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Famous spies and snitches

  • Story Highlights
  • Snitches have harmed and helped government agencies
  • Romanian immigrant Anna Sage was deported even after helping FBI
  • Elia Kazan traded dramatic words with Arthur Miller over naming Communists
  • Aldrich Ames lived lavishly before CIA figured out he had sold out to Soviets
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By Christopher Connolly
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Mental Floss

(Mental Floss) -- 1. Anna Sage: Dillinger's deadly date

John Dillinger was the FBI's Public Enemy No. 1 until Anna Sage helped bring him down.

John Dillinger was the FBI's Public Enemy No. 1 until Anna Sage helped bring him down.

The Tale: Anna Sage was a Romanian immigrant who came to America in 1909 and found work in a brothel in East Chicago, Indiana.

Although she was successful in this venerable and established field (she opened several of her own houses of ill repute in Indiana and Illinois), the Department of Labor sought to deport her as an "alien of low moral character."

But when famed bank robber John Dillinger -- whom she met through mutual gal pal Polly Hamilton -- asked her to a movie, Sage thought she'd found a way to stamp her Green Card. Dillinger was wanted in five states, and Sage hoped that if she turned him in, the good karma would translate into an invitation to stay in the United States.

The Tattle: To stage the arrest, Sage called her ex-boyfriend, Martin Zarkovich, at the East Chicago Police Department, and was put in contact with agent Melvin Purvis, who was working the Dillinger case for the FBI. Sage told Purvis about her upcoming date with Dillinger at the Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934. (O.K., maybe she didn't specify the year...)

In order to be identified in the crowd, Sage agreed to wear a white blouse and orange skirt that night, even though history would later dub her the "Lady in Red." (Historians believe the lights of the marquee made her outfit appear red, spawning the moniker.) As she, Dillinger, and Polly Hamilton exited the theater, Purvis confronted the group. Dillinger tried to run, which worked pretty well until four FBI bullets put a hitch in his stride. He died at the scene.

The Aftermath: Sage collected $5,000 for information leading to Dillinger's "capture" but was soon sent back to Romania.

According to most sources, agents at the FBI told Sage they couldn't prevent her deportation because of the organization's lack of influence over the Department of Labor, but recent research suggests a more devious motive.

In Jay Robert Nash's book "Dillinger: Dead or Alive," the author suggests the whole episode was a setup. Because the FBI's failure to capture the elusive Public Enemy No.1 was a source of considerable consternation, Nash believes the scene outside the theater that night was the shooting of an innocent man staged by Sage, Zarkovich, and the FBI. The goal? Alleviate pressure on the FBI and help keep the "Lady in Red" in the country.

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Nash claims Sage's hasty deportation was part of the cover-up, and also points to discrepancies between the body of the dead man and Dillinger. John Dillinger was widely known for his blue eyes and missing upper tooth. The body from the scene, however, had brown eyes and a full set of teeth. Adding further credence to Nash's theory is the disappearance of local criminal John Lawrence the night of the shooting. Mental Floss: 6 restless corpses

2. Aldrich Ames: Soviet mole and CIA rat

The Tale: Aldrich Hazen Ames was pretty much born a CIA agent. His father spied for the CIA in Burma during the 1950s, and at age 16, Aldrich went to "The Farm," a CIA training facility, to learn the ropes himself.

Despite his pedigree, it seems unlikely that Ames will win CIA Employee of the Year. Not now. Not tomorrow. Not ever. Why? Because Ames was the most damaging mole in CIA history. Beginning in 1985, he sold out every spy the CIA and FBI had in the then-USSR, and we doubt a "my bad" will cover that.

The Tattle: Ironically, Ames started out at the CIA recruiting Soviets to spy on their government, but he soon discovered he wasn't very good at convincing people to snitch. Luckily for him (and his career), his next assignment was with a Soviet Diplomat to Colombia named Aleksandr Dmitrievich Ogorodnik. Ogorodnik had already been convinced to spy for the U.S., but he didn't prove very useful until he was transferred to Ames' CIA department.

In Ames' hands, Ogorodnik (code-named Trigon) was reassigned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he developed a knack for photographing sensitive documents and files. Although Ames had never successfully recruited a single spy, his handling of Trigon earned him a promotion. He became the Counterintelligence Branch Chief of Soviet Operations, where he had access to information on every aspect of U.S. operations in Russia.

Life was looking swell for Ames until he ran into some girl trouble. Ames was having an affair with a Colombian woman named Maria del Rosario Casas. He brought Rosario to Washington, D.C., and it wasn't long before she started making trouble. She demanded Ames divorce his wife, which he did, wiping out almost all of his savings and assets. Rosario also spent money like it was going out of style, calling home daily and swiftly digging Ames nearly $35,000 into debt.

Ames became so desperate for funds that he considered robbing a bank. But then he remembered that the Soviets paid $50,000 for the names of U.S. spies working in their country. He arranged a meeting with Sergei Chuvakhin of the Soviet Embassy and gave him the names of three CIA spies. In exchange for this information, Ames received $50,000.

The story could have ended here but for the arrest of another tattletale, former Navy Warrant Officer John Walker Jr., who was caught selling information to the Russians. Ames got so freaked out that he, too, would be exposed that he decided to beat all possible blabbers to the chase.

He contacted Chuvakhin and gave him the names of every single "human asset" the CIA had in Russia. To make the deal sweeter, he also reportedly gave up a British spy and nearly seven pounds of documents that he'd carried out of the CIA office in his briefcase. For his generosity in "playing the game," the double agent was made the world's highest-paid spy, with an annual salary of $300,000.

The Aftermath: Ames named 25 spies. All of them were caught, and at least 10 were executed.

Meanwhile, the unsuspecting CIA transferred him to its office in Rome. Ames felt Rosario would be happier there and wanted to distance himself from all his mischief. He did not, however, distance himself from the cash the Russians were paying him, and he and Rosario lived lavishly. Although his CIA salary was $70,000 a year, he wore a Rolex watch and drove a Jaguar to work. It only took the CIA nine years to notice that something didn't quite add up, and the couple was arrested in 1994.

Today, Ames is serving out a life sentence, and Rosario was shipped off to Colombia after serving a five-year jail term. Mental Floss: One judge's creative sentences

3. Mordechai Vanunu: Paying the price of going public

The Tale: Mordechai Vanunu was a Moroccan who immigrated to Israel in 1963 with his parents and his ten siblings. Upon arrival, Vanunu served in the Israeli army before finding employment at the Dimona Nuclear Research Center in the Negev desert.

Happy to have a job, he worked there from 1976 to 1985 before concluding that Dimona was a secret nuclear weapons production plant that was covertly producing military warheads. That's when he started to feel a smidge uncomfortable.

The "research facility" housed an enormous plutonium separation plant that rendered the Israeli nuclear arms program vastly more advanced than the international community suspected and operated entirely without the knowledge of the Israeli people. Fully aware of the harsh repercussions he could face, Vanunu felt it was incumbent on him to share this information with the world.

The Tattle: Despite having signed an "Official Secrets Pact," Vanunu brought a camera to work one day and stealthily photographed the facility. Soon thereafter, he fled Israel and went public with his information. On October 5, 1986, The London Sunday Times headline blared, "Revealed: The Secret of Israel's Nuclear Arsenal." The cat was out of the bag, and it was sharing Israel's secrets with anyone who'd listen.

The Aftermath: Even before the Times story ran, the Israelis knew what Vanunu was up to. Agents from Israel's intelligence institute, Mossad, lured him to Italy, where he was kidnapped, drugged, and cargo-shipped back to Israel. (Details of this abduction were made public when Vanunu inked them on his hand and allowed quick-thinking news photographers to snap pictures.)

In Israel, Vanunu was charged with treason and espionage. Despite international outcry, the closed-door trial led to an 18-year prison sentence, the first 11 of which he spent in solitary confinement. In 1998, Vanunu was allowed to join the general prison population, and in 2004, he was "conditionally" released.

While currently "free," the Israeli government still refuses to let Vanunu leave the country, and he is forbidden to speak with the international media. He remains an unrepentant whistleblower and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.

4. Elia Kazan: Snitch to the stars

The Tale: Between 1945 and 1957, Elia Kazan enjoyed a hot streak few in Hollywood could even dream about. He directed 13 acclaimed motion pictures (including "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "East of Eden") and was nominated for four Best Director awards. Kazan was riding high when Hollywood entered the blackest period in its history (barring the second and third installments of the "Matrix" trilogy): the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

The Tattle: A philosophical and politically passionate man, Kazan had been a founding member of the leftist Group Theater in New York and, for a little more than a year, was a member of the Communist Party. In 1934, however, Kazan's ideals began to diverge sharply from those of the Party, and he soon found himself a zealous anti-Communist.

Wanting names, the government pressured Kazan to spill the beans, even threatening to have him blacklisted by major Hollywood studios. After wrestling with the question of whether or not he should sacrifice his career for people whose ideals he disdained, Kazan decided to share his knowledge of Communists in Hollywood with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In 1952, he went before the Committee and named eight of his Group Theater buddies who had been members of the Communist Party with him.

The Aftermath: After Kazan's testimony, the government was fast on the tails of those he'd named, pressuring them for yet more names, and it was officially witchhuntin' season! Many actors, writers, and directors were blacklisted, and scores of careers were ruined. The era remains one of the least tinselly in Tinseltown history.

Not surprisingly, pretty much everyone not already in the business of rooting out Commies reviled Kazan.

His longtime friend and confidant, Arthur Miller, explained his feelings on the matter in his allegorical play "The Crucible." Not to be outdone, Kazan shot back by crafting a sympathetic informer character in his film "On The Waterfront," which Miller rebutted in "A View From The Bridge." (Jeez, guys, just pick up the phone or something.)

But the controversy surrounding Kazan was yet to abate. In 1999, Kazan was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars, and more than 500 people showed up to protest. Writer and director Abraham Polonsky, whom 20th Century Fox had fired and blacklisted for his refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee, said of the event, "I'll be watching, hoping someone shoots him." Um, Mr. Polonsky, do you think you could put that in the form of a play? Mental Floss: Name the last 15 Best Pictures

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