The Washington Post reported today that the CIA deliberately misinforms its own employees about operations—a practice known as “eyewashing”—so that the juiciest intel can be kept more secretly by those who truly need to know it. In interviews, some CIA officials acknowledged the practice as common, while others were like, what, no, that’s definitely never happened to me.
Before the agency conducted an operation against Abu Zabaida, an alleged al Qaeda member, it sent a memo to employees in Pakistan informing them that the mission was not authorized to go forward. It then sent another memo to a more select group instructing them to go ahead with the operation as planned, the Post reports.
Here is a quote about eyewashing from a popular, well-liked CIA official who always gets the good gossip:
“It’s just another form of compartmentation,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official, referring to the restriction of sensitive information to select recipients. He and others spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.
“The classic use of an eyewash is if you have a garden-variety source and all of a sudden he gains access to truly sensitive information,” the former official said. “What you might do is have a false communication saying the guy got hit by a bus and died. The large number of people aware of this source suddenly think he is dead. But the continuing reporting on that source and from that source gets put into a very closed compartment that few would know about.”
And here is a quote from a CIA official who maybe sometimes has to sit alone at lunch:
“I’ve never seen the eyewash concept used in the manner you’re describing,” one former CIA official said.
To paraphrase Dane Cook (forgive me): if you’re the person who’s sitting there claiming no one ever gets eyewashed—well, that probably means you’re the one who’s getting eyewashed.