The Martin Pollins Blog

History, economics, business, politics…and Sussex

The SIS Building (MI6) By The Thames At Vauxhall, London.

Espionage or spying is the act of obtaining secret or confidential information from non-disclosed sources or divulging it without the permission of the owner of the information. A person who commits espionage is called an espionage agent or a spy and uses covert, clandestine, illegal or unethical behaviour as it is, by definition, unwelcome. Almost all nations have strict laws concerning espionage, and the penalty for being caught is often severe.

The word espionage comes from the Latin word spicere (to look on), and it evolved into “spy”. Espionage in the military is typically referred to as “military intelligence,” while espionage in the corporate world is termed “industrial espionage.” Most countries have both military intelligence organisations as well as civilian espionage and intelligence organisations. Throughout history, spies have created political, military, and economic advantages by obtaining confidential and vital information by covert, clandestine, illegal or unethical behaviour.

Military Espionage
Military Espionage has been recognised for its importance in military affairs since ancient times. It has been described as:
“a dangerous line of work, but what it lacks in safety, it surely makes up for in excitement. At least that’s what all the films, books, and television shows about spies and the messes they get into would have us believe. The idea of espionage has enthralled people since as far back as we can remember. The concept of living one’s entire life as a lie, secretly planted by a foreign government or group in order to glean information or sabotage targets, has inspired some of the best and most entertaining works of fiction ever produced.”[1]

The oldest known classified document was a report made by a spy disguised as a diplomatic envoy in the court of King Hammurabi[2], who died in around 1750 BC. The Ancient Egyptians had a developed secret service, and espionage is mentioned in the Iliad, the Bible, the Amarna letters[3], and its recordings in The Twelve Spies[4] story of the Old Testament. Espionage was also prevalent in the Greco-Roman world when spies employed illiterate subjects in civil services.

The thesis that espionage and intelligence have a central role in War and peace is steeped in history and was first advanced in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and the Arthashastra[5]. In the Middle Ages, European states excelled at what was later termed counter-subversion when Catholic inquisitions were staged to eradicate heresy. Inquisitions were marked by centrally organised mass interrogations and detailed record keeping.

European states funded codebreakers during the Renaissance to obtain intelligence through frequency analysis. Western espionage changed fundamentally during the Renaissance when Italian city-states installed resident ambassadors in capital cities to collect intelligence. Renaissance Venice became so obsessed with espionage that the Council of Ten, which was nominally responsible for security, did not even allow the doge (elected lord and Head of state in several Italian city-states) to consult government archives freely. In 1481, the Council of Ten barred all Venetian government officials from contacting ambassadors or foreigners. Those revealing official secrets could face the death penalty. Venice became obsessed with espionage because successful international trade demanded that the city-state could protect its trade secrets.

Industrial Espionage
Obtaining confidential information for commercial or economic gain is called Industrial Espionage. The information targeted for industrial espionage includes client lists, research documents, and trade secrets. Those involved in industrial espionage range from individual business owners to international corporations and even governments. Companies exert great effort to ensure that their proprietary formulas, recipes, technologies, recipes and other confidential information remain safe. Industrial espionage often makes use of illegal methods to obtain the desired information.

Spying has existed since ancient times, although it is only comparatively recently that official intelligence organisations were founded, and spying was established as a profession. In the 1980s, scholars characterised foreign intelligence as “the missing dimension” of historical scholarship. Since then, a large amount of popular and scholarly literature has emerged, particularly in World War II and the Cold War era (1947–1989) that has been a favourite genre for novelists and filmmakers.

One of the most effective ways to gather data and information about a target or country is by infiltrating its ranks. Spies can then return information such as the size, strength, position and intentions of enemy forces. They can also find dissidents within an organisation and influence them to provide further information or to defect to their side. In times of conflict, spies steal technology and sabotage the enemy in various ways. The practice of thwarting enemy espionage and intelligence-gathering is Counterintelligence.

Sun Tzu, Qing Dynasty
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons File URL:

Ancient History
Efforts to use espionage for military advantage have been well documented throughout history. Examples are:

  • Sun Tzu, a theorist in ancient China who influenced Asian military thinking, still has an audience in the 21st century for the Art of War. He wrote, “One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements.” He stressed the need to understand yourself and your enemy for military intelligence. He identified different spy roles. In modern terms, they included the secret informant or agent in place, who provides copies of enemy secrets, the penetration agent who has access to the enemy’s commanders, and the disinformation agent who feeds a mix of true and false details to point the enemy in the wrong direction, to confuse the enemy.
  • Ancient Egypt had a thoroughly developed system for the acquisition of intelligence. The Ancient Egyptians even coined a description for the new breed of public servant: “the eyes of the Pharaoh”.
  • The Hebrews used spies too, as recounted in the story of Rahab, said to be a ‘prostitute woman’. The Bible (Joshua 2:1–24) tells the story of a woman (said to be Rahab) who lived in Jericho and assisted the Israelites in capturing the city by hiding two men sent to carry out surveillance before their attack.
  • In France, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) used his “Cabinet Noir” to monitor the letters etc. of foreign diplomats and those suspected of treason.
  • Feudal Japan5F[6] often used shinobi (or ninja)[7] to gather intelligence through a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of a ninja included espionage, deception, and surprise attacks. Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonourable and beneath the samurai’s honour. Shinobi proper, as specially trained spies and mercenaries, appeared in the 15th century but may have existed in the 12th century.
  • Aztecs used Pochtecas, people in charge of commerce, as spies and diplomats, and had diplomatic immunity. Along with the pochteca, before a battle or war, secret agents, quimitchin, were sent to spy amongst enemies, usually wearing the local costume and speaking the local language, techniques similar to modern secret agents.
  • World War I brought about a marked change in the development and scope of many countries’ espionage activities. Due to the complicated global political climate and numerous, often secret, allegiances between countries, espionage became a valuable and necessary means of obtaining essential information. By the time of World War I, some countries, including the United States and Britain, organised agencies solely devoted to the collection of intelligence.

Military Intelligence
Military intelligence is a discipline that uses information collection and analysis approaches to guide those in command of military operations in the decisions they make. This is achieved by providing an assessment of data from a range of sources, directed towards the mission requirements or responding to questions as part of operational or campaign planning. Areas of study may include the operational environment, hostile, friendly and neutral forces, the civilian population in an area of combat operations, and other broader areas of interest.

Intelligence activities are conducted at all levels, from tactical to strategic, in peacetime, during the transition to War, and during a war itself.

Most governments maintain a military intelligence capability to provide analytical and information collection personnel in both specialist units and from other arms and services. The military and civilian intelligence capabilities collaborate to inform the spectrum of political and military activities.

Levels of Intelligence
Intelligence operations are carried out throughout the hierarchy of political and military activity. They may take one or more of these forms:

  • Strategic Intelligence is formally defined as “Intelligence required for forming policy and military plans at national and international levels”.[8]
  • Operational Intelligence is focused on support or denial of intelligence at functional tiers. It is formally defined as “Intelligence that is required for planning and conducting campaigns and major operations to accomplish strategic objectives within theatres or operational areas.”[9]
  • Tactical Intelligence is formally defined as “Intelligence required for the planning and conduct of tactical operations” and corresponds with the Tactical Level of Warfare; itself defined as “the level of warfare at which battles and engagements are planned and executed to achieve military objectives assigned to tactical units or task forces”.[10]
  • Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)[11] is intelligence-gathering by interception of signals, whether communications between people (Communications Intelligence—abbreviated to COMINT) or from electronic signals not directly used in communication (Electronic Intelligence—abbreviated to ELINT).
  • Human Intelligence (abbreviated to HUMINT) is intelligence gathered (primarily by people) through interpersonal contact, as opposed to the more technical intelligence gathering disciplines mentioned in this section. NATO defines HUMINT as “a category of intelligence derived from information collected and provided by human sources.”[12]
  • Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT): in the United States, this is intelligence about human activity derived from the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information that describes, assesses, and visually depicts physical features and geographically referenced activities on Earth.[13]

British Military Intelligence
British Military Intelligence existed in various forms since the establishment of a secret service in 1569 by Sir Francis Walsingham (see below), who became secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth I. In its present form, M16 (the letters MI stands for Military Intelligence) was formed in 1912 by Commander (later Sir) Mansfield Cumming as part of Britain’s attempt to coordinate intelligence activities. In the 1930s and 1940s, it was considered the most effective intelligence service in the world. MI6 (formally Secret Intelligence Service) is the British government agency responsible for the collection, analysis, and appropriate dissemination of foreign intelligence. It is also charged with the conduct of espionage activities outside British territory.

How Spies Operate
MI5 was established (as the Secret Service Bureau) in 1909 in response to fears of German espionage. Over the next eighty years, MI5 identified numerous spies from Germany, the Soviet Union and other countries during the two World Wars and the Cold War. Foreign spies typically sought to obtain political and military intelligence, and during the wars, some sought to carry out acts of sabotage. Many of MI5’s files on these cases have been released to The National Archives. The motto ‘To Keep the Country Safe’ is the mission of M15. Their website has a wealth of information[14], including an explanation of Intelligence Officers and Agents, which are reproduced below:

  • Intelligence officers: Intelligence officers are members of intelligence services. They will be highly trained in espionage techniques and the use of agents. They may operate openly, declaring themselves as representatives of foreign intelligence services to their host nation or covertly under cover of other official positions such as diplomatic staff or trade delegates. Some intelligence officers may operate under non-official cover to conceal that they work for an intelligence service – posing as a business person, student, or journalist. In some cases, they may operate in “deep cover” under false names and nationalities. Such spies are dubbed “illegals” because they work without any protection offered by diplomatic immunity.
  • Agents: In the UK, an agent, more formally known as a “covert human intelligence source“, is someone who secretly provides information to an intelligence officer. They will probably not be a professional “spy” but may have some basic instruction in espionage methods.

The First Woman Head of MI5: Dame Stella Rimington

Picture Credit: Dame Stella Rimington by nickpix2012 is licensed under CC.

Dame Stella Rimington, born in 1935, worked from 1969 to 1990 for three branches of UK security services: counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, and counter-subversion, before becoming the first female Director-General of MI5 (1992 to 1996). In her post-MI5 career, she remains a successful author and private consultant to UK’s security services. She joined Britain’s Security Service (MI5)[15] in 1969. During her nearly 30-year career, she worked in all the main fields of the Service’s responsibilities—counter-subversion, counter-espionage and counter-terrorism—and successively became Director of all three branches. Appointed Director-General of MI5 in 1992, she was the first woman to hold the post and the first whose name was publicly announced on appointment. In 1993, Rimington became the first DG of MI5 to pose openly for cameras at the launch of a brochure outlining the organisation’s activities[16].

In 1967, after two years in India, Rimington was asked to assist one of the First Secretaries at the High Commission with his office work. She accepted the offer and, when she began, discovered that he was the representative in India of the British Security Service (MI5). Gaining her security clearance, Rimington worked in the MI5 office for nearly two years until she and her husband returned to London in 1969, where she decided to apply for a permanent position at MI5. In 1989, she gave evidence in court against the Czechoslovak spy Václav Jelínek (prosecuted under his alias of “Erwin van Haarlem”), using the alias “Miss J”[17].

In her first months as Director-General, Rimington was subject to a determined campaign by the British press to identify her. The New Statesman and The Independent had obtained and published covert photographs of her, despite which Rimington oversaw a public relations campaign to improve the openness of the Service and increase public transparency. On 16th July 1993, MI5 (with the reluctant approval of the British Government) published a 36-page booklet titled The Security Service, which revealed publicly, for the first time, details of MI5’s activities, operations and duties, as well as the identity and even photographs of Rimington as its Director-General[18].

Rimington retired from MI5 in 1996. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath (DCB) in the 1996 New Year Honours. Following her retirement from MI5, she became a non-executive director of Marks & Spencer and published her autobiography, Open Secret, in the United Kingdom. She is also the author of several books, including At Risk, Secret Asset, and Illegal Action.

Spies and Double-Agents

Sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Elizabeth I, Queen of England. More commonly known as her spymaster. Attributed to John de Critz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. File URL:

A brief description of a few Spies and Double-Agents follows, but it is only a selection. Apologies for the omission of the tens of thousands of others.

Sir Francis Walsingham
The British intelligence service has existed in various forms since 1569 when Sir Francis Walsingham, secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth I, established a secret service.

Driven by Protestant zeal to counter Catholicism, Walsingham sanctioned the use of torture against Catholic priests and suspected conspirators. Walsingham used Antony Standen[19] to pass information from Europe, and his reports on the activities of the Spanish Armada made him a key figure in the Elizabethan secret service.

Walsingham’s staff included the cryptographer Thomas Phelippes, an expert in deciphering letters and forgery, and Arthur Gregory, who was skilled at breaking and repairing seals without detection.[20] Acting under the authority of the Queen, who was fearful of a Catholic uprising, Walsingham recruited informers, cryptographers, and seal-breakers to protect the interests of the Crown.

Born to a well-connected family of gentry, Walsingham attended Cambridge University and travelled in continental Europe before embarking on a career in law at the age of twenty. During the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I of England, Walsingham – a committed Protestant – joined other expatriates in exile in Switzerland and northern Italy until Mary’s death and the accession of her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth. Walsingham rose from relative obscurity to become one of the small group who directed the Elizabethan state, overseeing foreign, domestic and religious policy. He served as English ambassador to France in the early 1570s and witnessed the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre[21].

As principal secretary, Walsingham supported exploration, colonisation, the use of England’s maritime strength and the plantation of Ireland. He worked to bring Scotland and England together. Overall, his foreign policy demonstrated a new understanding of the role of England as a Protestant maritime power with intercontinental trading ties. He oversaw operations that penetrated Spanish military preparation, gathered intelligence from across Europe, disrupted a range of plots against Elizabeth and secured the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Charles Whitworth
A highly successful operation took place in Russia under the supervision of minister Charles Whitworth (1704 to 1712). He closely observed public events and noted the changing power status of key leaders. He cultivated influential and knowledgeable persons at the royal court and befriended foreigners in Russia’s service, and, in turn, they provided insights into high-level Russian planning and personalities, which he summarised and sent in code to London.

Nathalie (‘Lily’) Sergueiew
Russian-born Nathalie Sergueiew was one of many agents who double-crossed the German secret service in World War II. Between 1943 and 1945, Sergueiew’s contacts in the German Abwehr believed her to be a loyal German spy. In reality, she sent them deliberately misleading messages composed by the British secret service. Known as ‘Treasure’, Sergueiew did valuable work for MI5, but there were suspicions she lacked discretion and commitment. Treasure was an effective double agent, but according to Masterman, the architect of the double-cross system, she was also ‘exceptionally temperamental and troublesome’.

In conversations with her MI5 handler, Mary Sherer Treasure revealed that she had let slip her double identity to an American soldier with whom she had an affair. She also threatened to stop working for MI5 unless they arranged for her pet dog (‘Frisson’) to join her from Gibraltar, notwithstanding Britain’s quarantine regulations.[22] Nathalie Sergueiew played a significant role in the Double-Cross System, particularly by deceiving the Germans about the location of the D-Day landings. After World War II, she wrote a revealing memoir, describing her former MI5 employers as “gangsters”. Her memoirs, entitled Secret Service Rendered, were eventually published in 1968.[23]

Dmitri Fyodorovich Polyakov
Picture Attribution: PatrickCaproni, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons File URL:

Dmitri Fyodorovich Polyakov
Polyakov was a Soviet Major General, a ranking GRU[24] officer, and a prominent Cold War spy who revealed Soviet secrets to the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency. In the CIA, he was known as BOURBON and ROAM, while the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) knew him as TOPHAT (Top Hat). Born in the Soviet Ukraine in 1921, he graduated from Sumy Artillery School in June 1941, served during World War II and was decorated for bravery. After the War and his studies at the M. V. Frunze Military Academy[25] and GRU Training Courses, Polyakov joined Soviet Military Intelligence, (the GRU), and his first mission was with the Soviet delegation to the Military Staff Committee of the United Nations in New York from 1951–1956.

During his second assignment to New York, in 1959–1961, he approached FBI counterintelligence agents to offer his services as an informant. His follow-up overseas assignments included Rangoon, Burma (1965–1969) and New Delhi, India (1973–1976 and 1979–1980), where he was posted as Soviet Military Attaché.

Some in the CIA feel that Polyakov became a mole because he was disgusted with the corruption of the Communist Party elite[26], but Victor Cherkashin[27] suggested that he was embittered because Soviet leadership denied him permission to take his seriously ill son, the eldest of three, to a hospital in New York where he could get adequate medical attention. His son died as a result of the illness, and soon after, Polyakov began his informant activities.

Mata Hari

Mata Hari
Picture Attribution: By Unknown author – HERITAGE/GETTY IMAGES/Bettmann Archive, and as displayed by

Mata Hari, the ‘stage name’ of Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod, née Zelle, (born 1876, Leeuwarden, Netherlands—died 1917), Vincennes, near Paris, France), dancer and courtesan whose name has become a synonym for the seductive female spy. She was shot by the French on charges of spying for Germany during World War I. The nature and extent of her espionage activities remain uncertain, and her guilt is widely contested[28]. Many believe she was innocent and condemned to execution by firing squad simply because the French Army needed a scapegoat as the War against Germany was going so badly.[29]  The picture (above) is of Mata Hari in 1906, soon after she ‘reinvented’ herself as an exotic dancer. Inspired by dances she had seen in the Dutch East Indies, she took a stage name that means “eye of the day” or “sun” in Malay.

Edward Joseph Snowden
Edward Joseph Snowden (born June 21, 1983) is an American former computer intelligence consultant who leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 at a time when he was an employee and subcontractor. His disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance[30] with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments, and prompted a cultural discussion about national security and individual privacy. Snowden says he gradually became disillusioned with the programs he was involved in and tried to raise his ethical concerns through internal channels but was ignored. On 20th May 2013, Snowden flew to Hong Kong after leaving his job at an NSA facility in Hawaii, and the following month he revealed thousands of classified NSA documents to four journalists[31].

Picture Credit: “File:Edward Snowden-2.jpg” by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Snowden came to international attention after stories based on the material appeared in The Guardian, The Washington Post, and other publications.

In June 2013, following charges against him for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 (US), theft of (US) government property,[32] and revocation of his passport, Snowden flew into Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport was restricted to the airport terminal for over one month. Russia later granted Snowden the right of asylum with an initial visa for residence for one year, which was subsequently repeatedly extended. In October 2020, he was granted permanent residency in Russia.

A subject of controversy, Snowden has been variously called a traitor, a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a coward, and a patriot. US officials condemned his actions as having done “grave damage” to the US intelligence capabilities. Snowden has defended his leaks as an effort “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” His disclosures have fueled debates over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between [US] national security and information privacy.[33]

Picture Credit: [Cropped] “RICHARD SORGE–NOT MY PHOTO” by roberthuffstutter is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Richard Sorge
Richard Sorge (1895–1944) was a German journalist and Soviet military intelligence officer who was active before and during World War II and worked undercover as a German journalist in both Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. His codename was “Ramsay”. Several famous personalities considered him one of the most accomplished spies. Sorge enlisted in the Imperial German Army in October 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I. At 18, he was posted to a field artillery battalion with the 3rd Guards Division. He served on the Western Front and was severely wounded there in March 1916. Shrapnel severed three of his fingers and broke both his legs, causing a lifelong limp. He was promoted to the rank of corporal, received the Iron Cross and was later medically discharged.

While fighting in the War, Sorge, who had started out in 1914 as a right-wing nationalist, became disillusioned by what he called the “meaninglessness” of the War and moved to the left. During his recovery, he read Marx, Engels and Rudolf Hilferding – and eventually became a communist. He spent the remainder of the War studying economics at the universities of Kiel, Berlin and Hamburg. He joined the Independent Social Democratic Party in Kiel and subsequently moved to Berlin.

Sorge received his doctorate in political science (Dr. rer. pol.) from Hamburg in August 1919. By this time, he had joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and was engaged as an activist for the party in Hamburg and subsequently Aachen. His political views got him fired from work. Sorge was recruited as an agent for Soviet intelligence. With the cover of a journalist, he was sent to various European countries to assess the possibility of communist revolutions.

Sorge is most famous for his service in Japan in 1940 and 1941 when he provided information about Adolf Hitler’s plan to attack the Soviet Union. Then, in mid-September 1941, he informed the Soviets that Japan would not attack the Soviet Union ‘in the near future’. A month later, Sorge was arrested in Japan for espionage. He was tortured, forced to confess, tried and hanged in November 1944. Stalin declined to intervene on his behalf with the Japanese. Sorge was posthumously acknowledged and awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union in 1964.[34]

Whittaker Chambers, American writer, editor, and Communist party-member-turned-defector Attribution: Public Domain. Fred Palumbo, World Telegram staff photographer – Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.

Whittaker Chambers
Whittaker Chambers (1901–1961) was an American writer and editor who, after early years as a Communist Party member (1925) and Soviet spy (1932–1938), defected from the Soviet underground (1938), worked for Time magazine (from 1939–1948), and then testified about the Ware group[35] in what became the Hiss case (1949–1950)[36], often referred to as the trial of the century, all described in his 1952 memoir Witness[37]. The Hiss case was one of the most publicised espionage incidents of the Cold War. Alger Hiss, a former State Department official, was accused in 1948 of having spied for the Soviet Union in the 1930s, avoided espionage charges as statutes of limitations had expired, but he was convicted of perjury in connection with this charge in 1950 following new evidence produced by Chambers. After Time magazine, Chambers worked as a senior editor at National Review. In 1984, US President Ronald Reagan awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously[38].

Photo of KGB agent Robert Hanssen who started working for the FBI and then defected to the KGB while pretending to work for the FBI. A depiction of this photo takes place in the film “Breach”.
Attribution: Federal Bureau of Investigation. The source gives no specific photo credit., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Robert Philip Hanssen
On 18th February 18, 2001, Hanssen, a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent, was arrested and charged with committing espionage on behalf of the intelligence services of the former Soviet Union and its successors. He pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage on 6th July 2001 and was sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole. Hanssen is considered the most damaging spy in FBI history. A press release was issued following Hanssen’s arrest and a statement made by then-FBI Director Louis Freeh[39].

In 1979, three years after joining the FBI, Hanssen approached the Soviet Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) to offer his services, launching his first espionage cycle, which lasted until 1981. He restarted his espionage activities in 1985 and continued until 1991, when he broke off communications during the collapse of the Soviet Union, fearing he would be exposed. Hanssen restored communications the next year and continued until his arrest.

Throughout his spying, Hanssen remained anonymous to the Russians, to whom he sold thousands of classified documents that detailed US strategies in the event of nuclear war, developments in military weapons technologies, and aspects of the US counterintelligence program.

Carl Hans Lody
Carl Hans Lody (alias Charles A. Inglis) was a German naval officer and spy in the First World War. He travelled to Scotland and Ireland to spy on the Royal Navy and British defences. However, he was caught two months after the War started. He was put on trial for “war treason”, convicted and sentenced to death. In November 1914, he became the first person in 150 years to be executed in the Tower of London.

After embarking on a nautical career at the age of 16, he served briefly in the Imperial German Navy at the start of the 20th century. His ill health forced him to abandon a naval career, but he remained in the naval reserve. He joined the Hamburg America Line to work as a tour guide. While escorting a party of tourists, he met and married a German-American woman, but the marriage broke down after only a few months. His wife divorced him, and he returned to Berlin. In May 1914, two months before World War I broke out, Lody was approached by German naval intelligence officials. He agreed to their proposal to employ him as a peacetime spy in southern France. The outbreak of World War I on 28th July 1914 resulted in a change of plans – in late August, he was sent to Britain with orders to spy on the Royal Navy. He posed as an American – he could speak English fluently, with an American accent. At the end of September 1914, he travelled to Ireland, where he intended to keep a low profile until he could escape from the UK. The British counter-espionage agency MI5, then known as MO5(g), allowed him to continue his activities in the hope of finding out more information about the German spy network. His first two messages were allowed to reach the Germans, but later messages were stopped, as they contained sensitive military information. At the start of October 1914, concern over the increasingly sensitive nature of his messages prompted MO5(g) to order Lody’s arrest.

When the Nazi Party came to power in Germany in 1933, it declared him a national hero. Lody became the subject of memorials, eulogies and commemorations in Germany before and during World War II.[40].

Eddie Chapman
By unknown British photographer., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Eddie Chapman[41]
Aged 17, Chapman joined the Second Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, where his duties included guarding the Tower of London. Chapman enjoyed the perks of the uniform but soon became bored with his duties. After nine months in the army, having been granted six days of leave, he ran away with a girl he met in Soho. After two months, the army caught up with him, and he was arrested and sentenced to 84 days in a military prison (Glasshouse) at Aldershot. On release, Chapman received a dishonourable discharge from the army.

Eddie Chapman was a professional criminal before World War II. He was a member of a “jelly gang”, which specialised in robbing safes by blowing them open using the explosive gelignite. His skill as a thief made him a good deal of money and allowed him to live the life of a wealthy playboy in Soho, mixing with the likes of Noel Coward, Ivor Novello and Marlene Dietrich. His activities caught up with him at the start of 1939, when the police were hunting him, and he fled to Jersey only to be apprehended by the Jersey police in February 1939 and imprisoned. Even after the Germans invaded and occupied the Channel Islands in July 1940, he remained in prison and was finally released in October 1941. Life on the occupied Channel Islands was harsh, and Chapman wanted a way to return to Britain. He volunteered his services to the Germans as a spy and was accepted by the German secret service, the Abwehr, as they saw Chapman as an ideal candidate for a spy. He claimed to be hostile to the British state, not least because the police still wanted him for his crimes on the UK mainland. His connections with the criminal underworld offered the possibility that he could recruit additional agents for the Germans, and his expertise with explosives would enable him to carry out acts of sabotage. In particular, the Germans wanted him to attack the De Havilland aircraft factory in Hertfordshire, which made the much-feared Mosquito bomber. After a year’s training in German-occupied France, Chapman was dropped by parachute into a Cambridgeshire field on 16th December 1942, but contrary to what his German handlers intended, he promptly surrendered to the police and MI5. He was interrogated by the formidable Lt Col Robin “Tin Eye” Stephens. Chapman was fully willing to cooperate. He volunteered to work for the British against the Germans. Although Chapman’s criminal past was a cause for concern, Chapman became Agent ZIGZAG, one of the most important British double agents of the Second World War. MI5 decided to re-infiltrate Chapman into Germany and obtain more information about the Abwehr.

Under the supervision of an MI5 officer, Chapman made radio contact with the Germans and informed them that he was preparing to carry out his sabotage mission at the De Havilland factory. He was sent to the factory at Hatfield, along with an MI5 minder, to work out a plan of attack so that he could tell his German controllers later what he had done. The “attack” itself was one of the most remarkable deception operations of the Second World War. An elaborate system of camouflage was installed at the De Havilland factory to make it appear to German reconnaissance aircraft that a massive bomb had exploded inside the factory’s power plant. Separately, MI5 arranged for a fake story to be planted in the Daily Express, reporting “an explosion at a factory on the outskirts of London.” The ruse was a complete success, even deceiving the factory’s own staff. Chapman radioed the Germans to inform them of the successful “demolition” of the factory’s power plant. To his amazement, Chapman was awarded Germany’s highest honour, the Iron Cross, recognising his work for the Abwehr. He was, and remains, the only British citizen ever to have been awarded this medal. Chapman returned to Britain in June 1944 and survived the War, later publishing accounts of his exploits[42]. He died in 1997.

Klaus Fuchs

Police photograph of Physicist Klaus Fuchs. The National Archives UK, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Klaus Emil Julius Fuchs (1911-1988) was a German-born scientist who fled to Britain as a refugee from the Nazis. He worked on the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb. He was also a communist and supporter of the Soviet Union and spied for the Soviets throughout the 1940s. His information helped the Soviets to build their own atomic bomb only four years after the Americans developed theirs. He was caught in 1950, convicted of espionage and sent to prison for 14 years. Fuchs supplied information from the American, British and Canadian Manhattan Project to the Soviet Union during and shortly after World War II. While at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Fuchs was responsible for many significant theoretical calculations relating to the first nuclear weapons and, later, early models of the hydrogen bomb. After his conviction in 1950, he served nine years in prison in the UK, then migrated to East Germany, where he resumed his career as a physicist and scientific leader.

The son of a Lutheran pastor, Fuchs attended the University of Leipzig, where he became involved in student politics, joining the student branch of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold, the SPD’s paramilitary organisation. He was expelled from the SPD in 1932 and joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). He went into hiding after the 1933 Reichstag fire fleeing to the UK, where he received his PhD from Bristol University.

After World War II broke out in Europe, he was interned in the Isle of Man and later in Canada. He returned to Britain in 1941 and became an assistant to Rudolf Peierls, working on “Tube Alloys”—the British atomic bomb project. He began passing information on the project to the Soviet Union through Ursula Kuczynski, codenamed “Sonya”, a German communist and a major in Soviet military intelligence who had worked with Richard Sorge’s spy ring in the Far East. In 1943, Fuchs and Peierls went to Columbia University to work on the Manhattan Project. In August 1944, Fuchs joined the Theoretical Physics Division at the Los Alamos Laboratory, working under Hans Bethe. His chief area of expertise was the problem of implosion, necessary for the development of the plutonium bomb. After the War, he returned to the UK and worked at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell as head of the Theoretical Physics Division.

In January 1950, Fuchs confessed that he was a spy. A British court sentenced him to 14 years’ imprisonment and stripped him of his British citizenship. He was released in 1959, after serving nine years, and migrated to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), where he was elected to the Academy of Sciences and became a member of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) central committee. He was later appointed deputy director of the Institute for Nuclear Research in Rossendorf, where he served until he retired in 1979[43].

Elyesa Bazna (aka Cicero)
Born in Kosovo, Elyesa Bazna, sometimes known as Ilyaz and Iliaz Bazna, was a secret agent for Nazi Germany during World War II, operating under the code name Cicero. Born in Pristina, Bazna attended a military academy and joined a French military unit when he was 16. He was caught stealing cars and weapons, for which he served three years in a penal labour camp in France.

Bazna held several manual jobs in Turkish and French cities before obtaining work for foreign diplomats and consulates as a doorman, driver, and guard. He spoke several languages fluently, including French, which was the predominant diplomatic language at the time. In 1943, Bazna was hired as a valet by the British ambassador in Ankara, Turkey. He photographed British documents in the ambassador’s possession and sold them to the Germans through their attaché Ludwig Carl Moyzisch in what became known as the Cicero affair. As Cicero, Bazna passed on important information about many of the Allied leaders’ conferences, including the Moscow, Tehran and Cairo Conferences.

The details for the Tehran Conference were important for Operation Long Jump, the unsuccessful plot to kill Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill. Bazna had also conveyed a document that carried the highest security restriction (about Operation Overlord (the code name for the Invasion of Normandy in June 1944). It included intelligence that the British ambassador was to request the use of Turkish airbases “to maintain a threat to the Germans from the eastern Mediterranean until Overlord is launched.” Bazna leaked information that is believed to have been among the potentially more damaging disclosures made by an agent during WWII. Once the British became aware that a spy was operating within the British Embassy in Ankara, they investigated Bazna, installed a new alarm system, and initiated an unsuccessful sting to catch him selling intelligence. Bazna stopped selling information to the Germans by the end of February 1944 and left the embassy within a month or so.

Jean Pujol Garcia
Public main.

Jean Pujol Garcia
Jean Pujol Garcia, codenamed GARBO, who operated from 1941 to 1944, was one of the most successful double agents in the history of espionage. He was born in Barcelona in 1912 to a family of moderate means and liberal political beliefs. Reluctantly fought in the Spanish Civil War, managing to do so on both sides and – so he claimed – without actually firing a single bullet for either side. He emerged from that experience with a dislike for totalitarianism[44] in general and a particular loathing for Nazism. The onset of War in 1939 convinced him that he should make a contribution, as he put it, “to the good of humanity”. Pujol Garcia contacted the British Embassy in Madrid, which rejected his offers to become their spy. Undeterred, he created a false identity as a fanatically pro-Nazi Spanish government official and successfully became a German agent. He was instructed to travel to Britain and recruit additional agents; instead, he moved to Lisbon and created bogus reports about Britain from various public sources, including a tourist guide to Britain, train timetables, cinema newsreels, and magazine advertisements.

The Normandy landings of 6 June 1944 marked the beginning of the liberation of occupied Western Europe. MI5, the Security Service, made a significant contribution to the success of D-Day through its double agent Juan Pujol Garcia who was given the codename Garbo by the British while their German counterparts codenamed him Alaric and referred to his non-existent spy network as “Arabal”. The Germans were totally duped by ‘their spy’. Garbo and his handler Tomás Harris spent the rest of the War expanding their fictitious network, communicating to the German handlers first by letters and later by radio. Eventually, the Germans were funding a network of 27 agents, all fictitious. Garbo had the distinction of receiving military decorations from both sides of the War—being awarded the Iron Cross and becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire.[45]

Sidney Reilly

Cropped 1918 passport photo of famous espionage agent Sidney Reilly.
This passport was issued under his alias of George Bergmann.

Attribution: Deutsches Reich (September 1918), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sidney George Reilly MC —known as “Ace of Spies”—was a Russian-born adventurer and secret agent employed by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and later by the Foreign Section of the British Secret Service Bureau, the precursor to the modern British Secret Intelligence Service. Reilly is alleged to have spied for at least four different great powers[46], and documentary evidence indicates that he was involved in espionage activities in 1890s London among Russian émigré circles, in Manchuria on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05), and in an abortive 1918 coup d’état against Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik government in Moscow[47]. Reilly disappeared in Soviet Russia in the mid-1920s, lured by Cheka’s Operation Trust.

British diplomat and journalist R H Bruce Lockhart publicised his and Reilly’s 1918 exploits to overthrow the Bolshevik regime in Lockhart’s 1932 book Memoirs of a British Agent, which became an international best-seller and garnered global fame for Reilly.

The memoirs retold the efforts by Reilly, Lockhart, and other conspirators to sabotage the Bolshevik revolution while it was still in its infancy. The world press made Reilly into a household name within five years of his execution by Soviet agents in 1925, lauding him as a peerless spy and recounting his many espionage adventures. Newspapers dubbed him “the greatest spy in history” and “the Scarlet Pimpernel of Red Russia[48]. The London Evening Standard described his exploits in an illustrated serial in May 1931 headlined “Master Spy“. Ian Fleming used him as a model for James Bond in his novels (set in the early Cold War). Reilly is considered “the dominating figure in the mythology of modern British espionage”[49].

Aldrich Ames

Aldrich Hazen Ames; former CIA officer convicted of espionage.
Attribution: staff, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Five years after first working for the CIA, Aldrich Ames completed a bachelor’s degree in history at George Washington University. He did not originally plan to have a career with the CIA, but after attaining the grade of GS-7, and receiving good performance appraisals, he was accepted into the Career Trainee Program despite several alcohol-related brushes with the police. In 1969, Ames married a fellow CIA officer, Nancy Segebarth, whom he had met in the Career Trainee Program. Ames was assigned to Ankara. His wife (Nancy) resigned from the CIA because of a rule prohibiting married partners from working from the same office. Ames’s job in Turkey was to target Soviet intelligence officers for recruitment. He succeeded in infiltrating the communist Dev-Genç[50] organization. Despite this success, Ames’s performance was rated only “satisfactory”. Discouraged by the critical assessment, Ames considered leaving the CIA. He became a KGB double agent. Ames was arrested in 1994 on charges of committing espionage for the Soviets and later Russia and earned the dubious distinction of perpetrating the most expensive security breach in CIA history.

Officials now know that Ames divulged more than 100 covert operations and betrayed more than 30 operatives spying for the CIA and other Western intelligence services. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ames provided the Soviets with information about two highly sophisticated CIA operations in Russia. He gave detailed information about sets of tunnels filled with fibre optic communication listening devices connected to Moscow’s space facility. He also divulged the specifications of a state-of-the-art device used to count the number of nuclear warheads carried on Soviet intercontinental missiles. Ames, who spoke Russian and was head of the CIA’s Soviet Counterintelligence Division, began spying in 1985. The first secrets he sold were the identities of two KGB double agents who worked at the Soviet Embassy in Washington and were recruited by the United States. Both, along with ten other Russians Ames betrayed in the ensuing years, were executed. When asked in a 1998 interview with CNN about the motives behind his espionage, Ames responded that they were “personal, banal, and amounted really to greed and folly.”[51]

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Julius Rosenberg (1918–1953) and Ethel Rosenberg (née Greenglass; 1915–1953) were American citizens convicted of spying for the Soviet Union by providing top-secret information about radar, sonar, jet propulsion engines and valuable nuclear weapon designs At the time of the offence, the US was the only country in the world with nuclear weapons. Convicted of espionage in 1951, they were executed in 1953 at Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. They were the first American civilians to be executed for such charges and the first to receive that penalty during peacetime. Other convicted co-conspirators were sentenced to prison, including Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass (who had made a plea agreement), Harry Gold, and Morton Sobell. Klaus Fuchs, a German scientist. Fuchs, who was working in Los Alamos on the Atom Bomb, was convicted in the United Kingdom.[52] In 2008, the National Archives of the United States[53] published most of the grand jury testimony related to the prosecution of the Rosenbergs.

Picture Credit: “Julius and Ethel Rosenberg found guilty: 1950” by Washington Area Spark is licensed under CC.

Julius Rosenberg had joined the Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in 1940, where he worked as an engineer-inspector until 1945. He was discharged when the US Army discovered his previous membership in the Communist Party. Important research on electronics, radar, communications, and guided-missile controls was undertaken at Fort Monmouth during World War II.

According to a 2001 book[54] by his former handler Alexander Feklisov, Rosenberg was recruited to spy for the interior ministry of the Soviet Union, NKVD, on Labor Day 1942 by former spymaster Semyon Semyonov. Under Feklisov’s supervision, Rosenberg recruited sympathetic individuals into NKVD service, including William Perl, who supplied Feklisov, under Rosenberg’s direction, with thousands of documents from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, including a complete set of design and production drawings for Lockheed’s P-80 Shooting Star, the first US operational jet fighter. Feklisov learned through Rosenberg that Ethel’s brother David Greenglass was working on the top-secret Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, he directed Rosenberg to recruit Greenglass.[55]

The Rosenbergs were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage and brought to trial on 6th March 1951. Greenglass was the chief witness for the prosecution. On 29th March 1951, they were found guilty, and a week later, the couple was sentenced to death.

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl in April 1954
Attribution: Owner: Carl Van Vechten, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Welsh-born Roald Dahl was a World War II spy before becoming a beloved children’s book author. Prior to writing James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and much more, Dahl was an RAF fighter pilot and was involved in a covert spy operation. Suffering from the effects of a forced landing in a Gloster Gladiator in Egypt, his wings clipped, Dahl was reassigned in 1942 to a diplomatic post at the British embassy in Washington, DC. As an assistant air attaché, he was tasked with public relations, dealing with the press, delivering lectures about his wartime exploits and using “his experiences as a wounded fighter pilot to help tie the Americans ever more closely into the British war effort,” according to biographer Donald Sturrock, author of “Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl.”[56]

Dahl was involved in numerous sexual liaisons as a British spy in America, according to a biography[57] published in 2008. Despite Dahl’s reputation as “one of the biggest cocksmen in America”, as described by previous biography, he was said to have passed on several useful pieces of intelligence, including his belief that President Franklin D Roosevelt was having an affair with Crown Princess Martha of Norway, who had been granted asylum[58].

Once in his diplomatic post, Dahl was recruited as an undercover agent by the British Security Coordination (BSC), a covert espionage network established in the spring of 1940 by Britain’s MI6 intelligence service to spy on its greatest ally—the United States. Tasked initially with planting pro-British and anti-Nazi stories in the American press in the hopes of rallying a reluctant US to join World War II, the spy network worked after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to counter the significant isolationist sentiment that still remained in the country and ensure the US remained in the fight.

When World War II ended, Dahl returned to England to continue his writing career. Along with authoring some of the most popular books of the 20th century, the former spy put his experience to work on a most appropriate project—adapting Ian Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice into the screenplay for the 1967 James Bond movie.

(Captain) Sir Richard Francis Burton
(Captain) Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890), Englishman, Explorer, Spy, and Soldier, fluent in over 40 languages, ardent and faithful practitioner of Islam, was able to infiltrate Arabic culture as a native Arabic speaker and was the first westerner to gain access to Mecca and Medina, to document, sketch and provide key intelligence to England. His formal role as a clandestine intelligence operative for England remains murky to this day, despite countless biographies, but it is widely assumed that he was following very dangerous assignments for critical intelligence missions.

Sir Richard Francis Burton in 1864
Attribution: Rischgitz/Stringer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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Burton’s best-known achievements included a well-documented journey to Mecca in disguise, at a time when Europeans were forbidden access on pain of death. His works and letters extensively colonial policies of the British Empire, even to the detriment of his career. Although he aborted his university studies, he became a prolific and erudite author and wrote numerous books and scholarly articles about subjects including human behaviour, travel, falconry, fencing, fencing, sexual practices and ethnography[59].

Burton was a captain in the army of the East India Company, serving in India and later briefly in the Crimean War. Following this, he was engaged by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the east coast of Africa. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and was awarded a knighthood by Queen Victoria in 1886.

George Blake[60]
George Blake, original name Georg Behar, (1922-2020), was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands. He became a British diplomat and spy with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and worked as a double agent for the Soviet Union. While he was a prisoner during the Korean War, he became a communist and decided to work for the MGB, the forerunner of the KGB. Discovered in 1961 and sentenced to 42 years in prison, he escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in West London in 1966 and fled to the Soviet Union. Although not one of the Cambridge Five spies, although he associated with Donald Maclean and Kim Philby after reaching the Soviet Union.

In 1961, Blake fell under suspicion after revelations by the Polish defector Michael Goleniewski and others. He was arrested when he arrived in London after being summoned from Lebanon, where he had been enrolled at the Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies (MECAS)[61]. Three days into his interrogation, Blake gave his interrogators a full confession[62]. Blake said his view of the world was shaped when he was 13 by his cousin, Henri Curiel, a Marxist[63] after they met in Cairo. Curiel later became a leader of the Communist Democratic Movement for National Liberation in Egypt. However, in his first-ever interview in 1990 with Tom Bower for ‘The Confession’ (a BBC TV documentary), Blake said that he had been drawn towards communism during his Russian course in Cambridge while serving with MI6 and had been finally convinced while reading Karl Marx‘s Das Kapital during his imprisonment in North Korea[64].

When the War broke out, Behar was back in the Netherlands. After Germany invaded and quickly defeated the Dutch military in 1940, Behar was interned but released because he was only 17. Blake joined the Dutch resistance as a courier. In 1942, he escaped from the Netherlands and travelled to Britain via Spain and Gibraltar and was reunited with his mother and his sisters, who had fled at the start of the War.

In 1943, his mother decided to change the family name from Behar to Blake. Blake joined the Royal Navy as a sub-lieutenant before being recruited by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in 1944. For the rest of the War, Blake was employed in the Dutch Section. In 1946, he was posted to Hamburg and put in charge of the interrogation of German U-boat captains. In 1947, the Navy sent Blake to study languages, including Russian, at Downing College, Cambridge. Blake was then posted to the British legation in Seoul, South Korea, where his mission was to gather intelligence on Communist North Korea, Communist China, and the Soviet Far East.

After escaping from the Netherlands at the beginning of World War II, Blake served in the Royal Navy until 1948, when he entered the Foreign Office and was appointed vice-consul in Seoul. Blake was interned (1950–53) after North Korean troops captured Seoul, and he secretly became a communist volunteering to work for the Soviet Union’s spy service, the MGB.

After his repatriation (1953), he was assigned to the British military government in Berlin (1955), where he had access to information about the British secret service. Recalled in 1959, he worked for the intelligence branch of the Foreign Office (MI6) and was then sent to the Middle East College for Arabic Studies, Lebanon (1960). After his arrest in April 1961, he admitted being a double agent, having given every important document that had come into his possession since 1953 to his Soviet contact and having betrayed many British agents (at least 42 by his captors’ account, some 600 by his own account). Sentenced to 42 years in prison in May 1961, he escaped from Wormwood Scrubs Prison in October 1966 and fled to the Soviet Union.

Frederick Forsyth
Frederick McCarthy Forsyth CBE (born 25th August 1938), the best-selling thriller author of books such as Tha Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, and Dogs of War, admitted in his 2015 autobiography[65] that he worked as an agent for MI6 for more than 20 years. Previously, Forsyth had denied claims that he had worked for MI6.

A person in a suit Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Picture Credit: “File:Frederick Forsyth – 01.jpg” by Das blaue Sofa is licensed under CC.

Before turning his hand to fiction, Forsyth was an RAF pilot officer and worked as a journalist for the BBC and Reuters. Forsyth had left the BBC when they refused to cover the Nigeria-Biafra conflict, which was in full flow with unsupported reports about atrocities and a humanitarian disaster happening, all the time as the world looked on and did nothing. Forsyth returned to Biafra as a freelance reporter, writing his first book, The Biafra Story, in 1969. Through someone called ‘Ronny’, MI6 sought Forsyth out as they wanted “an asset deep inside the Biafran enclave” where a civil war raged between 1967 and 1970. Then, Forsyth was asked by MI6 to conduct a mission in communist East Germany[66].

The Guardian article of 1st September 2015[67] says that Forsyth told the BBC that he was not paid for his work by M16. Mind you, the knowledge he has accumulated in his life has done him no harm – his works frequently appear on best-sellers lists, and more than a dozen of his titles have been adapted to film. By 2006, he had sold more than 70 million books in more than 30 languages.[68]

The Cambridge Five
The Cambridge Spy Ring was a ring of spies in the United Kingdom that passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and was active from the 1930s until at least into the early 1950s. None of the known members were ever prosecuted for spying. The number and membership of the ring emerged slowly from the 1950s onwards. The general public first became aware of the conspiracy after the sudden flight of Donald Maclean (cryptonym: Homer) and Guy Burgess (cryptonym: Hicks) to the Soviet Union in 1951. Suspicion immediately fell on Harold “Kim” Philby (cryptonyms: Sonny, Stanley), who eventually fled the country in 1963. Following Philby’s flight, British intelligence obtained confessions from Anthony Blunt (cryptonyms: Tony, Johnson) and then John Cairncross (cryptonym: Liszt), who have come to be seen as the last two of a group of five. Their involvement was kept secret for many years: until 1979 for Blunt and finally, 1990 for Cairncross. The moniker Cambridge Four evolved to become the Cambridge Five after Cairncross was added. Many others have also been accused of membership in the Cambridge ring. Blunt and Burgess were members of the Cambridge Apostles, an exclusive secret society at Cambridge University. Other Apostles accused of having spied for the Soviets include Michael Straight and Guy Liddell.

Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess[69] – Guy Burgess (1911–1963) was a British diplomat who spied for the Soviet Union in World War II and early in the Cold War era. In 1951, Burgess was recalled as second secretary of the British embassy in Washington, DC. He was about to be dismissed from the Foreign Service (allegedly, for ‘bad behaviour’) when he learned in May of that year that a counterintelligence investigation by British and US agencies was closing in on his Cambridge colleague Maclean. Both men fled England, but their whereabouts was unknown until 1956, when at a press conference, they announced they were living as communists in Moscow. They were joined by Kim Philby, another Cambridge University and Foreign Office colleague, seven years later. In 1979, a “fourth man” in this spy ring was revealed – former Cambridge University colleague Anthony Blunt, a highly respected art historian and member of the Queen’s household.

Donald Duart Maclean[70]Donald Duart Maclean (1913–1983) was a British diplomat and member of the Cambridge Five spy ring, which conveyed government secrets to the Soviet Union. Maclean openly proclaimed his left-wing views as an undergraduate and was recruited into the Soviet intelligence service, then known as the NKVD. However, he gained entry to the British Civil Service by claiming to have foresworn Marxism. In 1938, he was made Third Secretary at the Paris embassy, where he kept the Soviets informed about Anglo-German diplomacy. He then served in Washington, DC, from 1944 to 1948, achieving promotion to First Secretary. Here he became Moscow’s main source of information about US thermonuclear policy. As first secretary and then head of chancery at the British embassy in Washington, DC, Maclean gained the post of secretary of the Combined Policy Committee on Atomic Development and was privy to highly classified information. He also supplied the Soviet Union with confidential material relating to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As head of the American department at the Foreign Office in 1950, he helped formulate Anglo-American policy for the Korean War. By the time he was appointed head of the American Department in the Foreign Office, Maclean was widely suspected of being a spy. The Soviets ordered Maclean to defect in 1951. In much later declassified reports, British Intelligence denied to the heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) any knowledge of Maclean’s activities or whereabouts. In Moscow, Maclean worked as a specialist on British policy and relations between the Soviet Union and NATO. He was reported to have died there on 6 March 1983.

Harold Adrian Russell ‘Kim’ Philby[71] Kim Philby (1912-1988) was a British intelligence officer and a double agent for the Soviet Union. Though many of the Cambridge recruitees engaged extensively in espionage for years after leaving Cambridge, only Harold “Kim” Philby, Donald Maclean, and Guy Burgess succeeded in securing both British and American secrets at the highest levels of government. They gained access to information about US counter-espionage efforts, plans for atomic bomb production, and military strategies during the Korean War and were able to pass this information on to the Soviets. Of the activities of the original Cambridge Three, that of Kim Philby is the most shocking, because Philby rose higher than the other two professionally, lasted longer without being discovered, and seemed to take more seriously the specific aim of betraying his country, the US, their secrets, and their operations.

Anthony Frederick Blunt[72] – Anthony Blunt (1907-1983, London) was a British art historian who, late in life, after being offered immunity from prosecution, confessed to having been a spy for the Soviet Union. While at Trinity College, Cambridge in the 1930s, Blunt became a member of a circle of disaffected young men led by Guy Burgess, under whose influence he was soon involved in espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. From 1937, he published scores of scholarly papers and books by which he largely established art history in Great Britain. During World War II, he served in MI5 and was able to supply secret information to the Soviets and, more importantly, to warn fellow agents of counterintelligence operations that might endanger them. The height of his espionage activity was during World War II when he passed intelligence on Wehrmacht plans that the British government had decided to withhold from its ally. His confession, a closely guarded secret for years, was revealed publicly by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in November 1979. He was immediately stripped of his knighthood. Blunt was a third cousin of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: his mother was the second cousin of Elizabeth’s father Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. He was fourth cousin once removed of Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley (1896–1980) 6th Baronet of Ancoat, leader of the British Union of Fascists, both being descended from John Parker Mosley (1722–1798).

Like Guy Burgess, Blunt was known to be homosexual, which was a criminal offence at the time in Britain. Both were members of the Cambridge Apostles (also known as the Conversazione Society), a clandestine Cambridge discussion group of 12 undergraduates, mainly from Trinity and King’s Colleges who considered themselves to have the brightest minds. Through the Apostles, he met the future poet Julian Bell (son of Vanessa Bell) and took him as a lover. Many others were homosexual and also Marxist at that time.

There are numerous versions of how Blunt was recruited to the NKVD. As a Cambridge don, Blunt visited the Soviet Union in 1933, and was possibly recruited in 1934. Blunt claimed that Guy Burgess recruited him as a spy. The historian Geoff Andrews writes that he was “recruited between 1935 and 1936”, while his biographer Miranda Carter says that it was in January 1937 that Burgess introduced Blunt to his Soviet recruiter, Arnold Deutsch. Shortly after meeting Deutsch, writes Carter, Blunt became a Soviet “talent spotter” and was given the NKVD code name ‘Tony’. Blunt may have identified Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, John Cairncross and perhaps others – all undergraduates at Trinity College (except Maclean at the neighbouring Trinity Hall) – as potential spies for the Soviets.

John Cairncross[73] John Cairncross (1913-1995) was a British civil servant who became an intelligence officer and spy during World War II. As a Soviet double agent, he passed to the Soviet Union the raw Tunny[74] decryptions that influenced the Battle of Kursk. He was alleged to be the fifth member of the Cambridge Five.

Cairncross was also notable as a translator, literary scholar and writer of non-fiction. While working with the Foreign Service (circa 1936), he was recruited as a spy for the Soviets by James Klugmann of the Communist Party of Great Britain[75]. The most significant aspect of his work was helping the Soviets defeat the Germans in major World War II battles; he may also have told Moscow that the US was developing a nuclear bomb. Cairncross confessed in secret to MI5’s Arthur S. Martin in 1964 and gave a limited confession to two journalists from The Sunday Times in December 1979[76]. He was granted immunity from prosecution.

According to The Washington Post, the suggestion that John Cairncross was the “fifth man” of the Cambridge ring was not confirmed until 1990 by Soviet double-agent Oleg Gordievsky. This was re-confirmed by former KGB agent Yuri Modin‘s book published in 1994: My Five Cambridge Friends Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt, and Cairncross by Their KGB Controller[77].

Attempted Coverup
For unknown reasons, Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home was not advised of Anthony Blunt’s spying, although the Queen and Home Secretary Henry Brooke were informed. It was only in November 1979 that the then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, formally told Parliament of Blunt’s treachery and the immunity deal that had been arranged 15 years earlier.[78]

A 2015 article in The Guardian discussed “400 top-secret documents which have been released at the National Archives” and indicated that MI5 and MI6 had worked diligently to prevent information about the five from being disclosed “to the British public and even to the US government”[79]. A 2016 review of a new book about Burgess added that “more than 20% of files relating to the spies, most of whom defected more than 50 years ago, remain closed”. In conclusion, the review stated that “the Foreign Office, MI6 and MI5 all have an interest in covering up, to protect themselves from huge embarrassment” and that “more taxpayers’ money is spent by Whitehall officials in the futile attempt to keep the files under lock and key for ever”[80].

Under the 30-year rule, the 400 documents should have been made available years earlier. It was particularly surprising that 20 per cent of the information was redacted or not released. A news item at the time stated that “it is clear the full story of the Cambridge Spies has not yet emerged”. A summary of the documents indicated that they showed that “inaction and incompetence on the part of the authorities enabled Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to make their escape to Moscow”[81].

Additional secret files were finally released to the National Archives in 2020. They indicated that the government had intentionally conducted a campaign to keep Kim Philby’s spying confidential “to minimise political embarrassment” and prevented the publication of his memoirs – according to a report by The Guardian. Nonetheless, the information was publicised in 1967 when Philby granted an interview to journalist Murray Sayle of The Times. Philby confirmed that he had worked for the KGB and that “his purpose in life was to destroy imperialism”. This revelation raised concerns that Blunt’s spying would also be revealed to the public[82].

All in all, a very worrying revelation, or lack of it.

The SIS Building (MI6) By The Thames At Vauxhall, London.Picture Credit: “The SIS Building (MI6) By The Thames At Vauxhall, London.” by Jim Linwood is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Source:
  2. Hammurabi was the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty of the Amorite tribe, reigning from c. 1792 BC to c. 1750 BC. The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian legal text composed c. 1755–1750 BC. It is the longest, best-organised, and best-preserved legal text from the ancient Near East. It is written in the Old Babylonian dialect of Akkadian, purportedly by King Hammurabi.
  3. The Amarna letters (sometimes referred to as the Amarna correspondence or Amarna tablets, and cited with the abbreviation EA, for “El Amarna”) are an archive, written on clay tablets, primarily consisting of diplomatic correspondence between the Egyptian administration and its representatives in Canaan and Amurru, or neighbouring kingdom leaders, during the New Kingdom, between c. 1360–1332 BC (see here for dates). The letters were found in Upper Egypt at el-Amarna, the modern name for the ancient Egyptian capital of Akhetaten, founded by pharaoh Akhenaten (1350s–1330s BC) during the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. The Amarna letters are unusual in Egyptological research, because they are mostly written in a script known as Akkadian cuneiform, the writing system of ancient Mesopotamia, rather than that of ancient Egypt, and the language used has sometimes been characterised as a mixed language, Canaanite-Akkadian.
  4. The Twelve Spies, as recorded in the Book of Numbers, were a group of Israelite chieftains, one from each of the Twelve Tribes, who were dispatched by Moses to scout out the Land of Canaan for 40 days as a future home for the Israelite people, during the time when the Israelites were in the wilderness following their Exodus from Ancient Egypt. The account is found in Numbers 13:1–33, and is repeated with some differences in Deuteronomy 1:22–40. See more at:
  5. The Arthashastra is an ancient Indian Sanskrit treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy. Kautilya, also identified as Vishnugupta and Chanakya, is traditionally credited as the author of the text. The latter was a scholar at Takshashila, the teacher and guardian of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. Some scholars believe them to be the same person, while a few have questioned this identification. The text is likely to be the work of several authors over centuries. Composed, expanded and redacted between the 2nd century BC and 3rd century CE, the Arthashastra was influential until the 12th century, when it disappeared. It was rediscovered in 1905 by R. Shamasastry, who published it in 1909. The first English translation, also by Shamasastry, was published in 1915.
  6. See:
  7. Shinobi is a related term of ninja. As nouns the difference between shinobi and ninja is that shinobi is a male ninja while ninja is (martial arts|historical) a person trained primarily in stealth, espionage, assassination and the japanese martial art of ninjutsu. Source:
  8. See: Herman, Michael. Intelligence Power in Peace and War. ISBN 0-521-56636-3.
  9. Source: “DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms” (PDF). US Joints Chief of Staff. pp. 162–163.
  10. See: Wikipedia,
  11. See:
  12. Source: AAP-6 (2004) – NATO Glossary of terms and definitions.
  13. See:
  14. See: and
  15. Source:

  16. Sources: First lady of espionage”. BBC News Online (8th September 2001) and “1993: Secret Service goes public” (BBC News Online: On This Day 16th July 1993.
  17. Source: Maysh, Jeff (2017). The Spy With No Name. Kindle Singles. Amazon.
  18. Source: No. 54255″. The London Gazette (Supplement). 29th December 1995. p. 3.
  19. From 1582, Standen worked for Mary Queen of Scots in Florence, and in 1587 started working for Sir Francis Walsingham. Standen was at the Spanish court reporting on preparations for the Armada. Source: Kathleen Lea, ‘Sir Antony Standen and Some Anglo-Italian Letters’, English Historical Review, vol. 47 no. 187 (July 1932), p. 465-6.
  20. Source:
  21. The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572 was a targeted group of assassinations and a wave of Catholic mob violence, directed against the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants) during the French Wars of Religion. Source:
  22. Source:
  23. See: “Secrets and Spies : The end for “Treasure”The National Archives. 2012.
  24. The Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, abbreviated GRU, formerly the Main Intelligence Directorate, is the foreign military intelligence agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. GRU controls the military intelligence service and maintains its own special forces units. Unlike Russia’s other security and intelligence agencies—such as the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Federal Protective Service (FSO), whose heads report directly to the president of Russiathe director of the GRU is subordinate to the Russian military command, reporting to the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff. Source:
  25. in full: the Military Order of Lenin and the October Revolution, Red Banner, Order of Suvorov Academy in the name of M. V. Frunze. Source:
  26. Source: Elaine Shannon (24 June 2001). “Death of The Perfect Spy”.
  28. Source/Acnowledgement: at:
  29. Goldsmith, Belinda (7 August 2007). “Mata Hari was a scapegoat, not a spy – biographer”Reuters. See also: Femme Fatale: Love, Lies and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari, by Professor Shipman (ISBN 978-0297856276) and Howe, Russel Warren (1986). Mata Hari: The True Story. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. x–xi, 285. Further information:
  30. The Five Eyes (FVEY) is an Anglosphere intelligence alliance comprising AustraliaCanadaNew Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. See:
  31. The journalists were: Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, and Ewen MacAskill.
  32. Source: Finn, Peter; Horwitz, Sari (June 21, 2013). “U.S. charges Snowden with espionage”. The Washington Post. Retrieved 11th April 2015.
  33. Source: Winkipedia,
  34. Source:
  35. The Ware Group was a covert organisation of Communist Party USA operatives within the US government in the 1930s, run first by Harold Ware (1889–1935) and then by Whittaker Chambers (1901–1961) after Ware’s accidental death on 13th August 1935. Sources: Gall, Gilbert J. “A Note on Lee Pressman and the FBI.” Labor History. 32:4 (Autumn 1991), and White, G. Edward (2015). Alger Hiss’s Looking-glass Wars: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy. Oxford University Press. pp. 30, 36–38. ISBN 9780195182552. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  36. On August 3, 1948, Chambers, a former US Communist Party member, testified under subpoena before the House Un-American Activities Committee that Alger Hiss had been a communist while in federal service. Hiss categorically denied the charge and subsequently sued Chambers for libel. During the pretrial discovery process of the libel case, Chambers produced new evidence allegedly indicating that he and Hiss had been involved in espionage. A federal grand jury indicted Hiss on two counts of perjury. After a mistrial due to a hung jury, Hiss was tried a second time, and in January 1950, was found guilty and received two concurrent five-year sentences, of which he eventually served three and a half years.
  37. See: Chambers, Whittaker (May 1952). Witness. New York: Random House. pp. 799 pages. ISBN 9780895269157.
  38. Source: Chambers, David; Nolen, Jeannette L. (April 15, 2020). “Whittaker Chambers”. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  39. See: Press Release and Statement at:
  40. Source: and
  41. Compiled from: and
  42. The Eddie Chapman Story (1953), Free Agent: The Further Adventures of Eddie Chapman (1955) and The Real Eddie Chapman Story (1966). His story has also been told in two books published in 2007, Zigzag – The incredible Wartime Exploits of Double Agent Eddie Chapman by Nicholas Booth, and Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman, Lover, Betrayer, Hero, Spy, by Ben Macintyre.
  43. Source: and
  44. Totalitarianism is a form of government and political system that prohibits all opposition parties, outlaws individual opposition to the state and its claims, and exercises an extremely high degree of control and regulation over public and private life. 
  45. Sources: and
  46. Source: Deacon, Richard (1987). Spyclopedia: The Comprehensive Handbook of Espionage. London: MacDonald. ISBN 978-0-3561-4600-3.
  47. Source: Lockhart, R. H. Bruce (1932). Memoirs of a British Agent. London and New York: Putnam. ISBN 978-1-84832-629-3, pp. 277, 322–323.
  48. Sources: Billington, Michael (15 January 1984). “A Spy Story Even James Bond Might Envy”. The New York Times (National ed.). New York. p. H27.
  49. Source: Andrew, Christopher (1986) [1985]. Her Majesty’s Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community. Viking. ISBN 978-0-6708-0941-7.
  50. DEV-GENÇ: The Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey, often known simply as Revolutionary Youth was a Marxist-Leninist organization founded in 1965 in Turkey and banned in 1971 after the 1971 Turkish coup d’état, continuing for some time as an underground organization. It was founded in 1965 as the Federation of Debate Clubs and renamed in 1969. It inspired various offshoots, including Devrimci Yol, the Revolutionary Workers and Peasants Party of Turkey, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
  51. Sources: and
  52. Sources: Radosh, Ronald (10th June 2016). “Rosenbergs Redux”, “What the K.G.B. Files Show About Ethel Rosenberg”. The New York Times. 13th August 2015, Radosh, Ronald; Klehr, Harvey; Haynes, John Earl; Hornblum, Allen M.; Usdin, Steven (17th October 2014). “The New York Times Gets Greenglass Wrong”. Weekly Standard. “Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 17th October 2020.
  53. At:
  54. Book: The Man Behind the Rosenbergs, by Alexander Feklisov and Sergei Kostin at:
  55. Sources: and
  56. Based on a story at
  57. The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington – available at:
  58. Reported on in The Telegraph on 31st August 2008, at:
  59. Ethnography is a qualitative research method in which a researcher—an ethnographer—studies a particular social/cultural group with the aim to better understand it. Ethnography is both a process (e.g., one does ethnography) and a product (e.g., one writes an ethnography). In doing ethnography, an ethnographer actively participates in the group in order to gain an insider’s perspective of the group and to have experiences similar to the group members. Source:
  60. Sources: and
  61. Source: Norton-Taylor, Richard (26th December 2020). “George Blake obituary”. The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 26th December 2020. Retrieved 28th December 2020.
  62. Source: Hermiston, Roger (2013). The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake. London: Aurum Press. ISBN 978-1-78131-046-5.
  63. Source: Irvine, Ian (1st October 2006). “George Blake: I Spy a British traitor”. The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 26th December 2020. Retrieved 19th March 2012.
  64. Source: “George Blake – The Confession”. BBC Radio 4. 3rd August 2009. Archived from the original on 29th October 2020. Retrieved 10th August 2009.
  65. The Outsider: My Life, published by Bantam Press (10th September 2015):
  66. Source:
  67. See:
  68. See: for details of Frederick Forsyth’s books and films made from several of them.
  69. Sources: and
  70. Sources: and
  71. Sources: and
  72. Sources: and
  73. Source:
  74. Colossus, the first large-scale electronic computer, was used against the German system of teleprinter encryption known at Bletchley Park as ‘Tunny’. Technologically more sophisticated than Enigma, Tunny carried the highest grade of intelligence.
  75. Source: John Cairncross Spy, Britain and France”. Atomic Heritage and National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. 11 September 2011. Retrieved 31 December 2020.
  76. See: OBITUARIES: John Cairncross”. Washington Post. 17 September 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  77. See: JOHN CAIRNCROSS DIES”. Washington Post. 26 December 2020. Retrieved 31 December 2020 and “John Cairncross, Fifth Man in Spy Ring, Dead at 82”. Chicago Tribune. 11 October 1991. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
  78. Source:
  79. Source:
  80. Source:
  81. Source: History Today:
  82. Source: The Guardian:

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