- For the Soviet services, a double agent was a controlled asset who was allowed to be recruited by a hostile service. (Kim Philby was, therefore, not a double agent; he was a Soviet pen-etration of British intelligence.) The KGB, for example, might know that a Western intelligence service was interested in one of their agents and would allow the person to be recruited and run by the hostile service. KGB “operational games” using double agents were run to allow them to understand the target and tradecraft of other services and to identify intelligence officers. They also allowed the KGB to tie up foreign intelligence officers with useless cases. They were also often used as a venue for recruiting opposing intelligence officers. The adversary’s case officer would be confronted with evidence that he or she had been duped and would be offered a chance to avoid exposure by working for the KGB.Rarely did the KGB “dangle” one of its own officers. But in the late 1980s, a senior KGB officer approached the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief of station on a train and volunteered to work for the United States. Dubbed “Prologue” by the CIA, Aleksandr Zhumov provided misleading information about the arrest of spies betrayed by Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. The KGB risked Zhumov because of their desire to protect those two agents. It was a rare incident; movies and novels to the contrary, the KGB did not relish risking one of their officers as a double agent.Western services ran similar operational games against the KGB and the GRU. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) artfully ran a military noncommissioned officer for several years. The case allowed the FBI to identify several Soviet intelligence officers. On another occasion, U.S. counterintelligence authorities used a young Russian-speaking army sergeant as a double agent. The KGB used a 67-year-old East German professor as his courier. She was arrested and served three years before being traded for 17 East German citizens. A less successful double agent case was that of Nicholas Shadrin.The worth of double agents is difficult to measure. Double agents do not produce valuable foreign intelligence; they are difficult and expensive to run. In his memoirs, a former KGB counterintelligence officer noted that double agents were not worth the cost of running them and “were scarcely more than balls in the games played by intelligence agencies.” Yet many professionals on both sides of the Berlin Wall believe there really is no other way to catch spies than to use double agents.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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