CIA Spies Fear Russian “Dangles”: A walk-in defector may be a mole planted by Russian intelligence
CIA case officers have always had to worry about a “Dangle”. Yeah, I know, they are rewarded for recruiting foreign spies to become double agents, and when one walks in the door and offers to become one, it is not easy to resist. The “walk-in” may only be pretending to be interested in defecting or “turning” to the CIA.
The Soviets would sometimes send such “dangles” to the CIA — false informants with bad intelligence. And it still may happen today. For years, CIA counterintelligence officers feared Russian dangles to the point that they thought the Moscow station could be compromised by them. So, they often turned away Russian “walk-ins.” But after a comprehensive study, they realized that many Soviets turned away for fear of being dangles were, in fact, legitimate!
The CIA study of dangles revealed some interesting findings: there were patterns to would-be volunteers. The KGB never sent their own officers. They simply didn’t trust their people to be alone with CIA case officers. Also, they never used people who were strangers to the CIA officer in question. The CIA learned that the guy or gal one of them bumped into at a party may want to offer them information. It was not a chance meeting, and the odds were much greater that he/she was working in the service of the KGB. They “walk-in” that none of them ever met or saw before was most likely not a threat, or dangle.
A Russian dangle must convince the CIA interrogators that they have changed loyalties by offering to be a double agent. If the ruse is successful, they begin feeding information back to Russian intelligence while giving disinformation to the CIA.
The KGB did a similar analysis of dangles and believed that most of them would not come into a USSR government building with sensitive papers and would not directly ask for money right away. Instead, they believed most “walk-ins” would come in saying that they wanted to be a spy for ideological reasons to prove their sincerity. I find this latter finding difficult to believe, since Russian intelligence regularly recruits Americans to hand over sensitive secrets via cash.
In the MISSON OF VENGEANCE spy thriller, a former KGB agent living in the Dominican Republic offered to defect and become a double agent. Here are a few snippets that illustrate the CIA’s suspicion that he may be a dangle:
It was a windowless, soundproof room in the basement of the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo. The cream-colored walls were bare except for a small CCTV camera attached near the ceiling and a one-way mirror beneath it. General Morrison, Director of CBIF sat at a table with the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Harlow. His last assignment was with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia where he performed well in assisting Corey with the Penumbra Database mission.
Corey entered the room, gently guiding a visionless man to a chair at the table. He lifted the hood off his head and announced, “Gentlemen, meet Yuri Bocharov.”
General Morrison spoke first. “Obviously, we’re not going to tell you who we are or what we do. You enticed us to take you in and use you as a double, but we cannot trust you… yet. For all we know, you could be a dangle.”
Corey sat down and poured himself a cup of coffee from the stainless-steel thermos on the table. “Want some?”
Bocharov responded, “Yes, please.”
Corey served him a hot cup. “You claim to know much of what is on the flash drive. We intend to learn all you know in the next two hours before we release you. If you’re a dangle, the info you give us would be bogus, meant to lead us astray. Or, it might be accurate, but information that Russian intelligence is willing to sacrifice to gain our trust, while you learn about our operation and pass it on to them.”
Bocharov calmly sipped his coffee then replied. “I am three decades older than you, Mr. Pearson. I’m a retired KGB agent who’s been in the business of espionage far longer than you. I’m aware of the difficulties a walk-in like me pose, but I assure you, I am not a dangle and have much incriminating things to reveal.”
End of Snippet
This true video titled Spying in Russia: Decoding the Tradecraft is interesting, for it shows a Russian spy recruited by a CIA Operative who was actually a Russian “dangle”.
Robert Morton is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community, and relishes traveling to the Florida Keys and Key West, the Bahamas and Caribbean. He combines both passions in his Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Check out his latest spy thriller: MISSION OF VENGEANCE.