Spy terms & phrases
Glossary of Spy Terms
action officer – The case officer designated to perform an operational act during a clandestine operation, especially in hostile territory.
agent – A person, usually a foreign national, who has been recruited by a staff case officer from an intelligence service to perform clandestine missions.
agent-in-place – An agent serving as a penetration into an intelligence target who has been recruited or has volunteered to stay in place.
ambush – The surprise capture and arrest of a case officer in an act of espionage by an opposing counterintelligence or security service.
(the) Appendix – The tower in Lubyanka that houses the KGB’s most sensitive departments. It is a nine-story tower that connects the old and new wings of the building and overlooks an inner courtyard.
asset – A clandestine source or method, usually an agent.
bailout point – The point, during a vehicular run under surveillance, at which the action officer riding as a passenger is planning to bail out of the car in order to elude surveillance.
bang and burn – Demolition and sabotage operations.
BIGOT- list A list of the names of all persons who are privy to the plans for a sensitive intelligence operation; it dates back to World War II when Allied orders for officers were stamped TO GIB for those being sent to Gibraltar for preparations for the invasion of North Africa; later their orders were stamped BIG OT (TO GIB backwards) when they were sent back to begin planning Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy.
black bag job – A surreptitious entry operation usually conducted by the FBI against a domestically located foreign intelligence target.
black operations – Clandestine or covert operations not attributable to the organization carrying them out.
bona fides – An operative’s true identity, affiliation, or intentions.
bridge agent – An agent who acts as a courier or go-between from a case officer to an agent in a denied area.
brief encounter – Any brief physical contact between a case officer and an agent under threat of surveillance.
brush pass – A brief encounter where something is passed between a case officer and an agent.
bumper-lock – A harassing move in which vehicular surveillance follows the target officer so closely that the surveilling car’s front bumper is almost locked to the rear bumper of the target car.
burned – When a case officer or agent is compromised, or a surveillant has been made by a target, usually because they make eye contact.
bust-out – A leak of electronic communications from a secure enclosure before they are encrypted by the code machine.
cam-car – A vehicle equipped with a concealed camera used for clandestine casing and surveillance operations.
(the) Camp (also Camp Swampy) – A nickname for the CIA’s secret domestic training base.
case officer – An operations officer serving as an official staffer of an intelligence service.
casuals – Casual observers to a surveillance exercise; nonparticipants visible in the area.
(the) cellar – The room in the cellar of Lubyanka Prison where Russian intelligence executed traitors prior to WWII.
(the) Center – Russian intelligence headquarters in Moscow.
Cheka – Russian secret police founded in 1917 to serve the Bolshevik Party; one of the many forerunners of the KGB.
chokadar – A gatekeeper commonly used in the Asian Subcontinent for guarding the entrances to walled compounds.
chokepoint – A narrow passage-such as a bridge, tunnel, or Metro station-used as a surveillance or countersurveillance tool for channeling the opposing force or monitoring their passage.
CIA – The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, formed in 1947 to conduct foreign intelligence collection, covert action, and counterintelligence operations abroad. Also responsible for providing finished intelligence to U.S. policymakers.
CID – The Clandestine Imaging Division of the Office of Technical Service of the CIA. Responsible for providing technical support to clandestine agent operations in the form of photography, secret writing, and video surveillance.
(the) Citadel – A supersecret department in U.S. intelligence responsible for collecting foreign signals and communications intelligence.
clandestine operation – An intelligence operation designed to remain secret as long as possible.
Clandestine Service – The operational arm of the CIA responsible for classic espionage operations, usually with human assets. Also known as the Directorate of Operations (DO) and formerly the Directorate of Plans (DP).
CLOAK – A sensitive disguise and deception illusionary technique first deployed by the CIA in Moscow during the mid-1970s.
code – A system used to obscure a message by use of a cipher, mark, symbol, sound, innocuous verse, or piece of music. (“Two lanterns in the church tower . . .”)
COMINT – Communications intelligence, usually gathered by technical interception and code breaking, but also by use of human agents and surreptitious entry.
commo, communications – The various forms of secure electronic and nonelectronic communications used in clandestine operations.
commo plan – The various secret communications methods employed with a particular agent.
compartmenting: vertical; lateral; double – The various ways that information is held to only those who “have-a-need-to-know” in an organization. Vertical denies information up or down the chain of command, and lateral denies information from peer groups. Double is spoofing the original group who held the information into believing the operation has ended when it has simply moved to a new compartment.
compromised – When an operation, asset, or agent is uncovered and cannot remain secret.
concealment device – Any one of a variety of innocuous devices used to secretly store and transport materials relating to an operation.
control – In a surveillance exercise, the one directing the team remotely, usually by electronic communications.
controller – Often used interchangeably with handler, but usually means a hostile force is involved-that is, the agent has come under control of the opposition.
cover stop – A stop made while under surveillance that provides an ostensibly innocent reason for a trip.
covert action operation (CA) – An operation kept secret for only a finite period of time, or an operation whose real source remains secret because the operation is attributed to another source.
cryptonym – Code name; crypt or crypto for short, always capitalized. GT and CK prefixes to code names are used to identify the nature of the clandestine source. These two prefixes were both “diagraph” identifiers for the Soviet and East European program during this period. The diagraph is used in front of the cryptonym of the source as a more formal way of referring to the subject, not unlike putting “Mr.” in front of “Smallwood.”
cutout – A mechanism or person that acts as a compartment between the members of an operation but which allows them to pass material or messages securely.
DAGGER – A sophisticated disguise first used in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
dangle operation – An operation in which an enticing intelligence target is dangled in front of an opposition service in hopes they will think him or her a bona fide recruit. The dangle is really a double agent.
DCI – The Director of Central Intelligence.
DDO – The Deputy Director of Operations of the CIA, and head of all HUMINT operations; formerly the DDP.
DDP – The Deputy Director of Plans (see DDO).
dead drop – A secret location where materials can be left in concealment for another party to retrieve. This eliminates the need for direct contact in hostile situations.
dead telephone – A signal or code passed with the telephone without speaking.
defector – A person who has intelligence value who volunteers to work for another intelligence service. He may be requesting asylum or can remain in place.
DGI – Dirección General de Inteligencia; the Cuban intelligence service.
DIRECTOR – The cable address of CIA Headquarters.
DIRTECH – The headquarters cable address of the Office of Technical Service.
DO and DODO – The Directorate of Operations of the CIA and the Directorate of Operations Duty Office, where all espionage communications worldwide are managed from CIA Headquarters.
double agent – An agent who has come under the control of another intelligence service and is being used against his original handlers.
Dzerzhinsky Square – Historic site in Moscow of Lubyanka Prison, longtime headquarters of the Soviet security organs, including Cheka, NKVD, and KGB. Now the headquarters of the FSB, the internal security service that replaced the Second Chief Directorate of the KGB.
EEI – Essential elements of information; an outline to be used for collecting intelligence on a particular topic.
EEO complaint – A complaint leveled at a supervisor or peer regarding unlawful discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Amendment.
ELINT – Electronic intelligence, usually collected by technical interception, such as telemetry from a rocket launch collected by receivers at a distance.
(the) Emerald City – The code name the Special Surveillance Team used for the CIA Headquarters Building during their exercises.
escort officer – The operations officer assigned to lead a defector along an exfiltration route.
EXCOM – The Executive Committee of the CIA, made up of the deputy directors and chaired by the executive director (EXDIR).
exfiltration operation – A clandestine rescue operation designed to get a defector, refugee, or operative and his or her family out of harm’s way.
(the) eye – The person on the surveillance team who has the target under visual observation at any given moment.
film loop – A loop of film used to project or record a sequence of images on a continuous basis.
FINESSE – Sensitive disguises developed by the CIA using a Hollywood consultant and contractors.
First Chief Directorate (First CD) – The foreign intelligence arm of the KGB, now known as the SVR.
FLASH – The highest precedence for CIA cable communications.
FLIR – Forward-looking infrared device.
foots (feet) – Members of a surveillance team who are working on foot and riding as passengers in a surveillance car.
(the) Forest – New location of KGB headquarters outside of the Moscow Ring Road.
FSB – Internal security service in Russia, successor to the KGB’s Second Chief Directorate (internal counterintelligence).
GAD – The Graphics and Authentication Division of the Office of Technical Service, responsible for operational disguise and false documentation capabilities for the CIA.
GAMBIT – A highly sensitive disguise developed for the CIA with the help of their Hollywood consultant. It was first used in Indochina in 1971.
ghost surveillance – Extremely discreet and seemingly omnipresent surveillance, working mostly out of the view of the target.
GRU – The Soviet military intelligence organization.
(the) Hole – The special security enclosure where the KGB’s Kapelle device was kept.
hostile service, surveillance, etc. – Terms used to describe the organizations and activities of the “opposition services,” aka “the enemy.”
HUMINT – Human intelligence, collected by human sources, such as agents.
HVA – East German foreign intelligence service.
illegal – A KGB operative infiltrated into a target country and operating without the protection of diplomatic immunity.
IMINT – Image intelligence, usually collected by high-altitude planes or space vehicles.
IMMEDIATE – The second-highest precedence for CIA cable communications.
impersonal communications – Secret communication techniques used between a case officer and a human intelligence asset when no physical contact is possible or desired.
infiltration operation – The covert moving of an operative into a target area with the idea that his presence or true affiliation will go undetected for the appropriate amount of time.
Internal Operations – CIA operations inside the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War.
in the black – Surveillance-free for a time span greater than a few seconds.
in the gap – Surveillance-free for a few seconds but not as long as a minute.
in the wind – When a target of surveillance has escaped and left for parts unknown.
IOC, Internal Operations Course – A special training course devised for those being assigned to the Soviet Bloc.
KAPELLE device – A supersecret communications security device used by the KGB.
KGB – The all-powerful intelligence and security service of the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. Ultimate successor to Cheka. Disbanded into the SVR and the FSB in 1991.
First CD – First Chief Directorate of the KGB; foreign intelligence.
legend (cover) – The complete cover story developed for an operative.
local agent – An agent recruited in a particular target area to do a local task.
lockstep – When a surveillance team is following so close on foot they seem to be moving in lockstep with the target.
“L” pill – A lethal cyanide capsule issued to intelligence operatives who would prefer to take their own life rather than be caught and tortured.
Lubyanka – The prison on Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow that is the traditional headquarters of the Soviet intelligence services. Now occupied by the FSB.
METKA – A KGB umbrella program that encompassed research on all their various tagging and marking substances, like spy dust.
microdot – A photographic reduction of a secret message so small it can be hidden in plain sight under the period at the end of this sentence.
MI5 – The British domestic and foreign counterintelligence service responsible for national internal security.
mili-man – A militia man; a member of the national police force under the Soviet Ministry of Justice.
MI6 – The British foreign intelligence service.
mole – A human penetration into an intelligence service or other highly sensitive organization. Quite often a mole is a defector who agrees to work in place.
Moscow rules – The ultimate tradecraft methods for use in the most hostile of the operational environments. During the Cold War, Moscow was considered the most difficult of operating environments.
Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence service.
NE Division – The Near East Division of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations.
NIACT – The CIA cable slug that indicates that “night action” is necessary.
NKVD – The Soviet security and intelligence service from 1934 to 1946.
NOC – A CIA case officer operating under nonofficial cover, similar to the KGB illegal.
OC, Operations Course – The eighteen-week course that all CIA case officers take at the beginning of their careers.
OGPU – The Soviet intelligence and security service from 1923 to 1934.
Okhrana – The secret police under the Russian czars, 1881-1917.
one-time pad (OTP) – Sheets of paper or silk printed with random five-number group ciphers to be used to encode and decode enciphered messages.
OP – An observation post manned by a static surveillant.
operative – An intelligence officer or agent operating in the field.
opposition – The enemy service; any hostile operational force.
Ops Fam Course – The Operations Familiarization Course; a six-week course for CIA staffers who work with case officers in the field.
optical system – A tracking system that uses optical marks and sensors.
OSS – The Office of Strategic Services; forerunner of the CIA, 1942-1945.
OTS – The Office of Technical Service, formerly the Technical Services Division, the CIA’s technical arm of the Clandestine Service. Develops and deploys technical tradecraft needed for clandestine and covert operations.
overhead platform – A technical platform, aboard an airplane or satellite, used for technical surveillance and reconnaissance.
OWVL – One-way voice link; shortwave radio link used to transmit prerecorded enciphered messages to an operative, who is usually working in place in a hostile area.
passive probe – Someone sent on an intelligence mission just to passively observe and record details about the target location or organization.
pattern – The overt behavior and daily routine of an operative that makes his identity unique.
PDB – The president’s daily brief, the CIA briefing document delivered to the president of the United States first thing each day. It is always accompanied by a senior CIA officer.
personal meeting – A clandestine meeting between two operatives, always the most desirable but a more risky form of communication.
PHOTINT – Photographic intelligence; renamed IMINT, image intelligence. Usually involves high-altitude reconnaissance using spy satellites or aircraft.
pianist – A Kapelle operator. Also used to describe a clandestine radio operator.
PLASMA – A secret technique or device used to defeat a lock.
point – The member of the surveillance team who is following the target from the closest position, the point position.
prober – An operative assigned to test border controls before an exfiltration is mounted. Usually a specialist in false documents.
profile – All the aspects of an operative’s or a target’s overt physical or behavioral persona.
provocateur – An operative sent to incite a target group to action for purposes of entrapping or embarrassing them.
provocative – A harassing act or procedure designed to flush out surveillance.
put up a signal – To clandestinely signal another operative or secret source, as in putting up a signal like a chalk mark on a light pole.
Q Branch – The fictional part of the British intelligence service (MI6) that provides spy gadgetry to James Bond. OTS is the real “Q.”
rabbit – The target in a surveillance operation
remote viewing – The paranormal ability of a subject to have an out-of-body view of a facility or person from an extremely remote position.
repro – Making a false document.
rezident – A KGB chief of station in a foreign location, usually under diplomatic cover.
rezidentura – A KGB station, usually located in their embassy in a foreign capital.
Roll-out – a surreptitious technique of rolling out the contents of a letter without opening it. It can be done with two knitting needles or a split chopstick.
rolled up – When an operation goes bad and the agent is arrested.
rolling car pickup – A clandestine car pickup executed so smoothly that the car hardly stops at all and seems to have kept moving forward.
RYBAT – A code word meaning that the subject matter is extremely sensitive.
safe house – An apartment, hotel room, or other similar site considered safe for use by operatives as a base of operations or for a personal meeting.
Sanctum – The secure location of a KAPELLE device in a Soviet stronghold abroad.
SB – Special Branch; usually the national internal security and domestic counterintelligence service.
SDR – Surveillance detection run; a route designed to erode or flush out surveillance without alerting them to an operative’s purpose.
Second Chief Directorate (Second CD) – The counterintelligence arm of the KGB responsible for domestic counterintelligence. Currently known as the FSB.
secret writing – Any tradecraft technique employing invisible messages hidden in or on innocuous materials. This includes invisible inks and microdots, among many other variations.
security service – Usually a country’s internal counterintelligence service.
SE Division – The Soviet and East European Division of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) during the latter part of the Cold War.
sensing device – A technical sensor designed to react to a concealed mark, chemical compound, or passive element.
Seventh Directorate – The internal surveillance arm of the KGB. These are the watchers that include the mobile surveillance teams and the technical eavesdroppers.
SIGINT – Signals intelligence; the amalgamation of COMINT and ELINT into one unit of intelligence gathering dealing with all electronic emanations and transmissions.
signals – Any form of clandestine tradecraft using a system of marks, signs, or codes for signaling between operatives.
silver bullet – The special disguise and deception tradecraft techniques developed under Moscow rules to help the CIA penetrate the KGB’s security perimeter in Moscow.
SIS – Senior Intelligence Service of the CIA, which assigns the executive ranks equivalent to a general in the military. So an SIS-1 is equal to a one-star general.
SITREP – Situation report, sent to CIA headquarters during an operation or crisis.
Sixteenth Directorate – The science and technology directorate of the KGB.
smoking-bolt operation – A covert snatch operation in which a special entry team breaks into an enemy installation and steals a high-security device, like a code machine, leaving nothing but the “smoking bolts.”
SPO – Security Protective Officer at CIA headquarters responsible for providing physical security.
spoofing – A ploy designed to deceive the observer into believing that an operation has gone bad when, in fact, it has been put into another compartment.
spy dust – A chemical marking compound developed by the KGB to keep tabs on the activities of a target officer. Also called METKA. The compound is made of nitrophenyl pentadien (NPPD) and luminol.
SST – Special Surveillance Team, formed at OTS to simulate hostile surveillance tactics in training simulations.
staff agent – A CIA staff officer without access to CIA secure facilities or classified communications.
stage management – Managing the operational stage in a deception operation, so that all conditions and contingencies are considered: point of view of the hostile forces and the casual observers, physical and cultural environments, etc.
star-burst maneuver – A countersurveillance ploy in which more than one target car or target officer is being followed and they suddenly go in different directions, forcing the surveillance team to make instant choices about whom to follow.
Stasi – East German State Security; included internal security, counterintelligence, and foreign intelligence collection.
stronghold – A foreign-based Soviet mission.
Sun Tzu – The Chinese general who wrote The Art of War in about 400 b.c.
Surreptitious Entry Unit – Unit in OTS whose specialty was opening locks and gaining access to enemy installations for the purpose of supporting bugging operations.
SVR – The Russian foreign intelligence service that succeeded the KGB’s First Chief Directorate.
swallow – A female operative who uses sex as a tool.
TDY – Temporary duty assignment.
technical operations officer – An OTS officer responsible for working with the case officers in the field and providing all manner of tradecraft techniques.
techs – The technical officers from OTS.
timed drop – A dead drop that will be retrieved if it is not picked up by the intended recipient after a set time.
tosses (hand, vehicular) – Tradecraft techniques for placing drops by tossing them while on the move.
tradecraft – The methods developed by intelligence operatives to conduct their operations.
trunk line – A major electronic communications line, usually made up of a bundle of cables.
TSD – See OTS.
tunnel sniffers – Technical air sampler sensors designed to sniff for hostile substances or parties in a dark tunnel system.
201 file – The file at CIA that contains all the personal information on a staff officer or an agent, including any training and operational details unique to the person.
volunteer – See walk-in.
walk-in – A defector who declares his intentions by walking into an official installation, or otherwise making contact with an opposition government, and asking for political asylum or volunteering to work in place. Also known as a volunteer.
warming room – A location out of the weather where a surveillance team can go to keep warm and wait for the target.
watcher team – A surveillance team usually assigned to a specific target.
window dressing – Ancillary materials that are included in a cover story or deception operation to help convince the opposition or casual observers that what they are observing is genuine.
Wizards – An ad hoc collection of top U.S. scientists, researchers, and other technical experts assembled from time to time by OTS to consult on a one-of-a-kind problem.
(The) Year of the Spy – The year 1985 was labeled “The Year of the Spy” by the media because of the number of espionage-related incidents that came to light that year. Unbeknownst to the media and the CIA at the time, several other significant spying ventures started during this same year and would not come to light until years later.
ZEPHYRs – A cadre of CIA case officers who were specially trained to operate in hostile areas like Moscow during the Cold War.
(the) zone – The area set aside in Washington, D.C., by the Special Surveillance Team (SST) to run simulations against the ZEPHYRs.
© MMII Antonio and Jonna Mendez