We wouldn’t be a female-run investigation company if we didn’t study, at times with grudging admiration, but never emulation, of our female counterparts in the world of undercover assignments.
This week we review our favorite (very subjectively selected) top five female spies of all times. Women who gave up everything: their normal lives, their children and family, and in some cases, their very lives in extremely dangerous situations. While at times we may not agree with their actions, these female espionage experts maintain a place in history few can rival.
Mata Hari was the stage name for Margeretha Zelle, a Dutch-born exotic dancer who began her career in Paris in 1905. Her sensual near-nude routines were an instant hit and she drew in audiences of thousands acoss Berlin, Vienna, Madrid, conducting many affairs with military and politial figures along the way. With the outbreak of WWI in 1914, Mata Hari’s many international connections brought her to the attention of the Frenchh authorities as she continued to travel around Europe. The exact nature of her spying activities are unclear : she claimed she was paid to spy for the French in Belgium, but was said to have turned double agent after agreeing to pass on nformtion to a German consul. It was British intelligence that finally unmasked “evidence” of her spying and on her return to Paris in early 1017, she was arrested and convicted of being a German spy. At her execution in October that year, Mata Hari,aged 41, refused to wear a blindfold and spent the last few seconds og her life glaing steadfastly at the firing squad, Many still contest her guilt, with theories suggesting she was a victim of a media frenzy and vague — or at worst, fabricated — evidence.
Wanted by the Gestapo as one of the most dangerous allied spies, American agent Virginia Hall worked Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Nazi-occupied France in World War II. She lost her lower leg in a hunting accident in 1933 and began using a wooden prosthetic leg christened Cuthbert. Snapped up for her fluency in French and German at the beginning of the war, she entered Vichy France under the cover of an American Reporter in 1941 and helped to organize the resistance there by aiding downed fliers, providing supplies for opposition publications and acting as a courier for other agents. In late 1942 when the Germans took direct control of the whole France, Virginia was ordered to leave — a feat she could only manage by hiking through the snow-clad Pyreness mountains to Spain, prosthetic leg in tow. She then returned to France to train and arm guerrilla groups under the auspices of C IA, constantly moving around to avoid detections by Nazis – who by this point had issued wanted posters and rewards for so called ”limping lady”. She disguised herself as an elderly peasent goat-herder while gathering information ahead of the crucial D-Day invasion in June 1944. After the war ended, Virginia was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross “for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against the enemy”
In one of the most sensational espionage cases of recent US histoy, Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg and her husband Julius were Commun istd who were executed by electric chair in 1953 after being convicted of passing on information about the construction of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union. They were implicated in a US-led spy ring in 1950, following a painstaking investigation by the FBI. By the time of their trial on consporacy to commit espionage charges in 1951, their two young children had been taken into care. Throughout their detention, the couple refused to incrimate others in teir network, despite immense pressure. Others weren”t so stoical and the key testimony against Ethel came from her brother and sister-in-llaw, David and Ruth Greenglass, who is described how she had typed stolen atomic secrets from notes provided by David.
Summing up the case, Cheif prosecutor, Irving Saypol, declared : “This desription of the stom bomb, destined for delivert to the Soviet Union, was typed up by the dfendant Ethel Rosenberg that afternoon at her apartment at 10 Monroe Street. Just so had she, on countless other occasions, sat at the typewriter and struck the keys, blow by blow, against her own country in the interests of the Soviets. “
Ethel and Julius were found guilty and sentenced to death. Both remain ed on death row for 26 months, and it was intimated that they could have recieved a lesser sentence had they provided evidence against others. They were eventually executed in June 1953, amid widespread outrage and controversary. Many saw the couple as scapegoats of anti- Semitism and McCarthyism with Nobel prize- winner, Jean-Paul Sartre, calling the case ” a legal lynching which smears with blood a whole nation.” Stil more pointed to the saga’s innocent victims – the Rosenbergs’ two orphaned children.
One of the most decorated Allied servicewomen of World War II, Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was known to the Gestapo as “The White Mouse” for her ability to evade detection and capture. The New Zeland-born heroine joined the French Resistance in 1940 but was forced to go into hiding after her network was betrayed. She continued to work undercover and once cycled more than 500 miles through several German checkpoints to replace codes that her wireless operator had been forced to destroy during a raid. Later in the war, she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was parachuted back into the Auvergne region of France to provide guerrilla groups with arms. Her compatriots praised her strength and courage, two qualities she needed in abundance when she killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to stop him raising the alarm during a raid. After the war endedc, Nancy was awarded the George Medal, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Medaille de la Resistance and three Croix de Guerres from France. She also discovered that her husband had died at the hands of the Gestapo in 1943, having refused to reveal her whereabouts.
Anna Chapman – known as Russia’s “flamed- haired beauty” and “sexy” – made international headlines last year as the most glamourous member of aring of deep cover agents arrested in the US. An economics graduate with a taste for the high life, Anna was born in the industrial southern Russia city of Volgograd ( then Stalin gard). She moved to Manhattan in early 2010 aged 28 with the apparent aim of using her good looks and connections to infiltrate high-end social and political circles.. Fluent in English and with an IQ of 162, she was well-placed to send sensitive information back to the Kremlin. However, the FB I arrested Anna, along with nine other members of her deep cover cell operating out of the US, in June 2010. At one point the redhead agent was facing a possible life sentence for espionage, but managed to avoid this thanks to a high-profile spy swap between Russia and the US – the first of its kind since the end of the Cold War. Back in Russia, Anna maintained her celebrity status. As well as receiving one of Russia’s highest medals for espionage, she also appeared on the front cover of the Russian edition of Maxim magazine (sporting lace and a revolver) and now stars in her own documentary TV show.
We’re fairly certain that none of our operatives, male of female, will make such an infamous list unless the activity is within the scope of our work, but it is interesting to note how ruthless the gentler sex can be when impassioned for a love of country and perhaps, misguided loyalty.
Our Operatives: Street smart, info savvy.
As always, stay safe.