The C.I.A.‘s “Bestiary of Intelligence Writing” Satirizes Spook Jargon with Maurice Sendak-Style Drawings


Ten years in acad­e­mia gave me a healthy dis­like of clichéd jar­gon, as well as an appre­ci­a­tion for jokes about it. There are a few, like the aca­d­e­m­ic sen­tence gen­er­a­tor and Ph.D. Comics, that cap­ture a bit of what it’s like to go to school and work in high­er ed. Cor­po­rate drones, of course, have Office Space and Dil­bert. But what about the spooks, those name­less, face­less agents who work tire­less­ly away in the base­ment of Lan­g­ley, doing who knows what to whom? Where does the C.I.A. go to laugh at its pecu­liar brand of hack­neyed dou­ble­s­peak? Not that we were sup­posed to know this, but per­haps many of them turn to an arti­cle called “the Bes­tiary of Intel­li­gence Writ­ing” in a 1982 copy of inter­nal agency newslet­ter Stud­ies in Intel­li­gence.


Medi­um describes this odd piece as a “zoo of fic­tion­al fau­na,” and like that strange lit­er­ary form, the medieval Euro­pean bes­tiary (often a source of satire and cri­tique), this 17-page arti­cle, with foot­notes, sin­gles out the most offen­sive spook buzz­words as though they were car­di­nal sins—naming 15 mem­bers of “the Col­lec­tion” in all, each one rep­re­sent­ed by its own Mau­rice Sendak-like pen­cil-drawn beast and a descrip­tion of its habits. The two-head­ed beast at the top, Mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary Analy­sis, is a “hybrid—the fruit of the casu­al mat­ing of stan­dard forms of Analy­sis.” Just above, we have Height­ened Ten­sions, “the adult form of Con­ven­tion­al Tensions—Tensions that have acquired stilts by thriv­ing on a rich diet of pover­ty, mal­nu­tri­tion and espe­cial­ly alien­ation.” Sounds like rough work, this spy game….


Most of the beasts are cud­dly enough, some mis­chie­vous, some per­haps dead­ly. Above, we have Dire Straits and below, Para­me­ters. “The Agency author and artist detailed 15 mon­sters in all—complete with illus­tra­tions,” writes Medi­um, “Both of their names are redact­ed in the doc­u­ment. We’ll nev­er know just which CIA agents turned their hand towards snarky polit­i­cal satire.” The doc­u­ment comes to us via a cache of records declas­si­fied in a law­suit filed by for­mer agency employ­ee Jef­fry Scud­der. We do know that the two anony­mous lam­poon­ists were inspired by A Polit­i­cal Bes­tiary, book by James Kil­patrick, car­toon­ist Jeff Mac­Nel­ly, and for­mer sen­a­tor and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Eugene McCarthy. See the full, bone dry arti­cle here, and think about the work talk that might dri­ve you to such cre­ative extremes.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

The CIA’s Style Man­u­al & Writer’s Guide: 185 Pages of Tips for Writ­ing Like a Spy

How the CIA Secret­ly Fund­ed Abstract Expres­sion­ism Dur­ing the Cold War

How the CIA Turned Doc­tor Zhiva­go into a Pro­pa­gan­da Weapon Against the Sovi­et Union

Declas­si­fied CIA Doc­u­ment Reveals That Ben Franklin (and His Big Ego) Put U.S. Nation­al Secu­ri­ty at Risk

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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