July 25 2020 — Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod (Born Zelle; 7 August 1876 – 15 October 1917), better known by the stage name Mata Hari, was a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan. She was put on trial on July 24 1917. The following day, she was convicted of being a spy for Germany. On October 15 1917, she was executed by firing squad in France. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
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UPDATE (July 25 2021) — To this day, many people believe she was innocent but conveniently found guilty because the French Army needed a scapegoat.
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In October 2001, documents released from the archives of MI5 (British counter-intelligence) were used by a Dutch group — the Mata Hari Foundation — to ask the French government to exonerate Zelle as they argued that the MI5 files proved she was not guilty of the charges she was convicted of.
A spokesman from the Mata Hari Foundation argued that at most Zelle was a low-level spy who provided no secrets to either side, stating:
“We believe that there are sufficient doubts concerning the dossier of information that was used to convict her to warrant re-opening the case. Maybe she wasn’t entirely innocent, but it seems clear she wasn’t the master-spy whose information sent thousands of soldiers to their deaths, as has been claimed.”
Mata Hari’s sealed trial and related other documents, a total of 1,275 pages, were declassified by the French Army in 2017, one hundred years after her execution. Perhaps, one should get to work… This could be an interesting online collaborative project.
By the way, did you know that her head had been embalmed and kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris? In 2000, archivists discovered that it had disappeared. Lot of people seem to be loosing their head those days…
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PS — Zelle was executed by a firing squad of 12 French soldiers just before dawn on 15 October 1917. A 1934 New Yorker article reported that at her execution she wore “a neat Amazonian tailored suit, especially made for the occasion, and a pair of new white gloves.” This description does not match photographic evidence. This is a perhaps a good reminder that you should not trust everything you read in the New Yorker…
END of UPDATE
During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. As a Dutch subject, Zelle was thus able to cross national borders freely.
To avoid the battlefields, she travelled between France and the Netherlands via Spain and Britain, and her movements inevitably attracted attention. During the war, Zelle was involved in what was described as a very intense romantic-sexual relationship with a Russian pilot serving with the French, the twenty-five year old Captain Vadim Maslov, whom she called the love of her life. Maslov was part of the 50,000 strong Russian Expeditionary Force sent to the Western Front in the spring of 1916.
In the summer of 1916, Maslov was shot down and badly wounded during a dogfight with the Germans, losing his sight in both eyes, which led Zelle to ask for permission to visit her wounded lover at the hospital where he was staying near the front.
As a citizen of a neutral country, Zelle would not normally be allowed near the front. Zelle was met by agents from the Deuxième Bureau who told her that she would only be allowed to see Maslov if she agreed to spy on Germany.
Before the war, Zelle had performed as Mata Hari several times before the Crown Prince Wilhelm, eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II and nominally a senior German general on the Western Front. The Deuxième Bureau believed she might be able to obtain information by seducing the Crown Prince for military secrets. In fact, his involvement was minimal and it was German government propaganda that promoted the image of the Crown Prince as a great warrior, the worthy successor to the august Hohenzollern monarchs who had made Prussia strong and powerful. They wanted to avoid publicizing that the man expected to be the next Kaiser was a playboy noted for womanizing, partying, and indulging in alcohol, who spent another portion of his time intriguing with far right-wing politicians, with the intent to have his father declared insane and deposed.
Unaware that the Crown Prince did not have much to do with the running of Army Group Crown Prince or the 5th Army, the Deuxième Bureau offered Zelle one million francs if she could seduce him and provide France with good intelligence about German plans. The fact that the Crown Prince had, before 1914, never commanded a unit larger than a regiment, and was now supposedly commanding both an army and an army group at the same time should have been a clue that his role in German decision-making was mostly nominal. Zelle’s contact with the Deuxième Bureau was Captain Georges Ladoux, who was later to emerge as one of her principal accusers.
In November 1916, she was travelling by steamer from Spain when her ship called at the British port of Falmouth. There she was arrested and brought to London where she was interrogated at length by Sir Basil Thomson, Assistant Commissioner at New Scotland Yard in charge of counter-espionage. He gave an account of this in his 1922 book Queer People, saying that she eventually admitted to working for the Deuxième Bureau. Initially detained in Cannon Street police station, she was then released and stayed at the Savoy Hotel. A full transcript of the interview is in Britain’s National Archives and was broadcast, with Mata Hari played by Eleanor Bron, on the independent station LBC in 1980. It is unclear if she lied on this occasion, believing the story made her sound more intriguing, or if French authorities were using her in such a way but would not acknowledge her due to the embarrassment and international backlash it could cause.
In late 1916, Zelle travelled to Madrid, where she met with the German military attaché, Major Arnold Kalle, and asked if he could arrange a meeting with the Crown Prince. During this period, Zelle apparently offered to share French secrets with Germany in exchange for money, though whether this was because of greed or an attempt to set up a meeting with Crown Prince Wilhelm remains unclear.
In January 1917, Major Kalle transmitted radio messages to Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy code-named H-21, whose biography so closely matched Zelle’s that it was patently obvious that Agent H-21 could only be Mata Hari. The Deuxième Bureau intercepted the messages and, from the information they contained, identified H-21 as Mata Hari. The messages were in a code that German intelligence knew had already been broken by the French, suggesting that the messages were contrived to have Zelle arrested by the French.
General Walter Nicolai, the chief IC (intelligence officer) of the German Army, had grown very annoyed that Mata Hari had provided him with no intelligence worthy of the name, instead selling the Germans mere Paris gossip about the sex lives of French politicians and generals, and decided to terminate her employment by exposing her as a German spy to the French. [Wikipedia]
Mata Hari — Documentary
Mata Hari — Wikipedia
On this Day — Mata Hari Is Executed (October 15 1917)
On this Day — Mata Hari Is Executed (October 15 1917) 
On this Day — French Military Government Finds Mata Hari Guilty of Espionage (July 25 1917) 
On this Day — French Military Government Finds Mata Hari Guilty of Espionage (July 25 1917) [Was she really guilty?]
On this Day — Mata Hari Is Executed (October 15 1917) [Was she really guilty?]