April 2012

Famous Spies: Elizabeth Van Lew

The time of the American Civil War was one of much conflict and death.  This war may have gone even longer if not for the efforts of people in the world of espionage.  Elizabeth Van Lew was one such person, building and operating an extensive spy ring in the southern states to help feed information to the North.  Once the war was won, Van Lew was acknowledged as one of the most valuable assets to the war effort and the single largest source of intelligence for the Union.

Famous Spies: Sidney Reilly


Sidney Reilly is a spy whose origins and career are shrouded in mystery.  Though one 

might expect a spy to have his share of secrets, Reilly’s habit of telling false stories regarding pretty much anything that revolved around his history and actions was such that even scholars who study him extensively have a hard time pinning down the truths of the man.  What is known for sure is that Reilly worked for at least four separate nations doing espionage, was employed by all the major branches of British intelligence and acted as the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s character of James Bond.

Famous Spies: Shi Pei Pu


The story of Shi Pei Pu is one of the more unique tales of espionage in the world, so much so that it inspired the well-known place M. Butterfly.  Shi was a Chinese opera singer from Beijing who managed to convince his target that he was a woman, even to the point of sexual relations.  His target was an accountant who worked for the French Embassy by the name of Bernard Boursicot.  This farce lasted for more than 30 years, with Boursicot – if he is to be believed – being none the wiser.  It even came to the point where Shi brought a son with him to see his French lover, insisting it was the result of their time together.

Famous Spies: William Melville


William Melville is a man who rose from modest origins to become one of the most prominent figures in the history of British intelligence.  He was born April 25, 1850 in Sneem, Ireland, the son of parents who owned a pub and a bakery.  When he was 22, he journeyed to London and worked at a bakery for a while, later joining the police force of the city.  He performed well and in 1879 was promoted to the rank of Detective Sergeant in the Criminal Investigation Department.

In 1883, London was having problems with a group of Irish bombers who were reportedly being funded from the United States.  Known as the “Dynamite War,” a special force named the Special Irish Branch (SIB) was organized by Scotland Yard to help combat this activity.  Melville was recruited into the SIB as one of its 12 founding members.