Special Report

The Most Famous Spies in History

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Alfred Redl (1864-1913)

As an Austrian military officer, Alfred Redl was the chief of a counterintelligence corps, and a leading figure in advancing espionage tactics prior to WWI. Eventually Redl’s successor discovered that Redl himself was also a spy, acting as a well-paid informant for the Russian Imperial Army; Redl committed suicide upon being exposed. Although his reasons for double-crossing his country will never be understood, historians believe his intel may have been responsible for Austria-Hungary’s massive losses during WWI.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Sidney Reilly (1873-1925)

More than a double-agent, British Intelligence officer Sidney Reilly – also known as the “Ace of Spies” – is purported to have spied for at least four countries: Germany, England, Japan, and the Soviet Union. Active during WWI and the Russo-Japanese war, Reilly – who was apparently born Sigmund Rosenblum in Odessa – was uncovered during a failed assassination attempt on Vladimir Lenin. He was eventually captured, tortured and executed by the Soviets.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Mata Hari (1876-1917)

Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod was a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan living in Paris during WWI. She agreed to spy for France in German-occupied Belgium, but was later accused of being a double agent for the Germans. Although her role as a spy is contested and historical documents suggest that she never gave any information of consequence to the Germans, the French tried and executed her by firing squad.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Fritz Joubert Duquesne (1877-1956)

A South African Boer and big game hunter, Fritz Duquesne acted as a secret agent and spymaster for Germany during both World Wars. His feats include infiltrating the British Army and becoming an officer, escaping enemy prisons four times, and planting bombs on British ships while disguised as a scientist. The FBI uncovered Duquesne’s infamous spy ring in 1941 and convicted 33 of its members.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Richard Sorge (1895-1944)

Born in Imperial Russia but raised in Germany, Richard Sorge was a prominent Soviet spy prior to and during WWII, and is widely considered one of the greatest spies of all time. He worked undercover as a journalist in Germany and Japan, and alerted the Soviets of Hitler’s plan to attack the Soviet Union. He was eventually arrested in Japan, where he was tortured and executed by hanging.

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