Hello, Reddit! I’m Jason Hanson, a former CIA officer and founder of the Spy Escape and Evasion school. I use the safety and survival tactics I learned on the job to help civilians protect themselves and their families and covered some of them in my New York Times bestselling book, Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life.

My new book, Survive Like a Spy, goes deeper into the world of espionage with stories from real CIA operatives engaged in life-threatening missions around the world, and will show you how to use these spy techniques in situations like a kidnapping or a natural disaster.

So, whether you have questions about conducting the perfect surveillance detection route or about whether that episode of The Americans or Homeland is remotely close to what being a spy is actually like, I am here for it. AMA!


EDIT: Thank you guys so much for all of your great questions, I really appreciate it. Please check out my new book because I truly believe it will keep you safer.

Comments: 172 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

Paulstephens2016136 karma

Are aliens real?

SpyEscape91 karma

I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

Colonelatious26 karma

In an active shooter situation, what is the best course of action? Most companies say to run away in a zig-zag pattern, is that actually effective?

SpyEscape72 karma

In an active shooter situation, it depends on where you're at in location to the shooter. But, in many instances, it is best to rush and swarm the shooter. The fact is, when someone bursts into a school and starts shooting, everyone (naturally) runs the other way and that gives the shooter a wide open place to start shooting people in the back. If we trained more people to rush the shooter, many lives would be saved.

whynot2k52 karma


SpyEscape55 karma

You are right, it's not a great answer and you will probably get shot, but it will save a lot of lives.

If just one person rushed a shooter and took them down, dozens of lives could be saved.

whynot2k-54 karma


SpyEscape73 karma

If you're in a store in the mall and a madman runs in and you are near him, are you going to rush him and save your wife and kid's? Or, are you going to flee and take the chance that he kills all of you?

kellyswails21 karma

How advanced is facial-recognitioon technology? Is using this tech to find a person who has changed their identity (without surgical interventions) feasible?

SpyEscape27 karma

Facial recognition technology still has a long way to go when you're out and about on the streets. So, if Facebook is using it to identify your face from a picture, that's different than when you're on the streets in a disguise, which is a lot tougher to identify you.

aseemkshirsagar21 karma

What is the best way to deal with criminal in a situation where you're being held hostage. What would be the proper way for a hostage to deal with that situation?

SpyEscape94 karma

If you're being held hostage do this: Leave some type of trail so it's easier for the FBI to track you. So, cut your finger and leave blood in the van or in a room. Make yourself puke so you're leaving DNA evidence. Since the kidnappers are likely to move you, you want to make it as easy as possible to rescue you.

Also, do not be a pain in the butt and be submissive. You want the kidnappers to think you're a wimp so they put less security on you and don't watch you as closely, making it easier for you to escape.

Lastly, develop an "illness." Start pretending you're sick so that criminals are more likely to release you and not keep you for long.

picturesquimo17 karma

What are your main tips for efficiently building a network of sources (without necessarily recruiting them)? Would you see any value in doing that in a systematic way in civilian life? Also - would you agree that HUMINT in it's traditional form has become too expensive and time consuming and should therefore give way to an emphasis on OSINT and maybe a digital OSINT-HUMINT hybrid? Thanks in advance.

SpyEscape32 karma

I think it's a great idea to build sources in a civilian life. I want as many people on my side as possible. The best way to build sources is to essentially make friends with everyone you meet and take care of them. So, when you go out to eat, really get to know the hostess and the waitress and tip them well. When you go to the bank, ask your banker questions about their life and get to know them. I've even done this with my local law enforcement where I live.

I believe that HUMINT is the best way to collect intelligence. There's nothing like having "boots on the ground" and building personal connections. I don't think it's too expensive and time consuming and over the years, I know that the majority of the best intelligence we've gotten has come from HUMINT.

WaywardWoodsman13 karma

I listened to you this morning on Coast to Coast while I was out plowing snow.

Besides the pages that your former employer forced you to redact, were there any stories or tips that you wanted to share that didn’t make it into your book for other reasons?

Also for giggles, what is your favorite flavor of soup?

SpyEscape17 karma

I love tomato soup.

Besides about the 3 pages I was forced to redact, there wasn't anything else I wanted to get in the book. I was fortunate that I got to share about 99% of the information I wanted to.

high_side13 karma

What commercially-available vehicle would you choose if you had to spend time in an unfriendly country (without prior knowledge of which)?

* I probably should have explicitly said "and why" :-/

SpyEscape34 karma

A Toyota 4Runner

missfarin13 karma

It's funny you mention The Americans, because it's one of my favorite shows! Could you tell us a little bit about what they get right, and what they get wrong, about being a spy? I'm sure they work with consultants to verify things, but as with most TV shows and movies, things get overdramatized.

SpyEscape37 karma

You are right that things get overdramatized. If TV and movies showed what "spy work" was really like they wouldn't sell many tickets and it wouldn't make good TV. But, I will say, countries such as Russia do imbed spies and they might not be activated for 10 or 20 years. So, someone would be told to walk by a park bench every Wednesday to look for a thumbtack in it, and they might walk by that bench for 15 years before getting signaled.

SamiAbK13 karma

How do I know if I'm being tracked/followed?

SpyEscape62 karma

The best way to know if you're being followed is to run an SDR (Surveillance Detection Route.) Its what spies run before they go meet someone. In short, instead of going straight from point A to point B, you might go to the gym, then Starbucks, then Walmart, and then to your final destination. If you see the same cars or people at the gym, Starbucks, etc. then you know you're being followed and you would abort your meeting.

I still run SDR's all the time, when I am leaving my office to make sure nobody ever follows me home.

WaywardWoodsman12 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA.

How do you feel about the prevalence of “prepper” shows these days? Do you feel that they portray these people in a more negative light?

SpyEscape24 karma

A lot of prepper shows do portray people in a negative light just so they can get ratings. I am all for the shows if it convinces people to actually stock up and be self-reliant. I personally have a year's supply of food and a month's supply of water.

feaxelrud11 karma

Was the CIA office environment laid back or was did everyone keep it very professional? Did you ever suspect anyone working with you was a spy?

SpyEscape20 karma

It was actually both. People were laid back and fun but were very professional and serious when they needed to be.

Nope, I never suspected anyone I worked with was a spy.

TooSitcomDarlin11 karma

Hi Jason,

Glad you're here...

What are some general safety tips that the average person should know, but doesn't?

Whats the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

What characteristics make a good spy?

Is the Spy Escape and Evasion School really its name and why not something a little more discreet?

SpyEscape24 karma

The best piece of advice I've ever been given is from a buddy of mine who's also a former CIA Officer. He told me that "spying is common sense on steroids." If more people used common sense these days, they'd be a lot safer.

What makes a good spy? Someone who can sell. You've got to be able to mingle and interact with people and sell them on working with you. Spies have to be able to get along with anyone and build rapport with anyone. After all, spying is all about building relationships and then convincing someone to spy on behalf of the United States (or whatever country is trying to recruit someone.)

i-am-ken-m10 karma

What makes an applicant in the IC competitive? Is a college degree, knowledge of a critical language, and a good amount of foreign experience (~2 years) usually enough to get an interview?

What is a day-to-day schedule like in HUMINT?

SpyEscape8 karma

College degree, military experience, foreign language are good to have.

In HUMINT you might be having a meeting, casing new meeting locations, doing research, all types of different things. There is no typical day to day schedule.

YaBoyEzreal9 karma

Did you use Tor in relation to your work? How can you assure your identity will not be discovered when navigating an open web or deep web site using Tor/Tails (say, by an ISP, man in the middle or an attack from the server designed to reveal your identity)?

SpyEscape26 karma

I do use a VPN on my computer. I stay out of any places where I'm worried I will be discovered. Truthfully, I'm much more worried about my physical safety and making sure people can't find me, which is why I have nothing delivered to my house ( I use a UPS store as my address) and why my driver's license and my car registration, etc. all have the UPS store address.

YaBoyEzreal5 karma

That's good, I also don't like giving away info like my email address/phone #/address, but mostly because I don't want to get spam. I also know that using your information in some places may make it publicly discoverable, like maybe registering a car? If not a car then I'm sure buying a house does it. Any way to prevent that?

SpyEscape14 karma

You can use an LLC or a Trust to buy your house. (And have the LLC address be your P.O. Box or UPS store address.

alejo6999 karma

What do you consider the best firearm for home defense? (I realize everyone has different preferences, but what's in your nightstand?)

SpyEscape21 karma

I use a handgun because I have young kids and I keep the gun in a rapid access safe on my nightstand. (The gun is a Sig P226)

If I didn't have kids I would be comfortable with an AR-15 or even a Remington 870 shotgun with 00 buck.

NickJLV4 karma

What is your thoughts on this current climate of political attacks on our intelligence community? What do you think the outcome of the Mueller investigation will be?

Thank you for your service!

SpyEscape20 karma

I'm obviously not a fan of the political attacks on our intelligence community. The men and women of the CIA and all the other intelligence agencies do amazing work and should not be dragged into politics like they are.

Regarding the Mueller investigation, I really don't think they'll find much. If anything, I think they'll find that people unwittingly gave the Russians info. After all, a spy isn't going to come up out of the blue and say, "hey, I'm a spy, give me this info, etc." Instead, you never know the person is a spy and you never realize you're giving them information that you shouldn't.

kolabams-tororino4 karma

What would be your worst nightmare/worst case scenario in terms of location in a SHTF situation?

I guess we’d have to define SHTF, but I presume you might have some categories for that already :)

SpyEscape23 karma

In a SHTF scenario, the last place I would want to be is an inner city in a low-income place. (Baltimore, Detroit.) First, I don't want to be in a crowded place where the population can quickly get out of control. Second, I'm a big believer in having food and water storage. If someone is broke and doesn't have a lot of money they won't be able to afford these extra supplies, so when the SHTF they'll become desperate quicker since they won't have any way to take care of themselves.

[deleted]0 karma


SpyEscape21 karma

If you're in serious fear for your safety and your life I would get a concealed weapons permit and carry a gun. I'd also remember to swallow your pride. I'm very well trained in self-defense but I have zero desire for a violent encounter (unless I have no other option.) So, I'm prepared to let someone insult me and to walk away because I have nothing to prove.