[22:05:18] digi > Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the lord.
So began the most interesting convo I’ve had in Eve to date. It’s a quote from the Bible, delivered by an infamous Goon: digi.
I won’t reprint the rest of the conversation; one does not simply publish convos involving digi. :) But I will say that it was fascinating, and that the man is intelligent, sociable, and extremely good at his job.
But how did I come to be taking a private meeting with the infamous–and, to some, frightening–Director of Goonswarm Counter-Espionage?
Well, in addition to being a fleet scout, perpetual PvP student, and all-around helpful guy in my corp and alliance, I am a spy.
When I first started playing Eve, I knew I would some day want to try my hand at The Great Metagame. Studying real-world espionage has been a hobby of mine for decades. Both the technical craft and also the complex psychology involved in the story of a Kim Phillby, for instance, fascinate me. And the story of Eve–for me–was intimately tied up with the story of the Goons, The Mittani, and the infamous metagame takedown of Band of Brothers. I know some decry that sort of thing as a corruption of the game, but to my thinking, that IS the game.
Originally, I had a long plan to start in industry in hisec, move to nulsec, eventually switch focus to PvP, get good at that, then eventually start getting into assembling a spy network. But plans are just starting points, and events create opportunities better than any plan, if one is on the lookout. I abandoned industry almost immediately upon moving to nulsec. PvP was more immediately accessible than I had at first thought. Yes, it still required a certain skill point level to really get into the fun kinds of fights I wanted, but the barriers to entry were lower than I had at first heard.
But even easier to get into was spying. Spying is totally meta. There are no skills you can “train” to make you a better spy. No ISK investment needed. In fact, it turns out you can make ISK as a spy with very little effort.
And so, I began planting seeds. I created accounts. I wrote up back stories and personas. I crafted infiltration plans. I targeted different groups. Some alts were designed to take the long path: build up in-game histories that would help me get them into hard-to-infiltrate organizations, and wait months before making any real moves. In one case, the plan calls for total loyal contribution to their target alliance for a minimum of two years before “activating” them.
Others I moved quicker on. There are some corporations that are crazy easy to get into, and once there, you can just not log on to the game and yet reap intelligence from their forums and jabber pings at very little risk.
And then there was Nero.
Nero Askulf was created with only the barest of plans: float like chum in the sea of hisec noobs and wait to be approached. I made a point of having him ask noobish questions in help channels and in local of some strategically targeted systems. He hung out in the Recruitment channel, occasionally interacting with the hucksters and scam-masters that seem to run that place. He did tutorials, ran missions, and generally slogged through some of the most dull parts of the entire eve universe, waiting to be “rescued”. To mangle Mao: I moved amongst the noobs of hisec as a fish swims in the sea.
It was, frankly, a longshot. An experiment, if you will. If you’ve read my posts on learning PvP you know I am a fan of taking crazy gambles and making lots of mistakes in order to learn from whatever comes from the experience. I knew how to actively infiltrate an organization, but if I could get a target to actively recruit ME, I theorized, I would be able to move them faster through the hierarchies of trust and power; the most powerful means of selling someone on something–product, plan, philosophy, whatever–is to make them work for it themselves. “Playing hard to get” works, because it convinces the prey that it is the hunter, so all that happens after seems to them to be their own idea and not yours.
But honestly, I was about to give up on poor little Nero. He was so much work. Playing those tutorials and missions was such a drag, and acting like I didn’t know what I was doing, as “more knowledgable” players offered advice that I then had to pretend I didn’t know was actually sometimes quite bad–well, lets say that it was a challenging role.
And then I got my first nibble. I quote the entire convo below for those who are interested, but you can just skim it without missing out on anything critical to the plot, here. :)
Channel ID: -32268869
Channel Name: Private Chat (NAME CHANGED TO PROTECT NICE SMA GUY)
Listener: Nero Askulf
Session started: 2012.07.21 23:15:35
[ 2012.07.21 23:15:39 ] SMA GUY > hi
[ 2012.07.21 23:15:48 ] Nero Askulf > hi
[ 2012.07.21 23:15:49 ] SMA GUY > you new to eve?
[ 2012.07.21 23:15:55 ] Nero Askulf > yep
[ 2012.07.21 23:16:02 ] SMA GUY > how ya doing so far
[ 2012.07.21 23:16:32 ] Nero Askulf > ok I guess. about 80% through this sisters of eve mission thing.
[ 2012.07.21 23:16:40 ] Nero Askulf > more interested in getting into pvp at some point, tho
[ 2012.07.21 23:16:48 ] Nero Askulf > why?
[ 2012.07.21 23:16:57 ] SMA GUY > ok,,oh so fighting is your game?
[ 2012.07.21 23:17:06 ] SMA GUY > alot more to eve then pvp
[ 2012.07.21 23:17:22 ] Nero Askulf > heh. well, I’d like to try it. I have no experience at it yet, tho
[ 2012.07.21 23:17:35 ] SMA GUY > be prepared to get killed
[ 2012.07.21 23:17:48 ] Nero Askulf > :)
[ 2012.07.21 23:17:52 ] SMA GUY > surviving is what i like
[ 2012.07.21 23:17:58 ] Nero Askulf > so what do you do in eve?
[ 2012.07.21 23:18:04 ] SMA GUY > making myself self suffiecient
[ 2012.07.21 23:18:25 ] SMA GUY > i am a industrialist i build stuff
[ 2012.07.21 23:18:51 ] Nero Askulf > Given how much stuff blows up around here, I bet that pays well
[ 2012.07.21 23:19:17 ] SMA GUY > where ever i go i can build my own stuff do not need to go everywhere to buy it
[ 2012.07.21 23:19:28 ] Nero Askulf > that’d be convenient
[ 2012.07.21 23:19:32 ] SMA GUY > plus i can build and sell it
[ 2012.07.21 23:19:59 ] SMA GUY > don;t you hate it when u have to fly 10 jumps to get something then find out you forgot something
[ 2012.07.21 23:20:15 ] Nero Askulf > lol. only done it once so far, but I’m sure it’ll happen again.
[ 2012.07.21 23:20:21 ] Nero Askulf > but yeah, it’s a pain
[ 2012.07.21 23:20:22 ] SMA GUY > yep
[ 2012.07.21 23:20:38 ] SMA GUY > so how u making ur money now
[ 2012.07.21 23:21:20 ] Nero Askulf > well, so far this mission arc is paying pretty well. But I’ve been told that it pays better than most missions. Not sure what my next move will be
[ 2012.07.21 23:21:47 ] SMA GUY > ok well if u need to learn how to build let me know
[ 2012.07.21 23:22:04 ] Nero Askulf > kind of you to offer.
[ 2012.07.21 23:22:21 ] SMA GUY > ya i like helping new people it makes the game easier
[ 2012.07.21 23:22:35 ] Nero Askulf > :) well, i hope you don’t mind my asking, but eve has a reputation…what’s in it for you?
[ 2012.07.21 23:23:04 ] SMA GUY > oh..maybe u can return the favor sometime
[ 2012.07.21 23:23:23 ] SMA GUY > it is like building allies
[ 2012.07.21 23:23:24 ] Nero Askulf > fair enough
[ 2012.07.21 23:23:32 ] Nero Askulf > that makes sense
[ 2012.07.21 23:23:57 ] SMA GUY > in pvp u would not kill me if i was willing to help you
[ 2012.07.21 23:24:23 ] Nero Askulf > do you do much pvp yourself?
[ 2012.07.21 23:24:32 ] SMA GUY > nope very seldom
[ 2012.07.21 23:25:04 ] SMA GUY > i am more of a business guy in this game
[ 2012.07.21 23:25:20 ] Nero Askulf > Ah. Cool that this game has so many ways to play
[ 2012.07.21 23:25:27 ] SMA GUY > yep
[ 2012.07.21 23:25:35 ] Nero Askulf > is your corp mostly business oriented? or is that just a role you play?
[ 2012.07.21 23:25:40 ] SMA GUY > i play the stock market in real life that is the real game
[ 2012.07.21 23:25:48 ] Nero Askulf > heh
[ 2012.07.21 23:25:55 ] SMA GUY > we all kinds in our corp
[ 2012.07.21 23:26:57 ] Nero Askulf > so do you “play the market” in eve, too? or is gaming meant to be a break from that?
[ 2012.07.21 23:27:11 ] SMA GUY > eve is break from market
[ 2012.07.21 23:27:59 ] SMA GUY > why be the pvp guy when u can hire people to do it…that is what happens in real life
[ 2012.07.21 23:28:07 ] Nero Askulf > lol.
[ 2012.07.21 23:28:19 ] SMA GUY > u want to be a grunt be a pvp guy
[ 2012.07.21 23:28:54 ] SMA GUY > the hiarchy in this game is the ones with the money
[ 2012.07.21 23:29:14 ] Nero Askulf > sounds familiar
[ 2012.07.21 23:29:19 ] SMA GUY > yep
[ 2012.07.21 23:29:45 ] SMA GUY > think big ,,,eve will have people working for them just like in real life
[ 2012.07.21 23:30:03 ] SMA GUY > and you will pay a monthy charge to work
[ 2012.07.21 23:30:23 ] Nero Askulf > lol. interesting way of looking at it.
[ 2012.07.21 23:30:43 ] SMA GUY > ya so u give ccp 14.95 a month and u end up working in this game
[ 2012.07.21 23:31:25 ] SMA GUY > so how would u like to learn how to make money even when ur offline
[ 2012.07.21 23:32:17 ] Nero Askulf > doing manufacturing?
[ 2012.07.21 23:32:24 ] SMA GUY > no planet miing
[ 2012.07.21 23:32:27 ] SMA GUY > mining
[ 2012.07.21 23:32:48 ] Nero Askulf > how’s that work?
[ 2012.07.21 23:33:19 ] SMA GUY > u setup some planet mining and it keeps mining even when offline and then when u come back u can sell the minerals from it
[ 2012.07.21 23:34:00 ] Nero Askulf > can you do that anywhere?
[ 2012.07.21 23:34:33 ] SMA GUY > yes
[ 2012.07.21 23:34:36 ] SMA GUY > http://wiki.eveuniversity.org/Planetary_Industry
[ 2012.07.21 23:35:13 ] Nero Askulf > holy cow. this game has games within it. :)
[ 2012.07.21 23:35:28 ] Nero Askulf > does it take much capital to get into this?
[ 2012.07.21 23:35:45 ] SMA GUY > nope
[ 2012.07.21 23:36:06 ] SMA GUY > this game is complicated
[ 2012.07.21 23:36:23 ] SMA GUY > this is not for the average guy
[ 2012.07.21 23:36:32 ] Nero Askulf > I’m getting that. this web page has a lot of information in it, and it’s describing something I had no idea was in the game. :)
[ 2012.07.21 23:36:37 ] Nero Askulf > I love it
[ 2012.07.21 23:37:11 ] Nero Askulf > cool, i just looked at a planet
[ 2012.07.21 23:37:13 ] SMA GUY > oh ur just in the beginning :)
[ 2012.07.21 23:37:47 ] SMA GUY > add me to ur contact list keep in contact i am in usa for time zone
[ 2012.07.21 23:37:54 ] Nero Askulf > well, thanks. This was never mentioned in any tutorial.
[ 2012.07.21 23:37:56 ] Nero Askulf > Yeah, ok
[ 2012.07.21 23:38:08 ] SMA GUY > yep
[ 2012.07.21 23:38:30 ] SMA GUY > ya there is alot of stuff to learn
[ 2012.07.21 23:38:45 ] SMA GUY > i have been playing since 2006
[ 2012.07.21 23:38:58 ] Nero Askulf > ok, so I’ve got a question then:
[ 2012.07.21 23:39:07 ] SMA GUY > ok
[ 2012.07.21 23:39:17 ] Nero Askulf > given how skill points work, are new guys hopelessly permanently behind guys like you?
[ 2012.07.21 23:39:52 ] SMA GUY > probably
[ 2012.07.21 23:40:17 ] SMA GUY > depends on field alot of people are ahead of me in the pvp area
[ 2012.07.21 23:40:31 ] Nero Askulf > hm
[ 2012.07.21 23:40:51 ] SMA GUY > there is always some one better then u just like a boxer
[ 2012.07.21 23:41:00 ] Nero Askulf > fair enough
[ 2012.07.21 23:41:06 ] Nero Askulf > there’s always a bigger fish
[ 2012.07.21 23:41:14 ] SMA GUY > yep
[ 2012.07.21 23:41:42 ] SMA GUY > so u may excel in a field against someone else that pick a different area
[ 2012.07.21 23:42:15 ] SMA GUY > and this is not all about against each other u will find out u cannot do it all by urself
[ 2012.07.21 23:42:39 ] Nero Askulf > makes sense
[ 2012.07.21 23:43:14 ] Nero Askulf > I’m already starting to think about finding a corp I can learn with. I’ve had a couple recommendations, but haven’t really been ready to choose, yet
[ 2012.07.21 23:44:52 ] SMA GUY > well i have a corp also with another character it is very small but u can start there and learn
[ 2012.07.21 23:45:02 ] Nero Askulf > my current plan is to finish out this mission arc thing, then maybe try out red versus blue. but that’s not set in stone.
[ 2012.07.21 23:45:12 ] Nero Askulf > what does your other corp do mostly?
[ 2012.07.21 23:46:01 ] SMA GUY > what ever they want it is mostly a place to talk to others like i said very few active in it..but u can learn from those few
[ 2012.07.21 23:46:44 ] SMA GUY > or u can jump right into this corp which is big and were in low and zero sec very dangerous areas
[ 2012.07.21 23:46:57 ] SMA GUY > and in war alot
[ 2012.07.21 23:47:10 ] SMA GUY > press f10 and look at map
[ 2012.07.21 23:47:17 ] Nero Askulf > ok
[ 2012.07.21 23:47:30 ] Nero Askulf > got the map up
[ 2012.07.21 23:47:36 ] SMA GUY > does it show regions
[ 2012.07.21 23:47:42 ] SMA GUY > like placid
[ 2012.07.21 23:47:51 ] Nero Askulf > mmm. just my current one
[ 2012.07.21 23:48:07 ] Nero Askulf > ok, npow it has all regions labeled
[ 2012.07.21 23:48:10 ] SMA GUY > on the menu go to star map
[ 2012.07.21 23:48:26 ] SMA GUY > then labels
[ 2012.07.21 23:48:30 ] Nero Askulf > got it :)
[ 2012.07.21 23:48:37 ] SMA GUY > check all region names
[ 2012.07.21 23:48:53 ] Nero Askulf > cool. so where are you guys?
[ 2012.07.21 23:49:09 ] SMA GUY > we are on the top in branch
[ 2012.07.21 23:49:19 ] Nero Askulf > whoa, that’s way out there
[ 2012.07.21 23:49:31 ] SMA GUY > yep and not easy to get to
[ 2012.07.21 23:49:39 ] Nero Askulf > so who are you at war with?
[ 2012.07.21 23:49:57 ] SMA GUY > several corps alliences it varies
[ 2012.07.21 23:50:20 ] SMA GUY > when a corp is at war ur not safe in high sec either
[ 2012.07.21 23:50:46 ] Nero Askulf > i’ve read a little about wardecs while looking up red versus blue
[ 2012.07.21 23:51:02 ] SMA GUY > ya so u can see how big this game is
[ 2012.07.21 23:51:29 ] Nero Askulf > that’s awesome
[ 2012.07.21 23:54:31 ] Nero Askulf > well, I’ve only been playing for a short time. I need to do some reading and some thinking about what direction I want to go. But the idea of going out to the end of the galaxy in 0.0 appeals. Or I could hang out in a smaller corp and learn.
[ 2012.07.21 23:54:38 ] Nero Askulf > But I gotta think about it. :)
[ 2012.07.21 23:55:19 ] SMA GUY > ya either way
[ 2012.07.21 23:55:49 ] SMA GUY > but u need to get ur skills things are harder to get out there no stores like there is here
[ 2012.07.21 23:56:25 ] Nero Askulf > I’ve heard that you need a certain level of skill points to live in 0.0
[ 2012.07.21 23:57:20 ] SMA GUY > ya it is not as easy
[ 2012.07.21 23:58:48 ] Nero Askulf > Well. I gotta log off. But I’m really glad to have talked to you.
[ 2012.07.21 23:59:21 ] SMA GUY > ok np where are u in real life
[ 2012.07.21 23:59:57 ] Nero Askulf > Texas
[ 2012.07.22 00:00:04 ] Nero Askulf > you?
[ 2012.07.22 00:00:05 ] SMA GUY > indiana here
[ 2012.07.22 00:01:01 ] Nero Askulf > talk later. :)
[ 2012.07.22 00:01:22 ] SMA GUY > ok
[ 2012.07.22 00:01:25 ] SMA GUY > take care
Space Monkeys? Interesting. I had already figured out that they were a security soft spot in the CFC. Did I really want to put Nero in SMA? I was well aware of the irony of being recruited by what some have called “the IRC of the CFC.” Could I do better? A part of me had a certain fondness for them from other interactions I had already had in other areas. But still…
Well, it was too early to decide, anyway; my plan for Nero was sketchy–no backstory, no fake persona on forums etc–but it had one rule: always turn down the first offer.
And so Nero finished the Sisters of Eve mission arc, and moved to Lonetrek to start his level one mission grind.
But not long after, he got a second bite, from a different member of the same alliance, and decided to just give in and see what happened:
Channel ID: -32373442
Channel Name: Private Chat (The Head Honcho)
Listener: Nero Askulf
Session started: 2012.07.26 03:25:29
[ 2012.07.26 03:25:49 ] The Head Honcho > Hello there!
[ 2012.07.26 03:25:51 ] Nero Askulf > hey
[ 2012.07.26 03:25:54 ] The Head Honcho > I would like to invite you to join Spacemonkey’s Mafia! We are a great corp in an awesome alliance and we take pride in training our newer pilots! We even give you the ships and skillbooks you need to get started having fun and making isk! :)
[ 2012.07.26 03:26:37 ] Nero Askulf > what’s involved in joining? (I’m totally new to eve, so pardon any ignorance)
[ 2012.07.26 03:27:23 ] The Head Honcho > Its no problem at all :) you just have to click SpaceMonkey’s Mafia and hit apply to join while you are docked and Ill grab your app so we can get you started :)
[ 2012.07.26 03:28:11 ] Nero Askulf > ok. I’m in a mission. I’ll dock up when done.
[ 2012.07.26 03:29:03 ] The Head Honcho > sounds great :) Ill have a training officer on standby for when I see your application :)
[ 2012.07.26 03:49:13 ] The Head Honcho > great give me one second and Ill have a training officer message you
And suddenly Nero was a Space Monkey. I watched my API access log as they vetted me, and as I was walked through the now-familiar opening moves of the nulsec alliance orientation/mating dance, I mentally scrambled for a rough outline of a plan for Nero. How quickly did I want him to pick stuff up? What was his personality? How smart was he? Was he a reader who picked stuff up quickly? A poor listener that needed to be constantly retold stuff? Was he quiet, friendly, needy, cute in his noobishness? I had not properly prepared him the way I had set up some of my other “agents”.
And integration into the Monkeys was quite swift. In general, I will say that most CFC alliances tend to be very good to total noobs that join their ranks. I quickly was given advice, ISK, ships, and opportunities to contribute. I could see nearly every checkbox in Cialdini’s Influence getting covered in how people behaved around and toward me. I suspect that much of it was no longer intentionally planned, but had become an unexamined part of their culture. The people running the Goons seem to be more consciously aware of how they are manipulating the psychology of their members, but their allied client-state alliances in the CFC seem more to be emulating Goon culture and practices without fully realizing the strategic benefits of some of their “traditions”.
Anyway, I was let in very quickly as a member of their noob corp, SpaceMonkeys Mafia, and was almost immediately flying a sebo’d arty-rifter. Not long after, the current Northern War between CFC and NCdot launched into full swing, and I was tackling my main’s blues in giant fleet fights.
Yes, I tackled blues. Did Nero’s actions have any real impact on any of the fights he was in? Not the important ones, no. In fact, more often than not, Nero just blew up in a tiny puff of Minmatar-scented rust without accomplishing anything at all. But part of the spy game, if played right, is convincing the target that you are truly their man, and the most convincing way to do that is to actually BE their man, lock, stock and barrel.
But I was reckless with Nero. In general the smart thing to do is to ignore opportunities to act on intel from a new agent; instead, let them gain trust and power, maturing slowly over time. Once you actually activate an agent, the risk of their being burnt goes up substantially. But I guess in my mind Nero was kind of a throwaway experiment. And I broke my own rules with him. I started passing intel gained from his access to Goonfleet comm tools directly and openly within my own alliance and its allies.
And I was totally public about it. And for my hubris, I got poor little Nero burnt. I hadn’t taken proper precautions. And, despite all that I had read about the Goons counter-intelligence prowess, I had wrongly thought it unlikely that Nero’s account could be directly linked to mine.
Being a spy, by the way, seriously undermines your own trust in other people in this game. Not that Eve is known for engendering trust for one’s fellow capsuleer in general. But once you are actively spying, you become hypersensitive to behaviors that are potential tell-tales of other spies in your midst. Plus, you act in constant risk of yourself being exposed. You keep notes about what different characters are supposed to know. You have to remember to not use terminology that predates your spy alt’s supposed date of entry into the world of Eve. You unintentionally hear in every conversation the possible probing of a counter-intelligence agent.
And in general, such paranoia can lead to some crazy extra steps to cover one’s tracks. Steps that are a pain in the neck, to be honest. And there was a part of me that, every time I felt the need to take a precaution, would suggest that, perhaps, I was overestimating the faceless enemy.
And so Nero got burnt.
When I got the convo invite from digi, I knew something was up, but wasn’t certain where it would head. He was very up-front about it all: he had successfully connected Nero Askulf to Reverend Mak. And, of course, he was not interested in telling me how he had done it.
And now my paranoia has been doubled. And my taste for the spy game sharpened. And these two things are at odds with one another. I have my suspicions of what chain of events had to have happened for Nero to get caught, but I’m not certain, yet. And until I have more confidence in my theory of what went wrong, I’m thinking I will seriously dial back on other spy-related activities. For now. Mostly.
Passive intel-gathering will continue. And two of my deep-deep pre-agents will continue on their respective development paths. But the rest is getting paused, while I reassess.
And I’m going to miss flying Nero among the Space Monkeys. The dirty little secret of being a spy is that sometimes you have more fun as your spy alt than you do as your loyal and upstanding main. My main, Reverend Mak, is increasingly involved in all sorts of “responsible” behavior, in his corp especially, but also in his alliance. I still have fun playing him in Eve, but more and more of what he does is more like work than play. My times logging in as Nero were carefree. No market empire to manage, no meetings to go to, no pressure about his skill queue, no real worries at all. Just log in, fleet up, and have fun being a follower.
But, being honest with myself, within one or two more days he would have been volunteering to be on the SMA’s pos-fueling team, the “Wrench Monkeys”. (There is a requirement that applicants have been in SMA for at least one month; Nero got booted a day short of that.) And probably within a few months he’d be skilling up in covops and scouting for SMA and perhaps even looking at finding a way to eventually participate in GS Recon. Without a plan, Nero would probably have started to default into the kind of behavior the real me is naturally inclined toward. And with more responsibility, there’d be less care-free fun, albeit replaced with a more satisfying yet burdensome sort of entertainment. Oh, and much more useful access.
Whatever. That is no longer Nero’s future. Now he’s hanging out, jump-cloning around CFC space, selling off stuff, popping up in intel channels, and marking time while I figure out what to do with my first ex-spy alt.
Now why am I writing all this? I almost didn’t. Several times I stopped myself. But in the end, I decided to share, because we need more intentionally open source information (more in the sense of OSINT, than as in OpenSource) about this fascinating part of the game, for which there is no tutorial. That said, there are tons more things I could share with you, but that would be damaging to my future plans. But hopefully, this gave you a taste for one approach to the Eve espionage game. I know I have myself benefitted greatly from the rare writings of others in the Eve intel world, and so I wanted to contribute something myself.
So what about you? Ever consider trying the spy game? How’d it go? And if not, why not?
“We’re not so different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weakness in one another’s systems. Don’t you think it’s time to recognize there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine?” - George Smiley