Having just started reading up on spies throughout history, I've just realized a new risk I hadn't thought of before, namely that once you've started spying you're at risk of being blackmailed into continuing to spy by your new masters even if you start to get cold feet and want to quit.

Has any spy managed to remain anonymous to their own handlers?

I'm aware that many spies want to be paid for their efforts, and that handlers want to pass on orders, both of which require 2-way communication, but even those challenges could be overcome with some imaginative thinking.

A spy who just wants to anonymously drop secret reports into the mail box should be a lot safer than one who has to surreptitiously loiter in foggy back alleys (or however they meet up)

I'm aware that many members of the 'Lucy' spy ring (WW2, Switzerland) are anonymous to this day, and I know that initial intelligence on the location and purpose of Peenemünde (a V2 rocket base) was passed to the British anonymously.

Are there other examples?

UPDATE - I'm aware that most agencies would like to verify the identity of their spies, but I'm also sure that if they receive the anonymous message "the enemy will attack at dawn" and the enemy does attack then the 2nd message will be taken more seriously.

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    – MCW
    Nov 16, 2019 at 0:34
  • Most intelligence agencies want to verify any information they receive, and that means finding out who is giving it to them. If the source refuses to cooperate, the agency will likely ignore them, and crucially refuse to pay them.
    – Ne Mo
    Nov 19, 2019 at 12:52
  • How would you know? We only know about the spies who got caught or else were on the "winning side" after a conflict and had a publishable story. Suggested reading: "The new Meaning of Treason" one of Rebecca West's books.
    – user18963
    Nov 19, 2019 at 13:20

1 Answer 1


Robert Hanssen qualifies.

Hanssen never told the KGB or GRU his identity and refused to meet them personally, with the exception of the abortive 1993 contact in the Russian embassy parking garage. The FBI believes the Russians never knew the name of their source.

  • got to wonder how much value the Soviets placed in his information if they couldn't verify who it was coming from. Or maybe they figured out his identity from the data itself or from other spies within the FBI.
    – jwenting
    Nov 19, 2019 at 8:03
  • I guess all spies are treated with caution initially, as time progresses and the accuracy of his information can be verified against other sources then the level of trust goes up Nov 20, 2019 at 8:51

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