Glossary of Spy Terminology

ACCOMMODATION ADDRESS: a "safe" address, not overtly associated with intelligence activity, used by an agent to communicate with the intelligence service for whom he working

AGENT: someone recruited by an intelligence service to conduct espionage and provide information

AGENT IN PLACE: a person who remains in a position while acting under the direction of a hostile intelligence service, so as to obtain current intelligence information; also known as a recruitment-in-place

ANECHOIC CHAMBER: huge cathedral-like facility at NSA headquarters in Maryland containing fire retardant plastic foam spikes, creating an excellent acoustic environment for testing spy radio transmitters and antennas

BASE: a CIA post smaller than a station

BLACK OPS: supersecret intelligence operations

BONN MODEL: the CIA's rule of thumb for determining which targets should be pursued by CIA officers and which should be left to U.S. diplomats

CASE OFFICER: a CIA officer whose job is to recruit and run agents

CI: counterintelligence, information or actions to protect against foreign espionage, sabotage or other intelligence activities

CIA: Central Intelligence Agency

CIPHER: system for concealing plain text by transposing the letters or numbers or substituting other letters or numbers according to a key; also known as a "cryptosystem"

CLANDESTINE SERVICE: the CIA's corps of spies

CLASSIFIED INFORMATION: information in any form that is owned by, produced by or for, or under the control of the United States Government; information is classified by an original classification authority who determines that its unauthorized disclosure reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security

CODE: system for replacing words, phrases, letters or numbers by other words or groups of letters or numbers for concealment or brevity

COLLECTION: the process of gathering raw intelligence information

COMINT: Communications Intelligence; NSA program for information obtained for intelligence purposes from the intercept of foreign communications by other than the intended recipient

COMPUSEC: Computer Security; NSA program protecting U.S. government computers from exploitation and intrusion by foreign intelligence services and computer cracking and hacking groups

COMSEC: Communications Security; protection of communications from exploitation by foreign intelligence services; ensuring the security of U.S. cryptosystems, prevention of electronic emissions from various communications equipment, and physical protection of communications security equipment

COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: information gathered and activities conducted to protect against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, or assassination conducted for or on behalf of foreign powers, organizations or persons

COVER: an official or unofficial position held by an intelligence officer to conceal his/her real work

COVERT OPERATION: a secret intelligence collection or other action

CRYPTOLOGY: science and art of making and breaking codes and ciphers

CRYPTOGRAPHY: science and art of making codes and ciphers

CRYPTANALYSIS: conversion of encrypted messages into plain text without having the initial knowledge of the key used in encryption

CSS: Central Security Service; comprises all U.S. military branches -- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- and works to ensure a full partnership between the NSA and the military

DEAD DROP: a secret location where an agent leaves material to be picked up by his/her case officer or vice versa; a prearranged hidden location used for the clandestine exchange of packages, messages, and payments, which avoids the necessity of an intelligence officer and an agent being present at the same time

DECODE: convert an encoded message into plain text

DENIED AREA: a country such as North Korea where the United States has no diplomatic or military presence and therefore no way to provide official cover to intelligence officers

DEVELOPMENTAL: a potential agent the CIA is trying to recruit

DIA: Defense Intelligence Agency

DIPLOMATIC COVER: a false diplomatic post, for example, cultural attache or economic officer, which gives a spy diplomatic immunity from prosecution

DoD: Department of Defense

DOUBLE AGENT: an agent who is actually working for a foreign power, usually feeding false information to his/her case officer; an agent engaged in clandestine activity for two or more intelligence services that provide information about one service to another

ENCODE: replace plain text words with code groups

ENCRYPT: conceal plain text by use of a code or cipher

ELINT: Electronic Intelligence; NSA acronym for information obtained for intelligence purposes from the intercept of foreign electromagnetic noncommunications transmissions by other than the intended recipient; the most common sources of this type of information are foreign radar signals

FALSE FLAG: an officer, agent or operation disguised to look as if it is run by another country


FISINT: foreign instrumentation signals intelligence

HANDLE: something a case officer can use to handle an agent; payments or compromising information; also known as vulnerabilities

HARD-TARGET COUNTRY: a nation where spying is considered difficult, including China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and France

HPSCI: House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; provides oversight of U.S. intelligence activities

HUMINT: Human Intelligence, information collected by spies from human sources

ILLEGAL: an intelligence officer or recruited agent who operates in a foreign country in the guise of a private person, and is often present under false identity

INFOSEC: Information Systems Security; protection of information systems against unauthorized access to or modification of information, whether in storage, processing or transit, and against the denial of service to authorized users or the provision of service to unauthorized users, including those measures necessary to detect, document and counter such threats

INSTITUTIONAL RECRUITMENT: an agent who can be passed from a case officer to his/her successor

INTERCEPT: acquisition of electromagnetic signals such as radio or radar by using electronic equipment for the purpose of gathering intelligence information on foreign entities; material collected is itself sometimes referred to as "intercept"

IOB: the President's Intelligence Oversight Board, which is charged with oversight of all U.S. foreign intelligence activities

KGB: Komitet Gosudarstvenoy Bezopasnosti, or Committee for State Security, the intelligence service of the former Soviet Union; since December 1991, the SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki Rossii, or Russian Foreign Intelligence Service) has been the Russian Federation successor agency to the KGB's foreign intelligence arm

LEGEND: a false identity created for a spy, sometimes that of a real person

NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: NSA; headquarters in Maryland outside Washington, D.C.; the "crystal palace" (see also below: National Security Operations Center)

NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: NSC is the executive branch agency that advises and assists the U.S. president on national security and foreign policies; established 1947; the council also coordinates these policies among various government agencies on behalf of the president; primary council members are the president, vice president and secretaries of state and defense; military adviser to the council is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while the CIA director is the council's intelligence adviser; invited to all NSC meetings are the treasury secretary, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the national security adviser and the president's chief of staff and economic policy assistant; other officials, such as the attorney general and the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, also attend meetings pertaining to their jurisdiction

NONOFFICIAL COVER (NOC) : a real or imaginary private sector job held by a spy; NOCs do not have diplomatic immunity

NRO: National Reconnaissance Office

NSA: National Security Agency; (see above: National Security Agency)

NSC: National Security Council (see above: National Security Council)

NSOC: National Security Operations Center; NSA's nerve center, often the first place that word of a crisis reaches the United States; it was the first to learn of the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa and of bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen; also the first to be notified in the United States that a pilot had been downed over Serbia during the Kosovo war; NSA played a key role in giving his rescuers information they needed to get him out safely; a blue flashing light goes on in the center at the time of a crisis; when people without security clearances visit, such as a television camera crew and correspondent, a red flashing light is lit to warn staff not to discuss classified matters

OFFICER: a professional employee of an intelligence agency who is engaged in intelligence activities

OFFICIAL COVER: a false government or military post held by a spy

OPSEC: Operations Security; process of denying potential adversaries any information about capabilities and/or intentions by identifying, controlling and protecting generally unclassified evidence of the planning and execution of sensitive activities

PAPER RECRUITMENT: a worthless or imaginary agent

PNG: to evict a foreign diplomat by declaring him or her PERSONA NON GRATA, often for spying

POST: an office; a duty assignment location

RECRUITMENT: the process of getting someone to become an agent

REPORTS OFFICER: an operations officer who grades reporting from officers in the field and writes finished intelligence reports

SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: SSCI; provides oversight on U.S. intelligence activities

SIGINT: Signals Intelligence; information that contains, either individually or in combination, communications intelligence (see above: COMINT), electronics intelligence (see above: ELINT), and foreign instrumentation signals intelligence (FISINT), however transmitted

SIGNAL SITE: a prearranged fixed location, usually in a public place, on which an agent or intelligence officer can place a predetermined mark in order to alert the other to operational activity; such a mark may be made by, for example, chalk or a piece of tape; the operational activity signaled may be the fact that a dead drop has been "loaded" and is ready to be "cleared;" a call-out signal may be used to trigger a contact between an agent and an intelligence officer

Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki Rossii: SVR; Russian Foreign Intelligence Service; the Russian Federation successor agency to the former Soviet Union's KGB foreign intelligence arm (see above: KGB)

SSCI: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (see above: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence)

STATION: a major CIA post

STATION CHIEF: the head of a CIA station

STICS: Scalable Transportable Intelligence Communications Systems; systems at NSA ready for rapid deployment to hot spots when needed; units set up a downlink to receive encrypted, classified intelligence data for ground commanders; such units were deployed in the Balkans, Panama and Somalia; uhe units set up a tent, with secure telephones and other communications; STICS are temporary field units; once deployed, a decision is made as to whether U.S. forces will be staying more than a few months; if so, a more permanent arrangement is set up

SUPERCOMPUTER: fastest type of computer; used for specialized applications requiring a massive number of mathematical calculations; NSA Supercomputer Center contains the largest accumulation of computer power in any one building on Earth; one of its many Cray Triton supercomputers can handle 64 billion instructions per second; such computers are used for breaking adversaries' codes, creating U.S. top-secret codes, and sifting through billions of information intercepts made by the NSA searching for useful intelligence; the government bans the sale of supercomputers to countries such as Iraq where they might be used to create weapons of mass destruction (WMD)

SVR: Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki Rossii (see above: Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki Rossii)

TAKEDOWN: the destruction of a network of agents

THREATCON: ranking of threats to U.S. interests (see: Threatcon Levels)

UNILATERAL: an agent who has no connection to other agents

WALK-IN: a volunteer agent

WMD: weapons of mass destruction

Sources: NSA, NSC, CIA, DIA, FBI, KGB, SVR, SSCI, HPSCI, FNC, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, STO, White House, others