World’s Most Secure Buildings: CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a civilian foreign intelligence service of the federal government of the United States, officially responsible for collecting, processing and analyzing national security information from around the world, primarily through the use of human intelligence (HUMINT ).

As a senior member of the US Intelligence Community (IC), the CIA reports to the Director of National Intelligence and focuses primarily on providing intelligence to the President and Cabinet of the United States.

Flag of the Central Intelligence Agency

According to a report from Associated Press, the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, reads up to 5 million tweets a day. The CIA Open Source Center analyzes and assesses information widely available to the general public, including Twitter and Facebook, and keeps tabs on everything from blogs to tweets to more traditional media.
CIA agents apparently like to keep abreast of public reactions to world events. Other monitoring methods include TVs, iPhones, Androids, and computers running Windows, macOS, and Linux.

What makes CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia one of the most secure buildings in the world? Keep reading to find out.

Aerial view of Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters, Langley, Virginia

What You’ll Find at CIA Headquarters

Besides its tight security, the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia is known for its campus, galleries, memorials, secret statues, and more.

1. Sculpture “Kryptos”

James Sanborn’s “Kryptos” sculpture begins at the entrance to the New Headquarters Building and continues into the northwest corner of the courtyard of the New Headquarters Building.

The theme of this sculpture is “collecting intelligence”. “Kryptos”, dedicated November 3, 1990, includes material originating in the United States. A piece of petrified wood supports a large S-shaped copper screen resembling a piece of paper coming out of a computer printer.

The screen is inscribed with several mysterious messages, each written in a different code. “Kryptos” continues to be a source of delight and mystery for CIA employees, with some rising to the challenge of cracking the code.

2. A-12 Ox Cart

The CIA developed the top-secret A-12 OXCART as a successor to the U-2, intended to meet the nation’s need for a very fast, high-flying reconnaissance aircraft to evade Soviet air defenses.

Lockheed (manufacturer of the U-2) won the OXCART contract in 1959. In meeting the extreme speed and altitude demands of the A-12, Lockheed overcame several technical challenges with frontline innovations in the titanium manufacturing, lubricants, jet engines, fuel, navigation, flight controls, electronic countermeasures, radar stealth, and pilot life support systems.

In 1965, after hundreds of hours of high personal risk flight by the elite team of CIA and Lockheed pilots, the A-12 was declared fully operational, meeting design specifications for a sustained speed of Mach 3.2 at 90,000 feet altitude.

3. Atrium Sculpture Hall

The Atrium Sculpture Hall houses a collection of statues donated to the CIA. Statues in the collection include ‘The Day the Wall Fell’, ‘Windwalker’ and ‘Intrepid’.

The day the wall fell
‘The Day the Wall Fell’ by sculptor Veryl Goodnight captures the joy of freedom when the Berlin Wall came down on November 9, 1989. It joined the collection on October 5, 2000. The sculpture’s wall depicts obstacles to personal freedom in the past and present. The stallion, representing the man, is placed on the east side of the wall urging the mares, representing the families, to a better life of freedom in the West.

The American national symbol, the eagle, represents alertness, alertness, strength, courage, and freedom. Located in the lobby, the spectacular 48-inch bronze “Windwalker” by sculptor Kitty Cantrell exemplifies the same qualities. It was added to the collection on April 1, 2002.

Donated by the Intrepid Society of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, this 22-inch statue of Sir William Stephenson, codenamed “Intrepid”, was unveiled on May 2, 2000. Sculpted by world renowned artist, the Dr Leo Mol, the statue depicts the WWII hero in his airman’s uniform.

4. CIA Library

The library is a valuable resource for CIA employees and is exclusively available to agency personnel. It contains about 125,000 books and subscribes to about 1,700 periodicals. The library maintains three collections: Reference, Circulation and Historical Intelligence.

  • Reference: basic research tools such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, business directories, atlases, diplomatic lists, and foreign and domestic telephone directories
  • Circulated: monographs, journals and reviews; the library also participates in interlibrary loans of circulating items with other government and public libraries
  • Historical information: primarily an open source library dedicated to the collection, curation and exploitation of documents dealing with the intelligence profession, comprising more than 25,000 books and numerous press clippings

5. CIA Memorial Wall

The memorial wall is located north of the lobby of the original CIA headquarters building. This wall of 137 stars stands as a silent and simple memorial to those CIA officers who made the ultimate sacrifice. Among the stars, a simple inscription indicates:
In honor of members of the CIA who have given their lives in the service of their country.

6. CIA Seal

The CIA seal is a feature of the lobby of the CIA headquarters building. The great granite seal, measuring 16 feet in diameter, has been the symbol of the CIA since February 17, 1950. This emblem consists of the eagle, the shield and the 16-point compass star.

  • The Eagle is the national bird of the United States and represents strength and alertness
  • The 16 pointed compass star represents the convergence of intelligence data from around the world at a central point
  • The shield is the standard symbol of defense

This seal is one of the most identifiable symbols of the CIA and features throughout popular culture in entertainment films and documentaries.

7. CIA Museum

Located at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the 11,000 square foot museum houses fascinating projects such as dragonfly drones, robot fish and pigeon-mounted cameras. However, only agency members and authorized guests are allowed inside.

The ICA Museum was established in 1988 to give employees a glimpse into the unique history of their profession. This collection focuses on the CIA’s World War II predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services and the current CIA.

Popular galleries include:

Gallery of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
The OSS Gallery features personal effects reflecting the career of Major General William J. Donovan, the head of the OSS, as well as numerous examples of OSS craftsmanship (much of which was used by the CIA after its creation by President Truman in 1947) and artifacts from the Persian Gulf War and the end of the Cold War.

Cold War Gallery
The Cold War Gallery is located near the main hall of the CIA headquarters building. “The Cold War: Fifty Years of Silent Conflict” features some of Melton’s 6,000 clandestine spy artifacts from the United States, the former Soviet Union and East Germany. These artifacts are currently on loan from Melton.

Intelligence Directorate Gallery
For more than 50 years, the Intelligence Directorate (DI) has informed US presidents and other policy makers about the world in which they live. Some of the exclusive items on display include Francis Gary Powers’ Model U-2 and an al-Qaeda training manual.

Science and Technology Directorate Gallery
The Science and Technology Branch gallery features objects designed by some of America’s most advanced thinkers, adapting existing technologies or inventing new ones, and generously serving freedom.

Afghan gallery
This gallery features artifacts and images related to the global fight against international terrorism. The unique visual exhibit addresses the importance of joint operations, community relations, and sacrifice, while providing current mission direction in support of operational awareness, training, and recruiting.

What makes CIA headquarters one of the most secure buildings in the world?

Although much of the CIA’s security practices remain top secret, it is said that a CIA employee typically undergoes polygraph testing every three to four years to protect the US intelligence headquarters from treachery.

Construction of the CIA campus was completed in 1963. The original building spans 1,400,000 square feet and sits on private, secure land. The architects involved in the project required maximum security clearance and the construction plans were actively protected to ensure that all security features were kept secret. The facility houses a museum, although no one outside the agency has ever been allowed entry.

Even the Starbucks at CIA headquarters is not allowed to use names for orders. Instead, baristas must associate each order with the face of its secret customers. All nine employees are required to undergo extensive background checks and no one can enter the store without special security clearance.

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