Why The CIA Doesn't Allow Fitbits Or Apple Watches In Its Annual Pedometer Challenge

The Central Intelligence Agency is, by its nature, secretive. This means that the areas where it's less secretive can be, well, weird. The CIA website features, among other things, an official monthly podcast, "The Langley Files," and a recurring column soliciting reader questions called "Ask Molly." It's unclear if these are even honest questions submitted by real readers, but regardless, in May 2021, "Molly" was asked if the CIA has any kind of athletic competitions for its employees.

"CIA's Employee Activity Association (EAA) is the organizing group behind our athletic leagues and manages seasonal play for soccer, volleyball, softball, basketball, and other team sports," wrote Molly. "And while competition is generally pretty friendly, none of us are totally immune from a bout of competitive angst (we just have to reckon with it the next morning, in the office)." She added that the CIA's Office of Medical Services also runs some competitions to encourage employee fitness, including 2.5K and 5K walks/runs and "[a] pedometer challenge in which teams go head-to-head to see who can record the most steps to meet weekly goals."

Barring that column and a quick aside in a "Langley Files" transcript, there was no real trace of the pedometer challenge online until the Wall Street Journal reported about a particular twist that caused a snag with it in 2023. That is personal internet-connected devices are barred from CIA buildings as a security precaution.

There's a list of approved devices

The Wall Street Journal spoke to a man named Greg (CIA rules dictate only utilizing a first name) who coordinates the Pedometer Challenge and outlined the basic security protocols. The CIA has a list of pre-approved, non-internet-connected devices cleared by security that can be used to count steps as part of the challenge, including specialized pedometers for Agency personnel with disabilities.

As for the competition itself, it involves teams of eight to 10 people trying to hit a specific number of combined steps to advance to the next round. Each successive level has a higher number of steps required to move on. And with this year's theme being "Battle of the Bands," the team names include puns like "Red Hot Chili Steppers." Curiously, though, given where everyone involved works, the competition is based strictly on the honor system as far as submitting step counts.

This year, the Journal reported, the competition was won by Team Buttsteak, who three-peated with 7,550,224 steps, followed by 2 Much Stepz 4 U taking second place with 6,516,821 steps and Happy Feat in third place with 5,779,997 steps. The name Team Buttsteak is now engraved on a trophy housed at the CIA's gym in Langley Field House.