Born Rudolf Ivonovich Abel in Russia in 1902 (although some reports indicate that he was actually born Vilyam (Willie) Genrikhovich (August) Fisher in England. He gave the name Rudolf Abel to the FBI as a way of signal the Soviet Union that he had been captured).
Son of a metalworker, Abel moved with his family to England in 1903 and was later educated inn Scotland. Spoke Russian, Yiddish, German, Polish and English (which he spoke with a Scottish accent). Served as a language instructor in the Soviet Red Army and served in Soviet Intelligence in 1930. Ultimately became language instructor for the NKVD. Served as an intelligence officer for the Red Army on the German front during World War II. Was highly decorated for battlefield services and espionage activities, including penetrating the ABWEHR.
After World War II, was selected by the KGB to serve as the resident director (or top spymaster) for Soviet espionage in the United States. Oversaw a spy network in the United States which sought to uncover United States military secrets. Was trained by the KGB in the use and repair of radio equipment, as well as the fundamentals of ciphers and codes, microdots and concealment methods. Had a background in engineering and physics as well as a natural ability with photography and art.
Immigrated illegally from France to Canada in 1947 under the name Andrew Kayotis. Entered the United States in 1948 under the name Emil R. Goldfus, and moved to New York City in 1949, under the codename “Mark” and using a photography studio as his headquarters. Developed a system of intelligence drops, including letterboxes and drop zones throughout New York City. Oversaw the gathering of top secret intelligence information from the United Nations and U.S. military installations and managed the transfer of this information to Soviet agents or directly to Moscow. Oversaw the operations of agents Morris and Leona Cohen.
After his spy network grew too large for him to manage, Abel sought assistance from Moscow. Moscow sent agent Reino Hayhanen to serve as an intermediary, charged with collecting information from members of the spy network. Was recalled to Russia in 1955 for a six-month respite from the stressful work of overseeing the spy network in the United States.
Left the network in the hands of Hayhanen. Upon Abel’s return to the United States in 1956, the network was in shambles, due to Hayhanen’s drunkenness and ineptitude. Hayhanen was recalled to Russia and fearing harsh reprimands instead turned himself in to U.S authorities in France, offering to expose the entire spy network.
Exposed by Hayhanen, Abel fled New York and traveled to Florida but was immediately arrested upon his return. Charged with espionage, Abel was found guilty and sentenced to 45 years in prison. Was exchanged for U. S. U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers on February 10, 1962 on the Glieneceker Bridge, which connected East, and West Germanys. Was honored briefly in 1965 and authored his “memoirs” in 1968. Lived in relative obscurity until his death in 1971. Was honored with a postage stamp in his likeness by the Soviet Union in 1990.