On spies and stratagems/Agent

The agentEdit


The agent of a secret organization is often generically reffed as a spy. One operative that is proficient in spy-craft.

In the spy world the phrase "only the paranoid survive" gets an heightened meaning. A spy should trust no one, sensitive information should only be transfered across the spy network on a need to know basis and only the agency approved parties. Most spy networks resemble a top down tree structure where information is mostly shared only to the root operative, not to equal or lower level spies.

The superior of a spy is the controller or handler, often a senior agent himself, this is also indicative that the spy is part of a pyramidal organizational structure or better yet an inverted tree, with the low ranking or those not fully vetted by the agency are at the bottom and where each branch is not fully aware of the others. The term "his men" may be used to indirectly indicate that the spy is working for a specific controller/handler.

A spy should not be a creature of habits, easy to track and predict, unless that serves a purpose.

There are also other terms that have the same meaning as spy, like operative, covert agent, hood, spook, ghost. Note that other functions could also indicate (or be related to) some form of spy activity. From the simple actions of sabotage (as a saboteur) to subversion (as an agent provocateur) to act with prejudice against civilian assets or engage in national/internationally criminal actions (or non-acknowledge agents) that is having a non-official cover (NOC) or belong to a recognized but illegal organization (a terrorist or criminal). It is also not uncommon that most diplomatic functionaries, to be or act as spies, gathering information and advancing the interests of their own nations in foreign lands, or even more complex actions under diplomatic protection.


Usual Covers or Parallel FunctionsEdit

Diplomatic functions as a cover has probably been the first to be utilized to permit the assess, monitor and subvert targets and their assets, both in the relation the interest of states but also for economic advantage.

Ambassador, Attaché (diplomatic, scientific), Scientific field explorer, Investor, Tourist


To do:
Explore the examples and extend into the possibilities that they open and why they are preferred.

Understanding the stakesEdit



An asset is something the agency (or the spy) sees as valuable. The spy is not an asset of the agency, it is an operator. Assets are intrinsically disposable and tradable. They can be anything from information to any object or person. To some degree an agency is as valuable (to the opposition and allies) as the number of assets it holds. Assets can also be targets for coercion, intimidation or termination.

For instance a confidential informant in the police infrastructure is an asset, of the police agency and of the controlling officer. This is often defined as a human asset.

"the cut-out"Edit

The cut-out is simply an intermediary between a "professional" spy and the source of information, someone that has access or will have an high probability of having access to relevant intelligence. The only differences between a cut-out and the general citizen is that he is actively attempting to gather intelligence information for its handler.

These operatives do not require an explicit and focused act of treason, there are many ways that foreign citizens can gather useful intelligence, for instance in the academic field and corporative structure. One nation that is known to use this type of asset is China.

This type of asset is mostly useful to reasonably safely and cheaply spy on unhardened sources, mostly of economical, industrial and of social nature. Since the cut-out does not require specialized training nor relies in a complex support infrastructure capture does not affect the general effort nor does it provide specially indication of the interests being pursued, it even captures resources that would otherwise been used in normal counter-intelligence by the opposition, however the general felling of paranoia it generates will force the opposition not only to spend more efforts on detecting these operatives but can backlash into a general feeling of animosity toward specific nationalities or their nations' interests.


The procedure of details Inspection, consists in carefully examining all the possession and aspect of oneself to assert that all conforms to the cover one is using. For instance discarding items that would jeopardize the cover and the operation, brand items, rings, currency, etc.

Some times there is need for the spy to be intentionally detected by the opposition. This intentional visibility is illustrated by the term "trailing his coat", an indication that the spy is intentionally attempting to catch attention to itself. This can be to divert attentions, identify the opposition or to plant the spy as a triple agent.



Being "burnt"

Establishing an identityEdit
Making contactEdit
Safe houseEdit

A safe house is a per-established habitable location, houses and flats, owned and controlled by the agency through a front. The purpose is to offer some sort of a covert sanctuary to hide or serve as a basis of operations. Most agencies have several safe houses around the area of operations. If their use is common or the location so demands, they may involve arranging for a safe house operator(s) to maintain the aspect that the location is used, this type of complexity of course causes predilection for isolated habitations.

Optimal requirements:

  • Untraceable to the agency.
  • Easily disposable (sold or destroyed) if burned.
  • Low maintenance.
  • More than one way of access (as to make observation of movements difficult).
  • Garage or large storage (same reason, the means to hide a car or any other mean of personal transport, makes movements harder to monitor).


A facilitator may be classified as an operative (professional in its specific function), or an asset but not an agent (working as an operative for the agency) that is embedded or infiltrated in a way that it can facilitate agency's actions. This is commonly defined when the agency is a criminal enterprise as an "inside job". For instance in assaults to armed cars or other hardened targets having information regarding location, loot quality and quantity and the numbers or procedures of opposition is almost indispensable.

This type of operative is not exclusively useful for criminals, for example it can be someone that helps export forbidden technology or enables access to useful information, introductions to key foreign decision makers, scheduling the deployment of assets and monitoring mission assignment progress are areas that a facilitator is usually charged to carry out. A facilitator may be part of diplomatic staff, a military liaison group, or an intelligent agency's staff.

Often a facilitator can be persuaded into breaching confidence without being full aware of the fact and implications, at times it will even create excuses on his own to justify his activity, and so be working for self interest as an independent agent who provides specific services.

Since a facilitator is not an de facto agent and its activity may require a specific skill set to maintain cover, in order facilitate its activity it is often useful to recruit people, even create and establish (accreditation) activity groups where the cover story and the actual assignments are virtually one in the same. For instance part of a NGO group or academic study project.

If the operation is detected, the facilitator is easily identified and captured by simpler security checks regarding access. As this type of operative has a very limited need to know, restricted to a very specific function it is easier to be kept isolated. Often its importance is only for a single action and so it is seen as discardable.


To do:
Expand:Famous facilitator foul ups include setting up the Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco and the Iranian rescue mission. Successful outcomes have included tracking down nuclear weapons and supplies in former Soviet nations and the removal Noriega from power in Panama.

A facilitator may simply be someone used as a go between two agencies to handle situations where official recognition or official relationships are not possible. Usually this type of agent is someone who has a background, skill set, and/or experience that both agencies recognize and find acceptable to use be used for the role. This person usually is contracted to perform these services specific to the situation, and may or may not be utilized for other assignments. There are private companies and NGOs that specialize in contracting this type of facilitator, and in many ways this person is not bound by the two agencies' missions, codes nor ideologies. A common situation is where exchange of key spies needs to be accomplished with minimum publicity; arranging the meeting(s) of high level officials outside of formal channels and institutions; and carrying communications between two agencies which can evade notice not only from the outside, but from both agencies' personnel. Usually this means the facilitator has access to top secret clearance materials, on a need to know basis specific to the communications being handled.

Successful use of this type of facilitator has included coordinating US and Russian efforts to prevent nuclear materials from being shipped to Chechnya during the Chechnya war and recruiting "war lords" support for the removal of NSA communications systems in the mountains of Somalia.


To do:
Expand: above references (add links).

If a facilitator is an agent for the actual opposition or is working deep from inside it structure, then it can be classified as a double agent, knowledge of intentional betrayal of one's original function or agency is not a defining factor. The distinction between a facilitator and a double agent is dependent to location and function.



To do:
w:Mark Felt aka Deep Throat.

Double agentEdit

A spy that reports on his own agency to a concurrent is declared a double agent. Double agents can be traitors to the agency or triple agents if the agency is aware of that one is a double agent, this does not imply that the situation was intentionally created, those would be defined as a plant.

A spy that is turned (have is loyalty compromised), is said to have come over to the new agency, to the original agency it is a mole (the term indicates that he is deeply infiltrated and has access to highly sensitive information) it can also be referred as a rotten apple since there is a risk that a double agent will not only report on the his original agency but turn other assets of that agency.


To do:
Mine wikipedia:Double agent

Triple agentEdit

Sleeper agentEdit

A sleeper agent is a spy who is placed in a target country or organization not to undertake an immediate mission but to act as a potential asset if activated. Even if unactivated, the "sleeper agent" is still an asset and is still playing an active role in sedition, treason or espionage by virtue of agreeing to act if activated.

Disclosed spiesEdit

These are several spies that have been either mediatic or gotten the attention the public, all acknowledged spies (or ranked in a spy agency). We avoid to name them notorious or distinguish them in any special way since time, conditions of the actions and events and even what is known and presumable understood should be taken with a grain of salt and in light of present conditions.


To do:
KGB:w:Sergei Kourdakov,w:Vladimir Putin CIA:w:Jeffrey Alexander Sterling ("The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling" was directed by Oscar-nominee Judith Ehrlich, and produced by Norman Solomon on behalf of ExposeFacts.org.) CHINA: w:Wen Ho Lee - w:Christopher John Boyce & w:Andrew Daulton Lee

Famous fictional spiesEdit