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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 It is likely that they have since been replaced by another system.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]


Format of cryptonymsEdit

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.

Examples from publications by former CIA personnel show that the terms "code name" and "cryptonym" can refer to the names of operations as well as to individual persons. TRIGON, for example, was the code name for Aleksandr Ogorodnik, a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in what was then the Soviet Union, whom the CIA developed as a spy,[2] and Col. Oleg Penkovsky, who supplied data on the nuclear readiness of the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, was assigned code name HERO.[3] According to former CIA Director Richard M. Helms: "The code names for most Agency operations are picked in sequence from a sterile list, with care taken not to use any word that might give a clue to the activity it covers. On some large projects, code names are occasionally specially chosen--GOLD, SILVER, PBSUCCESS, CORONA. When Bob Kennedy requested a code name for the government-wide plan that Richard Goodwin was drafting, an exception was made. Goodwin was on the White House staff, and the plan concerned Cuba. Occasionally the special code names come close to the nerve, as did MONGOOSE.[4] A secret joint program between the CIA's Mexico City station and the Mexican secret police to wiretap the Soviet and Cuban embassies was code-named ENVOY.[5]

Some cryptonyms relate to more than one subject, e.g. a group of people. In this case the basic cryptonym, e.g. LICOZY, will designate the whole group, while each group member is designated by a sequence number, e.g. LICOZY/3, which can also be written LICOZY-3.

If several references are made to the same cryptonym in a document, the cryptonym will often be abbreviated the second and subsequent times, to save encryption effort. Thus LICOZY-3, for example, might be abbreviated just L-3.

Partial list of digraphs and probable definitionsEdit

Years in brackets indicate when the digraph is known to have been in use, but may in many cases have been used long before or after the years shown.

Unidentified digraphsEdit

BG, CA, DT, EC, ER, FJ, HB, HO, HT, JM, JU, KM, LC, QK, SE, SC, SG, WS, ZI

Partial list of CIA cryptonyms and probable definitionsEdit

Operations and Projects Edit

More than 20 digraphs pertaining to CIA efforts to overthrow and/or assassinate Fidel Castro, and other CIA activities, have been documented by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann in Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2009) and Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005). Page references below are to Legacy of Secrecy (LS) and Ultimate Sacrifice (US). Waldron and Hartmann note: "Even seasoned historians have had trouble distinguishing AMWORLD from AMTRUNK from AMLASH, and figuring out where programs like the CIA-Mafia plots fit in." (LS, page 224).


  • AMBIDDY-1: Manuel Artime (US, page 878).
  • AMCLATTER-1: Bernard Leon Barker (1917-2009), one of the Watergate burglars; (LS, page 262).
  • AMLASH: Plan to assassinate Fidel Castro associated mainly with Rolando Cubela, who is often identified as AMLASH, but was also referred to as AMLASH-1. AMLASH has been referred to as a "basically one-person Cubela operation." (US, page 215).
  • AMOT: Cuban exile informants of David Morales (LS, page 38).
  • AMTHUG: Fidel Castro (LS, page 35).
  • AMTRUNK: A plan initiated in February 1963, also called the "Leonardo Plan," to overthrow the Cuban government "by means of a conspiracy among high-level . . . leaders of the government culminating in a coup d'etat." (US, page 215). AMTRUNK has also been described as a "CIA-DIA Task Force on Cuba" (LS, page 224), and the latter has also been characterized as "a plodding bureaucratic effort" that "had worlked for months to identify Cuban leaders who might be able to stage a coup." (US, page 216).
  • AMWHIP-1: Business associate of Santos Trafficante who was in contact with Rolando Cubela (AMLASH) in 1963 (LS, page 19).
  • AMWORLD: A plan initiated June 28, 1963, to overthrow the Castro regime in a coup on December 1, 1963 (C-Day), that would have installed Juan Almeida Bosque (1927–2009), a top ranking Cuban military officer, as the new head of state (LS, page 13; US, page 794).
  • MURKIN: Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination files (LS, page 516). Digraph possibly based on "Murder King" or "King Murder".
  • QJWIN: European assassin (LS, page 35).
  • QKENCHANT: Classified CIA program associated with E. Howard Hunt (1918-2007), who with G. Gordon Liddy and others, was one of the White House's "plumbers" — a secret team of operatives charged with fixing "leaks." (LS, page 709).

Other diagraphs associated with CIA and Cuba, whose meanings are not explained, include AMCLEOPATRA, AMCOBRA, AMCROW, AMCRUZ, AMHALF, AMFOX, AMGLOSSY and AMJUDGE, AMPALM-4 (US, page 794), GPIDEAL (US, page 894), ODYOKE (US, page 794; but identified below as "Federal Government of the United States"), PBPRIME (US, page 794); all others LS, page 204.

The digraphs listed below were gathered from other sources:

  • Plan Charity: Joint CIA/OSO-Italian Naval Intelligence information gathering operation

against Albania (1948-1951).

  • APPLE
  • ARTICHOKE: Anti-interrogation project. Precursor to MKULTRA.
  • AQUATONE: Original name for the Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane Project. Succeeded by CHALICE.
  • AZORIAN: Project to raise the Soviet K-129 submarine from the Pacific Ocean.
  • BIRCH
  • BLUEBIRD: mind control program
  • CHALICE: Second name for the Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane Project. Preceded by AQUATONE.
  • CHATTER: Identification and testing of drugs to be used in interrogations and the recruitment of agents
  • CHERRY: Covert assassination / destabilization operation during Vietnam war, targeting Prince (later King) Norodom Sihanouk and the government of Cambodia. Disbanded.
  • CONDOR: 1970s CIA interference in Latin American governments, some allege in the coup and assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile
  • CORONA: Satellite photo system.
  • DBACHILLES: 1995 effort to support a military coup in Iraq. [1]
  • ECHELON: worldwide signals intelligence and analysis network run by the UKUSA Community.
  • FIR
  • GUSTO: Project to design a follow-on to the Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane. Succeeded RAINBOW. Succeeded by OXCART[7].
  • HTAUTOMAT: Photointerpretation center established for the Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane Project
  • HTLINGUAL: Mail interception operation.
  • IDIOM: Initial work by Convair on a follow-on to the Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane. Later moved into GUSTO.[8]
  • Project JBEDICT: Tripartite Stay-Behind project.
  • IAFEATURE: Operation to support UNITA and FNLA during the Angolan civil war.
  • KEMPSTER: Project to reduce the radar cross section (RCS) of the inlets of the Lockheed A-12 Spy Plane
  • KMHYMNAL: Maine-built motor sailer JUANITA purchased by CIA to use as floating, clandestine, propaganda broadcast facility in Mediterranean/Adriatic (1950-53).
  • LEMON
  • LINCOLN: Ongoing operation involving Basque separatist group ETA
  • LITEMPO: Secret spy network code-name. Operated between 1956–1969, to exchange information with Mexican top officers. [2]
  • LPMEDLEY: Surveillance of telegraphic information exiting or entering the United States
  • MHCHAOS: Surveillance of antiwar activists during the Vietnam War
  • MKDELTA: Stockpiling of lethal biological and chemical agents, subsequently became MKNAOMI
  • MKNAOMI: Stockpiling of lethal biological and chemical agents, successor to MKDELTA
  • MKULTRA: Mind control research. MKULTRA means MK (code for scientific projects) and ULTRA (top classification reference, re: ULTRA code breaking in WWII. Renamed MKSEARCH in 1964
  • MKSEARCH: MKULTRA after 1964, mind control research
  • MKOFTEN: Testing effects of biological and chemical agents, part of MKSEARCH
  • MKCHICKWIT: Identify new drug developments in Europe and Asia and obtain samples, part of MKSEARCH
  • OAK: Operation to assassinate suspected South Vietnamese collaborators during Vietnam war
  • OXCART: Lockheed A-12 Spy Plane Project. Succeeded GUSTO.[7].
  • PAPERCLIP: US recruiting of German scientists after the Second World War
  • PHOENIX: Vietnam covert intelligence/assassination operation.
  • PINE
  • PBFORTUNE: CIA project to supply forces opposed to Guatemala's President Arbenz with weapons, supplies, and funding; predecessor to PBSUCCESS.
  • PBHISTORY: Central Intelligence Agency project to gather and analyze documents from the Arbenz government in Guatemala that would incriminate Arbenz as a Communist.
  • PBJOINTLY: Operation that built a tunnel from the American sector of Berlin, to the Russian sector.
  • PBSUCCESS: (Also PBS) Central Intelligence Agency covert operation to overthrow the Arbenz government in Guatemala.
  • PBRUMEN - Cuba.
  • RAINBOW: Project to reduce the radar cross section (RCS) of the Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane.[9] Succeeded by GUSTO.
  • SHERWOOD: CIA radio broadcast program in Nicaragua begun on May 1, 1954.
  • STARGATE: Investigation of psychic phenomena
  • THERMOS: Unclassified codeword used in lieu of RAINBOW[10]
  • TPAJAX: Joint US/UK operation to overthrow Mohammed Mossadeq, Prime Minister of Iran
  • TSS: Technical Services Staff
  • WASHTUB: Operation to plant Soviet arms in Nicaragua

Organizations Edit

Companies Edit

Note: unlikely to be a cryptonym as such.

Persons Edit

Places Edit

Other Edit

  • APPLE: Agent team seen in 1952 by CIA/OPC as best bet to successfully continue BGFIEND Project aimed at harrass/overthrow Albanian Communist regime. Team arrested, Communists controlled radio ops for 16 months, fatally luring more agents into Albania in 1953, and trying and executive original agents in 1954 to suddenly end BGFIEND. [12]
  • BGGYPSY: Communist;
  • ESCOBILLA: Guatemalan national
  • ESMERALDITE: labor informant affiliated with AFL-sponsored labor movement
  • ESSENCE: Guatemalan anti-Communist leader
  • FJHOPEFUL: military base
  • LCFLUTTER: Polygraph, sometimes supplanted by truth drugs: Sodium Amytal (amobarbital), Sodium Pentothal (thiopental), and Seconal (secobarbital) to induce regression in the subject.
  • LIENVOY: Wiretap or Intercept Program
  • RYBAT: Indicates that the information is very sensitive
  • SLINC: Telegram indicator for PBSUCCESS Headquarters in Florida.

Unidentified codewordsEdit

AEBARMAN, AEFOX, AEROPLANE, AMWORLD, AVBLIMP, AVBRANDY, AVBUSY, CABOUNCE, CLOWER, ECJOB, ESGAIN, ESODIC, FJDEFLECT, GOLIATH, HBDRILL, HOPEFUL, JUBATE, JUBILIST, KUHOOK, KUJUMP, KUPALM, KURIOT, KUTUBE, LCPANES, LICOZY, LPHIDDEN, ODIBEX, PBCABOOSE, QKENCHANT

Further readingEdit

  • Leo D. Carl, The International Dictionary of Intelligence, Mavin Books, 1990, p. 107
  • Phillip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, Stonehill Publishing, 1975, p. 48
  • David Wise, Molehunt, Random House, 1992, p. 19
  • John Stockwell, In Search of Enemies, 1978
  • Gregory W. Pedlow and Donald E. Welzenbach, The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954 - 1974, CIA History Staff, 1992.
  • Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann, Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2009.
  • DPD Contracting Officer, "Change of Project Funds Obligated under Contract No. SS-100," DPD-2827-59, CIA, Washington, DC, 30 April 1959.

ReferencesEdit

  1. A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency," by Richard Helms with William Hood. New York: Random House, 2003, pages 378-379.
  2. Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs from Communism to Al-Qaeda, by Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton. New York: Dutton, 2008, pages 88-102).
  3. A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency," by Richard Helms with William Hood. New York: Random House, 2003, page 216.
  4. A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency," by Richard Helms with William Hood. New York: Random House, 2003, page 197.
  5. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, by Tim Weiner. New York: Anchor Books, 2008, page 258.
  6. "Our War" in Angola, May 22, 1978. TIME Magazine.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Pedlow & Welzenbach, pg. 274.
  8. Contracting officer, "Change of Project Funds Obligated Under Contract No. SS-100, Convair, San Diego, California, Project CHAMPION," DPD-2827-59, CIA, Washington, DC, 30 April 1959.
  9. Pedlow & Welzenbach, pg. 129.
  10. Bissell, Richard M., Jr., "[...] Cable Handling Procedures," SAPC-21143, CIA, Washington, DC, 8 November 1957.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Template:Cite web
  12. OBOPUS/BGFIEND, RG263, Various documents, include Vol. 6, Box 47, National Archives, College Park, MD
da:CIA's kodeord

es:Criptónimo CIA

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