In the realm of covert operations and intelligence analysis, the phrase “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth” is not just a saying but a governing principle.

As in many aspects of life, whether interpersonal conflicts, law enforcement investigations, or strategic national security decisions – identifying the “actual” side of a story is a complex endeavor that demands the critical assessment of multiple perspectives.

Understanding this concept is vital for covert operatives, law enforcement, and even civilians who seek to comprehend the multifaceted nature of reality.

The Three Perspectives

Your Side

From the viewpoint of tradecraft, “your side” of the story is essential for two reasons. First, it provides context. Whether it’s a defector telling you about an impending attack or an informant providing insight into an organization, their account is grounded in their own experiences and biases. Recognizing these biases isn’t just academic; it’s operational necessity.

Second, “your side” can present unique information not available from other sources. In covert ops, it’s often the outliers, the bits of intel that don’t quite fit with the rest, that prove the most valuable. Your side is thus not just a subjective account; it could be the missing piece of a puzzle.

My Side

As a covert operative, your own perspective is trained to be as objective as possible, yet it is inevitably colored by your background, your mission objectives, and the institutional culture of your agency. Just as you critically analyze the account given to you, so must you scrutinize your own perspective. While your side might offer a bird’s eye view of an event or operation, being embedded in the situation itself often limits your grasp of the entire context. Ignoring this fact can result in intelligence failures or compromised missions.

The Actual Side

Often, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but that’s an oversimplification. The “actual” side is the distillation of a plethora of data points, eye-witness accounts, surveillance, and intelligence reports into an objective reality. However, even this can be elusive. Covert ops, after all, are fraught with deception and counter-deception. Therefore, your tradecraft should involve continuously reconciling “your side” and “my side” to approximate the “actual” side as closely as possible.

Applications Across Domains

Covert Operative

In a covert operation, understanding the three perspectives helps in planning and executing missions with surgical precision. When infiltrating a target organization, for example, balancing your agency’s intelligence (“my side”) against the insights of informants within the organization (“your side”) can significantly enhance your operational efficiency.

Law Enforcement

In law enforcement, the “3 Sides” principle is often seen in investigative procedures. Police interrogations, eyewitness accounts, and forensics contribute to formulating a comprehensive understanding of a case. While each story may hold elements of truth, the objective is to piece together the most accurate depiction of events, helping to ensure justice is served.


Even for civilians, this framework is highly relevant. In any conflict or disagreement, recognizing that each party has their own version of events can pave the way for more effective communication and conflict resolution. Moreover, in an era rife with misinformation, the ability to dissect multiple viewpoints to uncover the “actual” side is an invaluable skill.

The “3 Sides to Every Story” is a principle deeply rooted in the nuances of human perception and the complexities of information gathering. It serves as an invaluable part of the tradecraft toolkit for covert operatives, an essential investigative technique for law enforcement, and a foundational principle for informed civilian discourse.

Remember, in the pursuit of the “actual” side, it’s not just about reconciling different viewpoints but synthesizing them into a narrative that most closely approximates the complex tapestry of reality. In a world where the stakes are high and the margins for error are low, the application of this principle can make all the difference.

[INTEL: How to Assess Your Surroundings Like an FBI Agent]