If you’re a history buff, you might be exceptionally interested in the most famous American and Russian spies during the Cold War, and you may know of a few of them already.
The Cold War is one of the strangest and most drawn out moments in US history, and was, in fact, not even a war at all. It was basically just Russia (then the Soviet Union) and the US threatening each other back and forth for about 50 years until it finally ended. There was a lot of tension during this time period between capitalism and communism. The US has always been pretty hellbent on getting everyone on the capitalist boat, but communist countries believe that communism is the better economic and government model. This led to a lot of interference by governments in other countries.
There was a lot of fear of the Soviet Union in the US during the ’40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s because the US was scared that spies were being sent in to evaluate their every move and overthrow the government in favor of a communist regime. The paranoia that existed is substantial. Some spies did exist and infiltrate the country, but a lot of the fear was displaced at people who literally didn’t even know what was going on. I’ve yet to actually watch that FX show The Americans, but I’m pretty sure the whole premise of that show is Russian spies in the US during the Cold War time period, so if you’re really interested in this whole thing you should check that out. You can also check out the world’s deadliest intelligence agencies, which also use spies to complete missions.
In order to compile this list, we searched for some reliable and reputable sources that have done a lot of research on this topic. We used CNN, Time Magazine, and History to find some examples of spies. To rank them for our list, we took their rankings on those sources and then averaged them. There isn’t necessarily a more quantitative way to rank them than that, so this is the most accurate way to do so.
Keep reading to learn more about the most famous American and Russian spies during the Cold War.
10. John Anthony Walker
John Anthony Walker is known as one of the spies who did the most damage to the US military. During the Cold War, he told the Soviet Union about the locations and operational plans of US submarines and leaked encryptions. He did this for about 18 years until his wife told the authorities about his actions.
9. Elizabeth Bentley
Bentley began spying on fascists in 1938. She was demoted in 1945 for unknown reasons and gave up her network of over 100 spies. She still had time, though, when she was believed to have control over two separate groups in the US.
8. James Hall III
From 1982 to 1985, James Hall III was assigned to a listening post in Berlin. He was a US Army Signal Intelligence officer and during his stint, he fed the Soviet Union tons of information about the US military. He informed them of operational plans, documents, and even interception codes.
7. Rudolf Abel
Rudolf Abel’s real name was Vilyam Genrikhovick Fisher and he worked as a Russian spy in the US from 1947 to 1957. For 10 years he and his assistant used hollow coins to pass communications. After he was uncovered, he was sentenced. He was never jailed, however, in exchange for an American pilot and student. He was hailed a hero in the USSR.
6. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are among these most famous American and Russian spies during the Cold War because they were communists who were believed to spy on military secrets to the Soviet Union. They were uncovered, tried, and sentenced to death in 1953. They had public sympathy, though, as Ethel was believed to be innocent of these allegations.
5. Klaus Fuchs
Fuchs was known to be a nuclear genius and was tapped by the US to be part of the Manhattan Project. After a while, he was discovered to be feeding secrets to the Soviet Union. He served nine years in prison and then moved to Germany to continue as a nuclear physicist until his retirement.
4. Kim Philby
Philby was recruited to the M16 in 1941. He was there for many years until he was discovered as a double agent. By that time, he had been able to feed so much secret information to the Soviet Union, enough to earn him the highest ranks of clandestine service. He escaped to Moscow to live there as a hero.
3. Ray Mawby
Ray Mawby is especially interesting because he wasn’t uncovered until 12 years after his death. He was a known communist, but only because he championed gender equality. People say he was guilty of leaking parliamentary office floor plans to the Czechs, who were then among the Soviet Union.
2. Anthony Blunt
Anthony Blunt is one of the Cambridge Five, who were known to hand over intelligence to the Soviet Union while working for the US military. Even after his secret confession, his espionage continued. They only stopped after being publicly outed by the queen.
1. Aldrich Ames
Aldrich Ames was the son of a CIA analyst and was promoted in service despite his poor work performance and a drinking problem. By the time he was promoted, he walked into the Soviet embassy offering trade secrets and intelligence for money. He disclosed every single CIA agent’s identity, which led to all of them being killed.
That concludes our list of the most famous American and Russian spies during the Cold War. These people are the part of the reason for the paranoia that pervaded this time period and made each country anxious.