Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

Updating the Moscow Rules

Heather Vescent
2 min readJun 3, 2020


I’ve been researching/writing a new book on spies and espionage. Much of my research has been around British-US-Soviet espionage during the cold war. The cold war provided one of the most amazing espionage love stories. The competition between the Soviets and US unleashed an explosion of creativity that developed new technology and psychological manipulation to steal and strategically use information. Looking at this relationship from a non-dualistic perspective, I am in awe of the power, intelligence and creativity of this era. And it’s not just limited to the work of the Soviet Union and the US. But these two countries, the US and Soviet Union (and now Russia) remain politically intertwined as if in a bad romance.

The Moscow Rules are a set of guidelines that were created during the cold war. If you were an agent working in Moscow, you probably wanted to keep them in mind. I’ve had a copy of them on my refrigerator for years. I look at them every morning when I drink my coffee.

The Moscow Rules

  1. Assume nothing.
  2. Never go against your gut.
  3. Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
  4. Do not look back; you are never completely alone.
  5. Go with the flow, blend in.
  6. Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
  7. Lull them into a sense of complacency.
  8. Do not harass the opposition.
  9. Pick the time and place for action.
  10. Keep your options open.

A few days ago, it occurred that they could be updated to apply to our current situation online — which is rife with Russian information operations. (I again, am in awe at the creativity used to recruit, penetrate and attack western democracy from the inside.) We are living through an information war and I’ve thought about how to increase the resilience of everyday citizens who don’t necessarily realize this perspective. That’s where these rules come in.

The Moscow Rules 2020

  1. You are the target.
  2. Be wary of anything that triggers your emotions.
  3. Everything is propaganda.
  4. Triangulate: there are truths & lies in everything.
  5. Everything is potentially co-opted and under opposition control.
  6. Walk without rhythm & you won’t attract the worm.
  7. When overwhelmed by the created chaos, step back, breathe & self-care.
  8. Respond with kindness, compassion & love.
  9. Pick the time & place for action: vote with money, time, attention, ReTweets, & most of all, at the voting booth.
  10. Keep your heart & mind open.

Keeping these in mind will help us navigate this information battleground we have found ourselves in.



Heather Vescent

President, The Purple Tornado, a strategic intelligence company tracking the future.