10 Most Brilliant Double Agent Spies in History


Wherever there are rivalries, there are double agents. These rivalries can be between corporate houses, drug cartels, countries or even civilizations. For one side, double agents become heroes, but for the other side they are the worst type of traitors… rats!

Compared to any other job, double agents work in the most dangerous circumstances. This danger is what makes this job so thrilling, and so high paying. Yet not every double agent is after money. There are many who do it for the love of their country, or ideological reasons.

The character of a double agent is so exciting that it is often used in literature. However, in literature, money does not drive the character. Instead, it’s typically passion. One of the most brilliant double agent characters from modern literature is Severus Snape of the Harry Potter series. Author J.K. Rowling portrayed the perfect double agent. He remains in high risk and is often mistrusted. He’s lonely, and he’s devoted. He’s cunning, and he is complicated. But above all else, he gets the job done. Almost all brilliant double agents have these characteristics in common.

The history of double agents goes all the way back to ancient China, but their use rose to its highest level during WWII and the subsequent Cold War. Even today, double agents are playing a vital role in the war against terror, often trained by the CIA.

10. Dusan Popov


Charmed his way through peak ranks of Abwehr. Spied for full five years of WWII, did not get caught. Received Order of the British Empire.

Dusan Popov, codename “Tricycle,” was a real life James Bond: handsome, cultured, and confident. He was a very successful lawyer in Yugoslavia. Popov was popular among the ladies. They loved him, and he loved them back. He was a friend of Ian Fleming, so many people believe that he is one of the real life inspirations for Bond.

Despite speaking fluent German and having many German friends, he secretly hated Hitler. So when the Germans approached him to become a double agent for them, Popov immediately contacted MI6 and offered his services.

Obviously, British intelligence did not trust him immediately, but when he told them the name of the German officer (Johann Jebsen) who contacted him he won their trust, because the German officer was a double agent working for MI6. The British started to provide him carefully devised information, which he delivered to Abwehr and received promotions. In a few months, Germans started to consider him a valuable asset.

Tricycle became one of the key agents of British intelligence. He communicated via invisible ink, microdot codes, wireless, and various other techniques. He continued to work even when Germans caught his handler Jebsen.

Popov was sent to the USA in 1941 by the Germans. They gave him a three-page questionnaire about US defense systems. His mission was to find answers to all of those questions. Out of those three pages, one whole page consisted of detailed questions about the defense systems of Pearl Harbor. Popov said in a televised interview that he had contacted FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and informed him about German interest in the Hawaiian island, but Hoover didn’t report it to his superiors. Why? That is still a mystery. Maybe the German-speaking, Yugoslavian playboy did not seem trustworthy.

9. Elizabeth Van Lew


Helped prisoners to escape Libby Prison. Commanded a spy ring. First person to fly Stars and Stripes in Richmond after Civil War.

Elizabeth Van Lew was a 43-year-old woman living with her widowed mother when the Civil War broke out. Lew was against slavery but she assumed the identity of a loyal Confederate. She realized her duties as soon as the war erupted, and she started working on the dangerous job out of pure patriotism — not for pay.

Lew was a member of the Richmond, Virginia elite, and her social status came in handy. For instance, she was allowed into Libby Prison. She brought (seemingly) harmless materials, such as food and clothing for the prisoners, but she also brought information and guidance to help them escape. She was naturally gifted for espionage. She transferred several critical intelligence reports to Ulysses S. Grant, the commanding general of Union army. These reports were sent inside hollowed eggs.

She did not work alone, but established a whole spy ring. In fact, she even managed to get one of her spies inside the White House of the Confederacy. After the war, Grant said that Van Lew was the most critical source of intelligence during the final two years of the conflict.

When Richmond fell to Union forces, she was the first person to fly the US flag on her home. It was this action that revealed which side she actually was on… and made her a villain among the local community. They hated her so much that neighboring parents told their children she was a witch.

When Grant became the 18th president of the United States, he appointed her as Postmaster of Richmond. She hired several African-Americans to her staff. Things were going alright, but then President Rutherford Hayes came to power and sacked her. She lived a poor life after that, although she received allowances from some of the ex-prisoners that she helped escape Libby Prison.

8. Oleg Penkovsky


Prevented a nuclear war.

Oleg Penkovsky, codename “Hero,” is the man who prevented the Cold War from turning into a hot one. He was a colonel for Soviet Military Intelligence, and he was the person who informed President John F. Kennedy that Soviet Russia was going to install an intercontinental missile system in Cuba. He also provided critical evidence proving that the Soviet arsenal was much less capable than what the CIA assumed. This important bit of information prevented a nuclear war between the USA and the Soviet Union.

Apart from this crucial matter, he did not provide any other intelligence to America. For this reason, Peter Wright, a scientist working for MI5, believes that Penkovsky was actually planted by the Soviets to prevent the war. According to CIA records, Penkovsky was abducted from a road in Moscow, charged with treason, and executed. Wright believes that he was not executed, but rather given an out-of-bounds post with a changed identity so that he would never be found by the Americans or the British. Wright believes this because there was no reason for Penkovsky to stay in Moscow when he knew he would get caught. He could have fled to the west.

7. Eddie Chapman


A criminal, turned German agent, turned British double agent. Only Englishman to receive Iron Cross.

Edward A. Chapman, codename “Zigzag,” was an explosives expert. Yet unlike some others on this list, he wasn’t using his talent for anything good; he was robbing jewelry shops. He was also a master of breaking locks.

In 1939, he was caught red-handed trying to rob a nightclub. Jersey police imprisoned him in Channel Islands. He was only supposed to serve two years, but police were making a case against him to serve another 14 in the mainland prison. However, fate had decided something else.

In 1940, the Nazi army occupied Channel Islands. They did not release prisoners but started researching for anybody useful. Of course, Chapman stood out. By the time his two year sentence was completed, he had become a German agent. They took him to Paris and further trained him in explosives, radio communication, and parachuting. Germans assigned him the task to blow up de Havilland aircraft factory in Hatfield. A German bomber carried him over England, and he jumped.

MI5 was aware of the German plans. They were decrypting German coded messages, so they knew where and when Chapman would land. Soon after he landed on the ground, he was hunted. During interrogation, he showed his intent to become a double agent. MI5 believed him, and decided to help him.

The British authorities designed one of the most brilliant deception operations of WWII — a faked sabotage of de Havilland factory. It worked. In fact, it worked so well that even some of the workers thought their factory had been destroyed.

When Chapman returned, the Germans considered him a hero who deserved the Iron Cross. Chapman remains the only British person to have received it.

6. Dr. Humam Khalil Al-Balawi


The triple agent who conducted the deadliest attack on the CIA in Afghanistan.

Not everyone who claims to be your friend is actually your friend, and the CIA learned this lesson the hard way. Humam al-Balawi was studying medicine in Istanbul, Turkey, when a local intelligence agency found him leaning towards extremists. He was captured, and the CIA took over his case. They offered him a chance to become a double agent for them, and he agreed. However, being just a double agent wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to be a triple-agent.

The CIA had been running programs to create double agents. Humam al-Balawi seemed like an ideal candidate. He was an educated man — a medical doctor. He was more likely to adapt modern moderate school of thought. Al-Balawi was sent to Afghanistan and assigned to report Al-Qaida’s activities. He reported enough to win the CIA’s confidence. When he achieved that, he did what he always meant to do.

One day, he announced that he had a very important bit of information about Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current No.1 of Al-Qaida. He said that he needed to convey the information only to superior officers, so he was called in to the CIA command office. Since he was late and senior CIA officials were anxiously awaiting his information, nobody bothered to check him for security precautions. He went straight in. Once inside the office, he blew himself up, killing seven CIA officers and two military officers. This was the deadliest strike on the CIA in more than 25 years.

5. James Rivington


Spied for George Washington, ran a British loyalist newspaper.

He was British born, but he was more of a US patriot than anyone else. He was James Rivington. In 1773, he started an impartial newspaper, The New York Gazetteer. Within a year, he turned into a ‘loyalist.’ By 1775, he managed to become the most hated media person among the patriots. In fact, the situation became so critical that on May 1775, members of the Sons of Liberty mobbed Rivington’s home and press, making him flee to England.

By 1777, Britain had fully occupied the city so he returned. This time he was officially the King’s Printer for New York. This made him the last person to be suspected of doing anything against the crown; yet, that was his precise plan.

He was a member of Culper’s Spy Ring. The initiator of that ring, Samuel Culper, Jr. (real name Robert Townsend) was Rivington’s silent partner in his coffeehouse, which was the last place to be suspected for anti-government activities. Under Rivington and Culper, the spy ring delivered critical information to General George Washington. Finally, in 1783 when New York was evacuated, Rivington remained in the city.

After 1783, he tried to continue with his publishing business, but he had played his double-agent role too well. People did not believe that he was on their side all along. The hatred from the public led to a decline of readers, and eventually the business ceased. The rest of his life was spent in deep poverty.

4. Arthur Owens


The only double agent who double-crossed both parties.

Arthur Owens, codename “Snow,” was a Welsh Nationalist and had little loyalty toward the UK. He was a naval engineer who made batteries for ships. Before the war, he was a contractor for both the British Royal Navy and the German Navy. When WWII seemed evident, Germans acquired the services of Owens and asked him details about British fleet. He told them whatever he knew.

Later, he toured to Munich, met with Abwehr’s officers, and officially joined them. And why wouldn’t he? They were giving him what he desired the most: money and women. Especially women — young, gorgeous women. This was Owens’ weak point. However, while returning to the UK, he had a crazy idea: he would become a double agent.

He contacted MI5 authorities, and they accepted him, making him the first double agent of WWII. Owens did remarkable things for the Allied forces. He disclosed a network of no less than 120 German spies working in the UK, which helped MI5 and MI6 feed false information to the Germans.

However, in 1941 the Germans called-in two British double agents: Owens, and another man named Charles Dicketts. They both went to Lisbon to meet Abwehr command. Dicketts was arrested, taken to Hamburg, interrogated and executed. Yet nothing happened to Owens. Hence, the British realized that Owens was not really working for the British — he was working for himself, taking benefits from both sides. MI5 imprisoned him in a hospital until the end of the war.

After the war, he demanded the British pay him a certain amount of money for his ‘wrongful’ arrest, or else he was going to publish his memoirs. The British did buy him off, and he spent the rest of his life quietly. His daughter Patricia Owens became a movie star, best known for 1958 movie The Fly.

3. Aldrich Ames


The man who beat the polygraph, twice!

Thanks to the media hype, Aldrich Ames became a household name in the US during the 1990s. Ames is one of the first people to break a polygraph, and he did it more than once. On top of that, he did it against perhaps the world’s best intelligence agency.

Ames was not a very promising agent when he was working in the CIA. Drinking problems, extramarital affairs, loud arguments at parties, and silly temperamental mistakes made it crystal-clear that he was not going to be an espionage legend. Yet somehow, he became exactly that… just for all the wrong reasons.

In huge debt and newly divorced, Ames needed to get some cash. The Embassy of the Soviet Union was willing to provide it. Fortunately for him, he was placed on the team assessing Soviet embassy officials as potential double agents. Instead of turning them into double agents, Ames became one himself.

Over a period of time, Ames delivered critical information to the Russians for $4.6 million. He also disclosed at least ten of the CIA’s sources in the KGB. All of them were executed. Eventually, the CIA caught him. He blipped on their radar due to his lavish lifestyle, which was way beyond the reach of a person with a $60,000 salary. He was charged, convicted, and is spending the rest of his days in prison.

2. Kim Philby of the Cambridge Five


The most brilliant Soviet spy of Cold War era. Receiver of the Order of the British Empire.

Kim Philby was to MI6 what Aldrich Ames was to the CIA. Philby was the Communists’ biggest mole in the West, and the pivotal figure of the famous Cambridge Five (a ring of Soviet spies).

The Cambridge Five was a group of (you guessed it) five spies who became Communists during their student years at Cambridge University. All five members worked in the British Secret Services. Four of those members have been located, while the fifth is still a mystery. However, one thing is certain: Philby was the central figure to everything within the group.

Philby was hired for the secret service by Guy Burgess, a Soviet double agent himself and a member of the Cambridge Five. Unlike Aldrich Ames, Philby was a huge success. He was working wholeheartedly and doing a brilliant job for the British, but the whole time he was also transferring information and messages to the Soviets, both during WWII and during his missions in Austria, Spain, Turkey, the USA, Lebanon, and of course, the UK.

For his sublime services, the government awarded him with the highest merit, The Order of the British Empire. It took eight years of investigation to realize that Philby was indeed a double agent, yet still he could not be captured. He was serving on a mission in Lebanon, from where he fled to Moscow and resided there as a national hero for the rest of his life.

He did not do all this for money, women, or anything like that. In fact, his first wife — the love of his life — left him because she thought he was sympathetic to ‘tyrant bloodsucking capitalists,’ unaware of how loyal he was to the hammer and sickle. He did all this for something he believed in: Communism. Perhaps it is a good thing that he died a year before the demise of his beloved socio-economic system. Otherwise, it would have broken his heart, making him realize that all of his sacrifices were in vain.

1. Juan Pujol Garcia


The only person in history to receive the highest civil military awards from both the Nazis and British.

He was one of the history’s most legendary spies, and one of the greatest con artists that ever walked the Earth. He was Juan Pujol Garcia, codename “Garbo.”

Unlike most fictional heroes who are born great, Garcia had a very humble beginning. By the age of 32, the Spaniard had failed in almost all walks of life: studies, business, and even his marriage was falling apart. He was a failure walking around in human form, but then the Second World War broke out and the tables were about to turn.

He knew he had a talent, one that could change the whole scene of the war. He was ready to match wits with the brightest minds of the Third Reich. However, he needed help from either the British or the US because Spain, his home country, had decided to stay (relatively) neutral in the war. He contacted MI5 and US intelligence. Both declined his offer. They thought that a person who’d failed at farming chickens would be useless with military secrets during the war. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Undeterred by the rejection, Garcia turned to the Germans and made them believe that he was a true sympathizer of the fascist government. The Germans then assigned him to London. Garcia didn’t have the resources to go London, and he didn’t even speak English. So what did he do? He went to Lisbon, Portugal.

Garcia collected postcards of Big Ben and other famous London landmarks and sent them to Germany. He started sending made up spy reports, with a little help from radio news and newspapers. Of course, he also complained about London’s weather, since he was… ahem… totally there. He was so convincing that Germany kept buying the stories.

Garcia carefully studied the country where he’d never been and whose language he didn’t speak, where he was supposedly spying and gathering information for the Nazis. He continuously listened to the news, read maps, travelogues, and newspapers — along with anything else he could get his hands on — which described London.

He started with simpler things, such as reporting movements of troops. After gaining confidence, he took the game to a whole new level: he invented a spy ring. His network of spies included a British censor in the Ministry of Information, a Cabinet office clerk, an American soldier in Britain, a Dutch airline stewardess, a Welshman sympathetic to fascism, and 22 more like these… all fake. Yet somehow, he was so convincing that the Germans provided funds and resources for everyone in his “spy ring.”

Garcia was becoming immensely popular among Abwehr, so a British mole in the German secret service informed MI5 about this network of spies. The UK authorities nearly lost their minds. A ring of spies, working in the heart of England, and they had known nothing about them. This was the time when Garcia approached MI5 again. He told them everything. With astonished, amused, and impressed eyes, the British hired him.

Now, the best minds of British intelligence backed him, and he had all the resources he could need. There was no stopping him at this point. He delivered seemingly impressive, dramatic, but actually useless spy reports. The information was either a little late, a little useless, or already known. But he and his ring of 27 “agents” were working day and night, and the Germans respected their efforts and courage.

By June 1944, Garcia had become the one of the greatest German assets in the UK, or so they thought. It was Garcia who saved thousands of soldiers who landed on D-Day. He sent detailed telegrams to Hitler himself that the Normandy invasion was just a deception and the reserve German Panzer divisions must remain in Belgium. Those German tanks were already on the road to reach Normandy when orders came that they must stay where they were.

Now, you would think that such telegrams must have revealed his true identity and motives, and the Germans must have hunted down and executed him.

Nope. Instead, they awarded him with the Iron Cross for his valiant services to the Third Reich. This happened in July 1944, just a month after D-Day. Garcia managed to fool the Germans thanks to the deceptive measures taken by the Allied Forces. What happened was that the British and US had supposedly deployed 11 Divisions consisting of 150,000 men with tanks, the Air Force, and all the paraphernalia to the south of England. In reality, there weren’t 11 divisions — there were barely seven. Many of those “tanks” were blow-up balloons. It was a bluff. Garcia reported that these special divisions would launch the decisive strike. So, Hitler’s forces remained at their positions and D-Day became a huge Allied success.

In November 1944, about three months after the war, he received the Order of the British Empire from the Queen. It’s astonishing to consider someone could so convincingly lie and deceive a dictator as monstrous as Hitler, and live to tell the tale. He is also the only person in history to have received the highest civil military awards from both Germany and Britain.

In 1945, he staged his death, went to Venezuela, and opened a bookshop. He lived a low-profile life for another forty years. In 1984, on the 40 year celebration of D-Day, some veterans gathered on Omaha beach, and there he was. A soldier grabbed him by the hand, and introduced to the crowd as “the man who saved our lives.”

Author Bio

Tayyub is a learning documentary maker. Sometimes he writes for money. Say hi to him on Facebook, he loves making friends.

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  1. Walter Dicketts (see Arthur Owens “Snow”) was NOT executed. He persuaded the Abwehr of his status, returned to Lisbon and London, and played a part in the subterfuge behind the Normandy landings. He survived the war. See Carolina Witt’s recent biography on him.

  2. Hi Tayyub,
    No, I’m just someone with a life time interest for modern history, a fetish for obscure facts, combined with a crazy memory. You know: One of those people nobody wants to play Trivial Pursuit with 😉

  3. My God you have done a good amount of research. Or is this what you do for a living? Are you a CIA mole yourself? Well, even if you were, you wouldn’t tell me, would you? 😛
    Seriously, I wanna thank you Mark. Your comments have elevated this article to a whole new level.
    I guess it’s quite needless to debate on Blake and Montes because what we have is not a misunderstanding but just difference of perspective. For instance, I think that Montes’ story did not include as much drama, thrill, plot-twists, heroics and climax, as the tales of the people featured. You, on the other hand, are basing your opinion on her 17-years long consistency, and fooling not just her agency but her own family. We’re both right! It’s just that I had to select ten so I had leave out hundreds. I guess I should stop writing these “top ten best ever in history” type of articles. Probably “ten things we didn’t know” type articles would be better.
    And now let’s talk about the film. That’s a really cool idea, I suppose I found myself a co-director for the dream movie. Now if only I could muster $100 million, we’ll be ready to storm Hollywood.
    You wouldn’t have a hundred million spare, do you?

  4. Firstly, my best wishes on the Garcia-movie project. If you need any help on getting it on track, feel free to contact me.
    A hint for your movie: Ian Fleming was stationed for a while in Lisbon during those years. How about a cameo-appearance of former 007, Pierce Brosnan in that role ? He has a certain physical similarity and is about the right age ;).

    The link to the CIA Website on Blake and Operation Gold is: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/on-the-front-lines-of-the-cold-war-documents-on-the-intelligence-war-in-berlin-1946-to-1961/art-7.html

    Regarding Montes, I still tend to disagree.
    The US almost went to a world-wide war over Cuba in 1961, 6 months after it sponsored an invasion at the Bay of Pigs and check out any reference to Operation Mongoose about what happend after that. Evenmore, after 55 years the US still doesn’t recognize the Cuban government and retains all kinds of sanctions, which are condemned almost unanimously on a yearly basis by the UN.

    Without speculating too much, Ana Belen must have had an inside look at all the political and military machineries of the US government in Central America at the time, which went way beyond what became publicly known in the Iran-Contragate scandal. As an example, accusations have been made that her information lead to an attack by the FLSN in El Salvador, during which, inter alia, a US Military advisor was killed.
    Furthermore, she must have supplied inside information regarding the US foreign and military policies in relation to southern Africa, where Cuba was fighting a war in Angola and the US was surreptitiously supporting its adversaries South Africa and UNITA. In addition, she probably had access to information regarding the mediation by Chester Crocker, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, regarding the independence of Namibia after the defeat of the South Africans in Angola in 1988.

    Even more important would her information have been on the reassessment of the US military and foreign policies towards Cuba after the collapsing of the Soviet Union, who had been Cuba’s most important economic and military big brother for decades. At the time, Cuba was completely isolated, both political and economical and any Cuba you speak who lived during the ‘special period’ will tell you about their fears of a direct US intervention.

    One of the things that comes up in the meagre sources about her activities is a reference to the fact that she was supposed to have been instrumental in a Southern Command report in 1998, which assessed Cuba as ‘not being a military threat to the US’. I can’t find much factual support for this, though it ties in with the general picture of a highly esteemed analyst and the bonuses and recognitions she received at the time.

    Other issues that must have passed her desk and some of which happened either at Cuba’s doorstep or had an impact on its foreign policies were:
    – 1986 US intervention in Bolivia in support of anti-cocaine operations;
    – 1989 US troops intervention in riots in the Virgin Islands;
    – 1989 Invasion of Panama;
    – 1994 Haiti Blockade in support of Aristide;
    – 1996 the shooting down of the Brothers to the Rescue planes;
    – 1999 Hugo Chavez elected as Venezuelan president;
    – 2000 Cuban exiles arrested in an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro in Panama.

    So, I think she must have been a pretty busy and valuable lady; But as you said: “….save this list from monotony and/or boredom…” 😀

  5. Hi Tayyub,

    I fully agree that it’s sheer impossible to filter through so many cases and such a huge span of time to come up with a Top 10, in particular with secret services being … well … secret. Usually the spying party will keep the extent of the information they received under wraps and the party who has been spied upon will do the same in order to keep at least some egg of their face.
    Anyway, please don’t consider my additional comments as criticism.

    Regarding George Blake however, usually reliable sources, such as the Mitrokhin Archive and the cia.gov website, do credit him with the early leaking of Operation Gold.
    And yes, he did get caught and even convicted … . But he also escaped ! And as far as I know, no other double agent can claim that.

    Regarding Ana Belen Montes not pulling off something spectacular; valuable real-life spies usually don’t (with excuses to Bond and Bourne 😉 ). Al-Balawi’s final coup literally blew his cover; There are more reliable sources on the story of Penkovski as a possible KGB-disinformation-agent and if it’s true, he obviously wasn’t a ‘double’, while Pujol Garcia’s role was part of a massive framework of false information set- up by Allied Intelligence in Operation Bodyguard, which included anything from inflatable decoy tanks to General Patton inspecting non-existent troops.

    However, if you look at her position and the timeframe during which Belen Montes operated, without speculating too much, she must have had a significant impact on providing information to her Cuban masters, as well as disseminating doctored information to US Intelligence in a period of military and political turmoil in Central America.

    • Hi Again 🙂

      For a writer, constructive criticism is like water to a plant. It helps him grow. It’s those rude insults that some commenters leave, hurt. You are being so nice to me, why would I take it as an insult.

      To be honest, if CIA’s official website gives Blake the credit for Operation Gold then I must have overlooked that page. You know I tried finding it but I could not. If you have a link I’d highly appreciate it.
      And by caught, I meant jailed. I didn’t mean that their cover was never blown… after all, if their cover was never blown, how would we know about them.

      Montes was an agent of the peace times so there wasn’t too much to do for her. Besides, US wasn’t as angry with Cuba, as they were with USSR… so her job was relatively less troublesome.

      About Penkovski, you’ve just second what I wrote in the article, so thanks.
      And now we come to Garcia. Yes of course it was a big plan, but Garcia was the central figure. Everything depended on Garcia. He made Hitler believe that those balloons were actually military standard tanks; he was the son of the devil… and that’s not even the most amazing part of the story. The real mind-boggling part of his story is the beginning.

      You know, I’m a filmmaking student. One day, I hope to make a feature-film about Garcia’s life. Wish me luck 🙂

  6. Ames wasn’t a double agent, he was a recruited spy by the USSR , and a traitor, who was also a CIA officer. You need to refresh yourself on what a “double agent” actually is. Ames would be a “double agent” if he actually reported back to the CIA his work for the USSR that had recruited him.

    Employees of the CIA are Officers, not agents. Very little faith in this list if you can’t get the basic facts right, sorry to say.

  7. As a Crime and Espionage aficionado, I understand the desire to admire some on this list. But, some gave names of other agents who were then executed. To celebrate the “Brilliance” of those entries is not cool.

    • I could not agree with you more. I also hate war more than anything in this world, and killings must not be called brilliant… but isn’t that what soldiers have to do? A great soldier is the one who kills many of the other side and doesn’t get killed.
      However, there is another side to their brilliance. Many of them killed a few to save millions. Let’s take an example of Elizabeth Van Lew. Of course, her actions had many people killed. But she changed American history and she made sure that slavery will not prevail. She had some people killed but she made sure that future generations will not suffer from such a war that she was suffering.
      In my books, brilliance is not about “what” you do but brilliance is in “why” do you do it. Brilliance, is what great challenge are you willing to accept for what you believe in.

  8. I think at least 2 persons are missing from this list:

    1. George Blake.
    An icon of the Cold War. Born in Holland, he was part of the resistance against the German occupation, fled to the UK and joined MI 6, the UK intelligence service. After being taken as a prisoner by North Korea while serving in the UK-Seoul embassy during the Korean War, he switched allegiances and became a KGB- double.
    After his release to the West, he was sent by MI 6 to Cold War focus point Berlin to recruit Soviet agents. Subsequently he blew the whistle on most UK and combined US-UK operations, leading inter alia to the arrest of about 40 spies as well as leaking the story of Operation Gold (the famous tunnel under the wall tapping Soviet communications) before it even became operational.
    After his arrest in 1961, he spent 5 years in a UK prison, and then escaped to the East. Presently he is still living in Moscow and in 2007, on his 85th birthday, even received the Order of Friendship from Putin.

    2. Ana Belen Montes.
    Funny enough, she never made the real headlines, though her story is quite extraordinary and her exploits must have been invaluable for her masters in Havana.
    While working for more than 17 (!) years as an analyst at the US Defense Intelligence Agency (no jokes about oxymorons, please 😉 ) she was a double agent for the Cuban intelligence service, leaking valuable information about Uncle Sam’s dirty war in Central America during the 80-ties 90-ties as well as the general assessment of the US military and intelligence services regarding Cuba.
    She was apparently such an expert that she received multiple bonuses for her work, including a certificate of recognition handed out in person by the then head of the CIA George Tennet.
    Talking about deep cover: At the time her brother, sister and a sis-in-law were all working for the FBI… .
    Read the whole story at:

    • Hi Mark,
      Thanks for the comment.
      You know, I researched about both these people, and I had to leave them out. Hear me out:

      George Blake:
      Credible sources don’t say much about him. UK’s .gov websites don’t even mention him (unlike Kim Philby or USSR double agents) and credible encyclopedias (such as Britannica) don’t give him the credit for Operation Gold. Mind you, Wikipedia is not considered credible because everyone can edit it.
      Besides, he got caught, so that takes away some points.

      Ana Belen Montes:
      She really was impressive. Her streak of 17 long years make her an excellent candidate for the list… but she did not pull off something spectacular. She did not change the course of events. She did not play a decisive role in any operation. She was just a spy who did not get caught for 17 years.
      But in the end, she was caught and she still remains in prison. So there was no climax really.

      There were some other people as well, such as Ashraf Marwan and Shabtai Kalmanovich… but I had to leave them out to save this list from monotony and/or boredom.