“A Jekyll-Hyde Existence:” Inside the CIA’s 1980 Manual for ferreting out Homosexuals

Agency attempted to crack “gay pass words,” noted homosexuals prefer foreign cars and female friends

Written by Matthew Guariglia
Edited by JPat Brown

In 1980, it appeared to activists as if a small bit of progress was finally being made in the push for LGBT civil rights, with the Democratic Party becoming the first major political party to endorse a gay-rights platform. That same year, the CIA appears to have released a three-page memorandum on how to recognize and ferret out homosexuals during investigations, perhaps for the purposes of blackmail.

In 1979, a memorandum to the General Counsel defended the agency’s long-standing practice of barring sexual minorities from working in the CIA, legally justifying it by rationalizing that “An investigation is not routinely terminated when allegations of homosexual conduct are developed. Rather the investigation is continued until and unless credible evidence or an admission is obtained.”

Meaning, speculation alone was not grounds for dismissal, but evidence of same-sex desire still was. The fear, of course, being, “that the modus operandi of hostile intelligence services includes the collection of compromising information regarding known or suspected homosexuals and the subsequent targeting of these individuals for assessment and recruitment.”

This did not stop the CIA from beefing up its own strategies for recognizing and gathering personal information on gay individuals.

According to the CIA’s top minds, apparently some of the key ways to spot a gay man is, “He frequently uses a Post Office Box to receive mail from trusted friends, “His work habits are good, he is punctual, responsive to authority, cooperative, friendly,” and gay men apparently also drive “preferably foreign cars.”

Also, according to the glaring absences in the document, it appears that the CIA believed only men could harbor dangerous same-sex desires.

Oddly enough the CIA reported that, “The question ‘Are you gay, straight, or bi?” has been used with marked success in interviews of suspected homosexuals.” Perhaps, because it was 1980.

The CIA was also anxious to crack gay “pass words” that were a part of “ his own languages his own social customs and mores.” Knowing the meaning of words, specifically “Gay” “Straight” and “Bi” are as important to the investigator of gay men as in the “field of narcotics investigations.” That’s why, specifically, the agency took an interest in the apparently popularly gay introduction, “Aren’t you Jack from the North?”

The document then goes on to list the value of character investigations, including a number of questions that might help an investigator or informant really get to the bottom of someone’s sexual preferences.

It didn’t take long for the CIA’s antiquated views to get a judicial wake up call. In 1982 the agency fired a, a 9-year veteran employee after he openly admitted to identifying as gay. “John Doe” was represented by the ACLU, and after a 3-year legal battle, a federal judge ruled that the man must be rehired by the agency. Several other lawsuits concerning LGBT people being denied security clearance by the CIA quickly followed.

Read the full memo embedded below:


Image via Wikimedia Commons