7 Facts About Spying


Spying is an integral part of a nation’s security program. In this article, we will be dealing with facts. So move over Bond, here are some great facts about espionage –

1. Opening the Mails

Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC), the Macedonian who conquered much of Asia in his twenties, is credited with inventing a spying technique that is still widely used today. During his campaigns in the Middle East and Asia between 334 and 326 BC, Alexander gauged the officers’ loyalty by encouraging them to write letters home. Then he intercepted the mail to discover and eliminate potential malcontents.

2. Fifth Column

One of the earliest known spy coups occurred in 539 BC when the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great (ruled from 559 – 530 BC) recruited secretly a force of dissident Babylonian priests to help him defeat Belshezzar, the ruler of Babylon. Although the nature of the priests’ help is not known, Babylonian documents show that Cyrus’ soldiers were able to enter the city without having to fight their way in.

3. Tudor Spymaster

Sir Francis Drake, the English naval commander who played bowls during the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588, could afford to be nonchalant because the English already knew of the enemy invasion plans. The English intelligence was provided by a secret service organization created by Sir Francis Walsingham. Sir Francis, one of Elizabeth I’s leading advisors, recruited agents on England and sent them to operate as “deep cover” spies in enemy territory. One spy, Anthony Standen, styled himself as a courtier named Pompeo Pellegrini and penetrated the entourage of the Marquiz de Santa Cruz, Grand Admiral of the Spanish fleet. By intercepting letters between Santa Cruz and Philip II of Spain, Standen was able to warn his master of the preparations for the Armada in 1587 – months before it sailed to defeat.

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4. Caught By Accident

Between 1945 and 1972, Britain’s security services captured only one Soviet spy without American help – and even that was by accident. In April 1952, an MI5 surveillance expert was on his way home for lunch when, as he got off a bus in Kingston, London, he spotted a Soviet diplomat talking to a young man. The unknown was trailed and found to be a 24 year old radio operator named William Marshall, who worked for Britain’s Diplomatic Wireless Service, handling secret radio transmissions to and from British embassies around the world. Three months later, Marshall was caught red-handed selling secrets to the Russian diplomat and was jailed for five years.

5. Cracking the Enigma

Fifteen thousand people kept the secret of Britain’s most important intelligence advantages during the Second World War. The 15,000 were employed by the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, at Bletchly Park, a Bedfordshire country estate, monitoring and decoding Germany’s most secret communications. At the heart of their achievement was the German enigma code machine and . . . a simple weather report.

Each morning at dawn, a German double agent prepared – with the help of the British Security Service, MI5 – a routine weather report. The report was transmitted to German Abwehr chiefs in Hamburg, then coded on the Enigma machine and sent on to Berlin.
The codes used on the Enigma were regarded by Germans to be unbreakable, and as a safeguard, the codes were altered each day. In fact, all the precautions were useless. By monitoring the coded signals to Berlin, and comparing it with the original weather report, the Bletchly code-breakers were able to work out the Enigma code for the day within a few hours of dawn. The rest of the day’s messages would then be deciphered almost as soon as they were transmitted.

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6. A Spy Named Cicero

A British ambassador’s early morning bath led to one of the most notorious espionage of the Second World War.

For it was while Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen – his Majesty’s ambassador at Ankara, the capital of neutral Turkey, was soaking in his tub that his Turkish valet Elyesa Banza, made a wax impression of the key to the top-secret documents box, which stood on the desk in Sir Hughe’s study. It was October 1943 – a time when Turkey was debating whether to join in the fight against Hitler – and by the end of the month, Banza had copied 52 documents, which he sold to Nazi officials in Ankara.
The Germans gave Banza the code name of Cicero, after the Roman orator and statesmen. Banza continued his work as a spy until April 1944, by which time Turkey had decided not to enter the war. He had amassed some £ 300,000 from his activities – and hid the money under the floorboards of his bedroom in the British embassy. He then handed in his notice to Sir Hughe and dropped out of site, taking his fortune with him. At the end of the Second World War, Banza resurfaced in Istanbul with the idea of building a luxury hotel for tourists. It was then he discovered that he too, had been betrayed. The money the Germans had given him turned out to be worthless forgeries. The man who had sold so many secrets had finally ‘sold’ himself.

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7. Mata Hari: The Spy Who Wasn’t

Mata Hari

Mata Hari, who was executed by firing squad in France in October 1967, is probably the most famous spy of all time. She is renowned for her beauty, her numerous military lovers, her provocative Oriental dancing, and most of all, her espionage. Yet on fact, she was not overly attractive, Oriental or even a spy. Mata Hari was the stage name adopted by a plump, middle-aged Dutch divorcee named Mrs. Margeretha McLeod who had left her alcoholic Scottish husband in the East Indies (now Indonesia) and opted to become a dancer in Europe.

The evidence of her alleged espionage on behalf of the German Kaiser is based merely on her being mistaken for a known German agent, Clara Benedix, by the British in November 1916. In that month Mrs. MacLeMacLeod was arrested in Falmouth, Cornwall and released. Later, she was arrested in France and charged with having been in contact with German intelligence in Madrid – and at her trial in Paris, her lurid lifestyle was used to damning effect.