Agent handling
In intelligence organizations
Intelligence agency
An intelligence agency is a governmental agency that is devoted to information gathering for purposes of national security and defence. Means of information gathering may include espionage, communication interception, cryptanalysis, cooperation with other institutions, and evaluation of public...

, agent handling is the management of agents, principal agents, and agent networks by intelligence officer
Intelligence officer
An intelligence officer is a person employed by an organization to collect, compile and/or analyze information which is of use to that organization...

s typically known as case officers.

Human intelligence

A primary purpose of intelligence organizations is to penetrate a target with a human agent, or a network of human agents. Such agents can either infiltrate the target, or be recruited "in place". Case officers are professionally trained employees of intelligence organizations that manage human agents and human agent networks. Intelligence that derives from such human sources is known as HUMINT.

Sometimes, agent handling is done indirectly, through "principal agents" that serve as proxies for case officers. It is not uncommon, for example, for a case officer to manage a number of principal agents, who in turn handle agent networks, which are preferably organized in a cellular fashion
Clandestine cell system
A clandestine cell structure is a method for organizing a group of people in such a way that it can more effectively resist penetration by an opposing organization. Depending on the group's philosophy, its operational area, the communications technologies available, and the nature of the mission,...

. In such a case, the principal agent can serve as a "cut-out"
Cut-out (espionage)
In espionage parlance, a cutout is a mutually trusted intermediary, method or channel of communication, facilitating the exchange of information between agents. Cutouts usually only know the source and destination of the information to be transmitted, but are unaware of the identities of any other...

 for the case officer, buffering him or her from direct contact with the agent network.

Utilizing a principal agent as a cut-out, and ensuring that the human agent network is organized in a cellular fashion, can provide some protection for other agents in the network, as well as for the principal agent, and for the case officer in the event that an agent in the network is compromised. Assuming that standard principles of intelligence tradecraft
Tradecraft is a general term that denotes a skill acquired through experience in a trade.The term is also used within the intelligence community as a collective word for the techniques used in modern espionage...

 have been strictly observed by the principal agent and the agents in the network, compromised agents will not be able to identify the case officer, nor the other members of the network. Ideally, agents may work side by side in the same office, and conduct their clandestine
Clandestine operation
A clandestine operation is an intelligence or military operation carried out in such a way that the operation goes unnoticed.The United States Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines "clandestine operation" as "An operation sponsored or conducted by governmental...

 collection activities with such discipline, that they will not realize that they are both engaged in espionage, much less members of the same network.

Since an agent can sometimes identify his or her principal agent, however, or reveal information under interrogation
Interrogation is interviewing as commonly employed by officers of the police, military, and Intelligence agencies with the goal of extracting a confession or obtaining information. Subjects of interrogation are often the suspects, victims, or witnesses of a crime...

 that can lead to the identification of a principal agent, the protection provided by cellular network organization can be time-sensitive.

If principles of intelligence tradecraft have not been strictly observed, it is also possible that compromised agents can reveal information that exposes other members of the network. In the real world of espionage, human lapses are very much the norm, and violations of the principles of tradecraft are common. It is for this reason that agents are ideally trained to resist interrogation for a defined period of time.

If an agent is able to resist interrogation for a defined period of time, the odds that other members of the network can be alerted to the compromise improve.

Case officer

A case officer is an intelligence officer who is a trained specialist in the management of agents and agent networks. Case officers manage human agents, and human intelligence networks. Case officers spot potential agents, recruit prospective agents, and train agents in tradecraft. Case officers emphasize those elements of tradecraft which enable the agent to acquire needed information, as well as to enable the case officer to communicate with and supervise the agent. Most of all, case officers train agents in methods of avoiding detection by host nation counter-intelligence organizations.

Agents, spotting, and recruitment

By definition, an "agent" acts on behalf of another, whether another individual, an organization, or a foreign government. Agents can be considered either witting or unwitting, and in some cases, willing or unwilling. Agents typically work under the direction of a principal agent or a case officer. When agents work alone, and are not members of an agent network, they are termed "singletons".

The identification of potential agents is termed "agent spotting". Identifying potential agents, and investigating the details of their personal and professional lives, involves the granular verification of their bona fides
A credential is an attestation of qualification, competence, or authority issued to an individual by a third party with a relevant or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so....

. Such activities can include uncovering personal details that leave potential agents vulnerable to coercion
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...

, blackmail
In common usage, blackmail is a crime involving threats to reveal substantially true or false information about a person to the public, a family member, or associates unless a demand is met. It may be defined as coercion involving threats of physical harm, threat of criminal prosecution, or threats...

, or other inducements, such as sexual approaches.

The recruitment of potential agents is an art form, and it is the raison d'être of the intelligence case officer. Approaches to potential agents can be multitudinous and interminable, and considerable time can pass before the potential agent is suborned or maneuvered into a position where a recruitment "pitch" can be hazarded.


Agent training often includes techniques of tradecraft such as clandestine communications, including cryptography
Cryptography is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties...

, the use of one-time pad
One-time pad
In cryptography, the one-time pad is a type of encryption, which has been proven to be impossible to crack if used correctly. Each bit or character from the plaintext is encrypted by a modular addition with a bit or character from a secret random key of the same length as the plaintext, resulting...

s, the construction of concealment device
Concealment device
Concealment devices or diversion safes are used to hide things for the purpose of secrecy or security. They are made from an ordinary household object such as a book, a soda can, a candle, a can, or something as small as a coin...

s, and the employment of dead drop
Dead drop
A dead drop or dead letter box is a method of espionage tradecraft used to pass items between two individuals by using a secret location and thus does not require them to meet directly. Using a dead drop permits a Case Officer and his Agent to exchange objects and information while maintaining...

s. Other elements of tradecraft include elicitation, surveillance
Surveillance is the monitoring of the behavior, activities, or other changing information, usually of people. It is sometimes done in a surreptitious manner...

 and countersurveillance
Countersurveillance refers to measures undertaken to prevent surveillance, including covert surveillance. Countersurveillance may include electronic methods such as bug sweeping, the process of detecting surveillance devices, including covert listening devices and visual surveillance devices...

, photography and the emplacement of audio devices, sensors, or other transmitters. Case officers generally train agents one at a time, in isolation, including only those elements of tradecraft needed to penetrate the target at hand. Case officers will also teach agents how to develop cover for status, and cover for action, meaning how to establish credible pretexts for their presence and behavior while engaged in collection activities. A well-trained and competent agent can conduct his or her clandestine tasks while under close surveillance, and still evade detection. More advanced agent training can include resistance to interrogation
Interrogation is interviewing as commonly employed by officers of the police, military, and Intelligence agencies with the goal of extracting a confession or obtaining information. Subjects of interrogation are often the suspects, victims, or witnesses of a crime...



The acronym "MICE" is used to understand the motives of spies in betraying their countries. MICE stands for Money
Money is any object or record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value; and, occasionally in the past,...

, Ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

, Coercion
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...

, and Ego
See also Egoism Ego is a Latin word meaning "I", cognate with the Greek "Εγώ " meaning "I", often used in English to mean the "self", "identity" or other related concepts.It may also refer to:...

. Some will also add the element of Sex
In biology, sex is a process of combining and mixing genetic traits, often resulting in the specialization of organisms into a male or female variety . Sexual reproduction involves combining specialized cells to form offspring that inherit traits from both parents...

, giving forth the acronym of "SMICE": "Sex, Money, Ideology, Contraband
The word contraband, reported in English since 1529, from Medieval French contrebande "a smuggling," denotes any item which, relating to its nature, is illegal to be possessed or sold....

 (as in Addiction
Historically, addiction has been defined as physical and psychological dependence on psychoactive substances which cross the blood-brain barrier once ingested, temporarily altering the chemical milieu of the brain.Addiction can also be viewed as a continued involvement with a substance or activity...

), Ego". It is important to not forget that element of the honey-pot or honey trap.

Individuals who are motivated to betray their organization for money often feel that they have been cheated out of their just rewards by life circumstances or career setbacks, so they have no qualms about being fairly compensated, in their own eyes, for their worth. At the same they can get back at the society which has misunderstood them and failed to appreciate their talents. When Aldrich Ames
Aldrich Ames
Aldrich Hazen Ames is a former Central Intelligence Agency counter-intelligence officer and analyst, who, in 1994, was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia...

 bought a $60,000 Jaguar, he did not exhibit the slightest pretense of hiding the fruit of his labors.

Ideology, however is different motive. Prospective spies motivated by ideology are committed to a system of beliefs that can place them at odds with their own government. Such spies may risk their lives for no payment. Both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg were American communists who were convicted and executed in 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage during a time of war. The charges related to their passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union...

, for example, were "patsies", or fall guys, for members of a much larger conspiracy, most of whom escaped unscathed. The Rosenbergs were willing martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

s to a cause for which Julius was willing to see his own wife executed rather than implicate others, and Ethel was willing to orphan her own children.

Coercion can be used against an unwilling participant, homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

-related blackmail and bribery
Bribery, a form of corruption, is an act implying money or gift giving that alters the behavior of the recipient. Bribery constitutes a crime and is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or...

 being two historical forms. The classic example of homosexual coercion is the case of Donald Maclean
Donald Duart Maclean
Donald Duart Maclean was a British diplomat and member of the Cambridge Five who were members of MI5, MI6 or the diplomatic service who acted as spies for the Soviet Union in the Second World War and beyond. He was recruited as a "straight penetration agent" while an undergraduate at Cambridge by...

, who was sexually compromised by Guy Burgess
Guy Burgess
Guy Francis De Moncy Burgess was a British-born intelligence officer and double agent, who worked for the Soviet Union. He was part of the Cambridge Five spy ring that betrayed Western secrets to the Soviets before and during the Cold War...

. As for bribery, corrupt government officials must cooperate out of fear of exposure, loss of income, or the potential consequences to their families. Coercion can also be used against loved ones.

Elizabeth Bentley
Elizabeth Bentley
Elizabeth Terrill Bentley was an American spy for the Soviet Union from 1938 until 1945. In 1945 she defected from the Communist Party and Soviet intelligence and became an informer for the U.S. She exposed two networks of spies, ultimately naming over 80 Americans who had engaged in espionage for...

 is perhaps the classic example of excitement being the motivating factor in espionage. Bentley began spying for the benefit of a fascist organization, but quickly joined a communist
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 entity. Her ideology was somewhat labile. Bentley then became the lover of a high-level Communist Party USA
Communist Party USA
The Communist Party USA is a Marxist political party in the United States, established in 1919. It has a long, complex history that is closely related to the histories of similar communist parties worldwide and the U.S. labor movement....

 underground operative who had been a chekist
Cheka was the first of a succession of Soviet state security organizations. It was created by a decree issued on December 20, 1917, by Vladimir Lenin and subsequently led by aristocrat-turned-communist Felix Dzerzhinsky...

. When he died, Bentley took over his operations, but her personal loss had a negative impact on her work. Excitement, romance, and sex were her original reasons for engaging in espionage, and when she lost those things she defected back to her original country.

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