A double agent is person who conducts espionage for two, usually antagonistic, countries. Double agents allow intelligence services to gather information by infiltrating enemy organizations under cover. An organization usually recruits double agents from the ranks of a rival intelligence service, and then "turns" them, using them as spies for their own purposes.
The use of double agents in intelligence tradecraft and strategy is one of the oldest practices in the art of espionage. Spies and double agents appear in literature and written histories from the ancient civilizations of Egypt, China, India, Greece, and Rome. The rise of great civilizations and militaries prompted the need for intelligence gathering through infiltration of enemy organizations.
In the modern era, double agents gained notoriety in a variety of espionage scandals. While some double agents worked in accordance with their ideals, others were paid handsomely with money or political favor for betraying secrets. During the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, exposure of double agents became a key part of counterintelligence operations. Double agents compromised intelligence, military, industrial, and government strongholds in both nations, sometimes with devastating consequences. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the dissolution of its KGB intelligence agency, access to formerly secret archives and testimony of former agents has exposed several double agents, and the extent of their decades-long espionage operations. In the United States, double agents working for the Soviet Union (and later for Russia), such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen were discovered, brought to trial, and sentenced to life in prison.
During the Cold War, and the decade after its end, double agents were popularly associated with intrigue,
and trials of double agents gained extensive media attention. However, within the intelligence community, the use of trained double agents waned. Intelligence services replaced human intelligence operations with an increasing reliance on satellite and electronic surveillance technology. Technological surveillance permits intelligence organizations to conduct operations without assuming the high risks associated with using human intelligence or double agents exclusively.
█ FURTHER READING:
The Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies. <http://www.cicentre.com/Documents/DOC_Hanssen_1.htm> (April 2003).
Ames (Aldrich H.) Espionage Case
CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency)
Dead Drop Spike
FBI (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation)
Hanssen (Robert) Espionage Case
KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti, USSR Committee of State Security)