Home / Security / The World’s Greatest Spies

Their exploits might have been popularized by the silver screen and the plots hang somewhere between the lines of totally unbelievable and barely possible, but REAL spies do exist. We’re not talking glammed up James Bond hanging from the side of an impossibly high building to gain top secret info. We’re talking real people who go undercover as diplomats and engineers. The ones who risk their lives for the sake of war and peace, they do what has to be done no matter what the consequences.

The world of espionage can be something unbelievably shady, and when you take a look at these icon spies, you’ll understand why.

Take a peek into the world of espionage as we count down the 8 most significant spies that the world has ever seen.

8. The Cambridge Five

These guys were a ring of spies, recruited by the Russian scout Arnold Deutsch in the UK. Their main goal was to pass information to the Soviet Union during World War II. They had all taken to communism while they were studying at Cambridge University. The weird thing though is that only 4 of them were arrested and trialed, the 5th was never found.

7. Virginia Hall

Virginia Hall was also better known as “Artemis” among the Germans. She was a spy with the Special Operations Executive during World War II and later for the office of the Strategic Services and the Special Activities Division of the CIA. Some of her work included helping out the activities of the French Underground while eluding the Gestapo.

Despite the fact that her leg was amputated from the knee down, this “limping lady” was as elusive could come and was high up on Germany’s most wanted list.

6. Richard Sorge

This German communist and spy that worked for the Soviet Union gained his fame through his gathering of intelligence during World War II. Working as a journalist in Germany as well as Japan gave him a great edge and a sneaky way of getting in every time. Sadly, he was imprisoned for spying and hanged.

5. Nancy Grace August Wake

This lady served as a British agent during the late stages of World War II and became a cornerstone in the French Resistance, eventually earning the status as one of the Allies’ most decorated servicewomen of the war.

4. Robert Philip Hanssen

This former FBI agent might well be busy serving a life sentence for being found guilty on 13 counts of espionage, but he had some serious guts! He started out spying in 1979 and served the Soviet Union for 22 years, selling information worth well over $1.4 million. His deeds were considered to be one of the biggest intelligence disasters of the US history.

3. Oleg Penkovsky

Agent HERO as he was known was famed for being a Colonel in the Soviet GRU that supplied intelligence to the United States government throughout the1950’s and 60’s. He was the one who informed the US and UK about the missiles that the Soviets planted in Cuba – leading to the “Cuban Missile Crisis”.

2. Sidney Reiley

This guy was the model for James Bond 007 and is considered to be the very first 20th century super-spy. He became known as the “Ace of Spies”, and this Jewish Russian-born secret agent was once employed by the Scotland Yard. In the 1920’s he allegedly spied for several nations in Europe and Asia, although what exactly he did and where his loyalty life, never came to light.

1. Mata Hari

Undoubtedly one of the best spies in the history of…ever. Using her charm on high-ranking military men to gain information during World War I, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle really was one hell of a force when it came down to finding out top class information. The German agent, codename H-21 entered the force in 1915 and was executed for espionage by the French in 1917.


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