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Understanding Cold War spook terminology

These definitions should be helpful when trying to determine the truthfulness of various claims in various books and to help the reader decide for themselves, how  certain events and actions can reasonably be interpreted.


Accommodation Address (AA) or Mail Drop (MD) A cut-out address/coordinate/place used to receive mail. Mail may be held for pick-up or forwarded to other location. Provides "distance" between agent and whoever is running him/her.


Agent Agents are run by case officers and may be witting or unwitting as to who they are really working for. Such operations that include the running of an agent must necessarily include meetings for the purpose of debriefing, the provision of training, and provision of moral, technical and financial support.


Agent recruitment A recruitment attempt is only done after a longish period of assessment (surveillance/background checks/face to face interviews/psych evaluations), vetting processes and development by a case officer (or team). A potential agent's motivation and vulnerabilities are the keys to successful recruitment.


Backstopping The extent and degree of protection given when using an alias, false documentation, phony address, or are employed in a "front". When there is little or no "backstopping", an alias is referred to as a "throwaway" - this type to be used only once or twice for a single purpose then discarded. Backstopping might include what is referred to in the trade as "pocket litter". Driver's license, library card, army papers etc. A phony address might be backstopped with phony receipts, utility accounts, or even say just the say-so of a landlord/lady. The extent of backstopping will determine how long the false name, address or business "front" will hold.


Backup An alternative plan should the first fail. Can be used in reference to communications, "dead drops" or meeting locations.


Black Operations Operations that are not attributable to the agency or government. They perforce, have strong elements of inbuilt deniability.


Contrary to what seems logical - not all such ops necessitate illegal activity.


Bona Fides An agent or case officer meeting clandestinely for the first time must establish they have the right person. This can be done via a pre-arranged phrase ("the fishing in Alaska is good at this time of year'" type thing we've all seen in a thousand movies). It can also be done by showing a pre-arranged object to each other.


Brush Pass (BP) A BP is a brief public contact to quickly pass on a film, report or other document type from one person to another. It requires split second timing at a prearranged spot - often utilizing some type of extra measure above and beyond just sleight-of-hand. This might include some type of temporary, but (non-suspicious or out-of-place) mundane screen, or a diversion.


Burned This is the term used when an agent, asset or facility such as a safe-house has been discovered. In the case of the latter, small tell-tale signs might be detected such as house-hold items out of place. Sometimes an asset or facility might be deliberately sacrificed to protect more important assets or facilities.


Carbon Paper Also known as MLI (More or Less Invisible), this was specially treated carbon paper used like normal carbon paper except that it left the copied message invisible. This piece of paper would then have a visible message written on it. When received, another chemical would be applied to reveal the invisible message.


Casuals Members of the public present during an actual operation or preparations for one. Such people are observed, where practical and then always unobtrusively, to try and determine if any are members of hostile security forces, or in some way, may pose a threat to the operation.


Clandestine Communications Arrangements (CCA) Contact and communication between case officer and agent which has pre-arranged meaning and which must be reviewed and updated regularly. Such methods must appear to be normal behavior of a type that should not arouse suspicion. Examples might be as simple as closing a blind, turning on a light, or putting a sale ad in a paper or on a bulletin board.


Cover Stop A stop made to lend plausibility to being in a certain area at a certain time.


Cutout usually a person (as opposed to a facility) that provides a level of distance and compartmentalization between case officers and agents.


Dangle This is an agent who intentionally becomes known to another intelligence agency in the hope it will recruit him/her.


Dossier / 201 file A 201 file or dossier is always made for an agent ,an agent in development or someone targeted for potential recruitment. It contains a complete personal history, and all cables and correspondence where the person is mentioned.


Exceptional Approval (EA) An approval granted to agents or assets who are in reality, or just suspected of being, members of a communist party or other extreme organization. This approval allows a station to develop and recruit from such groups.


False Flag Recruitment Recruitment of an agent to work for a foreign government when in fact he is wittingly or unwittingly actually reporting to the CIA. This may be used for example, if it is discovered during recruitment that an individual is more motivated to render service to a foreign agency.


Floater About the lowest level agent, a floater is used only occasionally for basic intelligence tasks.


Handle Means of control of an agent. It refers directly to the agents exploitable motivations and vulnerabilities. A supervisor may, for example, instruct a case officer that he needs to get a better "handle" on a particular agent. This instruction is not simply suggesting a quiet word in the agents ear that he needs to pull his head in. It is an instruction to find better ways of exploiting motivations and vulnerabilities to get him/her back into line.


Hip Pocket Operation Despite what may be suggested in some works, a "hip pocket operation" usually refers only to a case officer spotting a "target" (a person of possible interest as a potential agent or asset) but not immediately reporting on this interest. Instead, keeping it in his "hip pocket" until he becomes confident that something will come of the contact. This is done for mundane reasons - to cut down on the amount of reporting which is monotonous and time-consuming. Where our interest begins is when the Case Officer decides to not report at all, but runs the newly acquired agent on his own. This has now turned into a rogue operation.


Hip pocket operations and "rogue" operations are not to be confused as the same thing, though the latter usually follows only from the former.


Hounds Member of a surveillance team chasing a rabbit; used in reference to both CIA and hostile intelligence agencies.


Inside Contact A Case Officer working inside the Station (usually the Embassy) who is responsible for communication and administration of a Non-Official Cover (NOC or Outside) Case Officer.


Institutional Agent An agent - usually (but not always) witting of his CIA associations - who can be handed off from case officer to case officer over a number of years.


Legend The details built around an individual to provide a false identity or cover. It may include forged documents, credit cards etc that provide a depth and breadth to the "legend". Building a legend is not in and of itself an "operation" though this is sometimes how it is portrayed.


Levy To give questions—called requirements—to an agent to collect information for future reporting. A case officer is asked to “levy requirements on his agent.”


Liaison Operation An operation under the control of a friendly foreign agency where information is shared with the CIA. The CIA may provide financial and technical assistance as a means of exerting some influence in the op.


Non-Official Cover (NOC) Cover that has no government affiliation or connection; sometimes referred to as deep cover. NOC usually refers to a commercial cover provided by a US company or corporation as a service to the CIA, but also it may be an institutional cover provided by schools or some other organization to provide a position overseas to a CIA case officer. A NOC position not only conceals the case officer’s intelligence affiliation but also his governmental affiliation as well. A NOC case officer is sometimes referred to as an “outside officer,” since he is not allowed inside the physical confines of the Station to which he is assigned to work.


NOC Cluster Several NOC officers working as a group at a Station. Some Stations handle them individually with a one-on-one relationship between the inside contact and the NOC. Some Stations have the senior NOC manage all the other NOCs in a group and the senior NOC is then the only NOC with communications with the inside officer. Each NOC officer in the cluster has his own separate commercial cover company providing him with cover.


Notional Agent (or Mole) A non-existent agent (or double agent)


Operating Directive (OD) Assigned tasks given to stations by HQ. Staff from the top down, are rated in proficiency and fitness reports, on how well they have performed in carrying out their assigned Operational Duties. These reports are the basis for promotion. To put it another way, there is no forward career path without having accomplished your ODs successfully.


Pocket Litter Items carried in one's pockets to authenticate an alias (e.g. driver's license, passport, photos, letters etc)


Provocation Agent An agent under the control of a hostile security service who is specifically dangled or made attractive to the CIA as an agent. The provocation agent is a type of double agent and usually has a specific agenda to provoke the CIA to take some action or not take some action. Also called Provocateur.


Pseudonym The name the CIA gives to every agency employee that is used in all official correspondence within the agency to replace the true name. When an employee joins the CIA, he receives this name and keeps it throughout his career unless a security breach necessitates that he be given a new one.


Quickie  A meeting called at the last minute usually meant to last only seconds or minutes to pass documents or money, not for any detailed verbal discussions or debriefings of an agent.


Rabbit The surveillant, the one being pursued by the hounds.


Rogue Operation When a case officer fails to eventually report his hip pocket operation to the Station.. This is seriously out of bounds.. But sometimes a Chief Of Station (COS) himself will run a rogue operation and never report the contact to CIA headquarters. When you get into the level of the Super Grades you can get away with a lot.


Rolled Up When a hostile security service has detected and neutralized an agent or technical operation.


Stringer Not to be confused with a print media stringer although the meaning is similar.  A low-level agent who does occasional services for an intelligence service.


Support Agent An agent who provides services to support an agent or case officer but does not necessarily provide intelligence information. Support agents may be safehouse keepers, couriers, live drops, etc.


Troll Not to be confused with modern usage. To go out spotting targets usually in a social venue such as cocktail parties, bars, dinner parties, official functions, etc. Case officers and access agents frequently troll areas where targets of interest are known to congregate in the hope of meeting one.


Unwitting When an agent does not have knowledge that he is reporting to the CIA. He is usually told that he is working as a consultant for a US consulting company for whom his case officer is working. See Devised Cover Facility and False Flag recruitment.


Culled from various documents and from Spy, Anonymous. The Espionage Dictonary (The Anonymous Spy Series)