CIA cryptonym

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CIA cryptonyms are code names or code words used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to reference projects, operations, persons, agencies, etc. The cryptonyms as described in this article were in use at least from the 1950s to the 1980s. It is likely that they have since been replaced by another system.

The term "code word" was used by the CIA during the 1960s as a partial designation for a Top Secret report on a highly classified and sensitive intelligence topic, and for compartmenting information. In the context of discussing code words used in the President's Daily Brief (PDB) during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, former CIA Director Richard Helms wrote: "At the time, the highest security classification was known as Top Secret/Code Word. In practice, the slug—as we called it—'Top Secret/Code Word' was followed by a noun, so scrupulously chosen that even the most intuitive intruder could not associate a glimpse of the code word with the subject matter it protected. In my day there were a dozen or more of these tightly compartmented classifications of information. Aside from the President and a few others—usually the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Advisor—no other government official was automatically cleared for 'all source' reports. The lesser recipients of specific code word data had to have a clearly established 'need to know' the substance of the compartmentalized report. Compartmentation, as we called it, is one of the most effective means of protecting sensitive data. As surely as Heaven gave us little green apples, it would be my luck to pick a five-letter noun that is in current use." Top Secret/Code Word documents contained "highly classified and sensitive intelligence."[1]

Contents

Format of cryptonyms

Each CIA cryptonym contains a two character prefix called a digraph, which designates a geographical or functional area. Certain digraphs were changed over time; for example, the digraph for the Soviet Union changed at least twice.

The rest is either an arbitrary dictionary word, or occasionally the digraph and the cryptonym combine to form a dictionary word (e.g. AEROPLANE) or can be read out as a simple phrase (e.g. WIBOTHER, read as "Why bother!"). Cryptonyms are sometimes written with a slash after the digraph, e.g. ZR/RIFLE, and sometimes in one sequence, e.g. ZRRIFLE. The latter format is the more common style in CIA documents.

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