Speed Reads

CIA secrets

CIA headquarters sells CIA-branded swag at its gift shop, has a 'belt-fed machine gun'–style hot dog machine

The CIA has a leaker, but nobody at the agency's Langley headquarters will probably care about this disclosure of clearly unclassified secrets. David McCloskey, a former CIA analysts, starts by explaining in a CNN op-ed that he, like many people, loves a good spy story, but "if Hollywood or spy thrillers are your primary source on the agency's Langley headquarters, then chances are that everything you think you know about the CIA is wrong."

The CIA is "a uniquely bipolar organization," half mundane bureaucracy and half high-stakes global spy agency, with "wrinkles of inanity" placed on its employees, McCloskey writes. For example, you have to have a special waiver to bring alcohol into agency headquarters — "confiscations are not uncommon," he notes — and because "taxpayer dollars cannot be used to fund celebrations, CIA holiday parties resemble the homespun ambience of a church potluck." Maintenance workers are supervised by contractors in green suit jackets, he adds, so if you go into a restroom it can appear that "a PGA Master's champion was keenly observing a plumber unclogging a toilet."

CIA agents fight over parking spaces, and the agency has an annual "Family Day" where employees' loved ones can be subjected to polygraph tests, McCloskey says. Also, "there is a gift shop that sells agency-branded swag, including mugs, golf balls, barbecue sauce, and — my favorite — luggage bearing a CIA monogram, which agency officers for obvious reasons cannot buy (in fact, any CIA officer under cover cannot use the gift shop at all)," he adds. "There is also a hot dog machine in the Langley basement, loaded with Hormel products in the manner of a belt-fed machine gun. I visited it on many late nights."

Of course, working for the CIA isn't all hot dogs and branded merch — there's lots of top secret espionage and surveillance of foreign adversaries, McCloskey says. People die or get sent to war zones on little notice. And, he writes, truth is the paramount virtue at Langley — despite what spy thrillers or popular culture may suggest. Read his entire essay at CNN.