James Bond, Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt all make us think of those infamous movies that give us the taste of life in espionage. But the best spies are the ones you’ve never heard about. However, their lives may not be filled with martinis and leisure as you might expect.
1. Ravinder Kaushik, the ‘Black Tiger’
With his initial occupation as a theatre artist, Ravinder Kaushik was recruited by RAW India’s Research and Analysis Wing. Kaushik managed to infiltrate the Pakistani Army in 1974. He then soared up to the rank of Major and sent valuable information to RAW. In 1979 he was bestowed the name Black Tiger for his efforts. Kaushik provided 26 years of intelligence to the Indian government. In 1983, his cover was blown and he was sentenced to death. The Indian government got his sentence reduced to life imprisonment, but that only made matters worse. He was tortured up until his death between 1999-2001.
2. Virginia Hall, the ‘Limping Lady’
Notably one of the most feared spies by Nazis during WWll, Virginia Hall earned her reputation in France due to a series of logistical missions and her efforts in sabotaging the Germans. Once France was seized, she joined with (OSS) Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the CIA. She then carried out sabotage operations, supported resistance groups, and often disguised herself as an old lady. She would also hide critical documents in her prosthetic leg, to divert attention. She was the only civilian woman to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Post-war, she became one of the first female officials in the CIA.
3. Aldrich Hazen Ames ‘the Mole’
A ‘Mole’ is often referred to someone who is working for the other side. Ames is a prime example – in his 31 years of service in the CIA, he provided information to the KGB on multiple occasions. He would organize dead drops throughout Washington D.C. and conduct meetings with KGB diplomats in multiple countries, passing critical information that would compromise more assets than any mole in history. In 1993 an investigation was conducted which led to his arrest. He was sentenced to life and overturned all his assets to the U.S. Government.
4. Mata Hari ‘H-21’
Hari led a seductive career of espionage, although it is still contested to this day. Hari would lure soldiers from many countries with her promiscuous methods of belly dancing as interrogation. She would use her skills to obtain knowledge from either side during the first World War. Her cause was simply to earn a little extra cash, but inevitably, it led to the dangerous price of death. She was arrested for suspicion by the French in 1917, to whom she stated, “a harlot yes, but a traitor, never”. She was then executed the same year.
5. Frederick Joubert Duquesne ‘Black Panther’
South African Boer Frederick Duquesne is a man of myth and legend. The German-soldier was a big-game hunter, journalist, and spy who made his own life in various countries, through three wars. Due to a strong hatred for the British harnessed from the Second Boer War, the Black Panther began spying for the Germans in 1914. From there, he conducted spy rings, gathered human intelligence, and organized sabotage missions, often by disguising himself. He would go on to escape imprisonment three times using his methods of charm. He would continue to pursue a lifestyle that would cover his tracks, cultivating various identities that led to him become a publicist, journalist, and fictional war hero. After his last imprisonment in New York, he became very ill. He was then released and went on to give lectures about his bizarre life, up until his death in 1956.
6. Sidney Reilly ‘The Ace of Spies’
This Godfather of Espionage was originally named Sigmund Rosenblum – his life has set the tone, plot, and story of the many spy films and novels we enjoy today. Often referred as ‘the real life James Bond’, Reilly was born in Russia, March 24, 1874 and studied in Vienna from 1890 to 1893. In 1894, while working abroad in Brazil, he befriended a British secret agent. His charming manners and friendly personality led to his recommendation to the Secret Intelligence Service. Reilly was fluent in other languages such as Russian, Polish, Portuguese, German, French and possibly more, which aided him in his missions. He was notably a double agent that aided in wars between Japan and Soviet Russia. He was able to exploit many governments due to this, while helped him gather intelligence. Reilly was known for his methods of infiltration and disguise, making major exploits that changed the course of the first World War. Little is known about his death, but it was reported that he was shot while attempting to escape to Finland in 1925. However, his body was supposedly never found.