The Moscow rules
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The rules are associated with Moscow because the city developed a reputation as being a particularly harsh locale for clandestine operatives who were exposed. The list may never have existed as written.
Agent Tony Mendez wrote:
Although no one had written them down, they were the precepts we all understood for conducting operations in the most difficult of operating environments: the Soviet capital. By the time they got to Moscow, everyone knew these rules. They were dead simple and full of common sense.
- Assume nothing.
- Never go against your gut.
- Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
- Do not look back; you are never completely alone.
- Go with the flow, blend in.
- Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
- Lull them into a sense of complacency.
- Do not harass the opposition.
- Pick the time and place for action.
- Keep your options open.
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Other rules which have been circulated around the Internet and used in fiction include:
- Murphy is right. (i.e., "What can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible moment.")
- Any operation can be aborted. If it feels wrong, it is wrong.
- Maintain a natural pace.
- Build in opportunity, but use it sparingly.
- Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. (Borrowed from Muhammad Ali.)
- There is no limit to a human being's ability to rationalize the truth.
- Technology will always let you down.
- Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action. (By Auric Goldfinger, taken from Ian Fleming's novel Goldfinger, Ch. 14 : Things That Go Thump In The Night)
- Do not attract attention, even by being overly careful.
Moscow rules are prominently referred to in John le Carré's cold war books including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People, as tradecraft, including use of inconspicuous signal markers (drawing pins, chalk marks), the use of dead drops, and the ways to signal the need for a (rare) face-to-face meeting. Moscow Rules are important at the beginning of Smiley's People, where the General invokes the rules to request a meeting with Smiley, but he is followed and killed by KGB assassins before it can happen. The applicable rule states that no documents may be carried that cannot be instantly discarded, in this instance a 35mm negative concealed in an empty pack of cigarettes.
In Spooks there are references to the Moscow Rules. In particular, in Season 6 Episode 10, Harry Pearce tells someone, "Treat London as enemy territory, keep your head down, find an opportunity, and make a move." In an earlier episode in Season 5, rogue MI6 agent Richard Dempsey is said to be in disguise and following the Moscow Rules, where the idea of treating the place as enemy territory is repeated.
Mick Herron's Slough House series refers to the Moscow Rules and counters those with The London Rules.
In The Middleman, episode 8 (the "Ectoplasmic Pan-Hellenic Investigation"), the Moscow Rules are recited.
The rules are also referred to briefly by character Leila in the “Too Much Information” chapter of Jonathan Franzen’s novel Purity.
- Mendez, Antonio; Mendez, Jonna; Henderson, Bruce (2003). Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations that Helped Win the Cold War. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 36. ISBN 9780743434584.
- "Moscow Rules". The Spy Museum. Archived from the original on 23 March 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
- Whidden. Glenn H. A Guidebook For Beginning Sweepers. Technical Services Agency