Double agent

In the field of counterintelligence, a double 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 practised 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 agentsEdit

Examples of known double agents and moles
Context Agent / Code name 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) Worked for the Yugoslavian agency VOA, as well as the British MI6 and the German Abwehr. Held the rank of Obersturmbannführer in the Gestapo. Brother of Dušan Popov.
Dušan Popov "Duško" "Tricycle" "Ivan"   Serbian   VOA (1939-1945)
  Abwehr (1940-1941)
  MI6 (1940-1945)
  Abwehr (1941-1945) Worked for the Yugoslavian agency VOA, as well as the British MI6 and the German Abwehr. Held the rank of colonel in the British Army. 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

During 1942


Before 1942

  Nazi Germany

During 1942

  Soviet Union

Member of Red Orchestra spy ring who, after being unmasked by the Gestapo in 1942, fed false information to the Soviet Union from August until his escape in November. Later joined the Belgian Resistance.
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 (1957-1994)  
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.
Matei Pavel Haiducu   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"   Irish   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

  NIS   CIO [6]
Geoffrey Price   Zimbabwean   NIS   CIO [5]
Michael Smith   Zimbabwean

  South African citizen

  NIS   CIO [6]
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 agentEdit

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 re-doubled 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 agentEdit

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 been always 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.

Notable triple agents include:

Events in which double agents played an important roleEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Definition of DOUBLE AGENT". Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  2. ^ a b Begoum, F.M. "Observations on the Double Agent". Central Intelligence Agency. Archived from the original on January 9, 2008. 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. ^ a b c Berkeley, Bill (1989-10-22). "Apartheid's Spies". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-10-18.
  6. ^ a b c Dube, Benson (2014-02-21). "Philip Conjwayo dies". Southern Eye. Retrieved 2018-10-22.

Further readingEdit

  • 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.

External linksEdit