11 of the most famous spies in history.

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Basic requirement to be a spy is to stay under the radar, never reveal your true identity but once the job is done or the curtains are removed, Spies are prone to become famous overnight because of the high profile job they do. In following, we present to you the list of eleven of the most famous spies in history of different countries who made a name for themselves at home and abroad for their compelling mixture of sex, scandal and secret dealings..

1. Mata Hari, German Spy

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.

2. The Rosenbergs, Soviet Union Spies

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 the Rosenbergs 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.

3. Aldrich Ames, Soviet Union Spy

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.

4. Giacomo Casanova, Venetian Spy

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.

5.Klaus Fuchs, Soviet Union

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.

6. 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.


7. James Armistead Lafayette, USA Spy

Lafayette was the first African-American double agent and came to prominence during the American Revolution. A slave by William Armistead of Virginia, he was granted permission to volunteer in the army in 1781. His missions included spying on the Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, and his reports were vital in helping defeat the British forces during the Battle of Yorktown.

8. Frederick Joubert Duquesne, German Spy

Frederick Joubert Duquesne, nicknamed “Black Panther”, was a German spy during both world wars. Fueled by his hatred of the British and their treatment of Boer children and women, he turned to espionage and was responsible for relaying secrets—particularly about Allied weaponry and shipping movements—to the German forces. He is also credited for having sabotaged and sunk the HMS Hampshire in 1916, which was carrying Lord Kitchener to Russia. Duquesne also organized the Duquesne Spy Ring whose 33 conspiring members were sentenced 300 years in prison.

9. Virginia Hall, US Spy

Known by her moniker “Artemis” in Germany, Virginia Hall was a US spy who worked with the Special Operations Executive during World War II in the 1940s and later for a division of the CIA. Her efforts included helping the French Underground in Vichy and the French resistance as a correspondent, and the Gestapo referred to her as “the most dangerous of all Allied spies”. Oh, and she only had one leg – the other was amputated from the knee down.

10. Shi Pei Pu, Chinese Spy.

A clandestine story of sex, scandal and an Opera singing spy occurred in Beijing in 1964. Chinese opera singer Shi Pei Pu met French embassy clerk Bernard Boursicot while teaching English to diplomats’ families, convinced Boursicot that he was a woman dressed as a man, and began a love affair with him that spanned 20 years – even going as far as pretending to have his baby (that he purchased from a hospital). The affair resulted in Boursicot handing over as many as 150 French embassy documents to the Chinese secret service before returning to France in the early 1980s. Eventually Shi and his “son” were arrested and charged with espionage, serving six years in prison. They were released after 11 months and Shi’s story inspired the play and film, M. Butterfly.

11. Anna Chapman, Russian Spy.

Anna Chapman became famous in June 2010, when she was arrested in New York and accused of spying for the Russian government.  Born in Russia in 1982, Anna Chapman was living in New York City when she made headlines in June 2010. Along with nine others, she was arrested on suspicion of working as a spy for the Russian government. Chapman plead guilty, and was deported back to Russia in July 2010, in the biggest spy swap deal since 1986. 

Her good looks made Chapman the focus of the media spotlight, and upon returning to Russia she posed for a men's magazine and hosted a TV show.


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