12 of the Most Infamous Spies in Modern History

by admin on August 13, 2010

Much like thievery and prostitution, spying is an ancient profession. There have been spies in every age of history as far back as the books will take us, and the danger’s always been a constant. That being said, there will always be spies, but there will not always be spies who gain notoriety like they used to. These are the 12 most infamous spies of “modern” times.

Belle Boyd

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Unlike most spies, Belle Boyd died of natural causes at the age of 56. In her younger days, however, she was pushed into espionage during the American Civil War when she found herself forced to shoot a Union soldier in defense of her mother. She was exonerated after the shooting, but the mess left a sour taste in her mouth, so she began sending sensitive information southward by way of slave courier. There were plenty of people doing that during the war, but not many had access to the kind of information that she did, as she used the age-old feminine …ahem… persuasion to elicit the …erm… payloads.

William Stephenson

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Stephenson was a spy who was so good at his job, so dashing, so debonair, that he would later be cited by Ian Fleming as being the foremost inspiration for his famed character, James Bond. Stephenson became the senior man for British Intelligence in the entire Western Hemisphere during World War II. His first service number might sound a bit familiar — it was 38007.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

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The Rosenbergs were the first civilians ever to be executed under charges of espionage in the United States, and were both electrocuted in the chair at Sing Sing in 1953. At the time, there had been a growing debate in the scientific community as to whether or not it was right for the United States to have sole possession of the Atomic Bomb and its lethal technologies — you can probably guess on which side of the fence the Rosenbergs had been. They were found guilty of trafficking atomic secrets to the Soviets, and they never gave up a single name of the other scientists who were sympathetic to their cause. 

Cambridge Five

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Anthony Blunt, Donald Duart Maclean, Kim Philby and Guy Burgess were the four known members of this infamous spy ring. As for the fifth, well, that’s the origin of the phrase “the fifth man” — nobody was ever able to figure out who the fifth member of their team was. The group was convicted of spying for the Soviets after they were rounded up in 1961. Before that, they had been well-placed among the British Intelligence network. The only reason they were ever discovered was because they were ratted out by a Soviet defector, Anatoliy Golitsyn.

Nathan Hale

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Nathan Hale is widely regarded as the first American spy. He was a Captain of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and he spent a week behind enemy lines at the Battle of Long Island. It was there that he earned his place in history, and an execution to go with it. He was such a stand-up guy that the British officers who had the duty of putting him to death noted later that they respected him, and even liked him. A statue in his honor watches over the grounds at Langley, so he’s still among his own.

John André

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Major John André of the British Intelligence Service was caught trying to buy the surrender of West Point from a General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was so similar to Nathan Hale that not only could the two men have been drinking-buddies in better times, but he is called “the British Nathan Hale.” He was such a likable fellow that his American guards grew to consider him a friend.

Oleg Penkovsky

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Oleg Penkovsky is called “Agent Hero” over here in the USA, because that’s what he was in the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As an agent in the Soviet GRU, he was the guy who supplied the CIA with information about the silos in Cuba. It was his help that both caused the crisis, and helped to resolve it in our favor. Unfortunately for him, he was found out; in 1963 the Soviet courts convicted him of treason, and sentenced him to execution.

Robert Hanssen

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Robert Hanssen was the worst kind of spy. He was a spy who “did it for the money” — his words. He leaked information to the Soviets, and then the Russians, for a solid 20 years before he was caught in 2001. In that time he made millions, but none of it would help him in the long run. 

He was sentenced to life in prison and spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.

George Koval

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George Koval was born American, but was moved to Russia where he lived for some time. While there, he was approached and recruited by the Kremlin to be a long-term spy, and sent back the US to acquire nuclear information. He went to school, graduated, and joined the Manhattan project, after which he began to fulfill his mission. Koval lived to old age. After his death in 2006, Vladimir Putin honored him posthumously as a Hero of the Russian Federation.

Klaus Fuchs

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Until Klaus Fuchs was caught spying for the Soviet Union in Britain, the Allies were baffled by the amazing speed at which the USSR had been catching up to them in Atomic technologies. Fuchs had been funneling information to them the whole time. He had been working concurrently with the Rosenbergs, and it was actually one of the men he had implicated in his confessions as another spy who would become their snitch. Since he was convicted in Britain, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison, unlike the American Rosenbergs.

Francis Walsingham

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Sir Francis Walsingham was more or less the world’s first dedicated counter-intelligence agent. He served Queen Elizabeth I of England as her spymaster, and he was responsible for rooting out potential threats in England as well as securing vital information for the Queen from all over Europe. He’s considered by many to be the prototype of the first modern spy, in a world where nations fight silently with one another on a global scale.

Mata Hari

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Mata Hari, or Margaretha Geertruida Zelle as she was born to her mother, was put to death in France following World War I. Before her execution, she was rumored to have said of herself, “a harlot yes, a traitor — never.” She had been blamed for the deaths of 50,000 men, and her defense was pretty weak, considering the fact that she was known for traveling across the battle lines under the neutral Dutch citizenship she carried. Despite the fact that she whored around a bit in a time of war, the only real evidence against her was a mentioning in some cracked German code. 

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  • LMC

    “The group was convicted of spying for the Soviets after they were rounded up in 1961.”

    They weren't “rounded up” they defected.

  • http://jeffpruett.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/mata-hari-executed-this-day-in-history-%e2%80%94-10151917/ Mata Hari executed: This Day in History — 10/15/1917 | Slinking Toward Retirement

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  • Juliatyson

    None of the Cambridge Five were rounded up or tried. Burgess and McClean defected to Russia in the early fifties. Philby defected to Moscow in the early sixties and lived high on the soviet hog the rest of his life. Blunt was knighted for God’s sake and although publicly revealed in the late seventies, was never punished beyond losing his knighthood. Cairncross was the fifth man revealed by Gordievsky and he lived happily ever after in Italy.

  • Gord Crossley

    Re: Sir William Stephenson’s service number

    Number 38007 is a myth. The number block 38000-39000 was not used during the First World War. Stephendon’s service number during his time with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (101st Battalion and later Canadian Engineers) was 700758.

    (There is still a “007″ in that number, though it is a bit of a stretch)

    His digitized service file is available on the Library and Archives of Canada
    website. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/cef/9001-10000/9279-11.pdf

    Stephenson served in the CEF in Canada and England from 12 January 1916 to 15 August 1917. He then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps.
    As an commissioned officer in the RFC, he did not have a service number.

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