Sunday, November 21, 2010


One technique employed by intelligence agencies is to send an agent provocateur with an incriminating offer to an identified adversary with the intention of compromising the target. The objective may be either to effect an immediate arrest, thereby entrapping the hapless victim, or to coerce the person’s cooperation. As a short-term expedient, it can be practical in political terms when seeking to develop some leverage in high-level negotiations, but generally it is regarded as a clumsy method of exacting tit-for-tat retaliation. Bitter experience of provocations has been known to have an adverse impact on intelligence professionals, who may become risk-averse in their efforts to avoid falling victim to the tactic. Thus in 1982, when MI5’s Michael Bettaney made an genuine offer to help the KGB, delivered to the London rezident Arkadi Gouk with supporting authentic documentation, he was turned down as an obvious provocation. On the other hand, the Central Intelligence Agency’s John Guilsher decided to accept  Adolf Tolkachev’s approach in Moscow at face value and was rewarded with the recruitment of one of the most important spies of the Cold War.