Betraying the United States government is usually a bad idea, especially if you're an American Citizen. Sometimes we've been too hard on people who were forced at gunpoint to assist the enemy such as the case of "Tokyo Rose", a Japanese American woman visiting in Japan and trapped there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was later shown that she had been forced to broadcast propaganda for Japan. But on the other hand, sometimes we've been too soft on willing collaborators. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for providing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union yet others who did the same thing at the same time didn't even do prison time even though their activities were uncovered.
Here are eight Americans who let our side down, ranging from the Revolutionary War to present times.
8) BENEDICT ARNOLD
When your name becomes synonymous with the word "traitor" you can usually expect to have it pop up on a fair number of lists of famous traitors. You can also usually expect to have been executed by angry patriots long before you get to read any of these lists, but in Benedict Arnold's case, he was able to die peacefully in Canada at a safe distance from everyone who wanted to kill him. Arnold was actually on track to become an American hero of the Revolutionary War, scoring important victories at Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga and often leading his men from the front lines. Unfortunately for him, his short temper and lack of understanding about the ins and outs of politics made him some powerful enemies and few friends in the political structure of the Continental Army. He was also deep in debt after paying for much of his soldiers' equipment out of his own pocket, so when he found himself relegated to military command of Philadelphia he developed contacts among Loyalist colonists and eventually started selling crucial bits of intelligence to the British spy service. When his handler was captured, Benedict Arnold officially joined the British Army as a brigadier general, leading several attacks on targets in New York before settling down in Canada, where he played a minor role in British military intrigues and shipping but was mostly remembered for being an incredibly bitter and unpleasant man. A foot note to his downfall has more recently come to light with the theory that it was his young and ambitious wife who actually led him into the world of espionage and ultimate downfall.
7) ALDRICH AMES
The most damaging mole in CIA history and believed to be the most damaging spy in American history in general (until the discovery of Robert Hanssen several years later), Aldrich Ames first started working for the Russians in 1985. Nine years later, the CIA noticed that one of their analysts was a $60,000 per year desk worker owned a $50,000 Jaguar and a $540,000 house, both of which he had paid for in cash, and credit card debt with a minimum monthly payment of more than his monthly salary. They belatedly realized that these just might be signs of a man with more than one source of income. After making sure that Ames hadn't recently inherited a fortune from some previously unknown relative, the CIA arrested him. He casually admitted that he had sold the Soviets information that had resulted in the exposure of over a hundred Western agents behind the Iron Curtain, several of whom had been executed based on his information. Ames pleaded guilty to dodge the death penalty and the American intelligence apparatus breathed a sigh of relief knowing that their worst leak had successfully been patched up…but that feeling of relief wouldn't last long.
6) ROBERT HANSSEN
A computer and wiretapping expert, Robert Hanssen rose to the top levels of the FBI hierarchy even though he was actively spying for the Soviet and Russian Federation governments for all but the first three years of his career. His work compromised hundreds of American counter-espionage investigations and earned him over $1.4 million from grateful KGB and GRU agents. Using a system of code names and dead drops to exchange information and cash, Hanssen maintained a much lower profile than Ames and would have never been caught if his brother-in-law (also an FBI agent) hadn't spotted a gigantic stack of money on Hanssen's nightstand during a visit. When arrested in 2001 after 22 years as a double agent, Hanssen is reported to have said, "What took you so long?"
5) EZRA POUND
American expatriate Ezra Pound was a revolutionary poet and literary critic, a personal friend to nearly all the American and British writers of the time, and a proud and committed fascist. Pound blamed the international banking system for World War I, which disillusioned and embittered him, and he felt that the experimental system of "social credit" that was needed to replace the banks could only be implemented by a fascist government. After moving to Italy and meeting Mussolini, Pound began working less on his poetry and more on his economic and social lectures and pamphlets, where he increasingly replaced the term "international banking" with "international Jewry" and his articles or letters would end with the salutation, "Heil Hitler." During the invasion of Italy in World War II, Pound convinced the government of Rome to allow him to make propaganda broadcasts to American troops, which were of dubious value as his voice was described as "like the sound of a hornet stuck in a jar" and there were few poetry aficionados in the army at the time to know who he was. Arrested in 1945 by partisan troops, Pound endured harsh conditions in an American prison camp outside Pisa, an experience that allegedly drove him insane (or more so according to some) and left him unfit to stand trial. After his release from a Pennsylvania mental asylum in 1958, Pound returned to Italy to live out the rest of his days in bitterness and failing health.
4) FRITZ JULIUS KUHN
Born in Germany but living and working in America since 1928, Fritz Kuhn was the man in charge of the infamous U.S. Nazi group, the German-American Bund. An enthusiastic supporter of Hitler's ideas on racial purity and the fascist system, Kuhn was also a fan of Hitler's political style. Bund gatherings were known for dramatic outbursts of violence in a way America had never seen before. Ironically, Hitler wasn't much of a fan of Kuhn and his makeshift Nazi party—the dictator wanted Nazi influence in America to be powerful, but not so powerful that it might backfire and draw America into the war. The Bund's front-page antics weren't falling in line with that goal. Eventually, Kuhn was taken down by a New York City tax investigation that showed he had embezzled $14,000 from his own organization. When he emerged from that jail sentence, he was immediately arrested for being an enemy agent. Kuhn was released at the war's end and returned to Germany a bitter, broken man.
3) AMERICAN WAFFEN-SS VOLUNTEERS
One of the stranger details about Germany's Nazi-run Schutzstaffel (more commonly known as the SS) was that it formed a number of volunteer and propaganda divisions of decidedly non-German and sometimes even non-Aryan ethnicities. For years there were rumors of a so-called "George Washington Brigade" made up entirely of renegade Americans. The GWB turned out to be a myth, but it was a myth reinforced by the occasional discovery of SS troops with American accents or names, who often turned out to be not just naturalized citizens but born on American soil. It's impossible to know for sure how many Americans fought for the Nazis as records are unavailable after May of 1940.
2) MARTIN JAMES MONTI
One particularly noteworthy American SS was Army Air Force pilot Martin James Monti, who in October of 1944 hitchhiked and transferred his way to an Italian airbase, stole a fast reconnaissance plane and promptly flew it north into Axis hands to defect. Searching around for something to do, Monti made a few propaganda broadcasts under the name Martine Wiehaupt, but his radio voice was lacking and he eventually became an SS sergeant in the closing weeks of the war. Nobody is quite sure of Monti's motivation or why he chose to defect to a country that was clearly losing the war. He served a brief jail sentence before being released back into the Army, where he kept a low profile and managed to make sergeant by 1948 before the FBI caught up with him. He served the next 25 years in prison.
1) AARON BURR
Burr was vice president to Thomas Jefferson, back when the president and the vice president tended to be from opposing political parties. They spent a lot of time yelling at each other. He who shot Alexander Hamilton in that famous duel. What most school history lessons don't really cover is that Burr became so unpopular after essentially murdering his political opponent that he decided his career was over unless he did something really dramatic. He formulated a plan to take control of the Texas and Louisiana Territories with groups of armed farmers and the help of sympathetic army officers and possibly even invade either Mexico or Washington, D.C. if he could talk Spain into the deal. Unfortunately for Burr, Jefferson had been keeping an eye on his former vice president, and various state district attorneys were busy collecting evidence of the so-called Burr Conspiracy.
The hammer finally dropped after Burr's co-conspirator, General James Wilkinson, sent Congress the deciphered text of a letter Burr had written of a planned attack on several important Mississippi River towns. Upon being seeing his treasonous letter published in full in a New Orleans newspaper including a reward for his capture, Burr abandoned his tiny army and attempted to hide in the vast marshes of the Louisiana Territory. Aaron Burr was eventually captured by troops from Fort Stoddard and delivered to Richmond, Virginia for his trial at the Supreme Court. Despite Jefferson's desire to have Burr executed, a stubborn Chief Justice John Marshall eventually threw the case out based on technicalities. The case became one of the earliest tests of Constitutional law and the limiting of the executive branch. Burr briefly exiled himself to Europe, but returned later under an assumed name to try and start anew. True to form, he was pestering various governments with plans to conquer Mexico and installing himself as governor, even under his new identity. He died hounded by creditors from both his old life and the new one.