Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century

Khalid Elhassan - October 14, 2017

“Traitor” is a heavy word laden with ugly connotations of deception and dishonesty – the kind of disreputable and disgusting person who turns against his own to betray their trust and confidence on behalf of an outsider. In a legal sense, traitors can be broadly defined as citizens who help a foreign government war against or injure their parent nation.

The description that can be extended beyond the nation when nationhood does not obtain, to include acts against a community or group to which one belongs, and belonging, is afforded a standing that enables him or her to betray said group or community to its opponents.

Treason can sometimes be noble, depending on the cause and who it is being perpetrated against – think courageous Germans in WWII working from within to bring down the monstrous Nazi regime, or those risking their lives behind the Iron Curtain to free their countries and people from the Soviet yoke.

More often than not, however, traitors are icky and probably despicable people, acting not out of any sense of righteousness and decency, but from more base motives such as simple greed or bruised egos smarting from perceived personal slights, whether real or imagined.

Following are twelve of history’s most remarkable and/or reviled traitors.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae. Pinterest

Ephialtes of Trachis

Ephialtes son of Eurydemos, also known as Ephialtes of Trachis, was a member of the Greek Malian tribe, after whom the Malian Gulf in the northwestern Aegean is named. When the Persians invaded Greece in the 5th century BC, Ephialtes betrayed the resisting Greeks by showing the Persians a path that allowed them to bypass and surround a Spartan-led blocking force that had halted the invaders at Thermopylae.

The Persians invaded after decades of mounting tensions following Athens’ support of a failed rebellion by the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor against their Persian rulers, which included an abortive Persian punitive expedition against Athens that met with defeat at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. In 480 BC, Persia’s King Xerxes gathered forces for a massive campaign to conquer and subdue Greece once and for all.

The Malians, at the northeastern juncture of the Greek Peninsula with the rest of the Balkans, were among the many Greeks in the Persian army’s path who chose discretion over valor and “Medised” – that is, submitted to and collaborated with the Persians against their fellow Greeks. Along the Persian army’s route through Malian lands was a narrow pass known as Thermopylae, or “hot gates”, situated between mountains to the south and the cliff-lined shore of the Malian Gulf to the north.

A small Spartan-led Greek force, under the command of Sparta’s king Leonidas, occupied and fortified the pass at Thermopylae. The Persians, forced to attack directly up the pass on a narrow front, were unable to make use of their advantages in numbers and cavalry and were bested by the more heavily armed and armored Greeks, especially the elite core of superbly trained Spartans. For three days, the Persians launched futile attacks, but could not make the Greeks budge.

The Persians were stuck until Ephialtes informed king Xerxes that he knew of a track through the mountains that bypassed Thermopylae and reemerged to join the road behind the Greek position. In exchange for the promise of rich rewards, Ephialtes showed the Persians the way. Alerted that he was about to be outflanked, Leonidas sent the rest of the Greeks away but stayed behind with what remained of a 300-strong contingent of Spartans, who fought to the death until they were wiped out.

Ephialtes was reviled, and his name came to mean “nightmare” in Greek. He never collected his reward because the Persians were defeated at Salamis later that year, and at Platea, the following year and their invasion of Greece collapsed. Ephialtes fled, with a reward on his head. He was killed ten years later over an unrelated matter, but the Spartans rewarded his killer anyhow.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Marcus Junius Brutus. eHistory

Marcus Junius Brutus

Made famous or infamous by the “Et tu, Brute” quotation from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger (85 – 42 BC), was Julius Caesar’s friend and most famous assassin. A patrician, he was born to Marcus Junius Brutus the Elder, who was treacherously murdered by Pompey the Great, and Servilla, who became Julius Caesar’s mistress for many years.

After his father’s murder, Brutus was raised by his maternal uncle, Cato the Younger, one of Rome’s leading conservatives and a staunch advocate of returning to the values and lifestyles of the Republic’s early days.

Brutus had been a close ally of Caesar and a supporter of his Populares faction, but as Caesar sought greater power, Brutus came to view him as a tyrant. Switching to Caesar’s Optimates opponents, Brutus fought within their ranks and under the leadership of his father’s murderer, Pompey the Great, in the civil war against his erstwhile friend and mother’s lover.

After Caesar won, he pardoned Brutus and restored him to favor, which paradoxically enraged Brutus even more, as he resented the fact that any Roman should have the power to pardon another Roman in the first place.

After Caesar assumed dictatorial powers, first for ten years and then for life, and came to act increasingly like a monarch, a faction of Roman senators, styling themselves the “Liberators”, formed to assassinate the dictator. The recruited Brutus, whose family name and descent from Lucius Junius Brutus, the Roman Republic’s founder who did away with the monarchy and expelled the last Roman king, carried significant symbolic weight.

Brutus betrayed Caesar and delivered one of the stab wounds during the dictator’s assassination on the Ides of March in 44 BC. Afterward, the Senate declared an amnesty for the killers, but rioting forced Brutus and the other assassins to flee Rome. The following year, Caesar’s nephew and heir, Octavian, secured a resolution revoking the amnesty and declaring Caesar’s assassins murderers.

That led to another round of civil war, which culminated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, in which the combined forces of Octavian and Mark Antony crushed those of Brutus and the surviving assassins. Brutus committed suicide after the defeat.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Guy Fawkes. YouTube

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes (1570 – 1606), is Britain’s most infamous traitor and the best-known member of a group of Catholic militants who attempted to assassinate King James I, along with the membership of England’s House of Commons and House of Lords. The intended to do so by blowing up Parliament during its opening session in 1605, as a prelude to a Catholic uprising, in what came to be known as the Gunpowder Plot.

Fawkes was born into a prominent rural family and converted to Catholicism in his youth. Between an adventurous spirit and the excessive zeal of the newly converted, he left Protestant England in 1593 to fight for Catholic Spain in the Netherlands, where he won a reputation for cool courage. In 1604, he was recruited by English Catholic plotters in search of a military expert less recognizable in England than themselves, and thus able to move about more freely in carrying out their plans without arousing suspicions.

They rented a cellar extending beneath the House of Lords in Westminster Palace, where Parliament was scheduled to hold its opening session on November 5th, 1605, and rigged it to blow up with 36 barrels of gunpowder, which they concealed beneath piles of coals and sticks. The plot was revealed, however, in an anonymous letter sent to an English peer, warning him to stay away from Parliament’s opening session. During a search on November 4th, Fawkes was discovered in the cellar guarding the gunpowder barrels.

Captured, Fawkes was tortured on the rack and forced to reveal the names of his co-conspirators. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to a traitor’s death by drawing, hanging, and quartering, but escaped the gruesome execution at the last moment as he was being taken up to the gallows, by leaping off the ladder to his death below of a broken neck.

His corpse was still quartered and its parts displayed across the realm. He is commemorated in Britain every November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day, with fireworks and the burning of his effigy, while masked children go about begging “a penny for the Guy”.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Benedict Arnold. Biography

Benedict Arnold

American Revolutionary War general Benedict Arnold (1741 – 1801) is the United States’ most infamous traitor, and one whose name has become an epithet, synonymous with treason and betrayal. He had been a leading patriot in the fight against the British, and was perhaps the most capable combat leader on the rebels’ side before a combination of resentments over slights, coupled with financial distress, led him to sell out to the enemy.

Before turning traitor, Arnold had provided valuable service to the American side and played a leading role early in the war in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. He then led an expedition through extremely rough terrain in an attempt to capture Quebec, which failed in its ultimate aim, but exhibited remarkable leadership in getting his men to the outskirts of Quebec.

In 1776, an enterprising Arnold constructed a fleet from scratch at Lake Champlain, which he used to defeat a vastly superior British fleet. While lionized as a hero by the public, his successes, rash courage, and driving style aroused the jealousy and resentment of other officers, who backbit and schemed against Arnold. When Congress created five new major generals in 1777, he was stung when he was bypassed in favor of some of his juniors, and only George Washington’s personal entreaties prevented Arnold’s resignation.

Soon thereafter, he repelled a British attack in Connecticut and was finally promoted to major general, but his seniority was not restored – another slight that would gnaw at him. He again sought to resign but was prevailed upon to remain. He performed brilliantly in halting the British advance into upstate New York in 1777 and was instrumental in bringing about its defeat, culminating in the British surrender at Saratoga, where Arnold fought courageously and was severely injured.

Crippled by his wounds, he was put in charge of Philadelphia, where he took to socializing with loyalist families, as well as extravagant living, which he financed with questionable dealings that led to scandal. He also married a much younger woman of loyalist sympathies and spendthrift habits that soon put Arnold deep in debt. Between resentments and financial difficulties, he secretly approached the British to offer his services.

Placed in charge of fortifications at West Point on the Hudson River, upstream from British-occupied New York City and barring them from sailing upriver, Arnold plotted to sell plans of the fortifications to the enemy and contrived to deliver them into British hands, for £20,000. However, his British contact was captured, along with documents incriminating Arnold, who fled just in time to evade arrest.

He was made a brigadier general in the British army and led soldiers against the American side. The British never fully warmed to him, however, and after the war, he was unable to secure a regular commission. He pursued a variety of ventures, including privateering and land speculation in Canada, before finally settling in London, where he died in 1801.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Alfred Redl. Flickr

Alfred Redl

Alfred Redl (1864 – 1913) was an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army, who rose to become chief of that empire’s counterintelligence from 1900 to 1912, in charge of tracking down and rooting out traitors and spies. All the while, he was himself a traitor, betraying his country and selling its secrets to its main rival and likeliest future enemy, tsarist Russia, whose chief spy in the Austro-Hungarian Empire he became. It is suspected that he also spied for both the French and Italians in exchange for money.

The son of a railway clerk, Redl was born into a poor family in the Galician province of Austria-Hungary, in what is now Ukraine. Notwithstanding his lack of wealth and family connections, the usual prerequisites in those days for joining the Austro-Hungarian Army’s officer ranks and advancing, Redl had been precocious from an early age and was highly intelligent, which enabled him to secure a commission.

He had a talent for languages, and his facility with Russian led to his assignment to the intelligence branch. There, he impressed its chief, a General von Geisl, whose protege Redl quickly became. In 1900, Geisl promoted Redl and made him his deputy, placing him in charge of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s counterintelligence corps. Redl quickly gained a reputation for innovation in what had been a disorganized and backward branch, streamlining the system, and introducing new technologies such as the use of recording devices and cameras.

Redl, however, was gay, at a time when homosexuality was a taboo fatal to both social standing and career prospects. Russian intelligence learned of Redl’s homosexuality, entrapped him in a compromising position and caught it on camera, and used it to blackmail him into turning traitor, sweetening the extortion with the offer of money in exchange for secrets. Redl accepted, and in his first major act of treason, in 1902 he passed on to the Russians Austria-Hungary’s war plans. When word reached the Austrians that the Russians had a copy of their war plans, General von Geisl tasked Redl with finding the traitor.

Redl covered his tracks by unmasking minor Russian agents who were fed him by his tsarist spymasters, and by framing innocent Austro-Hungarian officers with falsified evidence, thus enhancing his reputation within the Austro-Hungarian establishment as a brilliant head of counterintelligence. Over the next 11 years, he sold the Russians Austro-Hungarian mobilization plans, army orders, ciphers, codes, maps, reports on road and rail conditions, and other secrets.

His career finally came to an end because of sloppiness by his handlers. In 1912, Redl’s mentor, von Geisl, was promoted to head an army corps and took Redl with him as his chief of staff. Postal censors working for Redl’s successor in counterintelligence intercepted envelopes stuffed with cash and nothing else, but with registration receipts tracing back to addresses abroad that were known to be used by Russian and French intelligence.

A sting operation was set up, the envelopes were delivered under surveillance, and Redl eventually showed up to claim them. Arrested, he confessed to treason and requested that he be left alone with a revolver. His request was granted, and after writing brief letters to his brother and to von Geisl, he committed suicide.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Wang Jingwei. Crisis and Achievement

Wang Jingwei

Wang Zhaoming, better known by his pen name as Wang Jingwei (1883 – 1944), was a Chinese politician who had been an associate of the revolutionary nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen. After Sun Yat-sen’s demise, Jingwei became a prominent leader in the left wing of the Chinese ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT), from which flank he contested the leadership of the KMT with its leader, Chiang Kai-shek. A failed collaboration with the communists weakened Jingwei politically and embittered him so much that he abandoned the left altogether and became a rabid right-winger, turned traitor, and collaborated with the invading Japanese against his own people.

Jiangwei had been among the bright Chinese students sent by the dying Qing dynasty to study abroad, and he attended university in Japan. There, he joined radical nationalist Chinese student circles, self-identified as an anarchist, and became a disciple of Sun Yat-sen. Returning to China, he became a prominent speaker on behalf of Chinese nationalism and was jailed for plotting to assassinate the Qing regent. Freed in the Chinese Revolution of 1911 which did away with the Qing dynasty, he emerged from jail a national hero.

The 1911 Revolution and overthrow of the imperial system led to a chaotic period of warlord rule. A nationalist party, the Kuomintang, was formed to restore order, and in 1925 sent what was known as the Great Northern Expedition to bring the warlords to heel and restore the central government’s authority. Jiangwei became chairman of the national government, but Chiang Kai-shek, the successful general who led the campaign against the warlords, formed a rival government in southern China.

Jiangwei formed a government in northern China in collaboration with the communists, but fell out with and purged them, at which point his government collapsed and his supporters flocked to Chiang Kai-shek.

Bitter, Jiangwei became an extreme right-winger. When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, he flew to meet their representatives in Hanoi and issued a declaration calling for peaceful negotiation with the invaders. In 1939, he flew to Japan for negotiations, and while there, betrayed China and negotiated a deal on his own behalf. In 1940, he defected and was appointed by the Japanese to head a puppet regime, based in Japanese-occupied Nanking, that nominally “governed” the Japanese-conquered territories in China. He remained Japan’s Chinese puppet ruler until his death in 1944.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Quisling (left) with Himmler. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

Vidkun Quisling

Vidkun Quisling (1887 – 1945) was a Norwegian army officer and right-wing politician who led a fascist party in the 1930s that met with little success. He betrayed his country to the Nazis during WWII and collaborated with its German conquerors who, after rejecting him early in their occupation as too seedy even for them, finally relented to his entreaties and placed him in charge of a puppet government on their behalf.

Born to a pastor, Quisling’s life had a promising start that gives little hint of coming ignominy. He did well in school and graduated from the Norwegian Military College with the highest ever score since its inception. He was sent to the USSR as a military attache in 1918 and became Norway’s military expert on all matters Russian.

In 1922, he worked on League of Nations humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine and exhibited considerable administrative talent and skill. While there, he also met and married two Russian women in quick succession, the second marriage, which lasted until his death, was either bigamous or unofficial.

Discharged from the army during a period of cutbacks, Quisling traveled throughout Europe for much of the 1920s, and returning to Norway in 1929, launched a political career marked by anti-Semitic, anticommunist, and anti-liberal positions. Joining a movement called “Rise of the Nordic People“, he became Norway’s defense minister from 1931-1933. In 1933, inspired by the Nazis’ victory in Germany, he launched a fascist party, appointing himself its Fuhrer.

Quisling’s party however never won more than 2% of the vote, which made him increasingly bitter and frustrated with his countrymen. In late 1939, he flew to Berlin, met with Hitler, and offered to assist the Germans if they tried to seize Norway. The Nazis, aware of his lack of support in Norway, were noncommittal.

When Germany invaded Norway in 1940 and its government fled into exile, Quisling opportunistically tried to set up a collaborationist government, but he was ignored by all, including the German occupiers. It took two years of wheedling before the Nazis finally recognized him in 1942 as Norway’s “Minister-President” of a puppet regime, in which position he did all he could to please his masters, including eager cooperation in their deportation of Norway’s Jews to death camps.

Captured after the war, he was tried by the Norwegians and convicted of treason, murder, and embezzlement, and executed in October of 1945. His name became synonymous with collaboration and treason, and to this day, a “Quisling” is routinely used as an epithet to denote not a run of the mill traitor, such as, e.g.; calling somebody a “Benedict Arnold“, but a traitor of the lowest, grubbiest, and most despicable kind, lording it over and repressing his own people on behalf of a conquering enemy, and eager to please the foreign occupier with shameless displays of bootlicking obsequiousness.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Marshal Philippe Petain (left) shaking Hitler’s hand. History in an Hour

Philippe Petain

Henri Philippe Petain, generally known as Marshal Petain (1856 – 1951), had been a highly respected French national hero, acclaimed for his WWI role in holding back the Germans in the 1916 Battle of Verdun, which earned him the nickname “The Lion of Verdun“. He would later sully his reputation by becoming a traitor and heading the collaborationist Vichy Regime, a German puppet government, after France’s defeat in 1940.

Since his earliest days as an officer, Petain developed a rapport and exhibited an understanding of common soldiers that made him immensely popular with his men. His rise until WWI was slow, however, because his views on the primacy of the defensive in modern war, which would prove correct in WWI, ran counter to the French Army’s orthodoxy that an attack could overcome any obstacles if the men had sufficient elan, or spirit.

He rose quickly through the ranks during the war, and in 1916 was appointed to command the defense of Verdun in the war’s bloodiest battle, which he accomplished. The following year, after an incompetently planned attack, failed and led to widespread mutinies throughout the French Army, Petain, the general most trusted and beloved by common soldiers, was appointed to restore the situation, which he did with a carrot-and-stick mix of reforms to improve the soldiers’ living conditions, combined with the execution of the mutiny’s ringleaders. By war’s end, Petain was a beloved national hero.

Two decades later, after the French debacle and collapse in 1940, an 84-year-old Petain was dragged out of retirement by the French president and asked to form a new government. Accepting that France had been defeated, and declining to continue the fight from overseas as urged by a junior minister, Charles de Gaulle, the aged marshal sought an armistice.

The French legislature dissolved itself and ceded its powers to Petain, and thus was born the collaborationist Vichy Regime, which aligned itself with the Germans and against the French Resistance and Free French who continued the fight inside occupied France and abroad.

After the war, Petain was tried on charges of high treason alongside Pierre Laval, the other main collaborationist of the Vichy Regime. Both were convicted and sentenced to death in 1945, but in recognition of his WWI services, Charles de Gaulle, as head of the French government, commuted Petain’s sentence to solitary life imprisonment. He was jailed in a prison fortress on a small island off France’s Atlantic coast until his death in 1951.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Pierre Laval (left, smoking cigarette) with SS Obergruppenfuhrer Carl Oberg, head of German police in France. Wikimedia

Pierre Laval

Pierre Laval (1883 – 1945) was twice Prime Minister of France during the Third Republic, first in 1931 – 1932, and again in 1935 – 1936. He started off as a socialist but steadily drifted into conservatism until he became an extreme right-winger. When the Germans defeated France in 1940, Laval became an eager collaborator and went on to serve prominently in the German-aligned Vichy Regime.

A lawyer, Laval was a member of the Socialist Party from 1903 to 1920, and early in his career, made a name for himself defending leftists and trade unions. He became more conservative after WWI and rising steadily through political ranks, twice became French Prime Minister for brief periods in the 1930s, along with longer stints as Foreign Minister. When France fell to the Germans in 1940, he persuaded the French Assembly to dissolve itself and cede all powers to Marshall Petain, thus ending the Third Republic and inaugurating the Vichy Regime. Convinced of ultimate German victory in WWII, he eagerly collaborated with the Nazis to secure France a favored position after the war.

During the Vichy Regime, Laval served as vice president of the Council of Ministers for five months in 1940, until dismissed by Petain, and as head of the Vichy government from 1942 until the liberation of France in 1944. In an infamous 1942 speech, he avowed his desire that Germany win the war, and throughout, he avidly persecuted the French Resistance, rounded up Frenchmen for labor in Germany and the German war effort, and assisted in rounding up and deporting French Jews to the concentration and extermination camps.

Arrested by the Free French after the liberation of France, Laval was tried alongside Petain after the war on charges of high treason. He attempted to justify his treason on grounds that he had France’s best interests in mind all along, but to no avail, and he was convicted and sentenced to death. After a failed suicide attempt by poison, he was executed by firing squad on October, 15th, 1945.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Stella Kubler. Free Republic

Stella Kubler

Known as “The Blond Ghost” or “Blond Poison“, Stella Kubler (1922 – 1994), nee Goldschlag, was born and raised as the only child of an assimilated middle-class Jewish family in Berlin, and was treated like a princess by overprotective parents. Her family was well off, but not as affluent as other Jewish families with whose children she attended school. During WWII, she became infamous for collaborating with the Gestapo to track down and denounce Jews hiding from the Nazis.

Stella had herself gone into hiding using forged IDs listing her as Aryan, which she was able to pull off due to a blue-eyed and blond-haired Aryan appearance. However, she was denounced to the Gestapo four months later by a “Jew Catcher” – a Jew working for the Gestapo to find other Jews in hiding. Her boyfriend and later-husband offered the Nazis his services, bragging that he could “assemble an entire train” of Jewish deportees, and soon the couple were working together as Catchers, collecting 300 Reichsmarks for every Jew they turned in, and a promise to spare Stella’s parents. Having themselves lived in hiding, the couple had an instinct for where to look. Stella in particular, because she knew many of Berlin Jews from her years in a segregated Jewish school, was highly effective.

While the decision to become a Catcher might not have been of her own free will, how she exercised what freedom of choice she had while working as a Catcher was entirely within her control. She pursued hidden Jews with tremendous zeal and inventiveness, and even after their arrest, when her job as a Catcher was presumably over, she enthusiastically participated in the beating, torture, and humiliation of Jewish prisoners.

Despite her services, the Nazis broke their promises and deported Stella’s parents to their death in a camp, and her husband and his family were sent to Auschwitz in 1943. She then met and married her second husband, another Jew Catcher, and kept working enthusiastically for the Gestapo. Betting on a German victory, she obtained a promise from a high-ranking Gestapo official in 1944 that she would get declared an Aryan after the war.

During her career as a Jew Catcher, Stella was responsible for the arrest and subsequent murder of hundreds of Jews, with the total number of her victims ranging from at least 600 to possibly as high as 3000, including many of her personal friends, former schoolmates and their families, and even some of her own relatives. She got off light: captured by the Soviets, she was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. After her release, she moved to West Berlin, where she has tried again and sentenced to 10 years but served none of them. She then converted to Christianity and became a lifelong anti-semite until her death in 1994, when she committed suicide by jumping out the window of her Berlin apartment.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Yisrael Bar (center, wearing eyeglasses). Wikimedia

Yisrael Bar

Yisrael Bar, or Israel Beer (1912 – 1966), was an Austrian-born Israeli officer who rose to prominence as an expert on Israeli military history. That expertise secured him a high-ranking position in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, which commissioned him to write a book on the Israeli War of Independence, and also won him a place within the inner circle of Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion, whose trusted confidant and advisor he became.

Bar arrived in Palestine in the late 1930s with an impressive martial resume, having graduated from the Austrian military academy, served as a commissioned officer in the Austrian army, then went on to fight in the Spanish Civil War with the International Brigades, where he was known by the nom de guerre “Colonel Jose Gregorio”. And between his martial exploits, he found the time to get a doctorate in literature from the University of Vienna.

His CV was all bunk, and the real Yisrael Bar had died many years earlier. His rapid rise to prominence highlighted the difficulty Israeli intelligence had during a period of mass immigration in spotting infiltrators. In reality, Bar was a Soviet spy and not even a Jew: supposedly a man of the sword and letters, urbane and Hollywood handsome to boot, Bar cut a swath through Israeli society and Tel Aviv’s nightlife as a ladies’ man. Unfortunately, it took a long time before the fact that he was uncircumcised raised suspicions.

In the meantime, Bar took advantage of his access to Israeli secrets and Israel’s prime minister, whose diary he raided to not only photocopy but to tear out entire pages from and pass on to his handlers. It was not until 1961 when he was caught delivering a briefcase stuffed with sensitive materials to the KGB, that the deception fell apart. He never revealed his true identity during interrogations following his arrest. Tried and convicted of espionage, he was sentenced to jail, where he died in 1966, taking the secret of his identity to his grave.

Treason! 12 of History’s Most Notorious Traitors From Ancient Times to the 20th Century
Aldrich Ames. Documentary Tube

Aldrich Ames

Aldrich Ames (1941 – ) was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official who rose to high rank within the agency’s Soviet and East European division, which afforded him access to Soviet counterintelligence. He turned traitor and sold his services to the Soviet KGB as a deep mole within their enemy’s camp, and became one of the Soviet Union’s, and later Russia’s, most effective double agents in the US.

The son of a CIA analyst, Ames’ connections paved the way for his joining the CIA in 1962. Notwithstanding heavy drinking, alcohol-related problems that included drunken run-ins with the police and drunken brawls in public with foreign diplomats, as well as sloppiness that once led him to forget secret documents in an NYC subway car, he rose steadily through the CIA’s ranks.

After a stint in Turkey recruiting Soviet spies in the 1960s, he returned to the US in the 1970s, before getting posted to Mexico in the early 1980s, where he met his second wife, a Colombian whom he had recruited. They wed in 1985, and that same year, the couple began selling secrets to the KGB.

During their run of treason, which lasted until they were finally unmasked in 1994, Ames and his wife were paid over $2.7 million by the Soviets, and after 1991, the Russians. There were warning signs, including conspicuous consumption and extravagant spending on things ranging from a big $520,000 house paid for in cash, luxury vacations, premium credit cards whose minimum monthly payment exceeded his salary, and luxury cars that stood out in the CIA’s parking lot – things that no honest public servant could afford on government pay. However, no alarm bells were raised for years, and when they were, it took years more, until 1993, before his employers took a serious look at his finances and activities.

In the meantime, Ames had passed two polygraphs while he was spying. He needed no high tech means or complicated Oceans Eleven type capers to smuggle out secrets: he simply stuffed whatever documents he wanted to give his KGB and FSB handlers in his briefcase or in trash bags, and brazenly carried them out of the CIA headquarters at the end of the workday, with nobody questioning him.

As a result of Ames’ treachery, at least 12 CIA spies within the Soviet Union were captured, 10 of them subsequently executed. By the time he was finally unmasked, Ames and his wife had revealed to the Soviets and Russians the identity of every CIA spy operating in their country. After he was arrested in 1994, he cut a deal with prosecutors that spared him the death penalty and ensured that his wife got no more than a five-year sentence. He is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

The story of the spy who destroyed the Austro-Hungarian Empire – Daily News Hungary

Sadler, John – Spy of the Century: Alfred Redl and the Betrayal of Austria-Hungary

Nazi-Occupied Norway Offers a Glimpse of What Hitler Wanted for the Entire World – Time Magazine

The Poisonous Blonde of Berlin: The Controversial Stella Goldschlag Story – The Jerusalem Post

More Effective Than the Gestapo – NY Times

Blonde Poison Has A Fascinating History – Chicago Reader

Shabak – Yisrael Bar (1961)

Thirty Years Later, We Still Don’t Truly Know Who Betrayed These Spies – Smithsonian Magazine

How KGB Kept Ames’ Role Secret – Los Angeles Times

“Et Tu, Brute?” 6 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History – History Collection

Acts of Treason in American History – History Collection

Fascinating Historical Female Traitors – History Collection