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International Spy Lingo

Oct 01, 20043 mins
Critical InfrastructureIT LeadershipSocial Engineering

Spies have a lingo all their own. Here are some universal terms, courtesy of the International Spy Museum.

Are you head of security for a global corporation? Do you deal with international intelligence? Covert operations? If so, you need this list of spy lingo. It will give you a flavor for the universal truth about spies and spying: They have a colorful lingo. Here are some of the global terms to use when talking shop with security brethren in the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany and elsewhere, courtesy of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

agent: a person officially employed by an intelligence service

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 to influence national policy within a target country’s government or media

babysitter: bodyguard

bang and burn: demolition and sabotage operations

birdwatcher: slang used by British Intelligence for a spy

black operations: covert operations that are not attributable to the organization performing them

blowback: a deception planted abroad by an intelligence agency that returns to the originating nation with bad consequences

bombe: Polish electromagnetic device created to decipher three-rotor Enigma combinations; early precursor to the modern computer

brush pass: a brief encounter where something is passed between case officer and agent

burned: when a case officer or agent is compromised

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

Camp X: Canada’s secret domestic training base

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

chief of station: the officer in charge at a CIA station, usually in a foreign capital

cobbler: a spy who creates false passports, visas, diplomas and other documents

colossus: an electronic device that helped solve German cryptograms

covert action operation: an influence operation designed to affect foreign affairs

dangle: a person who approaches an intelligence agency with the intent of being recruited to spy against his or her own country

dezinformatsiya (disinformation): KGB term for its well-financed and multifarious program to manipulate the West with lies

Enigma: the machine used by the Germans to encode messages during World War II

friends: general slang for members of an intelligence service; specifically British slang for members of the Secret Intelligence Service

hospital: Russian slang for prison

illness: Russian slang for someone under arrest

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

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

MI-5: the British domestic counterintelligence service

MI-6: the British foreign intelligence service

naked: a spy operating without cover or backup

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

Okhrana: secret police under Russian tsars 1881-1917

pig: Russian intelligence term for traitor

plaintext: an original message before encryption

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

Red: American name for an early Japanese diplomatic cipher machine

rezident (resident): KGB chief of station in any foreign location

shoe: a false passport or visa

SIS: Secret Intelligence Service; another name for Britain’s MI-6

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!); the assassination division of the KGB

SOE: Special Operations Executive; Britain’s World War II sabotage and subversion organization

Stasi: East Germany’s Cold War domestic and foreign intelligence service

SVR: Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, formed on Dec. 18, 1991

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