The Central Intelligence Agency is one of America’s best—and worst—kept secrets. Nearly everyone knows of the CIA’s existence but no one really knows much about the notorious organization. Considering the fact the agency’s job is to be stealthy it’s not exactly shocking that they keep a lot of secrets.
Over the years though, insiders have leaked some of the agency’s top-secret information. Read on to learn about what life is like in the CIA, their craziest operations, and their embarrassing failures. You might even end up with a personal CIA agent following you now that you know about all their classified information.
They Can Read Up To 5 Million Tweets A Day
The American public is now very aware of the government’s ability to monitor the internet if they please but the CIA’s reason for monitoring tweets isn’t as nefarious as you’d think. They have the ability to read up to 5 million tweets a day but not to spy on you, they just want to know the public reaction to events in real time.
They are able to surveil the public in other ways too like through TVs, cell phones, and Facebook but those aren’t as up to date as Twitter.
CIA Agents Once Botched A Mission To Get Frequent Flyer Miles
In 2003, Italian police uncovered a covert CIA operation thanks to a trail of frequent flyer miles. They discovered that a man and woman were pretending to be American business executives traveling Europe but in reality, they were two CIA agents tasked with abducting a Norwegian resident.
The two swiped their frequent flyer cards at every hotel and restaurant they went to and the police tracked them from Brussels to Venice, London, Vienna, and eventually Oslo.
They Owned Air America As A Front
For those of you to young to remember, Air America was a commercial passenger airline that operated from 1950 to 1976. The airline served passenger flights to Baltimore, Detroit, Honolulu, Los Angeles, oh, and they also conducted covert military operations.
The airline was used as a dummy corporation by the CIA for their operations in East Asian. Thanks to the revenue they gathered from civilian flights, they were able to easily keep the "business" and operations afloat.
A Magician Trained The Secret Agents
In the 1960s, the CIA undertook the creation and testing of the hallucinogenic substance LSD. One of the ways they did this was by testing the effects on unsuspecting subjects. Agents would secretly dose people’s drinks using sleight of hand.
To achieve the effect, the CIA hired magician John Mulholland to train agents. Documents of the training were believed to have been destroyed until they came out years later as “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.”
Movie Making Is Their Side Hustle
They’re not exactly producing blockbuster films out of the CIA headquarters but the agency has their eye on certain movie deals. After writer George Orwell died in 1950, the CIA secretly bought the film rights to two of his most controversial books—1984 and Animal Farm.
The CIA later released the film versions of both books but Orwell fans would have noticed some differences. Animal Farm is much more overtly anti-communist than the book and the communists are only portrayed by pigs.
Even Their Sculptures Are A Secret
If you ever find yourself on the grounds of the CIA Headquarters then you’ll notice a large sculpture that looks like a curled piece of paper. The sculpture titled Kryptos was designed by an artist named Jim Sanborn and has four different encrypted codes etched on it. Of the four, only three have been solved.
The artist has given two clues to the fourth and still unsolved code. It has something to do with a clock in Berlin, but even with hints the CIA still can’t figure it out.
They Have A Museum But You Can’t Go In
Dubbed by historians as "the best museum you’ll never get to see," the official CIA museum is apparently full of incredibly cool things. The 11,000 square foot facility is located at the Langley, Virginia headquarters and features many failed and fun projects. Some prototypes include dragonfly droves, pigeon cameras, and robo-fish.
Unfortunately, the average Joe will never get to see the robotic fish because the museum is only open to agency members.
A Double Agent Tried (And Failed) To Get On The CIA’s Good Side
In 1977 at the height of the Cold War, a simple technical agent named William Kampiles stole a top-secret spy satellite manual from the CIA. Kampiles sold the manual to the Russians for $3,000.
In a panic, Kampiles then went to the CIA and admitted everything he’d done in the hopes (and certainly dreams) that they’d want to hire him as a trustworthy double agent. Well, they didn’t, and Kampiles was sentenced for 40 years in prison.
They Have A Starbucks That Won’t Ask Your Name
The CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, know that their intelligence workers need their caffeine too, so they have a Starbucks coffee shop right on site. Known as "Store Number 1," the CIA Starbucks is the only shop out of more than 20,000 that will never ask your name. Instead, the workers have to recognize and remember faces.
You also won’t find just any old millennial working behind the counter. The nine baristas that work there have to go undergo the same number of background checks that someone in the CIA does.
Operation Mongoose Tried And Failed Many Times To Kill Fidel Castro
CIA Operation Mongoose contained dozens of failed attempts to assassinate Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Some of the more outrageous ones include exploding cigars, poisoned wetsuits, and having a former lover spike his milkshake. They even tried a "character assassination" by trying to give him thallium to make his beard fall out.
The revolutionary leader of Cuba once said "If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal" and he couldn’t be more correct.
They Tried, And Failed Miserably, To Train Cats
Any cat owner out there knows that cats do what they want, when they want, and can truly never be trained. Still, the CIA tried their best with Operation Acoustic Kitty to train cats to spy at the Kremlin and other Soviet Union embassies. Each Acoustic Kitty would undergo an operation where a microphone and transmitter was implanted in their ears.
The operation cost $20 million and shut down after the first cat was killed by a taxi almost immediately after being released, and the other cats were too easily distracted.
There Might Be CIA Agents Still In North Korea
Throughout the 1950s, the CIA began a covert operation where the parachuted trained agents into North Korea. The hope was that these agents could plant seeds of resistance and lead the North Koreans to rise up against the government.
Unfortunately, most of the agents dropped in were never heard of again. Despite losing all contact, the CIA continued to send agents into North Korea until the 1970s when an inquiry started to investigate the morals behind the operation.
Even Their Memorial Wall Is Secretive
At their headquarters in Langley, the CIA building as a memorial wall to honor agents and members that gave their lives while serving the country. Each year, the CIA will add stars to the wall depending on how many agents died during service.
The only catch is that not every star has a name. The agents take their secret identities to their deathbed. As of 2018, there are 129 stars on the wall, and 38 do not have names.
You Can Thank The CIA For Jackson Pollock
Right after World War II, the CIA took it upon themselves to build up American art and culture as a way to stick it to the Soviets. In particular, they secretly pumped funds toward abstract artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. In contrast, the Soviet Union artists had strict impressionist rules to follow.
Their hopes were that the artists would become extremely popular (which they did) and show that Americans are free to express themselves.
Finally, In 2013, They Admitted The Existence Of Area 51
Spooky Mulder was probably pretty excited in 2013 when documents released by the CIA mentioned an area 125 miles northwest of Las Vegas known as Area 51. The agency had denied the existence for years and many people expected these new documents to be full of alien secrets.
Sadly, the agency claimed it was just a testing site for the government’s top-secret aerial surveillance programs. Right…by aerial we’re sure you mean alien.
The CIA’s Paranoia With Soccer Kicked Off The Cuban Missle Crisis
In September 1962, it was the observance of some soccer fields on the coast of Cuba that led the CIA to panic about Russians building missiles. Apparently, a CIA analyst noticed the fields in a satellite image and grew worried because “Cubans play baseball, Russians play soccer.”
Whether or not the analyst’s reason was sound, the CIA was correct that the Soviet Union had begun building a missile base in Cuba.
They Recruited Nazi War Criminals
After World War II, the CIA simultaneously began to prosecute Nazi war criminals, and convince them to switch sides and work for them. Operation Paperclip was the CIA’s covert task to remove Nazi scientists from Germany and bring them to America.
The main use of Operation Paperclip scientists was when the CIA used Nazi war criminals who worked on mind control techniques in Germany to help them build their own brainwashing experiments.
They’ve Reportedly Used Some Unique Torture Methods
The CIA has dealt with some tough allegations about their practices when it comes to torture but one technique that got leaked was met with some giggles. The agency has reportedly used popular American music acts like Eminem and Red Hot Chili Peppers as a form of torture.
According to a former interrogator, the Chili Peppers’ songs are full of bass-heavy guitar riffs that when played endlessly can make someone feel extremely uncomfortable. Try telling that to RHCP’s biggest fans.
The Little Blue Pill Was Used As A Bargaining Chip
The CIA has often used money, weapons, and other secret means to bribe people into giving them top secret information. One bargaining chip that they may not want the public to know about is when they sent Viagara to an Afghan chieftain.
This Afghani inside allegedly offered up a “bonanza of information” about the bases and movement of the Taliban’s supply routes for the simple request of thousands of Viagara pills.
They Tried To Convince The Soviets That American Men Were “Bigger”
During the Cold War, the CIA had many covert plans to make the Soviets think that Americans were bigger and better—if you know what I mean. One plan included dropping oversized male contraceptives labeled “Medium” in various places across the Soviet Union.
The hope was that the misleading condoms would make Soviet men think they weren’t as well-endowed, and also make them believe American women could handle more man.
Saddam Hussein May Have Worked With The CIA
There is a lot of speculation surrounding the rise of Saddam Hussein in Iraq but one insider belief is that the CIA hired and assisted him to become the President of Iraq. Allegedly in the 1950s, U.S. officials made contact with the young Hussein and integrated him with a CIA squad.
Their mission was to carry out an assassination of the former Iraqi Prime Minister Qasim, who the U.S. believed held Communist sentiments. Little did they know at the time who Hussein would grow up to be.
They Once Shut Down A Mountain For A Decade
If you’ve ever doubted the power of the CIA, just remember the time that they closed off the 23rd-highest mountain in the world for nine years. The Nanda Devi is a mountain in India that the CIA used for missile testing in the 1960s.
The agency was trying to set up a missile-detecting device to monitor Chinese missiles but lost the device. They shut down the mountain for nine years in an attempt to find the detector but to this day it’s still lost.
Anderson Cooper Interned At The CIA
For two summers in college from 1988-89, news anchor Anderson Cooper interned at the CIA. He was studying political science at Yale University when he landed the coveted internship at the agency. Cooper was offered the chance to apply for a full-time job at the agency but decided to completely change course.
Even though he had no journalistic education, he left the agency and decided to pursue a career as a news anchor.
The Agency Had A Hand In Creating The Unabomber
One of the better known dirty secrets of the CIA was that the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, claimed one of their experiments turned him into a brutal home-grown terrorist. In the 1960s, the CIA sponsored a Harvard study by a professor where undergraduate students were humiliated for their beliefs.
Kaczynski was one of those students and claimed the “brutalizing psychological experiments” inspired some of his later domestic terrorism actions. After his arrest, the CIA confirmed that he was indeed one of the test subjects.
You Have To Get Permission To Marry Outside Of The Agency
Meeting your spouse at work in the CIA is a common occurrence. It makes sense that you’d want to be with someone who knows and can understand the pressures of the job. The CIA actually encourages agency couples.
If you don’t find love at Langley then you might have to ask the CIA for permission to get married. The agency does a full background check on any potential spouse to make sure they aren’t a threat to CIA security.
Vietnamese Spies Were Paid With Sears Merchandise
The CIA employed hundreds of Vietnamese spies throughout the 1960s in an effort to win the Vietnam War through intelligence gathering. While most Cold War spies were paid with cash or American stock bonds, the CIA paid Vietnamese spies with mail-order merchandise from Sears catalogs.
Apparently, the Vietnamese found paper money to be of little use to them and preferred to receive more practical things in exchange for their valuable information.
They Hired Street Workers To Help With Their Missions
Another testing ground for the CIA’s experimentation with LSD was the streets of San Francisco. Rather than illegally and secretly dosing people themselves, the CIA employed female street workers to lure unknowing men to “safe houses.”
At the safe house, the female would slip the male LSD without their knowledge and proceed to have sex with them. The creepiest part is that the safe houses had two-way mirrors so CIA agents could watch the effects live.
They Use Amazon Cloud Services Just Like You And Me
The only reason we know about the CIA’s use of the Amazon cloud is thanks to Amazon web services. Amazon revealed in 2017 that they created a cloud computer region specifically for the CIA to hold their secret classified data.
Known as the “AWS Secret Region,” the Amazon cloud is just one of many Silicon Valley companies trying to intertwine themselves with the CIA. Considering the fact the CIA has a nearly unlimited budget when it comes to defense IT, it makes total sense.
They Were Behind California Cartels In The 1980s
More than twenty years after it happened, The Kerry Commission discovered that the CIA was responsible for a lot of the illegal drug use in California in the 1980s. The agency helped set up and facilitate the import and sale of cocaine in Los Angeles.
The agency even partnered with drug lord “Freeway Rick” Ross to sell within the poorest areas of the city. The entire goal was so that the CIA cold finance a secret war in Nicaragua.
They Run Secret Prisons All Around The World
Torture is prohibited by international law all around the world but that hasn’t stopped the CIA from doing their fair share of dabbling in it. To make it harder to prosecute them, the CIA had many alleged “black sites” set up worldwide. Black sites are secret prisons run by the CIA on foreign soil.
Some of the “suspected” secret locations include Afghanistan, Thailand, Morocco, Poland, Romania, and Lithuania. The agency also has mobile sites, which are U.A. military vessels with temporary interrogation sites built into them.