Double agent

In the field of counterintelligence, a double agent (also double secret agent) is an employee of a secret intelligence service for one country, whose primary purpose is to spy on a target organization of another country, but who is now spying on their own country's organization for the target organization.[1]

Double agentry may be practiced by spies of the target organization who infiltrate the controlling organization or may result from the turning (switching sides) of previously loyal agents of the controlling organization by the target. The threat of execution is the most common method of turning a captured agent (working for an intelligence service) into a double agent (working for a foreign intelligence service) or a double agent into a re-doubled agent. It is unlike a defector, who is not considered an agent as agents are in place to function for an intelligence service and defectors are not, but some consider that defectors in place are agents until they have defected.

Double agents are often used to transmit disinformation or to identify other agents as part of counter-espionage operations. They are often very trusted by the controlling organization since the target organization will give them true, but useless or even counterproductive, information to pass along.[2]

Double agents

1Matei Pavel Haiducu

Examples of known double agents and moles
Context Agent Nationality Loyal to Spying on Comments References
Wars of the Three Kingdoms
1639 – 1651
Samuel Morland  English  Restoration Commonwealth of England  
Richard Willis English Commonwealth of England Restoration  
World War I
1914 – 1918
Mata Hari Dutch German Empire French Third Republic  
World War II
1939 – 1945
Mathilde Carré "La Chatte" French Double-Cross System
Roman Czerniawski "Brutus" Polish Double-Cross System
Eddie Chapman "ZigZag" English Double-Cross System Infiltrated the German Abwehr during World War II whilst feeding intelligence to MI5. He was so trusted by the Germans that he is reportedly the only British citizen to have ever been awarded the Iron Cross
Walter Dicketts "Celery" English Double-Cross System (1940-1943) Ex RNAS officer sent to Lisbon and Germany to infiltrate the Abwehr, report on invasion plans for Britain, and establish the bona fides of Snow (subsequently imprisoned until the end of war). Subjected to an intensive five-day interrogation in Hamburg and survived.[3] Later sent back to Lisbon to persuade Abwehr officer, George Sessler, to defect and worked undercover in Brazil.
Roger Grosjean "Fido" French Double-Cross System French Air Force pilot who worked for the British
Christiaan Lindemans "King Kong" Dutch Abwehr (1944) SOE (1940-1944)
Dutch resistance (1941-1944)
Arthur Owens "Snow"  Welsh  Double-Cross System  
Johann-Nielsen Jebsen
"Jonny" "Artist"
 German Abwehr (1939-1941)
MI6 (1941-1945)
Abwehr (1941-1945) Anti-Nazi German intelligence officer and British double agent. Jebsen recruited Dušan Popov.
Ivan Popov "LaLa" "Aesculap" "Dreadnought" "Hans"  Serbian VOA (1939-1945)
Abwehr (1940-1944)
MI6 (1941-1945)
Abwehr (1941-1945) Yugoslav working for his national military agency VOA. He also worked for British MI6 and German Abwehr. In German Gestapo he held rank of Obersturmbannführer. Brother of Dušan Popov.
Dušan Popov "Duško" "Tricycle" "Ivan"  Serbian VOA (1939-1945)
Abwehr (1940-1941)
MI6 (1940-1945)
Abwehr (1941-1945) Yugoslav working for his national military agency VOA. He also worked for British MI6 and German Abwehr. In British army he held rank of colonel. Brother of Ivan Popov.
John Herbert Neal Moe "Mutt and Jeff"  Norwegian  Double-Cross System  
Tor Glad "Mutt and Jeff"  Norwegian  Double-Cross System  
Juan Pujol García "Garbo"  Spanish[4]  Double-Cross System British double agent in German spy service-awarded both an MBE and an Iron Cross
Johann Wenzel  Polish
Before 1942

 Red Orchestra

After 1942


Before 1942

 Nazi Germany

After 1942

 Soviet Union

Member of Red Orchestra spy ring who, after being unmasked by the Germans, fed false information to the Soviet Union
William Sebold "Tramp"  German
U.S. citizen
 FBI (1939)  Abwehr (1939) Coerced by the Abwehr into becoming a spy, exposed the Duquesne Spy Ring to the FBI.
Cold War
1947 – 1991
Aldrich Ames  American  KGB  CIA (1957-1993)  
John Cairncross "Liszt"  Scottish  MGB
 Cambridge Five
 MI5 (1941-1944)
 GC&CS (1942-1943)
 MI6 (1944-1945)
Anthony Blunt "Johnson"  English  NKVD
 Cambridge Five
Guy Burgess "Hicks"  English  MGB
 Cambridge Five
 MI5 (1939-1941)
 Foreign Office (1944-1956)
Donald Maclean "Homer"  English  MGB
 Cambridge Five
Kim Philby "Stanley"  English
 Born in India
 Cambridge Five
George Blake  Dutch  KGB  MI6  
Oleg Gordievsky "Sunbeam" "Nocton" "Pimlico" "Ovation"  Russian  MI6 (1968-2008)  KGB (1963-1985) Abducted in Moscow in 1985; escaped to the United Kingdom two months later.
 Romanian  DST (1981)  DIE (1975-1982) Defected to France in 1981.
Dmitri Polyakov  Ukrainian  FBI
 GRU Executed in 1988.
Robert Hanssen  American  GRU  FBI Worked for the FBI and sold information to the Soviet Union as a mole.
Oleg Penkovskiy "Hero"  Russian  NSA
 GRU A colonel with GRU informed the U.K. and the U.S. about the Soviet emplacement of missiles in Cuba; executed by the Soviets in 1963.
Stig Bergling  Swedish  GRU  SÄPO Among other things, handed over the entire Swedish "FO-code", a top secret list of Sweden's defence establishments, coastal artillery fortifications and mobilization stores. Convicted in 1979 and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason.
Arab–Israeli conflict
1948 –
Ashraf Marwan  Egyptian  Mossad  Egypt Egyptian businessman and an alleged spy for Israel, or possibly an Egyptian double agent; managed to become celebrated as a hero in each country for his alleged work against the other.
Basque conflict
1959 – 2011
Mikel Lejarza "El Lobo"  Basque  CESID  ETA  
Northern Ireland conflict
1968 – 1998
Denis Donaldson  Northern Irish  MI5
 Provisional IRA
 Sinn Féin
Assassinated at his cottage in County Donegal after being exposed by a Northern Ireland newspaper, The Derry Journal.
"Kevin Fulton"  Northern Irish  Royal Irish Rangers
 Int Corps
 Provisional IRA
Freddie Scappaticci "Stakeknife"  Italian  FRU  Provisional IRA
Robert Nairac  English
 born in Mauritius
 British Army  Provisional IRA Murdered by the Provisional IRA in County Louth in 1977.
South African espionage in Zimbabwe and the Gukurahundi
1980 – 1987
Matt Calloway Zimbabwean NIS CIO [5]
Philip Conjwayo Zimbabwean

South African citizen

Geoffrey Price Zimbabwean NIS CIO [5]
Michael Smith Zimbabwean

South African citizen

Kevin Woods Zimbabwean

South African citizen

NIS CIO [5][6]
Global War on Terrorism
2001 –
"April Fool"  American  United States  Iraq Allegedly, an American officer who provided false information to Saddam Hussein
Iyman Faris  U.S. citizen  al-Qaeda  FBI  

Re-doubled agent

A re-doubled agent is an agent who gets caught as a double agent and is forced to mislead the foreign intelligence service. F.M. Begoum describes the redoubled agent as "one whose duplicity in doubling for another service has been detected by his original sponsor and who has been persuaded to reverse his affections again".[2]

Triple agent

A triple agent is a spy who pretends to be a double agent for one side, while they are truthfully a double agent for the other side. Unlike a re-doubled agent, who changes allegiance due to being compromised, a triple agent is usually considered to have always been loyal to their original side. It may also refer to a spy who works for three opposing sides, such that each side thinks the spy works for them alone.

Events in which double agents played an important role

See also


  1. "Definition of DOUBLE AGENT". Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  2. Begoum, F.M. "Observations on the Double Agent". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved January 5, 2010.
  3. Witt, Carolinda (November 2017). Double Agent Celery. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 9781526716149. pp. 182-186
  4. García, Juan Pujol; West, Nigel (2011). "Childhood". Operation Garbo: The Personal Story of the Most Successful Spy of World War II. Biteback Publishing. ISBN 9781849546256.
  5. Berkeley, Bill (1989-10-22). "Apartheid's Spies". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  6. Dube, Benson (2014-02-21). "Philip Conjwayo dies". Southern Eye. Retrieved 2018-10-22.

Further reading

  • Naveed Jamali; Ellis Henican (2015). How to Catch a Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent. Scribner. ISBN 978-1476788821.
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