Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton in Red Sparrow.

Source: 20th Century Fox

8 female double agents with extremely badass backstories

From the ‘spy mom’ who tracked down Bin Laden to the Irish doctor smuggling guns in 1916.
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RUSSIA’S RUMOURED INVOLVEMENT with the US Presidential election has seen words like ‘espionage’ and ‘collusion’ making headlines of late.

But spy tactics have always been a part of our political landscape, starting with WWII and the Easter Rising and going right up to the present day.

With the release of Red Sparrow this week, starring Jennifer Lawrence as a brutal Russian ballerina-turned-spy, we’re taking a look at some of the real-life female double agents who have fought the good fight.

From Irish suffragettes to CIA recruits, take a look at the stories behind some of history’s most influential females…

1. Gina Bennett: The ‘spy mom’ who tracked down Bin Laden

Gina Bennett speaking at a University Of Virginia affiliate event in 2011.

Source: Flickr

Mother-of-five Gina is one of six CIA recruits in the band of “sisters” who helped to track down Osama bin Laden, leading to his killing in 2011. Gina joked to Newsweek in 2016 that the memory of each of her five pregnancies was tied into the memory of whatever political event she was dealing with at the time, from her “African embassy bombing baby” in 1998 to her “9/11 baby” in 2001.

2. Anna Chapman: Arrested for her role in a Russian spy ring

Anna Chapman speaking at a conference in Kazan, Russia in 2011.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

As a Russian who divided her time between England and later New York, former banker Anna’s life seemed relatively normal – until she was arrested in 2010 with nine others for her role in a Russian spy ring. It’s thought her duty was to frequent New York’s restaurants and clubs by night to make ties in high-flying business circles.

3. Kathleen Lynn: The doctor who doubled as an Irish rebel

Kathleen Lynn was the founder of Ireland's first infant hospital, St Ultan's.

Source: YouTube

A doctor, a rebel officer and a suffragette, Kathleen was heavily involved in the Easter Rising, even using her car to bring guns into Dublin for the Irish Citizen Army. She reportedly escaped capture by dressing smartly “in my Sunday clothes and feather boa”. In 1919 she founded St Ultan’s Children’s Hospital along with her her partner Madeline Ffrench-Mullen.

4. Nancy Wake: Killed an SS officer with a judo chop

Nancy Wake with Prince Charles, 2004.

Source: PA Archive

Known as France’s ‘White Mouse’, Nancy was the Gestapo’s most-wanted fugitive, with a reward of five million francs for anyone who could turn her in. During a particularly gory raid, she killed an SS officer with her bare hands to stop him blowing her cover.

5. Krystyna Skarbek: Bit her own tongue to fake tuberculosis

Krystyna Skarbek, who also used the alias Christine Granville.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tasked with smuggling classified information out of Nazi-occupied Poland to the allies, Krystyna came close to capture and execution many times. On one occasion, she bit down on her own tongue, spitting blood, to convince her German captors that she had tuberculosis. It worked.

6. Mata Hari: Executed for spying on the French

A tribute to Mata Hari in her native Leeuwarden, January 2018.

Source: DPA

A household name in the world of female espionage, WWI’s Mata Hari was a Dutch dancer who reportedly spied on the French for the Germans – and on the Germans for the French. She was executed by firing squad in France in 1917, refusing to wear a blindfold for the shooting.

7. Pearl Cornioley: Make-up saleswoman by day, WWII shooter by night

Pearl Cornioley with Queen Elizabeth in 2004.

Source: PA Archive

Pearl posed as a cosmetics saleswoman in France, travelling the country and passing on memorised Allied messages too risky for radio broadcast. She later wrote that her childhood as a Girl Guide was ‘very helpful’ during her WWII unarmed combat training.

8. Mary Bowser: Posed as an illiterate White House servant

Civil War reenactor Denise Bernedetto dressed as Mary Bowser during Black History Month, 2012.

Source: Flickr

Mary was sharply intelligent with a photographic memory, but posed as illiterate, working as a servant in the White House for Confederate President Jefferson Davis. She was one of the best sources of state intelligence for Union spies during the American Civil War.

Want even more intrigue? Jennifer Lawrence stars as Russian ballerina-turned-spy  Dominika Egorova in Red Sparrow, forced to reconcile her old life with her new role as a master of seduction and combat. Red Sparrow hits cinemas on March 1st. Book tickets here.

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