Special Report

Most Famous Prisoner Exchanges of Modern Times

On Dec. 8, 2022, after months of negotiations over her wrongful imprisonment, WNBA star Brittney Griner was exchanged on a tarmac in Abu Dhabi for Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, who had been a prisoner in the U.S.

The Griner-Bout trade was the latest high profile event in a long history of prisoner swaps between the United States and hostile foreign nations. And as the number of wrongfully detained Americans abroad increases – one researcher estimates their number o has risen 175% over the last decade – prisoner swaps may become more common. As of this writing, the United States and Iran are currently working on a deal that would lead to the release of five American citizens.

Using various news and historical sources, 24/7 Tempo compiled a list of some of the most famous prisoner swaps in history. Prisoner exchanges are ordered chronologically, and the list is far from complete.

Some of the most famous prisoner swaps were conducted during the Cold War, when two spies, each caught by their enemy, were exchanged and released to their respective countries of allegiance. The iconographic blueprint for prisoner swaps is likely the 1962 exchange of American pilot Francis Gary Powers for Soviet KGB Colonel Rudolf Abel, conducted on the Glienicke Bridge spanning the border of East and West Germany – an event dramatized in Steven Spielberg’s 2015 film “Bridge of Spies.” (It’s on our list of the best movies set during the Cold War.)

Glienicke Bridge would serve as host to several other notable spy exchanges during the Cold War, including the largest of the era, when, in June 1985, the United States swapped four accused Eastern Europeans spies for 25 individuals of various nationalities imprisoned in East Germany and Poland who were “of interest” to the U.S. (meaning that they had probably been working with the Americans or their allies).

Click here to read more about the most famous prisoner exchanges of modern times

While during the Cold War prisoner swaps tended to involve rank-for-rank trades of spies or combatants, in recent years civil prisoners have been the subject of high-profile exchanges. Princeton University graduate student Xiyue Yang, for example, was arrested for espionage while conducting research in Iran. While the United States denied the charges, they ultimately secured Yang’s release in exchange for Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani. (These are the most famous spies in history.)

Many civilian prisoner swap cases have also been lopsided, as in the Griner-Bout trade, with the United States releasing serious criminals in exchange for Americans arrested abroad for bogus or trumped-up charges. Trevor Reed, for example – arrested while drunk in Moscow and sentenced to nine years in prison – was exchanged in April 2022 for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted of cocaine trafficking charges who had been serving a 20-year federal prison sentence in Connecticut.

Sponsored: Tips for Investing

A financial advisor can help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of investment properties. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Investing in real estate can diversify your portfolio. But expanding your horizons may add additional costs. If you’re an investor looking to minimize expenses, consider checking out online brokerages. They often offer low investment fees, helping you maximize your profit.