A good motto can establish an organization’s disposition, build esprit de corps, and set priorities. There are no half-measures for a paratrooper; once you jump from a plane, you’re committed “all the way,” which is the 82nd Airborne’s motto. Air Force Pararescuemen specialize in high risk rescue missions; they do their job so “that others may live.” In corporate America, some companies “think” (IBM) and others “think different” (Apple). Intelligence agencies around the world have mottos, too. Here are 12 spy agency mottos you might not know.
1. “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”
The CIA’s official motto is so boring that it can only be a cover: “The Work of a Nation. The Center of Intelligence.” The “philosophical foundation” of the Company’s work (and the true motto to many of its officers) comes from John 8:32 in the Bible. Engraved on the wall of the original headquarters building at Langley are the words: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
2. “Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity”
The FBI’s motto was coined by W.H. Drane Lester in the Bureau’s employee magazine, The Investigator. In September 1935—three years after the organization was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation—he wrote that “FBI” is a perfect abbreviation from which to choose a motto, “for those initials also represent the three things for which the Bureau and its representatives always stand: ‘Fidelity – Bravery – Integrity.’”
3. “Sember Occultus”
The Secret Intelligence Service, Britain’s famed spy agency (commonly called MI6) has been in operation for over a century. Though you can’t argue with his results, when James Bond is out in the field, he sometimes forgets to adhere to MI6’s motto: “Sember occultus,” or: always secret.
4. “Where no counsel is, the people fall…”
The Mossad (which is Hebrew for the gloriously spy-ish name “The Institute”) is Israel’s national intelligence agency. (Its FBI-equivalent is Aman.) The agency takes its motto from Proverbs XI:14: “Where no counsel is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
5. “Do not discuss confidential affairs”
The motto for Greece’s National Intelligence Service is unambiguous, if uninspiring. “λόγων απορρήτων εκφοράν μη ποιού.” (For those who don’t read Greek, that means “Do not discuss confidential affairs”). It is a quote of Periandros of Corinth, a seventh century B.C. philosopher-king and one of the “Seven Sages of Greece.”
6. “In every place where necessity makes law”
The French spy agency Directorate-General for External Security operates with the motto: “Partout où nécessité fait loi,” which means, “In every place where necessity makes law.” For what it’s worth, the headquarters of DGSE is sometimes called “the swimming pool,” placing it nicely alongside “the doughnut” (central office of Britain’s signal-intelligence agency, GCHQ) and “the aquarium” (headquarters of Russia’s GRU).
7. “Greatness of Motherland in your glorious deeds”
The motto of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia (GRU) is: “Greatness of Motherland in your glorious deeds.” Before its dissolution in 1991, the KGB’s motto was not so much about distinction as allegiance: “Loyalty to the party – Loyalty to Motherland.”
8. “Audi, Vide, Tace”
The Security Information Service, spy office of the Czech Republic, uses as its motto: “Audi, Vide, Tace.” It’s short, to the point, and good advice for any member of the intelligence community: be a good listener, a good observer, and keep quiet.
9. “Peace and security through foresight”
The military spy agency of the Netherlands is the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, sometimes referred to as DISS or MIVD (from its Dutch name, Militaire Inlichtingen en Veiligheidsdienst). Its motto is in keeping with most other intelligence mottos listed: “Peace and security through foresight.”
10. “Intelligence for the defense of society, of the Democratic Rule of Law and of national interests.”
Agência Brasileira de Inteligência, Brazil’s intelligence agency, has a suspiciously literal motto: “A Inteligência em defesa da sociedade, do Estado Democrático de Direito e dos interesses nacionais,” which is Portuguese for “Intelligence for the defense of society, of the democratic Rule of Law and of national interests.”
11. “Watch and Listen for the nation, To protect national security”
The intelligence arm of Bangladesh is clearly doing its job, because who knew that Bangladesh had an intelligence arm? The Directorate-General of National Security Intelligence (জাতীয় নিরাপত্তা গোয়েন্দা) is one of three spy offices in that country, and like its peers, has a poor reputation with respect to human rights. (The CIA allegedly toyed with a kind of acid—the LSD variety. Bangladesh’s spooks used acid of the burn-holes-in-skin type.) Its motto is “Watch and Listen for the nation, To protect national security.”
12. “I understand and defend”
Spies for Agenzia informazioni e sicurezza esterna (External Intelligence and Security Agency), the intelligence agency for Italy, operate under the motto “I undertand and defend.” The Agenzia has only been around since 2008; previously, Italy operated the Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI). Before SISMI was dissolved, its motto was “Arcana intellego,” which is Latin for the excellent phrase, “Understanding hidden things.”