Robert Morton

Nov 2, 2021

4 min read

CIA spies choose restaurants carefully when meeting contacts

Restaurants are ideal places for CIA operatives to meet up with the spies they recruit. There is plenty of ambient noise (play the jukebox), a nice crowd to throw things off, and the good food tends to alleviate stress.

Chains like Panda Express, Panera Bread, McDonald’s and Starbucks have uniform layouts and are open late into the night, making them useful contact sites. Even mom and pop restaurants, pre-screened beforehand, make great contact locations. The CIA operative usually arrives a half hour early, finds a cozy seat with his/her back to the wall, and a window to conduct surveillance from, to see if the contact has a tail.

“Restaurants and cafés are in many ways the lifeblood of espionage,” says former CIA operative Amaryllis Fox. “Restaurants offer the opportunity to meet the people we most seek — those with access to a government or terror group that might be able to help us predict or prevent the next attack. Sometimes those meetings are accidental. Mostly, they are planned to look accidental.”

Fox admits that her espionage ventures were far from the 007 brand of cloak-and-dagger daredevilry, and instead of the Bond business of dashing around in fast cars and ordering vodka martinis, shaken not stirred, she spent endless hours drinking coffee at cafes and restaurants, casing them out as locations for prospective meetings with contacts. She says that certain aspects of restaurant protocol as depicted in spy novels are true to life.

CIA operatives select the restaurant in advance of the meeting. They inspect it the day before, choose a corner table by a window (if possible), and give the head waiter a prudent cash amount to reserve it, in his/her alias name, of course. The table must be positioned so their contact’s face is turned away from onlookers in the room.

Depending on the activity they have in mind, multiple entrances and exits can be helpful and private seating such as booths or hidden corners are a plus. Back exits are always good. There are also opening hours to consider, as many operational acts take place at unusual times of day or night. Perhaps most important of all, they note the presence of security cameras and the type of clientele that frequent the joint. No sense in planning a clandestine act at the local police hangout or meeting a high-profile source in a place they might be recognized.

Especially in the early stages of recruiting a foreign asset, CIA operatives want a place where they’re unlikely to be seen by known associates of the target, so an out-of-the-way restaurant not near his/her place of work and choosing a time of day when the place is relatively empty are wise choices.

In the MISSION OF VENGEANCE spy thriller, CIA spymaster Corey Pearson chose the Waterfront Restaurant in Sosua, Dominican Republic as a regular location to meet contacts. Corey spent several weeks casing out dozens of bars and eateries around Sosua, and the Waterfront met all of the selection criteria noted above. Here’s a snippet from the MISSION OF VENGEANCE:

It was a casual place with no security cameras. Corey liked that. He sat alone at a back-patio table with his back to the picturesque Sosua Bay. Mount Isabel de Torres arose from the gin-colored tropical waters in the distance. He preferred to view the entrance to the patio as he read through Sanchez’ crime scene report. Something in it disturbed him that Agent Murray could help him sort out.

A waiter hurried past carrying a tray of the Waterfront’s special of the day, a whole grilled lobster, shrimp, and Chilean sea bass smothered in a garlic butter sauce. He served some customers at a far table and Corey stopped him as he returned to the kitchen. “That looked delicious. How much is it?”

The waiter spoke broken English. “Twenty-six American dollars, sir.”

Corey handed him a couple hundred-dollar bills. “I’ll take three servings and a pitcher of margaritas.”

“Oh, thank you so much, senor! I will bring it to you shortly.”

Corey always paid cash. If the need arose to leave quickly, he didn’t want to wait around for the waiter to cash him out. He resumed reading through the crime report, occasionally glancing at the patio entrance, sizing up the newly arriving patrons. If he had to bolt due to an emergency, Corey noted where the back entrance to the kitchen was. While eating in a Kingston, Jamaica restaurant a few years back, he fled into the kitchen when two armed gunmen came after him. A cooking oven and line of heavy-duty serving trays on wheels stopped a hail of bullets that were meant for him.

End of Snippet

Lastly, for fun sake, enjoy the video Safe House Milwaukee. It’s about a restaurant devoted to spies and spy buffs, and is one of the most secretive restaurants in the world. You’ll need to memorize a password to get in. The inside is full of spy gadgets, espionage and intrigue.

Robert Morton is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community, and relishes traveling to the Florida Keys and Key West, the Bahamas and Caribbean. He combines both passions in his Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Check out his latest spy thriller: MISSION OF VENGEANCE