Cash only for spies

Spotted at the CIA gift shop: an unusual warning for undercover officers

Published February 5, 2010 6:06PM (EST)

The Washington area has more than its fair share of strange places, but the CIA gift shop is surely among the weirdest.

As part of the White House press pool, I headed to the agency's headquarters Friday morning in the motorcade accompanying President Obama, who was attending a memorial service for the seven CIA officers killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan on Dec. 30. The service was closed to the press, to avoid disclosing the identity of any undercover CIA employees in the audience. So White House and CIA employees held about a dozen reporters, photographers, TV technicians and producers in an entry hall once we arrived at the building. Perhaps to keep us from getting antsy and trying to wander around the area, they escorted the whole group to the gift shop.

There, in the middle of one of the most secretive buildings in the world, was a bonanza of CIA schlock. Crystal beer, wine, martini and highball glasses etched with the intelligence agency logo. KGB coffee mugs (I bought one). Enough golf paraphernalia to wonder whether the CIA was secretly behind Tiger Woods's recent troubles. A whole section of scented Yankee Candle items. And by the cash register, the best warning sign I've seen in a long time:

"Don't forget! If you are undercover, you cannot charge! It will blow your cover."

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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