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1014 Becoming a Spy

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Complete Transcript
Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,014 – Becoming a Spy.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,014. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California – home of Hollywood, home of ESL Podcast.

Our website is our home on the web. It’s ESLPod.com. Go there, become a member of ESL Podcast, and download a Learning Guide for this episode.

This episode is a dialogue between Vaughn and Sydney about becoming a spy. What are they going to talk about? Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Vaughn: You’ve been reading that novel for hours. What is it?

Sydney: It’s a spy novel and it’s really good. It’s about a man who is recruited by the C.I.A. to work in counterintelligence doing code breaking, but he becomes embroiled in the world of espionage.

Vaughn: That sounds exciting.

Sydney: Yeah, he’s sent on a mission to infiltrate a foreign spy organization and to feed them misinformation. I’d love to be a spy.

Vaughn: You wouldn’t really want to live the life of a spy, would you? You’d have to live a double life, not being able to tell your friends and family that you’re an operative.

Sydney: I wouldn’t care if I could go on clandestine missions to thwart and sabotage the enemy. Working for the C.I.A. would be a dream come true.

Vaughn: You’d have to keep a lot of secrets, not divulging classified information.

Sydney: Yes, so?

Vaughn: Loose lips sink ships.

Sydney: What are you trying to say?

Vaughn: Well, no offense, but I think your cover would be blown after about five minutes!

[end of dialogue]

This episode is about becoming a spy. A “spy” (spy) is a person who works for the government of his or her country and tries to get information about other countries. Sometimes spies actually do things to hurt other countries. That’s part of their job. Here, we’re talking about becoming a spy. We begin with Vaughn, who says to Sydney, “You’ve been reading that novel for hours. What is it?”

Sydney says, “It’s a spy novel and it’s really good.” A “spy novel” would be, of course, a fictional book about international spies. These sorts of novels were very popular when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, especially during the time of what we called the “Cold War,” when there were diplomatic and other tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. There are lots of good spy novelists out there. My favorite is John Le Carré, the British author. But getting back to our story . . .

Sydney says, “This spy novel is about a man who is recruited by the C.I.A. to work in counterintelligence doing code breaking.” “To recruit” (recruit) means to get someone to join an organization. We often use this verb when talking about the military. The United States has a voluntary military force, meaning you’re not forced to become a member of the military as you are in some countries. In the U.S., therefore, the military has to recruit people. It has to go out to high schools and colleges and try to get young men and women to sign up to become part of the military.

This novel is about a man who is recruited not by the military, but by the C.I.A. – the Central Intelligence Agency. The C.I.A. is the part of the U.S. government that is responsible basically for spies – for gathering information (secret information, often) about countries and about doing other things that the president wants the agency to do in other countries. Sometimes these are things the other countries don’t like. In fact, most of the time they’re probably things the other countries don’t like.

“Counterintelligence” (counterintelligence) is a long word that refers to the efforts and activities that other governments go through to try to prevent someone from getting their information. So, you have the United States, for example, trying to get secret information about, say, another country – let’s just say Canada. You know, Canada is a pretty . . . pretty violent country. We have to be very careful about the Canadians, I think.

I’m kidding, of course. The Canadians are wonderful people. But let’s imagine that the Americans are spying on the Canadians. The Canadians don’t want the Americans to find out what they’re doing, so they do things to hide their secrets. After all, if they didn’t hide that information, it wouldn’t be secret. These efforts to hide information so that other governments don’t discover it is called “counterintelligence.”

In the novel, the person – the man – is recruited to work in counterintelligence doing code breaking. “Code breaking” is also called by a more technical name, “cryptography.” Basically, it is the art – some would say the science – of analyzing codes and trying to understand the hidden information in the codes. “Cryptography,” or “code breaking,” was extremely important during World War II, for example, where each country tried to break the secret code of the other country. The “code” (code) here means the system that is being used to disguise, or to hide, information.

The man in Sydney’s novel has become “embroiled in the world of espionage.” “To be embroiled” (embroiled) means to be completely involved in something, especially something that is difficult – a difficult situation. You can also become embroiled in an argument, where two people are fighting with each other verbally or perhaps even physically. “Espionage” (espionage) refers to the practice of spying.

Vaughn says, “That sounds exciting.” Sydney says, “Yeah, he’s sent on a mission to infiltrate a foreign spy organization and to feed them misinformation. A “mission” (mission) here means an important assignment, especially one that involves traveling somewhere for a specific purpose. We often use that word “mission” to talk about the tasks or assignments that a spy gets and has to carry out, or accomplish.

“To infiltrate” (infiltrate) is to become a member of an organization in order to get information about that organization. So, for example, if there are a group of terrorists – people who are trying to blow up a building, let’s say – the government may try to put someone in that group, get someone to become a member of that group, in order to get information about the group and what it is planning on doing. That would be “to infiltrate.”

What the person in the novel that Sydney is reading is doing is infiltrating another spy organization. So, the C.I.A. might be infiltrating the spy organization of Canada, whatever that’s called. While we often think of infiltrating an organization as a way of getting information from the organization, in the novel that Sydney is reading, the spy’s job is not to get information from the other organization, but to feed them, or give them, misinformation.

“Misinformation” is information that is given to another group in order to trick them, in order to lie to them, in order to make them think something is true when it really isn’t true. You can talk about misinformation in a lot of different contexts. In a business organization you might, for example, have misinformation that you give to people who are trying to do the same things that your company does, and you don’t want them to find out what you’re doing. Basically it’s lying, and so it’s not a recommended practice. However, I’m sure it’s done.

When we talk about governments and misinformation, we’re talking about information that is meant to make another government think something is true when in fact it is not. Now, there’s a related word called “disinformation” (disinformation). “Disinformation” is when the government gives false information, often to reporters and newspapers to make them think something is true about their country that really isn’t. Disinformation is sort of a special kind of misinformation.

Sydney says, “I’d love to be a spy.” Vaughn says, “You wouldn’t really want to live the life of a spy, would you?” Notice, this is a classic example of a tag question in English. The first part is negative, and the question tag, or part at the end, is affirmative, or positive. “You would not really want to live the life of a spy, would you?” Vaughn’s assumption is that Sydney doesn’t really want to be a spy.

Vaughn says, “You’d have to live a double life, not being able to tell your friends and family that you’re an operative.” “To live a double life” is to have a secret or hidden identity separate from your normal life. So, you might work at a bank during the day, but also you work as a spy on nights and weekends. You don’t tell the people at the bank that you’re a spy. You’re living a double life – a secret life in addition to your normal or regular life.

An “operative” (operative) is someone who works in the spy business, we might say – who works in espionage. Sydney says, “I wouldn’t care if I could go on clandestine missions to thwart and sabotage the enemy.” “Clandestine” (clandestine), which can also be pronounced “clandestine,” refers to something that is secret, something that is hidden, especially if it is related to something that is wrong or criminal. Here, the meaning is basically a hidden mission or a secret mission.

Sydney wants to go on “missions to thwart and sabotage the enemy.” “To thwart” (thwart) means to interfere with something so that someone cannot do what he or she was planning to do. “To sabotage” is similar. “To sabotage” (sabotage) usually means to interfere with someone, but in a physical way. You might, for example, blow up a bridge or do something to the enemy’s water supply. Those are examples of sabotage.

Sydney says, “Working for the C.I.A. would be a dream come true.” We use that expression, “a dream come true,” to refer to the perfect situation, an ideal situation for you. Vaughn says, “You’d have to keep a lot of secrets, not divulging classified information.” “To divulge” (divulge) means to tell someone something that is secret – to give information to someone that you are not supposed to, often. “Classified” refers to information that the government says is secret. The government says this is classified information; you can’t tell anyone else about it.

Sydney says, “Yes, so?” Vaughn then uses an old expression: “Loose lips sink ships.” “Loose lips” refers to people who are always talking, who are talking to people and giving them information they shouldn’t be giving them. “To sink” a ship means to make a boat or ship go down into the water. So, “loose lips sink ships” means that people who give information and are not careful about secret information that they have may hurt the cause of the country – may actually cause the enemy to get information that would lead to the destruction of some part of your country’s military.

Sydney says, “What are you trying to say?” Vaughn says, “Well, no offense” – meaning don’t get angry, I’m not trying to upset you – “but I think your cover would be blown after about five minutes.” The “cover” of a spy is the false identity that the spy has so that no one knows that he or she is a spy. Your cover might be that you are a photographer, traveling and taking photographs of things, when in fact you’re a spy for your government. Your cover is that you’re a photographer.

“To blow someone’s cover” is to reveal who they really are – to say, “This person isn’t really a photographer, he’s a spy.” When that happens, your cover is blown. “Blown” (blown) is the past participle of the verb “to blow.” I, for example, would make a very, very bad spy. I would definitely not be able to keep my mouth shut – to not talk. The C.I.A. definitely would not want me to work for them.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Vaughn: You’ve been reading that novel for hours. What is it?

Sydney: It’s a spy novel and it’s really good. It’s about a man who is recruited by the C.I.A. to work in counterintelligence doing code breaking, but he becomes embroiled in the world of espionage.

Vaughn: That sounds exciting.

Sydney: Yeah, he’s sent on a mission to infiltrate a foreign spy organization and to feed them misinformation. I’d love to be a spy.

Vaughn: You wouldn’t really want to live the life of a spy, would you? You’d have to live a double life, not being able to tell your friends and family that you’re an operative.

Sydney: I wouldn’t care if I could go on clandestine missions to thwart and sabotage the enemy. Working for the C.I.A. would be a dream come true.

Vaughn: You’d have to keep a lot of secrets, not divulging classified information.

Sydney: Yes, so?

Vaughn: Loose lips sink ships.

Sydney: What are you trying to say?

Vaughn: Well, no offense, but I think your cover would be blown after about five minutes!

[end of dialogue]

I’m not divulging classified information by telling you that the scriptwriter for today’s script was the wonderful Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2014 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
spy novel – a book-length story written about international espionage, with people hiding their true identity in order to learn important governmental secrets

* This spy novel is set during the Cold War.

to recruit – to get someone to join an organization, especially the military

* Is it harder to recruit men or women for the Navy?

C.I.A. – Central Intelligence Agency; the part of the U.S. government responsible for gathering secret information about countries and for coordinating information-gathering and espionage activities

* Do you think it’s okay for the C.I.A. to give money to rebels to remove political leaders from power?

counterintelligence – efforts and activities intended to make it difficult or impossible for other organizations, and governments to learn one’s secrets

* The counterintelligence team is responsible for making sure that none of our competitors learn about our new products still being developed.

code breaking – cryptography; the art and science of analyzing coded or hidden information and figuring out how to make it understandable again

* If their code breaking is successful, it could change the outcome of the war.

embroiled – completely or entirely involved in something, especially in an argument or a difficult situation

* How did you become so embroiled in the argument between your sister and her husband?

espionage – spying; the practice and profession of trying to get secret information held by governments or companies

* The company engages in espionage, paying money to the employees of their competitors to get information about their manufacturing processes.

mission – an important assignment, especially one that involves travel, with a specific purpose

* They went on a scouting mission to see if the path ahead is safe.

to infiltrate – to get into an organization secretly when one should not be there; to gain access to information or organizations that one would not normally be allowed to access

* It’s shocking to study how large corporations have infiltrated American politics.

misinformation – information that is not true; lies

* Due to some misinformation, we launched the rocket about 20 minutes too soon to reach the satellite.

to live a double life – to have a hidden or secret identity that is separate from one’s normal life

* Everyone was shocked to learn that Bryan had been living a double life, with another wife and children in another state.

operative – a worker in espionage; an intelligence agent; a secret agent; a spy

* If you’ve been dating for nine months and he still hasn’t told you what he does for a living, maybe he’s an operative for a foreign government.

clandestine – secretive and hidden, especially if it is related to something that is wrong, criminal, or immoral

* Don’t you think it’s strange that our business meetings are always so clandestine, late at night in dark office buildings far from downtown?

to thwart – to interfere with something so that someone cannot do what he or she was planning to do; to prevent something from happening

* Justin is very determined. Once he has set a goal, no one can thwart him.

sabotage – to destroy or ruin something on purpose so that one’s enemy cannot have or use it

* Evgeny was so worried that Sheila’s research would prove him wrong that he sabotaged her experiments.

to divulge – to share a secret, making it known to one or more people

* Why did you tell Pierre she has a crush on him? I thought you swore you’d never divulge her secret.

classified – information or documents that contain confidential, secretive information that can be shared with only a small group of qualified people

* Most of this information about the location of troops is classified.

loose lips sink ships – a phrase often used during World War II to remind people not to talk about secret information that could be used by the enemy

* We have to keep this a secret! Remember, loose lips sink ships.

for (one’s) cover to be blown – for one’s true identity or purpose to be revealed or recognized by others, so that one cannot continue to hide or be secretive

* The thief’s cover was blown when the man recognized him from news reports.

Comprehension Questions
1. What is the mission of the man in the novel?
a) To destroy the foreign spy organization.
b) To learn the secrets of the foreign spy organization.
c) To become part of the foreign spy organization and give it incorrect facts.

2. What does Vaughn mean when he says, “You’d have to live a double life”?
a) You’d have to live for a very long time.
b) You’d have to travel between two countries.
c) You’d have to have two separate identities.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to live a double life

The phrase “to live a double life,” in this podcast, means to have a hidden or secret identity that is separate from one’s normal life: “After Harold dropped out of college and before he told his parents, he was living a double life, pretending to be a full-time student while actually looking for a job.” The phrase “to be (someone’s) life” means to be the most important thing in the world for someone: “Art is my life! I can’t imagine what would happen if I couldn’t paint anymore.” Finally, the phrase “to take (one’s) life” means to kill someone: “Is it acceptable for society to kill a murderer who has taken another’s life?” Or, “We didn’t realize how depressed Ben was until he took his own life.”

for (one’s) cover to be blown

In this podcast, the phrase “for (one’s) cover to be blown” means for one’s true identity or purpose to be revealed and seen or recognized by others, so that one cannot continue to hide or be secretive: “The actress’s cover was blow when the news photographer recognized her and started taking pictures.” The phrase “to run for cover” means to quickly seek shelter and protection: “As soon as it started raining, everyone ran for cover.” The phrase “under the cover of darkness” means hidden at night: “The runaway slaves traveled at night under the cover of darkness.” Finally, “the covers” are bedding, or the sheets and blankets that one sleeps under: “Every night, Earl’s wife unconsciously pulls the covers to her side of the bed, leaving him feeling cold.”

Culture Note
Extraordinary Rendition

“Extraordinary rendition” is the practice of “apprehending” (arresting; catching) someone and “transferring” (moving) that person to another country outside of the legal court system and without the involvement of a judge and jury. In “recent” (not long ago) years, the United States has been “accused of” (said to have done something bad) engaging in extraordinary rendition during its “war on terror” (efforts to fight against terrorism after the attacks on September 11, 2011) under then-President George W. Bush and, “to a lesser extent” (not as much), under current President Obama.

“Critics” (people who do not like something) state that the United States is using extraordinary rendition to transfer terrorism “suspects” (people who are believed to have committed a crime, but it has not yet been proven) to countries where “torture” (the practice of causing extreme pain to others) is “permitted” (allowed) in “interrogation” (extensive questioning to learn the truth, especially of prisoners). They “cite” (refer to) “detention centers” (places where people are held unwillingly; jails; prisons) known as “black sites,” as well as prison ships and airline flights that have been used for the extrajudicial transfer of prisoners.

Many governments have “investigated” (researched; tried to find the truth about) cases of extraordinary rendition, and many have “enacted” (created) laws to control the “nature” (type) of extraordinary rendition, specifically to “prevent” (not allow) torture. But many people believe that inappropriate extraordinary rendition is still “occurring” (happening) “at the hands of” (by; with the involvement of) the United States and many other countries.

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - c