When you think of the CIA, Instagram probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Spy fiction tends to depict the organization as shadowy and sinister, so when the nation’s premier intelligence agency posted its first piece of content to Instagram, users were naturally suspicious.
Other government agencies typically post much lighter content to social media, such as photos of smiling staffers or neutral political platitudes. The CIA, however, plays by its own rules. The organization made its Instagram debut with a mysterious still-life photo and a single clue in the form of a sentence. Now, users across Instagram are working together to decode the photo’s meaning — and hopefully unlock any secrets the CIA may have hidden within it.
After days of research, many Instagram users think they’ve cracked the code and found the message behind each object in the photo. Do you think you have what it takes to play a spy-game with the CIA? Read on to see this mysterious image, as well as the answers to each object pictured.
The CIA on social media
Instagram isn’t the CIA’s first rodeo with social media. The organization has had a presence on Twitter for some time now, but like other government accounts, it mostly just posted text content and recruitment-style imagery.
We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.
— CIA (@CIA) June 6, 2014
On Instagram, however, the agency opened its account with a bizarre photo of a desk chock-full of mismatched objects. Captioning the post was a one-sentence clue: “I spy with my little eye…”
Now, one could easily interpret this post as a play on words. “I spy” would refer to the CIA’s nature as a spy agency, after all. But according to eagle-eyed observers on Instagram, the organization has set up a game for followers. The objective, it seems, is to uncover the meanings behind objects in the picture — all of which were hand picked by CIA agents themselves.
Just like the famous “I Spy” books of picture riddles, the post is part game, part puzzle, and part history quiz. Think you’re up for the challenge? Try and see how well you know the spy-game. If you find yourself stumped, don’t worry. We’ve got the answers below. You might be surprised at how in-depth this photo gets, but like all things espionage, it’s more than meets the eye.
View this post on Instagram
What is the meaning behind the CIA’s Instagram post?
Stumped yet? We have the answers below, so consider this a Spoiler Warning before you read any further.
- A potted plant, which is another term for a secret agent “planted” in a foreign country or organization.
- A clock with hands set to 8:46, which is precisely the time when the first plane struck the World Trade Center on 9/11
- Maps of China, Russia, and Iran, who are currently the U.S.’ biggest rivals for espionage.
- A golden figure of an owl, which is the symbol of Athena — the Greek goddess of wisdom.
- Cuff-links, which have been used by spies and handlers to identify one another for years.
- A drawing of CIA officer Tony Mendez, who went undercover to end the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis.
- A curly grey wig, alluding to incognito agents and their disguises.
- A top-secret pulp bag, which is used by agents to destroy evidence.
- An ID badge containing a photo of none other than Gina Haspel, CIA Director
As the 2010s draw to a close, many government agencies are attempting to modernize by moving to social media. Going forward, it’s likely these groups want to present a friendlier, more public face for the work they do. That being said, if the CIA sends you a friend request, you might want to be careful what you post.