25 Most Prolific Spies And Their Top Secret Missions

Although their exploits are often popularized by Hollywood and quite often ride the line between completely unbelievable and just barely possible, spies really do exist. Of course, they are probably not running along the outsides of high rise buildings and paragliding into jungles but they do work as undercover diplomats, engineers, and lay people. They risk their lives in both war and peace, sometimes for a noble cause and sometimes for nothing more than the highest bidder. Enter the shady underworld of espionage as you learn about history’s 25 most prolific spies and their top secret missions.

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25

Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale

Famously known as the “first American spy,” Hale was a soldier for the continental Army during the American Revolutionary War in 1775. He was officially designated the state hero of Connecticut after he volunteered to go behind enemy lines and observe the movements of the British during the Battle of Long Island. Disguised as a Dutch teacher on his way to New York, he was eventually caught by the British and hanged.

24

Major John Andre

Major John Andre

A British Army officer who was hanged in 1780 as a spy during the American War of independence, Andre was a favorite in colonial society during the British occupation in both Philadelphia and New York. He became adjutant-general with the rank of Major in 1778 and in the following year had contrived with American General Benedict Arnold, commander of West Point, to surrender it to the British for £20,000 so that New England would be cut off from the rest of the rebel colonies. He was found guilty of being behind enemy lines when he was caught traveling to New York using civilian clothes and a fake passport supplied by Arnold. Although he was well-liked by both sides he was hanged on October 2, 1780.

23

James Armistead Lafayette

James Armistead Lafayette

A slave owned by William Armistead of Virginia, he became the first African-American double agent during the American Revolution. He volunteered in 1781 to join the army under General Lafayette after getting the consent of his master. His first mission was to spy on Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold, who had defected from the Continental Army to lead the British forces. His espionage reports were considered instrumental in defeating the British forces during the Battle of Yorktown.

22

Belle Boyd

Belle Boyd

Maria Isabella Boyd or the ‘”Cleopatra of the Secession,” was a Confederate spy during the American Civil War operating from her father’s hotel, the Front Royal. She conveyed valuable information to General Stonewall Jackson in 1862 through her slave Eliza Hopewell as she charmed military secrets out of one of her Union sentries. She was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor due to her contributions.

21

Emeline Pigott

Emeline Pigott

A spy for the Confederate Army in North Carolina, Pigott organized fishermen to spy for her as she hid secret messages in her skirt and carried them from New Bern through the sea ports to be transmitted to the proper authorities. Though she had been arrested by the Union forces several times on charges of blockade running, she still continued on. She oftentimes entertained Yankee soldiers at her parent’s farm so as to distract them while her brother-in-law, Rufus Bell, carried food to the Confederates hiding in the nearby woods.

20

Elizabeth Van Lew

Elizabeth Van Lew

A well-born Richmond, Virginia resident, she operated a widespread spy ring for the United States during the American Civil War from 1864 to 1865. She earned the “Crazy Bet” moniker for effectively posing as mentally ill by wearing old clothes and bonnets so that people would think that she was crazy.

19

Thomas Miller Beach

Thomas Miller Beach

Thomas Miller Beach was an English spy who enlisted in the Northern army during the American Civil War. His services enabled the British Government to take measures which led to the fiasco of the Canadian invasion of 1870 and Kiel’s surrender in 1871. He supplied full details concerning the various Irish-American associations, in which he himself was a prominent member. Although he was never officially caught, he was found out and forced to give up his life of secrecy.

18

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje

A Dutch scholar of Oriental cultures and languages, he was not only a leading authority on Islam, but was also a famous spy who used his knowledge of Islam and the Aceh culture in ending the 40-year Aceh War. Under the name “Haji Abdul Ghaffar,” he gathered intelligence and devised strategies that significantly helped crush the rebellion of the Aceh inhabitants against the Dutch colonial rule. This earned him his influence in shaping the colonial administration policy throughout the Dutch East Indies.

17

Fritz Joubert Duquesne

Fritz Joubert Duquesne

Frederick Joubert Duquesne volunteered to spy for Germany for both World Wars due to his hatred of the British, specifically their treatment of Boer children and women. Known for the moniker “Black Panther,” he also claimed to have sabotaged and sunk the HMS Hampshire, which carried Lord Kitchener on his way to Russia in 1916. Under the codename DUNN, he organized the Duquesne Spy Ring with 33 members to relay secret information regarding the Allied weaponry and their shipping movements to the German forces. They were discovered, however, and convicted to serve 300 years in prison in the so-called “largest espionage ring conviction in the history of the United States.”

16

Mata Hari

Mata Hari

One of the most famous spies in history, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was a high-class courtesan who used her charms to gather information from her clientele of high-ranking military men and others of powerful positions in many countries during World War I. Mata Hari was executed by the French in 1917 for espionage. Though there was much debate as to which side had her ultimate loyalty, German documents unsealed in 1970 revealed that she was really a German agent under the code name H-21 who entered the service in 1915.

15

Sidney Reilly

Sidney Reilly

“The Ace of Spies” and the model for James Bond 007, Sidney is considered to be the first 20th century super-spy. Though he was also known for his many aliases including Salomon, Sidney Rosenblaum, and Shlomo, his birth name was actually Georgi Rosenblaum and he was a Jewish Russian-born secret agent employed by the Scotland Yard. He gained notoriety in the 1920s when he allegedly spied for multiple nations in both Europe and Asia although the details of missions and loyalty have never been fully disclosed.

14

The Cambridge Five

The Cambridge Five

The Cambridge Five was a ring of spies, recruited in part by Russian scout Arnold Deutsch in the United Kingdom, who passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and at least into the early 1950s. Four members of the ring were identified but the fifth was never found. Their name was derived from the fact that they had all taken to communism while studying at Cambridge University.

13

Richard Sorge

Richard Sorge

Richard Sorge was a German communist and spy who worked for the Soviet Union. He gained great fame among espionage enthusiasts for his intelligence gathering during World War II. He worked as a journalist in both Germany and Japan, where he was imprisoned for spying and eventually hanged.

12

Virginia Hall

Virginia Hall

Popular among the Germans as “Artemis,” Hall was an American spy with the Special Operations Executive during World War II in the 1940s and later on for the Office of the Strategic Services and the Special Activities Division of the CIA. Despite the fact that her leg was amputated from the knee down, her clandestine works included helping the activities of the French Underground while serving as a correspondent and eluding the Gestapo while contacting the French Resistance in central France, both of which put the “limping lady” on Germany’s most wanted list.

11

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake served as a British agent during the later part of World War II. She became a leading figure in the French Resistance and was one of the Allies’ most decorated servicewomen of the war.

10

George Koval

George Koval

Though American born, he moved to Russia as a child and was later recruited by the Soviet GRU and sent back to America to obtain nuclear information as agent DELMAR. When he secured a position as an engineer on the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic bomb during World War II from 1942 to 1946, he had free access to data that he conveyed back to the Soviet Union. Decorated as a “Hero of the Russian Federation,” his exploits drastically reduced the amount of time that it took Russia to develop its own nuclear weapons.

9

Elyesa Bazna

Elyesa Bazna

An Albanian secret agent who spied for Germany during World War II, he sold information to the Germans under his code name “Cicero”. He is credited for selling some of the Allies most damaging secrets and was probably one of the Axis powers top informants.

8

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

The first civilians in the history of the United States to be executed as spies, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were accused of passing secrets about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Julius obtained the documents from his brother-in-law, David Greenglass, who supplied the documents from Los Alamos and cleared Ethel’s involvement. They were put to death by electric chair in Sing Sing Prison in 1953.

7

Klaus Fuchs

Klaus Fuchs

A German theoretical physicist, whose significant contributions include the first fission weapons and early models of the hydrogen bomb, was convicted for leaking out information about the Atomic bomb research (the Manhattan Project) to the Soviet Union in 1950 due to the reasoning that they had the right to know. He was eventually convicted and only served 14 years in prison due to his confessions.

6

Oleg Penkovsky

Oleg Penkovsky

Known for his code name “Agent HERO,” Oleg was a Colonel in the Soviet GRU who was supplying intelligence to the United States government during the 1950s and 60s. He was responsible for the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ as he informed the United Kingdom and the United States about the Soviet’s placement of missiles in Cuba. His information led analysts to discover the silos and missile cargo with the use of low-resolution spy plane photos. It was alleged that he was tried and convicted of treason by the soviets in 1963 though there seems to be no record of it.

5

Ray Mawby

Ray Mawby

Raymond Llewellyn Mawby was a British member of the Parliament for the Conservative Party who spied for the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic during the Cold War. Given the code name “Laval,” he had received £100 for every piece of information that he handed over including the floor plans of the Prime Minister’s office.

4

Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee

Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee

Infamously known as “the Falcon and the Snowman,” this unlikely duo somehow managed to create a serious hole in the national security of the US government in the 1970s through their low-profile efforts. Boyce, who was working for an aerospace company on contract with the US government, stumbled upon some top secret information. He decided to sell the information to the Soviets by trafficking the intelligence through his friend Lee, a drug-runner, who would sell them to the Russian embassy in Mexico. However, when Lee was arrested for an unrelated charge, their scheme was uncovered.

3

Robert Philip Hanssen

Robert Philip Hanssen

A former FBI agent who spied for the Soviet Union for 22 years starting in 1979, Hanssen was charged with selling information for more than $1.4 million. Considered the “worst intelligence disaster in US history” he pleaded guilty to 13 counts of espionage and is now serving life imprisonment at the United States Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.

2

Aldrich Ames

Aldrich Ames

Soviet double agent, Ames, a former CIA Counter-Intelligence Officer, compromised at least 100 CIA operatives to the KGB which led to the execution of at least 10 agents for money. He is now incarcerated for life at the Penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania.

1

Jonathan Pollard

Jonathan Pollard

A Texas-born analyst for the US government, he spied for Israel for cash, diamonds, and even heritage in 1987. According to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), Pollard has passed classified information to Pakistan on a number of occasions through a third-party, to South Africa, and even to China on behalf of his wife to advance her personal business interests. He was only discovered when a fellow employee caught him removing some classified information from their work center.



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