Check Out the CIA’s Monster Manual

A bizarre personification of the Agency’s most hated cliches


War Is Boring published an earlier version of this story on Sept. 21, 2014.

In 1982, the CIA’s internal newsletter Studies in Intelligence introduced readers to a “collection of strange fauna in a corner of a sub-basement.” The writer — whose identity the Agency redacted when they released the document to the public more than three decades later — called this zoo of fictional fauna the “Bestiary of Intelligence Writing.”

The bestiary is a list of cliches the CIA’s writers hate seeing in print. Nothing strange about that.

What is odd is deciding to write about them by depicting them as wild animals, complete with illustrations and descriptions of mating habits.

Think about that for a moment. Two CIA agents hated reading the same buzzwords over and over again enough to take the time to write and illustrate a special report depicting those buzzwords as monsters.

In 2014, the CIA declassified over 200 documents as part of an attempt to settle a lawsuit filed by former employee Jeffrey Scudder. This bizarre bestiary is one of those documents.

Thanks to Scudder, we can read about monsters such as the Multidisciplinary Analysis — a “hybrid — the fruit of the casual mating of standard forms of Analysis.” The writers said the beast had flourished “in recent months.”

Viable Alternatives, by contrast, reproduced asexually because they “tend to be mutually exclusive and have never been known to mate.”

Among Broad Outlines, conception was far more pleasurable than “carrying [the children] to fruition.” Sadly, “there’s a high infant mortality rate among Broad Outlines — they often fall prey to Nonstarters.”

Overwhelming Majority, Nonstarter and Foreseeable Future.

According to the CIA, these creatures come in four genders — economic, political, social and military. “Dire economic straits,” for example, “are more common than the political, military or social varieties,” while Mounting Crisis are more often of the political or economic gender.

This bestiary reveals a rare human side of the Agency. The authors laugh and mock the ridiculous aspects of their job — just like everyone else. What’s surprising is just how clever some of the entries are.

“The Net Effect is a hybrid beast of burden developed by political scientists jealous of the Net Assessment that Secretary of Defense McNamara’s ‘whiz kids’ bred in the Pentagon basement in the early 1960s,” the piece explained. Economists and analysts mocked the beast for being “too imprecise.”

Dire Straits, Heightened Tensions and Parameters

Overwhelming majorities were also a source of derision. The accompanying picture resembles a squat troll wearing an “I liked Ike” button.

They come in two subspecies — the Wide Majority and the Thin Majority. The author described the beast as nothing more than a gluttonous and overfed Greater Majority that “tend to be flabby.” While “the most effective Majority … is the leaner, tougher Working Majority.

Heightened Tensions is another frightening beast, described as “the adult form of Conventional Tensions — Tensions that have acquired stilts by thriving on a rich diet of poverty, malnutrition and especially alienation.” They don’t breed, but “spring like maggots from the aforementioned dietary components.”

The Agency author and artist detailed 15 monsters in all — complete with illustrations. Both of their names are redacted in the document. We’ll never know just which CIA agents turned their hand towards snarky political satire.

Mounting Tensions, Viable Alternatives and Multidisciplinary Analysis

Which is a shame since the document is witty and well-written. The drawings are little better than the doodles on a highschooler’s notebook, but serve the function of helping readers visualize the grotesque cliches.

The Bestiary’s authors cite A Political Bestiary as the inspiration. The book — by writer James Kilpatrick, former U.S. senator Eugene McCarthy and editorial cartoonist Jeff MacNelly — is a similar work focusing on American political animals.

The Agency apologizes to those authors in a footnote at the beginning of its zoological obscurity.

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