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Cold War

The Infamous Rudolf Abel Was The Most Successful Soviet Spy In History

Rudolf Abel was a notorious spy during the Cold War, arguably the most successful Soviet spy of all time. But he wasn't born in the Soviet Union, nor was his real name Rudolf Abel.

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Vladimir Semichastny, chairman of the KGB, talking to Soviet intelligence officers Rudolf Abel (second from left) and Konon Molody (second from right).

A Spy By Any Other Name

Abel was born Vilyam Fisher in 1903 in England. In 1921, Fisher and his family moved back to Russia. He joined the Soviet service for espionage in 1927, by which point he was a nuclear physicist. The KGB sent him to the U.S. in 1948 to serve as a spy, and, by the 1950s, Fisher was tasked with getting information on the U.S. nuclear program. During this time, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of and executed for conspiracy to commit espionage, so Fisher had to live extremely carefully, taking on hundreds of aliases—including that of Rudolf Abel—and staging elaborate scenarios to cover up his work. For example, Abel had to live a convincing life as a fine art photographer in New York City, all the while tapping into military intelligence and secretly sending his findings back to Russia.  

Various devices that messages were hidden in.

Forever A Legend

When he was eventually arrested in 1957, he was tried and convicted under the name Rudolf Abel. If this all sounds familiar, there may be a reason. In 2015, Rudolph Abel's incredible life served as the inspiration for the Steven Spielberg film, Bridge of Spies. With that, his name will live on in infamy. 

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. In 1927, the notorious Rudolf Abel and then-nuclear physicist joined in the service of Soviet espionage. 01:30

  2. Famous Soviet spy Rudolf Abel managed to evade the FBI after his assistant betrayed him by giving information about his whereabouts. 04:06

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