An agent of influence is an agent of some stature who uses his or her position to influence public opinion or decision making to produce results beneficial to the country whose intelligence service operates the agent. Agents of influence are often the most difficult agents to detect, as there is seldom material evidence that connects them with a foreign power, but they can be among the most effective means of influencing foreign opinion and actions as they hold considerable credibility among the target audience. Most commonly they serve the interests of a foreign power in one of three ways: either as a controlled agent directly recruited and controlled by a foreign power; as a “trusted contact” that consciously collaborates to advance foreign interests but is not directly recruited or controlled by a foreign power; or as a “useful idiot” that is completely unaware of how their actions further the interests of a foreign power.
The term “agent of influence” is often used to describe both individuals and organizations engaged in influence operations. Individuals engaged in this type of influence operation may serve in the fields of journalism, government, art, labor, academia, or a number of other professional fields. Cultural opinion makers, nationalists, and religious leaders have also been targeted to serve as individual agents of influence.
In addition to individual agents of influence, front organizations can serve the interests of a foreign power in this capacity. Some Cold War examples of front organizations serving as agents of influence, focusing largely on the Soviet side, were many “peace” groups: the Christian Peace Conference, the International Organization of Journalists, the World Federation of Scientific Workers, the World Federation of Trade Unions, the International Institute for Peace, and the World Peace Council. When individuals join such organizations in good faith but are in fact serving the interests of a foreign elite, their affiliation becomes infiltration, and cumulatively the organization serves as an agent of influence.
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The Frankfurt School and Critical Theory – Cultural Marxism