Why the CIA Destroys $10,000 Watches Given to Agents by Foreign Officials

The CIA provided four bottles of “vintage wine” and a basket of wine and cognac, gifted by unknown foreign parties, for “official purposes” while destroying other items, such as wristwatches, that they had given to agency employees.

Because the CIA is a top secret agency, many details about gifts given to CIA employees by foreign dignitaries and sources are kept secret. But a foreign gift disclosure document released by the State Department on Thursday shows gifts received by many CIA employees, including watches ranging from $500 to $10,000, were destroyed.

Giving gifts is an important part of foreign relations, a sign of respect and friendship between nations. The White House, State Department, embassies, and various other government offices display gifts from foreign heads of state, and there are huge government storerooms housing other items.

But the US government has strict rules about what officials can do with the gifts to avoid apparent or actual bribery by foreign governments. Federal employees may not accept gifts over a certain value unless “refusing the gift would cause scandal or embarrassment or otherwise interfere with the foreign relations of the United States,” according to US law. Such a gift, provided it is “tangible,” may be accepted and must be surrendered to become US Government property.

President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive at Villa la Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File/AP Newsroom)


These accepted gifts must be disclosed, and the State Department released a list of gifts from foreign officials earlier this week.

President Biden received a $12,000 lacquered pen and desk set from Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2021, months before Russia invaded Ukraine. It has been turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration for safekeeping. Qatar’s defense minister presented US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin with an $8,000 curved-blade saber on display in his office.

Wine and alcohol gifts are also not uncommon. Pope Francis presented Foreign Minister Antony Blinken with a bottle of Salento Primitivo wine, along with a dove sculpture, a book and seven Apostolic Exhortations. Vice President Kamala Harris received two bottles of rum from Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in 2021.

Pope Francis meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken June 28, 2021 at the Vatican.

Pope Francis gave Secretary Antony Blinken a sculpture of a dove.

When it comes to the CIA, certain gifts are marked as exhibited, such as a $1,110 silk rug and an $800 set of Virginia Woolf writing instruments given to CIA employees by unnamed individuals . Others were not handed over but simply marked as destroyed.

Jewelry, watches, sculptures, and other items given to CIA employees were marked as destroyed. One of the watches, obtained and then destroyed by a CIA operative, was valued at $10,000. Other items destroyed include iPad minis, jewelry, a frosted glass eagle sculpture given to CIA Director William Burns and a $680 box of scents.

However, several consumable gifts of high value were not destroyed. A CIA employee received a set of four bottles of “vintage wine” valued at over $1,100 from an unnamed foreign entity in recent years. The gift report notes that it was given for “official purposes”.


An $800 box of “high-end Davidoff Royal Release Cigars” was similarly consumed after being given to a CIA operative, as was a $590 gift basket of wine and cognac.

The CIA did not provide details on the official use of the alcoholic gifts, but told FOX Business that the agency “handles gifts lawfully and responsibly.”

There may be several reasons why gifts such as cigars and wine are “officially” used while non-consumable gifts are discarded. Because the gifts are often from foreign officials, they may have been gifted to CIA personnel stationed abroad, where there may not be a particularly easy or inexpensive way to turn the items over to other government agencies for safekeeping, which is the fate of the expensive gifts, presented to the President, Ambassadors or Secretary of State.

wristwatches on display. (Portal/Arnd Wiegmann / Portal photos)

“When an agency receives gifts from foreign governments, there are several ways to legitimately dispose of the gift,” a CIA spokesman said. “If an employee receives a gift from a foreign government that exceeds a minimum value, the agency may use the gift officially or display it as a gift in an official capacity. The agency can sell the gift to the employee. Or an agency can sell the item as surplus property.”


As an intelligence agency, the CIA withholds the name of the recipient and gift-giver when, under US law, such information “could adversely affect United States intelligence sources or methods.”