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Via Muckrock’s latest newsletter comes an interesting release – emails on the CIA’s twitter account, deciding what their first tweet should be.  From quoting lines from Argo to figuring out how to do redacted tweets to linking to Onion articles – all options were on the table.  Which begs the question, why did they fall back on the lame old ‘we can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet’?

The documents don’t actually cover much of Mike Morisy’s request – he asked for planning materials referenced in news stories and in a podcast with Carolyn Reams, web strategist for, as well as talking points related to Reams’ appearance on that podcast.  What was released was a handful of emails tossing ideas around for the first tweet, and the first week of tweets.

Curiously, the emails include exchanges between the CIA’s web strategist (presumably Reams) and Sean Evins, then Twitter’s

As for effective first tweets – I would take a look at @HillaryClinton, @GinaEPA for starters. I will find a few more. You want to show the voice of the account from the get-go, that it will be more than just a “here’s our press release”.

The CIA also shared their ideas for their first tweet with Evins, and asked for his help on how to do redacted tweets (dumbot CIA nerds haven’t figured out you can just copy-paste ███████ blocks like ████).  A mildly embarassed email to Evins, most likely from Reams, reads:

So, quandary…. How do I make redacted text on the twitters?

Obviously it can be done, I’m looking at you @redactedTweet.

And yes, the irony that I can’t figure this out is not lost on me…

Evins responded with links and instructions, like any good court jester would.

One internal email details feedback from others within the Agency on ideas for the First Tweet:

1. First tweet will be redacted
Could follow by a RT of famous Onion article: CIA Realizes It’s Been Using
Black Highlighters All These Years (optional – old but funny, too old?)

2. same first Tweet un-redacted

Possible Redacted Tweets:
We are the nation’s first line of defense. We accomplish what others cannot
accomplish and go where others cannot go.
Argo f**k yourself
CIA on Twitter: the best bad idea we have. By far.

3. CIA collects, evaluates, and disseminates foreign intel needed to
help the president and policymakers make national security decisions

4. #histint
This will be the Intro of the “this week in Intel“ weekly feature. James is
making up a graphic to brand it.

The first one will be CIA joins Twitter

The paucity of good ideas for the first CIA tweet is quite obvious – aside from self-referential jokes about them joining Twitter, all they could come up with was press release statements and jokes from the movie Argo (which, to be fair, the CIA were deeply involved in).  They also sketched out ideas for the first full week of operations on the CIA’s Twitter account, including suggestions for CIA/OSS artifact of the week, references to the Kryptos statue, and flagging up the C-Span American Artifacts episode on the CIA’s museum, a.k.a. ‘the best museum you’ll never see’.  Fans of the CIA’s new podcast, The Langley Files, will recognise many of these same ideas and themes – including jokes around ‘we can neither confirm nor deny’ from episodes of the show.

Naturally, there was also a ‘Recruitment Tweet – checking with them to see if there is anything they want to highlight’ and ‘CIA is a proud sponsor of Capital Pride 2014’, just to hit all the required buttons.  They also flagged up Virginia Hall of the OSS, a lesser known spy who was the subject of two recent films – at least one of which was supported by the CIA.  At Langley, there are only circles.

The oddest thing about these emails is how naive and simple-minded the CIA’s people were, especially when compared to the recent news about how deeply involved the Agency are in social media content ‘moderation’. Perhaps it’s wrong to compare the people hired to monitor and censor social media with those hired to post rubbish on it, but still – you’d think the world’s premier intelligence agency could come up with something better than historical trivia, inside jokes that aren’t funny, and lines from spy movies.

CIA Documents on Twitter

CIA emails on their first tweet and the CIA’s twitter account