5 Surreptitious Signals For Identification According To The CIA

We have all seen the intriguing spy movies that feature a good looking, well dressed covert agent of the United States or Great Britain dashing around the world doing more in a week than most real-life intelligence operatives do in a lifetime. What is most intriguing about the glamourized version of the life of a covert operator though? Well, I think it’s the field craft. Whether it’s picking locks, making contact with a source, or bugging a phone – it all tugs at the imagination!

One aspect of field craft is being able to identify someone or be identified without drawing attention to one’s self. This is one of those skills that actually have application outside of being a covert intelligence professional. Being able to make contact with someone you may have never met before in a non-permissive environment is a skill that has wide application in survival/conflict situations that the READYMAN might find him or herself in. So, here are a few ways to do it according to The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception.

The Chrysanthemum in the buttonhole. This is a signal for medium to long-range identification, and oh yeah – it doesn’t have to be a Chrysanthemum. Any easily identified flower that is of sufficient size and a unique color will do. Although this originated in the 50’s when it was more common for men to wear boutonnieres outside of prom and weddings, it can still be used in any major city thanks to the hipster revolution we are currently experiencing.

Photo: Askmen.com

The incorrect necktie. This signal is best used for close to medium-range identification. You can use a regular necktie or a bow tie; just make sure you tie the knot like someone who doesn’t know how and is obviously wrong. This is easily explained if anyone questions you, and it’s easy for your contact to spot. For extra security, use a unique tie that isn’t out of place with the rest of your outfit.

A gift with special wrapping. This is a great long-range signal that has near-infinite variations for you to play off of. The main courses of action are a unique wrapping paper or a unique bow, or both. Make sure the package is big enough to spot, but not so big that it is cumbersome in a way that draws unnecessary attention. Of course, make sure there is something that could actually be a gift inside just in case you are in a non-permissive environment where you could be asked to open it for inspection.

A bandage on the face. This is a close to medium range signal, and the one that gives you the most bragging rights if employed. Why? Because the bandage needs to be covering up an actual wound in case you are stopped and questioned. This means you’ll need to intentionally knick yourself shaving or perform some other self-inflicted wound to the face. For easiest identification, make it a child-themed Band-Aid that features a cartoon or other animation.

A tack in the shoe. This is a close range signal that is great for it’s deniability (anyone can step on a tack accidentally) and you don’t reveal the signal until you are ready. The first step is to make sure your contact knows what color the tack will be, and on which foot it will be placed – the more specificity the better. Finally, you will not reveal it until the agreed upon time. What would this look like in practice? Let your contact know that you will have a red tack on the heal of your right shoe’s sole, and that you will sit down and cross your legs at exactly noon, revealing the sole of your shoe for identification.

Finally, once you spot your contact (or are identified if you are the one with the signal), a simple challenge and password must be exchanged to verify authenticity. This is necessary regardless of which method of identification you use, and can be done many different ways. Whatever you do, make sure it is something that makes sense for the situation. Good luck!


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