Imagine the scene. You are a research assistant working for the government. Lank hair, lab coat and glasses. Big brain but very little sex. In fact you might not even get laid at all. Then one day into your lonely life of late nights at the lab and occasional drinks with your fellow geeks, comes Olga. She is beautiful, shapely and incredibly sophisticated. She is the most attractive woman you have ever spoken to. You are definitely punching well above your weight. You have done well. Of course you fall in love with her – what else are you going to do? And then little by little she asks you to do small favours for her – to tell her exactly what it is you work on. So you show off and you tell her, perhaps a little more than is wise. And then she asks you to photograph some documents. By now you’re getting suspicious. “But if you loved me you would,” she says. Now you know that Olga is a spy and she is taking your pillow talk back to her masters. So what would you do? Risk exposure and go back to having no sex? No, you’d carry on taking the bait.
We are all familiar with the scenario from films and TV and comics and sitcoms. The honeypot seductress spy is an archetype: from Eastenders to Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest to Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale and Tatiana Romanova in From Russia with Love there have been numerous villainesses who start as the seductive spy (and are often turned, or killed, in Bondmovies anyway, along the way.) The sexy seductress who vamps her way into the beds of generals and ambassadors is a familiar figure from popular culture, but what of the real world of the honeypot? It turns out the deception is often more fascinating in the real world than in fiction and sometimes far more complicated, and even perverse, than just a sexy female seducing a male loner…
Earlier this year one of Gordon Brown’s aides was the victim of a honeytrap on an official trip to China. The hapless official, a senior advisor, was one of twenty Downing Street staff who accompanied the Prime Minister and twenty five leaders of industry (including Richard Branson) to China on a two day trip. On the last night about a dozen of the Downing Street officials went to a party in a hotel disco in Shanghai where, according to one security official quoted in the Sunday Times, “It was apparently a lot of fun, there was quite a bit of dancing with lots of people on a big crowded dance floor.”, The senior aide was approached by a young Chinese woman and after a while they disappeared together back to his hotel room. The security official said:
“In these circumstances it was not wise. Nobody knows exactly what happened after they left. But the next morning he came forward and said: 'My BlackBerry is missing,' and the prime minister’s Special Branch protection team were alerted.”
Despite this sounding like the story of a light-fingered prostitute grabbing anything she could, a senior official who was contacted by The Sunday Times admitted the theft had all the hallmarks of a suspected honeytrap -– and that even if the aide’s device did not contain anything top secret, it could enable a hostile intelligence service to hack into the Downing Street server, potentially gaining access to No 10’s e-mails.
"Stories of honeypot operations frequently turn up the seedier side of life, hardly a surprise when you are mixing two of the most secretive areas of human behaviour: espionage and sex."
The incident provoked a lively internet debate after it was exposed, ranging from serious warnings like that from Joel Brenner, the US government’s top counter-intelligence official, that: “many people going to China and going to get electronically undressed,” to the slightly more sceptical comments like this from Graham from Durban in South Africa “I have to sympathise with this guy. Last Tuesday night I was picked up by a young lady and one thing led to another and the next morning I discovered she'd stolen 100 rand from my wallet. It happened again on Thursday night, then Saturday, and with any luck it will happen again tomorrow.”
The first honeytrap in recorded history come in the Bible where the two honeypots in chief were Delilah and Judith. The latter seduced the enemy commander Holofernes and assassinated him, and famously Delilah seduced Samson and got him to reveal the secret of his enormous strength (his hair), before she went on to be immortalised in song by Tom Jones.
In the modern era honeypots (of both sexes) were used by both sides in the Cold War but perhaps because they were ultimately defeated, we know a lot more about the honeypot techniques of the KGB and Stasi (the East German secret police) than we do of the techniques employed by the Americans and British. In the Soviet Union, for instance, "swallow" was the KGB codename for women honeypots, and "raven" the term for men. An ex-CIA officer has claimed that the West "found that offers of money and freedom worked better."
Cases of female honeypots entrapping men are so common that even very recent history is littered with them. In 2006 the British Defence Attaché in Islamabad, was recalled home, after it was disclosed that he had been having an affair with a Pakistani woman, who was an intelligence agent for her government. At the time the British Government denied that any secrets were lost, although other sources maintained that several British agents working undercover in Pakistan, and several operations, were exposed.
One of the best known Cold War examples of the unlucky male being entrapped by female honeypot was the Native American US Marine, Clayton J. Lonetree who was a guard at the US Embassy in Moscow in the early 1980’s. He was seduced by a female KGB operative, who was already working at the US Embassy as a translator. It later emerged that he allowed her to wander the corridors of the Embassy unsupervised late at night, and then when he was transferred to Vienna she threatened to expose their affair and blackmailed him into handing over detailed plans of the US Embassy in Moscow as well as details of operatives and CIA working practices in the Soviet Union. By 1987 it had become apparent that there was a major security breach at the Embassy and after an investigation Clayton J. Lonetree became the first ever member of the US Marine Corps to be tried for espionage and was sentenced by a military court in Quantico, Virginia to thirty years in prison.
Lonetree’s sentence was later reduced to fifteen years after it emerged that many of the secrets it was presumed he has passed over to the KGB were in fact not given over by him, but by a much more serious American spy Aldrich Ames who had been working for the Soviets at the same time. In addition the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Alfred M. Gray, Jr., recommended to the Secretary of the Navy that Lonetree's sentence be reduced because the Marine's motivation, "was not treason or greed, but rather the lovesick response of a naive, young, immature and lonely troop in a lonely and hostile environment." Lonetree was eventually released in 1996 after serving only nine years at the United States Disciplinary Barracks.
"When it comes to sex, and being loved, we are all very vulnerable indeed."
Probably the most famous and controversial female honeypot of recent years has been Cheryl Ben Tov nee Cheryl Hanin aka "Cindy" the Mossad agent who allowed herself to be picked up by Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu while buying cigarettes from a kiosk in Leicester Square in 1986. Vanunu had worked on the Israeli nuclear weapons programme for many years – itself a remarkable lapse in security by the normally scrupulous Israelis as he had, despite being a Moroccan-born Israeli citizen, been demonstrating with Palestinian friends against Israel’s policies towards its Arab neighbours and citizens since his student days. That aside, the way they dealt with Vanunu once he crossed them was both brutal and ruthlessly effective in a way which characterises Israeli operations.
In 1986 Vanunu approached the Sunday Times and handed them sixty photographs proving Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. Informed opinion in the West had guessed that Israel had possessed nuclear weapons since the late 1960s but until Vanunu came along such claims could still be dismissed because of Israel’s policy of “deliberate ambiguity".
After Vanunu came to London to hand over his intelligence the newspaper kept him hanging for three weeks while it attempted to gain water tight verification for what was going to be a global news story. During this time Vanunu became impatient and approached rival paper the Sunday Mirror with his story. At this point the paper’s owner, Robert Maxwell (who was later to be buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem) tipped off Mossad, and Mossad decided to arrest Vanunu, but decided to do it off British soil to avoid embarrassing Israel’s ally, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
It seems trapping Vanunu was simple. Ivan Fallon, who was then deputy editor of The Sunday Times, has written in the Independent: "It soon became apparent that sexually he was still a virgin at 31 and desperate to change that status . . . The bright lights of London's West End and Soho held him in thrall." Mordechai Vanunu was "desperate to get laid".
American born Israeli Cheryl Hanin (who had the year previously married an Israeli intelligence officer, Ofer Ben Tov and since been recruited to Mossad, presumably for this specific mission) was dispatched to pick up Vanunu. She was given the cover name Cindy and dispatched to London. But Vanunu was such easy prey he threw himself into ‘Cindy’s’ hands.
"It was the honey pot trap,” he later said. “She was standing in a place to buy cigarettes in Leicester Square and I saw her and talked to her. I asked if she was a Mossad spy. She said, 'No, no, no. What is Mossad?"
To say Vanunu was naïve and horny sounds like an understatement. After a week long affair in London (presumably with the prior approval of her Mossad husband) “Cindy” persuaded Mordechai Vanunu to accompany her to Rome, where he was drugged by Israeli intelligence officers and transported to Israel aboard a freight ship. He stood trial in secret and was sentenced to 18 years in prison, 12 of which were spent in solitary confinement. Vanunu was finally released from prison in 2004 at which point he immediately stated that he still did not believe "Cindy" was a Mossad agent: "She was either an FBI or a CIA agent. I spent a week with her. I saw her picture. Cindy was a young woman from Philadelphia."
Vanunu now lives in Israel where it is claimed his mental health has suffered drastically from over a decade in solitary confinement. Cheryl Ben Tov has now reverted to the name Hanin and works as a real estate agent in Longwood, Florida, with her husband and their two daughters. After his arrest the Sunday Times published Vanunu’s photographs and confirmed that Israel had indeed produced more than 100 nuclear warheads.
"The real world of the honeypot is often more fascinating, more complicated and even perverse, than just a sexy female seducing a male loner."
Stories of honeypot operations frequently turn up the seedier side of life, and even the frankly bizarre – which is hardly to be a surprise when you are mixing two of the most secretive areas of human behaviour: espionage and sex. There is the story of John Vassall for instance, the British Civil servant and homosexual who was posted to the Soviet Union in the mid 1950s as a Naval Attaché at the British embassy in Moscow. A year after his arrival KGB agents got Vassall ferociously drunk at a party and then photographed him having group sex with several men. The pictures were used to blackmail him and he became a productive spy for the KGB for almost a decade passing over thousands of documents.
Similar ruthless exploitation of people’s vulnerabilities was exhibited by the East German Stasi who perfected the use of their "romeo" agents to target vulnerable women working as secretaries to powerful men in West Germany. Markus Wolf, the former head of East Germany's foreign intelligence service wrote in his autobiography, "When it began, I had no idea of the harvest it would bring." At least forty women were eventually prosecuted for passing secrets to their lovers, who were in fact Esat German spies – and the lengths and brutality of the exploitation were shocking.
One secretary to a governmnet minister was a former nun who refused to have sex with her ‘romeo’ until after marriage – and so was given a false wedding by the stasi. "A Stasi officer played the priest, and took her confession," says Marianne Quoirin, the author of The Spies Who Did It For Love, "and later another officer played her mother-in-law at a small reception."
Quoirin quotes Gerhard Beier one of the Stasi agents who had many West German lovers who says "I was fulfilling my patriotic duty, and it wasn't unpleasant."
Gabriele Kliem, a lonely West German secretary who was engaged to Stasi agent Gerhard Beier for seven years – and in that time passed him many state documents – says the most painful aspect came when she discovered in court that all her love letters to Beier were passed to Stasi psychologists. "So they would sit and read and laugh and analyse and see how they could hurt me some more," she says. "To them I was just a laboratory rat or worse - and to him, I was just a tool."
Stories like this, like so much else from the murky world of the honeypot, bring it home that when it comes to sex, and being loved, we are all very vulnerable indeed.
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