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Glossary of covert expressions
This page explains some of the typical expressions in covert speak. For additional expressions, please refer to our spy radio glossary or check out our crypto glossary. You can help us expanding this page by sending us covert expressions that are not yet listed here.


Active Concealment   Object that is converted into a concealment device but that can still be used for its original function. For example a wrist watch that is converted into a concealed container, but that still works as a wrist watch.
ATE   Active Target Element
Active bugging device that has its own power source, can be controlled remotely and has full masking of its audio signal.
Briefstift   German expression for a Dead Drop Spike.
Brush Pass   Quick exchange of information or objects 'in person' by passing-by and briefly touching each other (brushing). Also known as a flash pass.
Bug   Covert listening device, commonly used to intercept and/or record conversations in a room or via a telephone line. Most bugs are small radio transmitters, but this is by no means mandatory.  More
Cache   In espionage, a cache is a secret hiding place where objects, needed for covert activities, are stored. It is commonly used to hide money, code material, weapons, ammunition and equipment. Caches are also used by Stay-Behind Organisations (SBO).
CIA   Central Intelligence Agency
United Status foreign intelligence agency.  More
Cold War   State of political and military tension in the period after WWII (1947-1991), between the Western Block (US, Europe, NATO) and the Eastern Bloc (Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies).  Wikipedia
Concealment Device   An object that has been converted into a secret container in order to hide secret material, such as money, documents, frequency lists and code material.  More
DDR   Deutsche Demokratische Republik
The German Democratic Republic (GDR), commonly known as East Germany or the DDR,was a state that existed during the Cold War from 1949 to 1990. At the end of World War II (WWII), the territory — with the exception of West-Berlin — was administered by the Soviet Union (USSR).  Wikipedia  Spy
Dead Drop   A concealment device that is used to pass secret objects, such as documents, money, films, messages, etc. between a secret agent and his handler without physically meeting each other (as opposed to a live drop).  More
Dead Letter Box   Dead Drop
DLB   Dead Letter Box Dead Drop
EDD   Electronic Dead Drop Electronic Dead letter Box
EDLB   Electronic Dead Letter Box
Electronic variant of the Dead letter Box whereby information is covertly passed between sender and receiver by means of Near Field Communication (NFC). Also known as short-range agent communications (SRAC).  Example
Erddorn   German expression for a Dead Drop Spike.
eTBK   Elektronischer toter Briefkasten
German expression for an Electronic Dead Letter Box.
HUMINT   Human Intelligence
IED   Improvised Explosive Device
Iron Curtain   Ideological and physical border that divided Europe into two separate areas from the end of WWII to the end of the Cold War (1945-1991). To the west of this border was the free Western Block (NATO and West-European countries). To the east of the border was the Soviet Union and its Soviet-controlled satellites of the Warsaw Pact.  Wikipedia
Live Drop   Method of passing objects between a secret agent and his handler, whereby objects, such as documents, money, films, code material, etc., are covertly exchanged.  More
Lock picking   Method of opening a lock without the original key, commonly performed by analyzing and manipulating the components of the lock in such a way that the lock is not damaged and can be used again.  More
LP   Listening Post
Secure area, often near the Target Area (TA), where intelligence from a Target Element (TE) is gathered by means of receivers and/or recording equipment, sometimes aided with an activation transmitter, or actuator.
L-Pill   Lethal Pill
A pill for quickly committing suicide. Also known as a suicide pill.
MfS   Ministerium für Staatssicherheit
Ministery for State Security of the former DDR (East Germany); one of most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world. The agency is commonly known as Stasi, which is the abbreviation of Staats-Sicherheit, and had its headquarters in East-Berlin. The Stasi had strong ties with the Russian intelligence service KGB.  Wikipedia  Wikipedia Germany
Microdot   Optically reduced photo film or negative to a size that is too small for the human eye to read. Generally 1 mm2 or less. Also known as Microfilm.
NIACT   Night Action
NOC   Non-Official Cover
OSO   Office of Special Operations
CIA department involved in clandestine intelligence gathering. Merged into the Directory of Plans in 1952.
OSS   Office of Strategic Services
Clandestine US organisation for infiltration and sabotage activities during WWII. The predecessor of the current CIA.
OTP   One-Time Pad
Theoretically unbreakable cipher, that involves mixing of plaintext with random data on a pad of numbers or letters, which was used only once. (More...)
OTS   Office of Technical Services
Technical applied research and developemt (R&D) department of the CIA from 1973 onwards. Previously known as TSD.
OWVL   One-Way Voice Link
Method of sending messages to (secret) agents without revealing the recipient's location, commonly by means of unaddressed voice broadcasts via short-wave radio. Also known as Numbers Stations. (More...)
Passive Concealment   Object that is used as a concealment device but that serves no other purpose. For example a wrist watch that is in fact a concealed microphone but that can not be used as a watch anymore. A dead drop spike is also a passive concealment as it serves no ohter purpose.
PE   Passive Element
Covert listening device (bug) that does not require a local power source, but that is instead powered by a strong RF signal aimed at it. Examples of PEs are The Thing and Easy Chair.
SDR   Surveillance Detection Route
Method used by an agent to ensure that he or she is not being followed. Commonly involves several changes in direction and means of transport. Also known as Surveillance Detection Run.
SIGINT   Signals Intelligence
SIS   Secret Intelligence Service
SOE   Special Operations Executive
British espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance organisation during WWII, active from 22 July 1940 to 15 January 1946. Also known as Churchill's Secret Army and as the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Approx. 13,000 people were involved in the SOE, 3200 of which were women.  Wikipedia
Soviet Union   The USSR, or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, often abbreviated to Soviet Union, was a Marxist-Leninist federation of states on the Eurasian continent that existed between 1922 and 1991. It was controlled by the Communist Party with Moscow (Russia) as its capital.  Wikipedia
SRAC   Short-range agent communications
One-way or two-way short-range wireless communications used for intelligence purposes. Generally consisting of a small transmitter that allows an agent to deliver or collect a message whilst being in the vicinity of an electronic dead drop.  Example  Wikipedia
Stasi   Ministerium für Staatssicherheit
SW   (1) Secret Writing
SW   (2) Short Wave
TA   Target Area
Room, building or area under surveillance. Generally this is a room or office in which a covert listening device is placed.
TBK   Toter Briefkasten
German expression for Dead Letter Box or Dead Drop.
TDS   Technical Services Department
Technical department of the CIA until it was renamed to OTS in 1973.
TE   Target Element
Covert listening device, concealed in the Target Area (TA), whith the purpose of collecting intelligence. Examples of a TE are the Passive Element (PE) and the Active Target Element (ATE).
Trapcontainer   Dutch expression for Dead Drop Spike.
USSR   Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Soviet Union
Wire   American expression for a covert recording device or a covert transmitter (bug), usually worn by an informant or an undercover (law enforcement) agent for collecting incriminating evidence against a suspect.
WP   Warsaw Pact
Collective defense treaty among eight communist states in Central and Eastern Europe, lead by the Soviet Union (USSR), that existed during the Cold War. The members were Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East-Germany (DDR), Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union (USSR).  Wikipedia
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Crypto Museum. Last changed: Wednesday, 02 May 2018 - 17:07 CET.
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