James Bond may have had the gadgets but, according to a recent interview with a top female intelligence officer, women, in particular mothers, make 'bloody good spies'. This is because they can multi-task and have a better understanding of emotions.
Nobody does it better? Well, here's five of the world's most famous women spies the world has ever seen!
Mata Hari: Famous, sensuous, exotic dancing, double agent
To kick off our list of five of the world’s most famous women spies, meet Mata Hari. A Dutch exotic dancer whose real name was the less exotic Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. Her near naked, sensual routine was an instant hit when she began her career in 1905.
With her risqué costumes and suggestive dances, Mata drew huge audiences across Berlin, Vienna and Madrid, and was said to have had many affairs with both military and political figures of the day.
By 1914 the first world war hit Europe, and Mata’s many connections in high places allowed her to travel freely around. The precise activities of her spying are unclear, but in 1917 the French accused her of working for the Germans, using evidence from covert British intelligence.
Mata maintained she was paid to spy for the French in Belgium, but the French authorities said she had turned double agent and passed on classified information to the Germans. She was arrested and executed by firing squad in 1917 aged 41, refusing to wear the blindfold offered to her in her last few moments.
Nancy Wake: The ‘White Mouse’ who killed an SS Sentry with her bare hands
A leading figure for the French resistance in WWII, Nancy Wake became one of the most decorated service women of the war. Known as the ‘White Mouse’ by the Gestapo, due to her elusiveness, she was their most wanted person with a five million franc price on her head.
During her under cover work Nancy once cycled 300 miles through German checkpoints to replace codes her wireless operator had been forced to destroy in a German raid. Later, when she escaped to back to Britain, she was enrolled into the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Nancy was then parachuted back into occupied Auvernge where she provided arms and intelligence to local resistance forces camped out in the Forest of Tronçais. She helped lead attacks on SS soldiers causing 1,400 casualties, while only suffering 100 themsleves.
On one such raid Nancy killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to stop him from raising the alarm. After the war ended she found out her husband had sadly died under Gestapo torture having refused to reveal her whereabouts.
Ethel Rosenberg: Executed by the US for passing on nuclear secrets to the Russians
Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg and her husband Julius were executed by electric chair at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in 1953 for passing on information about the construction of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.
She was accused of typing up stolen atomic secrets from notes provided by her brother. The FBI caught the couple, along with other atomic spies, in 1950 and by the time of their trial on conspiracy to commit espionage in 1951, their two young children had been taken into care.
Throughout their detention, the couple refused to incriminate the other spies in the network, although the testimony of others, including Ethel’s brother and sister-in-law, condemned her and her husband to the chair.
They were executed in June 1953 amid widespread outrage and controversy, with many seeing the couple as scapegoats for anti-Semitism and McCarthyism. The Nobel prize-winner, Jean-Paul Sartre, called the case ‘a legal lynching which smears with blood a whole nation.’
Indeed, in 2001, her brother took back his testimony saying, ‘I frankly think my wife did the typing, but I don’t remember.’
Anna Chapman: The Russian ‘flamed-haired beauty’
Anna Chapman, known as Russia’s ‘flamed-haired beauty’, was arrested with nine others in 2010 on suspicion of involvement in the ‘Illegal’s Program’ spy ring. The group was a network of Russian sleeper agents whose apparent aim was to infiltrate high-end social and political circles, although later accounts told of a group of spies bungling on a truly epic scale.
An economics graduate with an IQ of 162 and a taste for the high life, Anna was born in the industrial southern Russian city of Volgograd, daughter to a senior KGB official. In 2001 she married British Alex Chapman, gaining her dual Russian–British citizenship and a British passport.
After their marriage broke down she moved to Manhattan, where she was well placed to send sensitive information back to the Kremlin. She was arrested in 2010 by an FBI sting in which she was asked to forward a fake passport onto another spy.
After phoning her father for advice, she handed the passport into US police and was subsequently arrested, tried and deported back to Russia as part of a spy swap. Once back in Russia, Anna maintained her celebrity status, as well as receiving one of Russia’s highest medals for espionage, she also appeared on the front cover of the Russian edition of Maxim magazine.
Later, in 2012, it was reported Anna almost caught a senior member of Barack Obama’s cabinet in a honeytrap operation.
Josephine Baker: Smuggled information using invisible ink on her sheet music
More erotic dancing from American born French dancer, singer, actress, civil rights activist and French resistance spy, Josephine Baker. She moved to Paris from the US in 1925 becoming an instant success as an erotic dancer, leading to dazzling performances at the iconic Folies Bergère.
When war broke out in 1939 she was recruited by French military intelligence as an ‘honorable correspondent’ to gather information about German troop locations from officials at the many parties she would attend at emabassies and ministries throughout Europe.
Even when Germany invaded France the Nazis, due to her huge popularity, allowed her free movement and she would carry information for transmission to England written in invisible ink on her sheet music.
After the war she returned to America and was instrumental in the civil rights movement, refusing to play at segregated venues and receiving death threats from the Klu Klux Klan. In 1963 Josephine Baker was the only official female speaker at the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr, gave his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.
Women spies on the silver screen
The movies have always had a fascination with undercover agents. Here’s two clips of female spies at the top of their game…
And here M tells 007 how it is
Which one of these women spies from the silver screen is your favourite?