Beyond Top Secret: 4 Hotel Tips From A CIA Pro

You might book your hotel rooms on Expedia, book direct because you prioritize hotel points and elite benefits, or care most about saving money and head straight to HotelSlash. But what would Jack Ryan do? If you’re a CIA analyst, you may be trying to stay under the radar or protect your data – or yourself.

I assume my devices are compromised by a state actor when traveling to China (and to some other places), even though I’m probably too obscure for any intelligence agency to be interested. For China trips I’ve brought burner devices.

But let’s turn to a real CIA veteran for hotel booking secrets. David McCloskey, a former CIA officer-turned-novelist (Damascus Station and Moscow X), outlines how to book hotel rooms like a spy.

  1. Assume your room is wired for audio and video during your stay. This one even I do.

  2. Don’t let them know that you know. They may move things around in the room, or ruffle through your safe. A colleague of his had someone ‘poop on their bed’. Just clean it up and deal with it. Revealing that a rival agency’s tradecraft was sloppy will offend them and just create problems for you.

  3. Block entry to your room while you’re sleeping Travel with a plastic door stop and use it on the door. A rival agency is going to be able to overcome the door lock, or compromise a hotel employee for a key.

  4. Book a room between the fourth floor and the tenth floor below the fourth floor you’re susceptible to car bombs, above the 10th floor fire department ladders may not reach you. Langley won’t allow penthouse bookings for safety.
@mccloskeybooks Hotel tips from the CIA, including what to do if the internal security service poops on your bed, and why you should always book a room between the 4th and 10th floors #hoteltip #travel #cia #poop ♬ original sound – David McCloskey

Most CIA employees don’t tell you they work for the CIA. Instead, they work for the “State Department.” And when you see a video on TikTok you don’t necessarily think ‘oh yeah they’re on the level, they really are CIA’ right?

In the small world department, though, I can confirm that David did, in fact, work there. When I saw this my first reaction was, “wait I know him!” As it happens I worked with his wife 15 years ago, and helped to book their honeymoon – Aeroplan 120,000 mile roundtrip first class awards to Southeast Asia on Lufthansa and Asiana using points transferred from Membership Rewards.

(HT: Paul H)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Unfortunately, much of my travel involves Courtyards, Hamptons, etc, which usually are 3 or fewer floor, so I guess I have to worry about car bombs…

  2. @A – they identify themselves as ex-CIA, I’m just saying don’t be skeptical of the claim, so not exactly Scooter Libby outing Valeria Plame (who was actually covert)

  3. Any secrets I have people are welcome to, they are boring and of no use to anyone else. But then the closest I ever got–or ever want to get—to that world was an interview with a recruiter looking for analysts. (This was 40 years ago though I doubt anything has changed.) After a pleasant conversation he said, “We can’t use you. You think for yourself too much.” A compliment!

  4. Gary, as hotel prices have gotten stratospheric, I was interested to learn about the service HotelSlash you endorse in this blog entry.

    I spot-checked a few hotels I frequent and the price, cancellation, etc. were exactly the same as booking directly with the hotel.

    Unless I am missing something, here we have yet another 3rd party hotel booking site joining the hundreds out there who offer no benefit to the consumer.

    Why are you endorsing this service?

  5. A whole lot of CIA employees’ current work doesn’t involve being part of clandestine services operating abroad with non-official cover. The primary reason not to advertise current or past association with such an agency even if only ever operating under official cover is in order to end up less likely to be of interest to a rival or even allied intelligence/counterintelligence agencies and to reduce the chances of a ending up with the identity being a vehicle for exploitation by rivals/others playing networking and social engineering games for humint and sigint espionage potential.

  6. drrichard,

    For a long time, the primary or even sole concern in that world was that someone would provide secrets due to sympathy for a foreign rival’s ideology, for the money, sex or in the face of blackmail. Since then, add the following in a big way: major generational shift where the younger generation that comes into these roles a) have their own idea about to what is in the public interest from their own view of morality and ethnics and are willing to act on it for such reasons; and b) spread the word to try to impress others (online today when before it was perhaps more limited by offline/in-person exchanges).

  7. Another tip is to consider not staying at an American chain when overseas. Jason Bourne doesn’t, ha ha, but the agency people trying to get him stay at a Westin.

  8. When I find poop on the bed, I know i am being Bonvoyed.

    But why would a “rival agency” poop the bed?
    And pretend you don’t notice??

    Weird.

  9. Ideally, you want a window that opens or, in an emergency, can be broken open and provide access to escape. Having your room breeched and taken into custody is far more likely than a car bomb.

    China (PRC) employs more intelligence operatives than every other nation combined. China, in particular, has a massive commercial espionage operation. They prefer to steal technology rather than perform the research themselves.

    Don’t think you are not a target because you don’t work for the government. If you, or someone you share wifi access with, has access to a university server China wants access to your computer. If you work for a tech or industrial company, or share wifi access with someone who does, China wants access to your computer. If you, or someone you share wifi access with, has any business with Taiwan (ROC), China wants access to your computer.

    Lenovo, Huawei and ZTE have been caught installing spyware in their phones, computers and networking equipment numerous times. A quick Internet search will provide more details.

    China is playing the long game.
    China has been at war with the west for many years. Many are blinded by the lure of cheap Chinese products. Tragically, the desire to save a few percent is stronger than the will to defend national security in the west.

  10. @Mark M You might want to re-check pricing because, unlike most other sites, HotelSlash quotes rates inclusive of taxes and fees. Many other sites show you the base room rate and then only add taxes and fees on the final checkout page.

    That said, it depends on the property and dates. Sometimes the rates on HotelSlash are the same as booking direct, while other times it could be up to 40% off. That’s just the nature of the industry, but it’s always worth checking around since as a membership-based site HotelSlash has access to discounted inventory that many other (non-membership) sites do not.

  11. Do they have separate facilities for birds? I mean I gotta get “another bird w/6eyes under her wings.” I am wondering how to get that check for what we agreed? I mean wasnt that agreed on yesterday?

  12. All good advice but as a risk manager with some experience with hotel fires I’d argue that you want to be on the 7th floor or below as many cities don’t have ladder trucks that will reach above 7 standard floors. So combined with his car bomb advice you want 4th-7th I’d guess.

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