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CIA joins Instagram — and posts a symbol-laden first picture

The CIA launched an official Instagram account Thursday, a week after that plan was first previewed by Director Gina Haspel during a public appearance at Auburn University in Alabama.

The account, "@cia," is the latest addition to the secretive agency's existing social media presence on Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and, perhaps most recognizably, Twitter, and marks a new effort to boost public engagement. It garnered over 2,000 followers and over 100 comments — some more benevolent than others — within hours of going live.

In a statement, a CIA spokesperson said, "Joining Instagram is another way we're sharing CIA's stories and recruiting talented Americans to serve here. Through the account, we'll give a peek into Agency life, but we can't promise any selfies from secret locations." 

The debut post, captioned, "I spy with my little eye...," is of a desk at the agency cluttered by books and objects, many of which, a CIA representative said, were collected from current CIA employees. There is a photo of Haspel from her 1985 entrance on duty badge, and a blue "Evil eye" that comes from her office.

Chief Operating Officer Andy Makridis, who is Greek-American, volunteered a golden owl — known to represent Athena, the goddess of wisdom. A silver clock's hands are set to 8:46, the time the North Tower of the World Trade Center was struck on 9/11. An open notebook says, in Arabic, "Share what we can, protect what we must."

There are maps of Russia, China and Iran, and artwork depicting famed operations officer Tony Mendez, who famously orchestrated the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran in 1979. A classification stamp lies atop generic folders. An open box contains two pairs of matching cufflinks that were used by a case officer and an asset who, having never met, used the accessories to identify each other.

There is a "burn bag" for disposing of classified documents under the desk, and a bag labeled "TOP SECRET PULP," used for destroying other media, on top of it — next to a bamboo plant.

"As a collector of foreign intelligence, CIA has 'plants,'" the CIA official said.

Haspel first announced plans for the account during a question-and-answer session at Auburn, where she was asked how the intelligence community and its employees had changed in recent years. One principal difference, she said, was new hires' social media savvy.

"[T]he CIA does have a Twitter account," she added. "There are some people still around at agency who really don't know what that is — and are against it in principle, I'm sure. But our Office of public affairs is getting ready to launch our Instagram account."

"Oh, it's a brave new world out there," the moderator, who first joined the intelligence community in the 1970s, groaned.