The recent news stories about the Russian spies who have been operating in the USA and the UK have dominated headlines in the last few weeks. The story of 28-year-old Anna Kuschenko, who has been braned a femme fatale by the British press, is like something out of a Bond movie. As inspiration for this article, here we’ll be taking a look at ten of the most successful spy operations.
1. Bletchley Park
The encryption machine that was known as “Enigma” was the basis of the German secret communications during World War II. Five weeks before the war began Poland’s Biuro Szyfrów (Cipher Bureau) revealed its achievements in decrypting German Enigma ciphers to French and British intelligence. The British used this data as the foundation for their own early efforts to decrypt Enigma. The Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) set up base in Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, England. The info they gathered was code-named “Ultra” and helped the allied troops in defeating the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic, and to the British naval victories in the Battle of Cape Matapan and the Battle of North Cape.
2. Sir George Scovell
Sir George Scovell was part of the British Army in Iberia during the Peninsular War and was a gifted linguist. He therefore played a crucial role in breaking the codes of the French forces during that war. Because of his multilingual talents Scovell was placed in charge of a crew of various nationalities, who had been especially recruited for their local knowledge and language skills; they were known as the Army Guides. They developed a system for intercepting and deciphering French communiqués. He is best remembered for his interception of a letter that was sent from Joseph Bonaparte to Napoleon. Scovell was able to decipher the French plans, which proved vital in Wellington’s victory over the French at Vittoria on June 21, 1813.
3. The Cambridge Five
A famous ring of spies who operated in Cambridge, UK and passed information onto the Soviet Union during World War II, quite possibly up to 1950. Although five were in the gang, only four have been identified: Kim Philby (cryptonym: Stanley), Donald Duart Maclean (cryptonym: Homer), Guy Burgess (cryptonym: Hicks) and Anthony Blunt (cryptonym: Johnson); together they were known as the Cambridge Four. Several people have been suspected of being the “fifth spy “, but the true identity of this person was never revealed.
4. Elyesa Bazna
An Albanian from Kosovo who spied for the Germans during the Second World War, in what became known as the Cicero affair. Dubbed “Cicero” himself, Bazna sold info to the Germans for personal gain through their attaché Ludwig Carl Moyzisch and then through ambassador Franz von Papen in Ankara, Turkey. The information he gave is believed to be potentially among the more damaging disclosures made by any single Second World War spy.
5. Aphra Behn
Aphra Johnson was one of the first professional English writers. In 1664 she married a man called Johan Behn, who was a merchant of German or Dutch extraction, and she became known as Aphra Behn. Two years later she was had become attached to the Court, possibly through the influence of a man named Thomas Culpepper who was of high influence. She was recruited as a political spy to Antwerp by Charles II and her code-name was Astrea – a name she used to publish a lot of her work. A year earlier war had broken out between England and the Netherlands. After Behn was hired as a spy she became the lover to a powerful Dutch royal, and from him she obtained political secrets to be used to the English advantage.
6. Klaus Fuchs
In 1949 the Soviet Union conducted the first test of the atomic bomb, which caused shock among governments in the West. It was a great success for the Russians, but also the beginning of a new and dangerous phase of the Cold War. Around the same time, the Soviet intelligence message was revealed that plans were first leaked to the U.S. atomic bomb at the end of the Second World War, through British scientists. The investigation pointed to several possible traitors, and during testing Klaus Fuchs (pictured), a physicist who worked on the U.S. “Manhattan Project”, admitted that the Soviets paid all the information he had about the bombs. Fuchs was a German communist who came to Britain before the outbreak of war, and received British citizenship in order to work on highly confidential projects. He was one of several scientists who revealed secrets related to the atomic bomb.
7. Colonel Oleg Penkovsky
8. Sir Francis Walsingham
Sir Francis Walsingham was Queen Elizabeth I of England’s Principal Secretary, but is now more commonly remembered for being her “spymaster”. Walsingham is thought to be one of the earliest practitioners of modern intelligence both for espionage and for domestic security. He oversaw some major operations that led to the penetration right in the heart of Spanish military preparation, gathered intelligence from across Europe, and disrupted a range of plots against the queen, securing the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots along the way.
9. Double Cross System
The Double Cross System, or the XX System, was a counter-espionage operation that was created by the Brits during World War II. It was carried out via the British military intelligence arm, MI5. Nazi agents that were captured by British troops, or who turned themselves in, were used by the British to relay disinformation to the Nazis they reported to. The operations were overseen by the Twenty Committee under the chairmanship of John Cecil Masterman; the name of the committee comes from the number 20 in Roman numerals; hence the name “XX”.
10. Oleg Gordievsky
Gordievsky was a Colonel of the KGB and KGB Resident-designate (rezident) and bureau chief in London, who was a secret agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) from 1974 to 1985. He became disinterested with the KGB during his Danish posting, especially after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Making his defection clear to MI6 he soon began work for them. Two of his most renowned contributions were averting a potential nuclear confrontation with Russia when NATO exercise Able Archer 83 was mis-interpreted by the Soviets as a potential first strike, and identifying Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet heir apparent long before he came in to prominence.