A mole is a high-ranking intelligence officer for one agency who covertly feeds information to a rival or enemy agency. In practice, the difference between a mole and an agent-inplace—an employee of one intelligence agency who, of his or her own initiative, offers services to a rival or enemy agency—is a murky one, and seems to involve distinctions of rank. Moles are usually individuals who carry considerable authority within the agencies that employ them, and thus, the information they provide to their secondary employer is likely to be of high caliber.

In order to discuss examples of moles, it is necessary to draw distinctions between these and other categories of spy. Because high rank is usually regarded as a characteristic of a mole, most enlisted military personnel, such as the Marine guards at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the 1980s, who were literally seduced into spying by attractive female KGB operatives, did not serve as moles, even though the intelligence they provided may have aided the services that used them as agents.

Furthermore, because moles are usually intelligence officers currently employed by the agency against which they are spying, the definition does not encompass all

Michael Raymond, right, is escorted from federal court in 1986 after being sentenced on a weapons charge and served with a Florida murder warrant. Raymond worked as an FBI "mole" uncovering political corruption in Chicago and New York in exchange for leniency. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS.
Michael Raymond, right, is escorted from federal court in 1986 after being sentenced on a weapons charge and served with a Florida murder warrant. Raymond worked as an FBI "mole" uncovering political corruption in Chicago and New York in exchange for leniency.

members of the infamous Walker family spy ring, several of whom had retired from the U.S. Navy before they began spying for the Soviet Union. Most important, a mole is actively engaged in the covert collection and transfer of intelligence, meaning that inactive or sleeper agents, who are simply awaiting instructions before beginning work, do not qualify as moles.

Soviet and Russian Moles

In the superpower conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War, and between the United States and the Russian Federation in the years since, there have been many more known cases of moles employed by the Soviets and Russians than by the Americans. This is most likely not a result of American failure to use moles as extensively; rather, unless they were caught, the identities of moles friendly to the United States are unlikely to be exposed until many years after the fact.

Among the most infamous Soviet moles in the West was the Cambridge spy ring, whose members included Harold (Kim) Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, John Cairncross, Anthony Blunt, and others. Recruited at Britain's Cambridge University in the 1930s, these were scions of the privileged classes who had become disillusioned with the system that had fostered them. Beginning with Blunt, they readily provided information against their own nation and its allies, and recruited others to do so.

The members of the Cambridge spy ring for the most part, refused to accept pay for their deeds. This was not only because most of them came from wealthy backgrounds, but also because they genuinely considered that spying for the Soviet Union served an idealistic purpose. Actions of the Cambridge ring cost many lives, either directly or indirectly, and many of those identified by them died in situations involving torture. In the end, several members of the ring, including its leader Kim Philby, crossed the Iron Curtain and spent the remainder of their days under the care of their Soviet sponsors.

Ideology and money. In the ideologically charged atmosphere of the 1930s, and among an elite class such as that of the Cambridge spy ring, it was possible for the Soviets to find agents willing to serve as moles for ideological reasons and not for profit. By the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, however, the pattern had changed: rather than ideology, money had become the principal motivating factor for most moles, who provided mostly technical rather than strategic information to their Soviet handlers.

From the standpoint of the Soviets, this later crop of moles was more reliable than the Cambridge ring and other ideological spies of the 1930s. A spy motivated by ideology fancies himself to be acting on moral principle alone, and thus, free to resist orders that he finds objectionable. By contrast, an individual so driven by greed that he will literally sell human lives for money is not likely to judge any job too dirty if the price is right.

Such was the case with Aldrich Ames of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who provided the Soviets and later the Russians with information for nine years. At the time of his arrest in 1994, he was driving a late model red XJ6 Jaguar, just one of many items he had purchased with the $2.7 million his handlers paid him over the course of the preceding decade. Much the same was the case with Robert Hanssen, a Federal Bureau of Intelligence counterintelligence special agent who served as a mole for the Soviets and Russians prior to his arrest in 2001.

A plethora of moles. The Cambridge ring and the two paid moles of the 1990s are just a few among many examples of Soviet and later Russian infiltration directed against the United States or the West in general. In 1963, it was discovered that French diplomat George Pâques had been collecting intelligence on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and passing it on to the Soviets. Three years later, U.S. authorities arrested William Whelan, an army lieutenant colonel who served as intelligence advisor to the army chief of staff.

During this period, CIA counterespionage chief James Jesus Angleton spent considerable energy and resources on uncovering moles. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Angleton conducted an aggressive "molehunt" in which more than 120 CIA agents came under suspicion. Quarrels with CIA chief William Colby led to Angleton's dismissal in 1974. Yet, Angleton was not always inaccurate in his judgments; virtually from the moment he met Philby, an officer in British intelligence, he expressed suspicions that Philby was a mole—an assessment borne out by subsequent discoveries.

U.S. and British Moles

The most well known mole for the West was Oleg Penkovsky, a colonel in the KGB. From the late 1940s, Penkovsky served the Soviet regime faithfully, but he became increasingly disillusioned with Communism in general and Premier Nikita Khrushchev in particular. Assigned to set up a KGB network while operating under the cover of a trade delegation, he first attempted to contact U.S. authorities, who initially refused to accept that the high-ranking officer would willingly provide them with secrets. Frustrated, Penkovsky offered his services to British intelligence through businessman Greville Wynne in 1961.

Wynne arranged a meeting with British intelligence in London, and thereafter Penkovsky supplied valuable information to both British and American authorities. Over an 18-month period, he delivered more than 5,000 photo-graphs, as well as other information on Soviet military strength, war plans, missiles, and satellite systems. In the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, President John F. Kennedy would make extensive use of information provided by Penkovsky. Afterward, the Soviets, aware that they had a mole in their midst, conducted a molehunt of their own. Several days after Penkovsky was tried and convicted in a 1963 show trial, he was executed by the KGB.

Another U.S. mole working in the Communist Bloc was Michael Goleniewski, a Polish military intelligence officer who passed secrets to the CIA before defecting to the West in 1960. Less fortunate was the case of Anatoly Filatov, caught in a CIA sex entrapment scheme in Algiers in 1976. Confronted with the threat of compromising revelations, Filatov agreed to provide the CIA with intelligence from the Soviet foreign ministry. Apprehended by the Soviets in 1978, he met the same fate as Penkovsky before him.



Buranelli, Vincent, and Nan Buranelli. Spy Counterspy: An Encyclopedia of Espionage. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

Hood, William. Mole. New York: Norton, 1982.

Nash, Jay Robert. Spies: A Narrative Encyclopedia of Dirty Deeds and Double Dealing from Biblical Times to Today. New York: M. Evans, 1997.

Polmar, Norman, and Thomas B. Allen. Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage. New York: Random House, 1998.

Vise, David A. The Bureau and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002.

West, Nigel. Molehunt: Searching for Soviet Spies in British Intelligence. New York: Berkley, 1991.

Wynne, Greville. The Man from Moscow: The Story of Wynne and Penkovsky. London: Hutchinson, 1967.


Ames (Aldrich H.) Espionage Case
Cambridge University Spy Ring
Cameras, Miniature
Hanssen (Robert) Espionage Case
Intelligence Agent
Sex-for-Secrets Scandal
United Kingdom, Intelligence and Security
Walker Family Spy Ring

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