An entity that supplies cover to conceal a clandestine operation. Fronts may be commercial, journalistic, or some other expedient that enables intelligence personnel to perform their duties without attracting unwelcome attention or adverse surveillance. Fronts may also be backstopped to ensure that they offer effective protection.
Fronts are routinely exploited by all intelligence agencies, although uniquely the Central Intelligence Agency refers to their own wholly owned subsidiaries as “proprietaries.” Among the best-known fronts have been the Federated Press of America, developed by the Soviets between the wars to provide journalistic cover to their agents operating in London and Paris; the Foreign Excellent Trenchcoat Company, formed before World War II by the GRU in Brussels; and the Four-Square Laundry, created by the British army in Belfast to assist in surveillance and the acquisition of household linen for forensic testing.
Political fronts, being organizations with ostensibly laudable, harmless objectives, act in much the same way. Many intelligence agencies have created, sponsored, or covertly supported pressure groups, unions, or bodies with cultural objectives to pursue their own narrow interests, which may range from the dissemination of propaganda to the penetration of other larger organizations. Among the organizations now known to have been manipulated by external intelligence interests are the World Peace Council, the World Federation of Trade Unions, the World Federation of Democratic Youth, the International Union of Students, the Women’s International Democratic Federation, and the Tribune.