wet job

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 21 07:05:02 UTC 2010

Idle curiosity... I am wondering when "wet job" has become a common
moniker for assassinations, in general.

Here's the list so far.

wet job --> 1980
wet affair 1972 --> 1965
wet work --> 1990
wet operations [OED] 1980
wet ops --> 2006
wet business --> 2009

OED has this sense of "wet" under 5.f., but two of the citations are
"wet affairs" and the last one is "wet operations", all referring
directly to the KGB and no more generally to assassinations. All three
variations are, of course, calques from the Russian original. Wiki has
this under Wetwork (which I have just edited).

> f. Of those activities of intellignece organizations, esp. of the
> K.G.B., that involve assassination. slang.
> 1972 A. PRICE /Col. Butler's Wolf/ vi. 58 The Russian slang for
> Spetsburo Thirteen was /Mokryye Dela/--‘The department of wet
> affairs’..and to get wet was the feared, inevitable fate of traitors
> pursued by the special bureau. 1975 J. GRADY /Shadow of Condor/ ii. 47
> ‘The courier made other mistakes... It was a wet affair.’.. Ryzhov
> like to use the old KGB liquid euphemism for executions. 1980 J.
> GARDNER /Garden of Weapons/ II. vii. 191 He had seen men killed: and
> killed them himself: he had directed ‘wet operations’, as they used to
> be called.

I got only one pre-2000 GB hit. But, again, it's a direct reference to
the KGB.

R. Judson Mitchell. Getting to the Top in the USSR. Hoover Institution,
1990. p. 83
> It is also rather likely that Tsvigun was eliminated by a hit squad in
> a KGB "wet job."

News is more promising, although, without ProQuest, it's still barking
in the dark ;-)

In particular, there is a hit for "wet affairs" that seems to antedate
OED's 1972.

> Russian Terror Agency Described by Defector
> Pay-Per-View - Los Angeles Times - ProQuest Archiver - Nov 22, 1965
> ... in Russian it means a wet affair that they are involved in dirty
> business and that ... As for the department of wet affairs Deriabin
> said it condemns its ...
> HED: Russian Terror Agency Described by Defector
> DEK: Engaged in Kidnaping and Assassination Around World, Senate
> Investigators Told
> Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) - Los Angeles, Calif.
> Date: Nov 22, 1965
> Start Page: 16
> Pages: 1
> Section: PART ONE
> Senate investigators were told in hitherto secret testimony released
> Sunday about a dreaded "department of wet (dirty) affairs" operated by
> Russia, to spread terror and assassination around the...

Chicago Tribune had a story the same day.

> Soviet Murder Bureau Active, Dodd Says
> Pay-Per-View - Chicago Tribune - ProQuest Archiver - Nov 22, 1965
> ... partment of state security." Dodd said the testimony showed that
> soviet agents them- selves called it "the department of blood-wet
> affairs."
> HED: Soviet Murder Bureau Active, Dodd Says
> DEK: Document Made Public by Senator
> Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) - Chicago, Ill.
> Date: Nov 22, 1965
> Start Page: A2
> Pages: 1
> Section: 1A

There are three other papers with the same story and two of these are
available in GNA, with the Hartford Courtant story in PQ.


This is not an isolated case, as LA Times followed this up a year later
with another piece.

> Espionage and Traitors: an Organized Industry
> Pay-Per-View - Los Angeles Times - ProQuest Archiver - Nov 11, 1966
> The Boeckenhaupt case (its ramifications still hidden) was also trig-
> gered by the increased number of what Soviet intelligence calls "wet
> affairs" in the ...
> HED: Espionage and Traitors: an Organized Industry
> Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) - Los Angeles, Calif.
> Date: Nov 11, 1966
> Start Page: B5
> Pages: 1
> Section: PART II

There is one other hit (http://bit.ly/cCMI8b 1971) that precedes the OED

The Russian original easily traces back close to 200 years. Wiki has
Russian references from 1842-1871, although I have no idea if the
original editor actually consulted these publications.

"Wet work" appears to have been publicized by Christopher Buckley's
novel by the same name that appeared in the early 1991. But NYT had the
title in the byline slightly earlier.

Success Was Not Enough
By Christopher Buckley; Christopher Buckley is the editor of FYI, a
supplement to Forbes magazine, and the author of the forthcoming novel
"Wet Work."
Published: November 4, 1990

The earliest relevant hit I got for "wet job" is from 1980.

> Tempo
> Pay-Per-View - Chicago Tribune - ProQuest Archiver - Nov 10, 1980
> I feel like George Smiley in 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.' At
> one point when someone asks Smiley if he ll go into East. Germany and
> do a wet job ...
> Tempo
> A CIA agent quits and tells--and now pays and pays
> Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) - Chicago, Ill.
> Author: Rogers Worthington
> Date: Nov 10, 1980
> Start Page: A1
> Pages: 2
> Section: 2

If I am not mistaken, "Tempo" is the culture section of the Trib, so the
title is actually the second line, "A CIA agent quits and tells--and now
pays and pays".

"Wet business" seems to be very recent--an isolated.

Assassination: A Brief History
When we go to war, what happens when we make our enemies faceless?
> Cheney didn't invent targeted killing any more than Al Gore invented
> the Internet. Rulers have been known to send assassins after specific
> individuals since antiquity, though official taste for what the KGB
> used to call "wet business" varied.

I found no "wet operations" aside from the OED cite, but there is a
recent stray "wet ops":

> Does Hayden know spying?
> $2.95 - Deseret News - NewsBank - May 16, 2006
> ... about Gen Michael Hayden's nomination as the nation's top spy if
> the CIA ... and real manipulations of foreign governments and thewet
> ops that did in ...
> Related web pages

None of these answer my original question. Only the last one even
attaches to anything but actual KGB operations, although "wetwork" seems
to be more often attached to US operations than to anything else. Yet,
film and TV-show scripts have been written for a couple of decades now
that incorporate some of this language in reference to CIA or some other
genericized or mythical spy agency or, occasionally, to military
operations. There are also slight variations in meaning--wet job and wet
affair tend to be used for individual "projects", while "wetwork" and
"wet business" are exclusively references to the "profession" or
operational capacity of an agency, so to speak. The Russian antecedent
is easier to deal with--the singular is an isolated murder or
assassination and the plural is the "business", but there is only one
word, not five or six.


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