Mole (espionage)

Mole (espionage)

A mole (also called a defector in place, an informant, and in the Mafia a rat) is a spy who works for an enemy nation, but whose loyalty ostensibly lies with his own nation's government. In some usage, a mole differs from a defector in that a mole is a spy before gaining access to classified information, while a defector becomes a spy only after gaining access. However, others use the term mole to describe any agent of a foreign power within a government organization.

Perhaps the most famous examples of moles are the Cambridge Five, five men recruited as students at Cambridge University who later rose to high levels in various parts of the British government. Because of the long preparation time and the difficulty of inserting moles, they are quite rare in the top levels of espionage. For instance, there is evidence of only one mole ever penetrating the CIA: Karl Koecher. By contrast, Aldrich Ames became an intelligence officer and then Director of Counter-intelligence before he offered his services to the KGB.

Moles are far more common in police work, where they are known as undercover officers. The mole in spying is mostly used as a last resort due to its value.

The term "mole" is also commonly used to describe anyone working in one organization, seeking access to confidential information that they will pass to the organization for whom they really work. For example, a news reporter seeking information on a company's employment practices (such as its use of illegal aliens) may obtain a job with the company to observe the practices first-hand.

The term "mole" first appeared in the History of the Reign of King Henry VII (1626) by Sir Francis Bacon. But in modern times it is to be found in the novels of John le Carré. Le Carré said in a BBC television interview in 1976 that it was a KGB term. Moles have also been featured in some James Bond films, Murderers' Row, the TV series Airwolf, Alias, and 24.

Notable moles

Pyotr Semyonovich Popov

Other agents in place within the U.S. government or military, who worked as a mole for either the KGB or the SVR, include:

See also


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