Spies are cool, but only on the big screen. The James Bonds and Jason Bournes of the screen may have all the thrills, lifestyle, girls, and glory. But in real life, espionage is much more serious and often all too mundane, but with deadly consequences.
Real life spy stories tend to be very messy affairs. Sure, catching a traitor or an enemy secret agent is a success in itself. But that’s usually just the silver lining on the inevitable dark cloud of damage inflicted by the spy, before capture.
As a superpower with historic enemies, America has seen more than its fair share of spies. While the Cold War was peak time for espionage, some stories go all the way back to the Independence war!
Here are five famous American spy stories with hidden details that will surprise you:
1. The Rosenbergs, A-Bomb, Picasso and the Pope
In terms of sheer media impact, the Rosenberg spy saga probably has no equal in US history. After all, they were the couple who were accused of leaking plans of the nuclear bomb to the USSR. Remember, at that time the Russians did not have the A-bomb.
Despite being ardent Communists (who happened to be working for the US Army and Government in the 1950s), the Rosenbergs never confessed or admitted their guilt. Their innocence plea gained worldwide attention and the support of world figures like Pablo Picasso and the Pope himself.
But despite such high-level support, the couple became the first American civilians to be executed for treason and espionage in 1953. Even sixty years after their execution, suspicions linger regarding the extent of their involvement in espionage.
The video above is a PBS Nova Documentary that looks behind the scenes of the Government case against the Rosenbergs, and their possible innocence.
2. Aldrich Ames – Divorce, Alcohol, And a Whole Stack of Cash
In terms of sheer damage done to US spy networks abroad, Aldrich Ames probably has no equal in US espionage history.
The son of a CIA agent, Ames joined the Agency himself, only to betray it and his country over decades.
The Rosenbergs at least were firm believers in the enemy ideology. But in the case of Ames, it was all about money, divorce, and a costly affair.
And his actions led to the execution of at least a dozen top US spies inside the USSR.
Further, his longevity was not down to just skill either. There were numerous red flags about Ames that the CIA chose to ignore, including alcoholism, indiscretions, and a suspiciously lavish lifestyle.
But the walls eventually closed around Ames, when the signs became too large to ignore, including expensive tailor-made suits, a $50K Jaguar car, a house worth half a million, and monthly international phone bills in excess of $6k.
The video above includes interviews of both Aldrich Ames and the members of the task force who finally caught him, along with actual scenes of the capture of Russian agents betrayed by Ames.