A lack of identity and personality is a spy’s protection from those foreign operatives trawling through the capital, poking and prodding to find secrets and vulnerabilities.
But the cloak-and-dagger rules of yesteryear seem to be changing in the modern digital world — where it seems even spies are social animals, prepared to bare a bit of themselves, their likes, their friendships and their passions.
If you blinked you might have missed it, but in December last year Major General Paul Symon took charge of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) — the highly protected overseas spy outfit that runs a field of high-tech agents around the world.
ASIS is so secretive, its director-general is the only agent legally able to be identified (if we told you any others, we’d probably have to kill you).
Like many who rise to the top of the intelligence world, Mr Symon would be expected to be a “man without a past”, with the shortest of published CVs and almost no acknowledgement of what makes the inner man tick.
But Paul Symon is no ordinary spy.
It turns out that in July 2016, well before his ascension at ASIS, the then military intelligence officer created a Twitter account with the cryptic handle @pbscjs and, of course, no photo.
He’s a sparing communicator who’s authored only two tweets in 21 months.
In an early removal of his mask, Paul Symon engaged in conversations with former Army colleagues, conveniently linking his past life with his new ASIS appointment.
“And thank you for your congratulations. It’s really appreciated. The people who work at ASIS are sensational — so I’m incredibly honoured,” he added.
But spycraft is all about watching, and @pbscjs proves he’s a well-trained, avid watcher and follower.
Anyone who discovers the account might easily piece together, as we did, an intriguing picture of a well-connected, multi-faceted man with interests from poetry to the dark music of Adele and — proving everyone has a weakness — the Carlton Football Club.
He lists among the 231 people he follows an eclectic mix of thinkers and personalities, including the ABC’s Annabel Crabb, journalist Laura Tingle, Janet King actress Marta Dusseldorp, historian Rhys Crawley and former CIA boss John Brennan.
His first Twitter like was a photograph showing security guards removing protesters from Federal Parliament in November 2016.
In June 2017 he liked a picture tweeted by the Carlton Football Club of Blues players celebrating a win over the Gold Coast Suns.
Just two days before Malcolm Turnbull announced the new Department of Home Affairs, @pbscjs liked a tweet from prominent ANU academic John Blaxland who observed: “I have yet to see a compelling argument made in favour of a super agency.”
Since being named as the new ASIS boss in November, Mr Symon appears to have been too busy to participate in Twitter activity, liking just three tweets, including one from a journalist noting his new appointment.
And, finally, a caveat.
Journalists are not spies and just in case we’ve formed the wrong picture of the wrong man in @pbscjs, it’s worth noting we approached his agency in the normal way via the Department of Foreign Affairs for confirmation.
Needless to say, it neither confirms nor denies.
And moments before this article was published, @pbscjs locked his account, meaning his tweets — like spy work — are now protected from public view.
Only he will decide who can be allowed in.