer and regrade them as an agent - but they may not tell the individual this much.

  9. A double agent, if that is the route they have pursued, involves constant deception, at least to some degree: they need to keep persuading both their originating agency and their new adoptive agency that it is in their maximum interests to keep them on as high a rung in each respective system as possible, by reason of their relations with the other agency whose secrets they are transmitting.

  10. The intellectual and emotional pressure involved in being a double agent is tremendous, and few people can handle it for a long time. (Those who do often become famous - or infamous - when eventually they are exposed as virtually all double agents eventually are. Think Anthony Blunt.)

  11. Nevertheless, a very substantial proportion of agency officers are double agents, particularly the ones posted abroad from their original agency headquarters.

  12. We should also briefly mention triple agents. These are people who have defected from A to B, or at least that is the impression they have given B, feeding intelligence from A to B in breach of their obligations to A; but really they are keeping a back-channel open to A and feeding intelligence from B to A behind B's back. This occurs scarcely by design; mostly it occurs when an agent flips and then realises that the grass is not greener and they 'seek to make amends'. Obviously people who do this sort of thing tend to be highly unstable and often end up discarded by both sides or dead. Nevertheless anyone with the propensity in principle to betray once can betray again. So every double agent is potentially a triple agent. Indeed if A comes to know secretly of the agent's defection to B, then the agent may become a triple agent without knowing it as A feeds them erroneous intelligence anticipating they will pass it onto B and this will harm B to A's advantage. All things considered, this kind of thing is a dangerous business.

  13. Agents can decide who they are handled by, of course. The relationship is symbiotic. A handler can seek to instruct the agent what to do, to keep his position as agent with whatever perks that carries: whereas an agent can demand that his handler provide certain things, lest the agent go off and be handled by someone else (particularly bad if the originating agency does not know that this has happened). The transferring agent may or may not tell his handler that he has defected somewhere else.

  14. Agents may decide to have more than one handler at the same time, another sort of double agency.

  15. There are two versions of having more than one handler. One is having multiple handlers associated with the same agency. The reason an agent might do this is that he does not trust any or all of his handlers, who might be double agents themselves or simply lazy and uninterested - whatever the reason is - and so he engages multiple handlers to strengthen his position in the bureaucracy and to ensure that all his handlers are watching one another. Or he may feel loyalties towards more than one agency that are allied closely with one-another (consider in particular the Five Eyes Alliance), and he wishes to maintain open lines of communication with officers or agents within different branches of the overall conjoined structure, in particular because he is aware that their interests might from time to time diverge and hence staying in contact with multiple handlers at least theoretically on the same side will obtain him bureaucratic solidity within the wavering structure (for want of a better term).

  16. Another instance in which an agent may have more than one handler is because he is a double agent and wishes to spy for more than one non-aligned country at the same time (or to deceive one side that he is doing so), for whatever reasons.

  17. Feeling confused about the intelligence industry? It gets worse.

  18. It is relatively easy to categorise the motives of any person for taking any position in these complex structures into several categories:

  19. (a) Patriotism / duty to one's country

  20. (b) Desire for financial reward

  21. (c) Ideology

  22. (d) Fascination

  23. (e) Excitement

  24. (f) Personal reasons (e.g. a belief that doing this is best for one's family or for a particular relationship)

  25. (g) Laziness (the belief that plodding along like this is a secure route to a good retirement without doing much real work)

  26. (h) Psychopathy (e.g. a means for an institutionally legitimate expression of a desire to hurt people; and/or a desire for self-aggrandisement at others' expense).

  27. Of these various categories of motivation, each officer and each agent will be incentivised more or less by each one. Let us give each of (a) to (h) a score from 0 (not a motivating factor at all) to 10 (an extremely powerful motivating factor likely to override all others). Each officer and agent may be said to have eight notional scores; and they may change through the course of the officer's or agent's career. The agencies spend a lot of time keeping track of the presumed scores of each officer and agent by reviewing their communications and actions (this is one reason why spies spend so much time spying on one-another, as the old adage goes).

  28. With accurate scores, one can assess the propensity for an officer or agent to become a double agent for a foreign power whose interests are not aligned with those of the originating agency. Because those are the people one has to keep a particular eye upon. Such people may at one end of the spectrum be very useful if they manage their split loyalties skilfully; as long as you as the agency seeking to pursue your own national interest have a better grasp of the individual and their habits than the competing agency to which the officer or agent considers that they have additional or alternative loyalties. At the other end of the spectrum, these people can become dangerous traitors who may seek to steal valuable information from those agency personnel they ultimately report to and provide it to their adversaries.

  29. Alternatively - and often even worse and more common - they set out to damage other officers or agents in the field (or potentially even at home), thereby jeopardising the lives and careers of those people who have shown loyalty in what are frankly often very dangerous situations.

  30. All this goes to indicate that intelligence relationships are often extended knots in a rope; and often spiders' webs in which people may have all sorts of relationships in different directions. Intelligence agencies employ diagrammatics to set out the various relationships in complex intelligence scenarios.

  31. In our scheme of eight motivational qualities, (a) a high patriotic / duty score reduces the likelihood of what we might call 'traitorism' (i.e. a propensity to be a double agent); (b) a high personal reward score increases the likelihood of traitorism; (c) a high ideology score may render them unpredictable (what if they decide their originating nation is acting ideologically inappropriately? People committed to an idea can become committed to a different idea. It all depends what the ideology is. Ideological affiliation with communism is something very different from ideological affiliation with Monarchy, for example); (d) a high score in fascination may reduce the prospects of traitorism, because a person fascinated with it all probably nonetheless knows their limits and the party to whom they are finally devoted; (e) a high excitement score increases the prospects of traitorism (another side could offer something more exciting, just as they could offer more money); (f) personal reasons will create a very strong preference in a certain direction, which may not be immediately obvious; it is easy to get the most important personal reasons wrong and hence to misjudge the prospect of traitorism; (g) laziness causes unpredictability towards traitorism - the lazy spy will just take whoever offers the easier course; and (h) psychopathy increases the prospects of traitorism because psychopaths place personal fulfilment or the harm towards others or their own self-aggrandisement above issues of principle or commitment.

  32. Because it is important to know which of the officers or agents in an agency's network may have flipped into some or other version of traitorism or be at risk of doing so, it is important to assess each such person for the relative strengths of the aforementioned motivation categories in their psyche. The more liable one is to traitorism, the greater the proportion of (inevitably finite) resources that person will need by way of monitoring and supervision. Monitoring and supervision is a way of disciplining traitors to behave; there is less need for such discipline when a person does not have the personality traits indicative of a traitorous disposition.

  33. Capable, loyal spies need virtually no supervision at all. Whatever their area of expertise is, all you need do is nudge them in any particular case and let them get on with the job, albeit listening to them because loyal spies, if they speak up, are typically doing so because there is an important reason to do so.

  34. By contrast spies liable to traitorism are more likely to speak up in order to play the different sides each against the other for whatever reason, and hence communications with them, that may be traps or political games, need to be afforded a different sort of attention by a different sort of home office agency officer.

  35. We should mention briefly and inadequately the distinction between intelligence operatives who have signed up to government official secrecy legislation and those who have not. All those who have been career intelligence officers at some point will have signed up to something of this kind; also a number of agents who have held sensitive prior jobs (e.g. working on nuclear programmes or military research) may have signed up to it. Otherwise generally people in the industry will not have done so, because why would they? They would have had no incentive in the ordinary course of their professional careers.

  36. This distinction gives rise to two issues: (a) authority requirements for the passage of certain types of information across the boundary (and we have discussed this elsewhere); and (b) the fact that only persons not bound by official secrecy legislation can do certain sorts of work (e.g. typically use the media or internet publications for intelligence purposes). Hence certain types of work (and we do not attempt to list them here) must be done by non-signatories. These issues are complex, and made overly complex by the often poor drafting standards of official secrecy legislation; but in large part they are got around by the use of innuendo which makes one wonder why have such legislation in the first place.

  37. The next issue we should come to is skill sets of officers and agents. Of course agents with another career, or even officers with a cover story career, may have particular skills in specific areas depending upon their actual or assumed profession. One can become very good at an assumed profession with practice; as an example, the United Nations is full of people with aid and development cover stories - and some of them really know a lot about these subjects - when in fact they are many of them spies.

  38. Nevertheless we can draw up a list of important underlying skills for any effective intelligence operative. Few people have the requisite combination of skills. Our list of the principal skills is this:

  39. (A) intellect and capacity for recall of large quantities of information, including an attention to detail;

  40. (B) emotional sensitivity, that is to say for the most part an ability to charm or otherwise persuade;

  41. (C) bravery in the face of physical danger;

  42. (D) mental resilience (for example the ability to spend an extended period in an environment of hostile people who may be interrogating the agent or otherwise seeking to interact with him/her in unpleasant ways);

  43. (E) physical resilience (important in war zones and third world travel);

  44. (F) deceit (the ability to lie one's way out of a difficult situation);

  45. (G) personal self-sufficiency (the ability to make decisions by oneself and generelly to work by oneself in often complex and unfamiliar environments;

  46. (H) capacity for self-defence and violence, where one finds oneself in a difficult situation that is liable to degenerate into a violent interaction.

  47. It is probably obvious by now that few intelligence operatives are team players in the sense that the corporate world is so enthusiastic about. Getting such people to work together can be very difficult, as they constantly wonder whether they are being double-crossed or they should double-cross. Nevertheless it is a self-selecting group of very unusual people, and you cannot expect them all to be clones each of the other. Intelligence work is full of (mostly egotistical) individuals and that is the material you have to work with because very few normal people will do the job.

  48. So we have a set of sixteen attributes, each scored on a level of zero to ten, to capture the qualities of individual intellogence operatives. Then there will be other background materials (criminal convictions, drug addictions, family problems, unfortunate prior career choices, time incarcerated and lots of other unusual issues that tend to inflict intelligence operatives as very unusual people more than they do the general population); and we can create a general picture of each intelligence operative in our network.

  49. Also we try to score people and draw up the same sorts of information if they work for our opponents: because we never know when there might be an opportunity to flip them (i.e. we invite them to become a double agent or they express a desire to become so) and we also want to know and understand our adversaries. Finally there are private intelligence organisations (such as this one) that are and can be engaged in a variety of ways. So we need to understand all those actors as well.

  50. There are some other qualities of officers and agents that should be quantified and assessed, in order to know how to handle them to maximum effect and to have an understanding of their judgment and so one might be able to assess whether they are likely to get difficult decisions right. Amongst these qualities, that again we might rank from zero to ten, are:

  51. (i) personal honesty (do they habitually tell the truth, stick to agreements, and refrain from stealing where they see an opportunity);

  52. (ii) human decency (are they motivated by a desire to improve the lives of others and reduce the sufferings of others);

  53. (iii) personal morality (how committed are they to religion-given or other moral rules, likewise expecting such things in others, or are they libertarians);

  54. (iv) religiosity (to what extent does an appeal to the divine motivate them);

  55. (v) rationality (to what extent are they motivated by rational, or evidence-based, arguments as opposed to arguments from emotion);

  56. (vi) prejudice (to what extent are they likely to be motivated by prejudices, such as racism, sexism, homophobia; religious differences etcetera);

  57. (vii) anger / volatility (do they tend to get upset by things that are adverse to them or they do not like; is their mood changeable; or are they calm people);

  58. (viii) work ethic (will they work very hard and persistently on a problem);

  59. (ix) mysanthropy (to what extent do they like people in general);

  60. (x) direction and strength of sexual desires (this is often a function of age) - important because many missions can be derailed by sexual or amorous desires or encounters;

  61. (xi) personal ambition (have they achieved all they want in life or are they looking to achieve something more; or. Have they lost things they think they should get back);

  62. (xii) personal empathy (not only do they understand what others are feeling but do they care and are they motivated by others' opinions of their actions);

  63. (xiii) personal modesty (do they expect money to be lavished upon them; are they impressed by that; would they prefer to be in a rich or a modest environment, all other things considered);

  64. (xiv) elitism and class sensitivity (is there a particular social class with which they identify, and if so then what is it and can it be matched by a handler of the same social class?);

  65. (xv) recreational preferences (most people are put at ease if, at some stage, they are placed in a familiar and comfortable recreational environment; do not invite them to recreational activities where they do not feel comfortable or at ease);

  66. (xvi) vindictiveness (how do they handle criticism? Some despise it and despise the people doing the criticism; others are very receptive to it if it is undertaken in a certain way);

  67. (xvii) mood cycles (most people are different people at different times of the day; some loathe the idea of a breakfast meeting, unless it is after they have been up working all night; others are at the best in the mornings and react badly if you ask them to work or even undertake recreational activities in the evenings or at night);

  68. (xviii) status anxiety (to what extent do they care about their personal reputations or how other people see them - this may be entirely different from whether they care about the opinions of others about the decisions they make);

  69. (xix) seduction of and ability to work with the opposite sex (note that this can be quite different from personal sexual desire: some people work better with members of their own sex; others work better with members of the opposite sex. Without any discourtesy intended, we do not consider transexual people because there are too few of them in the intelligence communities about whom to make any generalised observations);

  70. (xx) team spirit (is a person liable to go out of his way to assist a colleague in distress);

  71. (xxi) workmanlike / details focus / preprepared (these things tend to go together: a person who wants to get straight down to business has probably read everything very carefully);

  72. (xxii) regard for their physical health and appearance (do they look fit and well; do they smoke; are they overweight; do they have high blood pressure - often the product of alcohol consumption but easy to treat with medication); are they athletic for their age; do they dress to be proud of their appearance (these qualities will often have an impact on more purely psychiatric qualities);

  73. (xxiii) position on a domestic political and cultural divide (this is often missed when dealing with agents not of the handler's nationality; but it can be important because putting such a person with another national of the same country on the opposite side of such a divide may cause friction - consider Conservative versus Labour in England; Scottish National Party versus Labour in Scotland; Republican versus Democrats in the United States; Republique en Marche versus Rassemblement National in France) - these divides are becoming more important as much western democratic politics is becoming more polarised, entrenched and associated with cultural identity.

  74. These myriad qualities are not directly relevant to the loyalty or capability of an agent, but they may be very important in handling people tasked with doing difficult work. So for example, while a vague promise of an opportunity for illicit financial reward may be helpful in briefing an agent with low personal honesty, it will be absolutely unhelpful in briefing an agent with high personal honesty. Some of these things can be superficially assessed at interview; others you only learn about people through experience.

  75. Turning the infinite diversity of people into categories and figures is not a straightforward task but we believe our model is more comprehensive than others'.

  76. Government intelligence agencies do not typically reveal their ranking scoring or evaluation mechanisms for intelligence operatives. They consider these things state secrets. Really they are not; they are exercises in empirical psychology, and the subject of evaluating people in the unusual environments of intelligence operation ought to be given more light so that old-fashioned theories of assessing intelligence operatives may be discarded and renewed as our insights develop and the process of evaluating intelligence operatives becomes ever more machine-assisted (with AI learning algorithms and the like).

  77. Nothing in this article is a secret or surprise. We are simply explaining to the reader our metrics for assessing people on the business, and the scoring systems we use. We do not know whether anyone will wish to initiate a (public) debate with us about whether or not our metrics are the best. We would have no objection if they did, but we rather suspect they will not.

  78. We make one further point in favour of our method. Because we have sixteen variables by which we assess people, our scheme is rather complex and if anything errs on the side of collating too much information rather than not enough. On many people's files we have no score for a number of qualities. However the breadth of our approach - which seeks to emulate the breadth of human behaviour - makes our system very difficult to game. It is too complex, sophisticated and subtle for anyone to game all sixteen qualities. The more complex a system, the more likely it is that you will catch out gamers and liars by spotting the discrepancies all such people inevitably create.

  79. To anyone with reasonable experience of intelligence work, it is fairly obvious who has been formally trained in it and who has not. Nevertheless training, while always useful, may only take an officer, handler or agent so far. There are no magic words in the intelligence industry that enable you to become extraordinarily persuasive; persuading people, and negotiating with them, is an art, that people learn in different ways over the course of virtually every profession.

  80. It is our view that the intelligence services would benefit from learning more about persuasion, negotiation and mostly importantly decision making. This is something people trained in intelligence are often not so good at because they are trained in acqiiring information, not in the judicious use of it to make decisions. Yet intelligence work, performed at its highest levels, involves making potentially life-altering decisions virtually every day. This is something that formally trained intelligence officers often seem to comprehend at best only vaguely; and it is a failing in their profession that we should seek to correct.

  81. Part of it may be that persons who trained formally as intelligence officers have spent at least a substantial part of their careers as civil servants in a bureaucracy, where individual decision-making is discouraged and renders the decision maker subject to political attack by colleagues who want to get the better of him Bureaucracies naturally fight one-another, and this retards the speed and quality of difficult decisions that bureaucracies have to make. (That is why we have elected politicians; they are much better at making decisions, but security and intelligence services do not typically have elected politicians as their heads.) However this is not the only reason intelligence officers are not always as good at making decisions as they should be.

  82. Those intelligence officers whose decisions can affect people's lives need to learn both how and why their decisions change lives (intelligence officers are too keen on running away from responsibility, saying it was all the decisions of the agent and nothing to do with them); and therefore they need to learn how to make good decisions. Incidentally, these criticisms might also be properly aimed at diplomats.

  83. Trained intelligence officers may also be poor negotiators, because they are not used to negotiating things. Negotiations imply conclusions to the negotiation with defined commitments by each side, and hence they are ancillary to decisions which as we have seen intelligence officers are averse to making. Negotiations are better undertaken by diplomats and by lawyers, for both of whom negotiation is an essential part of the job. Intelligence officers would do well to learn the seasoned negotiation skills that their diplomatic and legal cousins exhibit. There are some differences between the way lawyers and diplomats negotiate, incidentally; but they are more of style (deriving from the fact that diplomats have politicians as their clients whereas lawyers have private people and organisations) than substance.

  84. Intelligence officers ought to be trained that every interaction they have is in fact a negotiation; because intelligence agents will yield a better result in their work if they feel they have negotiated meaningfully and reached a consensual agreement as to what they are supposed to be doing and in exchange for what. Nobody likes being left at the mercy of a bureaucracy that will suddenly clamp up at the sign of a problem or crisis. You get more out of people if you agree things with them rather than just ordering them or asking them nicely.

The PALADINS Organisation undertakes personality assessments into actual or putative intelligence agents and indeed anybody else we may be requested to study. We pride ourselves in working, using our self-developed systems (albeit based upon the systems of others in some respects), as operating at the very top of our field in this area. Our analyses give substantially greater depth of insight into personality, in a scientific way, than any other method of character analysis we know to be on the market.


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