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Ask Molly: Fox and Squirrel

April 29, 2024

Dear Molly,

What’s the deal with the fox and squirrel? I saw your recent Instagram posts featuring the two stuffed animals, but there must be more to the story than cute furry creatures…

~ Easily Distracted

* * * * *

Dear Easily Distracted,

While folks of a certain age are probably familiar with “moose and squirrel,” the lovable animated duo who thwarted the sinister cartoon spies Boris and Natasha in, “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle,” our CIA fox and squirrel only recently crossed paths to team-up at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. (It was their first mission together, but I’m betting it won’t be their last!)

Mischief the sly fox and Secret squirrel

Mischief the sly fox and Secret Squirrel at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Although that explains why they were featured on our social media feeds, I’m sure you’re still wondering, what the heck do a fox and squirrel have to do with the CIA?

Let’s start with our squirrel who we affectionately refer to as “Secret Squirrel.”

The phrase “secret squirrel” has been roaming around the spy world in one way or another for decades. It’s a term that intelligence officers and members of the U.S. Special Forces often use, in a lighthearted manner, to describe anything super-secret (i.e., highly classified). Sometimes we also use the phrase to jokingly describe someone who is behaving very sneakily, especially when they have no reason to be acting that way.

I was curious where the term originated, and it turns out there’s some debate on the matter. Most historians trace the phrase back to, of all things, a 1965 cartoon about a trench coat-wearing, master spy squirrel! Hanna-Barbera produced the series, “The Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel Show,” and several spinoffs, as a satirical take on James Bond (the squirrel’s codename was Agent 000). Apparently, some military officers familiar with the cartoon began using the phrase “secret squirrel” in jest to refer to highly classified, code-named programs and missions. It caught on, and soon the entire Intelligence Community began using the phrase.

The term “secret squirrel” became so popular in recent years that our gift shop (yes, we have a gift shop at CIA!) started selling merchandise featuring our nutty little spy squirrel.

Mischief the sly fox and Secret squirrel

Mischief the sly fox and Secret Squirrel on the CIA seal.

And that brings me to our fox. While our secret squirrel may have only recently taken physical form, our CIA fox is actually inspired by a real-life fox that lives at CIA Headquarters!

You may have seen the occasional Twitter or Instagram post from @CIA over the years featuring a beautiful red fox. That’s “Mischief.” He’s been hanging out on CIA’s Headquarters campus for several years now to the delight of Agency officers. Mischief has been spotted all over the compound, from the Memorial Pond to the cafeteria to the hills near the old Scattergood house. He’s become quite the Agency celebrity.

Mischief roaming the rocks above CIA’s Memorial Garden. No koi were harmed in the encounter.

Around here, Mischief has become almost as popular as Secret Squirrel, so of course the gift shop started selling stuffed animal foxes too in honor of our little furry friend.

So that’s the origin of CIA fox and squirrel. In addition to being cute, they have an important and practical mission too… they serve as social media “stand-ins” for Agency officers in public, since we can’t always have our officers appear on camera.

While most intelligence officers must remain in the shadows, busy squirreling away secrets on behalf of national security and keeping foxes out of the proverbial hen house, our fox and squirrel are likely to make future public appearances, so keep a lookout for the delightful duo.

After all, who better than a sly fox and a secret squirrel to help safely shine a light on the world of intelligence. That is, in addition to yours truly, of course! <wink>

~ Molly


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