You watch too much television - or not enough: Life as an Undercover Agent

Well. After a quick LinkedIn survey - it seems you’ve watched way too many television shows on undercover policing or not enough. Out of four topics, an overwhelming 78% of you wanted to hear about the life of a secret agent. And guess what, I’m glad.

Out of respect for the men, women and others who are either doing the job now or will in the future, you can appreciate I am not going to get into the details of the how, who, and when. But what I will share is the why and also the impact it has on those doing it, their families, and those subjects of it.

First and foremost, it’s a dirty game. The film, ‘The Departed’, might be the closest to reality I’ve ever seen in a commercial movie, albeit without the excessive drama and good looks of Leonardo. But the sadness and impact on everyone involved are real.

The reality of this story is that I was ‘lucky’. So I want to caveat my experience with this. I GOT IT EASY. I was out buying guns and drugs while playing criminal with some cool dudes. And, for the most part - I was safe. I was purchasing rack off some kid acting tough in a seedy Brisbane nightclub or living in a housing commission unit trying to get a confession from a murderer aren’t exactly fearful events.

My colleagues. Well, that’s a different story. And their story to tell, not mine. But some of those friends didn’t have it so easy. They were dealing with rapists and child sex offenders. My hat still goes off to them with respect.

So. Life as an undercover cop. You wake up, brush your mullet, remind yourself you have a different name, and then you go about your day as a criminal. You’d also ensure you check in with close friends and family to remind them you love them in case something goes wrong. You spend most of your day waiting for unreliable ‘criminals’ - while they organise a ball of coke for you to collect in the most stupid spot in plain sight of everyone. Yep, they weren’t that smart.

But most importantly, you spend your day going through every possible scenario. Every possible question you could be asked. Every potential challenge you could meet. Every possible danger you could confront. And TRY and come up with an answer and response to them all. That is taxing. You don’t switch off. You’re not present. You’re not yourself - literally and metaphorically.

You let your friends down. Your family is down. And you let yourself down as you fall into the trap of excuses as to why you can’t ‘do that’ or ‘be somewhere.’

And then you go and meet these criminals. You lie to them. You befriend them. You look them in the eye, so they trust you. And then, you hear their stories about how they got there in the first place, how they ended up in a car park selling a gun to an undercover cop, who, to them - was their friend.

The themes were common. Childhood abuse. Drug and alcohol addiction. Mental health. Trying to support their family. I recall asking a kid why he sold pills. He told me his mum was dying, and he was trying to pay for her treatment.

So what is life like as an undercover agent—one big lie. And much like all policing, a dirty, dangerous and damaging game is played to keep the public safe and stop the same cycle that got these ‘criminals’ there, in front of me, in the first place.

If I could look them in the eye again and gain their trust one more time - I would tell them, “there is always another way.” So if you’re reading this and doing the wrong thing, stop. Please stop. There is ALWAYS another way. And if you don’t listen and you WANT to be bad - I hope you meet one of my friends one day as they look you in the eye and smile. And good luck working out, a friend from foe - because guess what - we are good at what we do.

Be understanding and compassionate people. Life is complicated. And not always as it seems.