Many headlines and stories (including some of ours) have been saying that a "double agent" infiltrated al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and foiled a plot to get another underwear bomb aboard a U.S.-bound passenger jet.
But we've been looking at definitions of spy terms and think that based on what we have been told so far, the person at the center of the story wasn't a double agent.
That character was at least an "agent."
But "mole" may be the best definition.
First, though, some background in case you need to catch up on the story.
As NPR's Dina Temple-Raston said today on Morning Edition, the story from authorities now is that "a foreign intelligence service sent an agent to infilitrate al-Qaida's arm in Yemen." He was basically told, Dina added, to "volunteer for a suicide mission."
That person reportedly gained the terrorist group's confidence and eventually was given the task of going on an airborne suicide mission, with the underwear bomb as the weapon. Instead, according to U.S. officials, this week the agent/mole turned the bomb over to that foreign intelligence service — which then passed it to the FBI for analysis.
Then there's "mole." The Spy Museum says that is "an agent of one organization sent to penetrate a specific intelligence agency by gaining employment."
If the person in this case was sent by a foreign intelligence service to infiltrate al-Qaida's arm in Yemen and was indeed told to volunteer for a suicide mission, those would seem to fit the mole definition.
"Mole would be fine" in this case, says Stout. "It's a good term."
Of course, being a spy caper, it's not that simple.
One strike against calling our character a mole: Al-Qaida is not "a specific intelligence agency." Stout doesn't think that's a deal breaker, though. Intelligence agencies and foreign terrorist networks have the same goals, he says — to do harm to their enemies. They just use different methods to achieve those ends.