List of Espionage Terms

Espionage Hugh Fox

201 File – The file of an operative at CIA, with all his/her personal info, training and operation details.

Agent – A person unofficially employed by an intelligence service, often as a source of information.

Agent provocateur – An agent that pretends to support a target. However, the agents tempts the target to incriminate himself through action or words.

Agent-in-Place – A government employee who is influenced to cooperate with a foreign government instead of defecting; now working for two employers instead of one.

Agent-of-Influence – A person who works within the government or media of a target country to influence national policy.

Air America (aka AA) – The CIA’s air lines, used by CIA officers/operatives.

Analysis – drawing conclusions about raw information by assessing its significance and by collating it with other information.

Asset – A clandestine source or method, usually an agent.

Babysitter – Bodyguard

Backstop – An arrangement between two persons for the express purpose of substantiating a cover story or alibi.

Bagman – An agent who pays spies and bribes authorities

Bang and Burn – Demolition and sabotage operations

Biographical leverage – Blackmail info

Birdwatcher – Slang used by British Intelligence for a spy.

Black Bag Job – The secret entry into a home or office to steal or copy materials.

Black Operations – Covert operations that are not attributable to the organization performing them.

Black Propaganda – A disinformation that is deniable by (and not traceable to) its source

Black-flagged – An agent or intelligence officer who is to be interrogated and summarily shot if apprehended.

Blind date – The first meeting with an unknown person

Blowback (aka Flap) – Potential bad publicity that might result if a CIA operation is exposed.

Blown – Discovery of an agent’s true identity or a clandestine activity’s real purpose.

Blue-on-blue – Friendly fire, inadvertent hostile engagement between allies.

Bombe – Polish electro-magnetic device created to help decipher Enigma cipher machine settings; early precursor to the modern computer

Bona Fides – Proof of a person’s claimed identity.

BOX – Slang for the MI5

Brevity codes – A system of code-words used by members of a surveillance team.

Brick agent – An FBI agent who works inside a field office.

Bridge Agent – An agent who acts as a courier between a case officer and an agent in a denied area.

Bridge Officer/Bridge Agent – An operative who acts as a courier.

Briefed – When an Officer/Agent is told pertinent facts before executing an assignment, job, operation etc.

Brush contact – A clandestine, momentary contact between two agents who are passing information, documents, or equipment (also known as ‘brush pass’).

Brush Pass – A brief encounter where something is passed between case officer and agent

Bucar – an FBI car

Bugs – Electronic devices planted to spy on or track a target.

Burned – When an operative is deliberately sacrificed by his own agency to protect an operation.

Camp Swampy – CIA’s secret domestic training base (also known as “The Farm”)

Camp X – Canada’s secret domestic training base during World War II

Carnivore – Computer program designed by the FBI to allow the FBI (in compliance with court orders) to collect electronic communications from a specific user targeted in an investigation (at the exclusion of all other users’ transmissions)

Case Officer – A staff officer who manages agents and runs operations

Center – KGB headquarters in Moscow

Chase car – A security detail or bodyguard vehicle that follows the subject.

Cheka – Russian secret police founded in 1917 to serve the Bolshevik party; one of the many forerunners of the KGB

Chicken feed – Low grade information fed through a double agent to one’s adversary with the intention of building the credibility of the double agent.

Chief of Station – The officer in charge at a CIA station, usually in a foreign capital

CIA – Central Intelligence Agency; U.S.’s foreign intelligence gathering service

Cipher – A system for disguising a message by replacing its letters with other letters or numbers or by shuffling them

Clandestine Operation – An intelligence operation designed to remain secret

Clean – Unknown to enemy intelligence. Also means free of any kind of surveillance.

Cobbler – A spy who creates false passports, visas, diplomas and other documents

Code – A system for disguising a message by replacing its words with groups of letters or numbers

Codebook – A list of plain language words opposite their codeword or codenumber

Colossus – An electronic device that helped solve German cryptograms; the world’s first electronic computer

COMINT – All intelligence gathered from intercepted communications

Comm – a small note or other written communication from an underground organization or one of its members. They are typically written on cigarette wrappers, chewing gum wrappers, etc.

Commandment 11 – A most important rule for a spook, “Thou shalt not get caught!”.

Commando – A civilian, military, or paramilitary combat group using irregular tactics. Commando can refer to an individual, a cell, a squad, or the organization as a whole.

Commit – A surveillance operative performing the commit function is watching a location to determine the direction that the target takes

Compromised – When an agent or officer’s true identity or mission has been uncovered and the future of the operation is shaky.

Consumer – A person or an organization on an intelligence agency’s distribution list (also known as product)

Controller (aka Handler) – Officer in charge of a string of agents.

Cooked – A mixture of genuine and fake material provided via a double agent to one’s adversary.

Counterintelligence – The business of thwarting the efforts of foreign intelligence agencies; includes but is not limited to spy-catching

Courier – Delivers information

Cousins – Slang for the CIA

Cover – Persona, profession, purpose, activity, fictitious image maintained by an undercover operative.  The purported occupation or purpose of an agent; it must be consistent with the agent’s background and presence in the target area

Cover action agent – A spy who works to reorient an entire nation’s politics in favor of his country

Covert Action Operation – An operation designed to affect foreign affairs; may be lethal or non-lethal

Cowboy – CIA slang, an unflattering term that denotes an intelligence person who defies the rules, regulations and conventions and conducts himself in an unprofessional, flamboyant way. aka a “loose cannon”.

Cryptology – The science of codes.

CS gas – A form of tear gas, full name ortho-chlorobenzalmalanonitrile, used by cops, SWAT teams, and the military.

Cut-out – A mechanism or person used to allow agents to pass material or messages securely; also an agent who functions as an intermediary between a spymaster and other subagents. (aka ‘letterbox’).

Dangle – A person sent by the intelligence agency of his or her own country who approaches an intelligence agency in the hope of being recruited as a spy so as to allow a double agent operation for the purpose of intelligence collection or disinformation

Dead drop – A physical location where communications, documents, or equipment is covertly placed for another person to collect without direct contact between the parties

Decoy – distracts adversary’s attention (aka diversion)

Deep-cover agent – permanent cover

Defector – A person who has renounced his/her country of citizenship.

Dezinformatsiya [Disinformation] – The Soviet and Russian term for disinformation operations: operations designed to pass false information to the enemy

Dirty tricks – Covert sabotage carried out by a security service or intelligence agency, ranging from pranks to assassination.

Discard – An agent whom a service will permit to be detected and arrested so as to protect more valuable agents

Disinformation – False information purposely given to mislead.

DLS Class – Acronym for Daily Living Skills Class, for those living with a disability whether it be recent or born to – in this case if would be for officers/agents injured badly on assignment.

Dope book – A notebook kept with a sniper rifle for the purposes of recording the atmospheric conditions, range, lighting, and resulting hit or miss of every shot fired.

Double Agent – A spy who pretends to be working against one country but who is in fact working for that country’s opponent.

Dry Clean – Actions operatives take to determine if they are under surveillance or bugged.

Ears only – Material too secret to commit to writing

Element – A five-man SWAT team that consists of a team leader, scout, rear guard, and two assaulters. The rear guard provides cover for the scout and is usually armed with a 12-guage shotgun. The assaulters usually carry Heckler & Koch 9mm MP-5 submachine guns.

ELINT – Electronic intelligence; derived from the interception of radiation sources such as radars

Elliptical conversation – The person says one thing but means another.

Enigma – A cipher machine used by the Germans to encode messages during WWII

Escort – The operations officer assigned to lead a defector along an escape route

Executive action – assassination

Exfiltration Operation – A clandestine rescue operation designed to bring a operative

Expats – Citizens of one country who live in another

Eyes Only – Documents that are intended for the eyes of one specified person only

FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S.’s domestic counterintelligence service and federal law enforcement agency

Flaps and Seals – The tradecraft involved when making surreptitious openings and closings of envelopes, seals, and secure pouches.

Flash Classified – Second highest state of classified material. The order goes (starting w/ least important first); Routine, Priority, Immediate, Flash, Critical.

Floater – A person used one time, occasionally, or even unknowingly for an intelligence operation.

Floating box – A method of surveillance where a team of operators establishes a containment box around the target wherever he/she goes.

Follow – A surveillance team is executing a follow when they are shadowing a moving target.

Footfall detector – Vibration sensor designed to detect walking humans

Forensics – The use of science and technology to investigate and establish facts in criminal or civil courts of law.

Friend – Slang for an agent, informant, or mole providing information to a handler.

Friends – General slang for members of an intelligence service; specifically British slang for members of the Secret Intelligence Service.

Front – A legitimate-appearing business created by an intelligence agency or security service to provide cover for spies and their operations.

Funkspiel – Impersonation during electronic communications

Funny paper – Slang for the counterfeiting and forged documents section of an intelligence agency or security service.

Ghoul – Agent who searches obituaries and graveyards for names of the deceased for use by agents.

Handler – A case officer who is responsible for handling agents in operations.

Hard man – An experienced operative who can survive in a hostile environment and who has killed.

Hard target – A surveillance target who is actively maintaining secrecy and may not reveal that he/she has detected the surveillance team.

Honey trap – Slang for use of men or women in sexual situations to intimidate or snare others. This use of sex to trap or blackmail an individual is standard practice in intelligence operations.

Hooligan tool – A specialized tool much like a crowbar, developed by fire departments for prying open doors and windows.

Hospital – Russian slang for prison

Hostile – Term used to describe the organizations and activities of the opposition services.

Hostile recruitment – Recruitment by threat or force of an uncooperative informant, mole, or agent-in-place

HUMINT – Acronym/Slang for Human Intelligence, intelligence activities involving people rather than electronic eavesdropping or communications interception

Hunting pack – Slang for surveillance team

Illegal – An intelligence officer operating in a foreign nation without the protection of diplomatic immunity.

Illness – Russian slang for someone under arrest

IMINT – Imagery intelligence

Infiltration – The secret movement of an operative into a target area with the intent that his or her presence will go undetected.

Info war – Information Warfare, modern propaganda through misinformation

Informant – A legitimate member of a target group providing intelligence to the surveillance team.

Innocent postcard – A postcard with an innocuous message sent to an address in a neutral country to verify the continued security of an undercover operative.

Innocent Postcard – A postcard with an innocuous message sent to an address in a neutral country to verify the continued security of an undercover operative.

Intelligence officer – A trained member of an intelligence agency, an employee on salary

Interpol – An international police body that coordinates the intelligence gathering and investigative activities of member police forces.

Jedburghs – OSS and SOE term for teams dropped into Europe before D-Day to help resistance groups

Joe – A deep-cover agent

KGB – The Soviet Union’s all-powerful intelligence and security service during the Cold War.

Legend – A spy’s claimed background or biography, usually supported by documents and memorized details.

Loose Cannon (aka Cowboy) – CIA slang. An unflattering term that denotes an intelligence person who defies the rules, regulations and conventions and conducts himself in an unprofessional, flamboyant way.

L-Pill – A poison pill used by operatives to commit suicide.

MASINT – Measurement and signature intelligence; a form of technical collection that uses signatures that do not fit into the traditional scope of IMINT and SIGINT.

MI5 – The British domestic counterintelligence service; officially known as the Security Service.

MI6 – The British foreign intelligence service; officially known as the Secret Intelligence Service.

Microdots – Tiny photographs of messages, secret documents, or other images which are so small that they can only be read with a special magnifying viewer. A full-page document can be as tiny as 1 mm in width.

Mole – A person inside a government agency, usually an intelligence agency, who is obtaining information about that organization’s secrets and activities.

Music Box – Slang for a clandestine radio

Musician – Slang for a clandestine radio operator

Naked – A spy operating without cover or backup

Narcotherapy hypnosis – CIA interrogators use hypnosis to force regression in the prisoner to make him believe he is talking to his spouse. The prisoner is first prepared by pharmaceuticals according to the following protocol. 1. An injection of 10 mg sodium pentothal to render unconscious. 2. Wait 20 minutes. 3. An injection of 10 mg benzodrine to revive the prisoner to a state partway between waking and sleep. 4. Repeat step 3 if required. At the end of the interrogation a hypnotically induced amnesia is invoked.

Neutron bombardment – Used by security services like Britain’s MI.5, America’s FBI, Germany’s BfV, and France’s DST to detect microdots and invisible writing in postal mail.

Nightcrawler – A talent spotter who prowls bars and nightclubs looking for government employees, military personnel, etc. who can be compromised using booze, drugs, or sex

NSA – National Security Agency; branch of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for ensuring the security of American communications and for breaking into the communications of other countries; “No Such Agency”.

Nugget – British term for the bait (money, political asylum, sex, or career opportunity) used to offer a potential defector,

Nursemaid – Russian term for the security service officer who accompanies delegations to other countries to prevent anyone from defecting.

Officer – A staff employee of the agency. Officers in the field can submit to recruit agents as needed.

Okhrana – Secret police under Russian tsars 1881-1917

OMS – Is the acronym/slang for the CIA’s Office of Medical Services.

One-time Pad – Strings of random numbers for singular use as a key in enciphering messages; the proper use of a one-time pad renders a message mathematically unbreakable

OOS – Acronym for the Office of Security.

OP – Observation post

OSINT – Open source intelligence; intelligence information derived from publicly available sources.

OSS – Office of Strategic Services; U.S.’s WWII intelligence, sabotage, and subversion organization; “Oh So Secret,” “Oh Such Snobs,” “Oh So Social”.

Overt target – Deliberately attempts to draw attention and drain the resources of an intelligence agency or security service. Occasionally a decoy

Paroles – Passwords to identify intelligence personnel to each other

Pattern – The behavior and daily routine of an operative that makes his or her identity unique

Pavement artist – An outdoor surveillance specialist operating on foot.

PHOTINT – Photographic intelligence, usually involving high-altitude reconnaissance using spy satellites or aircraft

Picket surveillance – Focuses on times and places when target is likely engaged in activities of interest to the surveillance team.

Pickup – When the target of a surveillance operation is first spotted inside the stakeout box.

Pig – Russian intelligence term for traitor.

Pinhole camera – Video camera with fiber-optic lens attachment

Plaintext – The original message before encryption

Playback – To provide false information to the enemy while gaining accurate information from him or her.

Pocket Litter – Items in a spy’s pocket (receipts, coins, theater tickets, etc.) that add authenticity to his or her identity.

Product – Finished intelligence that has been evaluated by an intelligence agency and is ready for distribution to consumers.

Provocateur – An operative sent to incite a target group to action for purposes of entrapping or embarrassing them.

Psychic combat – A condition of active psychological warfare operations between two covert adversaries

Purple – American name for the Japanese diplomatic cipher machine used from 1939-1945.

QRF – Quick reaction force

RADINT – Intelligence gathered from radar

Raven – A male agent employed to seduce people for intelligence purposes.

Red – American name for an early Japanese diplomatic cipher machine.

Rezident [Resident] – KGB or GRU (Soviet and Russian military intelligence) chief of station in any foreign location

Rolled-up – When an operation goes bad and an agent is arrested

SA – FBI special agent

Safehouse – A dwelling place or hideout unknown to the adversary.

Sanitize – To delete specific material or revise a report or other document to prevent the identification of intelligence sources and collection methods.

Set up – To begin to conduct surveillance on a target.

Shoe – A false passport or visa

SIGINT – Signals intelligence; consists of COMINT (communications intelligence) and ELINT (electronic intelligence)

SIS – Secret Intelligence Service; the official name of Britain’s MI6

Sit rep – Situation report

Sleeper – Agent living as an ordinary citizen in a foreign country; acts only when a hostile situation develops

SMERSH – Short for “Smert Shpionam” (Death to Spies); a Soviet counterintelligence agency that existed from 1943 to 1946; made famous in the James Bond novels

SOE – Special Operations Executive; Britain’s WWII sabotage and subversion organization

Splashed – Describes a bodyguard whose client has been assassinated.

Spook – A spy

Spymaster – The leader of espionage activities and an agent handler extraordinaire.

Stasi – The East German Ministry for State Security; East Germany’s Cold War domestic and foreign intelligence service.

Station – Post from where espionage is conducted

Steganography – Techniques for concealing the very existence of a message (secret inks or microdots)

SVR [Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki] – The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki), formed on December 18, 1991.

Swallow – A female agent employed to seduce people for intelligence purposes

Target – the victim of surveillance, the subject.

TECHINT – Technical intelligence; analysis of fielded equipment for training, research, and the development of new weapons and equipment for eventual intelligence use

Terminated – Murdered.

The Company – What officers, agents and those on the inside call the CIA.

The Farm (aka Camp Swampy) – Insider slang for the CIA’s training camp/spy school, located in Virginia. Also known as Camp Perry.

The Take – Information gathered by intelligence collection operations

Thermal imager – A heat-sensitive surveillance video camera and display.

Throwaway – An agent/officer considered expendable.

Timed Drop – A dead drop that will be retrieved by a recipient after a set time period.

Tradecraft – The methods developed by intelligence operatives to conduct their operations

Traffic Analysis – Methods for gaining intelligence from the patterns and volumes of messages of communications intercepts

Trigger – a surveillance operative who is watching the target’s vacant vehicle, home, garage, office, restaurant etc. and who alerts the rest of the surveillance team when the target is spotted

U-2 – The world’s most famous spy plane, developed by the U.S. specifically for intelligence collection in the thin atmosphere 55,000 feet above the Soviet Union; it is still in use today.

Ultra – Codename for intelligence derived from decryption of messages encrypted by the German Enigma cipher machine during WWII.

Uncle – Headquarters of any espionage service

UNSUB – An unknown subject in a surveillance operation.

VCP – Vehicle Control Point

Walk-in – A defector who declares his or her intentions by walking into an official installation and asking for political asylum or volunteering to work in-place.

Watch-list – People targeted for routine surveillance

Wet job – Slang for an operation in which blood is shed.

Wheel artist – An outdoor surveillance specialist operating in a vehicle.

White Coats or Spooks in White – Is inside slang for CIA doctors/physicians.

Wilderness of mirrors – A spy operation so complicated that it is no longer possible to separate truth and untruth.

Window Dressing – Ancillary materials that are included in a cover story or deception operation to help convince the opposition or other casual observers that what they are observing is genuine.
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8 responses to “List of Espionage Terms

  1. Best list of spy terminology I have seen on the web – Well Done!

  2. Much appreciated!

  3. Richard Rabatin

    Hi Mr. Fox: Great list! I’m trying to recall the name in English of the crone KGB snitches at the bottom floor doorway of every apartment house in Moscow. My memory, vague as it is, come up with something like durashnaya (sp?). Does that at all ring a bell?

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