“Solider Spy” by Tom Marcus

“Soldier Spy” written by Tom Marcus is a raw and explosive memoir about the life of an M-15 agent working as a Surveillance Officer for the United Kingdom. It is one of the first true story books about what it is really like to work for one of the most elite and prestigious intelligence agencies in the world and Tom Marcus doesn’t hold back. While he doesn’t go into detail about each of the terror-plotted case he worked on, seeing the psychological effect it had on him over the decades he spent his life there is a true eye opener to the real conditions that agents work on the ground. The author describes himself as being the “only option” for his country rather than an alternative.   

He says: “I do it because it is all I know. I’m a hunter of people and I’m damn good at it.” It was a job that took over his life for months at a time and cost him his career at the end, the pressure was simply too much for him at the end for his physical and mental endurance.  

We felt that “Soldier Spy” was a very important case study to support Chapter One, “Skills for a Changing World” of the Diplomatic Planner. In his account, Tom Marcus, which is not the author's real name for security reasons, mentions that he never felt as though he belonged in the world and the sense of belonging was all that he was seeking for. With a rough childhood growing up in poverty in northern England without a mother and an ex-soldier alcoholic father who later committed suicide, he decided to join the army as soon as he turned 16 simply because he wanted to belong to a family, quickly becoming the youngest member of the Armed Forces to pass the 6-month selection process for Special Operations in Northern Ireland. The author himself recognised that he had a natural affinity to recalling everything he could see around him and was hyper sensitive to his environment. After spending a short time in the army, he was headhunted by M-15 to become a surveillance officer which meant serving his country and protecting his country by camouflaging himself against terrorists and ruthless criminals in our society in order to gain intelligence, learn about their funding, resources and infrastructure as a means to take down larger criminal activities.  

The author, by no means necessary, does not paint a pretty picture of his day-to-day grind. There is no glamour in his account as a spy. It was so important for him to blend into the background that the first chapter opens up with Tom putting on a urine-soaked trouser that didn’t belong to him to impersonate as a homeless man in the pouring rain. There is also a very interesting account on how honey traps are used to lure corrupt diplomats in London. Tom’s accounts of events was vetted and cleared for publication by M15 as part of his memoirs, so names and specific details in the book were changed in order to protect colleagues and ensure current and future investigations are not jeopardised.

The book is quite important as part of diplomatic self development training as the author is a clear example of someone who knew what he wanted and went for it. Tom Marcus, at a very early young, was able to understand his strengths and weaknesses against a backdrop of hardship and poverty, which helped him to recognise and identify what career was best suited to his skill set, demeanor, experience and personality. Being at school wasn’t his strong suit but being out in the street, retaining information, and blending in with a tough crowd came easy to him having lived on the streets for some time in his younger years. He couldn’t see himself working in M-15’s headquarters with a group full of analysts who were fresh out of university and he knew that in an office-role even in counter-intelligence, he could never see himself wear a suit and rise the ranks. He was stuck in a low paid job in one of the most elite institutions in the world but he felt he couldn’t work anywhere because he felt so committed to his country. Tom worked as a mobile surveillance officer from 2005 to 2013 but had to leave the security service after he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. But what he taught me is that the people who experience the biggest job satisfaction aren’t those in big, fancy offices. They are the ones who approach their work as a calling, even when that work involves menial labour.

Knowing who you are, what you can do and are capable of is a very important foundational step to picking the right career path for yourself. Don’t let the glitz and glamour of the media decide what you should ought to do. Assess your skills rationally and be true to the set of weaknesses you have. If you really can’t work with numbers and data, then perhaps being an Analyst in the government isn’t the right path for you, even if that is your initial interest. There are a thousand jobs in international relations and diplomacy you can choose from. You just need to be true to yourself and figure out where you belong and finding your role in the world. And that is exactly what Chapter One of the “Diplomatic Planner” tries to do. Help you analyse your skills and find your fit.

If someone like Tom Marcus can figure out what his professional purpose is, you can too.

“Solider Spy” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Diplomatic Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register