There's a Secret Employee Gift Shop in the CIA's Basement and You'll Never See It
If we told you about a secret CIA gift shop, hidden behind an unmarked door in its Langley, Va., headquarters, you'd think we were spouting really weird conspiracy theories. We're not. There is actually a CIA gift shop. But you can't just stroll in and buy top secret barbecue sauce.
The Washington Post got an exclusive tour (chaperoned, of course) by the man who runs the agency's revenue-generator for its Employee Activity Association. It started as a pop-up store in the basement in 1957, and currently sells items like onesies that say "the result of an UNDERCOVER operation," ties designed to look like burn bags and plush "secret squirrels" akin to the regular ones running around the suburban D.C. headquarters.
The shop, which started as a basement pop-up in 1957, is the revenue-generating arm of the CIA's nonprofit Employee Activity Association.https://t.co/WaKNZ9oC9n
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) December 3, 2019
"We like wordplay and fun things," Mark Wiggins, executive director of the CIA gift shop, told the Post. We had never associated the CIA and espionage with "wordplay" and "fun things," but, you know, everyone contains multitudes. They apparently also have a friendly rivalry with the NSA and White House gift shops, too.
So how does a gift shop in one of the most secure places in the country operate? Well, only CIA employees can go to the brick-and-mortar shop, but Wiggins said that anyone can shop online.
"If you can get past the M17s, come on down," Wiggins joked.
Wiggins apparently had a background in retail, coming to the CIA after working for Levi Strauss, Foot Locker and his own custom cookie shop franchise.
To hit his sales goals, he leads his 12-person team on a continuous search for goods that will fly from the shelves. It’s a process he refers to as sourcing and selling “hotness.” If he finds a customizable item he thinks would do well, he places an order and gives the vendor permission for the CIA logo to be used only on his purchase. Louisville Slugger baseball bats, available with the seal and custom engraving, are hot retirement and holiday gifts. Branded glassware is always a big seller. “We can’t keep this in at all,” he says, leading the way to a wall chockablock with CIA-logoed old-fashioned glasses, stemless wine sets, decanters and steins. He travels the country curating items, from chocolate bars to Waterford crystal sets to Air Force One Flight Attendant dolls.
The one day of the year where agency employees are allowed to bring their families to work, the gift shop apparently is a must-see. The Washington Post astutely pointed out that a lot of employees probably don't want to advertise the fact that they work for the CIA, but their family members might be more open to showing their pride or having a fun novelty item from the Langley basement.
Next they'll tell us there's a top-secret gift shop under Area 51.