# C.I.A. Lacing

Taught to C.I.A. officers during the Cold War, one or more “signal” crossovers is placed between straight segments for covert signalling. *(From: Robert Wallace)*

NOTE: I've used slightly different color-coding on these diagrams, with only the visible crossover(s) that form the basis of the covert “signals” highlighted in yellow.

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### Lacing Technique – Variation 1 – Low visible X above one straight segment

• Begin straight across on the outside and in through the bottom eyelets.

• Cross the ends on the inside and feed out through the next higher set of eyelets.

• Cross the ends on the outside and feed in through the next higher set of eyelets. This forms the “signal” crossover (shown in yellow).

• The left end crosses diagonally on the inside, then straight across on the outside.

• The right end crosses diagonally on the inside at a steeper angle, then straight across on the outside.

• Alternate running the left and right ends diagonally until lacing is completed.

### Features

Covert signalling

Best on dress shoes

Messy on sneakers

“Shortens” ends

### Notes

• This set of seven methods was originally included in the secret manual *“Recognition Signals”*,
one of two instructional manuals produced for the C.I.A. by noted magician John Mulholland in 1953.
Both manuals were declassified in 2007, while in 2009 a book about them titled *“The Official C.I.A. Manual of Trickery and Deception”* was released.

• I have attempted to faithfully recreate the seven diagrams kindly supplied to me by author Robert Wallace from his “copy-of-a-copy” of the original manuscripts. The originals were for shoes with six pairs of eyelets, but can easily be adapted for different numbers (as I have done with the variations for 3, 4 or 5 pairs).

• Note that there is no fixed meaning attached to any particular variation. The signals would typically have been agreed upon in advance.
For example, it might be agreed that an officer would use Variation 1 to signal *“concealed package”* or Variation 2 to signal *“empty handed”*.

• These methods are designed mainly for use on the types of shoes that C.I.A. officers would have worn in the 1950s, typically Oxfords (Balmorals) where the sides of the shoes meet in the middle (as seen in the first photo below). On such shoes, the underlying mess of laces is hidden on the inside, with only the horizontals plus “signal” crossovers visible on the outside.

### C.I.A. Lacing Theory

Although these techniques appear to be complicated for anyone – even a secret agent! – to memorize, the logic behind them is quite simple: Each technique is only a slight variation of Straight European Lacing, which was likely the “standard” way of lacing agents' shoes – and thus one with which they were already familiar.

The theory was that an agent could fairly quickly and easily un-lace their shoe up to a particular point, replace the existing horizontals with one or more visible crossovers, then re-lace the rest of the shoe with the “standard” lacing.

## Shoelace Lengths for C.I.A. Lacing

Variation 1 – Low visible X | ||||
---|---|---|---|---|

Pairs of eyelets | Approximate length needed | “Shortens” ends by | ||

8 pairs | 135 cm | 53 in | –0.9 cm | –0.4 in |

7 pairs | 124 cm | 49 in | –0.7 cm | –0.3 in |

6 pairs | 113 cm | 45 in | –0.4 cm | –0.2 in |

5 pairs | 102 cm | 40 in | –0.2 cm | –0.1 in |

4 pairs | 91 cm | 36 in | – | – |

3, 2 pairs = (N/A) |

Variation 2 – Mid visible X | ||||
---|---|---|---|---|

Pairs of eyelets | Approximate length needed | “Shortens” ends by | ||

8 pairs | 135 cm | 53 in | –0.9 cm | –0.4 in |

7 pairs | 124 cm | 49 in | –0.7 cm | –0.3 in |

6 pairs | 113 cm | 45 in | –0.4 cm | –0.2 in |

5 pairs | 102 cm | 40 in | –0.2 cm | –0.1 in |

4, 3, 2 pairs = (N/A) |

Variation 3 – High visible X | ||||
---|---|---|---|---|

Pairs of eyelets | Approximate length needed | “Shortens” ends by | ||

8 pairs | 135 cm | 53 in | –0.9 cm | –0.4 in |

7 pairs | 124 cm | 49 in | –0.7 cm | –0.3 in |

6 pairs | 113 cm | 45 in | –0.4 cm | –0.2 in |

5, 4, 3, 2 pairs = (N/A) |

Variation 4 – Two Xs spread apart | ||||
---|---|---|---|---|

Pairs of eyelets | Approximate length needed | “Shortens” ends by | ||

8 pairs | 135 cm | 53 in | –0.7 cm | –0.3 in |

7 pairs | 124 cm | 49 in | –0.4 cm | –0.2 in |

6 pairs | 113 cm | 45 in | –0.2 cm | –0.1 in |

5, 4, 3, 2 pairs = (N/A) |

Variation 5 – Two Xs close together | ||||
---|---|---|---|---|

Pairs of eyelets | Approximate length needed | “Shortens” ends by | ||

8 pairs | 135 cm | 53 in | –0.7 cm | –0.3 in |

7 pairs | 124 cm | 49 in | –0.4 cm | –0.2 in |

6 pairs | 113 cm | 45 in | –0.2 cm | –0.1 in |

5 pairs | 102 cm | 40 in | – | – |

4, 3, 2 pairs = (N/A) |

Variation 6 – Three visible Xs | ||||
---|---|---|---|---|

Pairs of eyelets | Approximate length needed | (No changeto ends) | ||

8 pairs | 133 cm | 53 in | – | – |

7 pairs | 123 cm | 48 in | – | – |

6 pairs | 112 cm | 44 in | – | – |

5, 4, 3, 2 pairs = (N/A) |

Variation 7 – Bottom visible X | ||||
---|---|---|---|---|

Pairs of eyelets | Approximate length needed | “Shortens” ends by | ||

8 pairs | 136 cm | 53 in | –1.1 cm | –0.4 in |

7 pairs | 125 cm | 49 in | –0.9 cm | –0.4 in |

6 pairs | 114 cm | 45 in | –0.7 cm | –0.3 in |

5 pairs | 103 cm | 41 in | –0.4 cm | –0.2 in |

4 pairs | 92 cm | 36 in | –0.2 cm | –0.1 in |

3 pairs | 81 cm | 32 in | – | – |

2 pairs = (N/A) |

NOTE: These are approximate shoelace lengths for using this lacing on an average sized sneaker. For more accurate lengths, use the Shoelace Length Calculator.

### Comparative Length

• Longer shoelaces needed than those for basic Criss Cross Lacing.

• If the original shoelaces are re-used, this method effectively shortens the ends.

More details about length comparisons.

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