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Espionage expert and author Peter Earnest will be at Jabberwocky Books this Saturday.

 Give 'em the bird: Surveillance pigeons helped the cause in World War I.
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Date published: 12/3/2009



Area youths will have an opportunity for a firsthand tutorial about the intriguing world of espionage and intelligence when Peter Earnest--author of "The Real Spy's Guide to Becoming a Spy"--comes to Fredericksburg this Saturday.

With the experience of a 35-year career in the clandestine service of the CIA, as well as his role as the founding (and current) executive director of the International Spy Museum, Earnest is a wealth of information on the vast intelligence arena--comprising more than 200,000 employees in the United States.

Having had a bookshelf filled with volumes on the FBI during his boyhood, Earnest recognizes the attraction that espionage has for young people.

"It has a special allure, because it is a secret world," he said. "Intelligence, and particularly espionage, is often about things that are in the shadows. And there is a particular allure about things that have been deliberately hidden."

Written for the young adult audience, "Spy's Guide" includes an overview of the intelligence cycle and the different areas of expertise it involves, as well as periodic notes on "spy speak" and tales of real-life cases of espionage.

In one example, when the Russians wanted to bug the American embassy in Moscow, a group of school children presented a hand-carved Great Seal of the United States to the ambassador, who hung it on his office wall--unaware of the listening device that had been implanted in it.

Earnest also reviews techniques that agents use to secretly pass along information or documents such as the "dead drop" (in which the item is hidden at a pre-determined location), a "brush pass" (an inconspicuous person-to-person hand-off), and a "car toss" (in which material is passed through the partially opened window of a locked car).

The book also includes a sampling of creative spy gadgetry, ranging from wristwatch and buttonhole cameras to a jack-in-the-box figure that gives the illusion of a passenger in a car.

Though Hollywood typically focuses on the fast-paced, spine-tingling missions of agents (which must be accomplished within the 90-minute duration of a movie), Earnest says that such scenarios should be taken with a grain of salt: "It's not all screeching tires and guns in the night!"

Nevertheless, whether it's the on-the-ground case officers, the audio technicians and tech-op officers who support their work, or the analysts who work with the information that's retrieved, every role within the intelligence community has vital importance.

For every aspect is linked to the nation's safety and security.

To youths interested in the intelligence community, Earnest advises: "Whatever you take up or study, do it as best as you can. The intelligence community is looking for people who are intelligent, quick and insightful. It doesn't matter so much what you major in. What intelligence people are looking for when they are recruiting is people who are trying to do their best and, ideally, excel in what they're doing."

That may be one more reason parents may want to encourage their kids to attend this book signing.

Collette Caprara is a local artist and freelance writer.

What: Book signing by Peter Earnest, author of "The Real Spy's Guide to Becoming a Spy" Where: Jabberwocky bookstore, 810 Caroline St., Fredericksburg When: Saturday, Dec. 5, 1-3 p.m. Info: 540/371-5684; jabberwocky. typepad.com. (Advance purchase of the book is recommended. Phone orders taken.)