Thursday, May 2, 2013

Famous Spies

That's a bit of an oxymoron, isn't it? "Famous spies." The point of being a spy is to be unknown, anonymous, remarkable in your unremarkableness. That's probably why all the spies on my list are dead; you aren't a very good spy if everyone knows about you while you're still working.

Sir Francis Walsingham by John De Critz the Elder.jpg

Sir Francis Walsingham was the "spymaster" for Queen Elizabeth I of England. Officially, he was her principal secretary, which involved handling correspondence and going on diplomatic trips missions to other countries. As a Protestant who had suffered under Catholic Queen Mary of Scots, he had a chip on his shoulder about Catholicism, and he approved of torturing Catholic priests and followers. Walsingham intercepted some letters to and from Queen Mary, planning to escape and kill Elizabeth, which discovery led to Mary's trial (during which she blamed Walsingham, who was present, for her downfall).

Thomas Knowlton

Thomas Knowlton was the "first American spy." He served in the French and Indian War, and was a colonel in the American Revolution. His unit was known as "Knowlton's Rangers" (the first organized American intelligence-gathering operation) and they gathered vital intelligence during the Revolution. They were formed under orders from George Washington himself. Today, the US Army has "1776" on their official seal, not because of the formation of our nation, but because of the formation of Knowlton's Rangers.

Nathan Hale usually shows up in history textbooks, because he's the one who said (something along the lines of) "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country" before he was hanged. He served as one of Knowlton's Rangers in the Revolutionary War, but he was caught by the British (see above, hanged). He is the official state hero of Connecticut, and he was commemorated on the postage stamp, seen at left.

James Armistead Lafayette was the first African American double agent. He was a slave in Virginia during the American Revolution. His master consented to let him join the Army, and he served under General Lafayette, spying on Benedict Arnold (who had already defected and was fighting on the British side), then he spied on Lord Cornwallis's camp. The intelligence he gathered helped lead to the American victory at the Battle of Yorktown. He petitioned for his freedom after the war, and it was granted, at which time he added "Lafayette" to his name to honor the general.

Allan Pinkerton was a Scottish American spy during the American Civil War. He was originally a cooper, then he was appointed as Chicago's first detective. He then developed the Pinkerton National Detective Agency (which is still running today, as Pinkerton Government Services). We can thank Pinkerton for developing detective techniques such as shadowing a suspect and assuming a role (undercover work). He was the head of the Union Intelligence Services during the Civil War, and saved Lincoln from an assassination attempt in Baltimore, MD. After the war, he devoted his efforts to stopping train robbers, and specifically, Jesse James.

Belle Boyd.jpg

Belle Boyd was also known as "Cleopatra of the Secession," referring to her work as a Confederate spy during the American Civil War. From her father's hotel in Fort Royal, VA, she provided vital information to Stonewall Jackson. She happened to hear some important information pertaining to the war from some Union soldiers staying in the hotel; when one of them insulted her mother, she became furious and shot him. She was exonerated for the crime, but soldiers were posted around the hotel, and she became familiar with one of them... enough so that he shared war secrets with her, which she sent to Confederate soldiers through her slave.

Mata Hari (or Margaretha Geertruida "M'Greet" Zelle McLeod) was a Dutch exotic dancer who served as a spy for Germany during World War I. Her stage name means "eye of the day" (meaning "sun") in Indonesian. After an abusive and disappointing marriage to a Dutch man, Mata Hari moved to Paris, where she began her dancing career, which developed into a career as a courtesan. Because she was from the Netherlands (a neutral country in the war), she could freely cross country lines, which she did often, arousing suspicions. She claimed to be spying for France, but nobody is certain whether this was true. Germans stationed in Madrid, Spain sent coded messages that the French determined to be about an agent named H-21, who they discovered was Mata Hari. She was arrested in her hotel in Paris, tried, and executed by firing squad.

Sidney Reilly is known as the "Ace of Spies." Presumably, he was a spy for four different countries. I could write pages about his works, so I'll boil it down to the basics: He helped overthrow the Bolshevik regime, he was a secret agent behind German lines during WWI, he was undercover as a shipyard worker before WWI to procure important plans and schematics, he was involved in the d'Arcy Affair, and he did about a dozen other very important spy and military things.

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