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

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

Khalid Elhassan - October 14, 2017

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