Episode 321: Andrew Bustamante – Elite Spy Skills That You Can Apply Everyday

Episode Summary

We had a fantastic conversation about the possibilities hidden in feeling hopeless, the power of asking questions, the advantages of understanding people’s perceptions and perspectives, and why realizing that everyone acts pursuing their best interests can change the way we see other people and their actions. Andrew shared how he became a CIA spy; he unraveled some of the most common misconceptions around spies and highlighted the vital importance of being committed to practice, training, and education.

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. And we have a special guest with us today. He is a former covert CIA intelligence officer, decorated military combat veteran, and successful Fortune 10 corporate advisor. And so, after 20 years of leading literally human and technical intelligence operations for corporate and government clients, Andrew founded, the first-ever online platform designed to teach elite spy skills to everyday people. So, welcome, Andrew Bustamante 

Andrew Bustamante: Hi, thank you very much, Steve, for having me.  

Steve Shallenberger: Andrew and I had the chance to just visit briefly before our show today. There is a town in Spain, called Bustamante. I’ve been there, a very cool place, north of Madrid, have some great friends there. So, way to go, Andrew. 

Andrew Bustamante: It’s not my town, I can’t take credit for that. But it is nice coming from a name that’s really predominant throughout all of the Catholic-speaking world. I mean, I’ve met Filipinos with the last name Bustamante, I’ve met Venezuelans with the last name Bustamante, I’ve met Spaniards. We all share that town. It’s all of us. 

Steve Shallenberger: There we go. Well, it’s an awesome name, good personality, kind of like Shallenberger. Well, before we get started today, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Andrew. I am so thrilled to have him on the program. And thank you, first of all, Andrew, for your service and dedication to defending your country and freedom. 

Andrew Bustamante: Absolutely. No, it’s my pleasure. And I think anybody who’s ever worn the uniform will say the same thing. It really is a humbling and wonderful experience to get to serve. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, great. Well, Andrew has been featured in both the US and international media. His training content has been praised for its innovative, authentic, and life-changing impact. And when he isn’t giving interviews, running spy exercises, or supporting private intelligence contracts around the world – Andrew lives with his wife, has two children — and his wife is also an ex-CIA officer, and they live in Florida. So, let’s jump right into it, Andrew. 

Andrew Bustamante: Yeah, let’s do it, Steve, it sounds great. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, first of all, tell us about your background a little bit, especially including any turning points and how in the world did you end up in the CIA. 

Andrew Bustamante: There are accidental spies out there, these people who, like me, we had a very different idea of what the future was going to look like for us until we got a tap on the shoulder and a phone call that invited us to come to interview up in Langley. And for me, I was leading the Air Force, on my way to go do humanitarian work in Africa. I was single and very excited to meet a beautiful humanitarian hippie wife helping me with adopting children and find potable water in Africa. That was my journey until CIA had a different plan, and asked me to come interview. Really, that’s the big turning point for me, where getting that phone call from Langley, and then thinking it was a prank phone call until airplane tickets showed up, and then a hotel reservation showed up, and then a pickup car showed up. And all of a sudden, I was interviewing with very real CIA, and then that was like a movie moment. 

Steve Shallenberger: Wow! Well, that had to be pretty exciting. You’re probably thinking, “Oh, man, what’s gonna happen here?” 

Andrew Bustamante: I remember the first interview that I had, I was amped. I felt like I must be some kind of superhuman because they found me, and I didn’t know I was so superhuman. And it wasn’t until after multiple rounds of interviews, and the psychological evaluations, and all of the long extended polygraph; you come out of that interview process and you don’t feel superhuman at all. You feel like the scum of the universe, like they made all the worst mistakes finding you, and it was just a big reminder that you’re a flawed, weak human being. It’s a tough process. 

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, I’ll bet it’s quite a process to go from that recognition of maybe what you’re thinking to where you ended up, and then starting fresh and moving forward. What was that like? 

Andrew Bustamante: Yes, exactly right. So, there were two big refreshes. The first refresh was coming out of the interview process and realizing that there was something in the weakness, something in the humanity that was a good fit. I mean, nobody thinks that. We all try to put on this face, we all try to make ourselves look stronger and more confident and more competent than we really are, not realizing that at our barest – in those moments where we’ve been stressed, and frustrated, and exhausted – that’s where real power lies, that’s where your real value is in how you behave when your resources are taken away. So, when CIA taught me that and hired me, my life’s never been the same. Now, I look at people and I invest and engage with people from the point of view to say, “What are you like when all of the comforts and all of the resources are taken away?” Because that’s where heroes hide. It’s not about what you’re doing in day-to-day, it’s about what are you made of? What are you cultivating in yourself for those moments when the world really needs you? 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you for sharing that background. And Andrew, what is the most significant way spy skills have helped you succeed outside of the CIA? 

Andrew Bustamante: So, when I left CIA, it was another one of those refreshes, it was the second big refresh that I was just telling you about. At first, I felt like everything had been taken away from me. I felt like my community had been taken away because they were all covert spies along with me; my friends had been taken away, they were all undercover, I couldn’t talk to them anymore. And we go through that period of mourning. And it’s easy to get sucked into feeling like you’re not in control, like someone is taking something from you. And then what ended up happening was, it struck me that using the same skills that CIA had trained me to understand and to master, those were the key to everyday life, just like they were the key to spy life. And the one thing that struck me the most was how powerful questions are. There’s a lot of time that CIA invests in training you how to use questions. And it’s funny because, in grade school, we sometimes get the impression that the person asking questions is dumb. They’re stupid questions. Don’t ever get caught asking a stupid question. “Hey, if you’re the one asking questions, it means that you’re the one that doesn’t understand, and you’re the one that can’t keep up.” We’re taught at the CIA that questions are a very powerful tool to be able to take control of a conversation and actually begin persuasive suggestions to other human beings. When you ask questions, you direct the conversation. When you ask questions, you actually steer the thought process of the person who’s answering those questions. And even more powerful: When you’re asking questions, you’re leaving the human brain on the other side in a position where it’s forced to answer the question.  

Steve Shallenberger: How do you know what kind of questions to ask, Andrew? 

Andrew Bustamante: It’s a great question. So, there are two types of questions: There are open-ended questions, and then there are closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions are the questions that don’t have a simple answer. It’s not a yes, no, on, off, go, no-go type of question. All of those simple questions, those are called close-ended. Open-ended is when you ask somebody, “What do you think about something? Why do you believe in such and such? What was your experience with this other thing?” When you ask those types of questions, you invite the other person to look and think about the question introspectively, and then you just let them talk. And it’s amazing how much information people divulge about themselves, their beliefs, their thoughts, their intentions when they’re just given free rein to talk through an open-ended question.  

Steve Shallenberger: Have you found that each type of those questions, an open-end or closed-end has its place? How have you used them? 

Andrew Bustamante: Good question, really poignant and advanced question. So, you want to use open-ended questions to learn about a person. And then as you start to learn and assess a person’s beliefs, intentions, desires, then you can move to close-ended questions to get them to start landing on specific conclusions that drive them to take action. This is something salespeople do often. They’ll say, “What do you look for in a new car? What would you like to have? What type of safety features are important for your family?” And then the person answers those questions. And then as the salesperson moves them through the sales cycle to get them to buy a specific car, then they start saying things like, “You said you wanted safety belts in the backseat to keep your children safe, right?” And then that’s a closing question, so then the person says, “Yes.” And now they’re being led, they’re being persuaded to a conclusion that the salesperson is looking for.  

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s great. And how have you used spy tactics and techniques to build your business? 

Andrew Bustamante: My entire business is one giant model of what I teach. And it’s funny, I often joke with people that what I’m doing with my business is building the plane and flying it at the same time. I want my business to be one big example, one big case study in the very same principles that I’m teaching. When I talk to students, when I talk to clients, when I talk to anybody who might buy a product, or order one of my services, or book me for a private intelligence contract; I start out with questions to learn about their needs. And then when I discover what their needs are, I restate their needs in a closed-ended question fashion to get them to confirm their own needs. And then there are all sorts of things that we do on top of that, from building a conversation map to having a deliberate dialogue – different advanced techniques in the world of persuasion and influence, with the end goal being to, basically, just deliver as much value as possible. Because when you over-deliver on value, you win something called loyalty. And loyalty is extremely important in espionage, but it’s also extremely important in everyday life. 

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, how true. So, you’re using it all the time in your own business. 

Andrew Bustamante: All the time. My whole business is based on how to teach people spy skills in everyday life – that is the business. That is our mission, our vision, and our mantra. 

Steve Shallenberger: Andrew, if you had only five minutes to teach someone an awesome, useful spy hack, what would it be? 

Andrew Bustamante: So, what I would teach is I would teach people how to read another person’s mind. And it’s really not that hard. The five-minute hack for reading somebody’s mind is based on the concept of perception and perspective. So, we all live in our own heads. We all think that we’re the center of our own story. We’re the star of our own movie. And that’s based on caveman days – that’s survival instinct. If there’s a saber-toothed tiger, we’re the dinner and we need to stay alive. Well, we’ve carried that with us, even though we’ve evolved so much more past that in society. But even though we’ve evolved past that in terms of how we live our life, we haven’t cognitively outgrown that in our brain. So, now, instead of saber-toothed tigers, we’re focused on what’s on sale at Target? And “Is it going to be a snow day today?” Or whatever else might impact us specifically. When you realize that you yourself are trapped in your own perception, it becomes an opportunity for you to also recognize that every single other person is also trapped in their own perception. But then, if you want to gain an advantage over anyone else, all you have to do is stop thinking about yourself first. Start thinking about what is life like through this other person’s point of view. If you’re trying to close a client or close a deal, if you’re sitting across from somebody who’s a prospective client, if you’re managing 100 people and you want to find a way to incentivize and encourage them to work harder or work longer hours, all you have to do is just stop and ask yourself the question: “What does a day in their life look like? When they wake up, what time do they wake up? What kind of alarm clock? What kind of bed? What do they eat for breakfast? What is their drive? What’s their commute like? Do they have a reliable car? When they get into the office, do they like when they log in and see 500 emails that were sent to them over the weekend? Or does it make them feel overwhelmed?” When you take just a few minutes to reflect from a different perspective, you gain an informational advantage that turns into an actual tangible, unfair advantage that you can use in business and leadership. There are lots of nice ways of saying it, but the way that the CIA looks at it is that is how you read someone’s mind and use the information to get what you want. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, I’d like to just take that a little bit further, if you don’t mind, interject an observation I’ve made. Part of what I’ve done with my focus is really what sets apart high-performing individuals from everyone else? But not only that, high-performing teams from everybody else. And so I’ve had the honor and privilege of interviewing hundreds of CEOs, top leaders. And one of the things I’ve observed is really the very best leaders have the capacity to do what you just talked about. In other words, somehow they’re able to get out of their own mind and address the urgency to meet their agenda, whatever is on their list, and they push it aside and they just focus and learn about the other person or the situation. And because of that, this allows them to be a better leader because they understand the situation better. So, how have you found you’ve been able to do that? What are the best tricks of the trade? Because I found that many people just think of themselves first, I hate to say that. Not always, of course. You think about your best friends, they’re really kind of queued into you. But so many people I’ve seen, it’s about their world. So, how do you get out of your world and just enjoy the fact that you can take in somebody else’s? And as a result of taking in somebody else’s world, it puts you in a far better place. 

Andrew Bustamante: There are two ways – and nobody ever likes hearing the two ways, but this is the way that it is, and I’m not going to sugarcoat something for you – you can learn all things through training and practice. If you’re resistant to either training or practice, you’re not going to learn the new thing. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about guitar, or if we’re talking about riding motorcycles; you have to accept that you need to be trained, and you have to accept that you have to actively practice it. The CEOs, the leaders that you’ve interviewed, they had someone teach them this, they weren’t born with it. It’s not intrinsic. Remember, it’s human instinct to think about yourself first. So, that’s something that we’re all born with, that’s how our brain is originally wired. The only way to recondition, to rewire your brain is through some kind of educational or training-based process. And then once you learn the new skill, you have to keep practicing the new skill. Maybe you don’t want to always practice it with just your employees, practice it with your wife, with your spouse, with your children, practice it with your grandparents. Try to think about what life is like through their eyes, what’s it like to be married to you, instead of always wondering what it’s like for you to be married to your spouse. I guarantee you, you will see an almost immediate transformation when you start to take anticipatory action because you’re thinking about the other person’s needs. They will notice it. Even if they don’t notice why you’re doing it, they’ll notice that something happened, and they’ll get this very confused look. And I think to your point, the reason that these CEOs are so successful goes back to something that we said earlier on in the interview: when you deliver amazing overwhelming value to people, when you’re the kind of boss that overwhelms somebody with outstanding leadership and outstanding encouragement, you win their loyalty. And a loyal person is just as rare to find as a person who is deserving of your loyalty, which is why we cling to those relationships so strongly. 

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, great. Oh, I love it. Perhaps what leads to training, in other words, understanding a person just needs it is the awareness. And so the very thought that one says to themselves, “Hold it. I need to do this. I really need to just push back. And I’m going to listen first. I’m going to start listening to other people and I’m going to be curious about them, and how are they doing.” And the very moment they get to that point, then they’ll learn ways to do it. Then they can practice, and that’s the transformation that you’re describing starts taking place. 

Andrew Bustamante: Yeah, absolutely. It doesn’t take a lot of time. Especially not if you’re the kind of person who’s used to dictating ideas and dictating orders. It just takes a few minutes of opening a conversation with questions like, How are you feeling? What’s on your mind? What’s going on in your world? Just three or four minutes of that, and you’re gonna learn so much about the other person that you’ll be able to shape that person’s experience throughout the day. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, I love that. That’s great. I’m glad you brought it up. And what’s one of the biggest misconceptions people have about spies in real life? 

Andrew Bustamante: It’s the same one that I had when I got the phone call. When I got that phone call, I told you that I felt like “Oh, I must be a superhuman. I must be something really special.” The big misconception is that spies aren’t special. There’s nothing special about a spy. We’re not born spies. We’re not naturally smarter or stronger or faster — none of that’s true. We’re just everyday people. But what happens is in our everyday lives, we get a call, we get a tap on the shoulder, we get recruited out of the military, maybe we are specializing in business travel to someplace that’s of interest to the United States government. We’re doing something, and then we get this invitation to do something more. And what CIA is excellent at is training people to become spies. They can train anybody because they’ve always taken everyday people out of everyday lives and turned them into elite operators. When you recognize the fact that everyday people, all have the capacity to become elite, there’s something liberating about that, there’s something powerful about that. And that misconception that spies are born elite – because that’s what movies and Hollywood and books like to make it look like – when you let go of that, you realize just how much-untapped potential is out there in the human experience. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s great. You’re saying it applies everywhere. 

Andrew Bustamante: Everywhere. CIA has taken people with mental health issues, it’s taken people with missing limbs, it’s taken people that were autistic, it’s taken people of all races, all ages. They’ve taken people from all walks of life and turned them into elite operators to succeed in a specific mission. And that’s it. I mean, CIA is still the US government’s; when was the last time you heard someone say that US government was the best at anything? So, CIA has just learned how to do this process very well. Anybody can learn that process, and that’s what’s so powerful to me.  

Steve Shallenberger: That’s part of what you share, isn’t it?  

Andrew Bustamante: Absolutely because I believe in it wholeheartedly. I’ve seen it happen to me, I’ve seen it happen to my wife, I’ve seen it happen to my clients and my students. I’m on this train until it ends. 

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, that’s great. Just out of curiosity, I’m sure our listeners would be interested in this, Andrew — how are you trained to manage stress, fear, and nerves when you’re a field operator? 

Andrew Bustamante: So, there are a couple of answers here but I’ll keep it short. So, the most important thing to recognize is that fear is not a present tense, a present-mind moment kind of emotion. In your present moments, when you think about only what’s happening right now, there is no space for fear. Fear is a future-oriented emotion. You’re never afraid of what is happening, you’re afraid of what could happen, what might happen. Consider yourself standing next to a Doberman. If you stand next to a Doberman and it sits there quietly beside you, you’re not afraid of it. But if that same Doberman starts to growl and bare its teeth, now you’re afraid of it. But you’re not afraid of it, as right now, in the moment, it’s just a dog standing next to you; what you’re actually afraid of is, “When is it going to bite me? When is it going to tear my skin? When is it going to attack me?” And that’s what fear is. So, they teach us to look at fear as a future tense, a future state, and not a present state. Because when you’re in the present moment, you’re solutions-oriented. If you’re hungry right now, all you can think about is how do I eat. But if you’re worried about not having food tomorrow, you’re afraid of being hungry tomorrow, and you’re not thinking about solutions, you’re focused on your fear. So that’s how we’re trained to deal with, that’s how we’re trained to observe and interact with fear. And then fear induces stress, fear induces anxiety. And a lot of times just by living in the moment, in the present moment, and recognizing that you have a certain number of resources right now, certain realities that exist only right now, when you pour your energy into the present moment, and you make your decisions from that information and those resources, it transforms your relationship with stress, fear, and anxiety. 

Steve Shallenberger: So, in other words, what you do is just focus on the now and go to work. That probably has to take some real discipline, doesn’t it? 

Andrew Bustamante: It takes a lot of practice. Going back to our comment before, it takes a ton of practice. Because you start seeing fear in everything. It doesn’t help you – to use your word, Steve – when you become aware of what fear is, you start seeing it everywhere and becoming hyperaware of it, and then you have to practice just take a couple of deep breaths and let’s focus on right now; what is actually happening right now? What can I do with my current resources in this moment? And after you practiced that for a bit, then all the demons start to quiet down, and all the fear starts to become just kind of a distant noise. 

Steve Shallenberger: And I’d imagine then you feel less stress, you start feeling productive, and feel like you’re doing good things, right?  

Andrew Bustamante: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly what happens. You stop losing resources to stress and fear and anxiety. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s great. I’m glad we talked about that. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on that. I’m always blown away, Andrew, by how fast these interviews go. I mean, we’re getting towards the end of this, and I don’t want to miss this next question. This next question is: If you were going to give just a few tips to people from things that you’ve learned that would be helpful to them, some of the best things in their everyday life, in their relationships, but also in their work or professional responsibilities, what would be some of the most important ones you would share?  

Andrew Bustamante: We’ve hit a few of them on this call. So, I just want to recap those for sure. Lean into questions. Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. Even if you know the answer, you can still ask the question because it’s going to give you an informational advantage. And the more people engage with questions, the more they build relationships with you and learn to accept that your questions are what controls that conversation. The second thing we talked about was perception and perspective, and the importance of pulling yourself out of your own perception. Stop looking at yourself as the star of your own movie, and start practicing putting yourself in the shoes of other people who you would say are co-stars or supporting characters. Look at everybody else and how they engage in their own life because that gives you, again, an informational advantage, an unfair advantage in understanding them and their decision-making process and the things that they care about. And then just as a third thing that we didn’t discuss that I want to make sure everyone considers. Consider the fact that all human beings do what they believe is in their best interest. It’s something that we often call noble intent. Everyone is making decisions, everyone is taking actions that they honestly believe are in their own best interest. So, when you start to judge people and call them incompetent, or call them unscrupulous, or call them tricksters, or tricky, or scammers; remember that there’s some reason that they’re making the decision that they’re making, and they believe that that decision will serve them. If you practice perspective, you might be able to understand what it is that they’re seeing, you’ll be able to understand their decision even better. And honestly, if you’re trying to protect yourself from a threat, from someone who’s trying to scam you, or steal from you, or sell you something you don’t need, oftentimes, just that little practice of perspective helps make them human again; at the same time, it’s protecting you and your best interests. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s great advice. Thank you. This is going to be fun. I’m glad that we offer a transcript of our interview to people so they can study this, they can actually see it in print because people learn different ways, right?  

Andrew Bustamante: Absolutely.  

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, this is going to be great. Well, I’ve got a question maybe you’re not often asked, and then I’d like to just hear how people can learn more about what you’re doing. But that is with your skills, and your skills – you’ve really worked to use them for good, Andrew, congratulations. 

Andrew Bustamante: Thank you, sir. 

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, you bet. We live in kind of a troubled world, especially right now. We’ve seen some things happen in the last few weeks that are so disheartening for many of us. How do you engage in the world with your skills today? And how do you lift the world? What do you do? 

Andrew Bustamante: Steve, it’s a great question. It can be difficult sometimes to exercise some of the things we’ve talked about today, like perception and perspective, and acknowledging noble intent. When you watch Russia actively invade Ukraine, and when you watch China just shut down vast manufacturing plants again just today because of another COVID outbreak, and you see people suffering, and you see people out of work, and you see people troubled by what they think is an oppressive government or a changing time. And again, for me, I look at the present moments; what is happening in my life, in my moments, in the moments that I can tangibly affect my children, my wife, my clients when I sit with them, my parents when I’m on the phone with them and they’re talking and expressing their concerns and their fears. And I try to bring just a little bit of that clarity that CIA gave me to say that you have to accept that there are probabilities that face all of us, whether it’s the likelihood of getting hit by a car or the likelihood of your government declaring martial law. There are probabilities of everything. Dedicate yourself according to those probabilities that are most likely. And it’s most likely that I can control giving my kid a peanut butter sandwich, and that makes him happy and brings him some sense of peace in an otherwise troubled world. So, I would say the same thing to everybody who’s listening: CIA officers live in the exact same world as you and I. And the way that we cope with the troubled virtue, the troubled nature of our world is to just ask ourselves, “What can we affect in a positive way in this present moment?” And then do that. Because that’s what it takes to get you to the next present moment. And then you ask yourself the question again. 

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, fantastic. It’s a great response. Thank you. Well, how can people learn about what you’re doing, Andrew? 

Andrew Bustamante: I’ve got a couple of great options. If you’re a podcaster – and I know people like listening to your podcast, Steve – I have an iTunes top 100 podcast called the Everyday Espionage Podcast. So, if you just put in the Everyday Espionage Podcast into whatever your podcast platform is, you’ll go right to me, and I’ll be able to teach you a little bit more in every episode. And then if you’re a reader, if you like to browse things online, you can find me at my website, Just look for, and you’ll enter my whole world, my blog posts, my YouTube channel, all of the different offerings that I give to clients, and programs that I offer to civilians and to everyday people. And that’s the world that I want to invite you into because when you reach out through, you can connect with me and my wife and my whole private intelligence network, where we talk about how, not just me, but how all of my former CIA and former elite spy peers, how we all adopt and apply our spy skills in everyday life. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s great. And I’m excited to go there, so I can read your ebook on Everyday Espionage because it looks like it has some really great tips. I’m looking forward to that. 

Andrew Bustamante: I appreciate it, Steve. Thank you.  

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you, Andrew, for being part of this show today. And what an amazing discussion that we’ve had. We wish you the best in all that you’re doing as you’re working to make our world a better place. 

Andrew Bustamante: Yes, sir, Steve. I hope we all are, man. And if I can help one person do one thing a little bit better then that’s a mission accomplished for me. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you. And to our listeners, I am forever grateful for you. We are forever grateful for you. You inspire us. Grateful for your effort and work to become your best, that is an inspiration in itself. And we wish you a great day today and always. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.

Andrew Bustamante

Founder of EverydaySpy

Former CIA Intelligence Officer, Founder, Private Intelligence Consultant. 

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