Plan twice, shoot once.

5 Espionage Myths–The November Man


By Piper Bayard


The November Man movie poster

The November Man movie poster


The November Man is an espionage movie in which an ex-CIA operative is brought back by the Company for a personal mission in Moscow, only to find himself pitted against his protégé. It is a fast action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Luke Bracey that rockets viewers through the Russian and Serbian shadow world with everything from brutal assassins to rogue top-level operatives. It is also a comprehensive collection of espionage myths.


Myth One – CIA operatives are all ready and willing to off their own at any given moment just because a bureaucrat orders it.

Truth – US intelligence operatives are not murderous automatons who blindly kill whomever they are told to, up to and including their mentors and protégés.


It was common in Stalin’s KGB for Soviet operatives to kill each other. In fact, the KGB had a special branch for the express purpose of targeting fellow agents. However, such pointless slaughter has never been part of the US intelligence culture. Americans don’t put up with that crap. Presidents come and go with their various agendas, and long after they are booking their lecture tours and cutting ribbons on their presidential libraries, operatives are still on the job. Our intelligence community consists of flesh and blood human beings who would not live long if they didn’t question and comprehend their missions. They are not attack dogs to be released on any target that a transient bureaucratic overlord decides is inconvenient to their political goals, particularly when that target is one of their own.


Myth Two – Operatives think nothing of killing innocent people.

Truth – People who randomly kill innocents are serial killers and criminal psychopaths, not highly trained intelligence operatives.


Killing is serious business, and the intelligence community has had standing orders for decades to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. An operative who randomly kills innocent people would be quickly weeded out. Such behavior is unacceptable in the intelligence community.


Myth Three – Operatives can’t have families.

Truth – Operatives, like anyone else, can have loved ones and families that they adore.


While it is true that many field operatives are either single or divorced, that is due to the nature of the job and not to any taboo about bonding with other humans. The fact is that few spouses are up for, “I need to go. Can’t say where. Can’t say when I’ll be home. Sorry, but I can’t leave you a number, either.” The lifestyle is very hard on relationships, and spouses must be as committed to leading the double life as the operative is. Not many are, and they are not to blame for that. However, as my writing partner proves, some do sustain marriages and family ties for decades.


Myth Four – People can be killers, or they can love, but they can’t do both.

Truth – Dedicated operatives often go into the field because they DO love.


The notion that someone who is trained to kill the likes of Bin Laden can’t love is patently absurd. Many operatives go into the field because they are unwilling to sit still and do nothing while brutal despots butcher innocent people.


Myth Five – Assassins look like assassins.

Truth – Assassins look like the school secretary, the grocery store manager, the bank teller, the janitor, or anyone else who can blend in with a crowd.


It is not required for operatives to speak in foreign accents and wear either tailored business suits or black leather.


Russian Assassin from The November Man

Russian Assassin from The November Man



While not a common myth, another notable fiction in The November Man is the notion that bullets from handguns travel at four times the speed of sound . . . Excuse me? A handgun? More like a hand held rocket launcher. Clearly, Hollywood is holding out on the Navy.


If you care nothing for accuracy about espionage or human nature in your spy thrillers, then go ahead and spend the $13 and enjoy Pierce Brosnan doing what he does best. However, if you do know anything at all about firearms, operatives, psychology, history, NATO, or intelligence work, this movie will make your head explode at a velocity of four times the speed of sound.

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15 thoughts on “ 5 Espionage Myths–The November Man

  1. Thanks for giving some balance to the world of espionage. I like Pierce Brosnan (loved him in the James Bond movies) and will probably see the movie eventually. I don’t assume Hollywood makes movies that are accurate though. The movie industry is pretty much a fantasy world anyway. They care about people going to the movies and bringing in the money, not about balance or accuracy. And that is from someone who doesn’t consider herself cynical. LOL.

    • LOL. I’m past cynical at this point after working with Holmes for a few years. I just wish more people understood that movies are fantasies and would quit getting all of their history and current events lessons from them. 🙂

  2. Thanks for clearing those up! We uninformed sometimes wonder about what we see on the screen.

    Having worked in the legal field, it used to drive me nuts to watch L.A. Law and other legal dramas and see a civilian case taken and adjudicated in the same show. Such cases take months or years to reach court, after a long process of filings and interviews and information gathering, etc., and then the time in court could run for days or weeks. I understand that no one wants to watch all that, but I always wanted at least a passing nod to fact that there was more to it all. (Oh, and in my experience, lawyers were not all sleeping with each other either and certainly not their clients.) Creative license indeed!

    • LOL. Holmes is always commenting on how if we wrote a real spook story, it would be a boring book about watching the same back door of the same building for a year and a half, and then everything happening very fast. We have to take a bit of license with our pacing. Definitely true about law shows, too. 🙂

  3. Very good post. Didn’t know about the KGB actually having a branch to do that – I generally figure everything is exaggerated. Wow. Glad the US isn’t like that.
    I feel the same way when I watch any kind of medical show. Soaps used to drive me crazy, the way anyone could walk in to a lab and change DNA results, or someone’s boyfriend could magically be their donor for a kidney/partial liver transplant…

    • I hear you! A young man who is very special to me is a transplant patient. I saw a movie that shall remain nameless in which a man received a heart transplant on the fly in a tent hospital with no testing at all. W.T.F? It was seriously offensive. Glad to know I’m not the only one who sees it. 🙂

  4. Gee, Piper – you make the life of an intelligence agent seem so unremarkable and almost wearisome compared to the stereotypes we have come to appreciate. If spies don’t seduce beautiful women and blow up important enemy strongholds, what is left about the life of a secret agent to romanticize about? 🙂 – Mike

  5. I saw your note about the myths involved, so I’ve been looking forward to this blog post. Thanks for breaking it down. A friend of mine saw this movie and wasn’t taken in by the Hollywood. He said his dad (retired FBI) couldn’t watch any movies like this because he would get so angry by all the implausible fiction.

    • It totally had me squirming, for sure. Holmes was grateful to me for saving him from it. I’ll bet your dad would have walked out. The down side of knowledge is that it ruins entire genres for you. 🙂

  6. Wha – you mean spies DON’T wear tuxedos, drink martinis, live like high-profile playboys, and appear prominently in casinos using their real names? I suppose next you’ll be telling me they don’t have cars that turn into submarines…:-)

    • I know. I’m such a soul crusher . . . I’m sure some spook out there has worn a tuxedo. Even Holmes wears one with panache when his wife ropes him into it, but he much prefers his jeans and t-shirts. And as for the submarine car, I was with him once when we drove through a puddle during a rainstorm. We were completely surrounded by water, so that sort of counts, right? 🙂

      • Sounds like a submarine to me! 🙂 It’s always intrigued me how ‘Hollywoodisation’ always manages to destroy the suspension of disbelief for subject experts. I cringe every time they veer into anything science-y or historical. And sure, reality’s a bit boring sometimes…but it can be MADE interesting with enough thought.

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