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Agent handling

In intelligence organizations, agent handling is the management of agents, principal agents,

and agent networks (called "assets") by intelligence officers 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. In such a case, the principal agent can serve as a "cut-out" 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 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
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 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.[citation needed] 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.[1] 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 the elements of tradecraft that enable the agent to acquire
needed information, and theyto enable the case officer to communicate with and supervise the
agent. Most importantly, 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" (also termed "talent
spotting"). Identifying potential agents, and investigating the details of their personal and
professional lives, involves the granular verification of their bona fides. Such activities can
include uncovering personal details that leave potential agents vulnerable to coercion,
blackmail, or other inducements, such as sexual approaches.

Approaches to potential agents can be multitudinous and considerable time can pass before
the potential agent is maneuvered into a position where a recruitment "pitch" can be


Agent training often includes techniques of tradecraft such as clandestine communications,

including cryptography, the use of one-time pads, the construction of concealment devices,
and the employment of dead drops. Other elements of tradecraft include elicitation,
surveillance and countersurveillance, 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.