Spies have had a huge impact on the way the world is today, whether their work resulted in good or bad outcomes, these people really did exist. It’s easy to think about spies as something we only see in the movies, but there are a number of spies that risked their lives in order to gain information. We’ve put together a top 10 of the most famous spies in history and a little bit about what they did:

10. Oleg Gordievsky

Oleg was a Soviet spy who escaped from the KGB to the UK and worked with the British Secret Intelligence Service between 1974 and 1975. Working as a double agent, Gordievsky managed to stop a potential nuclear situation between NATO and the Soviets after a NATO training exercise was misinterpreted by the Soviet Union as a nuclear threat. He was also able to pass information on regarding the worry the Soviet Union had over NATO making a first strike against them. In 2008 he was taken to hospital and spent 34 hours in an unconscious state after he believed he was poisoned by a Russian Businessman. He survived the ordeal and it was later investigated by MI5.

9. Anna Chapman

Anna Chapman was arrested in 2010 with a group of others believed to be associated with The Illegals Program. The Illegals Program was a spy ring set up by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, they would integrate spies into society by obtaining citizenship in target countries like the US and UK. They would then seek intelligence to report back while attempting to blend in as regular citizens. After gaining a British Passport, Chapman moved to New York and was intercepted by the FBI and deported back to Russia. She now is now working in education in Russia and started hosting a television show in 2011.

8. Richard Sorge


Sorge was a key figure for the Soviets in WW2, posing as a German journalist, he was able to gain intelligence in both Nazi Germany and from the Japanese Empire. Sorge went by the codename ‘Ramsey’ and his work helped the Soviets during the battle for Moscow, which was a significant turning point in WW2. Sorge was able to communicate that the Japanese were not going to attack the Soviet Union as expected. This meant a huge number of troops, aircraft and tanks were able to join the fight against the Nazis on the Western Front. He was later captured in Japan where he was tortured, forcing him to confess and was then hanged at the end of 1944.

7. Eli Cohen

Cohen was a spy for the Israelis he worked as an espionage between 1961 and 1965 in Syria where he was able to gather crucial intelligence. He made good relations with the government and military and was able to secure a position as the Chief Advisor to the Defence Minister. He was caught and sentenced to death in 1965 but his work played an important role in the success of Israel in the Six Day War.

6. Karl Schulmeister

Although little is known about Schulmeister, his work as a double agent was vital to the success of the Battle of Austerlitz. Working for the French in the reign of Napoleon he travelled to the UK and Ireland for espionage missions. His contribution to the French also led to the capture of Louis-Antoine-Henri de Bourbon. Schulmeister became director of the French Secret Service but later retired to become a tobacconist in Strasbourg.

5. Virginia Hall

Virginia Hall is best known for her work as an American Spy for the British in WW2 which led to her being awarded an MBE and gaining a Distinguished Service Cross. Hall spent 15 months in France working alongside and helping the French Resistance. She later helped the British as part of the invasion of Normandy where she mapped out drop zones for commandos and supplies to be brought in. She also organised safe houses in France and helped train three battalions of the French Resistance.

4. Klaus Fuchs

Fuchs was a German physicist who was convicted of providing information from the British, US, and Manhattan Project to the Soviets both during and after WW2. He studied and gained his PhD in the UK and was responsible for the development of atomic bombs. He started working for the British on the development of the ‘tube alloys’ where he passed information to the Soviet Union. He decided to confess that he was a spy in 1950 where he was sentenced to 14 years in prison and his British Citizenship was revoked.

3. Cambridge Five

Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Harold Philby, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross were known as the Cambridge Five. The group of Cambridge University teachers and students were British members of a spy ring working for the KGB. They were responsible for passing information to the Soviet Union in both WW2 and at the beginning of the Cold War.

2. Sidney George Reilly

Reilly is known as the ‘Ace of Spies’ and inspired the character James Bond. He worked for the British Secret Service Bureau in the early 1900s and although a lot of his career is shrouded in mystery, it is believed that he spied for at least four different organisations. It is said that Reilly went undercover behind enemy German lines in WW1, and also that he went on a mission to steal German weapon plans in 1909. His work also included being trained for assassination attempts, although a lot of his work cannot be confirmed, it is though that his career was very eventful.

1. Mata Hari

Hari was an exotic dancer of Dutch origin, she was also a double agent for both the French and the Germans during WW1. Although the French and British suspected that she may have been working for Germany it wasn’t confirmed until the French decoded a message sent from the Germans that revealed that Hari’s work had been very helpful. After this Hari was put on trial by the French as her work for the Germans has caused the deaths of at least 50,000 troops. After trial, she was shot by a firing squad on the 15th October 1917.

Menno, from the Netherlands, is an expert in unearthing fascinating facts and unraveling knowledge. At Top10HQ, he delves into the depths of various subjects, from science to history, bringing readers well-researched and intriguing insights.

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