Language of Espionage

If you expect to make it out there, you’re going to need to learn the lingo. Put in the work here and you’ll be talking the talk in no time.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z


 

A

Agent

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

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

Asset

A clandestine source or method, usually an agent


 

B

Babysitter

Bodyguard

Bagman

An agent who pays spies and bribes authorities

Bang and Burn

Demolition and sabotage operations

Birdwatcher

Slang used by British Intelligence for a spy

Black Bag Job

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

Blowback

A deception planted abroad by an intelligence agency to mislead another country that returns to the originating nation with bad consequences

Blown

Discovery of an agent's true identity or a clandestine activity's real purpose

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

Bridge Agent

An agent who acts as a courier from a case officer to an agent in a denied area

Brush Pass

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

Burned

When a case officer or agent is compromised


 

C

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

Cheka

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

Chicken Feed

Genuine, but not seriously damaging, intelligence knowingly provided to an enemy intelligence agency through an agent or a double agent to establish his bona fides

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

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

Compromised

When an operation, asset, or agent is uncovered and cannot remain secret

Controller

Officer in charge of agents (a handler)

Counterintelligence

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

Cover

The purported occupation or purpose of an agent; it must be consistent with the agent's background and presence in the target area

Covert Action Operation

An operation designed to affect foreign affairs; may be lethal or non-lethal

Cryptology

The science of secret writing in all its forms

Cut-out

A mechanism or person used to create a compartment between the members of an operation to allow them to pass material or messages securely; also an agent who functions as an intermediary between a spymaster and other subagents


 

D

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 secret location where materials can be left for another party to retrieve

Dezinformatsiya [Disinformation]

The Soviet and Russian term for disinformation operations: operations designed to pass false information to the enemy

Discard

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

Double Agent

A spy who pretends to be working against one country but who is in fact working for that country’s opponent; often a conduit for disinformation

Dry Clean

Actions agents take to determine if they are under surveillance


 

E

ELINT

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

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

Exfiltration Operation

A clandestine rescue operation designed to bring a defector, refugee, or an operative and his or her family out of harm's way

Expats

Citizens of one country who live in another

Eyes Only

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


 

F

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

Floater

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

Friends

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


 

G

Ghoul

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


 

H

Handler

A case officer who is responsible for handling agents in operations

Honey Trap

Slang for use of men or women in sexual situations to intimidate or snare others

Hospital

Russian slang for prison

HUMINT

Intelligence collected from human sources


 

I

Illegal

KGB/SVR operatives infiltrated into a target country without the protection of diplomatic immunity, having assumed new identities and even new ethnicities

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

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


 

J

Jedburghs

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


 

K

KGB

The Soviet Union's all-powerful intelligence and security service during the Cold War


 

L

L-Pill

A poison pill used by operatives to commit suicide

Legend

A spy's claimed background or biography, usually supported by documents and memorized details


 

M

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

Mole

An agent of one organization sent to penetrate a specific intelligence agency by gaining employment; a term popularized by John Le Carre

Music Box

Slang for a clandestine radio

Musician

Slang for a clandestine radio operator


 

N

Naked

A spy operating without cover or backup

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) offered to a potential defector

Nursemaid

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


 

O

Okhrana

Secret police under Russian tsars 1881-1917

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

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”


 

P

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

PHOTINT

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

Pig

Russian intelligence term for traitor

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

Provocateur

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

Purple

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


 

R

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

RQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

A medium-sized, long-endurance asset for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition in moderate risk areas


 

S

Sanitize

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

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

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

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


 

T

TECHINT

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

The Company

An unofficial term for the CIA popularized by fiction

The Take

Information gathered by intelligence collection operations

Throwaway

An agent 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


 

U

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


 

W

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

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