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10 of History's Most Notorious Traitors

Mata Hari
Mata Hari in her exotic dancer days. © Bettmann/CORBIS
Mata Hari in her exotic dancer days. © Bettmann/CORBIS

Mata Hari may be one of history's most famous double agents, but she wasn't a good one. The "secrets" she gained from rival German and French sources were usually old news. Her real skills, it seems, were of a more personal persuasion.

Born Margaretha Zelle to a wealthy Dutch family that fell on hard times, she was parceled off to relatives, eventually married a stern man several years her senior and endured years of abuse. By the time she neared 30, she was divorced, living in Paris and calling herself Mata Hari, which means "eye of dawn" in Malaysian. She reinvented herself as a temple dancer from India.

From 1905 to 1912, Hari was credited with turning the striptease into a theatrical art form. However, as her age and weight increased, she moved from exotic dancer to courtesan. One of her wealthy French supporters recruited her to bed a German officer and find out his secrets in exchange for money. But the officer became suspicious and fed her old information. Meanwhile the French intercepted a message from Germany with Hari's code name, which made them believe she was also spying for Germany.

Hari was arrested and held in a French prison where a curious public queued into the streets to catch a glimpse of her during trial. She was sentenced to death for treason and led from her cell, head held high and refusing to wear a blindfold. Upon seeing a 12-man firing squad, she blew them a kiss before being shot and killed in 1917 [source: Noe].

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