Note: This is part of a series. You can read part one here.

I walk around this town feeling like I am in a dream, and the only one who knows it is a dream.

Everyone else around me is oblivious. It is like walking around knowing a secret, and feeling hyper-aware that there is so much more going on behind the scenes. I have taken the proverbial pill, and seen the Matrix. My eyes have been opened.

I’ve started the first phase of field tradecraft training, and the city is my training ground. I drive around, trying to determine whether or not I have surveillance on me. I try to locate spots suitable for clandestine operational acts, as well as for developmental meetings at restaurants, cafes, and local tourist sites. My head is a blur half the time, trying to learn these new skills. I ride buses, subways, take taxis, drive, and walk. I see parts of the city I would never have seen otherwise.

All the while, the ‘regular people’ around me have no idea what I am doing. If I am doing it right, they do not know that I am in espionage training, setting up fake meetings, leaving chalk marks, making dead drops, and signaling simulated ’emergency’ meetings. All the while, they go about their normal business. Unaware. Oblivious.

Entering CIA headquarters is also a surreal experience. It is like walking onto a movie set, or into the inner sanctum of the Vatican. At any time, you feel like you might walk past an aging JFK (“Hey, you’ve been here the whole time?!”) or see a TV screen with a live feed of Muammar Qaddafi’s bedroom (now that would be terrifying, indeed).

The relatively low salary at which they start us (fully half of what I was making when as a SEAL officer) is made up for with the sheer wonderment at the job. It is almost hard to believe that they pay us at all to do this work. I would probably do it for free.

In the training, I write—constantly—for hours at a time, until my eyes hurt and go blurry. I wear a suit most of the time, which is as far as it gets from my uniform of the day at the SEAL team (PT shorts and a t-shirt). I labor through learning how to build rapport with a potential agent, while trying not to look like a jackass in the process. You like books? I love books, too! Smooth.