“Bond does everything wrong,” said Michael Ross, a former Israeli spy, when recounting his complex and often unglamorous past. He spoke in front students and faculty on October 21, at the Research and Academic Centre about his experiences working as a secret informant for the Mossad and his latest book, The Volunteer.
And while espionage has been romanticized and the inspiration for classic movies like as James Bond, The Bourne Ultimatum and Austin Powers; according to Ross, these movies could not be further from the truth. The reality, according to Ross, is that the life of a spy is no walk in the park.
Ross had to be trained in many different areas such as language, business practice, cultural practice, communication and photography, as well as weaponry. He was painfully conditioned, both physically and mentally, for the challenges of being a spy, which even include becoming a completely different person.
“One of the first things that a spy has to learn is cover,” says Ross.
“Cover is your first and last and only defense… I had to sit down and come up with a whole legend. Who is this person? Where did he go to school? What does he do? Where are his parents? There are a million different details that you have to think of.”
Coming up with the cover story may be the most important, but there are many other aspects that make spying a very stressful and difficult career.
“I could only take relationships so far; you can’t let them in,” Ross says. “You always have to keep people at a certain distance and it becomes a very lonely life. Spying is not always a clean academic undertaking; it’s sometimes very dirty, it’s often dirty. It comes at a high personal cost. It’s not a romantic existence.”
Ross went into great detail debunking the spy myth, illustrating that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. He describes it as a career that’s dangerous but also necessary. This, of course, doesn’t make it any less difficult.
“At the end of the day, it’s a guy sitting in a dingy hotel room in some godforsaken part of the world, talking to a fellow and trying to convince him to give up his secrets so that everyone can be safer in our part of the world.”
Michael Ross is now retired, but he publishes books and writes for accredited institutions.