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Digital Subscriptions > Tabletop Gaming > July 2018 (#20) > CIA Games

CIA Games

When the CIA revealed it was using board games to train its agents, no-one expected them to ever see the light of day. Then, suddenly, the tabletop secrets were out there for all to play



SXSW is an annual gathering of cultural and technological tribes in Austin, Texas, halfway between a conference and a festival. Its original roots were firmly in alt-culture but these days anyone who wants to show off their cool and groundbreaking ideas will present there, from avant-garde fllmmakers and noisemakers to hackers, crackers, jammers – and even secretive government agencies. If you’d studied the programme for SXSW 2017 you might have spotted an entry for ‘Cloaks, Daggers and Dice: How the CIA Uses Games’, a panel by four CIA offcers including David Clopper, a senior collection analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. This turned out to be a talk on a number of tabletop games the CIA had developed to train its agents and enhance intelligence gathering techniques, and what they’d learned from the experience. There was also an opportunity for a select few to play three of the games.

A brief flurry of articles reported the panel, SXSW ended, Clopper and the games went back to the CIA facility from which they’d emerged, and everyone assumed that was the last we’d hear of them. Everyone except for two people: Mitchell Kotler and Douglas A. Palmer, both enthusiasts of the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under section 105 of the US Copyright Act any works created by federal government employees, from the White House to NASA, are automatically in the public domain unless classiThed as secret. Both Kotler and Palmer separately put in FOIA requests for all information relating to the various games that had been shown or referenced at SXSW, using the website Muckrock. It seemed worth a try.

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