Special Report

The 32 Most Famous Traitors in History

Few figures elicit more contempt than traitors, whose betrayals have profoundly impacted history and national destinies. Names like Vidkun Quisling, Benedict Arnold, and Judas Iscariot are synonymous with treachery.

To determine the most famous traitors in history, 24/7 Tempo consulted sources including Britannica, Biography, and History, as well as various news sites.

What motivates such disloyalty? Often money, as with drug dealer Andrew Daulton Lee, who sold US secrets to the Soviets in the 1970s. Expanding bank accounts raised alarms about longtime CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames and FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who spied purely for profit.. (These are the most famous spies in history.)

Ideology is another incentive. In the 1930s, some Cambridge students, believing Marxism could counter fascism’s rise, became Soviet spies. More recently, John Walker Lindh converted to Islam and fought for the Taliban against America in 2001.

Opportunism also breeds betrayal. Ephialtes helped Persia’s Xerxes flank the Spartans at Thermopylae to gain influence in a conquered Greece. French politician Pierre Laval collaborated with Nazi Germany, convinced they would win World War II. (The Nazis were defeated in part due to their loss in some of the biggest battles of WW II.) 

Some traitors, like Benedict Arnold, Philippe Pétain and Andrey Vlasov, were war heroes who shamefully deserted their nations.

Nearly half these infamous traitors met grim fates – execution, accident, or suicide. Stella Kubler, a Jew who became a Nazi “Jew catcher” to expose relatives and former classmates for money, later killed herself.

Click here to see the most famous traitors in history

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