Russian spy Anna Chapman wasn't just a lingerie model and corporate spokeswoman; before she got shipped back to the motherland, she was also a New York real estate agent. So the release of new FBI documents this week
that detailed Chapman's alleged espionage activities got us to thinking about why selling real estate is the perfect training ground for a career as a spy.
Here's what we mean:
1. Document familiarization
Real estate agents aren't afraid of a big old stack of legal documents, and most do a fabulous job of explaining what's on those documents to their clients. They jibber-jabber on until the client's eyes glaze over and he begs, "Just tell me where to sign." It's a honed skill, practiced with dual-agency representations, counter-offer addendums, and natural and hazardous waste disclosures. HOA regulations are probably beyond the scope of even 007.
2. Good vision (night and otherwise)
Good real estate agents can be quite adept at reading contract offers upside down on their office-mate's desk and have excellent peripheral vision. And from our deep knowledge base of the espionage world, gleaned primarily from watching James Bond movies, we know that training your eye to use reflective surfaces like department store windows and other people's sunglasses is very much a spy skill.
3. Sincere delivery of the message
Learning how to say, "You don't need closets; just get rid of most of your clothes" with a straight face is a skill that can take you far in the undercover world. Even better is, "The sellers are expecting an offer today, so you need to move fast" when what's at issue is a property that's been on the market for a year. As a spy, talking people into things is highly valued trait.
4. Knowing that the best place to hide is in public
Agents know how to get their names out in front of you. They are on bus benches, on the new scoreboard at the Little League fields, in the PTA dinner-dance program, in the local news outlet for donating books to the library. By being ubiquitous, they become invisible.
5. Keeping current with the latest tools of the trade
Chapman was apparently a whiz at using state-of-the-art wireless computer communications, including burst transmitters that sent encrypted messages by radio in a fraction of a second.
Real estate agents, too, have gotten digitally savvy. Once they reel you in as a buyer-client, they put you on an automatic feeder where you get emails every time a property that meets your criteria either comes on the market or has a price drop. Since the emails are generated by the computer, half the time they don't know what you're talking about if you call them about the property. Long gone are the days where they would actually call you to tell you about properties; phones, as you know, can easily be tapped so not using them must be good practice for future spyhood.
6. Moving freely about the community
The documents released this week noted that older spies in the 11-member ring that Chapman belonged to relied on old spy tools -- invisible ink, forged documents and hand-offs of money called "brush passes." Using invisible ink would be a seriously bad idea for any real estate agent, and that goes double for forging documents or handing off money.
But according to a written surveillance report, Chapman was observed by the FBI buying leggings at Macy's while a Russian diplomat lingered outside, and on another occasion was videotaped in a coffee shop with a double agent. Now that's more like it!
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