Go behind the shadows with a distinguished panel of historians—including a former intelligence case officer—in search of the secret meeting places, complex codes, stealth observations, and cutting-edge technologies spies have used throughout history. As you get to know real spies and their methods, you’ll uncover how their work is much more fascinating than anything pop culture could dream up.
The Secret World of Espionage
Facts are often better than fiction. Uncover real secrets about real spies throughout history.
Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius is Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Liulevicius served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Professor Liulevicius has won many awards and honors, including the University of Tennessee's Excellence in Teaching Award and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. At the university he teaches courses on modern German history, Western civilization, European diplomatic history, Nazi Germany, World War I, war and culture, 20th-century Europe, nationalism, and utopian thought. Dr. Liulevicius has published numerous articles and two books: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I and The German Myth of the East, 1800 to the Present.
Professor Liulevicius participated in The Great Courses Professor Chat series. Read the chat to learn more about diplomacy and war
Lynne Olson is a historian and New York Times best-selling author of eight books, most of which focus on World War II. She earned degrees in Political Science and Journalism at the University of Arizona (with Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude honors), followed by a master’s degree in Literature at American University.
After graduation, Professor Olson worked as a journalist for 10 years. She worked with the Associated Press as a national feature writer in New York, a foreign correspondent in the Moscow bureau, and a political reporter in Washington DC. She then joined the Washington bureau of The Baltimore Sun, where she covered national politics and eventually the White House. She later taught for six years at American University.
Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright has called Professor Olson “our era’s foremost chronicler of World War II politics and diplomacy.” Her books include Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network against Hitler; Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War; Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight over World War II, 1939–1941; and Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour.
Richard B. Spence is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Idaho. He holds a PhD in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he also taught as a visiting assistant professor. His research areas include Russian and military history, espionage, occultism, secret societies, anti-Semitism, and true crime. He is the author of several books, including Trust No One: The Secret World of Sidney Reilly and Secret Agent 666: Aleister Crowley, British Intelligence and the Occult. He has also been a contributor for HISTORY®.
Alma Katsu is a former senior intelligence analyst who worked at several federal agencies advising policymakers and military commanders on issues of national security. She was also a senior technology policy analyst for the RAND Corporation and continues as an independent consultant and technology futurist to government and private industry clients. She is the author of several award-winning novels, including Red Widow, her first spy novel.
01: Spies: Facts and Fiction
How much does pop culture get wrong about espionage? Meet some real-life figures who inspired fictional spies like James Bond. Gain insights into how spies work, the jobs they hold, and the organizations they belong to.
02: The Human Element
Spies are human beings, too. Dig into the many sources of intelligence information, including one we traditionally associate with spies: HUMINT, or intelligence gathered by people. What traits should a spy ideally possess? Which ones shouldn’t they possess?
03: The Great Game
Travel back to the 1500s and consider how spies and espionage helped create governments, expand economies—and even overturn monarchies. Historical cases plunge you into heated political games involving Britain, Russia, India, and Afghanistan.
04: Beyond the Femme Fatale
Examine the various roles women played throughout history as spies—from women in seemingly insignificant positions such as domestic help to those who were notably infamous, such as Mata Hari. See the many ways the female espionage network was able to exploit the misogyny of their times because the assumptions made about them meant they would rarely fall under the same levels of scrutiny and suspicion as their male counterparts.
05: Strange Bedfellows
Take a deep dive behind the scenes of the time period leading up to, and during, World War II. Get to know some of the people and strategies that helped motivate America to join the war effort. Uncover covert and intelligence operations employed during WWII by different countries—and the various iterations of allies and enemies across this period of time.
06: Making Codes, Breaking Codes
Secret codes may be one of the most interesting and intriguing components of espionage. The experts reveal some of the earliest and also most complicated ciphers, including the Enigma machine, Native American code talkers, and even modern-day hackers. Plus, they’ll divulge some insights into how codes can be—and are—deciphered.
07: The Mole and the Hunter
Investigate the stories of specific characters in espionage history, such as The Cambridge Five. Meet key players, including Kim Philby and James Angleton, and see how their actions, accusations, and attempts at validation left huge scars on the intelligence community, specifically the CIA.
08: The Art of Counterintelligence
“One of the most effective secret agents in World War II was, in fact, a man who never existed.” Take a look at Operation Mincemeat—an endeavor full of misdirections, fake-outs, and double-crosses that was so secret, even Prime Minister Winston Churchill didn’t know about it. See how this sort of deceitful strategy was successfully repeated for other events, including the invasion of Normandy.
09: Too Many Secrets
Take an in-depth look at how data and intelligence are used today—from protecting our country to hacking our systems. And gain an understanding of how and why intelligence endeavors can fail—leading to events such as the Arab Spring, the Iranian Revolution, and the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda. Consider whether timeless secrets exist anymore, in this age of technology.