In the modern era, are there people who were secret agents before they started to play politics and get elected as the primary executive power holder such, as but not limited to, the position of president/prime minister? Or is Mr. Putin the only ex-secret agent ever do so in modern history?

Answer Parameters:

  1. By modern era I mean starting from 1800 until today.

  2. By real secret agents I mean someone like Mr. Putin. He was a real secret agent because he joined the KGB and was on a mission as a KGB agent.

  3. People who just got assigned head of the intelligence department without serving as a spy prior to this don't count.

  4. As for diplomats, I'm sure plenty if not all of diplomats do spy on the country they are assigned to, at least to a certain degree. If he was known to be a secret agent disguised as a diplomat then he can be counted.

  • 6
    yuri andropov, at least
    – d.k
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:49
  • 2
    though, he wasn't a secret agent in the pure sense. He was once the head of the KGB, and (by many sources) was quite qualified in this sphere, but he had got to the head post of the KGB from other fields (he was an ambassador to Hungary etc.), though those "fields", like diplomacy, are always and everywhere highly intervened with secret services
    – d.k
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:52
  • 12
    George HW Bush was director of the CIA in the late 70s, if that counts.
    – rougon
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 16:08
  • 3
    @rougdon: director of CIA is a public figure, not a "secret agent".
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 2:44
  • 5
    You should be more specific about what is a "secret agent". People like KGB chiefs and CIA directors are not "secret agents".
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 2:46

2 Answers 2


First of all, you should have detailed what did you mean with the term "modern era".

If this is related only to the post 1991 period, then there are numerous examples. Here is a list of some of such examples:

  • Sergey Stepashin, who had served as the head of the FSB before he became the Prime Minister
  • Mikhail Fradkov, currently he is the head of the SVR, and there is no direct mention that he was a secret agent before, but he was a Soviet diplomat during the USSR era, so one can be almost 100% sure, that he had a direct relation to secret services
  • Yevgeny Primakov he was the Prime Minister and before that was a "secret agent"

These are only few, the most public and sort of famous. If I recall anyone else I'll edit the answer to add them to the list.

If you was asking about the Soviet era too, than I can name, at least, Yuri Andropov, who had been a diplomat and the Party officer (almost 100% sure that he had direct relation to secret services) before he became the General Secretary of the Party — de-facto and it might be de-jure the head of state in the USSR, I'm not an expert in the Soviet Constitution.

  • Nice answer. Any non-Russian/non-Soviet examples?
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 2:42
  • @Alex, sorry, I thought that would be enough, since the question was tagged only with the russia tag. That is I supposed it is only about Russia
    – d.k
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 16:22
  • Yes, but still interesting whether this is a unique feature of Russia or not.
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 17:12

Willy Brandt

Willy Brandt--who went on to become the Chancellor of West Germany from 1969 to 1974--operated covertly against the Axis before and during World War II. During the 1930s, Brandt, a German national, worked with the international communist movement, including the Soviets, against the National Socialists in Germany. The name Willy Brandt itself was a pseudonym he adopted because the National Socialists knew his true identity (Herbert Frahm) and were after him. His activities included a period during which he operated inside National Socialist Germany using a false Norwegian identity. He was actually arrested in occupied Norway, but was released because the Germans did not realize who he was. He was active against the Axis in Scandinavia, operating in both Norway and Sweden. So Brandt acted as an intelligence operative under a cover identity in both a hostile nation and a nation occupied by a hostile power--qualifying him as a "secret agent" by any standard.

"Secret Agent" may not apply to Putin so much.

The term "secret agent" in your question is a little vague. Vladimir Putin was a KGB officer, but most of his career was spent inside the Soviet Union and not in an undercover capacity. He also spent five years in East Germany--an allied country with a permissive environment for the KGB--working overtly as a Soviet. Though he had a cover job as a translator, it's doubtful that the East Germans and the Western intelligence services did not know (or at least assume) that he was in the KGB. Unquestionably he was a civilian intelligence professional, but not exactly a "secret agent."

If you want to know if any other civilian intelligence professionals have ever become primary executive power holders, then one example is George H.W. Bush. During the Ford adminstration, Bush was the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI - then in charge of the CIA directly and the US intelligence community as a whole). Later, in 1989, he became the President of the United States.

  • I remember people freaking out at the time about the former head of the CIA running for president. Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 22:25
  • 1
    Americans have a (I think) healthy distrust of our intelligence services. Interestingly, it doesn't extend to military practicioners. George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower probably had much more direct involvement in intelligence operations than Bush ever did.
    – ruffdove
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 23:04

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