The World's Top Real Life Spies

28/02/2016 10:37 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Disguises, secret weapons and martinis, shaken not stirred -- everyone loves a good spy story.

We take a look at five of the world's best real-life spies, including William Stephenson, the inspiration for James Bond, and Virginia Hall, who smuggled secret documents in her prosthetic leg.

The Granny Spy

melita norwood spy

A Communist, whose mother also allegedly spied for Moscow, Melita Norwood was finally exposed at the age of 87 for her 37 years of service to Russia. Norwood handed over secret documents relating to the atomic bomb while working as the assistant to the director of an atomic research centre in Britain. It's believed her role sped up Stalin's operation by five years and she was only revealed as a spy in 1999, just a few years before her death. After her discovery, the great-grandma said, "I did not want money. I wanted Russia to be on equal footing with the west." Norwood was never prosecuted, the attorney general deeming it "inappropriate."

The Exotic Spy

mata hari margaretha geertruida zelle

One of the world's most famous spies Mata Hari was an exotic dancer and high class prostitute, but in 1916 accepted an assignment to spy for France. Hari said she planned to use her contacts to reach the German high command where she would relay secrets back to the French, but in fact Hari accepted money from a German consul to gather concealed information from the French. British intelligence uncovered Hari's double agent status and she was arrested in February, 1917 in France. She was executed by firing squad seven months later.

The CIA Spy

aldrich ames

Former CIA counter-intelligence officer, Aldrich Ames, was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union in 1994. In 1983, Ames was put in charge of counter-intelligence in the agency's Soviet division, a role that gave him access to every detail of CIA operations in the Soviet Union. Two years later, with his wife's help, Ames started selling secret information to the Russians. He betrayed more than 30 agents, at least 10 of whom were executed, and revealed hundreds of operations. Prior to their arrest, Ames and his wife had received more than $4.6 million -- the highest amount of money paid by the Soviet Union to any American spy. Ames was convicted of espionage and sentenced to life imprisonment, while his wife received a five-year sentence as his accomplice.

The James Bond Spy

william stephenson

Canadian-born William Stephenson headed up British intelligence for the western hemisphere during World War II. The secret agent was best known by his codename 'Intrepid' and Ian Fleming -- author of the Bond spy series -- was quoted as saying, "James Bond is a highly romanticised version of a true spy. The real thing is ... William Stephenson." Stephenson relayed British secrets to former American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American secrets to former UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and many credit him for convincing the U.S. to assist Britain in fighting against Nazi Germany.

The Spy In Disguise

virginia hall spy

Virginia Hall dreamed of becoming a United States Foreign Service officer, but was turned away after losing a leg in a hunting accident. Not deterred, in 1941, Hall moved to France to work as an agent with the French resistance, leading to a German manhunt against her. The following year, when the Germans occupied France, Hall fled to Spain. Returning to France in 1944, Hall was recruited by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. Wearing a disguise to protect herself from the Germans, she formulated sabotage operations, projected drop zones and assisted with the training of multiple resistance units.

The Movie Star Spy

rudolf abel

Soviet spy Rudolf Abel was arrested by the FBI in 1957, charged with conspiracy. What makes his story so fascinating today is that he only served four years of his 30 year sentence, and was instead traded for the safe return of a captured U.S. pilot. Abel returned to the Soviet Union where he lectured on his life and experiences as a KGB agent until his death in 1971. His story has now been turned into a movie, Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks.

Bridge of Spies sees legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg reunited with Tom Hanks in the incredible true story of Rudolph Abel, the KGB spy at the centre of one of history's most famous prisoner exchanges. Out now on Blu-ray & DVD at JB Hi-Fi.

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