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How female spies changed the course of history

Last updated on: April 29, 2010 18:57 IST

How female spies changed the course of history

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Vicky Nanjappa
When Madhuri Gupta was arrested by the Indian agencies, it brought back memories of the women spies like Mata Hari and Virginia Hall. Intelligence services from across the world have always used woman spies since it is believed that they are better at gaining access to information, than their male counterparts.

The world has seen several women spies who have proven disastrous to the establishment. Gupta will always be remembered as India's deadliest woman spy and will go down in history books as India's Mata Hari. Here is a list of the deadly women spies who have made it into the history books.

Madhuri Gupta: The 53-year-old Indian diplomat has claimed that she was harassed mentally by her superiors and this is what led her to seek revenge. Investigations have also revealed that she had a love interest in her Pakistani handler, with whom she shared information.

Image: Madhuri Gupta

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Mata Hari: The 'Indian princess'

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Mata Hari: The first name that comes to your mind when you mention women spies. Mata Hari was born as Margaret Gertrude Zelle.

Mata Hari who was born in Holland and later she married a Dutch army officer. She later became a dancer and became immensely popular in Paris. During the First World War she shot to the limelight as a courtesan to many high-ranking officials in the German army..She masqueraded as an Indian princess to gain access to army officials in Paris.

There are conflicting reports about her allegiance during the war with some reports claiming her to be working for the Germans and others saying she was a French agent. She was tried in France in February 1917 and executed on October 15, 1917.

Image: Mata Hari

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Virginia Hall: The Limping Lady

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Virginia Hall: Also known as Marie Monin aka the Limping Lady, she started as a consular service clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, she was considered to be one of the deadliest spies in the Second World War.

Hall later joined the British  Special Operations Executive and was posted to France. During this time the Gestapo chief regarded her as the most dangerous person in France.

Hall incidently had suffered an unfortunate accident where she shot herself in the foot and had to use a prosthetic limb. Inspite of her handicap, she proved to be a successful agent and was honoured by the British and the French after the war.


Image: Virginia Hall

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Belle Boyd: The Cleopatra of the Secession

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Belle Boyd: Known as the Cleopatra of the secession, she was a spy during the American Civil War. She worked for the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis and operated out of her father's hotel in Virginia. She carried letters for Davis to England.

She used her charming ways to become a major attraction in the social circles in Washington which helped her get information. During one of her missions in 1864 she was asked to carry a letter to England but was captured by the Union Navy. However the officer in charge fell in love with her and let her escape.

Boyd was caught atleast 30 times by the Union forces during the American Civil war.


Image: Belle Boyd

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Roxana Saberi: The spy who denied it

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Roxana Saberi: An American journalist of Iranian origin, she was accused of spying in Iran for United States of America.

The Iranian government which arrested her in 2009 charged her with espionage and sentenced her to 8 years imprisonment. However based on an appeal, the charge was reduced to possessing classified information.

Her sentence was then reduced to two years, but she continued to deny all charges against her.

Image: Roxana Saberi

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Nora Baker: The Nazi hater

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Noor Inayat Khan: alias Nora Baker was a British Special Operations Executive agent during the Second World War. Since her college years, she had sworn to defeat the Nazis. Her fluency in French and her expertise with wireless operation made her the natural choice to operate in Nazi controlled France.

She was however arrested on October 13 1943 in Paris. She was very aggressive during her interrogation and was classified as a highly dangerous prisoner. Interestingly she never gave up any information and lied constantly. She was executed along with four other spies. She was posthumously awarded the British Mention in Dispatches and a French Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) with a Gold Star.


Image: Noor Inayat Khan alias Nora Baker

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Elizabeth Van Lew: Crazy Bet

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Elizabeth Van Lew: alias Crazy Bet was a prominent Union spy during the American Civil War.

While working undercover she gave the impression that she was mentally ill, which earned her the tag of Crazy Bet. When the Libby prison was opened up in Richmond, Virginia, she was permitted to bring food and clothing to the soldiers who were imprisoned there.

She not only helped them escape but also carried crucial information on the troop movements which she later passed on to the Union's commanders.


Image: Elizabeth Van Lew

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