The word ‘spy’ conjures an image of a James Bond-like character – with a slick suit, high-tech gadgets, the ability to resourcefully find one’s way out of any situation… and a Licence to Kill.
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But as glamorous and charming as Bond’s character is, real-life spies don’t stand out – they have faces you easily forget, and the uncanny ability to melt into the shadows.
Consider Melita Norwood, a petite, grey-haired woman with a Latvian-born father and a communist-sympathising mother. She was the assistant to the director of one of Britain’s atomic research centres, and with her bland appearance, didn’t garner any attention. She easily passed on secrets about the atom bomb to Russia for 37 years, before eventually being identified in 1999, at the age of 87.
According to UK-based The Guardian news website, when Norwood was apprehended, she was carrying shopping bags and exiting a co-operative supermarket, and she said, in dismay: “Oh dear. I thought I had got away with it.”
Another woman spy, Virginia Hall, puts Charlie’s Angels to shame. The American volunteered with the Special Operations Executive during World War II and operated in occupied France. She coordinated activities for the Resistance and was a correspondent for an American newspaper, as well.
In 1932, she shot herself in the foot, causing her lower leg to be amputated and replaced with a prosthetic (she named it Cuthbert). In it, she hid important documents and messages, which she could move without suspicion. The Gestapo eventually caught on and she appeared on their ‘Most Wanted’ list as “the limping lady”.
Now that kind of spycraft is better than fiction!
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