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We tend to think of the exploits of James Bond or Jason Bourne to be the stuff of fiction and cinema, and not to have much relation to real life. But the fact is that there are indeed real spies, elaborate secret plots, and dangerous missions of international intrigue. Today we will discuss five acts of espionage so intricate, amazing, and audacious that you would be forgiven for thinking they had come off the pages of an Ian Fleming novel rather than a history book. Or a declassified CIA report, more accurately.
5 International Espionage
And let us not forget that the newly crowned Best Picture “Argo” is based on an entirely true story about a goddamned impressive bit of international espionage! Putting themselves at great personal risk, a team of American operatives went into the heart of Tehran shortly following Iran’s turbulent 1979 revolution. Under carefully created false premises, they extracted a group of Americans from right under the noses of the newly empowered Islamic revolutionaries.
4 Mata Hari
Mata Hari, aka Margaretha Zelle, was perhaps the most famous spy of WWI. She was a wildly successful agent … until she was executed for espionage. The model debonair, sexy spy, she was a dancer, actress, socialite, seductress, et al. Mata Hari used the neutrality of her Dutch citizenship to move freely about Europe during The Great War, spying on behalf of the Germans.
3 Stuxnet worm
These days, when you want to take the fight to the enemy, the best place to do it is usually cyberspace. That’s what “someone” or “some country/countries” did with the powerful Stuxnet worm that infected Iranian computer networks. The virus focused mainly on software and hardware relating to the country’s nascent nuclear program, apparently setting that program’s progress back many years.
2 “Ghost Army”
In another wonderful example of WWII deception, the German military was convinced that the D-Day landings at Normandy, the largest invasion in the history of the world, was a decoy thanks to a bunch of inflatable tanks. And planes. And jeeps. And thanks to a real General Patton, who was (briefly) placed in charge of the “Ghost Army,” aka the First United States Army Group. FUSAG consisted of inflatable vehicles and bogus infrastructure build up that, from the air, looked like a big old army getting ready to invade France via Calais. In fact, it was all one excellent act of deception.
1 “Operation Mincemeat”
The allied invasion of Sicily went well because of a body found floating off the coast of Spain. Taking Italy was one of the most crucial parts of the ally’s WWII strategy. The Axis powers knew their foes had to get to mainland Europe somehow, and they were ready to fight to stop that from happening. The main reason the invasion of Sicily went so smoothly is because the Axis powers thought it was a diversion thanks to fake plans planted in a briefcase chained to a corpse dropped in the Mediterranean Sea. “Operation Mincemeat” was one of the greatest acts of deception in the war, thoroughly convincing Axis high command that the allies were planning to invade Europe via Greece, not Italy!