Guide Spy

How To Talk Like a Spy: Spy Jargon

So you want to become the next Valerie Plame, huh? I mean, you know, once we get an administration that actually puts the security of our intelligence agents ahead of their own petty survival instincts. Thinking about becoming a spy? Or maybe just pretending to be a spy in an attempt to get Steven Spielberg to make a movie about you starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Well, whether your life goals are to become a real James Bond or to become the next Ian Fleming, you have to talk the talk before you can play baccarat.

Black Propaganda.

In a word, black propaganda is disinformation. It is information published in the form of everything from leaflets to web sites that is either misleading or outright false. The information contained in black propaganda is attributed to someone else. Usually black propaganda is used to mislead enemy agents, but one may well make a case that the infamous “yellow cake” report that was offered as proof that Iraq was buying nuclear material from Nigeria was a case of black propaganda used to disinform the American people.

Deep Cover.

Deep cover is a term used to describe an agent using a false identity that is almost impossible to be traced back to the intelligence agency for which he works. Typically, only career agents in it for the long haul are used for deep cover assignments.

Deep cover job is the hardest of all as it involves spying, which can become life threatening on many occasions and the agencies have a hard time identifying the infiltration process in their ranks, which you can read about in detail at 

Black Bag Job.

When an intelligence agent engages in illegal breaking and entering expressly for intelligence gathering purposes. Following the Watergate burglary, which actually qualified as an official black bag job, the FBI official’s stance was that it no longer allowed them, but evidence suggests that they never actually stopped. The Patriot Act has led to an increase in the number of black bag jobs, but since warrants are no longer necessary they are not considered illegal except by defenders of the Constitution.

Devised Facility.

Remember the olive oil company that Don Vito Corleone ran in The Godfather? That was a legitimate front to cover up his actual moneymaking activities. In the world of intelligence agencies this kind of business is called a proprietary company because it does actually engage in legitimate business. But when the front is a total façade that is used to disguise the covert operations without actually engaging in the phantom business, that is known as a devised facility.

Flap Potential.

The potential for embarrassment to a country in the event a covert intelligence policy is exposed. The flap potential increases exponentially along with the criminality of the operation.

Hard Target.

A hard target isn’t just the name of a bad Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, it’s jargon for an intelligence agent who infiltrates the enemy to the point where he has access to high level strategic information.

Plausible Denial.

The process by which nobody in the intelligence business is allowed to know everything. Plausible denial is actually a broad term that covers a number of policies designed to make it possible for everyone involved to deny that certain covert operations are taking place. Plausible denial is ensured through the use of policies that include everything from elaborate cover stories to providing the President with incomplete reports so that he can truthfully deny knowing the full extent of the illegalities involved in intelligence operations.

Paramilitary Operations.

Military engagements conducted by countries, but not as part official tactical engagements involving troops. American paramilitary operations were originally a method by which the US could engage in military assaults against another country without actually declaring war. Since the US stopped declaring war in order to engage in activities that look for all the world like warfare, however, paramilitary operations have been extended to include even activities within a hot conflict.

Contingency Fund.

Money budgeted for the CIA is classified, but you can be sure it is tremendously more than you think. In addition to all these funds, however, the Director of the CIA has access to a contingency fund that can be used for emergency purposes ranging from a ultra-secret paramilitary operations to hush money.


A mole is an intelligence agent who has infiltrated another country’s intelligence agency or military establishment. Interestingly, the term did not actually originate from the intelligence industry, but was adopted by them following its entry into usage from espionage fiction.


A station is the name for the locale in another country that an intelligence agency sets up operation, typically under cover of an embassy. Of course, a station can also be nothing more elaborate than a tenement apartment. Anything to draw attention away from what’s really going on.

Target of Opportunity.

The opportunity in this case is someone who comes to the station with information without having been specifically recruited. In most cases, intelligence agents and operatives are recruited into the system, but occasionally the agency gets lucky and someone with access to information seeks them out.

Brian Singleton a retired news editor and tech enthusiast. He shares a deep love for science and technology and wishes to connect with others through this his content.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *