Spies Like Us

A very long time ago when I was a young man, I knew a girl who worked for the NSA. She was an “escort” which meant she escorted people around the facility. She stood at one door. When someone came through that door, she would check their ID and walk with them to their assigned area. Apparently, this was a common way of handling internal security back then. I have no idea if it remains in place, but it sounds like a bureaucratic solution to security. I had a client that did security work for the Feds and they had a similar setup so I’m guessing it is common.

More recently, I knew a guy whose daughter worked for the CIA. She started as an intern in college. Her studies had nothing to do with security. She was a theater major. She was also as dumb as a goldfish and about 150 pounds overweight. After college, she got a full time job at the CIA and they sent her all over the world. She worked in Baghdad and Kuwait during the last wars there. Once she started having kids she was sent back home. What a fat stupid women could possibly do for the CIA is a mystery, but she got to pretend she was  Mata Hari. Probably still does.

Back in the 80’s, it was revealed that the number of paper pushers to field agents in the CIA was something like 150-to-1. They had an army of people who spent all day reading foreign newspapers and categorizing the stories. If you spoke Russian, you would sit there all day listening to Russian TV and radio, cataloging the details. All of those people need coffee and they need managers. They all got to tell people at dinner parties that they worked for the CIA. The fact that they put that on the credit card applications and had it on their parking stickers did not make it less mysterious, I bet.

The point being is we have thousands of people working in the CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies who are just cubicle jockeys. Most of what they do is pointless. Some of it is useful and some of it harmful. The fat girl in the CIA most likely spent her days filling out forms and reading e-mail. Like the “escort” I met in my youth, she was as much of a spy as the janitors or coffee jerks working at the CIA Stabucks.

The new supervisor thought his idea was innocent enough. He wanted the baristas to write the names of customers on their cups to speed up lines and ease confusion, just like other Starbucks do around the world.

But these aren’t just any customers. They are regulars at the CIA Starbucks.

“They could use the alias ‘Polly-O string cheese’ for all I care,” said a food services supervisor at the Central Intelligence Agency, asking that his identity remain unpublished for security reasons. “But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn’t work for this location.”

This purveyor of skinny lattes and double cappuccinos is deep inside the agency’s forested Langley, Va., compound.

Welcome to the “Stealthy Starbucks,” as a few officers affectionately call it.

Buck Sexton likes to brag about working for the CIA. His act on Glenn Beck’s network is to be the national security guy. One look at him says he was never a field agent. Unless we go to war with the Boy Scouts, a guy like Sexton is not needed in an under cover role. Red Eye has another fake spy on named Mike Baker. He actually did field work, but it was drug cases and that’s more like police work than espionage. He pretends to have been a government hit man on TV. Both are entertaining, but the tough guys stuff is a little silly.

The comical part of the Starbucks story is that no one buying coffee there is a ever going to be a field agent. Maybe they get out into an embassy job, but they will never go under cover. Driving into Langley with your CIA badge and CIA parking sticker on your car is a terrible way to maintain your cover. Yet, everyone in the place, including the guys emptying the trash barrels, carries on like they are Maxwell Smart. I bet you could make a money selling them show shoe phones and cones of silence.

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3 Comments on "Spies Like Us"

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jdallen
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“show phones” – missed it by that much…

Kathleen
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Ah, yes! The cones of silence! This was literally my fave show when I was a little girl. “Would you believe” I wanted to be a spy for the longest time? Sorry about that chief!

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