Mesmerizing Missions: 7 Epic Spy Operations


From the CIA’s top-secret hunt for Osama bin Laden to Mossad’s kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, spies have changed the course of history. SPYSCAPE rounds up seven of the most audacious, creative, epic missions the world has seen.

Mesmerizing Missions: 7 Epic Spy Operations
Jessica Chastain stars as a fictional CIA analyst tracking bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty

Operation Neptune Spear

The hunt for Saudi al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was likely one of - if not the - biggest intelligence operations in modern American history. It was 10 years in the making with an incredible team effort that included legendary CIA analyst Gina Bennett, CIA rookie Tracey Walder, boots-on-the-ground Defense Intelligence Agency operator Shawney Delaney, and many more in the intelligence community. Operation Neptune Spear ended in 2011 when Navy Seals breached the sovereign territory of Pakistan to target and kill bin Laden at his home in Abbottabad.

Mesmerizing Missions: 7 Epic Spy Operations

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From the CIA’s top-secret hunt for Osama bin Laden to Mossad’s kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, spies have changed the course of history. SPYSCAPE rounds up seven of the most audacious, creative, epic missions the world has seen.

Mesmerizing Missions: 7 Epic Spy Operations
Jessica Chastain stars as a fictional CIA analyst tracking bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty

Operation Neptune Spear

The hunt for Saudi al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was likely one of - if not the - biggest intelligence operations in modern American history. It was 10 years in the making with an incredible team effort that included legendary CIA analyst Gina Bennett, CIA rookie Tracey Walder, boots-on-the-ground Defense Intelligence Agency operator Shawney Delaney, and many more in the intelligence community. Operation Neptune Spear ended in 2011 when Navy Seals breached the sovereign territory of Pakistan to target and kill bin Laden at his home in Abbottabad.

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7 epic spy operations
Colin Firth stars in Operation Mincemeat


2. Operation Mincemeat

Colin Firth’s spy drama Operation Mincemeat is based on a real-life mission, one of the most creative operations in UK history. In 1943, British intelligence conjured up an elaborate plan to mislead Hitler about UK invasion plans. They planted fake documents on a dead body dressed as a Royal Marines major and shipped the body to Spain where it floated in the water until the ‘Marine’ was discovered by a Spanish fisherman. The discovery set off a military operation that deceived Germany about Britain’s attack plans, changing the course of WWII. 

7 Epic Spy Operations

3. ​Double Agent Oleg Gordievsky

The MI6 operation to smuggle Russian KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky out of the USSR is one of the most daring in Cold War history. Summoned back to Moscow from the Soviet Embassy in London, Gordievsky was suspected of being a double agent and subjected to a KGB interrogation while drugged. He later raised the alarm to his British handlers. Two cars driven by MI6 officers and their wives drove to the Finnish border checkpoint with Gordievsky hiding in the trunk. The Soviet guards, not wanting to get too close to a baby in a smelly diaper, waved the cars through. The intel he provided helped avert nuclear war and exposed Soviet spy rings in Britain. 

7 Epic Spy Operations

4. Operation Rubicon

Operation Rubicon was one of the most spectacular signals intelligence coups of the Cold War. In 1970, German and US spies bought a Swiss coding machine manufacturer named Crypto which had many government and military clients. The clients used their Swiss cipher machines to scramble a huge range of their classified information - which meant Crypto’s new owners could snoop on the messages and have advanced knowledge of significant events. Warwick University described Operation Rubicon as “the most successful intelligence heist of the 20th century.”

Ben Kingsley stars as Adolf Eichmann in Operation Finale

5. Operation Finale

Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was living an ordinary life in Buenos Aires, Argentina, working at a Mercedes-Benz factory and returning home to the suburbs each evening. But on May 11, 1960, he was effortlessly kidnapped and driven to a safe house for interrogation by Mossad agents acting on behalf of the Israeli government. The ‘Architect of the Holocaust’ was then smuggled back to Israel while disguised as part of a flight crew and stood trial on 15 counts of war crimes. More than 100 Holocaust survivors took the witness stand. He was sentenced to death by hanging and died in 1962 at age 56.

7 Epic Spy Operations
SPYSCAPE HQ’s collection: A German Enigma machine disabled by a bullet to its rightmost rotor


6. Bletchley Park Codebreaking Operation in WWII

One of the greatest coups of WWII involved Alan Turing’s Bletchley Park team who broke the German Enigma codes, allowing Allied ships to evade German U-boats and win the war. Less is known about the Royal Navy’s capture of a string of German vessels - including their Enigma machines and codebooks - in 1941 and ‘42. Initially, it was thought that the Navy was lucky to find the German intelligence. In fact, British destroyer commanders were trained to extract as much cipher material as possible from captured vessels, according to Enigma author Hugh Sebag-Montefiore. From start to finish, the Bletchley operation was extraordinary.

 

7 Epic Spy Operations
Eric O’Neill helped capture Robert Hanssen, believed to be America’s most dangerous double agent

7. FBI capture of spy Robert Hanssen

A long-running FBI sting to trap double agent Robert Hanssen involved a life-and-death operation. Hanssen already had blood on his hands - he’d exposed two KGB double agents working for the Americans and both had died in the hands of Moscow. O’Neill put himself at great personal risk, sharing an office with Hanssen, going undercover to gather intelligence, and rifling through his personal belongings when Hanssen stepped out of the office. Thanks to O’Neill, Hanssen was arrested in 2001 at his final dead drop. Even then Hanssen, who’d been spying for Moscow for 22 years, mocked the FBI: “What took you so long?” 

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