I'm looking for a word or short phrase to refer to the CIA or CIA operatives which has a similar connotation to "feds" used to refer to the FBI or other federal groups. Specifically I'm looking for something used pejoratively, whether or not that use is common within America itself.

I've tried finding synonyms to things like Feds, Pigs, Spy, etc., but didn't find anything that felt obviously applicable to the CIA specifically. "Feds" itself doesn't feel appropriate to use for an agency which works outside of the US, even though the CIA is technically a US federal agency.

Sample Sentence: "We were in Russia on vacation, when the [American CIA] overthrew the government."

  • 6
    Feds is not specific to the Federal Bureau of Investigation; it refers to any Federal law enforcement agency - the enforcement arm of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is also frequently referred to as 'the Feds'. A derisive term for the Federal Bureau of Investigation is fibbies, representing an attempt to pronounce FBI as though it were a word, rather than an initialism. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 18:23
  • I faintly recall John le Carre using the word "the Cousins" in his spy novels to denote the American Intelligence agencies. But that was professional slang for the British agency's counterpart, whereas I can't think of a common term used in popular culture.
    – kirillandy
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 18:24
  • 1
    The Central Intelligence Agency is often referred to as the Company by its agents, and that usage has some currency in the population-at-large, but I don't believe that it is considered derisive the way fibbies is. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 18:25
  • I've also heard "The Agency." Again, not a name that lends itself to referring to individual officers. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 18:39
  • 4
    They can be referred to in a derogatory way as spooks. “when the spooks overthrew...”
    – Jim
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 19:06

2 Answers 2


There is no official shorthand, and no colloquialism that applies to all aspects of the CIA, where the Feds refers to the collective FBI.

Spook refers to a spy specifically (a data analyist at the CIA is not a spook). If you said "We were in Russia on vacation, when the spooks overthrew the government." it would be understood that you are referring to the American CIA but only because spooks would have been active in causing the overthrow. You would not say "The spooks collated bank records and informed the local fusion center of inaccuracies."

And while others are pointing out that Feds has been used to refer to any federal agent and even moreso any authority via slang, it is commonly used to refer to FBI specifically. Nobody refers to the US Postal Inspection Service as "the feds." It is originally short for "Federal Bureau of Investigation" originating from mobsters referring to it in 1935.

Prior to the FBI existing in 1935 the term "feds" was not used to refer to NBCI or BOI though they were around for 40 years.


A "spook" is a term used to refer to an espionage agent, typically associated with the CIA, but not encompassing all members of the agency.

A "fed" does not specifically refer to the FBI either, although it is often associated with them. Any law enforcement agent with federal authority would be considered a "fed", short for federal agent. If you've ever been interviewed on behalf of someone undergoing a federal background check, most OPM (Office of Personel Management) officers introduce themselves as federal agents, which they are, but they are not FBI.

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