March 10th, 2019


The Real Top Ten List is Classified

Apropos of nothing, here is former CIA Director William Colby's 1981 list of the Ten Greatest Spies of All Time (meaning "Ten Greatest Intelligence Professionals and Also Some Spies of the Twentieth Century"):

William Donovan (founder of the OSS)
Reginald V. Jones (British Air Ministry Intelligence, father of scientific-technical intelligence)
William F Friedman (US SIS and NSA, broke the PURPLE code)*
Richard Sorge (GRU spymaster in Tokyo)
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (NKVD spies)**
Kim Philby (NKVD/KGB mole in MI-5)
Oleg Penkovsky (MI-5 source in GRU)
Kelly Johnson (Lockheed aeronautical engineer, designed the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes)
Arthur Lundahl (CIA IMINT expert, found missiles in Cuba)
Edward G. Lansdale (CIA psywar specialist)

Of the four actual spies on that list, all were detected and three were executed, which argues that Colby's idea of great spying does not include, you know, staying hidden, which explains so much about the CIA now that I write it out like that.

* It seems to be an open question how much Friedman worked with his wife Elizabeth, but it's fairly certain that her role has been under-represented in most histories
** See above footnote, except that Ethel's role has likely been over-represented, not least by the FBI