These spies made a name for themselves at home and abroad for their compelling mixture of sex, scandal and secret dealings. Here are 10 of the most dubious, famous spies in history.
Famous Spies: 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.
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 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: 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.