Information is power, and everyone wants as much of it as possible. Every self-respecting government in the world maintains an army of spooks charged with gathering intelligence to better serve the public interest. You’re probably familiar with the R&AW in India, the ISI in Pakistan, MI6 in Britain, and the FSB (previously KGB) in Russia.
What you may not know is that the largest and most efficient secret service in the world is a global all-volunteer force known as Friends of Friends (FOF). This vast, shadowy network of elite operatives—and they are all top-notch—elicits or intercepts sensitive information about friends and passes it on to other friends with the code words ‘I’m Sworn To Secrecy, I’m Only Telling You’. There is no greater public interest than in a service providing secrets, so Friends of Friends has evolved to be very good at what it does.
The information flow is so perfect that if it were a formal organisation it would have a Six Sigma rating. Its reach is limitless, since each contact relies on a bank of his or her own contacts, each of which represents an exponential increase in distribution on the previous point of origin. In this viral dissemination of classified, and preferably incriminating information, value is added at every step in the shape of creative embellishment and commentary, often making for a much better item than the original.
The whole thing is quite a lot like Amway, except that unlike Amway it does not suffer from stoppages or database erosion, because each FOF contact genuinely wants to get his or her hands on the product and pass it on, instead of wanting to stab the agent to death. The model relies on the social urge to live vicariously, pass judgement, appear to be closer to someone than their other friends, and, just out of intellectual curiosity, see what happens if you toss a flaming match into a tinderbox.
You might think you’re cleverer than that. You might think you can outwit the whole structure with conflicting information, or even keep things under wraps. But like all intelligence agencies, FOF have their ways of getting things out of you, around the world, and usually even back to you in a much different form, before the week is out. If you happen to be sitting on something that you should really, really keep to yourself, they will scent blood in seconds.
An operative disguised as one of your regular social circle will confuse you into entering an interrogation chamber that looks like a bar, and use their rigorous training in sympathy and affection to make you buy them large vodkas until you can’t take it any more. Believe it, pal: You will break down and sing like a canary, swearing them to secrecy all the while. And when you wake up the next morning they won’t have left any marks on your body, but everyone on the street will be looking at you funny.
It’s no use trying to fight them. But if there’s an upside, it is that in this field of intelligence, information flows democratically in any direction, so it’s quite possible to return the compliment if you’re in the mood for vengeance. Feelings of betrayal often cause the database of contacts to become realigned to the detriment of an offending party (people very seldom drop out of the system altogether).
FOF is always recruiting. The only qualifications required to join up for service are: 1. You must know at least two other people in the world, and 2. All three of you must still be breathing. Of course there’s one more thing, but it’s highly confidential so if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you. Unless you buy me a drink, and promise not to tell anyone else.