Military traitors are some of the most despised historical figures, but they are also some of the most fascinating. It is mind-boggling to consider how one could betray their own country and comrades and directly bring death to what was once their own allies.
Over the course of history, traitors have come in many forms. Some do it for the money, others seek revenge, while there are those that do it just to satisfy their own narcissism. After changing sides they usually aren’t accepted because if they can do it to their own people, they can do it to anyone.
In this list, we have collected some of the most infamous military traitors of all time.
Benedict Arnold is one of the most well-known names on this list. Arnold was a brave and brilliant officer in the American Continental Army while fighting in the Revolutionary War. After proving his worth on a number of occasions and receiving brutal injuries, Arnold felt other officers in the Army were taking some of the credit for his achievements and being favored over him for promotions.
Even though he was highly trusted by George Washington, Arnold became disillusioned with the side he was fighting for. In 1780 he defected to the British after offering to hand over West Point in return for a position as a general in the British Army. The British never captured West Point, but Arnold did betray America, fighting against the troops he once led, now as a brigadier general in the British Army. In the US today, his name is synonymous with the word traitor.
Alfred Redl was the head of the counter-intelligence branch in the Austro-Hungarian Army and pioneered counter-espionage techniques. Between 1903 and 1913 Redl secretly worked as a spy for the intelligence service of the Imperial Russian Army, using his position in his own intelligence services to hand over extremely valuable documents.
Of the course of his spying career, Redl gave the Russians the entire Austrian invasion plan for Serbia, Austrian military plans, doctrines, tactics, and strength. He also used his position to provide the names of agents working as spies against Russia. Even worse, he sent spies into Russia, only to then inform Russian authorities.
Redl is believed to be responsible for the deaths of half a million Austrians and part of the reason for Austria-Hungary’s poor military performance during WWI. In 1913, he was outed as a spy using techniques he had developed. After this discovery, Redl committed suicide.
Harold ‘Paul’ Cole
A petty criminal, thief, and fraud, Harold Cole was one of Britain’s most notorious WWII traitors. He worked alongside the French Resistance in the early years of the war, helping soldiers and downed pilots return to England via escape lines from France. He was a prominent member of the organization, but would eventually betray them to the Gestapo in late 1941.
He handed over the names of about 150 people working on the escape lines or for the French Resistance. Around 50 of them were either executed or died in Nazi concentration camps. Over the course of the war, he was wanted by the British, Germans, and the French. He was killed in a gunfight with French police in 1946.
Described as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history,” Robert Hanssen is the most recent traitor on this list. He worked as an FBI agent from 1976 to 2001, but spent almost all of that time selling top-secret information to the Soviets and then the Russians. He leaked information about US spying equipment, like radar and spy satellites, and also revealed the names of US agents spying on the Soviets.
He famously informed the Soviets about a highly secret and expensive eavesdropping tunnel built under the Soviet Embassy by the FBI. On one occasion, he was tasked with identifying a mole within the FBI. The mole was actually himself, which made it easy for him to cover his tracks.
Hanssen remained anonymous throughout his spying activities. After a long investigation by the FBI, they discovered Hanssen was a spy and arrested him during a dead drop on February 18, 2001. Hanssen, who is now 77, is serving 15 consecutive life sentences at the ADX Florence supermax prison in Colorado.
A Chinese politician, Wang Jingwei’s contributions to China are murky. He was a left-leaning politician in pre-communist China that often clashed with rival Chiang Kai-shek. Near the beginning of WWII, Jingwei made a deal with Japan to hand over Nanking in return for him being given a puppet government to run in collaboration with the Japanese empire.
Jingwei agreed to the deal.
He died just before the end of WWII. Once Japan had been defeated, Chiang Kai-shek’s government moved back to Nanking, where they proceeded to destroy Jingwei’s tomb and burn his body.