The Moscow Rules

Posted: 22nd December 2009 by admin in Uncategorized

All CIA kids (and other “spy kids”) will understand and appreciate the Moscow Rules. I’m sure anyone involved with any other western intelligence agency will recognize them also.

For those who are not familiar, I thought I would share one of the more unique experiences of my childhood. I am an ATCK and was raised in a CIA family abroad during the Cold War. By the time I was 10, I had heard all of these “rules”, in one form or another and had incorporated them into daily life. I have never worked in the intelligence field. I am only a humble stateside employee with a “normal life”. Yet, these ‘rules” have defined a great portion of my adult years.

From wikipedia:

The Moscow Rules is the name for rules said to have been developed by the CIA during the Cold War to be used by spies and others working in Moscow.

The Moscow Rules have been featured in spy novels by such entertaining (and interesting!) writers as John le Carré and Ian Fleming. I don’t know where these gentlemen obtained them, but I learned them at an early age, more or less, as translated below.

Here they are, first in Russian with the English translation:

Москва правил (Moscow Rules)

* Ничего не принимай на веру. — Assume nothing.
* Мерфи прав. — Murphy is correct/right.
* Если нутром чуешь – что-то не так – верь чутью, оно не обманет. — Never go against your gut; it is your operational antenna.
* Никогда не оглядывайся – ты никогда не бываешь в полном одиночестве. —-Never look back; you are never completely alone.
* Каждый может быть под наблюдением врага. —- Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
* Плыви по течению, не выделяйся. — Go with the flow, blend in.
* Действуй в рамках своей легенды, но избегай шаблонных методов. — Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
* Любая операция может быть прервана. Если ты чувствуешь, что она идет нетак, она и в самом деле идет не так. — Any operation can be aborted. If it feels wrong, it is wrong.
* Пусть твой шаг всегда будет неспешным. — Maintain a natural pace.
* Старайся, чтобы противник всегда был доволен собой. — Instill in them a sense of complacency.
* Создавай по возможности, используй по необходимости.— Build in opportunity but use it sparingly.
* Порхай как бабочка, жаль как пчела. — Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. (this was supposedly borrowed by CIA ops who were fans of Mohammed Ali, the boxer.)
* Никогда не раздражай противника. — Never harass the opposition.
* Способность человеческого интеллекта искажать истину – безгранична. — There is no limit to a human being’s ability to rationalize the truth.
* Техника отказывает всегда. — Technology will always fail.
* Выбирай время и место для акции. — Pick the time and place for action.
* Не спеши делать выбор. — Keep your options open.
* Один раз – случайность. Два раза – совпадение. Три раза – действие
* противника. — Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.

Now that I am “allowed” to look back without guilt or shame, I realize how much of my life is defined by these rules. And the truth is, I am finally at peace with the Moscow Rules. They have helped me to not only survive many amazing adventures, but they have actually enriched my life, by giving me the “freedom” to choose my responses to any situation.
What “rules” were you raised with and how have they defined, shaped and influenced your thinking, feeling and being? Are the “rules” shaped by fiction and art, or is it the other way around?

PS: to all Russian brothers and sisters, I want to say: gos po di po mileui. 😉 (For the moderators: this is Orthodox Church slavonic, a universal church language of the slavs. It means: God have mercy upon me, a sinner. But forgive my spelling of it phoentically. I am TERRIBLE at this.)

I will now write in English for the moderators to understand:

I cannot help who my parents were. I did not choose my situation. But I can choose to love you as my brothers and sisters. In a way, I have YOU and YOUR PARENTS, to thank for these life-saving rules. We are no longer enemies. That is the past. We are brothers and sisters and we must build a future together. God bless you.
Gos po di po mileui. Christos voskresi. (God have mercy on me a sinner. Christ is risen.)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love “technology will always fail” – soo true!!

    Hmm rules… well I think the rules that have most influenced me, unqiuely, are ones I made for myself, in order to “survive”. A lot were formed by messages I picked up, either consciously or unconsciously, from my peers… then combined with “rules” my parents taught me. (though they were always more interested in where my heart was, then what my actions were – so they tried to make as few rules as possible. i really appreciate that!)

    Gos po di po mileui. Christos voskresi. 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    British English vs. American English

    That’s all I can think of right now