30 Secrets From Former FBI And CIA Agents That Common People Aren’t Supposed To Know About
For most of us, intelligence agencies are extremely mysterious. They’re kept that way on purpose, of course, but it only increases our fascination with them. There are catalogs of popular films revolving around FBI, CIA and NSA agents including the Bourne movies, Argo, Snowden and Zero Dark Thirty. As much fun as it is to see Hollywood’s spin on the secretive lives of intelligence agents, it’s even more exciting to hear stories from the actual people inside the system.
Last year, Reddit user mr_squirrell reached out to Ask Reddit with the question, “FBI/CIA agents, what’s something that you can tell us without killing us?” The question received over 10,000 comments from readers, many of whom have either worked in intelligence agencies or know someone who has. We’ve gathered some of the most fascinating stories and juicy bits of information, so you can live vicariously through these agents. And after you’ve finished this list, continue your investigation into the world of the FBI with this Bored Panda piece.
More info: Reddit
My spouse is an FBI agent. One of the things they had to do at the FBI Academy was going to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. The lesson was what can happen if you blindly follow orders without ever questioning the morality/intent behind them. I found that pretty compelling, and I was glad to hear that it's part of their training.
To understand these stories a bit better, let’s first discuss the differences between various intelligence agencies. The United States currently has 16 active intelligence agencies, but we’ll focus on the 3 most famous: the FBI, the CIA and the NSA. UnitedStatesNow breaks down the responsibilities of each agency on their website: “Each agency has a specific area of focus, although they do occasionally cooperate on cases to share information which could lead to a breakthrough.”
The FBI, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is focused on domestic law enforcement. They assist local police in handling certain cases, such as major murder cases, crimes which have crossed state lines and kidnappings. According to their jobs website, the FBI currently consists of “more than 35,000 special agents and professional staff who work across the globe to protect the U.S. from terrorism, espionage, cyber attacks, and major criminal threats.”
Not an FBI or CIA officer here, but my sister is a district attorney, and over the years she has prosecuted a number of animal-cruelty cases. This led to her having an ongoing partnership with the FBI for the last several years. It turns out the FBI started tracking animal cruelty cases about 10-15 years ago due to the incredibly high correlation between harming animals when you're young and becoming a serial violent offender as an adult.
The FBI is also in charge of domestic surveillance. For the CIA to access intel on individuals within the United States, they have to request that information from the FBI. On their website, the FBI has a list of topics under “what we investigate” including terrorism, counterintelligence, cyber crime, public corruption, civil rights, organized crime, white-collar crime, violent crime and weapons of mass destruction.
In the Frequently Asked Questions section of their site, the FBI even addresses how accurately it's portrayed in books, shows and movies. “Any author, television script writer, or producer may consult with the FBI about closed cases or our operations, services, or history. However, there is no requirement that they do so, and the FBI does not edit or approve their work. Some authors, television programs, or motion picture producers offer reasonably accurate presentations of our responsibilities, investigations, and procedures in their story lines, while others present their own interpretations or introduce fictional events, persons, or places for dramatic effect.”
Somewhat unrelated but my great uncle was an FBI agent. Every time we would ask him if he had any interesting stories but he would say he was sworn I to secrecy. After 10 years of hearing this, my sister asked “Really?” and he responded with “No, I just don’t remember anything interesting happening.”
When the government shut down hooker sites on backpage and Craigslist the section responsible for hunting human traffickers got pissed. I perused backpage/Jacksonville for six months flagging individuals that matched the description of missing persons. Found a lot of missing girls.
The CIA, or Central Intelligence Agency, “provides objective intelligence on foreign countries and global issues to the president, the National Security Council, and other policymakers to help them make national security decisions”. On their website, they describe what they do in 3 steps: collect foreign intelligence, produce objective analysis and conduct covert action, as directed by the president. They also note that they do not make policy or policy recommendations, and they are not a law enforcement organization.
Two family stories:
1)My father's uncle told everyone for his entire life that he worked at a button factory. It was only revealed after his death that he, in fact, worked at a missile factory and assembled the gyroscopes for guidance in missiles.
2) We always knew my grandfather worked for the government at the pentagon. We never knew exactly what he did but every 6 months or so he would call up to talk to my mom. The conversation was pretty much always the same. My mom and grandfather would catch up for a few then the it would turn into..."So I have another clearance upgrade coming up, you will probably get a call like always. Just wanted to give you a heads up." Surer than sh*t, a week later some government agency would call up (it was always a different one) and ask for my mom. They would ask a bunch of questions and that would be that. When he died from Alzheimer's, at his funeral, 4 men in black suits attended, and no one knew who they were. After the burial, they approached his widow and handed her a plaque with 17 government agency symbols on it. Turns out he was responsible for inter-agency cooperation and training. He basically got everyone to talk to and teach each other. Now his son works for them, doing what? We don't know and don't ask.
A friend applied to work at the FBI. He was required to tell them anything illegal he had done so he told them he had illegally downloaded a bunch of media and they laughed and said if that disqualified you, no one would work there
Possibly the most secretive and least understood intelligence agency in the US is the NSA, or National Security Agency. (The NSA is actually combined with the Central Security Service, but we’ll just refer to it as the NSA for brevity.) The NSA maintains an extremely high level of confidentiality, and their website describes their responsibilities as collecting, processing and disseminating “intelligence information from foreign electronic signals for national foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. The NSA is also tasked with preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to classified national security information.”
Met an old, retired, CIA spook at a wedding reception. Spitting image of Col. Sanders, he was amazing.
So I asked him "I don't want you to tell me anything you can't, but I'd love to know when Kennedy got killed, what was the talk around the water cooler in the office?"
He didn't halt, or pause to think.
"Hell, we all thought Johnson did it."
My SIL is involved in these organizations. She can't tell us much about what she does, but she has a large backpack with a radiophone on top. If the phone rings she's told us you don't answer it. You just drop everything and get out of town faster than ASAP.
While in College (1978/79), this textbook in my Poli Sci class told of a time when Nixon was in office and demanded to leave the White House to go to a musical. Unplanned no prep for anything. Major s**t storm for the Secret Service. Eventually, They got Nixon to calm down and they never went out.
One of our close new neighbors happened to work for the Secret Service. His family came over to our Family home for dinner one evening. Eventually, it came out he worked on the Nixon Detail a few years back that's when I shared the story I read in my textbook.
He actually almost dropped his fork and say there with his mouth wide open. Apparently, the story was not only true but was supposed to be a secret. I showed him my book and he notated the author. I have no idea the outcome but it made the night more interesting.
The NSA actually came under fire in 2013 after a former employee, Edward Snowden, stole 1.7 million NSA documents and leaked 200,000 of them. Snowden, a self-proclaimed whistleblower, revealed all of this information to make the general public aware of the NSA’s illegal surveillance activity. Publicly, the NSA had said they never knowingly obtained data from private phone records, but Snowden exposed the truth. In 2020, the US court of appeals deemed that “the warrantless telephone dragnet that secretly collected millions of Americans’ telephone records violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and may well have been unconstitutional”.
I have a relative that retired from the NSA a few years ago. She has talked about a few things in generalities, nothing specific. Among them:
You will see things that entirely change your view of the world. People go in there all the time with lofty goals of changing things and within months those goals are mostly gone. Still, if you want to change things, you work for the agency. If you just want to make money, you work for a contractor. No one cares what contractors have to say.
Most people that stay long enough will do a tour in counterterrorism. Many people transfer out after a few months, and the average stay is two years because of the visuals. Those who stick around for a long time often change for the worse, and many struggle with mental illnesses, become alcoholics, get divorced, and generally lead miserable lives with their work their only reason for continuing.
Alcoholism in general is rife in the agency. When you cannot speak to anyone outside the agency about your work, it becomes nearly impossible to confide in anyone close to you. Even if you have close work friends or family, you have to be careful what you say because not everyone is read into every program. Two people can sit next to each other in the same office, working on the same subject for months, and never talk about it with each other even though they’re close friends outside the agency. So people turn to the bottle. Her husband worked for a different government agency and also had a Top Secret-SCI clearance, but she couldn’t talk about her work with him (nor could he with her, but he didn’t involve the intelligence community).
The agency employs psychiatrists who are cleared to be read into almost any program. Going to them, though, is often seen as a mark of shame among other agency employees, so they are not used nearly as often as they should be.
She told me most of these things while trying to recruit me. She believed that I should go in knowing what to expect. I eventually declined to apply.
I negotiated huge deals with the Russian government. I was tailed 24/7. One time I didn't like the room the hotel gave me (I knew it faced the noisy side bc I stayed there all the time) and instead of just giving me a new room it was a 90-minute wait while they bugged a new room for me. Twice I had bizarro run-ins with very pushy, very "hot" women who allegedly wanted to f**k me so bad... Even if I was straight, "hot" in Russia is a mix between a Bratz doll and a hooker, so no thanks.
My dad worked for the government, and he told me that anytime he had a meaningful interaction with someone who wasn't American (ie going over to my friend's house for the lunar new year, or going on vacation to Canada) he had to report it all and if he saw anything suspicious.
Snowden fled the US before leaking the information in 2013, to avoid being prosecuted, and he likely won’t ever return. As of 2020, Snowden has been granted permanent residence in Russia. He planned to only transit through Moscow years ago, but as he was traveling, the US canceled his passport. Apparently 27 countries denied Snowden asylum, so he has no plans to leave Russia any time soon. He is now the president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation and an advocate for freedom of speech and rights to privacy.
No full stories to tell but when my grandfather passed away we found a box of very official IDs including passports with his picture, different names, and different countries.
We'll never know. The only thing we know is he was a bada** motherf**ker who knew how to make knives and spoke 6 languages.
This is anecdotal and years old, but our family still gets a kick out of it...
I had a great uncle who was in construction years ago, he did high-quality rendering and plasterwork - he did some jobs for some security stuff in Australia.
In his later years, he would rave about the CIA and FBI and Australian secret services being in the country, with technology we'd never seen nor would see for decades.
In so 60s and 70s, we're talking about in-ear communication devices, wristwatches with video and audio, small portable computer tablets, and super small/thin screens in full high-quality color, delivering information worldwide in seconds.
His ramblings got to the point where it was conspiracy theory level, and was before smartphones and pads were really a household item... now though, what he described was VERY accurate.
My dad works for a 3 letter organization, and to this day I have no idea what he does
It’s so funny, growing up not knowing what my dad did, it felt normal. My dad would leave for a week. Be home for a week. Leave for 2. Home for 3. He ALWAYS had a present for me from whatever country he was in.
All in all it never struck me as odd as a kid. It wasn’t until I was an adult did it really stick out as abnormal.
But to answer your question, he has only told me one thing. Every so often he’ll send me a text, even now as a grown 30-year-old, “Change your passwords”.
I always do, without question
In 2016, Insider published an interview with former CIA employee Brian Goral to satiate readers’ desires to understand the intriguing lives of intelligence agents. Goral decided when he was only 15 that he wanted to work for the CIA, and he accomplished that goal by the time he was 22. During his 15 years in the service, Goral was taken to over 30 countries, even visiting 4 continents within a week at one point. He mentions that one of his favorite aspects of the job was how much of the world he was able to see. “On one [day] I witnessed the worst poverty I'd ever seen in my life, and a day-plus later, I was seeing some of the most opulent luxury I'd ever encountered… Those memories and contrasts separated by mere hours definitely left an impression and reminded me how fortunate I was to serve — and to serve with my eyes open. These sorts of experiences help a lot of agency personnel move past national biases and prejudgments and understand their work in the bigger context.”
Polygraph tests are bulls**t, and they only really ’work’ by convincing you—the subject—that they can tell when you’re lying, so you’ll be more inclined to tell the truth.
A machine cannot tell if you’re lying. Period.
It isn't the polygraph that usually gets you, it's the post-poly interview that nails people into the ground.
Worked with a woman who was a former NSA. We would always beg her to tell us s**t, but she never did. The one thing she did say, though, was that during training they show them a video of a bunch of things they've found out about and stopped. She said she hardly slept for two weeks after watching that.
There is a book called Moscow Rules. It was written by 2 CIA people, all about, well, disguise.
The CIA had all these agents in Russia, but the Russians were insane about following literally every single American in Russia, 24/7, looking for spies.
So a huge part of their job was trying to shake off the KGB. They had crazy quick-change disguises, all sorts of stuff.
The movie Argo was based on one of the writers somewhat.
When asked what the biggest challenge of working for the CIA was, Goral told Insider that it was actually walking away. “Certainly throughout my career there were scary moments in the field and painful ones while working back home, particularly when I'd hear news of friends and colleagues who wouldn't be coming home… However, in a way, those moments were expected and part of the job. Leaving wasn't. During the last 15-plus years, many of the people in the agency became my best friends and family. I was leaving the job security and the mission for complete unknowns, certainly. I also knew that most of those amazing friends and colleagues who helped me to reach the points of success I attained in my career I would probably never see again.”
My high school girlfriend worked for the National Reconnaissance Office after college. At the time, they were responsible for analyzing the nation's spy satellite photos. She told me two things.
There's a special garbage chute for classified materials. It's in the hallway. When you are new, as a hazing ritual they tell you you have to shout your badge number down the chute before throwing in any materials. This is hilarious.
She wouldn't tell me anything about the resolution quality of the spy photos, of course, but she did let it slip that because Russian sailors will sunbathe nude on the decks of their submarines in the Black Sea, several women in the office would pin those photos up in their cubicles as beefcake photos. So a few decades ago, US spy photos could resolve Russian penis.
Not CIA or FBI related. My grandfather was a career navy officer. His specialty was in electronic communications. I grew up across the country from him and never gained a close relationship with him. He traveled to many different duty stations but we found out about 2 top secret stations before he died, he had while he was out at sea.
He was given the work with one other officer to further develop LORAN, a radio precursor to modern GPS that could track your position accurately to 10s of miles. (Not super impressive by today's standards but it was a hell of a thing back then.)
Bikini Atoll, he told me a few years before he passed that he took part in the nuclear testing that took place and felt the heat of an Atom Bomb. He said nothing has ever been more impressive, but nothing has scared him more than the power of a nuclear weapon.
We are all told never to use sites like this and social media, in general, is pretty much a no-go.
When asked what the biggest misconception about working for the CIA is, Goral said that there is really no “stereotypical agent”. “For every gun-rights activist at the CIA, there is a coworker who wants reform right now. For every devout Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu in the building, there is someone who prefers the scientific exploration of the universe. While I've heard political discussions in the halls and cafeteria, I don't think I'd ever seen a hot-button political issue of the day that actually influenced the work or affected cooperation between colleagues working together on a project.”
My dad worked for GCHQ in the 80s doing voice recognition and he can't say anything more for a decade more.
The way they can recognize you by Siri/Google today was being used in the 80s... Just a bit slower...
I worked with the Australian Federal Police with the spider squad doing "computer stuff" for them in regards to pedos and finding trafficking victims - it is the most heartbreaking work but when you get them the office looked like NASA after the Mars landing
Edit; left 3 and a bit years ago but do get called up to lend a hand every now and then
My grandfather was CIA.. we all knew better, no one asked. Over time as his assignments became unclassified, he would slowly tell little stories. Was eating dinner. He asks my mom you remember that time y’all dropped me off at Dulles airport? I actually flew to Camp Perry. And was then helicoptered overseas. My mom replied which time. Turns out he was a demo expert. Defused bombs. Spent 30 years all over the world. His claim to fame Toyko Rose used to call him personally. Every time he landed in Japan. Man never traveled under his real name.
Lastly, Goral addressed the real question everyone wants answered: how accurate are depictions of the CIA on TV shows and in movies? “I like a good adventure story as much as the next person. However, besides missing badly on the ratio of excitement to preparation, most of the movie and TV versions I've seen have sold short the diversity of personalities and complexity of emotions encountered within the work we do, or they overcompensate with completely ridiculous elements.”
Not either of these, but I've had a clearance so I can weigh in a little.
Firstly, most secret s**t happens right in front of people's faces under the guise of being normal everyday stuff.
Secondly, properly secret programs and operations are never named in any way that indicates what they actually are about. They're generally just two words chosen at random and that would rarely come up in normal conversation, stuff like "Cracked Gorilla" (which I just made up off the top of my head.)
So when people talk about classified stuff and its name is super topical, it's either very very old or a nickname at best. Only public programs and operations have topical names as a PR motive, like "Desert Storm."
My Brother is an FBI Agent. Doesn't talk about work much. The two biggest takeaways I got from him over the years is that the media is a joke and he doesn't say anything on phone calls.
While many of us have a laundry list of questions for the FBI and CIA that we’ll never know the answers to, it sure is fun to hear agents reveal the information that they can. I’m certainly not cut out for working in any of these agencies, so I’m very thankful for the people that do. Be sure to upvote the stories you find most fascinating, and let us know in the comments if you have any personal or second-hand stories from the intelligence community!
I talked with some CIA recruiters towards the end of college and almost applied earnestly after a large group Q&A and then a much smaller one.
The thing that stuck out to me was that the guys said most CIA agents are out of shape and have limited combat training with guns or hand to hand. They made it clear that it’s the military that uses force. If confronted they were trained to immediately surrender or to drop their bags and run if possible.
If you apply for a job at GCHQ/MI5/MI6/Fylingdales/etc. they will talk to every member of your close family and if any minor red flags come up you might not get the job.
And also if you are Chinese/Russian/North Korean/etc. (I think that it probably goes to a grandparent or great grandparent being from that country) you will not even be able to apply.
Source: Stepdad was in MI6 and fun-fact; if he wants to go to certain countries (eg. Israel) he has to ask permission from the MOD to travel there
I applied for a job as a computer programmer for the CIA in the 1980's which required a top-secret clearance. The application was 17 pages long and wanted to know the exact dates of any illegal drug use, your sexual proclivities as well as every place you have ever lived as well as other things. The second interview would be conducted while taking a polygraph test. I noped out on that one.
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