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Generally, Assets perform on behalf of an individual, group, or (especially) an intelligence agency. Assets are usually developed using bribery and/or blackmail, with bribery working most effectively on the poor, and blackmail being the more effective means of control of the asset if the mark is rich, a member of the elite, or both. An asset (often of an intelligence agency) is someone whom an intelligence agency can count on, with a high degree of confidence, to behave in a predictable manner.

Assets differ from Agents, in that Assets are usually not intrinsically motivated and do not have closely intertwined interest on behalf of the individual, group, or intelligence agency of which they are an Asset. Assets can only be counted on to act for the controlling power with a high degree of reliability if external pressures are properly applied, often in the form of blackmail, bribery, or similar manipulation. At times, the line between Agent and Asset can be blurry, as some Assets develop into full-blown Agents, and some Agents become estranged from the controlling power, and become Assets. Many Agents and Assets can be turned to become threats to those whose interests they served previously.