For many years, it was well known in the world of espionage how the most successful of intelligence officers were also the craftiest, experts in disguise, able to blend into any environment. Le Carré had George Smiley, who according to Britannica, was “a deceptively bland middle-aged man.” ClearanceJobs has Secret Squirrel, who has multiple disguises, which allow her to work in any environment – you see she is adroit, flexible, able to spring into action at a moments notice. Depending upon her disguise choice she is sometimes referred to as Red or Grey and has been known to fly.

Secret Squirrel Secret Success Shared

Until this week, her counterintelligence and counterespionage successes were always kept deep in the archives of the intelligence and security organizations of the United States, the United Kingdom and the other members of the Five-Eyes. All know Secret Squirrel is always available to pitch-in when and as required.

Sadly (or not) this inside-baseball factoid was let out of the bag on when Baroness Manningham-Buller, who was formerly the head of MI-5, the United Kingdom’s security service and responsible for the UK’s counterespionage and counterintelligence efforts, revealed to the world the existence of Secret Squirrel and our friend’s success.

You see, Secret Squirrel is known for hunting nuts, and busting them with regularity, as a young Russian intelligence officer regaled to the Barnoness during her younger days.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The basics of human espionage, back in the day of this writer, was called the era of “sticks and bricks.” The intelligence officer spent hours upon hours casing for brush pass configurations, signal, and dead drop sites and locations suitable for long term caches.

According to the Baroness, this young Russian intelligence officer had located the “perfect” dead drop site, the hollowed-out tree in which his agent was to stow top secret documents to be shared with Moscow Centre.

What this young Russian had forgotten from his basic training was the Babushka Effect.

In every block of every residential area babushka (grandmothers) would sit in windows high above the street and observe as there was little else to do during the era of the USSR. These ladies would note anomaly after anomaly on the streets below, and then share these observations with local militia officers.

Counterespionage Secret Squirrel Style

All familiar with Secret Squirrel know that she has a cadre of babushka squirrels who are trained in the practice of see-something say something. These cadre members sit high upon the branches of the mighty oaks, firs, poplars, cedars, and pines keeping an eye on the goings on down below.

Who can forget how Hanssen was observed putting a dead drop below the bridge in that park in Vienna, VA? Who do you think was holding the camera in the tree and had observed the use of the site multiple times before?  Or Aldrich Ames marking his signal site, the post box drop box, with a chalk line? He probably never looked up into those elm trees.

Back to our tale.

Into the forest came our erstwhile young Russian to empty a dead drop of its stash of secrets only to learn that the secrets had been protected by the heroin of the west, Secret Squirrel.

It was this, previously, highly compartmented state secret which the Baroness revealed.

The Secret Squirrel cadre had observed an individual furtively emplace a package full of paper inside the hollow of the tree where the community acorns were kept. When the human left, Secret Squirrel dispatched the flying squad and they swooped down upon the cache of documents. First the greys, then the reds, they took turns taking nibbles of the paper – it was tasty, not that trashy paper used by the fourth estate, this was top notch government purchased Top Secret paper quality.

When our Russian friend arrived, all that was left were the scraps. Returning to the Residentura with this story of having been bested, once again, by the crafty, diabolical, and omnipresent Secret Squirrel was going to be difficult.  So he probably fabricated a story of how the surveillance was heavy or the drop was empty.

The take away for you? There are two.

First – never do anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to observe as they see everything.

Second – When you look out your window and see the reds and the greys, know that among them is Secret Squirrel, there to protect you with her crafty ways and yes, she can be expected to bust a few nuts along the way.



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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of