Archive for January, 2012

Anatomy of MICE

January 19, 2012

Everyone knows the basic definition of “spying”: secretly watching and gathering information, particularly on present, potential, or prospective rivals. Most adults have watched movies portraying spies engaged in various clandestine activities. The emphasis is always on the action, but what is the larger mission of all spies? It’s not Mission Impossible; it’s Mission Manipulation—the objective is always manipulation and the goal is always control—and it’s the farthest thing from impossible for people trained to use MICE. Users of MICE include far more than CIA operatives; “spying” is, for example, a central function of companies seeking clients and increased sales from existing clients. 

MICE is a mnemonic acronym that stands for Money, Ideology, Compromise, and Ego. These are the four golden gateways that spies—professional or otherwise—use to enter into the world of their target and effect manipulation. Done masterfully, a spy can achieve more with one staged telephone conversation than ten Tom Cruise characters leaping over limousines on motorcycles or crashing through windows on upper floors of office buildings. A masterful spy can achieve manipulation remotely, invisibly, and leave no tracks. The target may never become aware of having been manipulated. 

The spying process begins with identifying the target’s area or areas of weakness. The strategy is then to link desired behaviors to weakness incentives. For example, a predatory lender obtains a list of names from a credit reporting agency, prospects that fit a certain profile with respect to borrowing pattern, debt level and payment history. This information is used to make tantalizing offers that benefit the lender more so than the credulous or troubled borrowers. The desired behavior that the lender seeks to achieve is the prospect’s agreement to borrow a substantial sum at a higher-than-normal rate of interest and under terms not ordinarily acceptable, including exorbitant front-end (advance) fees. The “weakness incentive” is the borrower’s need to make a financial recovery or desire for quick cash. 

It is interesting to see that the concept of MICE is largely unknown, or taboo, an open secret scarcely examined even in books that teach about strategies of war. As a result, MICE are commonly represented as being the motives of traitorous spies when the greater truth and significance is that MICE are the areas of weakness that anyone might use to exploit a target. This is crucial knowledge for everyone who wants to be a difficult target. Spies seek weaknesses such as: financial need or greed; religious, racial, or political bias; sexual desire or other physical need; and desire for recognition. When all four gateways can be leveraged the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. 

The movie, Breach (2006), inspired by “the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. intelligence history,” centers on character flaws of FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen, a long-time KGB mole. The movie shows Hanssen displaying a high degree of weakness in all four MICE categories. Ironically—if it is indeed true that Hanssen volunteered his services to the Soviets “out of the blue”—those weaknesses appear to have been exploited by Hanssen himself, somewhat reminiscent of the schizoid Bob Arctor protagonist of Philip K. Dick’s science fiction story, A Scanner Darkly. The viewer of Breach is certainly encouraged to perceive Hanssen strictly as a self-victimizing perpetrator. But even if that is true, Hanssen, like Arctor, seems to have been little more than someone else’s means-to-an-end functionary. Ultimately both men were institutionalized. 

Why bother pondering covert intelligence gathering and MICE?—because the basic dynamics and same risk factors are present in every personal and business relationship.