James Bond, as everyone knows, only answers to one person: M. And despite his regular threats to resign, he will carry on serving Queen and country forever, it seems.
In the real world, though, spies retire or even change careers, and now they are coming out of the shadows to offer their services to paying clients.
Around 100 former intelligence officers from MI6, the CIA, FBI, KGB and Mossad are available for hire through Spyex, the world’s first talent agency for current and former spies.
Among them are the senior CIA officer who brought Sergei Skripal from Moscow to London in 2010 and the female analyst who helped track down Osama bin Laden in 2001.
Some will be anonymous even to those who pay for their services. Others, including agents whose cover has been blown in the past, work under their real names.
They will not, it must be said, be allowed to do any actual spying for their clients, but many of them can be seconded to workplaces to solve problems, advise on security threats or even help authors bring authenticity to spy novels.
Francis Jago, Spyex marketing director, said: “They can distil tens of billions of dollars’ worth of government training and development and pass on the benefit of that to clients.
“They all have different skills, but if you want to get better at recruiting people and motivating them, for example, you can hire an intelligence officer who has spent their career recruiting agents in the field.”
‘There are superhumans in all of us’
Among the international roster of intelligence workers on Spyex’s books is CIA analyst Gina Bennett, whose work tracking down Osama bin Laden helped inspire Jessica Chastain’s character in the Oscar-nominated film Zero Dark Thirty.
It was Ms Bennett, a 55-year-old mother of five, who first alerted the CIA to the threat from bin Laden and his movement in the early 1990s, before it became known as al-Qaeda, and she stayed on the case until bin Laden was hunted down and killed in Pakistan in 2011.
She told The Telegraph: “I really enjoy problem solving. I’m a visual thinker and I will often draw a problem to understand it before I try to find a solution. I will tend to look at a problem and come at it in a different way from the person I am working with, and these are not classified techniques.
“I already teach ethics courses at Georgetown University. I love showing how you can de-escalate conflict in a mutually respectful way, and that works in business as well as in government.”
Ms Bennett, who will retire from the CIA in May, already has permission to do external work as long as the CIA knows about it (even her conversation with The Telegraph required prior clearance).
She says one of the lessons she can pass on is that while many people see spies as superhuman beings, “we are not stoic machines, we have the same problems as the next person. We are not James Bond and we struggle with the sort of things everyone struggles with.”
Or, as Mr Jago puts it: “We believe really fervently that there are superheroes trapped inside most of us, and that with the right training and experience we can shine.”
Spyex was the brainchild of Lisa Paul, an events manager, who launched a podcast about spying and got to know some of the intelligence workers who are now on Spyex’s books.
Each of them was recruited through personal recommendations by fellow spies, and all operate within the constraints of the Official Secrets Act or their national equivalent.