Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

9 Ballsy Real-Life Spies

It’s entertaining to watch secret agents on TV or read the latest spy novel, but hearing about the real people who make their living through espionage takes the excitement to another level and leaves you with all kinds of questions. How do they avoid getting caught? How crazy do you have to be to risk your life trying to find secrets? Does being a spy help them pick up chicks? These spies may not go by the name James Bond or drink shaken martinis, but they are just as gutsy as the fictional hero (or even more so).

  1. Fritz Joubert Duquesne

    If this guy doesn’t deserve a movie about his life, no one does. One was made in 1945, but when you hear about his adventures, you’ll beg Hollywood to make another. Duquesne started out as a South African in the Boer army when they fought against the British, and his hatred for the Brits never left him. He was captured but escaped the British prison camp. He joined the British army to try to sabotage operations; they stationed him in South Africa as an officer, where he discovered his sister had been murdered and his mother had been put in a concentration camp. He was thrown in prison several times when his sabotage was discovered, escaped by doing things like pretending he was paralyzed and dressing as a woman, and faked his own death at one point. Ultimately, he avenged his family’s deaths by killing the commander he held responsible and finally ended up in prison for spying on the U.S. for Germany.

  2. The Cambridge Five

    Lots of people join clubs when they get to college, but these five guys joined the spy world. After meeting at Cambridge University and finding they all had communist sympathies, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, and Anthony Blunt became spies for the Soviet Union. The fifth man is suspected to be John Cairncross. Their covert operations lasted through World War II and into the 1950s. The Five found places in the top government organizations in England, including the foreign intelligence and domestic security groups, where they got information on atomic bombs, foreign strategy, and efforts to crack code, which they passed on to Moscow. They all eventually either defected, left the country, or confessed.

  3. Violette Szabo

    Spies are always more intriguing when they are beautiful women. Szabo, a young, single mother and war widow, joined the Special Operations Executive in England and was sent to France for undercover missions. Her job was to help organize the French Resistance and sabotage German communications, but during one of her missions, she was captured when her car came upon an unanticipated German roadblock. Szabo was arrested and tortured, but she never gave up any information on her fellow spies. She was executed at a concentration camp. Her fellow SOE operative, Odette Sanson, who also experienced brutal torture, said Szabo was "the bravest of us all."

  4. Aldrich Ames

    We sometimes think of spies as people who only work during war time, but there have been spies caught in the U.S. within the past few decades. Ames was convicted in 1994 — less than 20 years ago. He got a position with the CIA at a very young age using his father’s connections; his father must have regretted helping him when it was discovered what Ames was doing. Not only was Ames a pretty lousy CIA agent, he also began selling the identities of double agents to the Russians. By the time he was discovered (because he was obviously living well beyond his CIA salary), almost 40 CIA agents had been executed, imprisoned, or had simply disappeared at the hands of the Soviet Union.

  5. Robert and Dayna Baer

    These two CIA agents first met while working in the field in Sarajevo. Their job was to gather information on Hezbollah operatives. In fact, George Clooney’s character in the film Syriana was based on Robert’s experiences as a spy, and that job seemed frightening, to say the least. When the couple first met, they only knew each other by their aliases; Dayna went by Riley and Robert always had about 20 names to choose from at any given moment. They carried guns, knew how to flip cars off the road, and managed to stay alive. Since then, they’ve quit the agency, gotten married, and written a book about their adventures called The Company We Keep.

  6. Richard Sorge

    Under the guise of being a journalist, Sorge, a German communist, was able to travel to several different countries and collect intelligence for the Soviet Union. He provided important intelligence on the military plans of Germany and Japan, which went largely ignored by Stalin until Germany launched an attack on the Soviet Union and Sorge had predicted it. One of Sorge’s most important pieces of intelligence was that Japan was not going to attack the USSR until the Germans had already captured Moscow. This allowed the Soviet army to focus its attention on the German attack knowing they wouldn’t be blitzed from the other side, and ultimately helped turn the tide of World War II. Sorge was eventually executed after the Soviets refused to trade him for Japanese spies.

  7. Eileen Nearne

    As part of "Churchill’s secret army," Nearne parachuted into France to perform her duties as a secret agent with Britain’s Special Operations Executive. She ran the secret radio communications between London and the French Resistance and coordinated weapons drops that would prepare the resistance for D-Day. She had volunteered for this job, even though she knew there was a one in four chance that she would be killed, and she was tortured in a Nazi concentration camp at the age of 23. Nearne was repeatedly dunked in ice water until she began to lose consciousness, but she still wouldn’t give up the intelligence her captors wanted. After being shipped to several different labor camps, Nearne escaped the Nazis and lived to be 89 years old.

  8. Anna Chapman

    Chapman is the woman of every man’s dreams. Not only is she a TV star and lingerie model now, but she is also a little mysterious and potentially dangerous. Chapman was one of the most recently discovered spies in the U.S., along with nine other Russians who were arrested by the U.S. government in 2010. The group was involved in a deep-cover operation to get close to top American officials and discover state secrets. The 10 spies had succeeded in befriending an acquaintance of a U.S. Cabinet member, but were arrested soon after. Chapman, a woman bound to attract attention for her good looks, must’ve had a hard time blending in — a fact that may have contributed to them being caught but has also made her a star. The spies were traded back to Russia for some detained U.S. agents.

  9. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

    The Rosenbergs helped to intensify the hysteria within the U.S. over communism and atomic warfare. They were also victims of that same hysteria, a threat that would’ve made the average person push any communist sympathies deep inside himself. But the Rosenbergs provided intelligence for the Soviets in spite of the consequences. Julius and Ethel, through a grapevine of informants, discovered secrets from the Manhattan Project research and passed this information, important for creating an atomic bomb, on to the Soviet Union. This allowed the Soviets to build nuclear weapons very quickly. When the Rosenbergs’ espionage was discovered, the two were executed.