On spies and stratagems/Agent

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The agent[edit]

The agent of a secret organization is often generically reffed as a spy. One 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 are resemble a top down tree structure information is mostly shared only to the root operative not to equal level spies.

The superior of a spy is the controller or handler, the last could also be indicative that the spy is low ranking or not fully vetted by the agency. 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 is 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), 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 Functions[edit]

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 stakes[edit]

Finnish soldier is executing Soviet Union spy in 1942.


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 identity[edit]
Making contact[edit]
Safe house[edit]

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 is an operative (my not be an agent, but an asset) that is embedded or infiltrated in a way that it can facilitates agency actions. This is extremely common when the agency is a criminal enterprise and is defined as a "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 someone that helps export forbidden technology, or simply access to useful information.

Often a facilitator is not an agent, since it may require a specific skill set to maintain cover and if the the operation is detected, one is easily identified and captured.

The distinction between a facilitator and a double agent is dependent to location and function. If a facilitator is an agent for the opposition or work directly from inside it, 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. A facilitator can be persuaded into breaching confidence without being full aware of the fact and implications. In fact a facilitator will often create excuses on his own to justify his activity.

Double agent[edit]

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 agent[edit]

Sleeper agent[edit]

Disclosed spies[edit]

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

Famous fictional spies[edit]