The Weird Nicknames of 7 Spy Agency Headquarters


Because being a secret agent isn’t cool enough, spymasters tend to build elaborate headquarters buildings with really great nicknames. Here are a few headquarters known for their vodka martinis, Aston Martins, and Walther pistols.

1. Legoland

The British Secret Intelligence Service (also called MI6, but more famously known as James Bond’s employer) was only officially acknowledged as an actual organization eight years ago. They probably didn’t have much choice in that decision, as hiding their new headquarters—a giant white-and-Bondi-blue SimCity reward built on the Thames—would have been a bit much. Spies have nicknamed the building Legoland, for obvious reasons.

2. The Aquarium

The GRU, also known as ??????? ???????????????? ?????????? ???????????? ?????, is the military intelligence agency of Russia. Its headquarters is located at Khodynka Airfield in Moscow, and is called “The Aquarium” by GRU employees. Viktor Suvorov, a former Soviet spy, once asked his superior, “What kind of fish are there swimming there?” The response: “There's only one kind there—piranhas.”

3. The Farm

Camp Peary (officially: the Armed Forces Experimental Training Activity) near Williamsburg, Virginia, looks like every secret base in every spy movie ever filmed. That’s probably what the government was going for, as the site hosts a secret base of its own—a CIA training facility known as “The Farm.” Officially, of course, The Farm doesn’t exist, and doesn’t train CIA officers in everything from paramilitary tactics to surreptitiously swapping briefcases. Nor does it have its own airport with a 5,000-foot runway.

4. Liberty Crossing

The two headquarters of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center are collectively known as Liberty Crossing. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re probably not looking very hard—the complex is the size of five Wal-Mart buildings stacked atop one another. Of course, if you look too hard, things might go badly. As Dana Priest and Bill Arkin reported in the Washington Post, “One step too close without the right badge, and men in black jump out of nowhere, guns at the ready.”

5. The Fort

National Security Agency headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland, has several great nicknames: the Puzzle Palace, the Panopticon, the Shadow Factory. Members of the intelligence community just call it “The Fort.” And it makes Liberty Crossing look like a cottage on Walden Pond. The Capitol Building could fit inside of NSA headquarters four times over.

6. The Swimming Pool

The French military doesn’t have the strongest reputation. (Q. “What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands up?” A. “The army.”) But their spies don’t play around. The Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure kills terrorists, rescues hostages, and runs campaigns in Libya and Rwanda. When Greenpeace planned to float a protest boat near nuclear testing waters, French spies blew it up. In New Zealand. Their headquarters in Paris is known as “The Swimming Pool,” as it is located near the Piscine des Tourelles, the swimming venue of the 1924 Summer Olympics.

7. The Doughnut

The Government Communications Headquarters is the signals arm of British intelligence. GCHQ basically has the same charge as the U.S. National Security Agency, and like the NSA, has an awesome office building. Completed in 1993, the facility is like a prototype of Apple’s spaceship campus under development. Spies call GCQH headquarters “the Doughnut.”