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
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 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, 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.

You May Also Interested: Hitler Invaded Vichy France

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

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