10 Of The Most Famous Spies In History

Published April 11, 2014
Updated February 12, 2018
Most Famous Spies In History

Source: Wikipedia

These spies made a name for themselves at home and abroad for their compelling mixture of sex, scandal and secret dealings. Here are ten of the most dubious, famous spies in history:

Famous Spies: Mata Hari, German Spy

Famous Spies Mata Hari

Source: The Guardian

Possibly one of the most famous spies of all time, Mata Hari was an exotic dancer and high class prostitute in Paris who spied for Germany during World War 1.

The Dutch-born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle began her spying career after working as a courtesan to high-ranking military men and politicians. Her courtesan status and Dutch passport (Netherlands was a neutral country) allowed her to, literally, sleep with the enemy and gather intel for the German Military.

Mata Hari’s gig came to a halt in January 1917, when French intelligence intercepted a German Military Attache-encoded radio signal to Berlin which declared that they were receiving amazing information from a German spy codenamed H-21. Mata Hari was identified and arrested in a Paris hotel room on February 13, 1917. She was executed by firing squad on September 15, 1917 for espionage.

The Rosenbergs, Soviet Union Spies

Famous Spies The Rosenbergs

Source: Ielmira

Married couple Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were American Communists who were executed in 1953 for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. The couple became embroiled in espionage in 1942 when Julius was recruited by the KGB.

He was responsible for passing classified reports and designs to the KGB, including a fuze design which was used to shoot down a U-2 in 1960. He was assisted by his brother-in-law, Sergeant David Greenglass, who admitted to passing on classified information through Julius and Ethel (who typed nuclear secrets).

While the degree of Ethel’s involvement was relatively uncertain, prosecutors thought that indicting her would cause her to get Julius to confess. That never happened. The case against them began in 1951 and both were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage and executed by electric chair in Sing Sing Prison in 1953. They were the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage during the entire Cold War.

Famous Spies Rosenbergs

Source: NPR

Famous Spies: Aldrich Ames, Soviet Union Spy

Famous Spies Aldrich Ames

Source: NPR

Former CIA agent Aldrich Ames turned Soviet Union spy in 1985 after being stationed in Ankara, Turkey. He had originally been sent to target Soviet intelligence officers for recruitment, but instead offered up US secrets to the Soviets due to his own financial and emotional woes.

Assigned to the CIA’s European office, Ames had access to the identities of CIA operatives in the KGB and Soviet Military, and provided the Soviets with this intel.

This led to the compromise of about 100 CIA agents and the execution of at least 10. It was Ames’ newly-acquired material wealth that did him in. Ames passed two lie detector tests while spying for the Soviet Union, but he couldn’t hide his Soviet-funded half million dollar home, luxury sports car, or thousand dollar phone bills from the CIA.

He was eventually caught by the FBI and in 1994 convicted to life in prison.

Giacomo Casanova, Venetian Spy

Famous Spies Giacomo Casanova

Source: Wikipedia

The original Casanova was a Venetian spy who wrote a tell-all book called The Story of My Life. The book, however, details mostly his romantic affairs with powerful women, and he tends to gloss over the escapades of his espionage days.

What is known that he worked as a lawyer, and between the years of 1774 and 1782 served as a spy for the Venetian Inquisitors of the State. His spying endeavors are hush hush, but he eventually was exiled in 1782 for spreading libel against one of the City patricians.

Famous Spies: Klaus Fuchs, Soviet Union

Famous KGB Spy Klaus Fuchs

Source: Wikipedia

In the long list of Soviet spies we find the name of Klaus Fluchs, a German-born physicist with the distinction of being responsible for significant theoretical work on the first fission weapons and early models of the hydrogen bomb.

After fleeing Germany during the Nazi regime, Fuchs worked on his PhD in England and made the cut for the British atomic bomb project. In 1943, Fuchs also found his way to Los Alamos, where he was an integral part of the Manhattan project.

During his time in England, Fuchs turned spy and began giving information to the Soviets, reasoning that they deserved to know what the enemy was developing.

This passing of information took place over two years, as Fuchs continued to provide information to the KGB on key products including theoretical plans for building a hydrogen bomb, and data that Soviets used to determine the number of bombs the US possessed. He was interrogated in 1946 by the British government and was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, but only served nine.

Major John André, British Spy

Major John André was a British Army officer during the American War of Independence who conspired against the Continental Army. He was a well-liked major in colonial society during the British occupation in Philadelphia and New York, but behind closed doors was responsible for assisting American General Benedict Arnold’s attempts to sell the West Point fort in New York to the British. He was caught after traveling through New York in civilian clothes with a fake passport.

André’s defense? He never wanted or planned to be behind American lines, and that as a prisoner of war he had the right to escape in civilian clothes. The board was unmoved. André was convicted of being a spy for the enemy, and was hanged on October 2nd, 1780.

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