Camp Peary, Williamsburg

Within the CIA, this place is known as “The Farm. ” It’s the combined Harvard, Yale, and West Point of the spy business; this is where the CIA conducts training for its field agents and paramilitary forces.

To be a successful spy, you need to know more than how to wear a tuxedo or order a proper vodka martini. You also need to know how to open and re-seal letters, how to pick locks and figure out the combinations to safes, how to make a successful “brush contact” (that is, how to quickly pass documents to another person when you bump into them in a crowded public area like a subway platform), how to take clandestine photographs, and of course! how to make and use various disguises. They don’t teach those skills at your local community college, but they do at Camp Peary. For reasons that are not entirely clear, this facility is known as “The Farm” to CIA personnel.


During World War II, Camp Peary was used to train the Navy’s “Seabees” construction battalions. After the CIA was formed following World War II, Camp Peary was turned over to the CIA as a training facility for its field agents. As the CIA’s mission grew over the years, so did the scope of activities conducted at Camp Peary, especially following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Camp Peary is now used to train the CIA’s paramilitary forces. And, according to a report in the May 31, 2005 issue of the New York Times, questioning of some terrorist suspects (including some held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) has been conducted at Camp Peary. Camp Peary is also rumored to be the site of “deep secret” meetings with political opposition and rebel leaders from foreign nations where the CIA wants to bring about regime change.

What’s There: Covering 9,275 acres, Camp Peary includes living accommodations, dining and medical facilities, and classrooms for students. Training facilities reportedly include a variety of indoor and outdoor environments where trainees can learn to function in everything from urban environments to deserts and rainforests. Special attention is given to “humint” (human intelligence) skills, and a variety of environments such as public transportation centers, restaurants, museums, stores, etc. are replicated so students can learn how to make contacts, pick up or leave documents, etc. in such public places. Satellite photos of Camp Peary show numerous buildings as well as some unnecessarily “twisting” roads; these are supposedly used for training in evasive driving techniques. The extensive woods are used for survival and paramilitary training, including “extraction” techniques from hostile environments. The basic espionage course that all CIA field agents take lasts 18 weeks.

There is also a landing strip at Camp Peary. Most of the traffic is from CIA headquarters in Langley, VA, but some is to and from the CIA’s training facility at Harvey Point, NC. The New York Times report cited above said there have also been flights between Camp Peary and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002.

Getting a Look Inside: Forget it!

Unusual Fact: Camp Peary was named for Robert Peary, who was credited in 1909 with being the first to reach the North Pole. However, there is considerable doubt whether Peary actually reached the North Pole because of his poor documentation and lack of a second trained navigator who could confirm his readings on his final journey to the Pole. Some doubters believe Peary made an honest mistake, while others believe he deliberately perpetrated a hoax. The issue will likely never be settled, making Robert Peary just as mysterious as the facility named for him.

Getting There: Perhaps no other top secret facility in this book is so easy to find. From Interstate 64, take exit 238; it is clearly marked “Colonial Williamsburg/Camp Peary.” Follow the signs after exiting. However, the signs at Camp Peary itself simply identify it as “Armed Forces Experimental Training Activity.”

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