Article: 25 Spies You’ve Never Heard Of: HowStuffWorks
25 Spies You’ve Never Heard Of
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About This Article
Spies have been around as long as the state has existed. War strategists have praised the utility of spies going back to Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" for their ability to augment or replace other military elements, saving lives and sometimes preventing battle altogether. Sun Tzu described five types of spies: the local spy, the internal spy, the converted spy, the permanent spy and the expendable spy. Expendable spies are spies whose fate does not matter, so they can be used to do things that could get them killed or captured, and because of this, Sun Tzu touts the expendable spy who does not know he is expendable as the best kind of spy. Sun Tzu goes on to say that local spies are enemy peasants, internal spies are enemy courtiers. Converted spies are what we would call "double agents," and permanent spies are more like what the CIA calls "case officers," communicating intelligence back to headquarters.
History is full of spies, and many of the best will, by their nature, never be known. There are some great spies whose stories have since come out, but who were not known, or at least not known to be spies until long after they were laid to rest. Here are 25 you may not have heard of.
Ehrich Weiss aka Harry Houdini
While stories about the famous escape artist being a full-blown spy in the modern sense of "James Bond" may be overblown, there is evidence Houdini corresponded with William Melville, the head of Scotland Yard, and future spymaster known by his initial, "M." It seems Houdini passed his observations of continental politics, seen on his tour of Europe, to Melville, in the very early 1900s.
Karl Schulmeister, Napoleon's Master Spy
Perhaps a sign of his success as a spy, little is known about Karl Schulmeister. Skilled in tradecraft from his time as a smuggler and spy for the Austrian Empire, he was recruited to work for France, and travelled Europe, obtaining valuable secrets for Napoleon, some of which proved decisive in Napoleon's victory at The Battle of the Three Emperors. After Napoleon, he frittered away his days as a tobacconist ... or perhaps he was just such an excellent spy that this story is what we all believe.
Juan Pujol Garcia aka Garbo
Juan Pujol Garcia is perhaps the most important con artist who ever lived. Hired to spy in London by the Nazis, he instead moved to Lisbon, where, not speaking a word of English, he concocted increasingly elaborate lies about his activities, including vast reports of utter fantasy, all of which were believed by Hitler. He approached MI5 and became their man, misdirecting Hitler from D-Day with false reports and blinding Nazi spymasters to accurate troop movements. By the end of the war, the Nazis had awarded him The Iron Cross, and the British had awarded him The Order of The British Empire.
James Rivington, "Loyalist" Publisher
James Rivington was a British-born publisher in New York during the American Revolution, printing a newspaper that could be construed as nothing but loyalist propaganda. He was so outspoken, in fact, that he had to flee to England briefly when mobs of patriots came to his home. When he returned, he was one of the most respected men in British-controlled New York. The truth? He was a member of The Culper Spy Ring, a group of spies who answered only to Washington himself, and he used his social position to obtain sensitive data.
James Armistead Lafayette, African-American Revolutionary War Spy
Deemed the key to the American victory at The Battle of Yorktown, James Armistead Lafayette was a slave who joined the Americans in their rebellion against Britain. When the traitorous General Benedict Arnold defected to the British, James Armistead Lafayette was assigned to defect to his side to act as a spy, which allowed Washington to tap directly into the British military-strategic plans.
Rose Greenhow, Confederate Spy
Mrs. Greenhow was a Washington D.C. society figure of some note, born in Maryland and married to a Virginian. When the American Civil War broke out, she sided with the Confederacy. Using her contacts in D.C. society, Mrs. Greenhow discovered details of the movements of the Union army. She transmitted them to the Confederacy, finding herself in the cross-hairs of Allen Pinkerton, founder of the American Secret Service.
Dusan Popov, aka Tricycle
A colleague of "James Bond" creator Ian Flemming, Dusan Popov was a Yugoslavian double agent who worked for the allies. Fluent in German, he worked his way into the Nazi intelligence service, all the while working for the British spymasters. At one point, he was even sent to America to, among other things, spy on Pearl Harbor, something about which he wrote to the FBI, but was ignored.
Oleg Penkovsky, Codename: Hero
KGB officer Oleg Penkovsky was the CIA contact who informed the United States of the presence of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba, and that the Soviet nuclear arsenal was much smaller than believed by the Americans. It is believed that his uses to American intelligence were guided by elements of the Soviet intelligence apparatus that was opposed to making The Cold War hot.
Marthe Cnockaert, WWI Nurse & Spy
Marthe Cnockaert was a Belgian nurse desperate for work when Germany invaded, so the 22-year-old found employment in a German field hospital. Soon, she was approached by British intelligence, who recruited her, using her position to pry operational details from her German patients. Later, she would go on to destroy a German ammo dump, kill a German intelligence officer, and help numerous POWs escape the Germans' clutches.
Giordano Bruno, Probably Spied for Queen Elizabeth
Friar Giordano Bruno was a famous Catholic priest who authored a huge corpus on subjects as varied as Egyptian mysticism, Neoplatonism, and the writings of Ibn Rushd. It is also claimed, and likely, that he was a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster. During Bruno's time in the French Embassy in London, letters from a code-named spy, likely the friar, were sent to Walsingham from the embassy, full of valuable intelligence.
Eddie Chapman, From Thief to Saboteur
Governments look everywhere and anywhere for advantages in times of war, and when the Nazis took the Channel Islands during WW2, they looked to the prisons there for anyone who could be a useful tool. They found Eddie Chapman, a thief who specialized in using explosives. They recruited him, sending him to England to bomb a factory, but MI5 turned him into a double agent, faking the bombing so well, it fooled some factory workers!
Michael Foot, Alleged KGB Asset Who Was Nearly Prime Minister
When KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky defected to the UK, he decided to embrace capitalism with a book about his time in the KGB. In this book, published in 1995, he alleges that the KGB's Agent Boot was, in fact, Labour Party leader Michael Foot, who narrowly missed becoming PM when Margaret Thatcher swept into office. If the allegations are true and Foot had the majority, a Soviet spy would have been the UK's PM.
George Blake, MI6 Betrayer
Sending agents into enemy territory is always a risk. In 1950, Dutch-born British agent George Blake was sent into North Korea, where following his capture, either by free will or brainwashing, he became a communist during his three years in prison. After returning to the UK, he betrayed the names and covers of dozens of MI6 agents to the Soviets, destroying the UK's European human intelligence apparatus.
Nathan Hale, First American Spy
Nathan Hale was a native of Long Island, New York, a patriot, and the man touted as America's first spy. Disguised as a teacher, he passed behind enemy lines to record British activities during The Battle of Long Island. Sadly for Hale, his story did not end in glory, but at the end of a rope, following his capture.
Klaus Fuchs, Atomic Science Spy for The USSR
A German who fled when the Nazis came to power, Klaus Fuchs joined the British efforts to develop an atomic weapon, all the while sending coded communique back to handlers in Soviet intelligence. He later moved to America, ostensibly to assist in the further development of atomic science, but he continued spying. He finally admitted to spying in 1950, was jailed in the UK for 14 years, then deported to the Eastern Bloc.
Humam Khalil Al-Balawi, Al Qaeda/CIA Double Agent
Spies may be hard to come by in the current conflict between terrorists and western governments. Still, the CIA managed to recruit Al Qaeda member Dr. Humam Khalil Al-Balawi, a medical doctor in Afghanistan. He provided the CIA with useful intelligence, enough to keep him in their confidence, but in 2009 he used their comfort to allow him to enter their offices with an explosive vest, which he used to kill himself and them.
Thomas Miller Beach, The Anti-Fenian
Thomas Miller Beach was a British spy who moved to America, where he joined the Union Army during the American Civil War. His time in the army introduced him to Fenians who, among other things, were planning the Fenian Raids on British military bases in Canada. He sent home word of this, and it made its way to the Home Secretary, who prepared against the plot in time.
Richard Sorge, Soviet Spy on The Axis Powers
The Soviet Union is noted for having some of the best spy recruiters in the world. With Richard Sorge, they scored perhaps one of the most useful spies in history. A German, he spied on both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, sending word of the plans of both Axis Powers to Moscow, giving the USSR warning of Hitler's plan to invade. He was discovered, captured, and executed in Japan.
Arthur Owens, Corrupt Double Agent
Arthur Owens was a Welsh spy recruited by the Nazis on the eve of WW2. He gladly accepted payment in the form of his vices, mostly women and money, but when he realized that two governments could provide him with even more of those, he turned to MI5 and became a double agent. He exposed many German agents to MI5, but when, to maintain his cover, Owens gave up a British agent to the Nazis, his MI5 handlers realized that he wasn't a patriot, but a corrupt man only looking out for his own interests, and he was jailed.
Nancy Wake, WWII Badass
Nancy Wake was a journalist, covering the Nazis' activities on the continent, when she became a de facto spy, helping allied soldiers to move through Europe, and aiding Jewish families fleeing the Nazis. In time she found her way to Britain, where she was trained by the SOE. Wake parachuted into France in 1944 to lay the groundwork for D-Day, beating up a Nazi soldier with her bare hands, and passing through roadblocks either by flirting or mowing down Nazis with a machine gun. She died in 2011.
Aldrich Ames, Disgraced CIA Agent
Kim Philby, the leader of The Cambridge Five, was exactly the sort of agent the KGB wanted in the West: connected, well placed and brilliant. To create such an asset in the CIA, they turned to Aldrich Ames, who was, sadly for the KGB, no Kim Philby. Aldrich Ames was not a true believer like Philby, but a corrupt man who only wanted money, and thus, was eventually discovered, tried, and put in federal prison, where he remains.
Boris Yuzhin, KGB Turncoat
Boris Yuzhin was one of the very rare intelligence assets the CIA was able to find already placed in the Soviet intelligence apparatus. He began working for the Americans in 1975, photographing documents with a camera disguised as a lighter until, in 1986, a Soviet mole in the CIA exposed him, and he was jailed for six years. Today, he lives in California.
Fritz Joubert Duquesne, Leader of the Largest Spy Ring Ever Captured
Fritz Joubert Duquesne was a Boer whose time in the Boer War fostered a fervent hatred of Britain, which took the form of doing anything he could to harm the nation. He was a spy for Germany in WW1. After being jailed and blamed for causing numerous deaths, he escaped again and started The Duquesne Spy Ring, a 33 member Nazi spy ring whose arrests were called the death blow to the Nazis' American espionage efforts.
Elizabeth Van Lew, American Civil War Spy for The Union
Like Rose Greenhow, Elizabeth Van Lew was a society lady, only she was in Richmond, Virginia, and she hated slavery. When the war broke out, she used her position in society to visit Confederate prisons and even the Confederate White House, but she also ran a spy ring, sending intelligence to The Union hidden in empty eggshells. General Grant called her the most useful spy in the war.
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