Marketing Lessons from the Most Successful Spy in US History

If you haven’t seen the movie Breach, don’t read this post because there will be spoilers. Breach is a movie based on the capture of the the most “successful” spy in US history, Robert Hanssen. He worked in the FBI for about 25 years and spied for the USSR/Russia for about 22 years, and was even assigned to lead a team to look for a mole in the FBI (which was himself). What can we learn from the success of Robert Hanssen’s ability to evade the authorities for all those years? Here are my takeaways:

Sometimes the best answer is the most obvious:

According to the wikipedia article, Hanssen did several things that should have raised red flags that he was a mole. He hacked into another federal employee’s computer, he would search his name in the FBI data base, his brother-in-law found stacks of cash in his drawer and reported this to his superior. He even walked into the Russian embassy and showed his face and gave his code name name to a Russian officer. The FBI spent millions to find intel on the mole, but ignored the obvious clues. Often in marketing, firms will spend millions on complex marketing research, when they can just listen to the customer complaints and often find out what the problems are.

Don’t underestimate your competition

In the movie, Hanssen’s biggest mistake was to underestimate his clerk, Eric O’Neill, who was actually undercover to observe Hanssen’s every action. At one point Hanssen said told O’Neill that he was as dumb as nails. Because Hanssen underestimated him, O’Neill was able to gather valuable evidence from Hanssen’s PDA. Often large firms will scoff at the small guy that they are competing with, and often the small guy takes over the dominant amount of market share because of the bigger firm’s carelessness.

Did you learn any lessons from the movie? If so, please leave a comment.

Eric O’Neill Wikipedia
Robert Hanssen Wikipedia