The CIA Isn't Easy on Its Baristas

If there's one thing you can count on, it's a pretty familiar set of ground rules when you set foot in a Starbucks. "Tall" is smallish, "venti" is large, and your barista would like to know what name to scribble on your cup, because they don't want to be yelling out drink orders. But this system doesn't work everywhere you go, as it turns out — cups at the CIA Starbucks have no names, because their undercover customers aren't fond of the idea. It makes sense, in a way — if being protective with your identity is a career prerequisite, why should you trust a barista?

The CIA's Starbucks location, as detailed in a cool story at the Washington Post, is a rather strange place, with barriers to employment and demands on the baristas altogether unique as compared to a run-of-the-mill location. For one, you need to pass a security and background check, as well as go through extensive interviews to land a job there, and that makes sense. How stupid would you feel if a spy infiltrated the CIA while slinging soymilk lattes, after all?

And even further, you can't wander in or out of your workplace on your own — you have to be escorted in and out by CIA minders, who make sure you don't sneak off and steal secrets, presumably.

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And of course, you don't have the ease of that name on the side of the cup. Any CIA employee who doesn't want to share their name could use a fake one, obviously, but as an unidentified food services supervisor told the Washington Post, not even that was an acceptable compromise for some.

They could use the alias ‘Polly-O string cheese’ for all I care. But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn’t work for this location.

A little wary, perhaps, but that's understandable. Better safe than sorry, after all. But that's not all — a few other intriguing and funny observations about America's most top-secret Starbucks:

  • It's one of the most jam-packed Starbucks locations in the United States, according to the Washington Post, serving a thousands-strong hoard of CIA employees exactly what they crave for such a tiring job — a little caffeine.
  • It's sometimes used to hold interviews for new potential recruits, including a deputy crucial to the manhunt for Osama bin Laden.
  • As you'd expect, there's no GPS data for this Starbucks if you search for its address, like one unwitting new employee did — she had to call up to get an explanation, and was shocked to learn she was actually starting work as a barista at the CIA. She told the Washington Post that she can't even brag about it, which is a little disappointing: "The most I can say to friends is that I work in a federal building."
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We've gotten a couple intriguing glimpses lately into the hunger and thirst habits of our nation's intelligence workers. Back in July, a Freedom of Information Act request by MuckRock turned up a bunch of customer complaints form the CIA's lunchroom, highlighting the hilarious, everyday mundaneness of the agency's daily grind. It just goes to show that sometimes it doesn't matter if you're ripping tickets at a movie theater, or trying to hunt down international terrorists — you're still grinding your teeth over stale bread at the Subway.

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