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The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English

The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English

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by Joseph Goulden

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What's a black-bag job, a dead-letter drop, a honey trap? Who invented the microdot, and why do they call Green Berets "snake-eaters"? More than just an alphabetical presentation of definitions, this volume offers a fascinating insider's view of the lingo and operations of the CIA, MI5, Mossad, the KGB, and other top-secret organizations.


What's a black-bag job, a dead-letter drop, a honey trap? Who invented the microdot, and why do they call Green Berets "snake-eaters"? More than just an alphabetical presentation of definitions, this volume offers a fascinating insider's view of the lingo and operations of the CIA, MI5, Mossad, the KGB, and other top-secret organizations.

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Dover Publications
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Dover Military History, Weapons, Armor
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Spyspeak into English

By Joseph C. Goulden

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Joseph Goulden
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-29630-2




The document that gave Soviet intelligence agents permission to deal with classified material in the course of their work. The permit spelled out specific security procedures. According to A. I. Romanov, a former Soviet intelligence officer who defected, the gist of the permit was as follows: "If I am handed a secret document, I must sign for it in a special book, giving date and time of day, in the presence of the person responsible for the safekeeping of such documents. I must not allow this document to be out of my sight even for a moment, must not put it in my pocket, on a table, or in my briefcase, must not make a copy of it or write down any extracts from it, nor discuss its contents with anyone at all. After reading it, or, as they used to say in the NKVD, absorbing it, I have to hand it back personally to the man who issued it."

The exchange was formally noted in a control ledger, with stamps and documents. The agreement noted that the penalty for violations could be death. U.S. and Soviet intelligence schools followed a parallel course in impressing fledgling agents with the seriousness of security: a marginal student in each class would be detected in a security violation and rather noisily dismissed from the school. This happened at midcourse of my training at the Army Intelligence School in Baltimore in 1956; the poor wretch who left a classified manual atop a filing cabinet was sent to Fort Dix for infantry training—a fate whose discomforts were not lost on the rest of us.


A location where an agent can receive mail, even though he does not reside there or have any visible connection with anyone who does. Small European shops traditionally have received mail for transients, for a minimal fee. The FBI utilizes established corporations, where mail directed to a particular individual or department is shunted to a designated pickup point. Because of the mail pilferage endemic to the U.S. postal system, Soviet agents could not rely upon post office boxes as accommodation addresses, according to a counterintelligence expert on KGB affairs. The KGB utilized the plethora of "private post offices" that offer rentals for $10 or so monthly, with no requirement of identification.

The KGB used one such service for more than a year in the 1960s, not knowing that the supposed owner actually worked for a U.S. intelligence agency. Much of the material transmitted through this particular drop was said to be "low-grade," but the agency did acquire several "useful leads." The mail service eventually closed because of circumstances beyond the control of the agency. The business also served as a copy shop, which made duplicating the intercepted mail all the easier.

ACTIVE MEASURES (aktivnyye meropriyatiya)

A Soviet term used to refer to operations intended to influence or otherwise affect other nations' policies. According to a CIA internal memorandum published in 1982, active measures, both covert and overt, consist of a broad range of activities, including "manipulation or control of the media; written or oral disinformation; use of foreign Communist parties or organizations; manipulation of mass organizations; clandestine radio broadcasting; economic activities, military operations, and other political influence operations.... These operations have a common aim: to insinuate Soviet policy views into foreign governmental, journalistic, business, labor, academic, and artistic opinion in a nonattributable fashion." (See DISINFORMATION.)


In current usage, a person who engages in spying or the support of those who do, or who seeks to detect them. Oddly, the word is one that professional intelligence operatives almost never apply to themselves. A CIA man working abroad as a spy would call himself an "officer," although the persons who worked for him (non-CIA men or women) would be called agents.

In the American context, the differentiation began during World War II, when the Office of Strategic Services drew a careful distinction between its own people and others. According to OSS manuals, an operative was "an individual employed by and responsible to the OSS and assigned under special programs to field activity." An agent, by contrast, was "an individual recruited in the field who is employed or directed by an OSS operative or by a field or substation."

FBI draws no such distinction; its officers are not only agents, they are special agents, and they so introduce and identify themselves. The late director J. Edgar Hoover insisted upon the distinguishing adjective as a means of setting his men apart from run-of-the-mill cops (Hoover didn't hire female agents until near the end of his reign.) The Dallas trial lawyer William F. Alexander delighted in opening his cross-examination of FBI witnesses: "Well, special agent Jones, what's so special about you?"




Perhaps the rarest and most valuable of intelligence persons—the agent who offers his services to a foreign power, but agrees to continue in his position so that the information he passes is current and valuable. Fatalism is presumed by both sides, for agents-in-place face horrible fates if detected. By reliable account one KGB traitor was thrust into a roaring furnace, feet first, while more than a hundred of his colleagues watched. The lesson was obvious.


A person not directly under control of an intelligence agency, but willing to work on its behalf. As former CIA operations officer David Atlee Phillips told the Church Committee, "He might be a radio commentator or a local Bernard Baruch whose park bench opinions carry political weight. The agent of influence might be the foreign minister's mistress. Most covert activities utilizing the agent of influence are useful to American ambassadors in achieving low-key but important objectives of U.S. foreign policy. These activities are known in intelligence jargon as 'motherhood,' and revelations concerning them would not shock or disturb the American public."

Because of widespread government corruption, agents of influence are easily acquirable in Latin America. The Spanish colonial tradition was that the king (of Spain) "owned" the government, hence he or his subordinate is entitled to payment for any routine service. Officials who routinely accept the mordida (little bite, or payoff) for doing their jobs see no harm in taking money from an intelligence officer: if the agent wants the information, and has sufficient pesos, the information is his. In one Latin country in the 1960s, an agent so cultivated such a "friend" that every document that entered or left his office was routinely copied and given to the CIA station. The cost was the equivalent of two bottles of Scotch monthly.

Another former CIA officer, E. Howard Hunt, defined the agent of influence as "either a government official so highly placed that he can exercise influence on government policy or an opinion molder so influential as to be capable of altering the attitudes of an entire country." In the case of a Soviet agent of influence, "though his politics may be of the left, he is not—and cannot be known as—a Communist."

The KGB used the same term as CIA, a literal translation from the Russian agent vlyiyania. A large portion of covert KGB intelligence work in the United States and elsewhere was devoted to handling such agents, who were not spies in the classic sense, and often did not even realize they were being used by a foreign power. But KGB singled them out for cultivation because of their ability to exert influence in their societies—professors, government officials, politicians, journalists, labor leaders, financiers, and industrialists. The approaches were low-key. The KGB officer would, for instance, suggest to an American businessman that United States trade policy means loss of profitable USSR markets to the Europeans; could he not say something to his friends in Washington about a change? Or a "visiting Soviet academician" might have a background lunch with Washington journalists, and argue that a shift in American bargaining positions on arms talks would bring commensurate concessions from the USSR. His statement would be publicized as a "softening" of Soviet position that should be matched by the United States. (Both these "examples" actually happened.)

"The run-of-the-mill influence agents recruited by the KGB in the capitalist world must by now run into the hundreds," the CIA Soviet specialist Harry Rositzke wrote in 1981. "It is difficult to determine in many cases the variety of motivations that induce them to 'cooperate' with their Soviet friends. Political and commercial opportunism plays a part. Some may have genuine political sympathies with the Soviet side of the Cold War confrontation.... Some no doubt have been blackmailed."


A person who insinuates himself into an organization with the aim of inciting it to acts that would make its members subject to punishment. In 1950s CIA usage, such an agent was a "tree-shaker," a person who would join an organization with the intent of seeing if its timetable could be accelerated, and what its actual plans were. An agent provocateur is an archvillain of labor and revolutionary history, and the genre does have an odious tradition.


Agitation and propaganda, generally used in reference to Communist and Front Group activities. Agit-prop involves the dramatic portrayal of an issue—mass marches, exhortatory speeches, and events crafted to attract media attention. For instance, in 1967 the underground newspaper East Village Other intended to drop two hundred pounds of flowers on the Pentagon from an airplane to signify support of an anti-war march. An agent in the New York FBI field office answered an advertisement for a pilot, and kept up the pretense to the point where the publisher arrived at the airport with the flowers. No pilot, no flight, no dropped flowers. As the field office boasted in a memo to FBI headquarters in Washington, the agent thus was able to prevent "agit-prop activity as it relates to dropping flowers over Washington."

Another agit-prop stunt went awry in Washington in July 1982. Opponents of the regime in El Salvador had fatigue-clad soldiers "enact" the seizure of innocent peasant women by jumping from a truck downtown and grabbing persons (accomplices) from a crowd. The organizers did not bother to inform the Washington police of the stunt: when the soldiers grabbed the women, they in turn were quickly grabbed, handcuffed, and spread-eagled by officers.




Israeli military intelligence.


A Soviet trading corporation set up in New York in the 1930s. In one sense, Amtorg was a genuine commercial enterprise that did hundreds of millions of dollars in business with leading American corporations. But this brisk activity also gave invaluable cover to hordes of Soviet intelligence agents. Amtorg provided these agents with jobs as "legal cover," and assigned them to visit various cities and industrial plants, as would any normal commercial travelers. They spied, bought documents, recruited agents—in sum, worked with a free hand. Of the seven hundred to eight hundred Amtorg employees in the mid-1930s, perhaps half were also members of the American Communist Party. There were occasional spy scandals and resignations by loyal and unwitting Americans who had gone to work for Amtorg. (One such person, Basil W. Douglas, one-time Amtorg vice-president, said angrily after his resignation: "I have seen information regarding the army and naval defenses of the United States that has been gathered by Amtorg's agents and transmitted to Russia.") But given the vast scope of Amtorg's economic activities, American officials tended to excuse such transgressions as "minor matters."


Popular derogatory name for agents of the Sandinista secret police of Nicaragua, circa 1984. The angels controlled turbos divinas, "divine mobs," who circled the homes of opponents of the Sandinista regime at night, beating sticks against cans and chanting threatening slogans. The turbos learned the harassing tactic from the Somoza secret police.


A retired CIA employee who receives a regular pension (an "annuity") and remains available for special assignments if needed. A commission headed by former Senator John Tower used the term in its report on the abortive Iran arms negotiations of 1986, describing retiree George Cave as a "CIA annuitant and expert on Iran who went to Terheran as Parsi translator during the talks.


A counterintelligence term for unexplained problems or conflicting information that arises in an investigation. A veteran CI officer told me, "It's like that unexplained knock in your car engine that comes and goes without any discernible reason."


A lively Oxford literary club of the late 1920s and early 1930s that attracted Communists and a good number of homosexuals. Two of its most prominent members were the Soviet spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean.


The Soviet trade mission in London during the 1920s, formally the All-Russian Co- operative Society, Limited; closed after its exposure as a spy center. Arcos played much the same role in Britain as its sister organization, Amtorg, did in the United States. (See AMTORG.)


KGB deep-cover agent whose chief purpose was to pass smuggled weapons to terrorists and other groups who worked for the Soviets, either wittingly or unwittingly.


On December 4, 1981, President Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, titled, "United States Intelligence Activities." A key sentence read, "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." Journalists and Congressional investigators have spent millions of man-years searching for a verifiable instance of a "CIA murder," to no avail. The Church Committee of the 1970s, to its acute dismay, found that various "CIA plots" for murdering Fidel Castro and other leaders emanated from the White House. Given that both Democratic and Republican presidents were involved, the committee let the issue slide.


A list of subversive organizations first compiled by the Justice Department in the 1930s as a guide to evaluate applicants for Federal employment. Both the criteria for inclusion and the names of the groups have changed frequently over the years. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that requiring individuals to register as members of the cited groups was unconstitutional, as a violation of the privilege against self-incrimination. Thus federal agencies were forced to individually evaluate information regarding membership in allegedly subversive organizations based on raw data furnished by the FBI. The Nixon administration rewrote guidelines for the attorney general's list (in 1971) to redefine "subversive." Executive Order 11605 reads in part:

... totalitarian, fascist, communist, or subversive, or which has adopted a policy of unlawfully advocating the commission of acts of force or violence to deny others their rights under the Constitution or laws of the United States or any state, or which seeks to overthrow the government of the United States or any state or subdivision thereof by unlawful means.


The Justice Department's secret plans during the early years of the Cold War for emergency detention of citizens and aliens in time of national emergency. The key element was the FBI's so-called "Security Index" of names of persons to be detained. The Portfolio also contained specific federal facilities at which the persons were to be held and draft "national emergency" orders to be signed by the President giving legal authority to the arrests. According to FBI internal memoranda disclosed by the Church Committee, the FBI would have broad discretion over who should be listed for detention.


Photographs taken by professional photographers, journalists, amateurs, or tourists that show a place of interest to an intelligence topographer. These are named after the proverbial "maiden aunt" whose half-obscured head does not block the view of a winding road or a beach or the quaint little whitewashed church that an artillery targeting officer might find of value. OSS had a special section during World War II that scoured antique and secondhand shops for Aunt Minnie postcards.


In German, "getting out"; in espionage usage, getting out from under the cover of a Soviet passport and acquiring new travel documentation falsified by the astute "cobblers" in a Berlin "workshop" run by Soviet intelligence. (See COBBLER.) "Getting out" enabled an agent to travel without having to cope with the special attention that customs and border officials often gave to Russians. The agent surrendered his old passport in exchange for the new. When his journey is completed, he makes the exchange again. According to visa stamps, he spent the entire period in Germany.


KGB term for a foreign spy cell involving two or more networks. KGB operational procedures would dictate that there be no overlap between the networks, for security reasons.


Excerpted from THE DICTIONARY OF ESPIONAGE by Joseph C. Goulden. Copyright © 2012 Joseph Goulden. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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