Now recognised as the prototypical femme fatale, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, AKA Mata Hari, was a famous exotic dancer and performer who was executed in 1917 for spying for the Germans during World War I.
She gained fame in Paris for her risquÃ© dance routines and performances, and at the outbreak of the war she was the mistress and escort to many high profile businessman and military officers.
As a citizen of the neutral Netherlands, Mata Hari frequently crossed national borders, a practice that eventually attracted the attention of the Allies.
When questioned by British intelligence, she claimed to be an undercover spy for the French, but their government denied this. Soon after, the French intercepted a German radio transmission detailing the activities of one of their most successful spies.
Evidence pointed to Mata Hari as the culprit, and she was quickly arrested and charged with contributing to the deaths of 50,000 people.
She was found guilty during a trial and executed in October of 1917 by firing squad.
Although it has never been determined whether she was really working for the Germans or the French, Mata Hari continues to be remembered as one of the most famous spies of all time.
A German theoretical physicist and an expert on atomic bomb technology, Klaus Fuchs passed on a number of significant weapons secrets to the USSR while working as a scientist for the American government.
Fuchs made a number of breakthroughs in nuclear fission, and was a part of the famed Manhattan Project that led to the development of the first A-bomb.
A communist in his youth, he was recruited by a KGB case officer in 1941, and for years he passed on information about bomb technology and the state of the US weapons stockpile to the Soviets.
Fuchs was apprehended in 1946 after a Soviet cipher was cracked by Allied intelligence forces, and under interrogation he admitted to working for the Russians.
While he is not as well known as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the atomic secrets provided by Klaus Fuchs are said to have had a bigger effect on the Russians’ knowledge of the US nuclear programme, and even helped aid them in the development of their own atomic weapons.
Considered by many to be America’s first spy, Nathan Hale was a soldier in the Continental Army who in 1776 volunteered to go on a dangerous intelligence-gathering mission behind enemy lines.
Hale, who was only 21 at the time, ventured into New York City in disguise in order to report on British troop movements, but after the city fell to the English, he was found out by a British officer and captured.
Although spying wasn’t widely practiced at the time, Hale was charged with being an illegal combatant and was hanged a few days after being apprehended.
Before his execution, he is said to have uttered the now famous line ‘I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.’
This speech and his espionage activities cemented Hale’s reputation as one of the heroes of the Revolutionary War, and to this day a statue of him stands outside of the CIA headquarters.
Fritz Joubert Duquesne
Fritz Joubert Duquesne was a larger than life writer, soldier, and adventurer who gained fame as a spy for the Germans during World Wars I and II.
As a young man, he fought against England in his native South Africa during the First and Second Boer Wars, at one point enlisting in the British army in order to sabotage missions and report on troop movements.
This experience helped foster a lifelong hatred of all things English, and at the outbreak of the First World War, Duquesne began working for the Germans as a spy, planting bombs on several British ships that eventually went down at sea.
He was captured in 1917 and extradited to New York, but after two years in jail he made a daring escape by cutting through the bars of his cell and scaling the prison walls.
He disappeared for some time, working as a freelance journalist and even writing his own biography, before resurfacing at the outbreak of WWII and resuming his spy activities for the Germans.
His days of espionage came to an end in 1942 when Duquesne, along with 33 other German spies, were arrested in what became known as the biggest espionage ring conviction in American history.
Considered to be one of the most skilled spies of the 20th century, Richard Sorge was a Soviet master of espionage who worked all over the world before and during World War II.
For much of his career, he operated under the cover of a professional journalist, traveling to various European countries to calculate the chances of possible Communist uprisings.
At the outbreak of WWII, Sorge traveled to Japan under the guise of a Nazi reporter and began supplying the Soviets with valuable intelligence about Japanese and German combat operations.
He warned them about the Pearl Harbor attack, the planned German invasion of Russia, and countless other missions, but a lot of his intelligence was ignored by Stalin.
Sorge was eventually captured by the Japanese in 1944, and though he never admitted to being a Soviet spy even under torture, was executed shortly thereafter.
The Soviets did not recognis him or his activities until 1964, at which point he was belatedly hailed as a national hero.