The Dangle Technique in the World of Espionage


    Dangle is a term used in spy terminology and it refers to an agent who pretends to be interested in betraying their country or joining another agency. This agent has to convince the new intelligence group that they are not loyal anymore to their original agency and that they will act as a double agent. The reason why an intelligence agency asks an agent to be a dangle is to disinform the enemy and collect valuable intelligence.

    The dangle, in reality, is still loyal to their original agency, and not the new one. Consequently, this agent will have to feed intelligence to their original group and provide disinformation to the other.

    Often described as “walk-ins”, the agents that volunteer their knowledge and services to another intelligence agency are often dangles. The FBI and the CIA call these agents “dangles”, the US military intelligence “controlled sources”, and the Russians “provocations”.

    In addition to the traditional activities, such as disinformation and collecting intelligence, an intelligence agency could employ a dangle agent for various reasons:

    • Impoverish the target by paying the various dangles;
    • Understand the modus operandi of the targeted enemy, such as its facilities, tradecraft, and modus operandi;
    • Identify the enemy officers present on the territory;
    • Waste the target’s time by providing a tremendous amount of fake or futile intelligence.

    Information and disinformation

    The intelligence that the dangle provides to the hostile agency is called “feed material”. The US Department of Defence describes it as “information, that is usually true but unimportant, given to an individual to pass to another intelligence service to maintain or enhance his value to that service.” The information that the dangle provides has to be real. The target might already know something related to it and providing fake information would mean compromising themselves.

    At the same time, supplying the enemy with real information is risky. Moreover, the bureaucracy involved in declassifying a certain type of information is complicated.

    Now it is even more difficult to provide the right information. Due to the advancement of technology, there is a large amount of information accessible to the public through the Internet.  

    Dangles in history


    In 1943, a lieutenant in the German army, who went with the name Guber, turned himself to the Soviets. Initially, he was first sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. Subsequently, the Soviets understood his potential and enrolled him in an anti-fascist school. After that, the NKVD, People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, recruited him with the aim of educating other German prisoners.

    In 1950 Guber was released from the camp, and he was trained to become an undercover spy in West Germany. The Soviets built his fake new identity to pass any kind of inspection by the West German intelligence officer. However, while doing it, they found out the real identity and origin of Guber.

    Before surrendering to the Soviet army in 1943, Guber was truly a German soldier, but working for London. Before 1943, the British Army captured Guber and turned him into one of their spies. His task was to go to the front and surrender himself to the Soviets. Not only Guber was able to infiltrate the Soviet army, but he was also able to gain intelligence about their facilities, modus operandi, and personnel.

    Aldrich Ames and the mole-hunt

    During the Cold War, both the US and the USSR were employing dangles to acquire more intelligence or disinform the enemy.

    On the 16th of April 1985, Aldrich Ames, a CIA agent working in the Soviet-East European (SE) Division, contacted the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. Ames, in exchange for money, offered his services to the Soviet agency. He managed to provide to the Soviets documents that listed and identified Soviets agents that were working for the FBI and the CIA. This is the reason why, in 1985, the Soviets started arresting and executing American operatives. The CIA, worried that one of its agents was a mole, started investigating most of its own agents. Careers and reputations were ruined, and a sense of paranoia filled the agency.


    Taking advantage of this, the Soviets were able to infiltrate a dangle within the CIA Station in Moscow. In 1987, Aleksandr Zhomov, a KGB counterintelligence officer, offered the CIA to sell Soviet intelligence in return for money and resettlement in the United States. He assured the Americans that he could gain access to precious documents. These documents explained how the KGB managed to arrest most of the CIA’s Soviets agents in the previous years.

    Aldrich Ames mugshot via Wiki Commons

    With the codename of GTPROLOGUE, Zhomov provided the CIA with fake records. These proved that the Soviets managed to unmask all those agents thanks to sheer luck, CIA mistakes, and intensive surveillance. At the same time, while supporting the CIA, he was able to buy more time for Ames.

    Only after three years, when Zhomov disappeared after receiving a payment from the CIA, the American agency understood that the Soviet agent was a dangle. In the meantime, Ames handed the Soviets documents containing intelligence about more than a hundred military, FBI, and CIA operations. He was also responsible for the death or arrest of ten American sources.

    For nine years, the KGB employed dangles to confuse and mislead the CIA investigations regarding the losses of agents that occurred in 1985-1986.

    Even though the world is changing, various intelligence agencies still use the “dangle method”. China, Russia and the US are relying on this to disinform another agency or to acquire every kind of intelligence.

    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi is a graduate in Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University and in Middle East Politics at SOAS. Her research is mainly focused on the Middle East region, tradecraft, and defence issues.

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